Before they exited hyperspace, Oniro handed Fett the reservation data for the communication with the flight control centre. The bounty hunter could tell his ‘guest’ was getting nervous. “What’s wrong?” he inquired flatly. He needed Oniro to act completely natural within moments.
“Are you sure you want to fly right in...? I avoided to mention you, but what will happen if she notices something?”
“I land at the given location. You have a look inside. I stay on the outside and wait for the opportune moment.” He had no need for the ship while he directed Oniro over the com and assumed an unobtrusive position for a mandalorian-style air strike. No need to give the arueti a lift if something went wrong. Working with throw-away agents was easier than sending in a fellow mando’ad.
“It was the dead of night when I made the reservation. I have no confirmation yet that Tomoe’s cottage will be vacant. I suppose I’ll be offered a room in the main house first… but because of her apprenticeship, I can ask for her to come over and entertain me for quarter an hour or so.”
“Do that. Call her and keep her busy for as long as you can - without mentioning me for first. I’ll be listening in.”
Fett had expected the way to his son would be through Tomoe, but Oniro’s insight into the resort’s customs gave him a whole new perspective. Fett knew the distance between the main house and the cottage. If he managed to locate Boba once she had to leave him behind – most likely in the cottage – the distance would be sufficient to move his son to safety. Negotiations that didn’t include a hostage were so much easier. The jetpack was just a little loud…
“If she reaches for a weapon or makes as little as a veiled threat, you just run.” He warned Oniro in a bout of gracious mood.
“Is Tomoe-chan really that dangerous?”
“Not for you.”
“Can I have a white flag anyway?!
Fett watched Oniro change from his granny-night-robe into a set of midnight-blue local clothing. Wrapping himself up took the nerd much longer than Tomoe. The bounty hunter approached him with an audio recording device and transmitter. “For your own safety,” he explained the modules briefly and prepared to glue the micro to his bait’s bare chest.
“Wait… what if I have to take a bath?” Oniro complained.
“Leave it on and you’ll get a nasty shock. Take it off and I’ll get to you at once.” Fett informed him while he unsheathed a small but razor sharp blade.
“You can take that knife to your own face but my hair stays as it is! Such ugly bald spots show a long time... let me put that underneath the inner collar...” Oniro shrunk out of his underrobe, fiddled with the cables and dropped the recorder into his sleeve. “See...? Much better this way.”
Fett looked him over critically. In his opinion, some bald spots would merely accent that non-defined chest and pot belly. He was definitely better material - why Tomoe had decided to like this guy was beyond him. But once dressed, no cable-lines showed through the drap, multi-layered collars that made a nuna -breasted nerd look as wide-shouldered as any mando’ad.
‘What is it with civvies and clothing?’ he wondered inwardly. Fett planted the helmet over his own face for the sound check and watched Oniro jump at his voice resounding right in his ear. In return, he could hear Oniro’s bitching in perfect quality all the time it took him to bring the camouflaged TIV down on a landing pad between two luxury yachts, well away from the resort.
It looked like none of the ships had been moved over night, dew clinging to the fluid shapes and mirroring chrome as it evaporated under the warm morning sun. Oniro spotted his small pod-like ship some lots away with some relief. He had been in contact with the head of the resorts some time ago, but they had no piloting service to bring it out and there was no public flight line between their planets. Maybe he could warn the girl and get lost before things became too hot.
When Oniro finally walked down the landing ramp to the waiting transit limousine, he didn’t turn back on the bounty hunter leaning in the shadows inside the TIV. He knew that Fett would hear him anyway.
“I want you to know I am not doing this for you. I do this for Tomoe-chan and the kids.”
As expected, Oniro’s advance was halted once he had been offered a first floor room without further ado. Though he had no reason to complain about the service, he was told politely that Tomoe somehow wasn’t available. The reason was not that he had forgotten all his hard earned language skills in favor of Fett’s interest...
“I asked for my regular host when I made the reservation. Will Tomoe-san attend to me later?”
The maid who had made sure he was comfortable in the small but airy room that overlooked a corner of the garden with a huge pine tree bowed “Yes, Oniro-sama.”
“When will that be?”
“Some time later, Oniro-sama” she nodded, smiled... and purposefully used the most uncertain vocabulary.
“How much time later?” The maid was about to run away, but Oniro knew that the bounty hunter in his ear would request a precise answer.
“I’m sorry, I’ll ask her...” the maid slid backwards, bowed on the doorstep and managed to be gone like the wind without stumbling over her own feet or the etiquette.
Oniro sighed and waited. Sooner or later they had to send up somebody to serve breakfast. “That sounds like Tomoe-chan isn’t on the compound?” he repeated himself as the next maid served breakfast for two, apparently unfazed by the missing person. He was aware of his terrible impolite behavior... most likely they were already rolling dices in the kitchen which one had to go upstairs. “When will she answer my call?” he inquired.
“She call soon.” The girl cooed.
“Where is she?”
The maid nodded slowly, picking her words, “She come back soon from the train.” She felt extremely stupid. Where was their off-world specialist when they needed her?
“The train?” Oniro repeated and the maid nodded, “Where has she been?” Now the voice in his ear requested to stop attracting attention. “Holiday?” he defused and smiled widely.
“Train... house.” The maid set down the tray to motion and wondered where to put the second breakfast tray since the guest of their weird patron was missing out. “She back, she say she always serve you again, Oniro-sama.”
“Just put it there.” Oniro invited her and continued with big gestures, “my fellow got all exited over the beautiful countryside and decided to stretch his legs after the long flight, but I’m too tired... spacelag, you know?” he chatted lightly. “We’ve flown all the night and I couldn’t sleep.”
“You sleep now... Oniro-sama?” the maid asked with round eyes. Offworlders were really strange, arriving in the morning, sleeping all day... but she had order to cater to his every need.
“I’ll accustom. If you’d bring me the newspaper and some theatre magazines?” The maid nodded and Oniro continued with a warm smile, “Maybe Tomoe-chan can come over to brew me a strong tea later?”
“Hai, Oniro-sama,” the relieved maid took her leave.
Oniro listened to her quick footfalls fading down the corridor and sighed before smoothing over his collar nervously. The rustle in Fett’s ear was deafening. “Sounds like she’s at the train station in town... she might accompany last night’s guests. Don’t expect her to respond before one or two hours.”
“Is my son with her?”
“I can’t tell.”
Fett acknowledged. Cottage or train station? The choice burned under his nails, but it didn’t make sense to sneak into the compound at full day light with no guarantee that his son was there and Tomoe didn’t pop up in the wrong moment. He checked the map for the station while he picked a sniping gun with long range visor from the TIV’s armory.
He had used the silver trail for the landing maneuver. The train station sat on the slightly higher ridge that raised the small town over the surrounding fields that were probably flooded by the river on a yearly basis. It was the counterpart of the small harbor. While most of the town houses’ roofs looked ancient, the station had been attached no more than one or two decades ago.
That the inhabitants kept new technologies from invading their grown housing area meant that the resort’s landing area was situated well out of sight in the strip of land between the densely populated areas, tied to the connective street. The fact relieved Fett of the problem to unload and smuggle a whole speeder bike with his armored self on top out under the scrutiny of the resort’s chauffeurs and whatever guests they transferred.
‘Dream on, Oniro’. There was no robe that would fit over his jet pack. Leaving the main hatch closed, he checked the vicinity for life signs and then dropped out of the bottom hatch for a short sprint into the adjoining bushes. Even such a wee fall nearly pressed the air from his hurt ribcage. Just to get out of sight left him tired and panting, but he kept walking a brisk pace up to the trail.
He assumed a higher position that gave him a view at the station that would not be blocked once the train came in. He dug into a slight hollow between the bushes that was filled with leaves. Ignoring the sharp stab of pain in his side he breathed deeply. He tried to relax his mind and body while he sighted down the long range visor.
The station and adjoining ally was scattered with waiting people, most of them clad in their working clothing. Peasants taking their goods to the market with the morning train, people on business trips and students on the way to school. Dark shiny hair, blue and white scarves, wide brimmed hats, men, women, children...
He concentrated on the features that made Tomoe special. Her treasured image appeared in front of his inner eye. Tall and proud, she would stand out, whenever Boba accompanied her or not.
Tomoe, Boba and the resort’s medic rode the large transporter that usually served as shared cab to the train station and made sure that Ukon got home well. Tomoe had been informed by the hospital that the old lady would be accompanied by a nurse, so she was surprised by the guy in a tailor-made suit who exited the train and helped unloading the gurney.
“Ariga-sama...” she greeted Tachibana’s bodyguard and tried to push down her qualms, since her onesan seemed to be in such a good mood despite the strain of the long journey.
“A most charming young man,” Ukon beamed. “He wanted to visit me this morning and took care of me personally since the transport was already arranged. He needs to stay for a cup of tea before he has to catch the train back...” she invited him.
“I agree.” Tomoe put a smile on her face as she looked up again. There went her hope for another full training day with Taichi.
“I’d love that.” Taking off his sunglasses with a glint in his dark eyes, Ariga emphasized his interest towards the well disguised killer who the chairman wanted him to charm and enroll.
She wasn’t sure about the Tachibana-henchman’s agenda, but she denied to play the part of a serviceable, seductive woman who was sincerely sorry over an appointment gone bad and eager to have a night of hot passionate sex to make up for it when the price was right. “And this is my son, Harada Kintaro.” She introduced the boy standing beside her. Boba bowed slightly and kept his thoughts to himself as he peeked out under the wide hat he was wearing.
The charming expression of the bodyguard nearly slipped as he fought his disgust. He noticed the emphasis on the title the young woman bestowed upon that offworld brat. Had she really fucked one of those barbarians?! “I see you take your stage name quite serious, O-yuki.” Then his quick calculation had restored his amused interest.
“You can think it, magomusuko,” Ukon chuckled and dug her hand into Tomoe’s long sleeve as she tried hard not to laugh out loud, “but I don’t want to hear it,” She winked from inside the transport. “that would be too hard on my ribs right now.”
“Never, ever, my dear obaasan!” Ariga couched and took a seat next to the chauffeur. He was rarely pushed off balance by a woman. He truly hoped that his juicy target had not inherited her older sister’s sharp tongue to go with that murderous blade. Thankfully, his healthy tan and the replaced sunglasses hid his fierce blush well. A more subtle approach was in order.
The medic’s attention to Ukon took up most of the trip back to the resort.
The sight of Boba standing relaxed and closely beside Tomoe rushed over Jango like a warm wave of relief. His boy looked healthy, well fed and not terribly unhappy either... just a little thoughtful. The little group made no move to enter the train, so there was no reason for harsh actions like a shot through the control section of the motor block.
Who was the old lady they had come for and who was the guy that accompanied her? Too many people around, too many unresolved factors. Those were the details he had brought Oniro for.
Fett flipped the cover back over the visor and crouched backwards before he rolled to his feet with a low groan. He fired his jetpack briefly to bridge some of the distance. Then he tabbed down the mountain ridge into the listening range of the resort to get a look at the cottage.
“Now,” Ariga sat down the gurney in Ukon’s cottage and straightened up in front of Tomoe who thanked him sincerely. Sweating slightly he turned on his charm again, “…all taken care of. I think I will leave you alone for a few, eh?” He looked in the direction where the boy had vanished, then inched aside to put his own moves on her, but she entered his range just to pull the door closed behind him with graceful efficiency. Not looking up into his narrowed eyes, her face was a perfect oval under the gleaming black of her low-key updo.
Ariga settled on the veranda of her Nanakusa-cottage and dangled his foot with a low whistle. This would be a challenge, but he had gotten his orders directly from Tachibana-sama and it was his job to carry them out. It wasn’t like he planned to ride roughshod over her, but with quiet, unbending finality, they would be there, the society’s dark sentinels. And nothing and nobody, not even her ancient mountain warrior pride or a young ambitious actor were going to tell them to back off.
Boba had finished his routine patrol around the cottage and settled opposite of their latest guest. The man was in his late 30’s with sharp features, dark brown eyes and black shoulder length hair he kept tightly tied back in a neat ponytail. Not obese like the governor, he was more on the wiry side like Taichi, but lacked the actor’s gentle expression and heartfelt friendliness. No, this one carried a cold and dangerous streak underneath his well mannered mask. He would keep an eye on him while his mom was busy.
Meanwhile, Tomoe took her time to settle Ukon into the arrangement of beddings and cushions she had prepared to support her back and relief the pressure on the stitches when laying and sitting. Then she did the personal hygiene that was always on the short side in hospital. She didn’t like to be kept up by the Tachibana-guard whose society had been responsible for her sister’s injuries, but there was no way to get a rid of him before a tea and worse, some polite conversation.
“I’ll be back in a few to change bandages and apply some good old family recipes before your visitors arrive.” Tomoe promised, “I pre-programmed my new personal ID on your com. Just press the button if you need me. Everybody else can wait.” She handed Ukon the remote and left with her approval. Once nobody kept her talking, the old lady felt really drained once again.
While she was working, Tomoe assessed her uninvited guest with the knowledge she had inherited of her father.
Once Ariga stepped out of the imposing Yuwa-enforcer’s shadow, the impression she got was a very hard and old-schooled criminal coming from one of the large harbor cities in the south. Many women casting him admiring glances would not realize what a pony-tailed nightmare and cruel mind lurked underneath the handsome appearance, but she had spotted specific calluses on his hands and the impressions of several weapons under his fashionable and expensive suit.
If he had been disgusted of her son’s heritage, so was she of his apparent commitment to his ‘society’. He would be loyal to nothing and nobody but that gang which had enslaved his soul to a point beyond humanity and honor yet rewarded his unyielding service with the passing pleasures of the body.
She exited of Ukon’s cottage and walked the connective path between the bushes with tiny demure steps. “You might not want to do so much garden viewing, isn’t it?” her gentle voice beckoned Boba inside. She wondered if she should send him over to Norio… but a surprise-attack at her visitor in bright sunlight was unlikely, their chief of security needed his sleep and Boba would struggle in protest or sneak around unguarded which was probably more dangerous. On the other hand, this was an opportunity for him to watch and learn.
“Shhh,” Ariga broke her thoughtful gaze at the immaculately polished wooden steps as he seductively yet gently put one finger on her chin and with a tilt of his head gave her a look that told her not worry and more. “Invite me inside.” He instructed calmly as he took her arm and began leading her past the fireplace. To anyone watching it would have merely looked as if a gentleman caller were escorting her in kindly.
He stepped away from her the next moment and then looked into her small kitchen and the adjoining room to make sure they were alone… aside of the annoying little boy who hovered always a step away from his ‘mother’ while she rolled the blinds down and closed the slide doors. “Come here and get me some cooled rice wine and tea.” He ordered her and sat in front of the alcove like he owned the place.
Obediently she followed his instructions and returned to hand him the crystal glass with the aperitif, but he denied. “No. That’s for you,” he had a brief chuckle at her confusion that made Tomoe shiver uncomfortably. She took a small sip and put the glass back on the lacquered tray she brought, marking a line between them.
He pocketed his sunglasses and picked up the steaming cup of green tea “So am I still a problem?” he tilted his head slightly and emptied the content in a small and a long swig. His voice had an elegant accent that seemed as cold and sensual as a silken and icy cold garrote.
“I apologize for that,” she quickly said, still avoiding a look into his eyes. “I was just mad at the time, but I meant no disrespect.”
One of Ariga’s hands came and traced lightly the line of her elegant hand and forearm as she refilled his cup. Even this slightest of touches made her skin crawl… all together with his overgrown self-esteem. Desperate to force a change of subject and to see if she could dissuade him from his flirting to her, she asked bluntly: “What are you looking for?”
Boba stiffened at his mother’s tone. He didn’t understand what they talked about, but he instantly knew that under all her cultivation his mom despised the guy nearly as much as the governor.
Ariga’s laugh was instantaneous and light-hearted, almost as one would chuckle at a child who had asked a most ridiculous question. He was rarely shot down by a woman, but this was priceless! He muttered something, still laughing then turned to her. “You mean me, looking for a mistress or regular girl here?” his dark eyes seemed to pierce her for a moment, almost enjoying her slight flinching at the words. “No.” he said simply and picked up his cup. “I don’t need to, buy, a mistress; I have many who are more than willing to do the job for free, eh.”
He laughed again before he changed the topic.
“You know, I really enjoy the prospect of your play.” Ariga explained patiently, “I read the weekly newsletter myself.” A mischievous smile spread over his face “I can’t wait to see if you move on stage the same way you did for me three days ago.” His tongue had to moisten his lips while thinking of it. “If you do, your overwhelming success will make you travel a lot… You are going to meet many famous and powerful people… That would be perfect for us, too.”
However his voice was soothing and quiet, his no-nonsense demeanor seemed to cut through her inner turmoil. She had to up-rank him from personal bodyguard to counselor. He obviously was in charge of the daily chores and personnel affairs until his bosses had figured their big war and took back over the reins, so she instinctively knew he would not be pushed or played with. He had things to do and a society to keep calm and running smoothly.
Once she knew he would accept it, she answered straight to his proposal. “I have accepted so many commitments recently that I could not take on the representation of one of the largest and most traditional societies like yours in good conscience,” she excused herself.
“You are one angry woman,” Ariga shook his head at her. “I can see it boil deep inside of you. Save it for when we need it, eh? You will have plenty to kill then, I assure you.”
Tomoe laughed. Not a friendly laugh, but more a snort of disgust. Her dark eyes took on a look then, a cross between one filled with sorrow and with white-hot anger. “Oh yes, Ariga-sama.” She said levelly in stiff court accent that didn’t fit the outburst before. “I have been through this before. You don’t understand what happened a few days ago. That wasn’t it yet.” She glanced at him, as though looking through his heart and soul.
And for a moment Ariga felt the air chill in the room, unconsciously his look went to the slide doors but they were tightly shut. ‘Yuki-onna’, it whispered in his mind, ‘killing all who touch her but her child’. Then his professional manner quickly slid back into place and he took a deep breath, wondering what to say next.
“The chairman was my guest and I protected him like any of my guests - that is all.” Tomoe’s courtly explanation finally broke the silence.
“I know.” The elegantly dressed man nodded, re-buttoning his expensive black jacket. “And we all deeply appreciate that Harada-san. Truly we do.” He slipped a small package out of his breast pocket and carefully placed it on edge of the alcove like a sacrifice of incense. “The Tachibana-clan will take care of you too, whenever you travel our territories.” Ariga spoke sincerely, hinting at her earlier behavior of closing the blinds. These were dangerous times, especially now with the Tsunaike- and Aido-war gearing up into high throttle.
“That is too generous, Ariga-sama.” She slid over on her knees to hand him the present back.
Ariga caught her by the wrist. His vice like grip left no room for argument, so she nodded slightly. He slowly eased his grip on the stubborn woman’s, but his dark eyes seemed to look deep into her heart conveying many thoughts at once, empathy, understanding but also unfaltering command. “I know you have had a tough time, Tomoe-chan,” his accented voice spoke gently. “Right now, things …they are still hectic. You should not make my job any harder, okay? Tachibana-sama, he likes you and was worried about you, insisted on keeping an eye on you himself...”
“Please deliver my thanks to the chairman,” Tomoe bowed gracefully.
“That’s a girl.” Ariga said gently, patted her hand in a kindly manner and then released her. “Tachibana-sama will call you soon,” he finished, “in the meantime stay away from stages in areas we don’t control.” Ariga cut off any further rebuffs or questions from Tomoe. “All of us are very grateful to you. All of us.” He nodded at the package and then with no other words turned and left quietly.
He would consult his boss about the new development. His friend, Hanma-san had been right. This was not a woman. Maybe Hanma had an idea how to charm a spirit of the wilderness defending its young?
After Ariga’s footfalls had faded, Tomoe opened the box carefully. She had been right; it did contain two gold bars along with a stack of credits. “Shit,” Tomoe grumbled under her breath and shoved the package down the trap door then locked it.
On his hidden position on the hill between the ancient cypresses, Jango fought down the rage boiling inside his chest. He had arrived just in time to spot the oh-so-helpful guy from the train station strolling through the garden to the Nanakusa-Cottage. Was that the prized actor? Graceful, darkly handsome but a little on the tall side and not that young anymore, he walked like an armed man…
Jango’s instincts picked out male rivals at once. It made his trigger finger itch. He had the power to end the show here and now. The guy would never know what hit him - but Tomoe would get suspicious. He watched her walk through the garden, vanish under the veranda and shut the blinds immediately, preventing any further glimpse on the scene developing inside. ‘Something to hide, have you?’
And where the fierfek was Boba?
He zoomed out a little, his gaze running over the resort nestled into the greens that shone under the bright sun approaching noon. The lofty cottage Tomoe had come from was in plain sight but he could not confirm that Tomoe had left his boy there. He would not commit the same mistake twice and make a hit on her territory without doing proper recce. ‘Centre yourself, Jango!’ His mind warned him. ‘Do not become like Montross, white hot with anger and rage all the time. You have a family to run now, people whose lives will depend on you and your clear thinking.’
Something rustled in the bush behind him. Usually, his 360°-display replaced the spotter nicely while doing sniping work, but this time it showed nothing, so Jango rolled around on his back with the gun leveled. A blink switched to infrared. Still no mark. The birds continued to chitter and chirp. Maybe it was just an animal too small to be concerned with its own noise while bustling around in the bushes. Or his senses were acting up from all the drugs they had feed him.
In his experience, animal teeth were usually no match for Mandalorian iron.Chapter 15.1 – Different Customs (Day 20)
“What is it, mom?” Boba asked and eyed the small package in his moms’ hands, concern in his voice.
“Such tokens… have always a request connected to them.” His mother answered and listened at a barely audible chatter outside in the woods surrounding the resort. “I think he will be back.” She whispered and jumped to her feet at the light footfalls on the veranda. But it was just the shadow of a maid gliding over the paper screens and she scolded herself for getting paranoid.
“I have tried to reach you since you returned, Tomoe-san,” the maid poked her head in and started to spill her grief, “I’ve got a very impatient guest sitting in the western-pine-room. He is asking for you all the time.”
“Tell him that I need to powder my nose so I can drink him under the table personally before it strikes noon.” Tomoe hissed back and rummaged through the storage box that held her herbs. “What’s your problem? Remind him of his health or pour him a stiff drink, whatever. Ukon-san needs to be taken care of first.” She whirled around and was on her way back to her older sister, “Come along, Boba.”
“But…” the maid stumbled after her, shocked at the outburst of the usually laid back house keeper.
A brief stare hushed her. Tomoe scratched the wood of Ukon’s door lightly before sliding it open without another sound. The long white hair spread over the cushion, the old lady was sleeping soundly, so Tomoe withdrew and shut the door. “Alright,” she sighed “I’ll just say hello and see what’s up with him.”
“Thank you,” the maid sighed in relief.
Her bag in one hand, Tomoe marched down the thatched walkway with Boba on the other, stopping by the kitchen stairs. “Would you be so nice and wait in the kitchen? Tell them to fix us a hearty lunch in the meantime. We have a long day ahead of us.”
“Sure.” Boba hopped down the kitchen stair. Once they were used his strange looks, the employees became very concerned about his well being and were delighted at his wide-eyed curiosity. He learned that many of their own kids made a show of being picky, not eating this-or-that. In Boba’s opinion, that was plain stupid. Whatever ended in those bowls and plates tasted heavenly. They should eat more foodboard - that would teach them some appreciation.
“I’ll pick you up in a few.” Tomoe passed her son the bag and flipped her purse open to smooth her hair and check her appearance in the small mirror. A very tired woman with blotchy makeup and a slight smear on the light blue half-collar looked back at her. She sighed and went upstairs. The guy was asking for it. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.
When Tomoe slid the door open, she nearly forgot to bow. “Oniro-sama… welcome to the Sen-Ike,” she quickly closed the door from the inside and smiled, “I didn’t expect to see you again so soon,” She bowed again, “Just a moment, I’ll call a maid to accompany us.”
He stopped her in half turn, “It’s alright, Tomoe-chan.” His voice was calm and soothing, “I think I chased the maids around enough for a whole week.”
“Please excuse my concern… your brother-in-law won’t like this.”
“He won’t mingle into my affairs again, I can assure you.” Oniro pulled the wooden arm-rest in front of him, “nor will he dictate who I am to see or not to see.” He stuffed his tiny pipe meticulously and wondered if Fett was already on his way. ‘Keep her busy’ was his mission. He watched her sliding over to light the pipe, her hands holding the flame like a lotus-blossom. “I came to talk to you in private.”
‘Not again!’ Tomoe tried to keep the thought from showing all over her face. One more ‘private talk’ and she would freak out. “Of course,” she answered lightly instead. Oniro was still preferable to other guests Okasan tried to push on her. “Will you stay for a couple of days again?”
Oniro waited a moment to listen to the requests Fett made in his ear. Apparently, the bounty hunter still lacked the confirmed location of his son to strike. All Oniro knew was that there was no kid in the room, but he couldn’t even tell him that without blowing his cover. “Well, I placed a reservation for a week.”
“Oh.” This time, she let her surprise seep into her expression.
“I brought some tricky job with me,” he explained, “something I cannot do at home.”
“I understand.” Tomoe went into her shut-up-and-listen-mode to hear out his usual complaints about his work.
“So if I could get a cottage or just a room, it would be perfect.”
She chuckled “You sound like you have found an excuse to escape again…”
“Oh, believe me, I’m not up to any more mischief….” His voice sounded light-hearted, but his face wasn’t happy.
Tomoe held his gaze as she noticed the unbalance. “I’ll have a look into your booking and see what’s vacant. I’m sure we’ll find a nice calm place for you to work.”
“Thank you.” Oniro smiled and took up a magazine from the pile beside him, “I was afraid I would be shunned by you after all what happened.”
“Don’t mention it, Oniro-sama, I’m always glad to see you.” She sat on her heels beside him and tilted her head at a page of the latest issue he pointed out, “Did you find a show you would like to see?”
“Of course: any play you are starring in… I loved seeing you in the spring dances and now you’ve finally gotten a lead! I’m so proud of you, Tomoe-chan…” The nerd flipped open a page with an old picture of her mounted beside one of Taichi. He grinned widely as his doubts and fears over his reckless act melted away under Tomoe’s warm attitude. He kept going… listen and learn, Fett! “Can I get your autograph on this?”
“As O-yuki?” Tomoe laughed “I have to tell you I even lacked the time to practice that.” She slid over to the alcove to fetch the ink-stone and a brush.
“No better time to figure it out…” Oniro soothed “Does that mean you can’t attend to me at all this week?” he put on a sad puppy face.
“I’ll try to check on you, but it’s like full house in the Nanakusa-cottage in the moment… Segawa-sama’s cast had to be changed on such a short notice that I have to rehearse a lot more than usual.” Tomoe brushed her stage-name on a corner of the picture and put it down to dry carefully. “Honestly, I think it’s just an interlude. I took the possibility to help out since I cannot partake in the academy’s autumn dances. Did you know Taichi-san is an old school mate of mine? And look at him now! I’m sure in a few months, the Segawa-troupe will recover and I’ll be back to school and my usual schedule.”
“Why? In this article it sounds like this is your big chance to change a few things? Women on stage, playing woman’s roles – c’mon, that’s a perfectly reasonable modernization!” Then Oniro started counting the months and knew why. Damn, the girl was in trouble… and good at hiding it.
“I haven’t even read what they wrote… the media tends to make big bubbles out of small issues, you know? But in the end, the audience decides.” Tomoe sighed, “In our favor hopefully… but enough of those sorrows. I’ll ask Taichi-san to deposit an opening-night-ticket for you to see for yourself… if you can stay until then.”
“Let her go. We try to call her over again later.” Fett’s voice advised in his ear.
Oniro looked like he was listening to an inner voice before he cocked his head “Of course I will. Thank you so much... does that mean the young Segawa is around as well?”
Tomoe had a short look at the incense burning in front of the scroll in the alcove, then into the sunshine outside. She really had to get going, but after the mess with Ariga and the governor, she truly enjoyed a chat with a ‘normal’ guest. “Taichi-san will come over for rehearsal after lunch. You could wait for him at the bar... He always manages to cut out a few minutes for his fans.”
“I’d love to have his autograph as well.” Oniro smiled at her offer “I’ll take a stroll in the garden until then.”
“I’m so sorry I can’t host you personally this time.” Tomoe bowed “I have to leave you now, but feel free to drop by at the Nanakusa-cottage any time in the afternoon.” She invited him.
“Oh, that’s so sweet of you, Tomoe-chan!” in fact, she had outdone his wildest dreams... and most likely Fett’s, too. “I promise I’ll sit tight and be silent as a pine while I watch.”
Tomoe laughed “Oh, feel free to cheer all you want.” She winked and left to straighten out Oniro’s reservation.
Tomoe argued with the secretary, “What do you mean – two persons? Oniro-sama mentioned no such thing. Did he bring his wife? Yes, I’ll clarify this. You mean the closet-like alcove beside the morning-glory-room where Kimiryu parties all night?! No, he needs his sleep and enjoys the calm during the day...”
“How about this: we move Ukon over to the Nanakusa-cottage and offer the Suzuki-cottage to Oniro for the rest of the week. He’s got plenty of space there and he’s relaxed enough to put up with the to-and-thro if I offer him an occasional glimpse behind the scenes in return.” For Tomoe, the main advantage was that she could keep Boba, Taichi and Ukon close and was relieved of any other requests Okasan could probably come up with.
“That’s a highly irregular proposal. Our credo is that the house keeper is available for the patron full time. You are not an entertainer yet… you aren’t even training for that anymore. You need to put an end to those other appointments as they interfere with your older duties.”
“Okasan wouldn’t use the upcoming play for advertising if she was against me working overtime.” Tomoe shut up the secretary. “With a single offworlder like Oniro, there is no problem that word gets out and bypasses her precious news items… Imagine what happens if a bunch of groupies decides to hire Ukon’s cottage? This way, you can honestly tell everybody the cottage is booked… Otherwise we could kiss our rehearsals good bye from one day to the other.”
The secretary grumbled as she finally carved in. That single person… or two… or whatever was paying for the whole cottage anyway and she couldn’t put him elsewhere without additional trouble.
“Alright. I’ll ask my Onesan and then give the guest the news when he drops by in the afternoon. Treat him to a good lunch while I take care of Ukon-san.” The secretary had barely time to nod as the whirlwind rushed out of her office.
Tomoe went right down into the kitchen where she found Boba sitting between two old women peeling and cutting vegetables for the lunch menu. A neat stake of lunch boxes sat in front of him, but the chef let him taste the starters while the boy helped with swift fingers. The cook had found out that the strange child was as clueless as unspoiled in his tastes and unlike his apprentices he spoke his mind freely yet enthusiastically.
“Good news,” Tomoe picked up some additional ingredients for the medicine she planned to make for her Onesan. She picked up their lunch boxes while Boba climbed out from his favorite place. “Ukon-san can stay with us and we will have a guest next door who won’t give us trouble: Oniro-sama is back!”
“Oniro?” Boba asked with a puzzled expression. “The bathrobe-clad guy who dad picked up with you?”
“Exactly. We can keep the family united for a whole week and won’t have to mind a daily change of guests.” Tomoe explained while she walked down to her cottage in brisk pace to have lunch and start Ukon’s medicine before Taichi came over and helped her to carry the old lady over. It wasn’t that Ukon would require Tomoe’s attention all the time, but she would heal a lot quicker when she felt clean, well cared for and most of all: involved.
Boba smiled inwardly. Finally something had happened that didn’t fit into his impeccable mom’s routine… and she was too busy to wonder why dad’s last job was so eager to get into trouble once again. ‘The whole family together - hah - if she only knew!’ Now he just had to sneak out and find dad…
Suddenly Boba halted himself. What if dad wasn’t alone? What if other people were with him? Somebody who did not care if his mom was hurt? He had to continue to watch her, keep his eyes open and make sure everybody played nicely.
He wanted a family - he would get a family. For the moment, the key was that Oniro-guy.
Oniro-sama here, Oniro-sama there… together with the failing translator it was more than annoying. Not to mention that for once, the lust of the chase didn’t come up. “Stop slurping… Can’t you chew quietly?” Fett reprimanded his ‘partner’ over the bean comlink in Oniro’s ear.
“Shut up or I’ll start to praise every single bite…” Oniro countered spitefully, “…and I can tell it is de-li-ci-ous…” he cracked another deep-fried specialty between his molars “Hear that? By the way: it’s your own fault that you have to lay up there while I’m quite comfortable. If you hadn’t been so trigger-happy but asked me to come home nicely, I could have invited you inside and Tomoe-chan would have given you the backrub of your life while waiting for your proposal… but nooo, you had to learn patience the hard way. Now suit yourself, my mighty hunter.”
Fett lowered his gaze from the visor and briefly relaxed his shoulders “You really think so?” he huffed under his breath.
“You’ve heard it yourself: Tomoe-chan got enough trouble on her heels as it is. She always had an impulsive streak lurking under the surface and she’s an active young lady, but I’ve never seen her as tired as today. I bet she misses a strong shoulder to lean on from time to time.”
Fett wasn’t sure anymore when Oniro was joking, so he decided to shut up, lay low and wait. He had already figured the watchmen’s rounds. In the evening, Oniro would call Tomoe over to his room in the main house and he would snatch Boba right from his bed under the protection of the darkness. With his son in the safety of the TIV, they could discuss the rest of their issues.
If a shoulder was what she needed, he would gladly let her choose the one that hurt less by then.
After lunch, Taichi arrived with a fresh memory-chip and some news items his mother had given to the media in the meantime. He told them all the while it took them to carry Ukon over and settle her into a corner of the second ground floor room.
For the first time in his life, Boba learned about the damage a single slug round could do, in more than one way. On Kamino, badly wounded boy-soldiers simply vanished; otherwise they were stored in bacta tanks for a while or applied a little field medicine, gulped down the pain and pretended that they were still fit to fight.
Ukon wasn’t raised that way. She voiced her pain and fear that a lasting damage kept her from playing the shamsin, tending to her cottage, that she would burden her family… and there was no droid to do the down and dirty nursing work. Never again would Boba take handling a blaster for a game about the highest score.
Taichi sat with his back to the large folding screen that offered Ukon some privacy and looked out through the picture window. He patted a cushion for Boba to sit with him and detailed Segawa-sama’s advice while Tomoe applied a mixture of herbal recipes and pressure point-massage that had been handed down over generations within her family. It would help Ukon to recover her mobility faster. Afterwards, Tomoe washed and dried the old lady’s hair so she felt fresh and clean, sitting with her family, a small tray with tea and light snacks beside her.
After the delicious lunch in the main house, Oniro strolled through the garden with his magazine under an arm. Tomoe had changed into her costume. It was fashioned the old way, a white robe with wide open sleeves adorned with draw strings and tassels that matched the crimson red skirt-pants. They had opened the sea-side windows and rolled up the shades so the light breeze could waft through the ground floor rooms as the sun burned on the thatched roof.
Afraid to disturb the sacred peace of the scene, Oniro knocked at the polished woodwork of the veranda.
“Welcome, Oniro-sama.” Tomoe broke off the form they were working on, got him a blue-white dyed floor cushion from the stake in the corner and came over with quick steps. “Please come in, would you like something to drink?”
“I am perfectly comfortable, thank you.” Oniro insured her and sat down calmly after bowing respectfully to the actor, Segawa Taichi, who had remained standing in the centre of the second room. “Please don’t let me interrupt you.”
“I’ll get us a large pint of iced tea later… it’s so hot and sticky, I think we’ll get another thunderstorm tonight.”
“Sounds good.” Oniro smiled and had a look around. The cottage was in pristine condition as always, the wood shone like dark honey and the mats filled the room with a light scent of grass. Only the scroll had changed with the season. It displayed a single branch of green maple in front of a rushing waterfall and a tiny kingfisher shooting through the droplets like a blue jewel.
There was no flower arrangement, just an incense container to decorate the alcove... which meant that Tomoe was really in a rush. His gaze continued to wander over the new wallpaper of the staircase and the screen in the corner. A young voice spoke up behind it, answered by one he recognized as the old lady from the neighboring cottage. Then a boy of about five years stepped around the screen and padded over.
“Hello,” the kid plopped down beside him, “I’m Boba,” he introduced himself and lifted his chin at the rehearsing adults “Tomoe is my mom.”
“Hello, Boba-chan. My name is Oniro.” The boy spoke Basic with Fett’s Concord Dawn accent, had his tan skin and dark hair… A shiver ran down his back. What would his father do next? Rush in, blaster blazing? The voice in his ear was silent and he couldn’t ask. Maybe he could visit the fresher later, but right now, that would be suspicious. All he could do was sit tight and watch.
Silence fell over the room, broken only by the recorded voice of the singer accented by a single hand drum coming from the notepad Boba handled. At the clap of Taichi’s fan he hit re-wind, but otherwise, he played a word game on the side. “Learning to read – again,” he commented as Oniro looked over his shoulder. “They are on that sequence for an hour now.”
Oniro had not realized how much work was put into a show before it hit the stage. Tomoe seemed to be stuck with a particular tilt of her head again and again. Her teacher was patient but finally, they gave it up.
“You are too tense and it shows. Relax that shoulder...” he waved his fan “…gently.”
“Put that on my to-do-list for tonight.” Tomoe sighed “I’ll get us something to drink.” Dropping her over robe on the mats she turned to Oniro. “Still not bored?” she smiled, “I’ve reserved the neighboring cottage for you. It’s open for you whenever you’d like a nap, start working or something.”
“Repeat. You’ve got housing right in the opposite cottage?” Fierfek. That was too close. Fett wondered what he was waiting for anyway...
“That’s Ukon-san’s cottage over there, isn’t it?”
“Yes. She’s ill, therefore I’ll attend to you.”
“Whenever it pleases you,” she bowed and slipped out.
Taichi padded over and picked up a pen to make some notes on Tomoe’s list. “I have to say, you are a remarkable patient audience.”
“Don’t mention it; you are very generous to let me attend.” He flipped the magazine open and showed it to the actor. “May I ask for your autograph?”
“Nice assembly.” Taichi leaned over and brushed over the picture with the ease that came from live long routine “Reminds me that we need to take stills in full costume once the wigs are fitted. But I’m afraid our posters with my father have been printed already.”
Boba stood and rolled his socked toes on the mat, “Would you like to stretch your legs a little before this continues?”
Oniro looked up at him blankly, then tried to stand, finding his legs asleep “Good idea.” He winced and muttered, “I’m not used to sit on the floor that long...”
Boba laughed and pulled him to his feet. He hopped out on the veranda, looked down the walkway briefly for Tomoe, then waited at the stairs to make sure that Oniro slipped into his sandals and followed closely as he lead the way around the house. Once out of sight, he turned on him with serious face, “Where is my dad?”
Oniro’s jaw dropped. “I… don’t know…” he stammered. Damn! He was not good at all when surprised. Should he tell the kid everything? Where the hell was Fett when he needed him?
“Steady. Continue up that path,” the advice resounded in his ear.
“Can we go this way?” Oniro pointed the path uphill with his open hand.
“No,” Boba tensed up stubbornly “I’m not going with strangers. Who is it with you?”
‘That’s my boy.’ Jango thought and advised “Give him your earpiece.” Oniro dug the bean-comlink out of his ear and passed it to Boba. Jango listened to the click on the other end.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. Are you okay, dad? Where are you?”
“Yes. Half a klick north. Up on the hill. Come to me. I’ll cover you.”
“Why?” Jango chocked out.
“What about your trouble with Tomoe?”
“I’ll sort that out later.”
“Is she coming with us?”
“I hope so.”
“I’m not going without mom.”
“You come here right now.” Jango commanded, his patience at an end.
“No.” Boba turned around briskly, marching back to the cottage.
“No, dad. Would you like me to patch you through to mom?” Boba offered politely, ignoring Oniro who followed him like a sad puppy who just committed a serious mistake.
‘Extortionist.’ Jango considered the options. What would Tomoe do if she found out? Grab Boba and run? She wouldn’t make it out of the reach of the TIV. Dig in? She wouldn’t get lucky in a cottage made of straw. Not unless she played on threatening her hostage again…
“Boba, you are not safe with Tomoe. Come to me.”
“Mom won’t hurt me. But what about you two?”
“Remember she has threatened you before.”
“You cut her before.”
“So did she.”
“Yes and that stops now.” Boba took the stairs to the cottage and strode into the second room. “Taichi, rehearsal’s over. Go home.”
“Excuse me?” The actor looked up from the notepad, his face a study of surprise as the kid’s harsh tone. “What’s wrong, Boba-chan?”
“Nothing. Tomoe will tell you later. You have to leave now.”
Taichi’s eyes fixed on the boy for a moment. He stood stiffly at the connective door and added a low ‘please’ while stepping from one foot on the other. The guest behind him looked drawn as well. What was going on? “Alright.” He picked up the recording and followed the kid’s serious request. “See you.” He would find Tomoe in the main house.
“Gotcha, you fat punk of a fish… oups…” A round black head popped up in the pond with an innocent ‘was-that-me?’ shining in its large intelligent eyes. After all he was a predator who had waited far too long to strike. The lazy colorful carp swimming just in front of his nose had been the last drop that flooded the tub.
Tomoe nearly dropped the container with the cooled beverage and squatted down between the blooming irises “Moronoko, I don’t need to tell you that you cannot fish here…”
The Hi-inu wagged his tail nervously. Bubbles rose in the greenish water of the pond. “I spotted somebody who smells like Boba-chan… he stinks horribly of that bacta-stuff. He has been hanging around in the hills all day, fiddling with a long smelly staff… I wasn’t sure if I should come over or better take care of him… You told me to stay away… Not the most decisive person, is he?”
“What?” Tomoe jumped up. She had to get Boba, make sure he was safe.
“Wait… Tomoe-chan…” Moronoko chattered a complaint and dived through the pond. His sliding approach came to halt between the supports underneath the Nanakusa-cottage. He whistled low and questionably.
Tomoe nearly ran into Taichi when the actor came around the corner of the walkway “Boba said, I have to go?”
“Yes… please for your own sake go, I’ll call you.” Tomoe bowed stiffly in her hips and immediately rushed on. “Boba… Ukon-san?”
“Calm down, mom.” Boba planted his butt right on the trapdoor. “It’s just dad.”
“Jango Fett is dead. I killed him.” She grabbed the naginata from the rafter and shook the sheath off the blade, facing around. No Mando’ad but Fett knew about Oniro, but then... “I see, it was a mistake to give back the helmet. Get down. It’s safer there.”
“Who is it?”
“My father. Jango Fett. I talked to him.”
Tomoe’s head turned and her eyes bore into the nerd who became smaller and smaller “Oniro-sama...” her voice was husky with anger.
“It’s true,” the computer specialist fiddled with his collars nervously, “Fett’s here.”
“It was just Fett and me… here, you can talk to him,” Oniro uprooted a cable.
“I see…” Tomoe straightened up. “Time to face up, Fett!” Her call was loud and clear, but she denied screaming. She would need her air to do it right this time. All of it. “That corner, Oniro-sama,” her chin pointed, “Stay down and keep Ukon-san save from the evil you brought here. She’s freshly stitched up from the last sniper I had to take care of.”
“Fett is not here to kill you, Tomoe! Please don’t force him. He’s here to talk to you.” Oniro squatted beside Ukon who had tried to get to her feet, clinging to the screen for support. “Steady, you’ll be okay... everybody’s going to be ok...” he whispered soothingly.
Roaring thunder broke the flurrying afternoon heat over the resort. Something volleyed into the roof over their heads. “Ouch.” Boba ducked and hoped that it had been a landing and not a crash, “You’ve heard it, dad, no flash-bangs this time!”
An incendiary composition? Her nostrils flaring and the naginata turned vertically, Tomoe tried to locate whatever hit the roof.
Boba had seen enough blood and the cut in the roof-light to guess what she could do with that halberd. “NO!” he jumped and clung to the long handle of Tomoe’s weapon, trying to pull it down.
“Let go,” A swift rotation shook the boy off the pole “This is not a game.” She pushed him behind her as a heavy weight dropped off the roof with a sound thud. Then the wall panel between the staircase and Ukon’s corner was kicked in. The old lady and the nerd huddled together. An armored nightmare shouldered his way through the broken remains.
Boba had used the momentum of her push to slink around Tomoe and duck under her other elbow. Once again the boy managed to attach his weight to the pole arm.
“Ouff...” her swing broken, Tomoe braced her weapon by lowering her knees into a cloud of crimson silk. She supported the butt on the ground and hip and reached over to enfold the little distracter between her arms to prevent him from sabotaging her further or getting into the swing of the blade accidentally. At the same time she regained partial control over her weapon, ready to lift them both and strike like an elastic spring.
“Couldn’t you use the door, dad?” Boba complained and struggled against his mother at the same time, “Stay behind me, mom.” His small feet dug into the mats as he braced against Tomoe.
“Not a very cooperative son, is he?” An amplified voice resounded. Fett had attacked the moment he had heard his son scream, but once he moved in, there was no ranged weapon pointing at him and Boba seemed to handle his ‘mom’ well enough.
Tomoe was not amused to be kept at blaster point. “Then what do you want?”
“A truce to resume negotiations.”
“What’s there to negotiate?”
“Once you lower your weapon and hand over my son, Oniro-sama will explain it to you.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Because I have to shoot you otherwise,” he reminded her in his most reasonable tone.
“...unless my friend rips a fist sized hole into your thigh artery first.” Tomoe merely blinked at the Hi-inu who flowed into striking position behind Fett. She knew Moronoko was quick in the water... and even quicker in air.
This had to be the oldest trick in the galaxy! But for once, Fett could spot something in the 360°-display. Missing his Westar’s twin blaster, he leveled the dart thrower and... fierfek, that beast was a huge non-humanoid. A single dart would hardly be enough.
“He has a deep rooted hate of fire weapons.” Tomoe informed Fett, “You defiled his territory as well as my body.”
”Shut up, cub!” The hi-inu growled back at Boba.
“Suck it up you two! Can’t you see that violence isn’t a solution?” Oniro tethered between the broken shards on the mats and managed to stand in everybody’s way thanks to his clumsiness. “For your own sake, lower your weapons, both of you.”
“Fett traditionally has a problem with that... if it is really him,” she stared at the T-shaped visor, “and not just some imposter using the helmet to fake Fett’s voice.”
Fett holstered his blaster deftly and reached for the helmet. The environmental seal opened with a hiss and he pulled the silver blue helmet off his head with one hand. “Satisfied?” his unamplified yet gravelly voice inquired.
Tomoe stared as if she had seen a ghost. He looked pretty roughed up, but it was definitely Jango Fett …back from the dead. “Go, Boba...” she gulped and eased her hold around the boy, “I did not mistreat your son, or your remembrance.”
“I know and that’s not the reason why I’m back. I’m here for you, Tomoe.”
Boba stepped out from between her arms. Carefully not to stumble over her wide pants, he took a step towards his dad, but then suddenly turned around to hug her. “Mom!” his hands and nose dug into the folds of the white wing-sleeved robe.
“It’s your choice, Boba, nobody else can see your way.” She straightened up, clutching her halberd like a support against a crushing weight on her shoulders. Tears ran over her face freely as she watched Boba walk over to Jango.
The boy took the large fist pointing at Moronoko into both of his hands. His father replaced his helmet and scooped up his son single handed. He took some cautious steps backwards before he turned and walked the path up-hill without another word.
Tomoe dropped the naginata, kicked the cushion off the trapdoor and readied the long range slug thrower with a dry “chaa-chack”. She dropped on her stomach between the scatters of her wall, the slug thrower braced against her shoulder. Through the visor she followed Fett’s slow ascent.
Then she let the weapon sink.
“Damn you, Fett,” she cursed low.Chapter 15.2 – Aftermath (Day 20)
Tomoe just managed to let the slug thrower vanish under the staircase as she heard Norio’s rolling gait approach on the walkway. So she wasn’t as deaf as she felt after all. “Shhh...” she pulled the door to the second room closed and kicked the cushion back over the trapdoor next to the hearth. “Yes, Norio-sama?”
“Everything alright?” Norio poked his shaven head through the blinds shading the veranda, “There was a strange sound...”
“Yes, I heard it, too.” Tomoe started rolling up the blinds to hide her face. “Maybe today’s thunderstorm rolls in earlier than usual. Don’t worry, I’ll pull the storm shields on Ukon-san’s cottage, too, once I’m done here.”
“I see...” Norio excused himself, “good luck with your rehearsal.” Of course he didn’t believe her, but he respected her wish to be left alone.
Tomoe slid the door closed behind the security manager and went back into her freshly destroyed drawing room.
Petrified, Oniro stared at the large black animal that had made itself at home in the drawing room, curled up in the centre of the floor. It cleaned its impressive claws between even more impressive teeth with low cracking sounds.
Ukon knelt in her corner, looking more fascinated than frightened “That’s a Hi-Inu, isn’t it, Tomoe-chan?” she whispered under her breath “An escort of souls... I never expected to see one in my lifetime - until my last day.”
“True friends are rare,” Tomoe nodded and plopped down to hug her animal friend, “...it’s not your last day though, Ukon-san.” Her energy was completely drained as she looked up from Moronoko’s head in her lap. Her hand continued to scratch his ears faithfully, but her eyes were utterly empty pools within her tear-streaked face.
“Tell me then, Oniro-sama: what does Fett want to talk about?”
Oniro cleared his throat. He hated being made the bearer of evil tidings, though he had nursed certain hopes on the delicate rhetoric preparations that could give him a slim chance. But Tomoe’s direct approach sliced through any verbal detours mercilessly.
“He wants you to come back with him.”
“Didn’t work out last time,” she replied flatly. “What’s different now?”
“He would welcome you to become a part of his family.”
“He, Boba, your child...”
“My unborn child will be part of my family. I already accepted Boba as my son; the young one is welcome anytime.” Tomoe’s eyelashes rose in a totally bored expression “I’m curious: where does old Fett see my advantage by adding him to my clan? Must be a big one considering all he has done to me - not to mention the ever present risk,” her chin pointed at the freshly shattered wall panel. “Please tell me, because I can’t see any.”
“Well, other people’s emotions are a miracle for me.” Oniro tried to gain a little more theoretical distance as he lectured her. “They are beyond my logic as a programmer, but of course I recognize their existence as a given fact.” He picked up the wall panel and looked for the fixings. “Jango cares for you - I think he is aware of the mess he made, trying really hard to make things work.”
Tomoe felt too tired for a ridiculous psychological analyze of the emotional side of a stone cold killer. She was too drained to even hate him. She couldn’t care less if Fett got lost or died for real this time. Her only child was gone and there was nothing she could do about it.
Silence spread and Ukon leaned forwards to ask for a summary of the conversion held in Basic. She took her time to think about it, and then advised, “Maybe you could give him a little hope.”
“Never. Ever. ” She wanted nothing of Fett. Under NO condition she would hand the control about her life to him again.
“Neither can you go on like this... all the killing is destroying you. Go about it slowly. I don’t say ‘marry him’... but give his horizon a silver lining... and yours as well.” Ukon’s face was all serenity as she looked through the new backdoor Fett had given their drawing room “I’d rather let this person fight himself instead of you, Tomoe-chan,” she remarked.
“He won’t change. He will continue to behave brutal, jealous and disrespectful.” Tomoe sighed. But Ukon was right. “He changed my life without even being here. It’s like an infection. I’ve killed and I’ll continue to kill until the day I die. When I kill him, it will be just another dead man in a long row... but if I spare him, I might stop it. I do realize that I am blessed with a second chance.”
“I’m not sure about him, but you certainly deserve one, Tomoe-chan. Let the barbarian sow his wild oats. You’ve got enough unsolved issues on your hands as it is. Drop some on him. It might help to reign in his attitude. Maybe he will find out that he can have more fun elsewhere.”
“Hmm... Oniro-sama?” Tomoe waited for the nerd to look up from his hapless attempt to refit the panel, before she continued in Basic, “I understand that Mr. Fett has his commitments, but so have I. Having to fulfill those older duties, I cannot leave or take up further ties as it is.” Oniro nodded slowly as she continued to speak as if Fett wasn’t listening. “I’m sure Mr. Fett is going to understand this since he takes his own contracts as seriously.”
“Would you like me to talk to the Okasan about your contract?” Oniro tried to keep his voice as even and soothing as possible. He had an idea how much pride Tomoe put into her profession. She had made her own living all those years of her apprenticeship without accepting a sponsorship from anybody, let alone a proposal to forego her self-earned degree... for what? Oniro couldn’t think of anything worth her while. The proposal itself was an insult.
“I think that would help to give Mr. Fett an overview about the financial aspect of his …proposal. It seems to be a good point to start with, but please remind him that my commitments are not limited to finances. As Mr. Fett recognized some days ago, I have certain duties of honor towards my family. In the moment that includes the health care of my older sister and support of allied families like Segawa.”
“You said the Segawa-troupe would find somebody else soon?”
“We are not giving up easily. It is Taichi-san’s decision… which will depend on the outlook on Segawa-sama’s recovery.”
“The reports were very polite...”
“Segawa-sama is in the capital-hospital with an undiagnosed nerve-infection. I recon he was contaminated during a gaijin contact.” Tomoe patted Moronoko’s strong neck and the Hi-inu rolled to his feet with a luxurious yawn that showed off his fangs. “Because of my own high-risk pregnancy I can tell how little some offworlders care what microbial strains they are spreading around about everywhere.”
She stood and the Hi-inu slunk out over the veranda like a shadow. His sleek black body vanished in the pond under a gentle wave and didn’t resurface.
“It’s alright, Oniro-sama. I’ll call the carpenter to fix that. Please let me accompany you to your cottage. I have to close the storm shields over the paper screen in both places and make you comfortable... and maybe you would like a bath to relax?”
“Uhmm... I have to see what the others think about that.”
Meanwhile, Jango carried his son up hill. The landscape was deceivingly calm. Fence and garden gate were a bad joke. He wondered how people could live like that… without protection against the elements and unfriendly neighbors.
“Dad, you really okay? You are limping.” Boba wiggled within his dad’s firm grasp to get a better overview. Jango grunted, unwilling to let his little saboteur down already. “ ’cause what you called a landing? The whole cottage shook from the impact.”
“I planted an additional receiver up there.” Jango explained, “It’s just my ribs that aren’t back to normal yet.”
“I can walk myself, dad.”
“Kuur…” As Jango entered the grove, he squatted and put his son on the forest soil of soft fallen pine needles, “I’m recording... how much of their language do you understand, Boba?”
“Polite phrases, numbers, many words about food, sailing and hunting…”
The helmet hid Jango’s surprise as he had to realize that Tomoe did more than to feed his son well and put new clothing on him. “What did she do to you?”
“We travelled around some before coming here… first by train, then by ship and then in a little boat. Few people here speak Basic, you know? Ukon for example doesn’t. But Okasan, Norio and Taichi can… and Ojii-san of course. He’s the best, he even writes Aurabesh. And he teaches his grandchildren. I practiced a lot with Yoko-chan… pity she can’t be around all the time. I want a sister like her, dad!”
“Slowly, Boba. Who is who?”
“Okasan’s the boss here, a small old woman who tells everybody what to do. She despises me and hates Tomoe. She’s looking for a possibility to kick us out, especially when that earns her more money than other way round. Norio does the security job. He’s very fat but nice. We used to get along but… uh, I think I pissed him off two nights ago...”
“I didn’t stay in his room when he told me to. But I had to help mom against the sea monster!”
Jango huffed again under his breath. So he wasn’t the only one who had a problem with his son sneaking around - especially when he was told to stay put. “Sea monster?”
“Yes, that’s the governor here. Old and even fatter than Norio…all glibber with an ugly scarred face. Did you see the scratch on Tomoe’s lower lip? That was him. He hit her and tore down her collar before she managed to get away. He was drunk and looked mad enough for a murder, but a look into the barrel of our slug thrower cooled him down instantly. I would have taken care of the matter immediately, but Tomoe dictated him her conditions. He agreed and we let him go.”
“That he stays shut up and the resort can stay in business. And travelling permits for Tomoe and myself. Got ‘em the next day.”
“Hmm...” Fett noted that money wasn’t on the list, but that made little difference to him. “She won’t use you to conduct such business again.”
“She wanted me to stay out of it!” Boba disagreed, “The day before that, I obeyed and stayed in the main house with Norio so she could serve guests. Something must have happened. When Tomoe came to me that night, she was dirty, sick and soaked to the bone. There was a slug thrower over her shoulder she didn’t have beforehand. They were talking about covering things up. Ukon had been shot. The cottage and the walkways around were totally messed up. I think she killed at least twice that night. In the morning, I found a blackened arrow in one of those trees over there.”
‘Started a weapons collection like any good girl,’ Skirata’s voice echoed in Jango’s mind. “She killed some of her guests?” He inquired emotionlessly.
“I think she protected them, since one of them visited her again this morning. To thank her and make a proposal.” Boba grinned, “That Ariga-guy didn’t like me anymore than I like him.”
“I’ve seen him. What did they agree?”
“Whatever he wanted, mom just laughed at him. He left a present, which she didn’t like, either. She thinks he will return some day for a ‘request’...”
Jango carefully filed the information his son was providing. “How often did she fight since you arrived?”
“Those two times... and she smacked down two thugs who pestered us in town, but that doesn’t really count... like today: you could have called her, talked to her instead of busting her place. She really likes that cottage, you know?”
Three fights in a week? Not the upper professional league, but definitely too much for a civvie. “No, Boba. I couldn’t risk losing you again. I already expected her to try and get you off planet in case her cover is blown.”
“What if she decides to get lost now?”
“Then we are going to find her again. That’s why I listen in. She can’t vanish.”
Boba stared up at his dad’s T-shaped visor. “Believe me, dad, she can.” He swallowed and remembered the anguish he had felt when all she had left behind had been a pile of clothing and a fading trail of bubbles on a murky pond. “She can live of the land, breathe water and feed a child from her breasts.”
Jango chuckled, “That will keep it interesting.”
They entered the TIV and Jango fed the recorded audio data into the ship’s computer for Boba to listen. He watched his son smile lightly as he was welcomed, then any expression was lost to his full concentration.
“Ukon says something about hope. Tomoe says no. Killing, destruction, fight... continue – stop...” Boba listened to it several times before he gave up “I can’t understand this fully, dad. I don’t know enough words. They are using a more formal speech than usual. This high quick chatter... I recognize Tomoe’s most scolding tone. Ukon sounds like she tries to calm her down, doesn’t she?”
“Yes. Don’t worry, son. It seems they leave Oniro out of the loops as well. What do you think about the rest of it?” Jango leaned back into the pilot’s seat, his arms clasped in front of his chest.
“I heard Okasan saying that marriage is excluded under that contract when Tomoe told her of my adoption. Of course Ukon and Taichi would be at a loss of without her help - Segawa Taichi is the actor.” Boba added, “He’s really nice.”
“I know.” Jango grumbled. Everybody was nice but him.
“We visited Taichi’s father in hospital three days ago. He’s really ill.” Boba looked up at his father hopefully “Can we help them, dad? There should be some bacta or something in the medkit and for the infection; I remember Tomoe’s flu - with our medicine that was resolved in a matter of days.”
“We’ll see. Right now they are not in a welcoming mood... What does she mean with high-risk pregnancy? She was perfectly healthy when I had her checked two weeks ago.” He had to find out more. If necessary, he would dart her once more and take her to an up-to-date hospital whenever she liked it or not.
“I don’t know. Tomoe was worried when she came back from the doctor three days ago. She said she has to go for check-ups regularly.”
“There goes her ability to vanish in the wilderness.” Jango stated dryly, hiding his concern under a layer of ice.
Tomoe walked Oniro over to Ukon’s cottage and showed him around. The layout was similar, but it had one additional room in the basement. The cottage had an understated elegance in light colored wood and silver while Tomoe’s was more rural themed. Silver green brocade lined the mats. A fan-shaped window opened over the swinging shots of susuki grass that grew high in the garden.
The filtered sunlight was reflected by the dark lacquer of the large low table. Seats with crème-colored silken upholstery were complimented by chocolate brown floor cushions with a gold-brown wave pattern. The gentle flow of a calligraphy swung with the silence of the room.
“I always wondered how Ukon-san was living. She’s such a talented singer.”
“Yes, she is.” Tomoe took up the shamsin that was awaiting its players return on the table and unstrung the instrument, then placed the pieces in a drawer of the alcove reverently. Afterwards she put out a cotton robe for Oniro and went back outside to slide the solid wooden window shutters in front of the fragile paper screens. Inside, the shadows spread panel by panel until the only source of light was the veranda room.
Oniro nearly jumped out of his freshly donned bathrobe as the cottage’s com came suddenly alive with a silver jiggle. Tomoe was still rummaging outside. He resisted valiantly until the second ring before he picked up. He felt a pang of guilt remembering the recording device in his under robe’s collar, but apparently, a Jango Fett didn’t need the receptionist to patch him through whenever he wanted to ask his spy what was going on.
“I assumed that you’d like some private time for your family reunion and to think about Tomoe’s comments… you’ve got them, didn’t you?” Oniro rolled his thin shoulders and looked around carefully “I figured I’d take a bath while I’m idle... and as you put it, I don’t want to get a nasty shock – one per day is enough for me.”
“Yes. Bath. The stylish version of a sonic shower.” Oniro advertised. “Unless you get a cottage with a family bath - which I never do because of the communicational aspect - it’s a big basin filled with thermal water to clean body and mind… to be honest: You look as if you could use one.”
“No, thank you.”
“By the way.... it won’t cost you more when you move in here, as well. So far, nobody requested you to sleep on a bench for the next hundred days, Captain.” Oniro grinned at the huff on the other end. “Dinner will be served in two hours. Since they don’t do take-away meals here, where can I send you the limo?
“I didn’t come here to stay that long.” Fett wrinkled his forehead. Oniro had gone crazy. “You want me to come over?”
“Yes, I want you to come over.” Oniro repeated patiently, “with a plural you that includes Boba.”
“Leave my son out of it.” Fett snapped.
“As I see it, he’s your main argument, my armored friend. You won’t make any romantic progress pointing your armory at each other.”
“Thought so. No risk, no fun. She already decided against shooting you. Now you have to decide why you are here, for your weapons or for her.”
“Mando’ade wear armor.”
“In the bathtub?”
“No, but under the shower sometimes,” a young voice piped in.
“Shut up, Boba.”
“I’ll have you picked up then.” Oniro concluded easily, and then turned to watch Tomoe slide through the entrance area and vanish in the kitchen with a freshly cut flower in her hand. She returned with a high bamboo vase filled with water and completed the flower arrangement with graceful economy of movement that made clear her knife was razor sharp and handled by a true master.
Once the shoka-arrangement sat in the alcove, the gentleness of the original keeper’s presence was cut by the vertical blade of a vibrant blue iris. Oniro arched a brow as he noticed that Tomoe had clipped the second blossom on the branch purposefully, leaving only two more buds. The overall result was well balanced as usual, but Oniro didn’t like the message at all. “Please give Ukon-san my regards and thank her for the nice reception.” He watched her bow, her face a marble mask. “I would like dinner to be served in two hours.”
Tomoe took refuge in her serviceable routine “What would you like to eat?”
“Since three is a small group, I’d like to try your home cooking. No knives play though, please. I want to enjoy a nice, civilized evening. No fighting, no accidents”
“We will avoid those.” She acknowledged.
“I expect you to serve us solitary, since I’ll ask Fett to uncover his face. How about sukiyaki? I don’t want you to spend the whole evening in the kitchen.”
“And have the limousine sent to the landing area. I’ll await my guests here... I guess I can handle things until dinner.”
“Thank you, Tomoe-chan. Don’t let me keep you up.”
Oniro sat in one of the low chairs on the veranda and watched the storm clouds gathering overhead while he stretched his legs. Then he realized he was teetering on the edge nervously and decided to count the hairs on his toes instead to appear as the calm and laid back negotiator.
Tomoe had just finished tasking the carpenter to fix the wall before the storm when a very nervous chauffeur called in. He sighed in relief when she picked up immediately. “I’m at the landing area. There is a strange guy with a kid waiting at Oniro’s ship. He wears silver armor and a helmet that covers all of his face... did Oniro really invite this guy?” the driver whispered under his breath.
“Yes, that’s Kabuto-sama. Oniro is expecting him. Be polite, greet him, you don’t need to converse with him. He speaks Basic only but he is not very talkative anyway. Please have him accompanied to Ukon’s cottage unobtrusively. Please inform me in case the boy doesn’t come with you.”
Tomoe remained in front of the intercom and contemplated whenever she should use the Tsunaike-spotter’s spare ordnance to blow up or booby-trap Fett’s ship while he wasn’t around. Without a vehicle he wouldn’t take her anywhere or call extra-planetary reinforcements. On the other hand, you never knew where Fett was looking. If she had to kill him, the ship would become a valuable asset - if Oniro could fly it. Again, piloting proved to be a major gap in her education. Aside of that, she wasn’t sure how to handle that sort of ordnance safely and she couldn’t exactly ask Ariga or Hanma about it... the price of their advice would be higher than she was willing to pay.
“What are you thinking about, Tomoe-chan?” Ukon asked from her corner.
“Lot of things are on my mind...” Tomoe straightened out her back, then stood and sat with Ukon. “Oniro wants me to serve Fett at dinner. I can hardly do that with a naginata clutched under my arm.”
A truce. The situation itself wasn’t unheard of. Tomoe was sure that her grandmother had served more than one dangerous man she didn’t like. And there were rules that civilized a warrior’s homestead. She would employ them on herself as well as Fett.
“Hmmm...” Ukon acknowledged her unspoken decision “...do you want me to do up your hair?”
“Maybe later...” Tomoe mused.
“I know that… if it wasn’t for me, you would simply vanish... It’s alright Tomoe. I’ll get along.”
“Don’t think that way, Ukon, running would solve nothing. Where could I go? Leave the planet? My enemies are experienced nomads between the stars when I know so little. Wherever I go, I put friends into danger. Alone in the wilderness, pregnant with a birth date in winter...” She laughed dryly “No. Let them bring it on.”
“You have a travelling permit?” Ukon hooked in; surprise showing on her deeply wrinkled face.
“Yes. The governor gave it to me.”
“You let him...?”
“No. I convinced him of my connection to our other guests before that. That Fett burned his mark into my back helped.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Tomoe suddenly stood. They could all go screw themselves. “I guess the problem is obvious enough for the carpenter. I’m in the servant’s bath until I have to start dinner.” She knew that the small hut uphill would be deserted at the time.
Oniro’s turned his head with a thin smile as he heard soldier boots on the veranda accompanied by a light tap of socks.
The chauffeur had not stopped his vehicle in front of the main gate but led them through the garage and the gardens to avoid contacts with other guests. He got lost quickly, hoping that the keeper of the Nanakusa-Cottage would know how to handle this scary person and avoid impending embarrassment.
Oniro pushed out of the seat with a sigh, fists on his hips as he stood in Fett’s way. “Now, Boba, who’s going to teach your dad the basics?”
“Such as... use the door when making an entrance?”
“Good point, small one... I was already thinking a step ahead: No boots or shoes inside, especially not on mats. Let’s go inside and change.”
While Fett tried to stare Oniro down, Boba had left his sandals at the steps leading up to the veranda already, carefully avoiding the large footprints his father made on the freshly polished wood. “C’mon dad, we are guests here. Even Vau leaves his boots at the entrance when invited for dinner. Do you want Tomoe to scrub Ukon’s place all night...”
Jango’s “hmm...” betrayed that he would consider the idea to keep her out of mischief.
“...after she threw you out?”
Not an option. “I am not completely uncivilized, son.” Fett stepped into the shadow of the corner to undo his boots “I just keep an eye on everybody’s safety. Don’t you see that Tomoe is out for blood with a mid range slug thrower?”
“You have heard her; she’s going to give you a chance. Don’t waste it. Right now she’s in the bath herself.”
“If I manage to confirm that, will you stop sabotaging me tonight?” Oniro watched Jango’s slight nod “Alright. I’m going to call Ukon to give us a timeslot in the bath. No need to embarrass everybody.”
He went to the com, trying hard to reactivate his vocabulary, but Ukon was very patient despite the hammering in the background.
“I love that old lady... we can have the whole bathhouse for ourselves in half an hour. Norio was so damn happy about our polite inquiry that he sends a watchman to have an eye on Tomoe to ‘keep her safe’.” Oniro chuckled, “that’s the male half of the service personnel rolling dices for a change... You realize how much we shake things up here?”
“Mom won’t like that.” Boba dropped a pile of cotton robes on the table in the drawing room “She tries hard to keep the kyr'bes on her back covered up in front of strangers.”
“Dad gave her his sigil for protection... it’s a nice red print on the centre of her back. But she somehow thinks it’s embarrassing.” Boba described patiently.
“Hurray, you are safe, Fett,” Oniro made a face, “I just took your top position on of her ‘who-to-kill-next’ list... don’t thank me all at once.”
Fett simply ignored the nerd. “What’s your plan with that pile, Boba?”
“We change, and then we have a bath before dinner,” Boba explained and decided to announce it right away, since adults tended to forget it all the time, “and I want a proper bedtime story afterwards...”
“And that will fix things?” Fett suppressed a groan.
“You have to start somewhere.” Boba shrugged his shoulders. “Last time I argued with Tomoe, I asked her to comb my hair afterwards. It helped her to calm down.” His nose flared, “Even I can smell weapons and injury on you, dad… and her senses are far more refined.”
“Clean up, shave, bath and relax.” Oniro tried to task Jango for the evening. “Then show her what a civilized man you can be.”
“She’s in the servants’ bath right now. I could take her easily.”
“Thinking in shortcuts again, Jango?” Oniro scolded “When you force her, you know she will rebel again on the next higher plane. I’m glad you came, but I’ll take it from here. Please try not to sabotage me tonight.”
Boba slid a built-in closet open for his father to stake his armor. “Nobody’s going to take away things.”
“I’ve made sure of that.” Fett changed some settings, placed a bean comlink in his ear and sat his helmet on top of the pile. “Whoever tries will suffer a nasty surprise.” He placed his blaster in reach on the table and shook out a robe, wondering what to do with the shapeless garment.
“That’s the largest I could find.” Boba tried to help him as Tomoe and Ukon had done for him. Worn right on the skin, without jetpack and armor, it fit snugly, but: “Something is wrong?” Boba stepped back and tilted his head.
“It is, Boba,” nursing a cup of tea in his hand which he had brewed with hot water from a thermos flask, Oniro agreed, “remember it is worn left-over-right... right-over-left is for ghosts only - and you don’t plan to start the Fett-is-dead discussion with Tomoe all over, do you?”
Jango’s huff sounded like “Superstitious rubbish.” He felt terribly naked despite the robe covering him from shoulder to ankles.
“No way! I had to tell her all the time – but the look on her face today was priceless, dad.”
“It’s practical to keep small necessities in reach and to prevent the saber-hilt from catching in the overlap.” Oniro continued to explain and watched Boba doing it right this time. They had spent enough time to fit into Norio’s schedule easily.
Jango nodded, padded his Westar blaster with a small towel and slipped it under the overlap to emulate Oniro’s pot belly while keeping at least one weapon in reach. Boba nodded his approval “Mom does that, too.” The reassuring weight made Jango feel a little better. If Tomoe could play this game, so could he.
Despite being clad like any other guest they met on the walkway to the bathhouse, their darker complexion and superior height earned the threesome several looks before the others quickly averted their gaze. Boba marched between the two adults with pride. Today, nobody would call him names. Not with dad by his side. They entered the deserted bathhouse through the men’s changing room under the watchful eyes of the elderly bath attendant.
If Jango had felt terribly naked before, now he really was. But he would not back down. “K'olar... Verd ori'shya beskar'gam.” He learned a lesson from his obviously unfazed son who got a bucket, soap and washcloths since his dad denied to let go of his folded towel.
“We wash before we enter the basin.” Boba informed his father wisely and settled on a small stool in front of a tap. “I scrub your back if you scrub mine.” He offered.
“You certainly have no reason to be ashamed of your body.” Oniro noted, set down a pouch with his personal shaving equipment between them before he went about his own business.
Fett saved further comments and started shaving, then soaped his son’s back who returned the favor. After spending days in bacta and sleeping in his armor, he didn’t mind the clean feeling. Of course the boy couldn’t resist the opportunity to empty a full bucket right over dad’s head when for once it was in convenient height for a five year old. Water splashed in all direction.
“I wished I had kids...” Oniro sighed.
“I don’t need to tell you to keep your towel out of the water.” Boba told his dad while walking through the large puddle on the floor to the big basin. He dipped a foot in carefully. Coming from the same thermal well, the water was as hot as in smaller servant’s bath. Boba sunk slowly deeper; floating in the warm water’s buoyant embrace... he would certainly miss those pleasures on Kamino. In a month, the azaleas around would be in full bloom.
Jango scanned the surroundings and followed his son whose mood had suddenly changed from overactive to serene. He eyed the steaming surface suspiciously. What was it with the water here? One side was closed by the steep cliff that bordered to the wide swinging thatched roof of the bathhouse. A small waterfall would interfere with his hearing. The sight downhill was party obscured by bamboo blinds; on the other hand, they couldn’t be seen from the outside when sitting in the basin. The outside area was surrounded by rocks of granite and bushes with thick dark green leaves.
Resting his wrapped-up towel on the edge of the basin, he sat behind one of the boulders with his back to the cliffs that allowed him a good sight over the garden. He concluded that he could feel as safe as anywhere on the resort.
Immersed to the chin, Boba sat on his father’s knees to keep his head out of the water. “Can you eat with chopsticks, dad?” – “Hmmm?” – “They are using a pair of small sticks as utensils here... but it’s not that hard. I’m going to show you.”
“Any other strange manners and rules I should know of?” Jango inquired.
“Uhm... can’t think of any right now... maybe ‘don’t stare’... but with no other people around? It’s not so difficult to get along, really.”
Oniro rested his head on the edge of the basin and closed his eyes “You can’t really make a lot of mistakes here when you are attentive and heed the personnel’s advice. They go great lengths to make your stay harmonic. Let’s get comfortable and enjoy a nice evening. Tomorrow, we can see Okasan and ask for her opinion about Tomoe.”
“What’s this contract about?”
“You have to know that Tomoe is still an apprentice. She attends dance- and other arts-courses at the academy and learns from her older sister. She was preparing to take her finals this winter, but I doubt she’ll be ready under the circumstances... Anyway, she will refine her knowledge all her life by training. To pay for her apprenticeship, the resort gives her a loan which is paid off by a percentage of her monthly earnings. Until the girl is in really high demand, such a contract is usually not paid in full by the end of the apprenticeship, so she stays at the resort as an accomplished entertainer until her debt is paid in full. Afterwards, she can make a management-contract here or elsewhere or open her own house – if she has the money ...or the support.”
Jango noticed Oniro’s speech had slipped from specific to general “How about Tomoe?”
“I don’t know. She’s the only apprentice I know who holds a cottage. She is... different. The other apprentices are kids compared to her. I can’t tell how popular she really is, but with the cottage, she has to spend a lot of time with plain service. It’s mainly Ukon and her working together. Tomoe dances nicely, but Ukon plays so well that connoisseurs will never let her retire in a lifetime. I can’t say if Tomoe has money on the bank, but I can imagine there is a fat security on the cottage. And I can tell she will need Okasan’s permission to marry.”
“No money left on the bank,” Boba wiped his face and checked if his fingers were already wrinkly enough, “but she got plenty of cash and I wouldn’t count on a lack of other means. The Harada homestead was burned down a couple of years ago, but she is the only heir of her family’s deposit box. Mom can pull who-knows-what from there. The listing goes over at least three screens.”
“Ah. That’s good to know.” Oniro noted and grinned at Fett “Your chosen one isn’t just beautiful, strong and intelligent, but probably rich as well, when push comes to shove,” He chuckled dryly “mine was just filthy rich.”
“I’m not interested in her money.”
“But she’s probably interested in yours. Money is women’s business over here, my mighty warrior.” Oniro preferred to take a short dive and let Fett digest that knowledge before he re-emerged and freed his hearing from water. “Good to know how she’s doing with the funds entrusted to her... to avoid future shortages in your pocket money.”
“Pocket money?!” Fett hooked in. Boba listened curiously. He remembered holozines which mentioned that kids got such a thing out there. But none of his parents had ever thought of that.
“Yes. Freedom. You can spend it as you like and nobody asks stupid questions like those that lead to our last ...incident. Make sure you negotiate that well.”
“I’m earning my own money.”
“No, Fett. The job you volunteer for is to earn your family’s money while it’s your wife’s job to manage your family’s homestead. And all in- and outgoing payments including your weekly... well, maybe you can make those monthly allowances. It’s called ‘division of work’. Got it?”
“Forget it.” Jango grumbled.
“Maybe you should look for a different wife in another theatre then, if you aren’t interested in this one’s full abilities?” Oniro proposed and steepled his fingers “On my homeworld for example, you agree a fee with the father or eldest brother and in return you get a girl who doesn’t know the first thing about complaining or even fighting... who’ll just put her male kinship on your ass when you mess up or keep looking for a second one, which shouldn’t trouble you at all...”
“I see,” Jango cut him off, “but that won’t do for me.”
“Yeah, you should have been more careful while test driving,” Oniro blinked at Fett, “now you are as stuck as I who never got so much as a good look before the first night... and in my mom’s opinion faith and fat make a beautiful woman.” He rolled his eyes.
“You let your mother arrange your marriage?!”
“Why do you think I waste my time helping a big brute like you? I’m not only a closet romantic, nobody deserves that fate.”
Boba clasped his arms in front of his chest and made a promise to himself here and now to do things differently. “I’ve enough. I need to keep my wits about me tonight.” He announced and climbed out, steam rising of his flushed skin as he marched over into the changing room and got dressed.
“Adults!”Chapter 15.3 – Dinner for Four (Day 20)
Tomoe gave the mark on her back another peeling as she noted a movement outside. She took a hold on her folded towel and peeked around the corner of the screen that parted the open shed from the garden. But it was just one of Norio’s watchmen taking a shortcut on his round. She rinsed the soap off her skin, pinned up her hair and slipped into the warm pool. Then she let her mind drift with the selective attention of a predator.
How lucky was Moronoko who could simply get lost under the cool green surface of a pond, vanish in the marshes and catch a fat fish from time to time. In half an hour, she would apply makeup, dress up for the evening and put a smile on her face. Sure, there had been a couple of difficult guests in the last years, but so far, she had never hated her profession. Now her urge to kill and then leave it all behind grew strong.
Did she really need all this? Couldn’t she make a living from less? As long as she walked the way of humanity she would always be bound to a patch of land, or to her tools and material, or to her clients. The problem was and stayed Fett, however she turned it... she could not shake him off. If she tried to make money from her medical skills, she would run into license-problems or treat the poor who had nothing left themselves. She could survive like that, unbound, wandering, hunting, working for a roof over her head and an occasional free meal - but she could not raise her child the way it deserved.
She despised Ariga’s proposal to misuse the Segawa-troupe as cover, aside of that, it could not be so hard to slot a criminal or a corrupt politician like the governor for several months’ wage. Without the costs for luxurious clothing, make-up, wigs and other necessities of her trade, that would get her long way. She could furnish a boat for living and keep moving. The occasional ‘job’ would leave her plenty of time for home schooling. But sooner or later, the day would come when she had to kill the wrong person or stand up against the whole Yuwa-Society...
No. Under those conditions, she could put up with Fett right now, yet she was sure he had taken precautions to bring in his vast reinforcements in case she killed him. They had too much in common for her comfort... ‘Save yourself the detours. Back to field one.’ She didn’t have to change. In order to survive, she had to exchange Fett. No more, no less.
She lowered under the surface, shutting out the sounds of nature for a moment. Coming up, she snorted. What was he anyway? A guy with a gun. A walking body armor. A speaker alternated voice…
Audio-only was easy enough to emulate. With the right technique, she could probably fake it up to a holo-recording. She was a little on the short side to do it herself. Fett’s clones would take a few more years to grow up. In the meantime, the original’s assistance would be most helpful. Once she had learned all she needed to know and had an all-purpose Fett in her pocket – the handy version 2.0 stored on a memory chip - life would become a lot easier.
Killing Fett would be too kind a punishment. She would remove him and his legacy from this galaxy. Let Fett disturb his own plans and kinship until nobody misses him on Kamino, make him travel the galaxy and then let him vanish in a place far, far away. One his remaining loyal minions could trash without doing any harm...
“You are under the weather,” Tomoe chuckled softly, “Get out before your dreams get all weird.” She scolded herself lightly, threw her summer robe around her shoulders and hurtled back home.
Ukon looked up at her younger sister entering with a new bounce in her steps. She smiled up briefly, and then bit off a loose thread from sewing a fresh half collar to an under robe. “Done.” – “Thank you.” Tomoe carried her wooden make-up stand over, took the cover off the polished brass mirror and watched Ukon kneeling behind her to set her hair. She enjoyed her doing that and here wasn’t much work left with her hair anyway.
“The carpenter did a good job.” Tomoe remarked and applied a thin layer of makeup. Then she remembered that she had to call Taichi and explain him that she was fine, that she would meet him in town tomorrow. He agreed, but didn’t sound convinced at her formal, impersonal tone. By now, the garden waited for the rain to wash away the heat of the day. She draped a robe with a fine stripe pattern in willow greens and a tiny bit of pink over the crimson tie-dyed underrobe. The watery pink and blue shades of the hydrangea and white fan shapes on the wide sash were highlighted by a deep pink cord.
Tying the sleeves back and an apron over the skirt, she went into the kitchen to cut up the meat and vegetables for dinner. She took the large plate over to the Susuki-Cottage to set up the fireplace for the fondue. She prepared the starters with the assistance of the main kitchen. Then she checked one last time on Ukon to make sure the old lady would spend the following hours well. Her last preparation consisted of swallowing some vegetable oil. She didn’t care for the taste and feel in her mouth, but it would enable her to drink. She was suspicious that Oniro would try to fill her up ‘for relaxation’. Tonight she would need her total composure.
As the men returned from the hot bath, Tomoe stood at the entrance of Ukon’s cottage, her empty hands held in plain sight in front of her as she bowed “Good evening.” She greeted them and invited them into the anteroom.
Jango felt his hackles rise. The difference to the woman who had struggled against his son, trying to run him through with her pole arm just a few hours ago was too enormous to be true. Boba dropped their towels on her “Su’cuy, buir. I’m starving.”
“Dinner is almost ready.” Tomoe smiled at her boy, bowed and went to put the wet towels away. Invited inside, Oniro ushered Fett to follow him and take the second seat on the right side of the room, opposite of the fireplace. Oniro sat on the cushion in front of the alcove. The position of honor gave him a good overview and prevented him from watching Tomoe’s statement all the time. The place closest to the entrance would be Boba’s... just in case something went terribly wrong. But he doubted that since their host seemed to do everything to make them comfortable.
Tomoe served up three trays with pickled vegetables and a soup as starters and filled the time to the sukiyaki with a variation of sushi and the tiny eggs of wild birds in nests of green sprouts. She left the warmed sake bottle with Oniro who jovially filled Fett’s cup between the courses and asked questions about the origins of the specialties which the host answered with regional anecdotes and niceties to keep total silence from creeping up to them.
While conversation with Tomoe had always been effortless and inspiring, Oniro had his own guests to entertain today, so the host would practice a little more reserve. Pity, since the bounty hunter was a lame duck when it came to small talk. They wore the same clothing, ate the same food and drank from the same bottle of rice wine, nevertheless Oniro couldn’t think of a topic Fett and he had in common. The bounty hunter was probably proud to be such a spoilsport.
Fett slowly emptied his cup and then set it on the polished wooden rim of the fireplace. The acidic scent of the beverage in his cup didn’t help Jango to ease up and enjoy the serenity of the hosts’ movement. He didn’t care if he was disturbing a ritual, he didn’t like people moving about while he had dinner, period. It registered that she avoided approaching him from behind. When he dropped something with the impractical utensils, she pushed the cleaning cloth under her belt using the fingertips of her left hand only. Nevertheless, his mind couldn’t get around the slight protrusion of her knife right under her armpit.
‘Come down, Jango.’ He couldn’t understand his own agitation. After all, he had spent a lifetime surrounded by fully armed soldiers, rarely all of them in peaceful mood. Any bar in Nar Shadda had more threatening potential than his small woman serving him dinner. But the mere fact the knife was there made him feel terribly naked, despite the blaster under his own robe. His ribs had stopped hurting in the bath. Now they started to remind him again of their recent mistreatment - by just that blade. He wasn’t used leaving open ends.
“Get a fourth setting and sit with us... please.” In the last moment, he tried to give his command an inviting gloss.
Oniro’s gaze slid from one to the other at the irregular proposal. Couldn’t Fett recognize a performing artist? But the host just bowed.
“Very well,” said Tomoe, before gathering the emptied bowls and plates on her tray and leaving the room. The elaborate lacquer ware and seasonal porcelain would be safer in the kitchen where Fett couldn’t shove it around with his chopsticks. Setting a small plate under a fourth bowl on the tray, she returned to the hearth just in time to place the first portion of sliced nerf in the centre of the assorted vegetables and tofu in the large pan. She sat the large plate beside her own seat for successive refill and distributed the bowls with the dip around the fireplace. The finely sliced meat was done in seconds, “Please serve yourselves,” she invited.
“Tomoe,” Fett tried again, holding out a cup for her, “join us for a drink. And tell me, what were you up to?”
Tomoe accepted the cup gracefully. He wouldn’t be a Fett if he hadn’t squished out his son in the meantime. Was he providing her with a chance to present her own point of view? “I had a little vacation before I took up my training again. The seaside is too beautiful in the early summer months to miss it. There was plenty of time for homework during my own studies.”
“Vacation?” Jango asked. Boba had sparked his curiosity about her ability to live of the land.
“We rented a boat on the way here. It took some days longer, but Boba could see and experience a lot more on the way than by rushing through with the train. Children here are about his age when they learn how to handle little boats.” She put the cup down and turned slightly to the hearth to push a piece of tofu into her son’s reach. She smiled at the boy’s adroit way to fish his dinner out of the large pan and dip the steaming bits it into the scrambled egg before eating. “Like Boba, they can swim before they can walk.”
“Yes.” Boba nodded with full mouth, but remembered his manners and gulped before he continued. “They swim well, but they are rotten hunters, screaming around whenever they are not under water. While their moms are working, they play all the time.” He shrugged his shoulders and remarked “But then, mom’s talking all the time and she’s a good huntress nevertheless.”
“I’ve never seen a plant or sea shell run away just because harvesters enjoy a chat from time to time.” Tomoe chuckled. She certainly wouldn’t reveal details about her hunting technique to Fett, especially not about her retriever. “Do you know the tale of the sea shell?” Boba shook his head, so she continued...
“There is a powerful shell fish in the sea here, called the Sazayé, with a very strong operculum. Now this creature, if it hears that there is any danger astir, shuts up its shell from within with a loud noise, and thinks itself perfectly safe.
One day a Tai and another fish, lost in envy at this, said "What a strong castle this is of yours, Mr. Sazayé! When you shut up your lid from within, nobody can so much as point a finger at you. A capital figure you make, sir."
When he heard this, the Sazayé, stroked his beard and replied "Well, gentlemen, although you are so good as to say so, it's nothing to boast of in the way of safety; yet I must admit that, when I shut myself up thus, I do not feel much anxiety."
And as he was speaking thus, with the pride that apes humility, there came the noise of a great splash; and the shell-fish, shutting up his lid as quickly as possible, kept quite still, and thought to himself, what in the world the noise could be. Could it be a net? Could it be a fish-hook? What a bore it was, always having to keep such a sharp look-out! Were the Tai and the other fish caught, he wondered; and he felt quite anxious about them: however, at any rate, he was safe.
And so the time passed; and when he thought all was safe, he stealthily opened his shell, slipped out his head and looked all round him. There seemed to be something wrong - something with which he was not familiar...
As he looked a little more carefully, lo and behold there he was in a fishmonger's shop, and with a card marked ‘sixteen cash’ on his back.”
A self-confident smirk spread over Jango’s face. Yes, Tomoe had dug in like a clam and waited for his picking. Good, she realized she had lost the game and took it with good grace and humor. He would pay the price and take her home.
“Stupid shell.” Boba giggled as Tomoe dropped her pose of glancing around and relaxed her raised hand to refill his glass casually. She was unsure what Oniro had planned, but she wouldn’t have the boy drink too much tea before his bedtime. It was hard enough to tuck the small one in on a normal evening.
Outside, lightning flashed and thunder rolled. Tomoe excused herself briefly to slide transpari-shields in front of the veranda, but left the paper screen open. Oniro suddenly understood how small rooms could become unbearable for people with a warrior background. Some decades ago, the locals would have huddled together comfortably in the glow of the fire place, protected by the wooden storm shields, but thanks to modern materials, they could enjoy the light show unfolding over the coast line.
“Obviously, isn’t it?” Sitting between father and son, Tomoe carefully rinsed the cup and returned it to Fett who seemed to have decided to make himself at home, since he sat cross-legged with an elbow on the armrest. She gracefully refilled the cup for him, “...to rely on one’s strength like that...” She hinted and slid around the fireplace to refill the pan. As Fett had requested, she served herself while the mercenary sat pondering. She had purposefully avoided mentioning ‘armor’, but it seemed that he was getting there on his own. ‘Quite a progress.’ She wondered whenever he would manage the last step.
She knew Oniro had already got the message in context since it had been one of the first tales translated into Basic by an ambassador. Fett placed himself in one category with the shell when he relayed on his talents, his gadgets, his cleverness, his rank, and thought himself secure in the possession of these. Over all of that he had forgotten the essential thing: to examine his heart. Had he thrown it away? It seemed that he didn’t even know where to look for it.
Reaching over the hearth to pull up the pan by the carp-shaped counter weight, Tomoe took the brew into the kitchen and returned with the last course. It consisted of white rice and small sweet-water fishes accompanied by a salad decorated with yellow, edible blossoms. A metal tripod with a large top-ring supported the sticks over the glowing ash.
“Like the fish you made over the brazier on the first evening.” Boba beamed and picked up the long iron chopsticks used to arrange the coals. He enjoyed playing with fire as much as any kid... daddy included. The other thing Boba loved was storytelling, “There was nothing but reed all around us, but mom dived head first into a pool between giant leaves and the largest flowers I have ever seen...” Boba underlined his narration with waving chopsticks. “She dug up an ugly brown root from the ground, getting all muddy herself,” he told Jango, “imagine that!”
“Sounds like a must see...” his father agreed and had another look at the immaculate appearance of the woman on the other side of the fire place, the impeccable symmetry of her collars, the shine of the embers playing on her light skin. He doubted he would ever catch her with dirt under her nails.
“Once the root was peeled, it was all white inside with holes, so the slices looked like little wheels... and the leaves made bowels and plates. No need for dishwashing. Practical, isn’t it?”
“I’ve never met anybody who cooks full meals over an open fire at home, who does it for fun and not for survival on a hunt when running out of rations.” Jango admitted, “The results are as different as field medicine compared to those in a surgical theatre.”
Tomoe balanced a fish over to his plate and chuckled. “Do you feel healed already?”
“Not at all,” he smiled back, “I think I’m chronically ill. What would you like me to do?”
“Enjoy the evening.” She replied flatly.
“Hmm.” He wondered how to manage that fish with his chopsticks. Again, he had to take an example in Boba.
Freshly picked strawberries concluded the meal.
Oniro leaned back with a contend sigh. “Let’s have a look outside before tea.” He advised to give the host a chance to clean up and prepare the place. “I love the fresh air after a thunderstorm. The smell of discharge, wet plants and earth... and the surprise that our little paper ship again prevailed in the sea of grass … look!” he held out a hand “Real rain. We get that next to never at home.” Enthusiastically, he picked up a simple flat straw-hat without binders from the wall of the antechamber. He held it over his head as he slipped into the wooden sandals waiting on the veranda for the guests.
“Brrr...” Boba wasn’t sure why he should go out now. Stupid idea. He had seen enough thunderstorms for a lifetime on Kamino. He poked his head back inside the tea room “Mom, where is my jacket?”
“At home, where you left it,” Tomoe retorted and continued picking up bowls and wiping the wooden surroundings of the fireplace clean. “Take care that you don’t disturb Ukon-san. She needs her sleep.”
“I won’t!” Boba promised. When he slipped over to the Nanakusa-Cottage silently to help himself, he felt blessed far more than if she had passed him one for the guests of the resort. She was and would stay his mom. When he came back outside and arranged the winged sleeves of his cotton robe inside his sturdy woven jacket, his father was standing in the shadows of the veranda like a dark sentry. “It’s okay.” Boba said, “Ukon can’t sleep, so I found her a new read and adjusted the light.”
Jango didn’t like what he was seeing. They had to go home in a matter of days, but his son had become attached already. Every day they stayed would hurt him more when they left. “I’ll see what I can do for her tomorrow. We cannot stay.” Boba’s face was unhappy, but in the end he would be a loyal apprentice.
“Now, did you find some sense already?” Oniro caught up with them in the garden. “Marriage is a peculiarly oppressive institution that would spell the end of the splendid freedom you have enjoyed in life so far,” he lectured the bounty hunter, “here you can enjoy a thoroughly pampered evening and come back any time you want – no strings attached.”
“Let’s go back inside.” Fett didn’t look any more ready to put off his mission than in the afternoon, when he stood in the broken wall of the Nanakusa-Cottage.
“Wait a moment,” Oniro held him back, “that was just foreplay so far, heavily modified to keep us happy. Now here’s the real deal: don’t speak of anything outside the room during tea ceremony. Relax, okay? Even if it’s difficult.” They did their ritual purification at the stone basin in the garden before walking the garden path that lead to the Suzuki-Cottage, removed their sandals and got seated in the same succession as before. The freshly aired room smelled of incense. Fett noticed a piece of sandalwood close to the embers in the hearth.
Tomoe cleaned each of her tea-utensils with a cloth in a precise order and graceful motions and placed them in an exact arrangement. She placed a measured amount of green powder in the pre-warmed bowl and added the appropriate amount of hot water from the kettle over the hearth, then whisked the tea using set movements. When the tea was ready, she placed it out to Oniro.
They exchanged bows, Oniro then excused himself to Fett and raised the bowl in a gesture of respect to the host. He rotated the bowl to avoid drinking from its front, took a sip, murmured something and then took three more sips before wiping the rim with his own cloth. The warm bowl was made from light colored ceramic that melted into his hands. He rotated it to its original position, and passed it on to Fett with a bow who did his best to repeat his actions faithfully before he passed the cup on to his son. Jango sucked on his inner cheek secretly. Damn, the stuff was strong.
Boba found the cup nearly empty, but didn’t mind since the content was awfully bitter compared to his usual tea. He swallowed the rest and felt quite heroic as he returned the bowl to Tomoe. She cleaned the utensils in preparation for putting them away.
Oniro requested her to allow the guests to examine some of the utensils, and she passed the lacquered tea caddy around reverently on a brocaded cloth, then the cleaned bowl. Oniro recognized a priceless antique. By the cracks on the inside, the originally white Oribe-ceramic had taken a creamy white-yellow. The rim of the individually baked bowel was glazed in light green, the thicker drops transited into blue. The outside was decorated with a grass pattern in oxide-brown.
Fett took the bowl on the cloth and had a look as well. The pot was handmade and relatively heavy. Something had gone wrong in the glazing procedure. He chuckled “Are you sure the lazy craftsman didn’t let his kids do the paint job?” He was pretty sure his five year old son could have made a more realistic painting.
“He probably did,” Tomoe agreed lightly. Four hundred years ago, that was the way of choice before the ceramicists developed an equally relaxed hand as their children, “the artist preferred to stay anonymous and let his creativity unfold.”
Fett passed it on to Boba with appropriate care, and then his patience was up. No more small talk. Time to put things straight. Right now he felt fit enough to discuss the details all night or just swoop her away from her problems if needed.
Boba had come to the conclusion that the fine lines of the stems as well as the violent smash of the blades of grass on the bowl betrayed the same talent and energy that Ojiisama had recognized in him. He was about to conclude that the bowl laid nicely in his hands and how well the shimmer of greens and blues was going with the brocade edges of the mats he sat on, as he was interrupted by his father’s gravelly voice...
“You have given your word to stay on the project. Nobody gets out and lives to tell the tale. That’s the deal. I cannot change that. But I am willing to take you back inside,” Fett opened the negotiations which Oniro had managed to put off all the time.
Boba froze, and then considered it best to pass on the bowl like a hot potato. It would fill Tomoe’s hands and allow her to ignore his father’s breach of etiquette.
Tomoe received it with a court nod and continued to put away the utensils in her own good pace. It gave her the chance to think twice before turning her attention on Fett. “I feel sorry for you… that you seem to be unable to find a compromise - since it was your own violence that forced me to leave head over heels.”
“Why would I hurt you? I did not want you to run away from me...” Jango chocked out, “I found it impossible to leave you.”
It was probably the truth, but it didn’t sound like an excuse to her. “I agree that your arrival here leaves me with a single option. You once said that I failed to take care of my disgrace…”
Fett watched her tighten within her silken cocoon, but it was just the slight raise to her toes. The width of the room would allow him a single move of defense if push came to shove. “You want to kill me?” he asked, “Then do... I can just say that I am sorry. It won’t happen again.”
Tomoe reached into her wide belt with a measured gesture. She retrieved her knife with her left and placed it on the mat in front of her knees. She sat on her heels with straight back and inhaled. In the corner of her eye, she watched Oniro scramble to his feet in terror. The poor guy wasn’t used Fett’s games of intimidation. But no, she wasn’t about to admit defeat and kill herself. She had come a long way.
“If you cannot live with the dishonor of breaking your word: here,” She shoved knife over to Fett, her palm resting flatly on it for an instant, “...you should at least be man enough to take care of your problem yourself.”
“Mom!” this time, Boba jumped, clinging to his father’s raised left arm as Jango held him at bay.
“I will - once the issue comes up again.” Fett took up the sheathed knife reverently and pushed it under his own narrow belt with a thin smile. “Thank you. I’m going to return it to you when I have earned your trust.”Chapter 15.4 - The Magic Teakettle (Day 20)
Oniro stared at Tomoe. What would the young lady do now, the symbol of her honor being tricked away from her like that?
“Very well.” Tomoe nodded and slipped out in a display of serviceable routine like such things happened every day. Well, with Fett around, they probably did. The sounds from the second room announced that she put out the beddings for the night.
Boba looked from Jango to Tomoe then plopped back down on his cushion cross-legged, arms clasped in front of his chest. “You are completely mad.” He muttered under his breath “Can’t I have one peaceful evening with the both of my parents and a nice story? You can argue tomorrow. Is that asked too much?”
Oniro could only agree. “Can’t you remember. One. Single. Thing. I tell you?”
“Why?” Jango asked with an innocent smile. “I think we’ve made some progress after all.”
“Yeah, sure. The question is: in which direction?” Oniro retorted dryly.
“We will see.” Jango went to retrieve his armor. He had no intentions to stay much longer. “Ask your mother for your bedtime story, son, and then we call it a night.”
Placing his latest haul on the chest plate next to his blaster, he unknotted the long narrow belt and threw it over his shoulder while he slipped his feet into the blue body glove. Shedding the cotton robe on the mats, he pulled the suit over his shoulders and zipped it up to the chin. To his surprise he didn’t feel much relief of being clad again. His second skin smelled of bacta, antiseptic and weapon lubricant - and that was still nothing compared to the sturdy vest with the chest plates that wasn’t washed on a regular basis. He strapped on the remaining plates anyway, slipping Tomoe’s sheathed knife into the empty holster of his second blaster.
Boba found Tomoe in the next room, spreading the mosquito nets over the beddings rimmed in pristine white. Hesitantly, he remained standing at the door.
“What is it, Boba-chan?” Tomoe asked quietly.
“We won’t sleep here tonight. Could you tell me a story nevertheless, please?”
“Of course, right after you brushed your teeth.”
A lantern in one hand, the boy’s hand in the other Tomoe returned into the room lit by the dying flames of the hearth. Fett sat on his place unmoving, chest plates gleaming like the wings of an exotic silver-blue beetle. The helmet propped on his thigh underneath his left gauntlet served as his armrest. The chocolate brown silk cushion beneath prevented his kneepads from piercing the mats.
Setting the lantern aside, Tomoe knelt on Boba’s cushion with her feet casually to one side and let the boy lean into her as she started her little fairytale to calm his mind enough for a good night’s sleep...
“There was once a priest who was very fond of drinking tea. He always made the tea himself and was very fussy about the utensils he used. One day in an old second-hand shop he discovered a beautiful iron kettle used for boiling water when making tea. It was a very old and rusty kettle, but he could see its beauty beneath the rust. So he bought it and took it back to his temple. He polished the kettle until all the rust was gone, and then he called his three young pupils, who lived in the temple.
"Just look what a fine kettle I bought today," he said to them. "Now I'll boil some water in it and make us all some delicious tea."
So he put the kettle over a charcoal fire in a brazier, and they all sat around waiting for the water to boil. The kettle started getting hotter and hotter, and suddenly a very strange thing happened: the kettle grew the head of a badger, and a bushy badger tail, and four little badger feet.”
Boba looked up at his mom with startled face. That was ridiculous! Tea kettles didn’t grow appendages, period... the boy’s surprised move gave Tomoe just the space she needed to get into it for real:
"Ouch! it's hot!" cried the kettle. "I'm burning, I'm burning!" And with those words the kettle jumped off the fire and began running around the room on its little badger feet.
The old priest was very surprised, but he didn't want to lose his kettle. "Quick! quick!" he said to his pupils, "don't let it get away. Catch it!"
One boy grabbed up a broom; another, a pair of fire tongs; and the third, a dipper. And away the three of them went, chasing after the kettle. The whole temple was in inappropriate ruckus. When they finally caught it on one of the rafters, the badger head and the bushy badger tail and the four little badger feet disappeared and it was just an ordinary kettle again that tumbled over the ground with a metallic clang.
Caught up, Boba “hmmed” at all the excitement.
"This is most strange," said the priest. "It must be a bewitched teakettle. Now, we don't want anything like that around the temple. We must get rid of it."
Just then a junkman came by the temple. So the priest took the kettle out to him and said: "Here's an old iron kettle I'll sell you very cheap, Mr. Junkman. Just give me whatever you think it is worth."
The junkman weighed the kettle on his hand scales and then he bought it from the priest for the material price. He went home whistling, pleased at having found such a bargain. The kettle was old but there wasn’t a single hole, he could see that quite clearly after all the polishing it had undergone recently.
That night the junkman went to sleep and his humble house was very quiet. Suddenly a voice called: "Mr. Junkman. Oh, Mr. Junkman!"
The junkman opened an eye. "Who's that calling me?" he said, fumbling to light a candle in the dark.
And there he saw the kettle, standing by his pillow, with the badger head, and the bushy badger tail, and the four little badger feet. Clutching his blanket, the junkman sat up in surprised and said, "Aren't you the kettle I bought from the priest today?"
"Yes, that's me," said the kettle, introduced himself and peeked a pair of round ears. "But I'm not an ordinary kettle. I'm really a badger in disguise and my name is Bumbuku, which means Good Luck. That mean, old priest put me over a fire and burned me, so I ran away from him. But if you'll treat me kindly and feed me well and NEVER put me over a fire, I'll stay with you and help you make your fortune."
"Why, this is very strange," said the junkman. "How can you help me make my fortune?"
"I can do all sorts of wonderful tricks," said the kettle, waving his bushy badger tail. "So all you have to do is put me in a show and sell tickets to the people who want to see me do my tricks."
The junkman thought this was a splendid idea. The very next day he built a little theatre out in his yard, and put up a big sign which said: "Bumbuku, The Magic Teakettle of Good Luck, and His Extraordinary Tricks."
“A teakettle doing tricks.” Boba shook his head in disbelief and Tomoe agreed “Unbelievable... that’s just what everybody thought.”
“Every day more and more people came to see Bumbuku. The junkman would sell tickets out front and then when the theatre was full he'd go inside and start beating a drum. Bumbuku would come out and dance and do all sorts of acrobatics. But the trick that pleased people most of all was when Bumbuku would walk across a tight rope, carrying a paper parasol in one hand and a fan in the other. The people thought this most wonderful. They would cheer and cheer for Bumbuku. And after every show the junkman would give Bumbuku some delicious rice-cakes to eat.
The junkman sold so many tickets that he finally became extremely rich. One day he said to Bumbuku: "You must get very tired doing these tricks every day. I now have all the money I need. So why don't I take you back to the temple, where you can live very quietly?
"Well," said Bumbuku, "I am getting a little tired and I would like to live quietly in a temple. But that old priest might put me on the fire again, and he might never give me delicious rice-cakes."
"Just leave everything to me," the junkman said.
The next morning the kind man took Bumbuku and a large amount of money and some of Bumbuku's favourite rice-cakes to the temple.
When they got to the temple the junkman explained to the priest everything that had happened, and donated the money to the priest for the temple. Then he said: "So will you please let Bumbuku live here quietly forever, always feed him rice-cakes like these I've brought and never put him over the fire?"
"Indeed I will," said the priest. "He shall have the honored place in the temple's treasure house. It's really a magic kettle of good luck, and I would never have put it over the fire if only I'd known."
So the priest called his pupils. They put the kettle on a wooden stand, and the rice-cakes on another stand. Then with the priest carrying one stand, and the junkman carrying the other, and the three pupils following after, they carried Bumbuku carefully to the treasure house, and put the rice-cakes beside him.
It is said that Bumbuku is still there in the treasure house of the temple today, where he is very happy. They still give him delicious rice-cakes to eat every day and never, never put him over a fire. He is peaceful. He is happy.”
By then, Boba had fallen asleep at the gentle voice of his mother, breathing in the scent of her sleeve that served as his blanket while his head rested on her thigh.
“Don’t move.” Jango advised her in low voice, looking around for a blanket. “Kuur...” The only sound was the occasional crack of the embers. He ended up using the summer-robe he had shed. Boba turned slightly as his father’s scent and a slight remain of body warmth engulfed him.
“It’s still raining.” Tomoe whispered and lifted Boba’s head gently to let Jango take over while she called a transport over intercom.
A moment later, the chauffeur shuffled up to the step stone to the veranda. He ducked under a large umbrella with a curious ‘What’s up now?’ written all over his face until the house mother gave him the destination. The guest standing in the doorway was obviously crazy, choosing a ship’s cramped surroundings over a nice and comfortable bed in one of the resort’s finest cottages... but then, all offworlders were strange. Not only their looks but also inside their heads.
‘You better stay away from them...’ The chauffeur avoided looking up into Kabuto-sama’s T-shaped visor, but couldn’t help noticing the little boy in his arms while Tomoe-chan knelt to tie his boots. At least he suspected it was a man underneath that metal shell because of the superior height and powerful built, yet the gesture was as gentle and practiced as any mother’s.
Ignoring the driver, Fett took his time to study her face. "Tomoe, I know it has been a rough few weeks, but I promise that we will have time to talk and work things out, so maybe next time will be better," Jango told the small woman as she stood to her feet and bowed with straight back.
“Oniro-sama’s usual breakfast time is eight-thirty, Sir.” she informed Fett impartially.
“Very well.” Fett stepped under the umbrella to keep his sleeping son from being soaked and walked to the waiting transport, the gleam of his silver back plate fading in the downpour.Chapter 15.5 – Nightly Activities (Day 20)
Tomoe had a look around the nearly deserted the cottage. Oniro had taken it upon himself to empty the sake bottle. She didn’t want to think about who was missing, but shrugged and went over to her own place to check on Ukon. Her older sister was fine; she just needed to visit the bathroom before turning in for the night. Tomoe shed her elaborate silken attire and changed into a comfortable cotton robe to help the old lady. Her day wasn’t over yet.
“Where’s your knife?” Ukon inquired with a shocked expression at the missing item. She knew that Tomoe held the work of her grandfather sacred.
“It helps Fett to build his conscience.” Tomoe went to the closet and dug out the deposit box from under a pile of beddings. Retrieving the small multipurpose knife from the hilt of the long saber, she wrapped the razor sharp blade tightly in a strip of dark purple paper and pushed it under her hairdo. Only the ornamental hilt remained visible. Then she made sure that her pole arm laid on the rafter as usual and wrapped the side arm of the Tsunaike-spotter into a towel, “...while I’m going to have another bath,” she announced brightly, blaster and towel clutched under her arm casually.
“Tomoe-chan, I doubt that is a good idea. You have a call waiting for you. He avoided giving his name, but you-know-who says he’ll call again. He asks you to be very careful tonight.”
“Did you inform Norio-sama already?”
“Yes.” Ukon nodded, “He has doubled the security, but...”
“I know.” Tomoe sighed. “Sounds like I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone again.” Tomoe mused, her mind on security issues immediately. “No outsiders but Oniro and Taichi know that you are here ...and it’s not where Wakashima reserved officially. I need to keep an eye on Oniro-sama. Please Onesan, this place offers more safety against the sniper than the Suzuki-Cottage, but keep the light out from now on nevertheless.”
Tomoe got an umbrella and went back to the Suzuki-cottage. “Good evening, Oniro-sama.” She bowed on the inner doorstep before sliding into the room. The nerd looked wrung out yet sleepless. She smiled and padded over to drape a jacket around his shoulders gently. “It’s too cold to sit around like that on a rainy day.”
Oniro shrugged. “You’re right, Tomoe-chan... uhh... my feet.” He complained and let her help him up.
“You really need to warm-up before you go to bed... come along.”
“You want me to take another bath now? ...It’s late...”
“The bathhouse is open all night for good reason.” She smiled invitingly “Come along,” she repeated and bowed again, fresh towels draped over her arm.
“I usually enjoy rain, but it’s so cold,” Oniro shrugged as she opened the umbrella to take the shortcut through the garden.
“You are just tired and it’s not midsummer yet. The nights can still be fresh.” She led him up the garden stairs and turned to have a cautious look around while she shook off the water and folded up the umbrella. The bath house attendant had called it a night, and the inner sanctum was lit dimly. The lanterns cast deep shadows between the taps inside and the rocks around and in the steaming outer basin.
Oniro slapped his narrow belt and robe into a basket and went to wash quickly before entering the basin. He gaped in surprise as Tomoe entered through the women’s changing room, no hair covering her beautiful round breasts and she was thread-bare aside of the folded towel in her hand which reminded him of... Fett!
He quickly redirected his gaze to the wall in front of him as she sat down beside him casually on a bathing stool. He had never had a problem with the local mixed bathing culture, but he couldn’t remember if he introduced Fett to that particular custom yet... another bout of jealousy and Fett would kill him! “That’s not fair,” He muttered under his breath. “I’m outta here.”
“Bath time, Oniro-sama.” Tomoe’s gentle purr was underlined with an icy hiss. “You don’t want me to show you quite plainly, do you?”
“No.” Oniro gulped. Right now he didn’t want her to show him anything.
“Since you are under my personal care already...” she offered generously, “want me to soap your back?”
“No, thank you.” He declined and cleared his throat.
“Well,” she turned the bathing stool slightly, facing away from him, “then you can continue on mine right away.” Oniro’s relive that she faced away from him was short lived as his gaze fell on the angry red mark on her back. Fett’s sigil. “Anything wrong, Oniro-Sama?” she asked sweetly without turning her head, her eyes studying the rock- and garden site under long lashes.
“Please...” Oniro muttered under his breath.
“You got us into the mess, you soap my back,” she commanded in low voice rough with anger, “then let me clean up things.” Oniro soaped a cloth and started scrubbing faithfully while she kept her hands dry herself.
“Well done,” she approved and let him rinse her carefully before she rose off the stool. “Get in.” Oniro noted she chose the same granite bolder as Fett, resting her towel on almost the same spot. But he did not dare to imply a kinship in case she had inherited the mercenary’s temper as well.
His feet weren’t quite warmed up as something cracked in the surrounding bushes. Tomoe sunk deeper into the water and the cover of the bolder, turned into the opposite direction and shot at a shadow creeping up to them through the men’s changing room, then clenched the stone to whip around in a splash of water and fire into the bushes.
Several spots caught fire and illuminated the body she had hit twice. An ill aimed shot from above singed over water and wet rock, then a ball of fabric, skin and fur tumbled off the cliff over head and hit the middle of the basin. The impact sent water splattering in all directions. Tomoe dropped the blaster on the edge of the basin and dived. A cloud of dark crimson welled up from below as the slaughter continued in the depth of the pool. Oniro scrambled out of the water in terror and then backwards, his toes pushing him away from the basin. Tomoe came up with her knife between her teeth and a short sword in her hand. Treading water, her other hand supported a jaw, holding a gasping muzzle with long black whiskers over the water surface.
Spitting the small blade on the edge of the basin, Tomoe embraced a smaller version of the beast from the drawing room. Hi-inu were water creatures, but that didn’t mean they could not suffocate. “Breath, Shioko, you’ll be alright,” Tomoe chittered as her legs pushed out of the water with all her might, her bent back bolstering the heavy body in her arms as they slid over the wet tiles. Rivulets of blood tickled over her pale skin as she rolled the sleek black body off her chest. Still lying on the ground, she searched for the wound, her hand firmly on the animal’s jaw to prevent it from snapping at her instinctively.
“Security call, Oniro, at the attendant’s desk.” Tomoe commanded. The nerd padded into the changing room mechanically; staring at the gaping hole in the chest of the body he couldn’t bring himself to step over. It was only half covered by the door curtain it had ripped down during its fall. “Oniro!” Tomoe barked after him.
The Hi-inu’s impressive stealth and speed had prevented it from being shot, but the assassin’s short sword had pierced a long stretched muscle on her side. “Amateur.” Tomoe muttered in partly relief that the blade hadn’t penetrated but slid over the finely intermeshed ribcage of the young predator. She was about to rip a towel apart to bandage the gash temporarily as her ears picked up another crack from the bushes.
A long lunge allowed her to grab the short sword from the floor and dive headfast through the basin, coming out on the other side with a single swim stroke to pounce at the assassin in the bushes. Oniro stared at her unblinking as she finally straightened up, bathed in the blood of her enemies as she whipped the stains off the blade and waded around the shallow area of the reddish pool. Another body floated in the middle of it, face down. Yes, she had made sure this time.
“Got Norio-sama on the com?” She asked Oniro who stood with the remote in his shaking hands. “Fine. Sit down.” She guided Oniro to a bathing stool before she continued into the com. “Took down three in the bathhouse. Status?”
“I’m missing two guards on the cliff path.” Norio’s voice came over the com. “I sent a crew to search for them. There was an intrusion in your cottage, but it seems to be resolved. Medical support is on the way.”
“I’m checking the Susuki- and the Nanakusa-Cottage now. The bathhouse is off limits until I tell you otherwise.” Tomoe closed the connection and got two large towels to drag Shioko into the cover of the tiled wall that held the plumbing and faucets. She piled up a couple of buckets. “You stay here and watch her.” She handed Oniro her blaster, “You’ve got two shots left.” Throwing on a robe and keeping the sheath-less short sword in her left, she liberated an unused blaster from the body in the doorway.
It wasn’t over yet. There was light in the Nanakusa-cottage. ‘Resolved?’ whatever that meant...
Slinking off the thatched walkway and shedding her blue and white robe over a green bush, Tomoe crouched closer in the shadow below, trying to make out Ukon and locate the attacker. Something heavy moved over the floorboards. Etched in blue light, a unique shadow slid over a paper screen briefly.
He was talking to Ukon in low voice. The old lady told him in politest Coruscanti-accented Basic that she couldn’t understand him because her language skills were insufficient.
Tomoe suppressed a laugh and inched backwards, chittering into the night for Moronoko. The perimeter had been secured, but they were missing their small one who had been on watch while the leader of the pack took a break.
The naked woman slipped into the Suzuki-Cottage, checking it room for room. Somebody had been in there, the mosquito nets were torn down and there was at least one stab in the empty beddings. She wiped her face, arms and feet with a wet towel from the clothesline and covered up before she called her own cottage.
“Onesan, you alright?”
“Yes, Tomoe-chan, I’m alright. I have asked your doctor to make a home call since the one of the resort might be busy, but Mr. Fett took care of the major problem here. Would you like to come over and have a look yourself?”
“I’m coming,” Tomoe sighed. Clear speech wasn’t Ukon-san’s talent, but the old lady tried to emulate the sharp sounds that formed the name her armored problem faithfully. “is Boba save?”
Ukon conferred away from the comlink briefly, “When I say the boy’s name, Mr. Fett nods,” she disclosed.
“Thank you.” Tomoe opened a connection to Norio to report the cottages checked. She pushed the blaster under the back of her belt and turned the short sword under her elbow, two of her fingers stretched visibly along the hilt. Her right fist tapped on the mat briefly as she bowed, then turned and slid the door close behind her. “Welcome back, Mr. Fett,” she greeted.
“It’s Jango,” Fett reminded her, his right hand with the Westar propped on his knee. He squatted beside Ukon casually. His boots stood in the slide door to the kitchen, one neatly beside the other. “You’ve still got something there, cyar'ika,” he pointed on a spot beside his visor with his free hand. “All theirs, I hope?”
“Yes, thanks,” Tomoe wiped her face again, leaving a red smudge on her sleeve. “What have you got here?” she pointed her chin at the body lying in the drawing room, “…and what will it cost me?”
“I thought you wouldn’t like your freshly polished living room all messed up by my present, so I served up a peace-maker cocktail and bundled it up for your future interest. Couldn’t leave you all unprotected while I have your knife, could I?” Fett tilted his head at the blade in her hand which was nearly twice as long as her knife, “...even though it seems you’ve found replacement easily.”
“Oh that... pulled it from a friend’s body. So make it quick.”
“I asked Norio-san to send a doctor here for Ukon-san. I insisted on calling your trusted family doctor. Ukon-san was so friendly to tell him which one.” Jango informed her with deliberate use of the annoying honorary suffixes.
“Onesan?” Tomoe rushed at her older sister’s side. She was beyond second thoughts, just acting on a rush of adrenaline and dire necessities.
Ukon leaned against the com-console and made a face. “This person...” she nodded at the trussed body on the mats, “wanted to know where you were since they could not find you in my cottage. I said you were in the servant’s bath. Then he wanted me to call you. He dragged me over here before Mr. Fett got him... My back feels like it ripped a stitch or two, but I have taken another painkiller already.”
Tomoe clenched the sword hilt harder before she managed to push down her anger and make up her mind. “I’m going to gather things here and then leave the bathhouse to Norio-Sama’s care.” She sat the sword on the wooden side board in the alcove and retrieved the sheathed naginata from the rafter instead.
This time, her silent routine of handling weapons didn’t raise any concern with Jango, even though her blades got larger every time he blinked.
She rushed back to the bathhouse “Oniro-sama?” she announced herself, “Put the safety on that blaster, will you?”
“I’m here, Tomoe,” his voice came from the corner where she had left him. Wrapped in his bathrobe, the nerd was holding a soaked towel on the wound of the predator. Its breathing was shallow. “It looks like a mere flesh wound, but the bleeding doesn’t stop.” He muttered. “We need to clamp that shut or so before we can let it go. I’ve seen them do it with cattle...”
At the end of her patience, Tomoe choked out “Nerfherder!” at the proposal. Nevertheless she placed her pole arm beside the predator and continued to stroke the round head gently. “Shioko’s going nowhere tonight. I have to patch this most carefully. We take her over into the bathroom of the Nanakusa-Cottage and wait for the doctor to bring sterile surgical equipment.” She knotted the towels, unsheathed the blade and threaded it through the loops and cuts in between before sheathing it again. She spoke low to Shioko before spreading another robe over her loosely “You don’t speak about her in the presence of anybody who has not seen her, alright?”
Oniro nodded, remembering what Ukon had said. ‘An escort of souls’... he felt no urge to find out the reason after all he had seen today. “I won’t.” He promised.
“Okay. Lift, gently.” Tomoe propped her shoulder under the pole and rolled to her feet with slow concentration, but the fabric held the surprisingly light weight as they walked back to the Nanakusa-Cottage. She announced them briefly, then guided Oniro right to the bathroom. Once they had set Shioko down, she asked him to leave.
Oniro walked around aimlessly before he plopped down beside Ukon. It seemed to become a habit. Fett’s enhanced vision was not stopped by the bathroom door. Tomoe had leaned her pole arm into a corner and was kneeling on the ground beside a long thin body. To onlookers, his high frequency swipes looked like he was shaking his head at the mess.
Heavy footfalls on the walkway caught his attention. A man as wide as high was approaching with a smaller and much thinner guy on his heels. “Tomoe-chan?” he announced them and Fett recognized the voice from the com. “It’s Norio with the doctor.” Apparently, the security chief had learned to announce himself after that look into the barrel of Boba’s slugthrower.
Tomoe exited the bathroom, sliding the door shut behind her carefully. “Come in, please.” She made quick introductions. ‘Kabuto-Sama?’ Fett wondered briefly at the name given to him. Otherwise, the girl wasn’t so fond of deciding things herself... “One of the attackers was taken for questioning,” she informed Norio, “but for me, Ukon-san comes first.”
While Norio had a look at the drugged prisoner, Tomoe helped the doctor to support the old lady into the privacy of the folding screen in the corner. She brought him an extra light to operate and watched him doing his examination. “I need some of your sterile supplies, dokutoru-sama.”
The doctor cocked his head and pointed with a gloved hand “It’s not so bad. I don’t think she tore any of the deep stitches. I’ll fix those four superficial stitches, and then I can continue... wherever you need. We’ll know more in the next few days.”
“Thank you for your assistance, sensei.” The doctor gaped as she simply slipped a pair of gloves on and served herself from his bag, scavenging two thin green surgical blankets before sliding back into the bathroom. Low animal cries emerged from the little room. It raised his hackles and suddenly he didn’t want to know who or what she was operating there.
Uncaring for privacy issues, Fett looked over the screen. For him, there was no need to stand to his toes. “This would heal a lot quicker if you mantled the edges in bacta,” he noted casually.
“Bacta?” The doctor didn’t dare to look up at the armored gaijin who was breathing down his neck, and asked nobody specific in the room what the strange... guest had said. Oniro came over anyway and sat with his back to the screen cross-legged to translate what was said.
“I have… heard of it, but bacta is not conventional medicine here, Kabuto-san.” The doctor replied.
“How long will that take with your methods?” Fett asked evenly.
The doctor wasn’t too fond of discussions over a patient head, but it was wiser to stay polite with armed guys. “It was planned to remove the drain tomorrow. In about eight days, the stitches will be removed. To full recovery, it will take several weeks.”
“Bacta would regenerate the tissue completely within two days; prevent infection and the emergence of scar tissue.” Fett stated. Oniro’s translation was even shorter due to his lack of medical vocabulary.
“That is amazing,” the doctor stated, frustration seeping into his voice, “but I have no bacta I could possibly use.”
“I’m here to help you, in more than one way.” Fett continued to push his point “I’m interested in both, Ukon-san and Tomoe-san’s wellbeing.”
“How nice.” Of course the parallel had not slipped the doctor’s notice. One woman got too much bacta, the other suffered a lack of it. And with exactly two off-worlders around, he could guess whose fault it was. Nevertheless, he consulted his patient briefly. “I have to finish this operation regardless. If you can, Ukon-san will accept your help.”
“Thank you.” Jango reached into his utility belt and produced a bacta patch, squatting down beside the doctor to show him the application. “Remove that drain now, or it will grow in overnight.” He felt Ukon shrink under his gloved fingertips as he held her still. The old lady hid it well, but he could feel that she didn’t trust him at all. The pain of the removal of the drain was considerable. “See, no stitches needed, no scars. I have heard from herself that Tomoe’s pregnancy is at risk?” Fett dropped in, “Why?”
Oniro choked, but translated faithfully. The doctor stiffened slightly “I never comment on my patients’ medical issues out of principle. You will have to ask her yourself,” he bowed an excuse, “I have heard bacta is… alive. Live bacteria. Does it have any side effects I need to know about for post treatment?”
“No.” - “Does it have to be drained, maybe?” – “No.” – “What happens with the remains?” – “What is not metabolisable will be transported back up to the patch. You can remove the patch in two days, then rinse – as new.” Fett concluded and wondered why the doctor had a problem with simple solutions. Scientific pride, probably. “Look, I really want to help Tomoe as well.”
“Thank you. I’ll relay your offer to her - in case she consults me about something.”
“Thank you.” Fett nodded slowly. The locals here certainly had their pride, holding their etiquette and standards high. Despite the gentle speech it felt very different than the scientific cruelty of the Kaminoans. However polite, this small old doctor would stand up to him in order protect his patient. He could respect that spirit.
Fett withdrew to find out how the security guy was doing, remembering that Norio spoke a little basic. Their prisoner had woken and leaned seated against a column. Fett was surprised that Norio spoke to him in the most polite tone. In fact, the big security chief was humbling himself in front of an assassin who had been stopped from torturing an elderly employee a moment ago. Crazy locals.
Jango stood right outside of the prisoner’s frame of vision “Found out something?” he inquired impartially.
“He’s a captain of the Aido-gang. They are allied with the Tsunaike-society… we don’t want trouble with them.”
“But they want trouble with you, obviously.”
“He says they came to investigate the murder of their chairmen’s son on the resort.”
“Don’t you have some sort of police here?”
“They would not leave it with the police.”
“Tell him I don’t like his style of investigation.”
“Uhmm... I already mentioned that... politely.”
“He said they will do what is necessary. They won’t put the case to rest without executing vengeance for their leader’s son.”
“Was he a guest?”
“We know for sure he wasn’t booked in anywhere on the resort.”
“Then tell him he’s in the wrong place.”
“He says he has to start at the last known location.”
“Tell him we had nothing to do with his problem, but I’m going to start with him and work my way up to his boss if he doesn’t leave my family alone.”
“Kabuto-San, I doubt that is a good idea... I beg you, do some consultations first.”
“What’s your plan?”
“I don’t know... Please stay out of this. I have to ask Okasan, she will find a solution.”
Fett sighed. Sometimes, manners really got into people’s ways. He didn’t pause to knock as he let himself into the bathroom. “Tomoe, your type is required,” he pointed his thumb “Whatever you are doing in here, I can take over for you.”
Tomoe stayed crouched and concentrated over the shower stall lined in green surgical blankets at first. She then smoothed the blanket over her workplace and straightened up to turn on the spot. “Stay where you are and don’t touch anything,” the small woman shoved the armored mercenary out of the bathroom, closed the door and strode past him.
Jango leaned against the frame to watch.
“You are a captain of the Aido-clan?” Tomoe asked, short-spoken. She had no time for this idiot.
Sitting against his post, the guy nodded arrogantly without sparing her a word. Under his fashionable fake-blonde hairdo, jet-black eyes scrutinized her bathrobe-clad figure as she smoothed the hem and knelt in front of him. A maid? A house keeper? He decided that the girl was too young to be the boss here, but she had a certain air of command around her. It made the security chief sit back and watch. He didn’t really care. Once they owned this place, he would try it for free. All of it.
“The Sen-Ike-Resort is unaligned,” Tomoe continued, “and we will stay independent. We humbly ask you to settle whatever differences you have with other societies elsewhere,” she summed up Norio’s speech again and bowed.
“Nobody is independent.” The Aido-captain chuckled low. “The Aido-clan commands three hundred soldiers, the Tsunaike-society three thousand. Tell your Okasan to hand over the whistle-blower who helped the Yuwa-animals to murder our chairman’s son.” He snorted disparagingly, “Or we will smoke him out, cottage by cottage.”
Their gang’s original mission had been to provoke the enemy on his territory to sound things out. They had been slowed down by a lack of attention and now he was stuck with some cowards who somehow got the upper hand. He wasn’t sure what hit him. He had a headache but no concussion. Well, he wasn’t missing a bump. They were in the majority, but the captain knew that the name of his society alone would scare the shit out of the resort’s personnel. Guests did not count, let alone off-worlders. They knew nothing and would run away at the first whiff of smoke. The locals knew they could not.
“The Sen-Ike-Resort has no soldiers.” Tomoe insisted. “As any good host, we are loyal to our guests. We are sorry that we know nothing about your allies’ son - since he never resided here.”
“Hah, you will be sorry; I’m going to make sure of that - personally.” He would be out of here soon and kick the shit out of his mates wherever they left off. While he was in trouble with the only noteworthy muscle this place had to offer, his soldiers had probably dragged some juicy bathing girls and booze into the bushes and were enjoying themselves. “Where are my men and who’s that gaijin player of yours, stubborn miihaa?” He really needed a drink against that nagging headache...
Instead of an answer, Tomoe stood and picked up the short sword from the alcove, moving like a fuzzy house keeper doing a little clean up. Crossing the room with gliding elegance, she bowed out fluently from the gathering and slid the door close in front of her soundlessly.
A moment later she returned with a half filled laundry bag in her left hand.
‘Scared enough to attempt a bribe now?’ the Aido thought, ‘Let them... oh, now that woman has got out a blade to go with big muscle.’ His soldiers had modern blasters. He hoped they would return from their detour soon. They would not hesitate to blast whoever came in their way.
“Please stand,” this time, she had the captain’s full attention, “Norio-Sama, would you help him up, please? I would like to take this outside,” she asked politely.
Norio shoved the Aido down the veranda stairs, who became a little nervous after all. “Who are you?”
“I am just a student,” she introduced herself, “and this is the sword with which your soldiers tried to murder me in the bath,” she continued introductions. “Would you take a message to your boss, please?”
“Chikushou kuso.” The captain struggled, but the giant bouncer was unmovable as a mountain.
“Of course such an impolite phrasing never crossed my mind.” Tomoe sat the bag down at the captain’s feet and upended the edge into a neat ring. The captain’s eyes widened as three decapitated heads stared back at him. “I’ll have to write a letter and put the words right into your mouth then. I can insure you that I usually don’t do such things, but since you deny me even this smallish request...” She lifted the short sword into striking position and wondered if Norio would hold up. But the ex-wrestler had his bring-it-on look on his round face.
“Kuso...What do you want?!” The captain got hectic... it looked like this grim woman knew what she was doing with that blade after all?! His men were dead and the rest of his brethren were suddenly far, far away.
“A mail box address, since you are useless to take my message.”
“No, yes, I want to take your message, really, I’ll take it...”
“Good. Tell your boss: The Sen-Ike-Resort requests to be left out of the internal struggle of the underworld. Since our resources are insufficient to return your aggression in full, we limit ourselves to partial shipments whenever the need arises - Repeat.”
It took the Aido-captain three more tries to get two sentences right, then she tied the heavy bag shut and looped the strings around the captain’s neck with a motherly gesture. “Here’s the first consignment. Make sure I don’t have to commission another one. Would you accompany my messenger off the grounds, please? I’m not sure if the inspector wants a word with him, but I’m finished for now.”
Tomoe threw the short sword into the flower bed with a wet smack and went inside. She slammed the bathroom door shut behind her and snapped her surgical gloves back on. Shioko wasn’t finished yet.
Even in her anger, his cyar'ika had style. Jango leaned against the frame of the bathroom door with a sigh. No, Tomoe certainly did not trust his intentions yet and she wasn’t the mood for a peace treaty right now. Waiting for her to come out again, he realized what a sensual pleasure it would have been, what a catharsis to watch her take the thug’s head off... just for looking at her the wrong way.
“Shocked?” Oniro stood beside him, freezing in the night air. ‘Just the opposite.’ Jango thought and took a deep breath. The nerd rubbed his shoulders. He had forgotten his jacket in the bathhouse, but ten banthas would not haul him back there tonight. “You should have seen her in the bath. She can be quite an... animal.” His throat worked convulsively.
What Jango had just witnessed spoke to him, whispered to more than one part of his psyche and physique. “No more than I am,” came from the Mandalorian’s chest under a rumbling purr.
Oniro decided that being ‘silent as a grave’ was an option... preferably to seeing one from the inside. The doctor had closed his pouch and didn’t know what to do with his hands since one patient needed rest and the other had just kicked out that tall, armored warrior. “Not that I’d miss those small items, but if you really don’t need my assistance, I’d like to excuse myself now.” he spoke in front of the door.
Tomoe poked her head out of the bathroom “Could you lend me the roll of yarn, docutoru-sama?”
“Ahh...” The doctor was sure she had taken enough already for at least 30 stitches, “are you absolutely sure you don’t need me?”
“Yes, please excuse me.” She snatched the bobbin from him and retreated into the bathroom.
Oniro had learned Boba’s lesson in the afternoon: Get lost when your help isn’t required. “May I accompany you, doctor? There is no need to keep you up any longer. I’m sure Tomoe-san will call you in the morning and explain everything to you. She’s a little under the weather lately, I’m sure you know why...”
The doctor bowed out and cut the nerd’s speech “Of course, Oniro-Sama,” …before the off-worlder could voice anymore indecencies.
Fett waited for their footfalls to fade on the walkway, before he entered the bathroom again to end the secrecies. “What the fierfeck are you doing here, Tomoe?”
She was kneeling over the shower stall yet again, blood staining the crumpled green surgical sheets. “There is nothing you can do for us, Jango.” She didn’t even sound angry anymore. Just tired.
“You are overworked, cyar'ika, and you know it. Let me help you.”
“No more deals with you. Get. Out.”
“This is not a deal.” He insisted and squatted in the little space behind her. “Lemme see what I can do.” He caught her in a firm embrace before she could jerk around despite her sheer fatigue. “It’s okay...” he whispered in her ear, “no more fighting tonight. You can take revenge for my most recent intrusion later... and then I’ll do everything you want.”
He reached over, picked up the edge of the surgical sheet between two gloved fingers and had a look underneath. A pair of round unfocused eyes stared back at him from the far corner, small teeth unsheathed in a hiss at the T-slit visor. A wrinkled dark grey fabric was spread all over the expanse of the shower stall. A long ragged gash ran through the velvety membrane. “Doesn’t look life treating to me.” Jango stated flatly.
“The fine blood vessels are the problem. I can’t shut them off without doing permanent damage to the tissue, I have to sew them one by one in their exact location and mend the cut flawlessly, or Shioko will never fly. And I have to do it now.”
“That’s like a wing, similar to the membranes between the fingers and toes, just... folding up to the body?” Jango analyzed the alien anatomy.
“Yes.” She held back his gloved hand with her blood stained elbow, “I’ve partly sedated her, but it’s still very sensitive. She isn’t fully developed yet, you understand? She’s a youngling - any damage will potentiate.”
“You could have simply asked me for a little bacta, you know? I don’t want you to despair.”
“Bacta doesn’t hold things together and who can tell she’s not allergic or so?”
“Don’t be so negative, cyar'ika. Vau’s pet isn’t allergic against bacta, either. The name is Shioko?” Jango asked quietly. He could feel Tomoe’s nod, her back rubbing against his chest plates and damn, it felt good. But then he had to let go... for the moment. “Ask. I know the stuff stinks, but when you patch the vessels in place and I stick the ends together with bacta, we can fix that cut,” he proposed.
It wasn’t that she had much of a choice. “It’ll wash off, Shioko, you smell me, I did the same and I’m alright now,” Tomoe’s hands and body spoke. It broke her heart to see the small one like this, but there was still hope of healing the damage the assassin had inflicted on Shioko’s young life in the split of a second, “We will swim a lot together soon. Imagine: you dive in a large dark lake, surrounded by high grasses that swing in the breeze, swimming with the silver moon, come up, breath though your mouth...” The young predator’s lids sunk over unfocused eyes.
Tomoe straightened up and centered herself. Don’t think of Fett. Think of the task at hand “We are going to do it. I started on the end closest to the ribs. Brace Shioko...” she smoothed a fold of the wing and the small one yelped “Start here. Monitor for allergic reactions.”
Jango pushed his armored gloves under his utility belt and snapped on a pair of surgical gloves. “Good idea, fixing that gash to a strip of the blanket.” He inched around Tomoe in the confines of the bathroom and produced a jar with bacta and a container with spray “We stick that on the blanket, butted at the edges, without overlapping,” he explained. Another howl broke the busy silence...
“I hope her parents know that we are just trying to help her,” he mused.
“Leave that to me.” Tomoe hissed through clenched teeth as she continued sewing. “Moronoko isn’t as patient as I am.”
“Oh really?” Fett’s amusement was audible even despite the speaker.
Inch by inch, they mended Shioko’s wing. With the infection risk taken care of by the bacta, Tomoe wrapped the small predator into fresh sheets and took her upstairs on the first floor. “Rest now, little one... I’m sure daddy will drop by soon.” Settling Shioko into a nest made of soft beddings, she stuffed the blanket around it up to the muzzle and slid open the window-screen to supply the wild animal with fresh air and an outlook. Then she got her a bowl of water and a bucket. Right now the small one was nauseous of the sickly sweet stench of the bacta surrounding her. But in the morning, Tomoe would try to feed the Hi-Inu some raw fish and see if she could stomach that.
“You treat it like a child.” Jango stood at the foot of the stairs as she padded downstairs silently.
“Close. She’s my cousin.”
“Now you sound just like Old Psycho. Do you share the bed with her, too?
“We don’t have beds here. Otherwise, yeah. - jealous?
“A little.” Fett admitted, glad that the visor covered up his crocked grin.
“What were you doing on the compound anyway?” she confronted him.
“I knew you would test my resolve. I just didn’t want you to do anything stupid. You need to start looking a little after yourself, cyar'ika.”
The com rang with a call from the outside. It wasn’t a solution to block things out like she had the past days. Before picking up, she inhaled and exhaled twice. It was Tachibana’s voice on the other end.
“Yes, I took care of the issue,” she confirmed, “Thank you so much for your notification. In return I’m happy to inform you I took down three packages and issued a message.”
“You alone... hmmm... Tomoe-chan, you continue to surprise me... But you know you will probably get visitors again?”
“Yes, I’m aware of that.” Tomoe chattered like a good pupil, tapped her toe on the mat and waited for the old man to spill his no doubt rich experience on gang wars.
“I would love to keep you safe from such treats in future. You and your child.”
“I’m sorry, but neither my contract with the Sen-Ike-Resort nor my loyalty is easily broken.”
“Of course, child. I’m sure you had a long day.”
“I can certainly say so. Thank you and have a good night.”
In a small room in one of the safe houses in Southport, Tachibana sat the comlink on the mats and leaned back into the mattress that was propped up against the wall. A couple of take-away meal boxes sat in front of him. Of course his luxurious office in his town house would have been more comfortable, but residing there in the moment was asking for trouble after they had provoked Tsunaike so effectively. Wakashima needed any soldier he could spare for the war against Tsunaike.
“Still not ready to pick sides. That is interesting.” Tachibana noted.
Standing by his side, Ariga nodded. “She must know that the Aido won’t just leave her alone.”
“Not this time.” Tachibana agreed.
“Should we dispatch guardians?”
“Not yet. I’m curious how much more she can handle.”
Tomoe closed the connection and turned around to face her last ‘guest’.
“Who was that?” Jango was standing too close behind her for her liking. “That Ariga-guy?” His pose told her he was brooding again - which was probably connected to Tachibana’s sensual tone. Old habits die hard. But she had no reason to explain anything to him. He had to get there himself.
“The enemy of the Aido’s. This time it was the Tachibana-boss himself. He tries to enlist me for... jobs”
“I don’t do tricks for just anybody.” Tomoe managed a tight smile “Thank you for your help, Jango. I’ll check the Suzuki-cottage now and then call it a night, too.” She bowed, got her jacket and walked over briskly without waiting for his answer.
Oniro had curled up in a corner of the second room, clenching his bedding to his chest in troubled sleep. She couldn’t help it. If she had not taken him to the bathhouse, he would be relieved of all troubles already. Tomorrow, she would ask Fett to let the poor guy go home.
But right now, her mind was with Shioko. She really hoped her operation had been successful and that the little one would overcome the shock of the separation of her clan for the time it took to heal her. She went back to the Nanakusa-cottage. Fett had done her another favor and taken his leave as quietly as he had popped up. Ukon slept, thanks to the painkiller she had taken.
Silently, Tomoe retrieved the deposit box and more beddings from the wardrobe, took them upstairs and placed them beside Shioko’s nest. The silk wrapped hilt and sheath of her son’s long sword in her fists, a blaster under her pillow; she focused on the sounds of the rainy summer night and put her mind to rest.
Back in the safety of the TIV, Jango checked on his son first. Boba was sleeping in the gunner’s seat they had dipped into horizontal position. For the boy, the adult-sized chair formed a comfortable nest. His father pulled the blanket back over his small feet and stuffed it firmly under the armrest. Then Jango settled into the pilot’s seat and did his personal re-cap.
He wasn’t her biggest problem anymore. The medic and Tomoe both had a problem trusting his use of bacta – which he thought she had overcome by experience, but somehow it was stronger than before. On the other hand, she would mother any fish-smelling beast out there... no, that wasn’t quite right. She turned out fiercely loyal to her family... which seemed to include Boba now. She didn’t trust him, but she wouldn’t attack him either without an imminent treat. After a day of hiding behind a polite mask, her fatigue helped to turn up her true emotions, but she had not reacted at all when he mentioned Vau. If she could elide Old Psycho’s ...use, well, maybe he could be forgiven as well.
Fett decided to give a little sitrep to Tipoca city. A crocked grin came on his face. Yes, he had simply walked in on his cyar’ika indeed, but he didn’t call in to tell them the tale. So the transmission sounded more like “Contact made, negotiations in progress, zero losses.”
‘Thanks Boba, my little schemer,’ Jango chuckled in the silence of his helmet and closed his eyes, ‘Just a chip off the old block.’
Tomoe woke at low chitter in the night sky, then a black shadow dropped on the veranda roof and Moronoko slid inside through the opened window. A husky rumble came from his whiskers. That sickly sweet smell... puh, that was really ugly. He dipped his nose under Shioko’s chin nevertheless. Tomoe sat and pulled the blanket up and around her shoulders. It was fresh with the window open.
“Yes, I know it stinks. But within days, Shioko’s wing will be healed and there’s the chance it is as good as new. I couldn’t do that alone.”
“Then I’m glad I didn’t tear him apart on sight.” Moronoko agreed. “But what does a wing help when the prey is warned by the stench a mile against the wind?”
“I suppose it will wash off. Don’t worry, I can feed her in the meantime.”
“You are infected by it.” Moronoko slid around them, setting his claws carefully on the white edge of the bedding as he curled up around Tomoe and his daughter with a gentle purr. “It was him, you say. Make him cleanse you, then we can go hunt the guys who hurt Shioko.”
“I did. I sent the only survivor away to tell them... we are no game.”
“He might come back with more of his sort.”
“Maybe. If they had just vanished again, somebody would come to look for them certainly. Give their brethren a chance to make up their minds. They’ve got their own troubles.”
“You are tired from all that human business. You could come with us, you know? We are family.”
“Not yet. This is about my son, too. There is still hope. Let’s do this differently next time. Alarm me early and help me to relocate, then I can do the pouncing from afar. I’ve learned to kill over several hundred steps. This way, none of our family is endangered.”
The hi-inu purred his approval and shuffled his tail over the mats to complete the nest, then the room went silent again as they listened to the sounds of the night. An hour before sunrise, Moronoko swung out into the dark blue night sky as silently as a lover.