Full Time Job

Chapter 16

Chapter 16.0 – The Morning After (Day 21)

Tomoe rose early. She had two cottages to clean after the thunderstorm, two patients to check on and prepare breakfast for everybody. She hoped that Norio had at least taken care of the problem in the bathhouse. Yes, she had made a gory mess, but she wouldn’t do any cleanup for an Okasan who had denied Ukon’s surgery until her intervention. The gangster bosses at least paid well.

The work stopped her from thinking too much. She wondered how Boba had spent the night. His absence just hurt her and pulled her down, so she redirected her attention to Taichi. She couldn’t keep him away much longer. They had to practice, or their project would end in a failure. Fett could go screw himself. He had made a vow of non-violence. Yes, they would be training.

Oniro woke from a rhythmical swiff outside on the veranda. The nerd avoided looking at the mangled and torn beddings in the middle of the room. He shoved open a screen and wooden storm shield to peek outside. Wearing a short sleeved shirt and pants, her hair tied up in a tie-dyed cloth, Tomoe-chan slid a rag over the planks of the veranda deftly, and gathered up the leaves and dirt the storm had blown there. She wrung the rag over a large bucket with steaming water and returned to swiping.

“What a morning person.” Oniro grumbled and laid back. He wasn’t an early-up and doubted he would be in for royal treatment today. Water splashed on the cobble stones behind the house and the overactive housekeeper entered the antechamber. Then the sounds of cleansing continued in the next room. Oniro yawned, adjusted his cotton robe and scuffled over to the little bathroom for his own morning routine. He would better avoid being overrun by that small female’s freight-train like efficiency.

To his surprise, Tomoe’s “good morning” from the kitchen wasn’t grumpy at all. “You can sit in the veranda room if you like, I’ll prepare your breakfast in a moment.”

Oniro mumbled something about getting dressed before his retreat. He wondered when Fett would pop up and tried to sort out what would be on the bounty hunter’s schedule today. See Okasan, yes, for that hopeless request. Anyway, as a go-between, he needed to be dressed properly. Unshaven in a bathrobe simply wouldn’t do.

The nerd had just won the fight against the binders of his skirt-pants as he heard the distinct mix of heavy and light footfalls on the wooden stairs. He smiled. No sound armored boots on polished woodwork today. Tomoe’s greeting was as bright as before as she asked them if they already had breakfast.

“Why don’t you make breakfast for five over in your cottage?” Fett’s speaker alternated voice proposed, “I’m sure Ukon won’t mind a little company... and don’t say ‘very well’ again, cyar’ika.”

“Copy that,” came her snappy answer.

Thanks to Boba’s snicker, Oniro had no problem to imagine Tomoe’s mischievous grin. He ambled out of the second room, adjusting his winged sleeves in the jacket by plucking on the cuffs. For a moment, he looked like an overgrown penguin, down to the dour expression. Tomoe followed, taking the rice cooker over to the Nanakusa-Cottage. She was surprised to find a comfortably dressed Ukon in the kitchen, doing her own breakfast preparations in complete disregard of her prescribed bed rest.

“No, Tomoe-chan,” Ukon cut of Tomoe’s concerns “I’ve slept long enough the last days. It’s time to get up and have a look around before I get really all dull and bored. Would you put two more logs on the fire and add some water for our guests, please?”

“Of course,” Tomoe held the heavy tankard under the faucet, “are you hurting?”

“I’m fine, just being careful,” the old lady calmed her as she started setting the trays “I think Kabuto-sama is right. That bacta stuff is a great invention indeed.”

“Uh... I see.” Tomoe went over to the hearth to stoke the fire and prepare a soup. She noticed Boba had been sweating, plus the boy smelled like he had slept in his clothing. One could never tell with the grown out version in an airtight bodysuit. “Don’t hesitate to use the shower, Boba. I’ll need another moment.” – “Yes, mom.” The boy rose, got himself a change of clothing and vanished in the bathroom.

Fett finally slid the helmet from his head, an expression of self-confidence on his face as Ukon approached from the kitchen with Oniro’s breakfast tray. The old lady smiled and bowed fluently at his intense scrutiny. “Ohayô gozaimasu.” Jango smiled back “Su’cuy.” He meant it quite literally.

Sipping on his tea, Jango watched Tomoe bring out the other trays with steaming rice, soup bowls to be filled over the hearth, pickled vegetables, small smoked fishes and egg-rolls. Dinner had been nice, but after a rather active night and chasing his son through morning training while wearing full armor, he had worked up a healthy appetite. Nevertheless he waited for Tomoe to sit down beside Boba. She had finally learned his lesson: Breakfast for five. “I wonder how Norio managed to become that fat with the local diet,” he remarked and grabbed his chopsticks.

“Wrestlers eat different things, for example some special fish- and vegetable-stew with oil and much more rice.” Tomoe served the soup from the pot over the hearth. “It’s no good for people who are not in active training, but Norio was a professional wrestler for most of his life.”

“Wrestling?” Jango took a sip of the cloudy brew in his soup bowel, “Is that all he has to counter the next gunman’s assault on this compound?”

“The inspector was told from above to stay out of it,” Tomoe started eating herself, “he probably owns a blaster. The resort’s guards aren’t allowed to carry fire-arms. Maybe last night’s warning works and they leave us alone?” she proposed. She knew she had to talk things over with Norio right after removing the stitches from the tender tissue of Shioko’s wing.

Oniro sat down his rice bowel quickly and swallowed the bile in his throat, last night’s pictures coming up again. “Excuse me...” he ran for the bathroom.

“He’ll be back with reinforcements. He knows your face now.” It was clear that Jango didn’t mean the nerd whose retching came from the bathroom.

Tomoe agreed “Last time nobody returned. Nothing was found aside what the Wakashima-society presented to Tsunaike. I thought I’d try a different approach for a change. I hope they are scared of what they don’t know. Let them assume that the last servant-girl here is ready to kill intruders. Maybe that will keep them at bay. Or maybe the Tachibana-clan will get to them first,” she sighed, “but I guess they are laying low for a while. That’s why the Tsunaike-rabble is bored out of their skins, frustrated and eager to try it here.”

“How many are they?” Fett inquired.

“When the captain says the Aido-gang has 300 soldiers, that probably includes the last bouncer, barkeep, dealer and pimp they have on the street. Most of them will find another job if the hard core is extinguished. But as long as the core group remains, they will choose a new head from their ranks to lead them. The boss, the boss’s heir, the counselor, the enforcer, their sons, any of the captains. Assume ten to fifteen top-level guys.” Tomoe ticked off.

“Shouldn’t be a problem for a task force, not on the long shot. Spot and mark them one by one, then hit them at once before they scatter and hide.”

“Yes, if there was such a thing as a task force, last night’s out-of-territory visit would have consequences.” Tomoe’s mirthless laugh made Jango uneasy though it wasn’t directed at him. He had heard it once, when he had made to the mistake to mention her family’s honor. He had hoped then to never hear it again. “But the government got a rid of their own special forces about a decade ago and the local constables can’t do it.”

She continued to explain, “Anyway, when the whole gang is wiped, it won’t take the other groups long to fill their business branches. One can spend a lifetime fighting them and never make any progress unless the climate of unemployment, poverty, corruption, drug abuse, gambling, prostitution, greed and cruelty is changed. Until then it is a good idea to stay out of their business and just chop out the wildest growth. The groups do have their use in the organization of wickedness, and it’s in nobody’s interest to have a single society without concurrence.”

“So what’s your plan?”

“I don’t need to a plan, the resort security is Okasan’s responsibility which she prefers to delegate to Norio-san.”

“You’re kidding.” Jango arched a brow, but Tomoe’s smile told him she would tell him no more. “Just don’t do anything stupid, cyar’ika.”

Tomoe poured hot water in her bowel and swallowed the last grains of rice. “Don’t worry, I would not know where to take the time from,” she nodded and picked up the first two breakfast trays to do the dishes. “Please excuse me.” She slipped over to the main house for the morning delivery of fresh fish. Entering through the kitchen door, she brewed a tisane to calm Oniro’s stomach and cut up the raw fish for Shioko’s breakfast.

Boba wanted to follow her upstairs, but for once, she denied. “Please, stay with your father and Ukon-san.”

Boba plopped down on his cushion and watch Oniro sip his medicine. “Your turn, dad, what exactly happened last night?”

“I’d like to have a look around. Join us, Oniro.” Jango came to his feet and replaced his helmet. “You look like you could use some fresh air before we go and visit Okasan.” Oniro wiped his face with a steamed towel and nodded. His usually healthy tan looked grey.

“Mom chopped her way through three dikute last night. In the bathhouse.” Jango nodded at the nerd “Oniro apparently got a close-up on her technique. I don’t know how she did it exactly, cause I was taking care of the forth chakaar manhandling Ukon. I don’t understand much from their babbling, but when he woke, Tomoe gave him a message on the way and the heads of the other dikute,” he shrugged “I doubt it will give the gang, the ‘Aido’, the idea to stay away this time.”

“What is upstairs?” Boba looked from one adult to the other, “Oniro-sama?” The guy looked ready to puke again, so it was probably easier to extract the information from him.

“Uhmmm... an animal... like the big black one in the drawing room yesterday... just smaller.” Oniro’s hands drew up a box.

Boba’s lips formed an ‘o’ “I have to see that,” he smiled at his dad, “once you know him, Moronoko’s really nice. I wonder how his kind looks in small.”

“I’m not sure about this time, Boba.” Jango objected carefully. The huge black beast had left an impression. They were damn quick and stealthy, their long stretched body allowing them to vanish into any cleft or ditch in the countryside, swim and fly... family or not, their wrath wasn’t what he needed right now. “Remember animals can react very different when hurt or defending their young.” Jango made a mental note that the same went for Tomoe...

Boba nodded, but his curiosity wasn’t fulfilled yet “How did she do it?” he asked the nerd.

“She shot two with a blaster she brought with her... and got a short sword from another in the pool to...” Oniro stopped and bent over a flower bed again. Not that there was much left to up-heave, just sufficient to make the gardener unhappy.

“With a blaster?” the kid’s professional interest was piqued “Looks like some of our lessons stuck after all.” A proud grin came on Boba’s face. “You should have seen mom in the shooting range. Her mark was terrible offwhen we got her started.” Eventually, his mom would start to shoot straight like a true Mando’ad

K’uur.” Jango shut his son up quickly, “the bath house here isn’t big.”

“Please, can we stop talking about that?” Oniro came up, wiping his chin with a napkin.

“Sure.” Jango agreed. There were no traces of last night’s slaughter on the walkway or as far as he could see into the bathhouse from the outside... unless the fact it was still closed. They were probably exchanging the water. “I want you to break the news to her boss, Oniro. Tomoe is coming with me. Ask her what she wants and stop making things complicated. Stick with the name Kabuto-Sama.”

Boba considered their arguments to free mom to come home with dad and him. “I’m sure Okasan fears revenge of those bandits. After all, that’s the second time they give her trouble. You could offer Okasan to get a rid of the problem instead of payment. Remind her that once we take mom home, the cottage would be free for a new contract, and an unruly servant gone including the barbarian pet,” he ranted.

Underneath the visor, Jango arched a brow. Oniro hadn’t put it as plainly as his son that her own boss was probably eager to get a rid of Tomoe anyway. He wondered if he should take care of the Aido-gang in return. Tomoe had warned him that it was useless at best, probably disrupting for the local political balance. “We’ll do a cost-benefit-analysis once we know more,” he told Oniro and Boba while he retrieved two bean comlinks from his utility belt. “For your private talk.”

“I take it, you plan to keep the helmet on.”

“Sure. I’m a Mandalorian barbarian... and proud of it.” He watched Boba smirk. His boy would stay in the background quietly and monitor that Oniro translated things right for him.

Chapter 16.1 – A Bargain (Day 21)

Yesterday, Oniro had tried to make an appointment with the boss of the resort, but under the conditions, he wasn’t sure if she would receive them at all. But Okasan had been woken before sunrise by Norio. She had started working early to take care of the inspector and the clean-up procedure. ‘Oh dear!’ It had been so much easier with Harada’s support, but the keeper of the Nanakusa-Cottage was more than lippy as things were. No need to pile up further liabilities.

Of course she would receive the three offworlders immediately. Couldn’t have them standing in the door and announce their bad manners to the regulars who were accompanied to the main entrance by their elegant hosts one by one or in small groups.

She could only guess what Oniro’s overly armed sidekick wanted. From what Norio had told her, he was eager to protect Tomoe... which could turn out as an opportunity as well as a treat. She just had to play her cards right.

The door slid open and revealed Oniro and a scared maid trying to tackle the boots of the armored man before he set foot onto the precious mats in the boss’ room. Another maid was running for a cleansing rag. Tomoe’s brat found the servants’ devotion very funny, but the warrior just stepped out of his boots without a look at the ruckus in his stern wave.

Okasan lifted her chin briefly at her secretary to stand and get floor cushions for her visitors before taking up a position by her side. Then she extinguished her pipe and knocked the remains of tobacco into a cylindrical ash container beside her writing desk.

“I’m honored to finally meet you and your guest in person, Oniro-Sama,” they closed introductions with a bow “We rarely receive visitors from as far away. What brings you here on this nice morning?”

“We would like to thank you for your friendly reception despite the short notice. Our evening here was most enjoyable. Kabuto-sama is especially endeared with the hospitality of the keeper of the Nanakusa-Cottage.

“Our Tomoe-san,” Okasan took a deep breath, “you mean?”

“Yes, Okasan. Kabuto-sama would like to enjoy her presence regularly... so much that he would like to fathom the chances for an exclusive liaison.”

“Of course we would be delighted if you honored the Nanakusa-Cottage with your regular presence, Kabuto-sama.” Okasan didn’t look at the scary helmet as she bowed to the warrior, ‘and hopefully never the main-house,’ she added inwardly. “We would like to thank you for caring for our older sister, Ukon-san. We rejoice at her rapid recovery you aided.”

“No problem.” Fett cut off the exchange of flowery speech.

“Kabuto-sama is aware of her younger sister’s commitment to her family,” Oniro picked up, “but he would like to relive Tomoe-san from her duties towards the resort so she would be free to accompany him wherever he goes.”

“Well... this certainly won’t be an easy decision for her to make. The girl is very attached to her family and we are very glad to have her with us. I have to tell you that she is committed in more ways than our usual hospitality.”

“You mean she slaughters your adversaries like no other?” Fett got to the point.

“I was thinking of Tomoe-san’s language skills which surpass those of our other girls. She dances beautifully and I think I can say that she’s easy on the eye, but...” Okasan cleared her throat, “now that you mention it...”

“Her presence here could attract the wrath of more than one gang. My offer would relieve you of that risk.” Jango started to barter over Tomoe once more. It was a bitter reminder to the slave auction he had manipulated successfully, a battle gone well within a war he lost. This time he would be more careful not to stain her honor in the progress.

“Please let me call in the second opinion of our chief of security.” Okasan reached over to the intercom to call Norio. She would certainly feel better with a man by her side. Her visitor became scarier by the minute and it wasn’t just his style of dress.

Norio entered and took the seat of the secretary who went to pick up a tray with refreshments from a maid and served the gathering to keep things confidential. He locked his eyes on the horizontal slit of Fett’s helmet. Metal enchasing or not, this was his arena and the newcomer would pay him the proper respect.

“As I see it, Tomoe-san is the one who keeps us from being overrun or crushed between the fronts. But a single man – or woman at that – cannot take on a whole gang. I don’t even know how she did it so far, but we cannot continue like that. Okasan, we need to reinforce security.”

After he voiced the problem clearly to his boss he bowed. Then Norio decided to confront Fett while Okasan was listening. If the boss thought she could strike a deal with this man, she was mistaken.

“I know it was you from the start.”

“No need to get into that.” Jango retorted.

“I also know that two of my men on the northern walkway were stunned just like that captain.”

“The thugs would have shot your men for real if they hadn’t come over the southern wall anyway.”

“How do you know?”

“I know a lot of things.” Jango felt no need to tell Norio about the bugs he had installed on vital points of the resort. “You should consider putting a field enforcement on your boundary wall. Hand your guards some weapons and train them. I guess by now Tomoe-chan’s private blaster collection would allow to arm up at least one watch.”

“That would be illicit.”

“Just a counsel for free.” Jango turned his head on Okasan but kept his eyes on Norio in case the next was too much for the meatball. “We both know that security work isn’t part of Tomoe-san’s commitment. Her contract has got a number on it.

“Correct me if I’m wrong... you would like to sponsor her?”

“I want to buy her complete financial obligations. How much?”

“I’m not entirely sure, but converted into republic currency there will be several thousand credits open on that contract. The sum was eleven thousand.” Okasan informed the offworlder. It sounded as if he mistook Tomoe for a slave in her possession, but she had no reason to object. She smiled at his attitude and sent her secretary to find the detail paperwork of Harada, Tomoe.

‘Laughable.’ Fett thought and watched Oniro’s face in the 360° display. The nerd looked more concerned.

Okasan flipped through the file the secretary brought her and calculated on her abacus. “Together with the latest repairs, the finals and the advance for her debut, that would be six thousand five hundred forty and three credits.” The clicking of wooden pearls halted.

“Deduct the advance for her debut. That won’t be required.” Oniro piped in and sipped on his cup of tea while Fett was still wondering what that meant.

“So what are your plans for the future?” Okasan asked evenly.

“She’s going to accompany me home.” Fett stated evenly.

“Wherever that would be?”

“Not of your concern. Different planet.”

“Well, I think that could be a serious hindrance. The population here has no general permit for interstellar travel.”

“Tomoe-san does, by all accounts.” Jango dropped in. A little behind him to the left, Boba nodded a silent approval.

“Thank you for your offer, Kabuto-sama.” Okasan bowed “I can assure you, Tomoe-san is invaluable for our community, but we will consider it despite our difficult situation.”

Maybe she could not only get a rid of that foul contract altogether with an unruly employee without major losses, but also wring out some extras and something like security work from that applicant. The man needed to get laid. Okasan had a six sense for that.

Jango nodded “Thank you.” he exited Okasan’s office, slipping back into his boots to let the maid repeat the process before walking through the garden to Oniro’s cottage.

Oniro voiced his objections “Shhh...” he hissed under his breath before they were even out of the main house, “even when Oksasan pretends it, you cannot buy Tomoe like that.”

“I’m not buying Tomoe, just her obligations. What I do with those is another question entirely.”

“Yes, the exchange rates to local currency are great. You could probably set her up here in her own house easily.” Oniro hurried to catch up with Fett’s long strides, “If there are only six point five grands open, she can probably pay off her contract herself already. I transferred the earnings from the slave market to her house account, rounded up to three grands. If she’s got a similar amount from somewhere else, she’s as good as away.”

“And she had a wad of cash in the hospital.” Boba piped in “I don’t know how much, but it seemed to be a lot, enough to make the receptionist jump to do her bidding. And she’s got that ‘present’ from Ariga yesterday.”

“That she can pay up here doesn’t mean she is away,” Jango reminded them. “Interstellar flights are pretty expensive.” He chuckled “The fuel costs of a military vessel like the Slave I alone would exceed that contract’s total within months. Therefore no setting her up here, Oniro-san.” He reminded him. “What’s that ‘debut’ Okasan mentioned?”

“When Tomoe takes her finals, she will debut as an entertainer. The ceremony is extremely expensive... several sets of formal clothing, jewellery, accessories, advertisement, presents...”

“And then?”

“Afterwards she’s working in the job she trained for, entertaining lots of people at the resort or wherever she decides to go.”

“Right, she won’t need that.” Jango closed the topic. Because she would be his.

Chapter 16.2 – No More Deals (Day 21)

Tomoe was dressed up and ready to start rehearsal as Taichi arrived, but took him aside to voice her concerns while she tried on the wig. The ponytail fell past her hip, loosely held by a silver paper strip. The sides were shorter, framing her face in soft flowing lines. The wig would be crowned by a comb with three arcs of silvery flowers and tinkling flutters. “I have a real one. An antique from my grandma,” she mused “I’ll get it from my deposit box when I’m in town again.”

Taichi nodded and sunk the comb into the top of the wig while Tomoe stared wide eyed at her reflection in the polished mirror. “I’ve seen the prints.” He said. “You are as beautiful as she was.”

Tomoe knew that she could not put it off any longer, “I’m afraid my nightmare has become reality, Taichi-kun. It has risen and walks in bright light. I need to keep you safe.”

Taichi tried to sound out the big dark problem, starting at the obvious. “Where is Boba?”

“With him. He’s the father.”

“I see. What happens now? What happens with us?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure I know him anymore... but I hate waiting for something bad to happen. We’ve got a job to do.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do without you.”

“He’s talking to Okasan right now... he probably wants to buy me again.”

Taichi wondered what she meant with ‘again’. “Okasan can’t do anything to you,” he offered.

“No, Nii-san, she can’t... but he can.”

“No, he can’t either.” Taichi smiled, “He’s seen you, and now you own his soul.”

“I’m with child, Nii-san...” she caved in, not really listening to Taichi’s fantasy. The urge to tell him the truth was just too strong.

The young actor gulped at the enormity of secrets she had held down all the time, but then he pushed his shoulders back. What they planned was revolution. What they needed now was courage. “You can do what you want, and you will tell him what you want.”

“Sometimes I think I don’t want anything... not anymore.”

“Liar.” Taichi scolded as he slid beside her and held her tight. “You want a lot of things - everything - in fact. That’s why we are here, together. That’s why you told me. This warm feeling of clarity... let that take you through the day.”

Together they rose and started the rehearsal of the distressed princess scenes. The heaviness resting on her shoulders made it easier for Tomoe actually.

“I have asked our dresser to come over at lunchtime with my wig and costume. He will bring the photographer for stills and details.” Taichi smoothed a side lock over her shoulder, “You are doing great as princess and your serpent will just blow them away.”

Tomoe chuckled “I’m curious how your storm god is coming along. I’ve been depraved of your rehearsals lately...”

“Dad thinks I’m doing okay, but he’s still a little worried about you because that sword will be in my hand, you know?”

“Did you go through your entry and exit poses?” – “Yesterday evening at the academy, with Shochi-sensei’s help.” – “Then the rest is easy... it’s all big moves for show. I can duck quicker than that. Just don’t drop that serpent head on your toes when you snatch it,” she joked.

“We can do action before de-makeup. Our dresser has seen it more than once and can stand-in to pass on the successive heads.”

Taichi reached over to the notepad for their music and they went over the form again, until it ran smoothly. All the back and forth really broke the flow and wasted precious time.

“Ahh... there you are, Boba.” Taichi bowed at the boy who had come through the garden and shuffled over the veranda hesitantly. Taichi peeked around under his long lashes, but nobody else came in sight. “Missed you already. How are things going?”

Boba bowed “As planned.” He kicked a floor cushion over into the second room and pulled the notepad closer to start his homework. “Woah, your hair’s grown back, mom!” he noted.

“That’s just the princess wig.” Tomoe turned to him, the endless pony tail flowing with the folds of the golden overrobe as she pulled on the collar to let the trailing hem follow her movement gracefully. “Do they need anything over in the Suzuki-cottage?” she inquired. Not that she was dressed for housework.

“Nay, we get along. Ukon’s fussing about dad like no good.”

Tomoe chuckled. The old lady would mother everything. “That’s good to hear. But she will call me when she whenever she’s tired, won’t she?”

“Sure. But I bet Oniro’s will be hoarse first from all the translating.” The faint pling plong from the Suzuki-cottage announced that Ukon had thought up an alternative to running against the language barrier and she was fit to tune her shamsin.

Taichi remembered the old lady’s sorry condition yesterday and smiled “Remarkable.” Maybe things weren’t so bad after all.

Around lunch, the young actor’s troupe-mates arrived, loaded with equipment. “Thanks for bringing everything out here.” Tomoe bowed and ordered lunch-boxes for everybody while Taichi changed in the next room.

Tomoe listened at the sounds coming from the neighboring cottage. Apparently, Ukon tried to enlarge her repertoire with Mandalorian chants. They had tackled the refrain with joint forces, and now she was patching the foreign syllables.

Vode An,” Boba recognized and shoveled another portion of noodles into his mouth, “Brothers all.”

The door behind them hissed open and on the threshold stood Stormgod impersonated. A rich mane of black hair surrounded the makeup of expressive frown lines and fell over the scarlet-bound armor. The wide red and gold sleeves from puffy brocade were strung up for battle. Strips of ritually folded paper flowed from his belt over the wide pants covered with large golden circles that were filled with threefold wind wheels. A gauzy vest in white and grey flowed over his shoulders and a big sheathed sword completed the attire.

Boba let the next portion of noodles sink back into the lunch-box. “Taichi-san?” he asked carefully and tilted his head. The difference to the usually willowy dancer was incredible.

The Stormgod stopped staring down at the audience in a pose of challenge. “Yes, Boba-chan, it’s me.” His face smoothed as he pushed his fan underneath the low-strung belt and dropped his hand on the sword hilt casually. “I thought I’d give it a try.”

“It’s working.” Tomoe finished lunch and walked up to him adoringly “You are as beautiful as the decoration of a new year’s battledore. Let me get ready as well and do the posing for the stills before the afternoon heat.” She slipped past him with an adoring smile. Things were going well.

“You are wearing armor.” Boba leaned back to look Taichi over. “Just a chest plate?”

“Armor makes a man of just anybody, doesn’t it?” The actor squatted down beside the boy, the wide pants puffing around him. “I especially like the structure of the red ties on black lacquer. It’s sturdy and light weight.” Taichi pointed out, then cocked his head and asked “Who’s singing?”

“That’s my dad.” Boba answered proudly.

“Great voice.” Taichi noted without a hint of jealousy, “As the saying goes, only evil people have no songs.”

Tomoe put on the complete layering of her own costumes with the help of the dresser and let him explain which strings she had to pull for the removal on stage. It didn’t make her look much thicker, but the multiple layers had their weight. The photographer finished his lighting preparations and the dresser held the tail of the wig away so she could slide the trailing robe over her shoulders, and helped her to arrange her collars neatly in her back.

“Nii-san, save me please!” Tomoe called over and pushed to her feet “I’m stuck with the eighth layered robe of wickedness!”

Taichi laughed, ruffled Boba’s hair and jumped to his feet “Coming, O-Yuki-hime!”

Tomoe was relieved when their ride through all the major scenes was complete. They had simply ignored all her mistakes and let it flow. She stood in the final costume of blue and green triangles symbolizing the scales of the serpent. The underrobe shone crimson from her inner sleeve as she raised her fan in the last pose, glancing around for her helpless victim then to be challenged by the noble stormgod.

“Splendid,” the camera clicked again. “That’s it.”

The dresser nodded. They had tackled all the technical difficulties. On stage, the eight tails of the serpent would be spread around now by the stage assistants under the cover of a cloud of artificial mist. Then the stormgod would fight them one by one as she dived from head to head. Afterwards she would slip back into princess-mode for the finale with the eight-fold fence of clouds while the hero struck victorious poses on the stage way.

Tomoe sunk on her knees and exchanged her fan with the prop of a monstrous head to be held in both hands. They had attached a large sheet to it to make up for the voluminous tail. The dresser ducked out for cover. “Hajime!” she whispered.

Taichi unsheathed the giant sword prop valiantly and without difficulties, swinging at her in a wide shining arc. Tomoe bend her spine to let the blade pass over her chest, long hair flying as she came back up as fluently as a serpent. She demonstrated for a while that he couldn’t really hit her like that, but from some meters away, it certainly looked narrow enough.

Oya, Taichi!” Boba cheered through the open door, “Go get it!” The lower jaw of the monster clacked rhythmically in challenge.

The sweating actor caught the head by the furry mane did a slicing motion over the attached sheet. He lifted the decapitated head with a triumphant shout, presenting it to the audience before placing it on the threshold deftly and whirling around to get into it with the other seven heads of the beast.

Sone mate!” Tomoe called, clapping her hands, “Well done!” she folded up the sheet neatly and passed it to the prop master, “Thank you.” She bowed, and then squatted in front of the make-up stand to be released of the heavy wig, rolling her head to ease her tense muscles. “Puh...” she moaned

“Mom?” Boba stared briefly in shock. He looked rather disappointed at the ugly cap that stored Tomoe’s real hair tightly – or what was left of it.

“Boba-chan?” Taichi winked the boy to sit with him as he sifted through the stills with the photographer to rule out visible mistakes from the acting perspective. Tomoe slipped past them in sweat drenched crimson underrobes and vanished in the bathroom.

She reappeared freshly showered and clad in a comfortable blue and white cotton robe, her hair wet and her face gleaming from make-up removal. “Much better.” She slapped her cotton underwear into the laundry basket and hung the red underrobe over a bar to dry. Rubbing her hair dry with a towel, she sneaked a peek over Taichi’s shoulder “Cold drinks, anybody?” she offered.

“Sure.” Taichi smiled up at his beautiful partner “Even the raw material looks good,” Taichi stood with a satisfied moan and stretched, “My turn,” he let the dresser help him out of the armor, removed the makeup and changed into his street clothing. The place looked more like a changing- than a hotel room, several layers of the costume airing on lacquered bars all around, so he at least tidied up their props a little.

Tomoe didn’t care about the mess. Her guests were over at the Suzuki-cottage. She would simply close the door and stay in the centre room with the hearth. Tomoe asked Boba to accompany her to the main house. “Would you ask the kitchen if they have some cakes left, please?” It was a little late for an afternoon tea, but the resort rules forbade lengthy dinner invitations for non-paying visitors like Taichi and his troupe.

Tomoe’s footfalls had barely faded as Fett rounded the corner of the veranda. Of course he had overheard the rehearsal. ‘armor makes a man, my ass.’ Planting his boots firmly just outside the threshold, his shoulders tense and the visor slightly lowered, he requested “Taichi-San?”

“That would be me.” The young actor balanced the serpent’s head on a high stake of boxes carefully before he turned around and ambled over. His hackles where rising. He didn’t believe in coincidence... The guy was looking for trouble before Tomoe could return. By then, his colleagues had got the unspoken message from the armored nightmare in the doorway. Fett stepped aside to let them pass as they remembered their pressing business elsewhere...

“You think I’ll allow my wife to star at your side?” Blocking the doorway once again, Fett continued his interrogation.

“Tomoe-san decides for herself.” Taichi met the expressionless visor’s stare with unflinching gaze. His Daddy could strike better poses. “As I see you now, she won’t have you. You can hurt her, but still she won’t have you.”

“She is mine.” Fett pressed his lips firmly together even though his adversary could see nothing of that. He had planned to say ‘She will accompany me soon’, but this wasn’t the time to correct himself.

“No. She’s her own and she doesn’t like being herded around.” Taichi managed to look down on the bounty hunter who stood at least a head higher than him.

“I see you need her. But I can change that.” Fett offered before he realized that it sounded like yet another treat. “Your father is in hospital, isn’t he?” he added.

“That’s not of your concern.” Before he knew it, Taichi stood nose-to-visor, an icy fist wrenching his entrails. “Stay away from my family.”

“Or what?” Fett challenged.

“Or my mom kicks your armored butt.” Taichi grabbed the first straw coming to his mind “If you think Tomoe’s got an attitude problem, I swear, my mother is ten times worse.”

“Oh really?”

Jango stepped aside and watched Taichi stalk away with relish. Yes, he’d had the last word... but the next moment, he berated himself for his attitude with a mental shake of his head.

And then he spotted Tomoe standing by one of the columns of the veranda, as silently as a statue.

‘Oh, fierfek’... He had not only made a mistake – again – he’d been caught in the act. He reacted the only way he knew: forwards.

“So this was the famous luxury model of humankind?” Fett unleashed part of his frustration of being outdone by a young, good looking, only half male... dress-up doll! He ripped the helmet off his head, clenching it under his arm. He wanted Tomoe to see him, look into his eyes, to see how much she hurt him.

“No... he is just a junkman. But he’s my Mr. Junkman,” Tomoe specified, “the one who knows to treat me right.”

“Feed you rice-cakes and such... damn, you are easy to please.” Fett sneered down at her.

“I am. So is Taichi-kun.”

“That man can’t protect you.”

“I can protect the both of us.”

“You sure of that?” the threat became audible under his breath.

“You promised.” her voice cut like an icy blade.

“I promised not to be violent against you.” Fett pointed out pedantically.

“Aside that you’d have to come through me, hurting him would definitely hurt me as well.”

“I have done some recce about that guy. He changes his mates like others change their underwear, unable to show devotion to anybody. You aren’t important to him, Tomoe. He’s going to use you, then drop you for the next opportunity. Mark my words. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I expect you to keep your promise, Fett.” She reminded him mercilessly. “If you can’t take it anymore: Do it now and I’ll help you to end your misery.”

“It won’t be me hurting you. He will break up with you. Soon.” Jango promised, turned on his heel and walked away, his head held high.

Tomoe shook her head silently. ‘Let him tell all the trash he wants. Caveman’s out of ideas, yes.’ She wanted to sit in a corner and cry, but Shioko needed her last stitches removed. She had to set her free. Her family needed her and the youngling needed her clan, more than anything else.

And she needed sleep. It would be a long night.

Chapter 16.3 – Gangwar, Round 3 (Day 21)

The night fell and with the darkness came the one enemy she could fight and kill.

At dusk, Tomoe woke and donned her dark tunic and pants, shoved the long sword under her narrow belt and slung the long range slug thrower over her shoulder. She sneaked out of the resort and escorted Shioko into freedom. Then she ran with Moronoko, her steps as light as a hunting wolf’s.

It felt good. It felt like freedom.

Their clan had sniffed out the motorboat with a crew of five coming in from the sea side. Shioko had picked up the Aido-captain’s scent yet again and reported to her father. Laying in wait in a drainage ditch on one of the ridges in front of the resort, Tomoe shattered everything above the boat’s railing with two garbs from the Tsunaike-slug thrower. Knocking over the nutshell some meters down the river stream, Moronoko’s clan finished up whatever tried to stay afloat afterwards.

Nobody would go hungry tonight. There would be no traces but an upended sports boat drifting in the marshes to encourage legends that held curiosity at bay.

Moronoko took her up hill. Sitting in the branch of a tree, the hi-inu hanging comfortably on a higher level, his long tail dangling over her shoulder, she picked off the ones who had come with a land transport to close the scissors. Her first hit stopped the enemy’s advance down to the resort; the other stopped them from running after they had stumbled over their mate’s lifeless body, the back of his head half missing.

When their whispered calls were not answered, the remaining big-town bad boys decided to cower between the roots of the ancient cedars and wait for the dawn to relieve them from the murderous shadows creeping up to them. Tomoe dropped to the ground. Slug rounds were limited and precious. Her untiring blade came down twice like a silver lightning bolt.

The wood had granted the Aidos no protection and the marshes would swallow them regardless.

Fett leaned against the trunk of a cedar, a short dark cloak slung over his jetpack, dark grey and green camouflage covering his thigh- and shin-plates. His cyar’ika was pretty frustrated tonight and he knew the reason. He recognized the move when she whipped the blood off the saber. The dark fluid splattered on the ground. She wiped the blade with a cloth carefully, sheathed it and ambled right over to him.

Of course she had noticed him. Somehow, she always did.

“Still here, my mighty seducer?” Tomoe mocked, the sharpness of her tongue anything but sheathed, “Did tonight’s show amuse you? Or did you just run out of ideas how to go about your schemes?” Tomoe didn’t care whatever she threw against his head. ‘C’mon, Fett... bring it on. I’m ready. Let’s say good bye to humankind. I so want to run with the pack.’

Fett shook his head silently.

“Returning after you found out that Taichi is not bisexual? ...No? Poor boy. You are missing something there. As a woman, I can tell you. Or maybe he is... and you liked it so much that you are came back to kiss me good bye?” She tilted her head slightly in fake curiosity, the white of her eyes shining over the dark cloth covering her face.

“I like to keep an eye on you.” Fett’s amplified voice stated evenly. It had taken him a while to get back into control after a day of watching the concurrence hit on her. But he was Oniro-trained. He would not lose it again over his cyar’ika’s annoyance. It would be temporary. He would see to that.

“Never give up hope.” Tomoe shrugged and strolled down hill like a farmer after a day of field work.

‘Time to raise the stakes,’ Fett thought and fell in step beside her. “Will you come with me when he breaks up with you?”

“No.” She snapped.

“Why not?” He asked innocently.

“Because this is not a game and I’m not gambling. Because you are the one who’s got a motive and I’m certain you will have your dirty fingers into that as well. You’ve got the cure for Segawa-sama up your sleeve isn’t it? And you are going to use it the way it pleases you most.”

Damn. She really knew him too well. “That would be his decision.” Jango responded slyly.

“I meant it when said no more deals with you, Fett.” She finally stopped and turned on him, “I’m not going to let you use me anymore. You might use other people’s weaknesses, no doubt, but you won’t use me.”

Jango stood back without another word. He had a job to do. The Aidos had been so nice to arrange an unobtrusive ground transport for him. Leaving Boba in the safety of the TIV, he hit the road to the provincial capital.

Tomoe had been wrong. The cure wasn’t up his sleeve. It was in his box of tricks since he started using the full strength version of the Karatos Plague on jobs like Dooku. He just had to deal it out without striking a deal. He knew the weird local sense of honor would do the rest.

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