Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Episode Thirty-Seven
Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.
-Terry Pratchett
    Glasses clinking and soft conversation, which predictably quieted as Lucas and Reimei were seated, gave the cafe a pleasantly populated feel.
    Lucas took the proffered menu. “And water please.”
    “And you miss?”
    “Coffee. Black.”
    The waiter missed a beat, gauging if the small girl was serious. “Alright.”
    Lucas smirked, straightening his tie. “I used to get chocolate milk at your age.”
    “You would.” Reimei shifted the cane to hook onto the table.
    “So you wanted to talk about the mission that turned you into a pirate?”
    Reimei scrubbed the edge of the patch. “No. You wanted me to.”
    “Does it itch?”
    “Horribly.” She looked down at the menu. “What’s good?”
    “I always get the burger.”
    One dark eye lifted from the menu then snapped back.
    “There’s a kid’s menu.”
    “You’re very close to insulting me.” Reimei slid the menu back onto the table.
    “Well. I wouldn’t want to do that.”
    “Especially if you want to know how close your current partner is to being right.”
    Lucas’ attention fell thoroughly on the small girl. The waiter came up.
    “One water. One coffee; black. Do you know what you would like or should I give--”
    “I’ll have the strawberry cheesecake.”
    “Alright. And you sir?”
    “Huh? Oh. Burger; everything on it.With fries.”
    “Gottcha.” He picked up the menus.
    “Oh and a side of mustard.” Lucas added. “Reimei.”
    “Hmm?” She took the coffee cup in hand and sipped. Her eyes closed. “Heaven,” she murmured.
    “The mission.”
    Reimei wiggled against the restraints of her brace. She took another sip then held the cup close; over the wide arm sling. “Brutal.”
    Lucas waited for an elaboration, hand sliding into his jacket pocket.
    “You know there’s no smoking in here.”
    “What?” Lucas realized embossed metal in his hand. He gazed at his lighter. “Getting harder and harder to find places that allow vice.”
    “No one smokes anymore; it's vile. It’ll kill you.” She set the cup on the table.
    “Probably not before other things.”
    Reimei glanced up at him. “We are ambushed. Like you and Marie as I understand.”
    “Not technically.”
    “There was a trap. Not a yokai trap. I mean a summoning.”
    Lucas’ brows knit. “Where?”
    “When we were helping with the evacuation in Bruton. Abraham and I did a last sweep and I registered activity half a mile south. We followed a Kimetic trail and at the end was the runic remains of a summoning. We didn’t trip it but when Abraham tried to dismantle it…” She glared at the coffee cup. “There was an explosion. And after...a lot of Yokai.”
    Remei looked up at him. “Enough to blind me, break my arm, two ribs and shatter my ankle. But I was lucky. Despite our injuries we closed the gate and contained the demons. Pretty sure death would have been next if there hadn’t been another unit looking for us.”
    Lucas leaned forward, hands folding together. “Who came?”
    “Aloysius and Season.”
    “So they saw the summoning circle?”
    “I was a little preoccupied trying to keep Abraham from bleeding out.”
    “Your order.”
    Lucas leaned back as the waiter pushed the burger in front of him.
    “Mustard on the side. And cheesecake. Everything look good?”
    “Yeah, thanks.” Lucas waited until he had gone to another table. “Rei, I’m sorry.”
    Reimei took her fork and stabbed a large bit of the velvety cake. She shoved it in her mouth, cheeks bulging and immediately stabbed the cheesecake again.
    “We are just throw away fodder,” she managed around the mouthful.
    Lucas dipped a hot fry into the mustard. “Was the circle in your report?” He popped it into his mouth.
    “Of course. And Kelly’s. And Luis’.”
    “Wait,” a new fry dangling over the plate. “What?”
    “Alts talk.” She gulped at the coffee.
    “Why haven’t I heard?” Lucas asked, dipping the fry.
    Reimei gave him the familiar cool look, which transferred briefly to the dripping fry. “The Alt for Marie Ventras? She’s as close to the inner circle as any of us have gotten.”
    “So no one trusts me now?”
    Chewing Reimei shook her head.
    “Fantastic.” Lucas’ back hit the booth’s cushion. “So it’s only around the rumor mill then.”
“No one and nothing should be able to run open and waiting jaws.”
    Lucas sighed, taking up the hamburger. “What’s the play book for this?”
    “Not one.” The little Alt shoveled another giant bite into her mouth.

    Esther sat in a low gaming chair watching Ro and Simon battle it out in a robotic ninja girl game. The way their fingers skipped back and forth, while a thumb twisted and turned the toggles, Esther couldn’t tell if the movements were skill or luck. Two kittens played near by, one a dusty grey, the other with dark stripes.
    “Where are the chips?”
    “Those cheese things are over here,” Ro said, rolling from her stomach to sit up right on the floor. The small gray striped kitten hopped into her lap.
    “Those will work.”
    “Just a sec.” Ro hit a quick combo and her character charged in a burst of blue. “Here!” She tossed the bag at Esther’s head, hurriedly going back to the game as her character attacked.
    Esther giggled. Tugging at the bag she winced.
    “Fingers?” Simon asked.
    “Yeah. Still really hurt.” Esther glanced down at the darkening nails. Two were puffing up and pressure was building.
    “Hey!” Ro jolted forward, kitten tumbling from her lap. “Oops! Sorry Anges…”
    Simon reached for the chips.
    “Thanks.” Esther messaged her knuckles as he opened the bag with a pop.
    Simon nodded. “Count of three.”
    “Ok! I’m ready!” Ro sat up on her knees, staring down the large screen.
    “Ugh! What the hell?” Ro’s fingers dashed over the controller but her character missed a block and Simon’s character completed a combo.
“No way.” Ro slumped as the Game Over screen flashed. “Man. I almost had you that time. If you hadn’t bloody paused it! Much cheating.” She scooped up Anges. “It’s he a big fat cheater?”
Simon sniffed and reached for the Kleenex box. Esther leaned forward and nudged it closer.  
    “Cats getting to you, Si?”
    “A bit.”
    “It’s been a few hours; you could take another allergy pill.”
    He stood, going behind his chair to his backpack.
    “There’s options in the fridge.” Ro stretched, holding Anges over her head. “Kitty!”
    “Want anything?” Simon asked, glancing at Esther.
    “That lemon lime soda with the ball on top is really good.” Ro rocked forward and stood. She pressed Anges into Esther’s t-shirt. Esther fumbled to cradle the kitten. Anges mewed and climbed up her shoulder, tiny claws hooking through the thin cotton. She stroked the kitten’s back, half listening to Ro and Simon argue playfully about the game in the media’s room small kitchen. Tiny claws. Soft purring at her ear; like fast fluttering wings.
    “That wasn’t the overdrive combo.”
    “Dude. It was.”
    “Not for that character.”
    “What? I’ve been playing Sonica Dolls a million years, Si. And that was Mizumi’s overdrive!”
    Esther leaned forward, elbows on her knees. The kitten swiped at her hair. She scratched his neck. The blinking of the screen blurred, the theme music mixing dully with the chatter behind her. Gold shimmered. Wings scattered the tone. Esther shuddered. The kitten hissed and leapt from her grasp.
        Ro and Simon gazed down at her, Simon holding three soda bottles. Ro glanced at Simon then sat next to Esther.   
        “Oh! I’m so sorry. I must have been too rough.”
    “Everything ok?”
    Esther ran a hand through the ends of her hair. “Oh yeah, just startled the poor thing I guess.”
    Simon sat and offered her a bottle. She took one, then he offered one to Ro.
    “We can talk about it. You know you’re supposed to talk about it, remember?”
    “Yeah. I just…” Esther’s face grew warm as her gaze flicked to Simon.
    “I can go.”
    “No.” Esther lifted her head. “No, I just mean it's hard to talk about.”
    “The girls at school?” Simon prompted.
    Esther took a breath. She turned up to him and smiled. “Show me the overdrive? What?” she added as Ro’s look. “Games and fun and kittens, right?”
    Ro chuckled. “Games and fun and kittens. Now.” She took up her controller.  “I’ll show you that was an overdrive.”

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Episode Thirty Six
Check Up
Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.
 -Kurt Vonnegut

    Lucas stared unfocused at the empty chair in front of him. He sipped the now tepid coffee. He glanced at his watch. 
    “Hey; sorry.” Marie came around from behind him and sat quickly in the chair opposite. 
    “I really hate staying here, Mar.”
    “Just another day or two and maybe I can sort something out.”
    “Like going back to Iota?”
    Marie ran a hand through her hair in frustration. “Uh, I don’t know. I just don’t have a good feeling about this.”
    “It was taking little kids. Of course you don’t.”
    “I just feel like there’s something else to it. I’ve looked into a few more investigations and there's more of the same. Evacuation orders, missing kids, sudden appearances of powerful Yokai.”
    “If there is a pattern, wouldn’t the mucky mucks see it too?” 

Lucas swirled the remains of his coffee in the Styrofoam cup. 
    “Maybe I’m just imagining it.” Marie took a breath.
    “It’s a stressful time. But if you want a few more days, I’m game.”
    “I’ll get someone to run by your apartment.”
    “Thanks. Was worried I’d have to wash my underpinnings in the sink.” He drained his cup. 
    “Luc, I want you to some some probing.”
    Lucas lifted an eyebrow but didn’t rise to the obvious. “Anything in particular?”
    “Everything. Layouts of the towns, eyewitnesses, anything and everything you can think of.”
   Marie lifted her thumb to her lips, biting the nail. “Even our reports.”
    “So you do think it's a upsurge.” 
    “I don’t know what to think. I want to see where the active pockets are cropping up.”

    “Alrighty. So. Going to do a little sightseeing while here?”
    Marie glared at him. “I thought about it.”
    “Mind if I tag along?”
    “Fine. Just keep your mouth in check.”
    They rose from the table and made their way from the cafeteria. 
    Marie pulled out her phone.
    “Newest version of Angry Birds is pretty fun,” Lucas quipped. 
    Marie ignored him, idly flipping through screens as they walked.

   “So how is Ber--Robert?” Lucas amended at her look. “I mean, really,” he added quickly. 
    Marie hesitated. “Not good.”
    “What exactly happened?”
    Marie’s gaze lifted from the screen. “I don’t know,” she said defeated. “He said he was fine. What?” She glared at Lucas as they reached an elevator.
    “Sorry.” Lucas quickly quelled the chuckle. The elevator’s doors opened. “You just have a tendency to take people at face value. Whatever they say is how it is. That is not always the case, you know?” He braced himself, but Marie just sighed and hit seven. Her gaze returned to her phone with more intensity. 
    “I know that. I mean I realize it; later. I just figured if he really couldn't go with me he’d say.” She gritted her teeth as Lucas snickered.  
    “Come on, Mar. Say he couldn’t go on a mission with you? Are you serious.” He shook his head. “You never ask anyway. It’s all orders. ‘We’re going. Open to blah blah blah. Stop whining.’”
“To be fair I only say that to you.” She shoved her phone in her back pocket as the elevator stopped.
“It’s not like you ever give us a chance...Marie?”
She’d turn her head, brown hair shielding her face. “I know that. Don’t you think I do? I’m not stupid, Luc. I pushed him too hard. It’s...” Her hand covered her mouth muffling, “It’s all my fault.”
“Well, I didn't say that.” Lucas scratched his head, awkwardly
gazing down the corridor as he stepped out. 
“You don’t have to,” Marie growled, anger bubbling up into her voice. “No one had to say it. It’s the way they look at me when I visit him. It’s the way they talk to me. Or avoid talking to me. But I really didn’t know!” She turned to Lucas, defiant.

“He’d just been slow; tired.” They took a left down a hall and moved to avoid a gurney. The hall was lined with numbers rooms, all with two windows with curtains drawn on the inside.
    Lucas sighed. “You don’t get pneumonia out of the blue, Mar. Especially not this bad.”
    Marie rubbed a hand over her eyes. “I’m an idiot. We were in the Delsol district, one of teams to help evacuate. He...He’d been coughing on the train so I let him sleep. He never once complained.” She stopped in front of one of the identical rooms. Her gaze dipped to the number to the side of the door. She opened it slowly.
    “You mean whine?” Lucas lowered his voice. A man with graying brown hair to his shoulders lay the hospital bed. His breathing wheezed and filled the oxygen mask over his mouth. An IV bag stood to his right, machines softly buzzing near by. 
    Marie shook her head, gazing down at him. “We found the Yokai; this huge Oni that took over a local brown bear. He was fine. We worked perfectly. But once the layline was secure he just...he…” She shut her eyes a moment. “He collapsed. His fever was so high, Luc. I’m such an idiot. Idiot!” Her fist shot out, hitting the wall by the door with a sickening thud. 
    Lucas grabbed her wrist before she could do it again. He yanked her forward, holding her tight. “It’s not your fault.”
    Marie pushed against him. “Don’t cuddle me, Alt! Don’t you--”
    “Shut up.”
    The firmness of his voice sucked the energy out of her. She bunched the back of his coat lapel in her fists. 
“Shh. He needs to sleep.” Lucas gently lead her from the room. “I know Bert. He’s just as dedicated and stubborn as you are. Hell, he hates that you had to take me. Hates it, Mar. Yeah you need to be more observant when it comes to your Key. But I understand. You’re a complete unit. These things just happen.” He quietly shut the door.
“But if I had known…” She leaned against the window.
“What? You’d abandoned the mission? Give it to someone else? It’s not ok for you; it's not ok for him. You gotta make it ok, Mar. You--”
A clatter in the room behind them and a light went on outside the door. Running echoed down the hall. Two nurses rushed passed them, tearing the door open. 
Marie struggled to follow but Lucas held her back. “Make it ok. It’ll really help.”
She nodded. 
Lucas followed, but kept just inside the door frame. Robert was on the floor, a horrible rasping cough wracking his body. One nurse was dealing with a dripping IV ripped from its bag. Machines buzzed angrily. The other nurse was desperately trying to get an oxygen mask over Robert’s face. 
“Marie!”He shoved the nurse, slapping the mask from her hand. “G-Get away from me!” Robert heaved between coughs. 

“Sir, please. You have to back…”She stopped as Marie knelt beside her, a hand on her shoulder. She picked up the mask. 
    “No! No m-more!” Robert yelled as best he could, a hand gripping his chest, unable to find the strength to even lift his head. “My part-ner’s out...She’s all...all…”
    “I’m right here.” Marie put her hand on his fevered cheek. 
    He started, staring up at her with disbelief in his grey eyes. She placed the mask over his mouth and pulled the strap over auburn hair. Her fingers brushed the silver strands by his face back from his sweat stained forehead. 
    “And it’s ok Robert. It’s ok.” She stared down at the tile, and even Lucas could see her blushing. “So please. Please get back in bed. Ok?”
“Pl-please?” Robert repeated, still in shock. “Marie?” His breath coated the mask in white. “Take me with y-you. I c-can…” His voice dissolved into coughing.

Marie slid her arm under his and pulled him to sit up. “I know I’m...don’t do this to yourself, Robert. Just rest now and get--” She gasped as his hands gripped her shoulders. 
“L-let you down.”
“No.” She shook her head. “Never.” She and a nurse helped him up. 
“Those two.” Lucas shook his head. “So lost without each other.”
“It’s pathetic.”
Lucas nearly jumped out of his skin at the small voice.
“Reimei! Good God you need a bell.” 
The girl stared, emotionless, at the scene in front of them. Lucas’ gaze went to the bright pink sling her right arm now rested in. “That really must have been a rough assignment.”
She gazed dully up at him with one eye, the left side of her head covered in a thick black patch. “If you really care, buy me dinner.”
“Dinner? Can you have--”
“I hate the food here. I need to get out but no one will take me.” 
“Uh. Ok.” Lucas glanced back at Robert’s room. Between Marie and the nurse they had gotten him back in bed and the other was inserting the IV. Marie held Robert’s hand. 
“Leave them alone Luc,” Reimei said, walking back up the hall, her little cane clicking on the tile. “We are lucky not to be so dependent.”
“I’m in room 112. Pick me up at six.”
Lucas sighed. “My lot in life to get bossed around by every woman I meet. Even the miniature  ones.”

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