Amphisatsu, Wantanabe Terminal
A dark haired man of Japanese descent sat at a dark wooden table with his face in his hands. The flickering of muted light from an andon highlighted his sad features. The man looked up from his hands over to the source and took a moment to reflect on the delicate artwork, admire the smooth brush lines and the collage of colored inks.…
Things are not good for us...
His hand hovered over a holo-display. The image flickered to a ledger of figures.
“Hideki?” A frail, fair-haired woman in her mid twenties peeked around the screen. She smiled at him. “Hon, dinner is ready,” she said in a weakened voice before popping back behind the screen.
Hideki swiped his hand over the display and the numbers vanished. He pushed himself up and out of the chair and walked around the screen, his attention fixed on the table
A spartan dinner of rice, some steamed vegetables and marinated fish was laid out on a low, neat table. Hideki sat on a cushion and poured himself a cup of tea into a simple handleless cup before taking up a pair of chopsticks.
“Dear?” the woman asked, sensing his distraction.
“Hmm…?” he replied in kind.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Yes, dear,” he lied, knowing full-well that things were not okay..
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yes… No… I’m just worried about you,” he said in a half truth. Freyja’s health was tentative at best. “How did treatment go?”
Her blue eyes set upon his as she set her chopsticks down. “I’m still in pain,” she admitted. “But the doctor says I’m making progress.”
“That's good,” he remarked. “And counseling?” he asked, though he knew there would be no progress there. She had been fighting this mental illness since he had met her on that dusty speck of a world.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” she said defensively.
Hideki knew better than to argue with her about it. What's the point of paying for help, if she’s not willing to receive it?
he thought with bitterness.
“Freyja, I love you, but you have to let that part of your life go,” he said kindly, knowing instinctively she wouldn’t take well to it.
Freyja bristled. “I just can’t forget that part of my life!”
Hidiki gave a small sigh. “I’m not asking you to forget it, I’m asking you to let it go.”
“I can’t do that,” she snapped, hotly. “You know I can’t...”
“Freyja, at some point your….”
He didn’t get a chance to finish. Freyja stood up abruptly and, throwing her napkin onto the table, turned and left the room.
Hideki shook his head. He loved her very much, but it was a struggle. Everyday he had to muster patience.
He closed his eyes for a few minutes, then decided to to go back to the desk. Back to his ledger.
As much as he looked at it, as much as he worked the numbers, as much as he willed them to be in the black, they just... weren't.
Medical expenses were racking up. Drugs, treatments, and doctors all came at a cost. To make matter worse, his business was failing. Competition was driving his prices lower and he couldn’t keep up. He had to let a few employees go. It wasn’t enough.
He pleaded to the banks for help. A loan, anything, to give the business a kick. But no one wanted to take the risk. In an act of desperation he turned to a loan shark.
And now it was time to pay up…
* * * * * *
Hideki felt the light hands of Freyja touch his shoulders. He had fallen asleep at the desk.
“I’m sorry….” he whispered. “I didn’t mean….”
“Shhh,” she said. “Come to bed…..”
Freyja looked at the holo-ledger, but nothing on it made sense to her. She left that in her husband’s hands.
He took her hand, and they walked to their private chamber. They didn’t speak. He undressed and laid down on the mat beside his wife.
He touched her back. This simple gesture was, by and large, taken for granted by most couples. But it had taken years for Freyja to trust him enough to share this simple gesture. He thought back to when he first saw her.
He knew the mess she was in when they had met. A product of child rape, abuse and neglect. He’d found her huddled behind some crates. She was sixteen. He saw an obese pig of a man come at her. Obscenities spewing every which way from his grotesque face. Despite his better judgment, Hideki had bargained for the girl. The cost was more than he could have imagined.
His mind went to their wedding. It was simple, Japanese and traditional. She had worn a pristine white shinto wedding dress, her long golden hair woven with flowers into a neat bun, tucked under a large white hood. Hideki had worn a simple, but elegant kimono and flowing hakama
Hideki’s family was there, despite the fact that his mother and father had strongly voiced their objections over the whole affair.
Freyja on the other hand had only one living relative. A twin brother. Hideki didn’t know much about him, and Freyja didn’t talk much about him, but he was at least there for their union.
* * * * * *
Tjakiri, Clair Dock
Stryker sat in a locker room preoccupied with the raw and irritated flesh between his newly installed cybernetic arm. He could still feel his hand, a ghostly projection that unnerved him. His body may have come to grips with the reality that it was gone, but his mind thought it was still there. He opened the hand and watched as the sharp talon-like fingers opened and closed. The labour pool offered him some practice with the device, but it wasn’t without accidents. Grisly accidents, like the doctor’s assistant.... He tried to push the bloody affair from his mind.
He was out of the labour pool and trying to get back into his life. It wasn’t easy, and this simple task was taking its toll on the large man. He thought a workout would have been something good, something cathartic. Oh, how wrong he was!
The cybernetic forearm was stronger than the bicep it was attached to. Even though nerve bundles and micro actuators were implanted in the bicep to help balance things out, there was still a discrepancy. Something that would have to be fixed….
His organic hand felt a large bruise and scrape on his chest. He thought back bitterly. A simple bench press. He brought the weight down, all four-hundred and ten pounds of it, until the bar was almost touching his chest. It was going well as he brought it up. After the fifth rep, when the muscles were fatiguing, he lost control of the cybernetic. It had happened quickly. There was the sound of twisting metal, then a snap. The next thing he knew, his right shoulder was lopping over. He let the bar go and the shorter right side hit the ground with a clatter. However, the longer left side hit the ground and bounced, sending the newly cut and jagged bar slamming into his chest.
His shoulders ached from the sudden loss, and he was counting his lucky stars that the muscle didn’t pull, or worse, dislocate a shoulder.
Stryker sat at the edge of the bench, surveying the wreckage. He was trying hard to keep positive. But what was the point? He swore under his breath, roughly swiped the towel off the bench, gathered his bag, and left.
“Hey! HEY!” A skinny man called out to Stryker as he made his way down a corridor.
The sulking bodybuilder wasn’t in the mood. “What the fuck do you want?” he growled.
“There’s a job for you,” the man said. “Someone hasn’t paid up, and Marra requested that you go and deal with it,” he said, smirking. “‘S’pose, after your little fuck up, she’s giving you another chance…. She must like you ‘cause you’re a piece a shit.” The man threw a datapad at Stryker, whose patience was being sorely tested by the man’s goading behavior. Instinctively Stryker caught the datapad with his right hand, accidentally crushing it.
The man laughed. “Good luck with that hunk of junk…” he said, and turned to walk off leaving the large bodybuilder standing there looking at the shattered device.
Now he would have to talk with her.
* * * * * *
“Come in,” came Marra’s voice from beyond the door. Stryker was apprehensive. Marra seemed to be in a good mood, which made him all the more nervous. He walked through the door.
Marra sat in a leather backed chair, behind a light and a stylish desk. She was wearing a tight black shirt, exposing just a tiny portion of her mid-drift. The burgundy leather coat was cut in a sharp V just at her hips and he high collar was pulled up. Her delicate throat sported a spiked choker.
“Ah, Mr. Aune,” she said, placing the data slate she was holding onto the desk. "P'nawn da". What brings you in?”
Stryker had no idea how she would react. Her temperament was volatile. He braced himself for the worst as he held out the shattered datapad in his organic hand. “I uh, broke it…..” he explained, adding, “I didn’t get to see the request.”
Marra looked at the broken device for a second, then her eyes wandered over to the giant prosthetic. She smiled. Stryker knew he was in for it.
“I see,” she said. “Well, new equipment sometimes takes a bit of time to break in. To get used to…”
Marra stood and walked around the desk, a finger trailing along the surface. She stood directly in front of the hulking man. She was tiny compared to him. Stryker could have easily crushed her but, in his psyche, he was terrified of her. Of what she was capable of doing. He felt her finger touch the scarred flesh just where it intersected with the metal limb. He didn’t like the sensation. The nerves were still raw.
“But,” the woman continued, “I think you’ll find this very handy at some point.” She looked up at him, then turned and circled back around the desk. “We have a loan officer, see. He gave a considerable sum of credits to a client. The client hasn’t paid up. I want you to deal with it,” she finished, simply.
Stryker thought for a moment. Something didn’t add up. Why couldn’t this loan shark’s own goons handle this? And why was Marra involved personally? Surely she had better things to do with her time then deal with piddly little loan affairs.
“Why me?” he asked, stunned that he wasn’t being punished.
Marra stopped and turned. “Oh, I have my
reasons.” She said, and tossed another dataslate to the large man. “Try not to break this one. You're racking up quite the expense report, and I do expect you to pay it back in full.”
Stryker stood, reading the device.
“Mr. Aune?” Marra asked.
“Yes?” He replied snapping out of his reading.
“You're blocking the door.” Marra waved a dismissive hand.
“Oh, sorry.” Stryker turned and almost bumped into a small woman. She was thin and waifish with high cheekbones. Her lustrous blonde hair was tied neatly into a smart bun at the top of her head. She wore a crisp white suit. Her dark eyes met with the large bodybuilder’s blues.
“Excusez-moi, monsieur. J'ai un rendezvous,” she said.
Stryker blinked, and stepped aside. “uh….Jag har ingen aning om vad ni talade?” he replied with a look of someone lost in translation. He stepped out of the way into the corridor and continued his reading, taking note of what he thought he was going to need.
The Swamp Donkey
was gone. All but destroyed. He needed a ship. He called up the adverts on his slate.
“Hmmmm……” His attention was called to a decommissioned and, from what he could tell, salvage-titled Federal Drop-Ship….
Special thanks to Jemine Caesar, Jubei Himura, and Marra Morgan for their edits, insight and suggestions.
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