"Are you sure it's safe?" Yohji circled around the language teaching
device. It looked uncomfortably like the sort of thing a mad scientist
would use for brainwashing. Even
down to the helmet with all the wires coming out of it. I'd rather not
sit there and let them...do whatever it is.
"It's quite safe." Nagi sounded amused. "It's already been used on
Fujimiya and Tsukiyono. No booby traps. We'll be keeping it on the base
for a while, so you'll be able to acquire other languages after the
Taisken has settled. Assuming you want to."
Yohji continued to hesitate. I have
to. He wants me to, and I need the language. I'll be a little less
He didn't let himself look at the self-effacing
technician. Non-entity. Even more
than I am.
He took a deep breath, bowed to Nagi and said, "As
Nagi grinned. "Yes."
Yohji sat in the chair. At least
there are no restraints. I could get up. If I wanted to.
"There's a shot now. You won't feel anything else." Nagi moved in close
and put his hand on Yohji's shoulder.
Yohji could feel the technician's irritation. Nagi-san is in the way.
will it take?" He'd asked that before, but he thought that asking again
might keep Nagi from noticing if the technician were fool enough to let
his emotions show.
"Half an hour at most. You'll be out a little longer than that, but it
won't seem like anything."
Yohji nodded and started counting. He hardly noticed the pricking in
"The sedation eases the confusion of the language implantation by
keeping you from being aware as the new words move in."
That would be anxiety inducing. One
moment, something's one word and then it's something else. You know it
was different, but you can't touch it. Half your words in one language,
half in the other. Do people get dizzy from that? I'd think they would.
They used this on Omi. Omi's
catatonic. Did it hurt him? I wish I dared ask. But I don't--
"How do you feel, Yohji-kun?"
Yohji blinked. Did I miss something?
"I'm ready to start," he said. A
little of that didn't make sense. Was that a Taisken word?
The technician removed the helmet. "We're done, sir," he said to Yohji.
He bowed to Nagi. "Telekinetic First Naoe, I don't anticipate any
problems for him. His responses were all well within normal ranges for
a human his age, and it's not unusual for a person not to recall the
start of the sedation. If he has any trouble with headaches or nausea,
summon medical assistance. If he starts mixing languages, let me know
Done? We can't be done.
stared at Nagi. Except I understand
"Of course," Nagi said. "We'll call on you next week. There are other
languages he should know." He smiled down at Yohji. "It's a much easier
way to learn English
never ending classes. Would you like German
Those are the most useful Earth
languages they currently have."
Yohji blinked. 'English,' 'German' and 'Earth' didn't make any sense to
him. He could guess what languages Nagi meant, and 'Earth' could only
mean one thing, but the terms weren't part of the Taisken vocabulary
he'd been given. Barbarian dialects
from a barbarian planet, I'm sure.
The gap in his understanding
made him a little dizzy. That he couldn't even name his own planet in
his mind seemed a vast loss. Temporary.
temporary. A few days, two or three at most.
sharply. I can't name my country or
He forced his lips to form the alien word.
"Earth." It felt wrong.
Nagi frowned. "Don't force it. You can learn those words right now, if
you want, but it's unnecessary work. They'll feel wrong for a while."
"It's important." Yohji reached for the right way to address Nagi. Telekinetic First Naoe is wrong. It's too
formal. Nagi is too informal.
He frowned. "There's supposed to
be something in between." He looked down at the floor. "What should I
Nagi pulled Yohji to his feet. "I told you the first day that I don't
But you do care.
shoulders tightened as he followed Nagi toward the kitchen.
Behind them, the technician packed up the machine.
I suppose he'll see himself out.
"I want to get it right." Yohji didn't look up as he walked. "There are
holes where some things ought to be."
"Sit over there." Nagi pointed toward the stools by the counter. "Say
Yohji sat. "Sah-n," he repeated obediently.
"Nagi-san." Nagi emphasized the gap between name and honorific. "It's
an honorific, a polite one."
Yohji smiled. "Nagi-san." It didn't feel right in his mouth, but he was
glad to have the right form back. I
need that much to stay constant.
"If I learn other languages,
you'll have to keep re-teaching me this. It matters."
Nagi's smile of pleasure told Yohji that he was quite right to think it
No matter what language I'm speaking,
I need that. Actually, in languages other than...our own, it matters
more. Nobody else calls him what I do.
"Lunch. Then we meet your empathy teacher. She'll give you lessons
until she's satisfied with your control and shielding."
She? Oh, no. No. Not a woman. He'll
get jealous. That's dangerous for her and for me. Maybe she's old or he
knows she's a lesbian or--
"What's for lunch?"
Well, I guess I don't have to worry
about jealousy after all.
Yohji wasn't sure if he could edge
away from his new teacher or if that would be a deadly insult. A cricket. A giant cricket. Sort of. Those
legs-- arms-- limbs-- look powerful. I doubt I'm fast enough to face
He knew he was staring, but he couldn't quite bring
himself to stop. Do those patterns
on her mean something? Are they painted or did they grow that way?
What's that box for?
Nagi gave an abbreviated but polite bow. "Empath Second Chekree, I very
much appreciate your willingness to help me in this matter."
Chekree laughed. Two of her legs scraped together. She made sounds that
made no sense to Yohji. Then words issued from the box hanging around
her neck. "When the High Lord asks, willingness comes quickly."
She's amused. Truly so.
found himself relaxing a little. Maybe
won't be so bad.
He kept his mouth shut. Nagi'd told him
not to speak unless addressed directly, not until the formal lesson had
Nagi's answering laugh was less genuine. "The situation is rather
urgent. We've already had trouble once."
Empath Second Chekree bounced a little in place. "Indeed. An impressive
show of raw strength. After reading the report, I checked the shielding
on the training room. It would not do to have further accidents." She
clicked a little in a way that Yohji interpreted as fussiness.
Nagi stiffened. "The shielding in my apartment is more than adequate
now. You can train him here."
"I could." Empath Second Chekree's expressions were hard for Yohji to
read, so he focused instead on the feel of her.
She's going to fight him on this. She
feels it's important.
"Proper training," she went on, "requires a dedicated space, somewhere
the student can associate with the teacher and the lessons and nothing
Yohji echoed the expression. He had to work at remaining silent. Now he'll want to prove that he's not
He looked at the floor, hoping that would keep him
out of the blast radius. He could feel Nagi's anger deepen.
Then Nagi's emotions changed, smoothing and focusing. "Is that a polite
way of saying I'd be a distraction?"
Empath Second Chekree waved a forelimb. "If I'd been properly polite,
you wouldn't have noticed."
Nagi laughed. "I do know I'm dealing with an empath. I expect to be
Yohji stopped himself
from pursuing that thought. Later.
Empath Second Chekree made a clicking noise. "I prefer to establish
honesty as a precedent. We're stuck with each other until your slave is
trained to the High Lord's satisfaction."
Nagi bowed in a way that was utterly Japanese. "As the Highest wishes,
then." He straightened and flicked his fingers in a dismissive gesture.
"My token of ownership is not yet ready, so he cannot yet leave these
I'll ever be able to?
could feel nothing from Nagi now. He
must not want her to know how he feels.
He rubbed his arms and
shuddered as if chilled.
Empath Second Chekree rubbed her arms together. "Understood. Will you
accept my escort?"
"Another day, yes. For today, I'll leave the two of you here. I've work
that needs doing anyway." Nagi put a hand on Yohji's shoulder and
squeezed lightly. "Make sure he eats a little every hour or so."
Yohji couldn't stop himself from looking up at Nagi, but he did stop
himself from speaking. He swallowed hard before looking down again. Nothing for me to say. Nothing at all.
He watched as Nagi gathered a few small devices and packed them in a
bag. After Nagi went out the door, Yohji looked at the floor again. I'm not inviting...anything.
Empath Second Chekree made a noise that Yohji couldn't interpret. "Look
at me. We'll accomplish nothing without that."
Yohji looked at her. He wanted to ask her questions, but he wasn't sure
if that was allowed. Nagi-san didn't
say what I should do. What's safe?
"You may speak. Do you have a preferred form of address?"
"I'm Yohji. My family name is Kudoh. Nagi-san calls me Yohji-kun." He
didn't stumble over the honorifics. "As long as Nagi-san doesn't mind,
you can call me whatever you like." If
objects, he's likely to express it...vehemently. Be prepared.
He felt waves of calm, a soothing peace, wash over him. He sighed,
tempted to allow himself to drift. Instead, he pulled himself stiffly
upright in his seat and looked at his teacher. He said nothing.
She made a sound that he took as laughter. The emotion accompanying
suggested nuances that he couldn't quite understand. "You're not quite
"I think I am. It's easier to be."
"I suppose it is. I shan't be encouraging it, however. When you really
break, you'll likely affect his mind, too." She reached out and lifted
Yohji's chin. "He's that entangled. I'd read it as adolescent
infatuation, powerful but passing, but the High Lord thinks you could
make it more. If you want to. Do you?"
Yohji fought a flinch at the feel of her skin against his. "I want to
live." He knew that much. "He protects me, but he's dangerous, too." Honesty might be a bad idea here, but the
High Lord already knows all of this. Does she want something different?
"You may call me Chekree when we are private." She moved back, letting
him go. "I would usually start with shields for you've none, but I
think I may need to work differently. Yes. You're surviving by feeling
him. Shielding will cut you off for a while."
Yohji felt his mouth go dry. "That would be...." Deadly.
"...unsafe, I think."
She tapped one appendage against another. "Be grateful. The High Lord
wants you alive. He believes you're good for young Telekinetic First
Yohji bowed his head. He studied his hands. Nothing about me, just about him. Well, I
"You're an empath, Kudoh. It's always going to be about someone else.
If you had a rarer talent, the High Lord might consider upsetting his
new pet over a third tier talent, but empaths are common as grass
clippings." Chekree made her laughing noise again, but this time the
accompanying emotions carried little humor. "And no, I'm not reading
your thoughts. I've got your unshielded emotions and my knowledge of
your situation. The rest is easy."
"Even across species?" Yohji deliberately chose the one question that
steered into what he hoped was safer territory.
"I know humans." Her emotions became complicated enough that Yohji
couldn't understand them. "Anyone working for this High Lord has to."
Which implies that other High Lords
don't have many humans around.
Yohji licked his lips. "I have a
lot of questions about--" He waved his hand around to indicate their
surroundings. "I need to know so much." He suspected that his emotions
revealed his desperation.
"I'll answer some questions, but that's really not my task." She moved
to the other side of the room. "I'm tasked with teaching you to control
your gift and with testing you to see if you've any others. I'll also
be teaching one of Precognitive Second Crawford's dependents to shield,
so you'll not be my only concern."
One of-- Ran? It's got to be Ran.
Yohji kept his expression calm out of reflex. "I see. I won't impose,
then, but I'll be happy to get anything."
For several seconds, she said nothing. Then she said, "I'll suggest
certain teaching materials to your master. Whether he allows them or
not will be up to him."
Yohji allowed himself to hope. "He wants me able to go out eventually."
"He might want to watch you struggle."
And then comfort me afterward.
Yohji looked away. "That's up to him."
"You might ask him yourself."
The suggestion sounded casual, but the sudden absence of emotional
information from Chekree made Yohji sharpen his attention. That matters. If I ask, I'll do it right.
Maybe if I suggest that I don't want to embarrass him...
within tests within tests."
Chekree applauded. "Indeed. I'm glad the High Lord didn't overestimate
your intelligence." She went quite still, fixing her multi-faceted eyes
on him. "Never forget that I'm not here to make anything easier for
you. That may be a side effect if you're lucky, but it's not the point.
The point is avoiding accidents like your outburst the other day. The
point is making sure that Telekinetic First Naoe is stable and happy
and above all useful. Anything you do to achieve these ends will
benefit you. Understood?"
"Yes." He did understand. He hated it, but he understood. I don't matter to any of them. Nagi-san
wants a sex toy, so he gets one. I may be mildly regretted, but they
don't think I'm worth more, not with him on the other side of the
scale. I'm tied to him now.
He didn't allow himself to think
about Ken or Ran or Omi. I can't
help anyone else, not yet. Eventually maybe, if I play everything
right, but not yet.
"Excellent. Our first exercises will focus on identifying clearly what
you feel so that you can separate what you feel from what he feels."
Nagi came back more than an hour after Chekree had departed. Yohji was
lying down with something cold over his forehead. He'd napped a little
but had been awakened by feeling Nagi's approach. She's right. I'm very...aware of him. I
have to be.
Chekree had been brutally honest about the life of a slave, but she had
also noted that only Nagi and the High Lord had the right to punish
Yohji. Other first tier talents might demand that Nagi do so or request
it of the High Lord, but no one else had the right. She'd added that,
as Nagi had accepted her and the High Lord had assigned her as Yohji's
teacher, she also had the right to punish him. "I don't expect to need
to." Her emotional overlay had made it clear that she expected Yohji to
be smart enough not to require it.
As he heard the door opening, Yohji rolled out of bed. He staggered a
little as he stood but soon found his balance. He kept the cold pack in
one hand and headed out toward the living room, trying to make it look
like he was seeking a replacement. It's
not as cold as it once was. That's true enough. Hell, he feels
cranky and tired.
He stopped the moment he saw Nagi and gave a
small bow. "Nagi-san." Does he want
me to kneel? No? No. He doesn't.
"Can I get you something from
the kitchen?" He held up the cold pack in silent explanation.
Nagi frowned but didn't feel angry. "You look like shit." He set down
his briefcase and walked over to Yohji, putting a hand against Yohji's
Yohji felt the minor spike of irritation that was Nagi's usual response
to remembering that Yohji was taller than he was. Yohji considered
dropping to his knees. But I can't
do that all the time. There has to be a way to make it appeal to him.
Somehow. Otherwise, he'll look for a way to change things. I bet that
wouldn't be as minor as my body hair.
"Empath Second Chekree has
high standards." He kept the words as flat as he could.
Nagi patted Yohji's cheek and smiled. "Good. That means she knows what
she's doing. I'd rather have you work harder now than risk damage
later. What did she start with?" The words sounded casual, but Nagi's
intent behind them was sharp enough to hurt.
"Finding where I am," Yohji answered. He looked down and to one side,
avoiding looking down at Nagi. "She said I can't learn anything else
until I know where I leave off and everyone else begins." Where you are and I'm not, really.
"She did take what you said about food seriously. She said she'll be
consulting with a nutritionist to suggest a diet for me." He let
himself sag, let the exhaustion he felt show more strongly. Feel sorry for me, please.
Nagi softened a little. "We'll have a quiet evening tonight. Just us
and some good food and a chance to rest."
Yohji felt the whisper of lust there and guessed that Nagi was
suppressing it. "Thank you, Nagi-san." I am grateful. Really. Even if there will
be sex. I'm not fool enough to think there won't be.
He took a
deep breath. And it's better if
there is. I need the leverage.
"I'll speak with Chekree tomorrow about a reasonable schedule. You need
time for other things. Training your mind will mean nothing if you
don't get a chance to exercise physically, too. Physical stamina
helps." Nagi sounded utterly certain.
Probably personal experience. It
makes some sense, too.
Yohji simply nodded.
"I've asked Crawford for time in his private gym. You're not ready to
be around a lot of people yet."
Which implies that I will be
"May I sit?" Yohji thought he might not need to ask,
but he didn't want to discover that he was wrong.
"Of course." Nagi stepped back to let Yohji get to the couch. He held
up his hand, and a new cold pack floated in from the kitchen. "You'll
Yohji accepted it and plastered it across the back of his neck. He let
his body fold down onto the couch. And
he's taller. That's good.
Nagi started stroking Yohji's hair. "When you can shield, you'll be
able to come with me during the day."
You'll be able to show me off. Do you
really think I'm worth that? I suspect most people wouldn't want me.
Which do you prefer-- That no one else want me or that they want me
desperately without being able to have me? Right. So I have to be
desirable without looking like I'm seeking it.
The pain in
Yohji's head spiked as he tried to figure that one out. Maybe soon he won't want me all the time.
And that has problems, too.
"There's so much I don't
understand." Yes. That's a way to do
"She said you had to pay reparations for what I did, that
you'd have to again if I make more mistakes, empathy mistakes or...just
mistakes." He didn't have to work at sounding upset. She also said that I'm powerful enough to
train to be a low second tier talent. Assuming I can learn control.
"Shh." Nagi rubbed Yohji's back gently. "I'm not worried, and I've
still got the orientation materials they gave me. You can read them."
That was...too easy, and he's not as
cranky as he was, just from touching me. Really-- Just from touching me?
"I'll learn," Yohji promised. I have
He leaned into Nagi's hand. "Empath Second Chekree scares me
a little. Not because she's a whatever she is. What is she?"
Nagi made a deep chirping sound that lasted for more than a second.
Yohji was sure it couldn't come from a human throat. "In a language
humans can manage-- non-telekinetic humans, anyway-- they're called
Yohji twisted to look up at Nagi. "That still doesn't sound like
something humans can say."
Nagi laughed. He sat down on the couch and pulled Yohji down so that
his head rested in Nagi's lap. He slipped fingers under Yohji's shirt
to touch his chest. "Why is she scary?"
Because she is.
Yohji knew he
had to come up with something better. "She feels very solid. In my
head, I mean. I can't mix her up with anybody else." With myself.
There's no--" He wanted to shake his head but refrained, fearing it
would aggravate his headache. No
sympathy. No compassion. No kindness. Humor and glimmerings of good
will yes, but nothing unearned.
"I don't know if I can meet her
"The ch'krrt are all projective empaths. Most are low level, but even
the infants project. People who deal with a lot of telepaths have
different standards for privacy. People who deal with a lot of
empaths...harden." Nagi traced patterns on Yohji's skin. "Empath Second
Chekree is quite powerful. She can't afford any softness."
Should I take off my shirt? No. He
wants me lying down. He'll tell me, won't he?
Yohji closed his
eyes. "How long will the headaches last?"
"I don't know. I had about three a week for the first year of my
training, but telekinesis isn't like empathy, and...." Nagi hesitated.
After almost a minute he went on, "Rosenkreuz really didn't know what
it was doing with me." His fingers wrapped in Yohji's hair and
Yohji held his breath as he felt the couch start to shake. What do I do? How do I stop him?
Nagi took two deep and measured breaths. "Just as well. They'd never
have let me leave." His grip on Yohji's hair relaxed. "What have you
taken for the headache?"
"Nothing?" Yohji didn't want it to be a question, but he had the
feeling that he was somehow at fault. Shift
"My teacher didn't say anything about taking
something. She told me to rest and wait for you."
The air around them went very still. "I will be having words with
Empath Second Chekree."
Yohji shuddered, very glad that the cold control in Nagi's voice wasn't
directed at him. "I can take something for this?" At least that will make the rest of
"If you can walk far enough to talk to a doctor. Though I suppose I
could summon one." Nagi's emotions softened again. "I've told them that
they're to treat you if you're ill or injured, so they will."
"If you hadn't, they couldn't?" Yohji was guessing, but he thought he
"They'd be taking huge risk either way." Nagi brushed hair off of
Yohji's face. "I made it clear that I value you and will not have your
Yohji shuddered. "I can walk." He made no move to sit up. Better to wait for permission, and I'm not
looking forward to the leash again. No, that's nothing. It's not like I
wasn't owned before. Who'd have thought I'd remember Kritiker as
non-intrusive and allowing freedom? This is more of the same, really.
"Before you get up...." Nagi sounded tentative.
But he feels pleased with himself.
Better pay attention.
"I have something for you." Nagi lifted Yohji to a sitting position
without using his hands. Nagi's briefcase hovered in the air in front
of him. "I hope you like them." He flipped the lid open.
My eyes can still focus enough for
Among the carefully placed devices and neatly stacked
papers lay two wrapped things. Yohji had no idea what they might be.
They were roughly cylindrical. "What are they?" He likes explaining things, and they are
"Take them out and see." Nagi smiled.
Yohji reached out with both hands, letting the cold pack slide down his
back. The two things were wrapped in cloth and felt hard under his
fingers. He put them in his lap.
"Open them," Nagi urged.
Yohji tugged at the cloth. In
another second, he'll be doing it for me.
The cloth fell away to
reveal metal, reddish yellow metal etched with black and silver
patterns. He ran a finger over the surface then pressed a little. The
metal gave under the pressure. The moment he pulled back, it reformed.
"It's soft for you or for me. For anyone else, it'll be hard. You could
block a sword with one." Nagi bounced almost imperceptibly. "The left
one has space for a wire. That'll come later."
When you're sure. Yes.
picked it up and squeezed. It crumpled under the pressure. He pulled,
and it stretched. He tapped it against his cloth covered knee and felt
unyielding metal. "I'm to wear these?" He smiled at Nagi. "They're
Nagi traced a black line. "They tell anyone who looks that you belong
to me." He leaned in and kissed Yohji, turning Yohji's face so that
their lips could meet. After he pulled back, he said, "It tells them
not to touch." He stroked the side of Yohji's face. "Most people here
will remember Schuldig."
Yohji swallowed hard. It could be
"How do I put them on?" Yes, I'll put them on. Voluntarily. I've
had my eyes open the whole time.
"There's a hinge and latch here." Nagi pressed his fingers against a
bit of the pattern. "Learn that when your head is better. You'll need
to take them off to wash, but only take them off in here or when you
and I are private." He seemed to consider for a moment. "Or if I tell
"Yes, Nagi-san." Yohji kept his eyes on the thing. What should I call it? Bracelet? It's too
wide. Bracer? I'm not sure what one of those is. Armband? Maybe. I like
that one best. Screw definitions.
"Thank you." He held up his
right arm. Put it on me, please.
I'll do it if you want, but please....
Nagi's fingers closed around Yohji's wrist. A few moments later, cold
metal pressed Yohji's skin. "Some day, you'll give orders with my
voice. People will listen because of these." He kissed Yohji's hand. "I
thought you'd prefer these to the other options. Crawford's consort
wears a jeweled pectoral. I've seen tattoos and brands."
Yohji winced. "You said I can use these when I fight?" Let's talk about something else.
"Won't they be soft because I'm wearing them?"
"They'll harden the moment something that's not you or me touches them."
Yohji made a thoughtful noise. "That'll take some training." Ideally against Ran or Ken and their
blades, but I can't have that.
He held up his other arm. Let's do this. The sooner I have something
for this headache, the better.
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