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On to Part 21.
Disclaimer: Weiss and Schwarz do not belong to me. I'm
them for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no
intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or
Warnings: Swearing. References to past child sexual
abuse. Nonconsensual sex. Bondage. Although I'm setting this a
of years past the main series, Nagi's age combined with his
squick some people. Also, I'm ignoring Gluhen, Side B and the
don't expect this to be consistent with them.
Pairings: Nagi x Yohji. References to Crawford x Aya-chan.
Off screen Ken/OMC.
Author: The RCK
Last updated: 8 November 2012
Thanks to Daegaer, Gemais and Leorising for beta reading and
rhe-o-tax-is: the tendency of an organism to move in response to
stimulus of a current of water, either with the current or against
Omi rubbed his face. "So Ken has people watching him? People who
Ran nodded. "Two...slaves." Do
need to know more? "Very attractive, very...physically fit
slaves. Officially, they're supposed to be doing all the non-medical
care he needs while he's unconscious. That's so they can be with him
all the time. If he...doesn't come through, they go back to the High
Lord. If he does, they're his--" Ran made a face, wishing there were
easier terms for this. "--bodyguards, concubines, whatever he
"Did Ken have sex with them?"
Ran nodded once, sharply. He
have found another way. I don't know what but something.
Omi looked like he'd bitten into something sour. "Do you trust
Of course not. Ran blinked
twice. "They're not Weiss."
Omi smiled as if Ran had answered a difficult question. He nodded.
"Apart from that."
"I think the High Lord trusts them and that he wants Ken." Ran
shrugged. "All that wasn't for me, and it wasn't for Crawford,
There's no point deceiving us, and
the High Lord is real enough. Which means that everything else is
"They're both telepaths, both combat trained."
"Loyal to the High Lord?"
And not to Ken? "Nobody
me their dossiers." I want to see
them, too. "All I've got is what they bothered to tell me.
think they talked a lot telepathically."
"Yes. You said that earlier." Omi tapped his fingers on his knee.
"Given everything-- Were you actually in the room when Ken...had
Ran felt his face heat. He fixed his eyes on the door to Omi's room
shrugged. "The next room." I'd
preferred coming back here. But then Ken would have been alone...
the morning. "He wanted a chance to talk. He had... advice
Omi winced. "How blunt was he?"
I'd hate to think he could be
Ran shrugged. "Compared to what?" Let
Omi made a grumbling sound deep in his throat. "He's never had much
patience for you."
"It's not needed." I'm strong
for whatever we're going to do.
Omi made a sound that might have been agreement. He didn't say
for a while. Eventually he sighed. "Did the High Lord say more?"
Ran went through the rest of that part of the evening in his head.
asked questions about the game. He commented on the food. He offered
different...slaves, talking about their--" He grimaced. "That part
unpleasant. We knew which ones Ken was supposed to pick, but we had
look at several others." I felt
filthy. "Just before we left, the High Lord propositioned
Ken didn't let me answer."
Ran could tell that Omi was considering asking for details. It's long. I'm tired, and there's so
more to talk about.
Omi hesitated. He studied Ran for nearly a minute then looked away.
didn't say anything. He frowned then nodded sharply. "Tell me about
Ken. We'll come back to the High Lord later. I...need to know about
Ran found himself staring at Omi. That's...unexpected.
letting me off the hook. He schooled his expression into
neutrality before Omi looked at him again. "I'm not sure where to
"Where did you go when you left the High Lord?"
"Guest quarters. Fancy guest quarters." Ran picked at the fabric
covering his left knee. "Big bath. Big bed. Cushions for lounging."
cleared his throat. "Wet bar--"
"Have a drink, Ran. You look
you could use it." Ken waved his hand at a corner of the room. "They
told me there was alcohol in the wall over there."
Aut, the female slave, stepped between Ran and the corner. She bowed
Ken, her long, straight, blond hair slipping over one shoulder to
toward the floor. "It's our place to serve." She pushed her hair
over her shoulder as she straightened. She stood about a hundred and
eighty centimeters and was built like a dancer. Her features were
Ran just kept himself from stepping back. Don't be stupid. She's harmless. No. She's
a bodyguard. She's not harmless. She's.... That hair can't be safe
combat. He narrowed his eyes, thinking about how he'd take
down if he had to. She shouldn't
here. Neither should he. He glanced at Pel, the male slave,
see him echoing Aut's bow.
Pel was several centimeters taller than Aut. His skin was
darker than hers, and his head was shaved. He was muscular, with
shoulders. His eyes were dark and wary. He didn't seem to have Aut's
Has he ever been in a real fight?
I'll buy that he's trained, but has he ever used it? Ran
and looked from Pel to Aut and back again. She's a first tier telepath, and he's a
second. How can we trust them? What choice do we have?
Ken inclined his head. "Whatever's proper." He didn't sound like he
much cared. "No alcohol for me, but some juice would be nice. For my
friend-- See what's there that's strong and then cut it so he can't
taste the alcohol."
"I don't think that's a good idea," Ran protested. Alcohol is a bad idea. I can't watch
back if I drink. "I need to be alert."
"We're safe in this room." Ken flicked his fingers in Weiss' signal
silence, and Ran shut his mouth sharply, remembering that Ken was
in charge of the mission. "You're wound tighter than Yohji's wire.
got things to say to you, and I'm still hoping to enjoy the rest of
Ran blinked, hung up on Ken's comment about enjoying the night. There's nothing to enjoy. He
his mouth then hesitated. This
be his last night awake and sane. Whatever he thinks is enjoyable
being stuck in this room with me and-- and them, I shouldn't take
from him. "I'd still rather not risk alcohol."
"It'll make doing what you have to do easier, Ran." Ken's smile was
stiff enough that Ran was sure it was forced.
What are you expecting me to do?
"Ken--" Ran moved his fingers in one of Weiss' signals. I never thought I'd be asking Ken for
orders. His eyes darted to Aut and then to Pel. And they can read our minds. Why are
bothering with signals?
Ken had Pel help him sit down on a blue, upholstered lump that
like part of some child's pillow fort then took a glass from Aut.
miss a lot." He sipped his drink and nodded approval. He looked up
met Ran's eyes. "That's a luxury you can't afford now. The rest of
have carried you on it for years, but none of us can any more."
Ran let his legs fold so that he too sat. He sank into the cushion,
tilting a little as one part of it proved softer than the rest. "I
carry my weight." I'm good at
being Weiss. Better at being
Weiss than at being a brother, it seems. Just tell me what to
"On missions, yes, at least during the lethal parts. You kind of
at the parts that require talking to people." Ken snorted. "And
call me impatient." He
pointed a finger at Ran.
"Right now, you ought to be cosying up to Crawford by making your
sister as happy as possible. You ought to be making allies by
to know other people here. You're not utterly isolated."
"Do you think I haven't tried?" Ran demanded. He met Ken's eyes for
long moment then looked away only to find his gaze landing on Pel's
bare feet and smoothly muscular legs. He twitched and fixed his gaze
his own hands. "Crawford hates me. He thinks it's fun to torture
"Then play on that. It's a weakness. You can't afford pride. Omi's
depending on you." Ken snapped his fingers to get Ran's attention
pointed behind him.
Aut bowed to Ran and offered him a glass of red brown liquid that
almost seemed to glow. Her hair slid over her shoulder to hang down
next to the glass.
"Thank you," Ran said as he took the glass. He sniffed the contents
considered taking a sip. No. I
need my head clear.
He looked around the room again. If
Ken told them to make me
drink, would they? Could they? Would
he? He gave Ken his attention again. "I know, but it isn't
as easy as you're making it sound."
"I never said it was easy. Crawford's smart, but so are you." Ken
a hand in Ran's direction. "You don't have to drink it, but I think
we'll all find tonight easier if you do." He stood up carefully. He
didn't quite put weight on his bad leg. "There's supposed to be a
around here somewhere." His feet sank into thick carpet, and he
wriggled his toes.
Pel handed Ken a metal cane decorated with black vines.
"I won't be much good if I'm drunk." Ran sniffed the drink again.
am I here?"
Ken stretched. "We should get out of the formal wear at the very
There's a decent sized bath, and my clothes should fit you well
Ran winced as Ken casually discarded clothing that would have paid a
month's hospital bills. His hand tightened on his glass. "Ken--"
"I have one night, Ran. That's why."
Ran tried his drink. It was fruity without being overly sweet. The
aftertaste was sharp and alcoholic enough to make his throat
"I'd love a chance to run, but the doctors said no. My leg won't be
to that until some time tomorrow or the day after. I'll settle for a
bath, a friend and--" Ken managed a grin. "--some sweaty sex." He
appreciative looks to Aut and Pel in turn.
Ran dropped his drink.
Pel was there in an instant, cleaning up the mess.
He can't-- "Sex with whom?"
Ran choked a little on
Ken's face set in an expression Ran couldn't interpret. "They're
He shrugged. "I'm not about to insult the High Lord."
Insult? "It's not about
him." How can
you even think of it? They don't have a choice.
Ken studied Ran for a moment then shrugged. "They're a gift from a
who owns multiple star systems. From a man who owns us right now." He turned and
walked toward one of
the doors. "I'm going to wash and then soak."
Aut pressed another glass into Ran's hands.
Ken wouldn't-- Ken's not--- He's a
good guy. Ran
lifted his glass and drank without letting himself think about it.
closed his eyes for a second. Yohji
would and has done that
for missions. Ken, though-- I never thought Ken would. There are
lines. He opened his eyes and stood up. "Please hold this,"
he said to Aut, handing her his glass. Once she'd taken it, he
to undress. It's still Ken's
mission. Maybe he can explain.
Maybe I can talk him out of it.
Stripping completely under Aut's steady gaze was one of the hardest
things Ran had done recently. She smiled at him when he glanced her
way, and he looked away quickly. She's
attractive in a
foreign way. He allowed himself a frown. I'm not
going to think of her that way. I can't save the victims, but I'm
going to become worse than I already am. Killing's one thing.
He looked from Aut to Pel then said, "The clothes are expensive.
pick up Ken's." Lacking any way to hang up the clothes, he folded
own, carefully not watching as Pel copied his movements to fold
That done, Ran took a deep breath and went after Ken.
The bathing room was tiled in brown, shaded and patterned to look
tree bark. Ken was in the middle of scrubbing his legs. He looked up
Ran walked in. He grinned. "I thought you'd take a little longer."
"It's still a mission." I can do
almost anything for a
mission. Really. "And I need to know more." You're
going to be unconscious for two weeks. Yohji is Naoe's toy. Omi is
pretending to be comatose. "I still don't like it."
Ken rinsed his legs and moved carefully to the bath. "You don't have
like any of it. You just have to adapt."
Ran sat on the stool Ken had vacated and started washing himself.
surprised." This bath is very--
It's very home. I wish I had
the word for home. "I thought you cared more about-- about
keeping yourself than this." The
bath must be Naoe's
influence. Or maybe the High Lord's people favor baths like this,
but it looks very like home, just much bigger.
Ken laughed. There was a wildness and a darkness in the sound that
disturbed Ran. "Keeping myself? I gave myself up a long time ago,
I joined Kritiker, actually. At least this time I'm getting
out of it. With luck, they and I can give each other something
start. If this works, we're going to have years, decades maybe, of
Ran scrubbed just a little harder than necessary. Who are
you? You're not Ken. Wanting to change the subject, he
asked, "Why wouldn't you let me answer the High Lord?"
Ken sighed and sank lower in the bath. "Because you might need to
yes later. It's.... If I succeed, you and Omi can leave Crawford and
Naoe and swear to me. I won't be able to help Yohji, not right away,
but I can help you. If I fail.... Not that I'm going to, but.... If
do, the High Lord offered you an education as your fee. You wouldn't
enjoy the bargain-- He likes inflicting pain-- but you could do it,
secure his patronage and get yourself and Omi away from Crawford."
Ran had frozen midway through Ken's carefully neutral words. I almost said yes, just because
Crawford said to say
no. He closed his eyes for a second. I still might
have to say yes. Can I? Of course I can. "When did you
making plans like that?" Ken
doesn't scheme. He doesn't have
layers of contingencies. He... He shook his head. "You
like Omi." He couldn't quite keep it from sounding accusing.
"I learned from the best." Ken kept his eyes on the wall. "I wish my
implanted vocabulary stretched to profanity. That or that you had
"You miss swearing that much?"
"It's satisfying. Plus, it gets your attention."
"You have my attention." I'm not
Ken ran his fingers through his hair. "I've only got tonight, and I
need to be sure you understand."
Having nothing to say, Ran remained silent. He could feel Ken's eyes
him as he finished washing. As he stood to join Ken in the bath, he
asked, "Will they be
Ken shook his head. "I asked them not to."
When-- Telepaths. Right. They
could have said anything, and I
wouldn't know. Unwilling to admit to an additional layer of
discomfort at that realization, Ran lowered himself into the water.
"We're not exactly friends, are we? You never wanted friends." Ken
didn't exactly watch Ran entering the tub.
Ran shook his head. "I couldn't afford friends."
Ken snorted and made a vulgar gesture. "Your sister woke up nearly
three years ago. You're just set in your ways. The rest of us have
waiting for you, and the separation is a weakness the team can't
I don't want this. I'm loyal to
the team. If I go any deeper,
I'll drown. Ran shook his head. "Strong feelings are a
weakness for the team."
Ken snapped out a word that Ran could only assume was a curse. "Get
your head out of your butt! You've got to start pulling your weight.
I'm about to give a binding oath to the High Lord. I'll mean it when
do. That puts him and his interests before Weiss. You need to fill
the hole when I'm gone. That means admitting that you care and that
and Yohji care for you."
"I don't see what good that will do."
Ken looked like he wanted to bang his head against something.
why we're having this talk. Omi won't do it, so I'm going to." He
stabbed a finger at Ran's chest. "You're part of Weiss. It's not
Ran looked away. "I know. It's forever."
"You say it like that's a bad thing." Ken's finger continued to rest
"We're all damaged. We're all damned." I don't wish that on
anyone, even if it's sometimes better not to be there alone.
"With that attitude, I'm surprised you haven't self-destructed.
Ken held up a hand, forestalling any words from Ran. "I don't care.
What matters is that you're the uninjured member of the team.
fighting for survival, and it's got to have damaged him. Omi's
physically weak from pretending to be catatonic. You have got to
up. Do whatever it takes to claw any advantage from your situation.
Don't let Crawford win."
Is that what I've been doing? But
I can't-- Aya-- But
Weiss-- Ran shivered in spite of the heat.
"You're nearly dead inside, and it would kill Omi to lose you, too."
Ken ran his wet hand through his hair again. "I wish I'd given you
hard pushes back when it wasn't life and death, but you were
functioning well enough."
I have no idea what you want.
"I'll...try." I want to. You said
they need me. I think I need to be
needed, and Aya doesn't need me any more.
"You'll do better than that. Omi and Yohji both care about you and
about what you think." Ken had started glaring somewhere along the
and his current expression promised violence.
Why? "What am I supposed to
do?" If you
spell it out, I'll do it.
Ken turned his glare on the wall, and for a moment, Ran expected him
punch it. Ken sighed and let his hand fall into the water. "Be
with them. Yohji's stronger than he looks and smarter, but...." He
waved a hand as if to encompass everything then shrugged. "Omi isn't
quite as strong as he'd like to be, and he can't save all of us this
time." He bit his lip and looked away. "Barring the High Lord, he's
probably the most dangerous man either of us have met, but he's not
"I'll remember." Ran wasn't sure he would, but he guessed that that
what Ken needed to hear. "I'm sorry I'm not one of them. They'd be
better company for--" He shook his head, not sure what to say that
wouldn't sound gloomy.
Ken laughed sharply. "You'll do. You're not trying to talk me out of
it, and that's something. You're not even worried."
Ran inhaled sharply. "Yes. I am. I just don't-- Just because I'm not
nagging or hovering-- You know more about it than I do."
This time, Ken's laughter sounded more genuine. "You trust me, is
it?" He leaned back, looking up at the ceiling. "I'm not sure you
should. If-- Before the High Lord made his 'gift,' I was planning to
proposition you. Not because I'm lusting wildly after you but
you were here and at least possible. I thought you might, just as
comrades, given tomorrow."
"I might have." Ran was sure that was the right thing to say. He did
his best to keep his confusion over the turn in the conversation off
his face. Maybe I shouldn't have
set down that drink. It
might make Ken make more sense. Maybe I should have said yes. Then
wouldn't-- Ken is better than sex with slaves. He cleared
his throat. "I still could."
"I'm going to have to do it eventually," Ken's voice sounded
"Nothing can save me from that. Having the High Lord view me as a
barbarian-- which he does-- is bad enough. Having him view me as a
barbarian who's not even trying to adapt could be lethal, no matter
useful I am. He's not the only power in his court, and there's a
Naoe is in semi-seclusion here."
Ran blinked. He frowned then made a rapid decision. "You're going to
have to tell me things like that. Omi will want to know. It might
him busy for a while." I'm
dreading talking to Omi. He's
going to want to kill Ken, and Ken won't be available.
Ken shook his head. "Tonight isn't about Omi. It's about friends and
joy and me watching you get drunk."
Ran leveled a glare of his own. "You conveniently don't have to face
him for two weeks."
"Fine, but there has to be fun, too. You're not getting out of
"Fun." Omi sounded as though
he was testing the word out. "Would you
say that you had fun?"
Ran rubbed the side of his face. The tea had helped. He was still
exhausted, but his mouth no longer felt like he'd been eating mud.
headache had receded. "I suppose. I mean, Ken
seemed to enjoy himself, and I think he wanted me to enjoy myself."
"That's something, I suppose." Omi took a deep breath. "I wouldn't
tried to stop him," he said. "Ken must know what he's doing." His
were clenched on his legs.
Liar. Ran studied Omi. He
was more than a little
relieved that Omi wasn't showing anger, but he couldn't believe Omi
wasn't angry. "He seemed to," Ran said. "He was even thinking about
politics. He seemed to-- No. He doesn't understand everything. He
the starting points. That was part of the point of the...
They know how things work."
"Yes. The bodyguards." Omi flattened his hands against his legs.
me more about them. You must know at least a little more."
We have no choice but to trust
them. What will reassure
you? "I think-- I got the impression from what the High
said that Ken's worried about Crawford trying to make sure Ken's
insane, that it wouldn't be hard for someone like Schuldig to make
happen. Aut and Pel are guards for Ken's mind more than for his
Both of them are stronger than Schuldig." Ran couldn't help a little
shudder at that thought. Schuldig
is bad enough. Schuldig
stronger doesn't bear thinking about. "I got the impression
they've both done this sort of thing before." But nobody said
that. They could be amateurs, and where would that leave Ken?
"How can anyone trust slaves with this sort of thing? Why wouldn't
sabotage Ken?" Omi's questions echoed Ran's own doubts.
Ran poured himself more tea. "I can't imagine Ken keeping them as
slaves." Assuming I know anything
about Ken. I'm not sure I
do any more. "There's also--" Ran took a deep breath. This
was the High Lord's logic, and Ran wasn't sure he agreed.
they're in love with each other. They'll do a lot for a person who
them be together."
The look Omi fastened on Ran made Ran think Omi didn't buy it
"That seems easy to say, Ran."
Ran set down his cup and spread his hands wide. "I only know what
High Lord said. If it helps any, I do think he was courting Ken. Ken
being happy and safe matters. He wouldn't have spent hours watching
sport he knows nothing about, drinking tea with us and hand picking
slaves to go with Ken for it all to be a trap." The words came out
reluctantly, but Ran thought he was right. "Last night, all of it,
in Ken's honor. That means something."
After a long moment, Omi nodded.
What else do I know about them?
Oh, yes. "Aut used
to be a spy working for one of the other High Lords. She was
at winning this High Lord's trust, but the High Lord she was really
serving lost a war with still a third High Lord and was captured.
news of that came through, Aut turned herself in. Apparently, she
sure she'd be caught eventually and thought that turning herself in
would decrease her punishment."
"Wonderful. So she's a traitor, too?" Now Omi did look angry.
I should have known he wouldn't
like that. "The
High Lord she served is either dead or a prisoner. That part wasn't
clear. I think this High Lord doesn't know. He seemed to think that
had no one left to serve but him."
There's nothing we can do about
it. Ran decided to
continue as if Omi weren't angry. "I understood less about Pel's
history. I think he was genetically engineered and trained in
to be a slave. That's hugely illegal here. The High Lord sounded
just mentioning it." Anger in a mental voice, particularly one as
powerful as the High Lord's, was frightening. It had taken all of
self control not to flinch in the face of it. "The people doing it
powerful. After the High Lord found out about the whole thing, he
the rescued slaves into his household to be trained how not to be
slaves. Aut was assigned to teach them physical self defense. That's
when Pel fell in love with her. He chose to be a slave rather than
Omi's eyes had narrowed gradually as Ran spoke. He opened his mouth
then closed it and shook his head.
I had no words either. Especially
since the High Lord was
only including me in the conversation as a courtesy to Ken.
After a long moment, Omi said, "And we're supposed to trust that?"
"I don't see that we have any choice." Ran set his jaw. What
do you want me to do about it? If you have any ideas, I'd love to
them. "Nobody asked us. Nobody's going to ask us." Not even Ken. His fingers
curled in until his
fingernails found flesh. Yelling
at Omi won't help.
Omi wilted. "You're right, Ran."
He sounds surprised. That's-- not
complimentary. "We-- Ken and I-- didn't really talk any
more, not about anything that matters. He wanted to reminisce, and
had Aut keep refilling my glass. He meant it about wanting to get me
Omi smiled faintly. "That sounds like Ken."
"It was--" Difficult. Shameful.
The only thing I could
do. "--embarrassing." Ran looked at his hands. "After a
certain point, everything's a bit fuzzy." He tried to look as
sick as he'd felt when he first returned to the apartment. "I tried
remember because I knew you'd want the report, but I may have lost
"That happens." Omi made a dismissive gesture. "Tell me about Ken
morning. My other questions can wait."
He shouldn't wait. He's being
kind? Yes. He's trying to take
care of me. I shouldn't-- No. Let him. It was a bad night.
"Crawford came for us. I'm not sure what time it was. I think it was
early. We hadn't had much sleep. Ken made him wait while he
They didn't want Ken to eat anything, so we didn't have breakfast.
Ken was dressed, the five of us went to a hospital room. It looked
the same one Ken was in before, but I can't be sure. They may have a
dozen like that.
"There were three people there, doctors of some sort, I suppose, or
nurses or something. They had Ken change clothes. He hugged me and
said, 'See you on the other side.' Then he lay down, and they put an
i.v. in him. I don't know what was in it, but he just kind of went
sleep." Ran looked at the wall behind Omi, seeing Ken's still form
again. It was wrong. Ken should
be moving. "Then
Crawford had someone bring me back here." And here we are.
All we can do is wait.
Omi sighed. "Ken hasn't left us many choices."
Ken gave up all his choices. This
is one big gamble. We-- Omi
and I-- still have options. I don't like any of them, but that
mean they're not there. Ran shrugged.
"I think I'm going to have to wake up officially. Schuldig will be
harder to deal with if he thinks I'm awake, but the positives
the negatives." Omi stood up and stretched. "They still haven't
repaired the monitoring devices in here, so we don't need to make a
production of it. We just have to decide when it happens."
"Not while I was gone. You'd have tried to get out, and the guards
would have noticed." Ran looked at Omi. "Should I ask to have a
look at you? If you were really-- Well, I would have insisted all
Omi grimaced. "If you had, they might have tried a telepath other
Schuldig, somebody capable of doing more than breaking minds.
like that would have been harder to fool. They would have wanted to
help, so they would have kept looking."
Ran nodded. Not that I understand
how you fooled Schuldig. He
loves misery, so he'd have kept poking at things. He
scrubbed his face.
Omi stood up, crossed the room and put a hand on Ran's shoulder. He
squeezed. "You did well, Ran."
"I didn't talk him out of it." I
didn't even try.
Omi patted Ran's shoulder. "I doubt any of us could. When Ken makes
his mind to do something, he doesn't budge. Get some rest. I'll
probably have more questions later." He turned and walked back to
You have them now. You're just
being kind. Ran
looked at his hands, wondering what to do next. He needs to
know. She told me a lot, and it says more about Aut. Yes, but it
lot about me. Ken didn't approve. Will Omi understand? There're
parts of me I'm not ready to give up. After a long pause,
looked up at Omi. "I did have a conversation with Aut. It was-- It
while Ken and Pel were...in the other room." He suspected he'd
and hated that weakness. "She answered some questions. I think it's
Omi hesitated, obviously thinking that he'd just told Ran to rest.
he leaned forward. "Tell me."
Ran found himself staring at Aut. He opened his mouth then closed it
nothing occurred to him to say. His field of vision had narrowed
gradually as he'd had more alcohol, and now, she was all he could
She regarded him, unblinking, her green eyes looking impossibly
"Put the cane over there." Ken's voice was muffled by the closed
"I think I can reach it if I need it."
Great. I'm going to hear
everything. Ran felt his
face heat. I don't want to hear
it. I don't want to think
about it. It shouldn't be happening. He couldn't read Aut's
expression. What must she think?
That's her lover in there
with Ken. Isn't she upset?
Aut stood. "Let me get you some water. If you don't hydrate, you'll
regret it in the morning." Her tone was as calm as if nothing
"No," Ken said. "I'm fine. Well, I guess you can fold my clothes."
Maybe this isn't new to her.
Ran blinked, trying
to focus on her as she picked up his glass then crossed the room to
sink. "Water sounds good." He spoke very deliberately, afraid that
slur the words. People do that,
right? He watched
her as closely as he could. She
moves like a killer. I wonder
if Ken has thought about that?
Aut filled the glass, turned and stood facing Ran. //Acquit
me of stupidity, at least. As far as the High Lord is concerned,
Potential Hidaka is worth a hundred of me or Pel, of both of us
together, for that matter.//
Ran started and began to slip sideways off his cushion. He put out
arm to steady himself, and his hand sank deep into the padding. He
tilted and found himself suddenly on the floor. Why do they
stack these things like that? He blinked at Aut. She said something I need to answer.
doesn't mean Ken has thought it all through." He doesn't
always, and this is a big deal.
"My shoulders are tight," Ken said, "and my leg's been cramping off
on all day."
Aut walked over and offered her hand to Ran.
He stared at it for a moment then took it and let her help him to
feet. He swayed a little as he stood. Looking down, he couldn't tell
how far away the floor was. I
better not try to walk. Except
I need to empty my bladder. He flushed as he realized that
Aut was probably listening to all his thoughts.
She handed him the water, and he drank it down rapidly. He handed
glass back to her and felt relieved that he hadn't dropped it. He
started to shuffle toward the toilet. He didn't dare raise his feet
fear that the floor wouldn't be where he expected it to be.
"Ah! Yes! Right there!" The sound of Ken's voice made Ran jump. What are they doing in there?
Aut watched Ran go. Once, she moved as if to take his arm, and he
turned the full force of his glare on her.
I can walk by myself. He
might be drunk and
embarrassing himself, but he could maintain some dignity. He used
toilet without incident. Then as he turned to leave the room, he
considered the possibility that he might need to vomit. He didn't
sick, but he knew that was something people did when they got drunk
enough. I'm not sure I can make
it back here, and I can't
imagine vomiting out there. It'd get all over the cushions and the
and everything. He looked at his hands. I could
stick a finger down my throat. That might bring it all up.
//Don't do that. It would feel
terrible, and it's not
necessary. You haven't had that much to drink.//
Get out of my head! Ran
gave a little shriek and
grabbed the sink to keep from falling over. He felt himself go red.
No way Ken didn't hear that.
"Ran? You okay?" Ken sounded concerned.
"I'm fine!" Ran raised his voice to be sure Ken heard him. He took a
moment to splash water on his face. It didn't help. He wiped his
across his face, scraping off moisture, then dried his hands on the
bottom of his sweatshirt. I hate
this. I'm drunk. Shouldn't I
be happy? It seemed unfair that he'd lost so much of his
physical coordination without feeling better. It was better
when Ken was talking. He talked about good times.
I could just stay in here. That
would avoid the whole
issue. He leaned his forehead against the door. The door
felt cool against his skin, and he wondered if it was really wood.
hand rested on the latch as he tried to think of any reason why he
should open the door.
After a few minutes, Ken's voice came through the door again. "Ran,
going to want the toilet, and there are much more comfortable places
Ran thought Ken sounded irritated and couldn't think why. He sighed
opened the door. He blinked.
Aut knelt beside a row of cushions arranged like a pallet. She
indicated the cushions with the sweep of one hand. "For you," she
quietly. "I thought you might like a massage."
Ran blinked again. Aut was still there. He took a step backward.
he said. "No. I don't want you touching me." I'm not going to
touch you. No matter what Ken says.
Aut blew out a breath, making several strands of her hair flutter.
that's what you want. You should lie down anyway. It's only a few
Ran hesitated. There's something
wrong with that but
what? He took one hesitant step forward then another. Soon,
he was folding himself down on the cushions. He just managed to keep
his descent controlled. He didn't lie down. Instead, he got to eye
level with Aut and just looked at her. "I don't get it," he said
he'd looked at her for a few seconds.
Laughter-- Ken's laughter, Ran thought-- wafted through the door.
flinched then forced himself still. He kept his eyes on Aut.
She gave him an even stare. "I just want to please you." She spread
hands, palms up, and shrugged. "Potential Hidaka told me to take
of you." She smiled slightly. "I'm not the most gifted at massage
the other arts of a personal slave-- that wasn't why I was chosen--
I do know what I'm doing."
Ran knew he was turning red. "I'm sure you're great at whatever." He
looked away, unable to meet her eyes any longer. "I'm just-- I'm not
"Oh. Oh! Potential Hidaka said he thought you preferred women." Aut
More laughter, this time mingled voices, came through the closed
That's not the way this is
supposed to go. Ran
couldn't look up. He focused his attention on her hands which had
clasped, fingers interlaced. "It's-- It's not that." I just
can't. "You're very pretty, really." Is 'pretty'
the right word? She doesn't look like she's from my
country-- He groped for the name of his country, losing
track of his train of thought. I'll
be glad when I get my
Aut put her hand on one of Ran's. "It's okay if you haven't had sex
before. I do know what I'm doing."
Ran snatched his hand back. "I've had sex before!" The words came
louder than he intended. And
that's private! You didn't need
to know. Ken didn't need
A shout came from the other room.
Ran started to push himself to his feet. That wasn't
Ken. He let himself collapse back onto the cushions. But Pel sounded surprised. What did
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." Aut didn't try to touch Ran
Ran blinked at Aut's words then refocused on the conversation they
having. He didn't want the memories that were floating to the
but he wanted to think about what Ken was doing even less. Her name was Haruhi. She had a smile
like a sunrise, and she
wanted to be a chemist. Even after... what happened to my parents,
tried to help me. He closed his eyes. He could see Haruhi,
with a look of concentration on her face, as she tried to slip a
sheet under Aya's body. He scrubbed his hands over his eyes. They
away wet. I stopped calling her.
I didn't write back when she
went away to university. I didn't tell her where I was going to
parents were probably thrilled. He dropped his hands to his
lap. I haven't thought about
Haruhi in years. Even Mom liked
Ken said something Ran didn't understand and could barely hear. He
"Would you like more water, Mr Fujimiya?"
Ran shook his head without really thinking about it. "I don't want
"That makes it hard to serve you."
The voices in the other room continued, a low murmur that Ran could
"Then don't." Ran thought that was perfectly straightforward. "I
asked for any of this. I don't think you did either." He rubbed his
face, pulling his cheeks up and down. "I don't understand any of
The words came out more plaintive than he meant them to.
Aut didn't say anything for a moment, but he could hear her shift
position. "I can try to answer your questions."
Ran blinked several time to clear his eyes then looked at Aut. She
knelt about half a meter away. Her hands lay on her thighs.
Ran asked the first question that came into his mind. "How can you
this?" He wasn't even sure what he meant by 'this.'
Aut met his eyes then looked away. "I made a bargain to keep my
Obedience to the High Lord is the price. To survive, one makes
compromises, does things that one wouldn't otherwise." She hesitated
then added, "Potential Hidaka seems very straightforward in what he
wants. I hope his activation succeeds."
I thought I understood Ken, but I
don't. "I don't
know what Ken wants," Ran admitted. I never thought of Ken
with slaves. "Why slavery?" he asked before he could stop
himself. "I mean, it's not civilized."
occurred to him that there were reasons he might not have wanted to
"Civilized is what the High Lord decides it is." Aut sounded
"I don't think he'd like being told that you deem him uncivilized."
shrugged. "Not all High Lords choose to allow slavery. Many do but
all. Many allow things much worse. If it's any comfort, slavery is
here. It's limited to criminals and barbarians."
A low moan came from the other room.
Ran felt himself redden. "And Pel."
Aut's lips flattened then drew together in an expression of
"He's a special case." She didn't elaborate.
More sounds Ran didn't want to identify came from beyond the closed
What is Ken doing in there? No. I
don't want to know. But I
do know. Ran found himself considering mechanics and
wondering how sex would work with Ken and Pel. No. Change the
subject. Find a question to ask. He yawned and blinked. He
looked around the room, trying to find something to tell him what to
say next. Omi would have
questions. Omi's not here. I want to
know-- I want to know how they can do this. He rubbed his
face. "Don't you worry that you'll have kids? That they'll be...
"I'm extremely unlikely to have children." Aut looked at her hands.
"First tier talents almost never do. If I did, the High Lord has
it law that a slave's owner must raise a slave's children as if they
were his or her own children. Children can't be slaves. My children
would be raised as Potential Hidaka's children or as the High
"Ken can't have kids?" The tragedy of that hurt Ran. Ken
loves kids. If we weren't-- If we weren't Weiss--
"It's unlikely." Aut sounded patient. "I can't say impossible, but
likelihood is vanishingly small."
Ran made a noncommittal noise. One
more terrible thing. I
shouldn't be surprised. He closed his eyes. What
to ask next? What would Omi ask? He tried not to listen to
the sounds Ken and Pel were making. He scrubbed his face with his
hand. Basic intelligence. Treat
this like a mission. Omi said it
was a mission. Omi-- "This place-- my sister called it a
base-- How big is it? What's around it? How many people are there
Aut smiled. "I only know some of that. I'm new here, and the
of this place isn't widely known. The High Lord isn't risking some
other High Lord fighting him for your world. High Lords spy on each
other a lot." She steepled her fingers and touched her lips. "This
largely unpopulated world called Vin. There's no native sentient or
near sentient species. The native wildlife isn't particularly
to any of the species the High Lord rules, so settlement is going
slowly. Officially, the only settlement here is a penal colony
with establishing useful flora and fauna."
She hesitated. "I don't know a lot about this base. There was no
I would know about it. I mean, the High Lord gave us a little bit of
briefing, so I know about Earth-- That's not general knowledge.
High Lords would be trying to steal the coordinates and get there
first. Any High Lord whose people find a new, viable world conceals
that information very carefully. I have the impression that this
that finding Earth, is a recent thing. We probably don't have more
a few dozen agents on the ground on Earth, and they're mostly
enough about the place to be able to teach other people how to
establish themselves without attracting a lot of notice. I don't know any of this. I'm guessing.
"I do know that Precognitive Second Crawford is valuable for his
knowledge of Earth as much as for his precognition-- possibly more
Precognition is notoriously difficult."
Ran took a moment to process what she'd said. After a moment, he
up on making it all make sense and focused on memorizing her words.
Omi will want to know. What to
ask? He frowned. Omi
will kill me if I don't ask the right questions. What do
we need to know? What do we need to know? "All of this
getting from place to place, from planet to planet, how does it
work?" How can we get home?
"Travel from planet to planet occurs through gates. They're special
frameworks that can be tuned to each other so that whatever passes
through in one location comes out at the other. Any gate can connect
any other of equal size. Well, I think they can connect gates of
different sizes. It's just that what can go in may not be what can
out, not such a big deal when going from a small gate to a big one
a problem when going from a large gate to a small one. I'm not a
mechanic, so I don't know a lot of the details. I do know that this
base has two gates, one small and one large. Each of them is
programmed to connect quickly with certain set locations. Any place
else would take preparation by a specialist."
That ought to lead me to more
pinched his nose. I'm so tired.
"There's so much I
"I can think of two things you need to know," Aut said. She laid her
hands on her thighs and shrugged. "First, Potential Hidaka is right.
The High Lord would take offense if he didn't, ah, take advantage of
having us here. It's not so important that you do. It might be
but your future doesn't depend on it."
"I can't." Ran held up his hands as if warding something off. "I-- I
can kill, but I can't do that."
Aut shrugged again and looked at the floor. "The second thing you
to know is that Precognitive Second Crawford has obligations toward
you. By marrying your sister, he accepted ties with your family.
status is less than his, so he's responsible, within reason, for
looking after your interests. Bringing you here, especially against
your will, increases his obligation. If you offend the High Lord,
punishment falls on him, too, so he has to take steps to make sure
don't, but if Precognitive Second Crawford harms you, the High Lord
will be displeased. He takes such things very seriously. Education,
medical treatment, access to exercise, things like that are all
you're entitled to. Freedom to leave your room, unfortunately, isn't
something you're entitled to if Precognitive Second Crawford has
to think you might disrupt the operation of this base or get into
trouble that would damage you. Offending Telekinetic First Naoe
certainly falls under the heading of getting into trouble that would
damage you. Be cautious."
Ran struggled to process what she'd said, but it defeated him. I'll remember it, though. Omi can
"Anything else?" He desperately hoped there wasn't.
"Just this-- If I give you a massage, it might help you sleep." She
looked away and bit her lip. "As long as I'm taking care of you, I
reason to stay."
Reason to stay...? Ran
blinked then followed her
gaze to the doorway into Ken's bedroom. Oh! She doesn't want
to-- Well, of course she doesn't. "I suppose so." He raised
his chin. "I'm keeping my clothes on, though."
Back to Index.
Back to Part
On to Part 21.