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Chapter 16 - BST[]

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Weekend at the Mandovi[]

12/11/3046 - Highways on the outskirts of Masamori, Hachiman, Draconis Combine


Masamori’s lights disappeared behind the curving hills and highway laden with traffic. Franklin drove the red Mach V roadster into the rising sun toward Srinagar. Through his sunglasses Franklin looked over to Miya bundled up and wearing a borrowed ballcap. “Your bag weighed nearly twenty-five kilos…yet somehow you forgot a hat and sunglasses.”

She looked aside and tilted the visor to block the offending glare. “I had more important things to worry about. We are going to be inside most of the time, so I didn’t think I needed them. You have no idea how much I left behind.”

Franklin Sakamoto (Close Up - The Battletech animation series version) 2

Franklin Sakamoto

He rolled down the window to spit out a wad of his gum. “We are just going to Nugoa for the weekend.”
“Have you never traveled with a woman before?”

An uncomfortable silence was filled with the thrumming engine. “Really?”

“I have traveled with women before, but not in a car for a weekend. When I was a young man, I moved plenty of trunks for passengers aboard the Kwaidon, but it was always for longer cruises, so it made sense.”
“Shoes are heavy, and even though its summer there the high is eighteen so it’s not like I can wear a bikini. You and Cas might not need night clothes, but I do.
Twenty-five was the minimum I could manage.”
“I just thought…”

Miya stretched out her newly manicured and painted fingers, so much better than when she was in the jungle. “That I wasn’t like other girls?
Just because I spent a quarter of my life living in the woods with a group of outlaws doesn’t mean I don’t like cute things.”
“Your kind are impossible to fully understand, and I know how Kearny-Fuchida engines work.” “Every K-F engine is the same. We’re all a little different.
I thought you were supposed to be a smooth lady-killer?”
“Well, Killer Lady, if you knew my friends you would know that I manage despite my character. I think it’s the abs.”
“Certainly, doesn’t hurt.”


An hour later they were clear of the suburbs while the highway undulated through hills and fields of hardy winter rye. Franklin adjusted and looked sourly at the rear-view mirror tapping a hunched over Miya on her shoulder.
“We are being followed.”

She shifted to look behind her. “I noticed them in the side view. No Jiris were following me this morning.
Two cars. One of yours?”

“I was clean getting out of Yoshitune.”
“Maybe they were waiting for us. You had to file a flight-plan from Srinagar to Nugoa with the Port Authority, right?”
“I did but it was through Isesaki. Unless there is someone inside or they hacked me they shouldn’t have been able to figure it out.
Unless it was the authorities, you didn’t do anything lately did you?”

Miya dropped the passenger side shade to reapply her creamy red lipstick. “Does this face look like trouble?”

“It does actually.”
“You think they plan to run us off the road? Or maybe a drive-by? Because I have my compact with me.” Miya pulled a small snub-nosed revolver from her purse holding it close in her lap.

“It’s not the first thing I think of when I hear a woman talking about her compact.”
“Well, I'm not like other girls.”

“Why don’t you use an automatic?”
“I have tiny lady hands and they don’t make guns in my size within the Combine.” She looked over to Franklin and back toward the side view, “I also don’t need an automatic or a twelve gauge to get the job done.”

“I always have a twelve gauge that I can whip out in an emergency.”
Miya chuckled, “Whatever make you feel comfortable, Mister Sakamoto.”
Franklin let out a long sigh, “I really walked right into that one, didn’t I?”
“I’m sure it is appreciated by others.”
“Well, they don’t seem to be acting aggressively yet, but keep it close. There is a service road coming up shortly behind a sharp corner. I might be able to ditch them.”
“They probably already know we are already headed to Srinagar.”

“True but that doesn’t mean they know who will be joining us.”
“Did you have somebody special in mind?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. Miya there is a contact card in the center console for Stormhaven Entertainment, a number is written on it. Would you mind punching it into the console while I drive?”

Something seemed familiar about the number as she keyed it in. The handsfree phone rang several times until Percival Filington’s voice was on the other side loud and clear.
“Mister Sakamoto, how are you?”

“Just Franklin please, Lord Filington.”
“I will extend you the same courtesy. Have you called to reschedule?”
“Actually Percival, I was wondering if you might be headed to the Mandovi for the races this weekend?
I understand you are quite the equestrian fan.”
“I am. What draws you there?”
“I’m feeling lucky and looking for relief from the cold and snow.”
“A capital idea, one I was already considering for similar reasons. I will see you tonight then?”
“If you wish.”
“Bonne journée”

The phone line cleared, and the radio returned. Miya looked out toward the landscape to disguise her confusion, embarrassment, and terror. “Franklin, how do you know Percival Filington?”

“He thinks I saved his life.” Franklin shrugged his shoulders, “Maybe I did, we are still not sure who the vory were after, but with him around I am sure everything will go, swimmingly as he would say.”

Miya did everything she could to not pull herself together into as tight a ball as she could manage to protect herself from this cruel joke of a world.


Catching a Flight[]

Srinagar Star Port, , Hachiman, Draconis Combine


The sharp delta wing of a KR-61 in Isesaki Shipping livery rested on the ferrocrete at Srinagar’s small starport terminal. Beyond it were the brightly colored banners of the Dawn Pleasure Circus which had made the small city its home for the past five months. Connected to but separate from Masamori to avoid antagonizing the local talent (particularly their gangster bosses) and occupying valuable pad space at Yoshitune.

Miya heard Franklin’s shoes on the ferrocrete and smelled him as he approached. “You ever sample their wares?”

“Once…it was a beautiful weekend.”
“Good for you. Caskata will be joining us shortly. I already put your luggage away, but I’m going to need your compact. DCPA and Hachiman Aeronautical Board regulations state it must be in a safe.”

She reached into her purse, rummaging around for a long moment while he seemed distracted by the intricate dance of trucks supporting the shuttle-port. Miya firmly placed a metal object into his hand.

Without looking he gestured toward her again, “The other compact, Miya.”

Reluctantly she placed the revolver into his hand. “I’d hate to break safety regulations and firearms law at the same time.”
“Glad you find this amusing. I will be right back.”

He departed for the jetway and shortly afterward as a wavy black-haired woman in a fur coat arrived with a towering bald man in dark sunglasses and suit dragging a luggage cart behind him.
“Ola! You must be Mia.”

Miya whispered to herself as she assessed the ‘companion,’ “You just had to pick a perky one.”
Recognizing that a moment had passed without response Miya returned the greeting. “I love your tan, and your hair, and your nails. Hey, where’s Franklin?”

“He had to check on something before we depart.” She looked at her slender watch, “I haven’t seen a pilot yet though. Wonder what’s keeping them.”

Caskata looked at her confused, a common expression Miya figured. “We already have a pilot.”

Now it was Miya’s turn to look confused, “Sakamoto?”
“He can fly almost every type of shuttle in the Inner Sphere.”

“Seems I find out something new each time his name comes up. What depths.”
“Right, he’s just so interesting. Those abs…tattoos…and the hint of something deeper. Handsome, broody, brilliant, living a vagabond life with his adorable misfits.”

Franklin miraculous reappeared on the jetway saving Miya further mildly troubling yet intriguing discussion. Caskata confirmed the client to the security man, papers were digitally signed, and she received a stylish emergency bracelet before he departed. Miya sneaked a look at the luggage scale as the Canopian’s bags went over it.

A sense of great validation struck throughout and even though she wanted to shout out, “Thirty-Two Kilos! I knew it! You don’t complain about her bags.”, but she didn’t.

Franklin noticed her idling on the jetway, Caskata whispering something into his ear as she handed him her coat. “Miya, Caskata has offered you the co-pilot’s seat if you’d like.”

“Obrigada Caskata, but I am afraid of heights. I will sit in the back.”
“Let’s move it ladies we will depart shortly.”

Despite expectations the KR-61 was surprisingly cozy on the inside as befitted its purpose of being a surface to orbit or suborbital personnel transport. Two sets of bunk beds were built into the near side away from the engineering compartment. Snacks and drinks of all kinds were neatly bagged inside the transparent pantry.

The thrum of engines spinning up overcame the refrigerator softly humming behind her. Cabin lights dimmed to a comfortable twilight except for the flight deck door. Caskata sauntered through the open door from the flight deck. “Excuse me, I need to reach the fridge.” She moved to the opposite side of the table and watched her although she found it incredibly difficult to take the woman seriously with those cat-ear headphones she had on. “Would you like something?”

“I’ll be fine.”, Miya said

She bumped the fridge closed with her hip, pirouetting toward the front of the shuttle. “We are going to have such a great time together.
I can feel it!”

As soon as she cleared the door it closed and kept everything dim and comfortable except for the engine noise. Franklin’s voice came in over the intercom, “Miya, we are taxiing now. Five hours till Nugoa. Get some rest if you’d like.”


Atop the nearby Regent Hotel two men watched a KR-61 in Isesaki Livery lurch forward on the tarmac before leaping into the mid-morning sky. A third held a noteputer against his chest while touching an earpiece, “Samir, DCPA Manifest confirms Franklin Sakamoto is on that shuttle, destined for Nugoa, with two female passengers.”

“Perfect, then he won’t get away this time.”


Raja Suite Resort

Miya and Caskata followed behind Franklin Sakamoto through the double doors. Each one let out an impressed sigh. The entrance parlor alone contained all the essentials for entertaining small groups each piece artistically crafted and chosen for the purpose. Gilded pillars emerged from the walls while recessed doors with intricate carvings lead to the other rooms.

“Welcome to the Raja suite ladies.”

Caskata rushed over to the piano, took a seat on the velvet seat, and played a few keys. The rich sound was trapped by the high conservatory style ceiling. “I’ve never seen a piano with real ivory before.”

Franklin leaned beside her, fingering the keys to Hayabusa Deron's 16th Symphony’s pensive piano solo. “Ivory holds an esteemed place in the Dictum Honorium. The Von Rohrs may have been bastards, but their conservation efforts were legendary for saving several species from extinction.
If only to hunt them. I suppose more good than ill came of it.”

Miya reclined on the leather couch listening to Caskata play and thinking about turning on the Tri-Vid cube in the corner. Franklin disappeared behind one of the padded doors before emerging in a Capellan ‘Qingwa (Frog)’ style suit. A recent import from the colonies with claspy buttons that imparted flair on an otherwise plain garment. “I am off to play billiards, talk business, bet on some horses, and probably eat dinner with Percival.”

He checked his watch and kissed Caskata. “I will return around ten this evening.”
“That’s almost five hours of my seventy-two, by myself.”
“You have Miya.”

She looked over to Miya who bolted up at the sound of her name only to see Caskata wink at her. “She does not!”

“You have an all-inclusive casino resort at your disposal ladies. I am certain you will find something to entertain you.”

The double doors closed whisper quiet despite their mass leaving the two of them in the parlor. Caskata bounced over and settled uncomfortably close to Miya on the couch, enough that she could smell her faint perfume. “You seem tense, Miya, particularly when Franklin mentions Percival. Something you’d like to mention?”

Now she basically would have pushed her down if Miya hadn’t leaned back, “Trust me, I can keep a secret.”

“Can you give me some space first?”

They settled on Miya laying down with Caskata on the carpet below. “Percival and I have a history that Franklin can’t know about.
Both here is…literally a worst-case scenario for me.

If they found out…it would be complicated.”

“Then it’s just a pity,” the top two buttons on her blouse ‘just popped off’ exposing what was underneath, “you don’t know, someone that could help make sure that doesn’t happen. You’re paying me not Sakamoto so that makes you the client blue eyes.”

“And what exactly does my Diamond package include anyway. It’s a large bill.”
“I assure you I am worth it. Most importantly no more than three half-hour ‘intimate’ blocks per twenty-four. Other than that, the only restriction is that I consent, am not injured in process, or an accomplice to any illegal activity.”

“You aren’t a bad girl, are you?”

Miya paused for a moment, “No, everything we are doing this weekend is completely legal.”

Cas dangled the bracelet charm in front of her, “Good, it would be a shame to summon the cyborg ninja catgirls from space after I spent the last week thoroughly studying this venue, collecting interesting topics of discussion, and know that you should order the scallops or albacore. Although all the seafood is apparently exceptional so good for pescatarians like me.”

“Only three?”
“Two more for today.”

A mischievous twinkle passed through Cas’ brown eyes, “On the shuttle? While I was sleeping!”
“We put a curtain up. Three works for most clients. The max we are allowed to do is five, Guild rules. If you want more, find a different provider than Dawn Circus.”

Caskata’s fingers journeyed up Miya arm, tingles raced upward in their wake. Her whispers seemed oddly caressing. “There is one exception; the Sapphire package is unlimited. We girls can keep going as long as we’d like. I bet we could last till Franklin comes back.

If I wasn’t already contracted that is. I’ll give you my card though assuming everything goes well.”

She rose from her knees with a graceful display of dance athleticism. “The Borealis club is apparently the hot place to be. So, I recommend we go dancing.”

Hesitation grew within Miya as Caskata stood above her, “Do you know how to dance?”
Miya stood up to the challenge. “Of course, I do! I’ve just never danced in a club before.”
“Show me what you’ve got then.” She read additional hesitation throughout Miya’s posture, "Don’t be modest it’s just us girls.”

“You are going to think its dumb.”
“You don’t know that. Even if I did, I’ll help.”

Additional encouragement was required before Miya picked up a fan, precisely executed one of the dances she learned at the Okiya. Graceful slow and steady movements of the everything but the hips which were constrained by a Maiko’s obi and considered vulgar in the art.
“Your technique is good but you’re too tense.”

Caskata walked over to the bar, retrieved a bottle of vodka and two glasses.
“You need Vodka,” she placed them on the table before locking and rolling her hips in a circle, “and some Va’voom!”


Live feeds from the racetrack played through cigar smoke, triumphant and agonizing cries mixed with the click clack of balls on billiards tables covered with worn green felt. Franklin leaned against a narrow table that also served as a cue stand and score board, drink in hand as Percival watched the race conclude. The picture in picture insert expanded as the racetrack shrunk to show the nighttime cricket match across the river in Nugoa.

“I thought For Sure was certain for the win. Well, that’s why it’s called gambling.”
“Now, you know nothing is For Sure.”

Percival chuckled and played his next frame. “Just death and taxes.”
Now it was Franklin’s turn to chuckle, “At least death. Taxes are negotiable.”

“What is this business you’d like to speak to me about? You’ve been dodging it all day.”

Franklin stepped up to the table and leaned in for the shot, “Only the Port Authority is making money these days. Everyone has put off service for now, I’ve had to reduce hours and stretch my balance sheet. We make do but the burn is real.”

“Let me stop you right there.” Percival took a long gulp of his scotch and soda, “I’ve spent much of the past year trying to figure a way out of it. It’s a Draconis Combine wide problem and I don’t have a solution. I suggested some, but only Chandreskar listens to me, and he’s on the outs with leadership. Coordinator Takashi has appointed Mitchell Kurita to find solutions. Maybe his committee can turn it around by third quarter next year.”

“A long time to wait when my business is faster than light.”

“Best we can hope for unless COMSTAR steps up orders. Even then it will take time to restart the lines. Unfortunately, the Export Expo wasn’t as successful as we hoped. No one trusts the Draconis Combine as a business partner.”

“Theodore did conquer enough of the Confederation to make everyone nervous. I am not saying it was wrong.” Franklin scratched the cue ball, swore softly, stepped back and took another sip, “I was deployed with the Seventh Ghost, it was us or anarchy in the Capellan theater.”

“What else did you want to talk about?”
“I am trying to place my apprentices into HTI, they scored high on placement but were told there was no space left. I can get creative to withstand a few lean years. I’d like for them to have better options.”

“I will ask, Chandreskar. I know enough about your team to know they will fit in. I expect he will ask for tuition upfront and that they live off-campus. You aren’t the only one looking for safe harbor.”

“Neither of those conditions should be a problem. Keeping them out of Neon Arcade and on their studies will be, but that’s The Powder’s (Hachiman Taro Security) problem.”

Franklin’s watch sounded with a shrill alarm, he silenced it “Quarter after Nine. Apologies Percival but I must ask your leave. I have a sure thing waiting for me.”

Percival stretched out and looked at the scoreboard with a frown, “Masamori isn’t known as the City of Sharks without reason. You smoked me this evening, Mister Sakamoto.”

“Living in space gives you a sixth sense for bouncing things of one another. Try it in three dee.”
“That sounds like a worthy challenge. Your leave is granted.
I intend to explore the nightlife on the island. I hear the Borealis club is the place to be.”

“Hopefully you are luckier with women than horses.”
“Its harder to play the field but I think I’ll manage.”


The next morning Caskata and Franklin awoke to a cool morning breeze coming through the balcony window facing the mountain that formed Mondavi’s foundation. “What a great day for vacation! Cas can you check on Miya?”

Caskata knocked on the door and spoke but received no response either time. She started with peeking through it, then opened it completely to see Miya’s bags unpacked, and her bed empty still made from the previous day. “She must have gone back out while I was busy.” The memorized number was punched into the bedside phone, Dial-tone was good, “Please be okay.”

Miya woke to a persistent and irritating buzz passing through the gauzy sheets. She blindly fumbled around until the burner phone came to her ear, “Who is this?”
Another women’s voice came over the phone, “I’m fine Cas. What do you mean where am I?”
I am in my room.”

Sudden panic caused Miya to bolt upward which made her realize she was hungover and not in fact in her room or wearing clothes. “I am not sure where I am, but its defiantly not my room.”

She could hear the ocean; it was much lower to the ground and while not quite as grand as the Raja suite was still stylish. Her vision cleared and she focused on the monogram on the luggage in the room. A P and F mirrored onto each other.
“I’ll call you back soon.”


Next Morning, a chat with Percy[]


Miya woke to the persistent and irritating buzz passing through warm bedsheets. She blindly fumbled around until the burner phone carrying Caskata’s concerned voice came to her ear, “I’m fine.

What do you mean where am I?

I am in my room.”

She emerged from the sheets only to brace herself on the headboard in order to keep a dizzy spell at bay. Waves crashing, the smell of salt breeze, and call of seabirds came through the window looking out toward the ocean, at ground level, “I’m definitely not,” suddenly she felt cold and looked down at herself, “wearing clothes!”
“or in my room.”
“I am not sure where I am.” The clothes she wore at the club were neatly folded on a chair beside luggage richly monogrammed in gold with a ‘P’ and ‘F.’

“But I’ll call you back,” a surge of panic rose throughout her body followed by the chill on bare skin. A thick blue robe hung from the chair and a bottle of water was on the nightstand. She quickly donned the luxurious robe tying the belt tightly around her, she quaffed down the water, and sat on the bedside slapping herself on the forehead with the other hand, “Stupid Miya! This was a bad idea!”

Some of last night came back to her, flashes of bright lights, booming sound, flowing skirts, tossed hair, and not a care. “Despite feeling like the right one at the time.”

Her fists clenched around the nightstand, “Caskata and Franklin, both got me in trouble.”
“Nope, I did this to myself. I can’t blame them. They were trying to help me.”

A knock on the door caused a momentary panic attack as Percival very kindly inquired, “Miya, are you decent? May I enter?”

Three deep breaths were needed before she could manage a smile, “Yes to both, Percy.”
Percival Filington strode into the room dressed in shiny silk pajamas that Miya guessed cost a month’s salary and a tea service, more than a year. “Thank you for the warm robe.”

“My pleasure,” He poured out two fragrant cups of green tea, “it gets cold as a brass monkey here in Jingu, or rather it never truly gets warm, even in summer.”

He walked over to the double paned windows opening the brightly colored drapes to reveal a tranquil black beach beyond rocky dunes through the steam emanating from his cup. “The ocean is still nice to look at. Although in winter less so. Mondavi operates a cruise ship from Deolali during that time. Hachiman is a beautiful world, one should get out of the city often, to truly experience it.”

She daintily held her cup feeling its warmth, admiring its amber color and smoky taste, “This Hojicha is sublime. Did you brew it?”

It was impossible to not be charmed by the smile he gave at the compliment, accentuated with a bounce of his curly blonde hair, “I did. You’ve a highly refined palette, lovely. Few might recognize it, but I appreciate it.”
“This leaf is directly sourced from the BSA (‘Many Blessed’) plantation on Nashik. Managed by the same Mahratta family for centuries. Trade secrets they say, I say hidden treasures.”

Broad hand gestures accentuated the next comment, “In a righteous twist it was I that recommended it to Chandrasekar…rather than the other way about. It’s a big deal, he is a master of one-upmanship.”

Percival stood beside the nearby chair with her clothes on it. “I was surprised to see you at the Borealis last night. I thought you were still in Nashik.”

“I quit, a few weeks ago.”
“I won’t pry as to your reasons.”
“Arigato (Thanks)”

“The past is the past, and all that. I for one am quite glad of it.”
“You see I got a ring out of the blue from a mate in Masamori yesterday. Put me over the edge on whether I should attend the Mondavi Keiba this weekend and by luck you happen to be here.”
“Are you here on official business?”

“No, a girlfriend of mine invited me. From the MMK Mounted Patrol.” She waved demurely away from him, “The people you meet at work.”

“I’d say you’re batting aces so far.
Have you an appetite? Or would you like me to return you to your room to change first?”

“Breakfast sounds…,” Miya paused for a moment, “smashing.”
“Brilliant!”
“Let me text my friend first. I am sure she’s worried.”

Percival left her with the tea service, “Take your time, Miya.
Feel free to help yourself to the rest of the pot. I’ll put on another.”

Miya worked her way through the burner phone’s tiny primitive number pad to message Caskata. The narrow device didn’t even have a touch screen, although it fit her small hands better than a normal comm-pad. A touch screen was much faster though, less crampy, or damaging to her manicure.
‘Please clear the room by 10.’

Both enjoyed a warm hearty breakfast of Sali Par Eedu, crispy potato, tomato, and eggs, washed down with additional cups of tea. “Miya, are you up for a horseback tour of the country?”
“Percy, didn’t you come here to watch the Mondavi Keiba?”
“Well, that was before I had a better option. What do you say, is it a do?”

She was torn between competing plans and stretched out the moment by extending the sipping of her tea. “You know…I forgot a hat and sunglasses.” Miya blushed, gave a mild smile, and subtle nod, “How silly of me.”

“Not at all, you’re bright as a button. We both didn’t plan on a ride in the hinterlands.
You can find yourself something smart at High Street before we leave the island.”

‘Leave the island you say? And Franklin behind. Preventing the two of you from exchanging notes and either embarrassing me or ruining my life.’

“Percy, I think it is a splendid plan!
I heartily accept!”

“That’s the spirit I saw in you last night and before.” Percival stood up and deposited their empty plates into the dish washer. “I’ll change and bring the car around.”

Miya stood on the outside of the bungalow in Percy’s robe and the espadrille wedges she wore yesterday. Her clubbing clothes were safely folded in a bag carried in front of her. She heard the thrumming roar of the iridescent chroma blue sports car coming around the side. Percival exited the driver’s side, engine running, as he passed in front of the car in order to open the door for her.
“Is that an Aston Martin?”
“Posh innit?”
“How did you get it? There’s no trade between the Federated Suns and Draconis Combine.”
“I brought it from the Canopians. It cost a bomb, but the Mach Five is just not my cup of tea. No offense to Matabushi.”
“The seats were a little tight.” Miya realized her error immediately, but Percival was either to polite or ignorant to acknowledge it before they sped off toward the Casino proper.


“Lovely innit?”

The noon sun perched above solemn pines looking out as Nugoa sprawled out like moss around a bay as dark as the rocks that formed this ridge. The Mondavi River passed languidly between a picturesque canyon carved over millennia. From the same volcanic rock that formed the foundation of its casino’s artificial island. Miya looked over to see Percival fitted out with brightly polished boots, smart tweed jacket, lustrous smile, and tight pants astride a chestnut mare.

“Hachiman is a beautiful world. Perhaps the finest in the Combine.”
“Yet Kirei na Niwa and Kagoshima give it a run for its money.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the fens, hills, and dales of Kirei na Niwa. I prefer Hachiman.”
“You ride well, Miya.”

Miya patted her horse’s neck pulling her hand through its mane, “I spent a lot of time with horses where I come from.”

“Care for a steeplechase?”

She blushed at the mention and pulled in her reins riding at a T to his horse. “Percival, we’ve only spent a few days together. Are you already chasing me to church?”

Her stirrups drove to horse’s flanks causing it to gallop into the forest, “You’ll have to try harder to make an honest woman out of me.”

Percival rested his palms on the fine grained leather saddle, tsking slightly as he let her weave through the pines and gain a lead on him. “Cheeky bird. ‘Tis a fox hunt then.”

He tapped and nick-knackered at the horse which bolted onto the forest paths in hot pursuit. “What fun!”

The sun was significantly lower as Miya and Percival approached a group of men standing outside a secluded villa enjoying their evening meal. Another leaned on the large, lifted 4x4 truck parked just outside the barn. "Pardon me sirs. We've become a bit turned around in our revelries. Whose house is this?"

They exchanged glances but remained silent for a moment, "This house belongs to Erik Nekatagu." The leader pointed toward a road leading to the West, "Stay on that lane and you will get back on the main road."

"Many thanks, Sirs."
Percival tipped his hat to them, Miya did the same, both wheeled toward the indicated road and trod off into the woods. The group shuffled nervously until they were out of sight.

"We should have killed them, Samir."
"And given away our position? Did you see that dandy fellow?
He would be missed, his people would hunt us down like dogs and the op would be DOA.
No sending them away was the wiser choice. We strike tomorrow."


Trouble at the Onsen[]

12/13/3046 - Mondavi Raja Onsen


Ribbons of steam rose to the high ceiling within the Mondavi Raja suite’s onsen. One that like the hotel clung precariously on the edge of a mountain. The city of Nugoa spread out beyond the slats behind Miya. Warm water soothed muscles sore from horseback riding and still recovering from her time in the DCMS. “Finally, some relaxation.”

“Still on for a nine ‘o’clock departure tonight, Miya?”

She snapped awake to see Caskata with a towel covering her hair and water everything else. “What time is it?”

“Almost three. Franklin is still sleeping, long night of shuttle piloting tonight.” She lifted her arms up to stretch which also pulled her bare chest above the water, “I wanted a chance to enjoy this onsen.”

Miya blushed with embarrassment, “Warn me before you do that!”
“What? You have a pair too. Mine are just a different color, but if you insist…”

“I do and yes, I have dinner reservations at six.
My bag will be packed and ready for the porters before then.
Has Franklin asked about me?”

Caskata poured water from the wooden ladle over her shoulders, “I’ve kept him occupied. He says long as you remain on the room reservation it counts. It is a vacation after all.

He and I have reservations at five-thirty at the new sushisho.”

A moment of silence was interrupted by a gulp by Miya. “The new sushisho? Percival and I are going too.”

“It is a big enough restaurant…and it will be dark. Maybe it will be fine.” Caskata leveled a finger toward her, “You didn’t answer your phone at all yesterday. Franklin pulled strings to get in with so many other VIPs.”

“So did, Percival. There is no way I can dissuade him, and I can’t ask Franklin to do the same without revealing everything.” She slammed her fist on the stone edge of the pool and harshly exhaled. “Hopefully you’re right.
It will be dark. They might not notice each other.
Sorry, I must get ready.”

The room was silent beside the soft trickling of water into the pool. Miya wrapped her hands around her chest hummed slightly to break the tension. “Can you turn around?”

17:49
Near Umi no Megumi’s (‘Ocean’s Bounty’) the hotel decor was more conservative and understated compared to much of the resort’s neon bright and gilded, gaudy stylings. Decorative fish swam languidly in aquariums built into the wall facing the tables outside. Miya was dressed similarly conservative in a winter kimono and darker formal obi beside Percival’s dark yet brightly embroidered Jodhpuri suit.

Her eyes searched nervously for any sign of Franklin as they approached but only saw other VIPs she only recognized from newspapers and broadcasts. Athletes, actors, models, military officers, and businesspeople from all over the planet concentrated into one place. Hotel security was omnipresent, lurking in shadowed corners, or undercover visible to those who knew what to look for. Recent events had increased the vigilance of everyone on world against malefactors.

She became increasingly nervous as they approached the hostess stand. “Good evening, Madam. Reservation for Percival Filington please.”

The hostess shuffled through the menus and escorted them to their table, one right next to Caskata who sat there without Franklin. She tried to disguise her familiarity with Miya and buried herself in the menu. Percival pulled the chair out for her, pushed it forward again, and excused himself. “Pardon me, Miya. Be back in a jiffy.”

Miya breathed in as deep as she could manage not realizing she was holding her breath. “Where is Franklin?”

“I don’t know. He should be down here by now. He told me to go ahead while he finished. I’m kind of nervous. Should I check in on him?”

“Let’s try calling him first.” Caskata opened her purse and dialed the number into her sparkling cell phone, “Straight to voice mail.”

“Damn. We are going upstairs together to look.”
“What about Percival?”

“I will leave him a note.” Miya scribbled something on the heavyweight paper menu with the pen in her own purse leaving it face down on the table. “If its nothing it will be fine until Franklin returns and then I must explain how I know them and maybe why I lied. If its something though, I need Franklin, and we need to figure it out. Percival will probably understand.”

Both women hustled toward the elevator which opened with a group of men pushing a linen cart toward the parking garage and them. Miya put herself in the shadows facing away from them, she whispers, “Kiss me!” into Cas’ ear.

Without hesitation the two of them locked lips as the men passed by. One of them slapped another on the back of the head when he lingered. “Get a move on, Ichi!”

The door closed behind them, and Miya gently pushed Caskata off her. They silently entered the elevator and pressed the appropriate floor. “Will Percival understand that?”

“I couldn’t let them identify me. I recognize those men. Yesterday, Percival and I encountered them outside a villa in the woods. They are not laundry workers. Something is up. I need to know for sure.”

Caskata and Miya rammed through the doors to see the Raja suite in immaculate condition. There were no signs of struggle, violence, or of Franklin Sakamoto either despite Miya’s skilled eye. “I so hate it when criminals are professionals.

They took Franklin and I think I know where they took him too, but it is going to be tough getting him out.”

“Should we inform security?”
“It will take to long to gather the authorities. There are too many VIPs on site already. They probably can’t spare the manpower without definitive evidence.

Cas, I need you to find Franklin’s keys and anything else that might be useful.”

She looked down at the outfit she spent an hour making look perfect. “I have to change.”


18:18
Miya and Caskata returned to the restaurant to find Percival waiting patiently for her with a bottle of Kakubin whiskey beside him. He took a moment to take in the fact that Miya was wearing jeans, boots, and a coat instead of the nice dress from before. “Miya, you’ve changed your clothes. Is something wrong?”

“Yes, Percy. I need to borrow your car.
Please.
Franklin Sakamoto is in trouble.”

“I see.” Percival stood up before handing his keys over to her with a clink. “Is there anything I can do?”

“You can take care of his date. Caskata Rio, this is Lord Filington,” she whispered, “my date,”' into Cas’ ear with a threatening inflection. “Until I return. Which will hopefully be very soon.”

She poured out two shots, threw them back, and ran off into Percival’s Aston Martin Velocity which roared out of the parking garage toward Nugoa’s starport.

18:40

A Monarch Passenger Liner DropShip and many private or chartered shuttles sat on the tarmac of Nugoa’s Starport. Isesaki Shipping’s KR-61 SGHY-7891 was fueled and waiting for its departure at 21:00 tonight, one it was almost certain to now miss. Starport staff stopped her along the way, but she was on the manifest and so was a sports car, so they let her through. Within the dimly lit shuttle interior Miya found the safe that Franklin must have put her and his guns in.

“Great plan Miya! Right up until you forget; IT’S A CODE-LOCKED SAFE! and you don’t know the damn code.”

Miya breathed deep and slammed her palm on the code pad, “You may not know the code, but you know Franklin.
Time to use that intuition that always gets us in trouble.”

She turned a flashlight on the number pad. “Every safe in the Combine must have at least five characters. This is like a hotel safe. It’s not meant for top secret documents or anything important and is easily reconfigured.

So, what would Franklin’s general access password be?

What would be a general thing that only he would know and has five characters?”

Her phone came to her hands as she thought to call Caskata. She realized that the retro interface of the burner phone had numbers and letters on it. “No, it can’t be that easy. Can it? Well better than random.”

‘72724’
“Sarah”

The bolts of the safe opened with a clank to reveal not only the documents she gave to Franklin earlier, but her compact pistol and an over-under shotgun with ammo for each.
“Franklin Sakamoto
Renaissance man
Walking menace to polite society
Still loves his mother.

Unbelievable”


Flash Back[]

3041 - Winter, Kirei na Niwa


Ito Genzo crouched motionless within the Needle Mountains, hoarfrost settled on his ghille suit and rifle. “Kanoka-chan, if you lay on the ground much longer, you’ll freeze.”
The bush beside him rustled as a shivering teenage girl wearing a frosted deerskin tunic, handknit wool balaclava, and polarized goggles came to a knee. Binoculars around her neck and a scavenged gun was slung behind her. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“You apologize to much. Say thank you and move on.
One can never be too thankful, but they can be too sorry.”
“I’m…
Thank you, sir.”
“Better.
Do you see anything, girl?”
She looked at the distant cabin nestled in a pine glade. “No movement or tracks visible. Yet smoke comes from the chimney.”
“That is why I think it is a trap. Souta knows we operate in this area and winter is always hard for us. He’s trying to lure us out. We’ll have to hunt elsewhere.”
He stood up and stalked through the pinelands, “Do as I do.”


The Rescue[]

3046 - Summer Jingu,Hachiman - 20:08


Miya stalked through Jingu’s pine forest approaching the house of Erik Nekatagu, CEO of Mangon Aeronautical Shipping. Her breath was still but came out in gouts of steam as the temperature dropped and three moons of Hachiman rose into a starry sky the two others dwarfed by Yoshitsune which graced her just enough light to see by.

Despite being stronger than before Franklin’s double shotgun seemed heavy yet remained nimble in her hands. Birds stirred in the canopy above her, unseen creatures scurrying beneath her, all were drawn into one composite. She was a Tiger, a solitary and proud hunter, with nothing to fear in the woods where everything respected her. Even if in the city few did, but they would learn.

She saw the truck dancing in the lights of the brazier where two armed men clustered around warming their hands and legs above the coals. “No night vision, little vigilance. So not DEST or ISF. Good.”

Through Yoshitsune’s light she saw there were no other vehicles. Their truck could only carry four men and maybe a women or youth. Caskata and she had seen four men at the Casino. That seemed like comfortable odds to take down a trained fighter like Franklin without killing him. You only needed one for that so that meant he was likely still alive. She guessed he was in the barn based on the position of the truck which was backed up to the door.

A short stone wall marked the edge of the property and gave her enough cover to close within 25 meters without being detected. Whispers of conversation drifted toward her, but she couldn’t make out distinct words through the sounds of the forest shielding her movements. She opened the breach just enough to check the chambers and snapped it shut. Her feet found purchase on the cool damp ground as she solidified her position.

Two bright flashes took down the sentries who knocked the brazier over in their fall, stray coals set loose hay ablaze outside. Their carbines fired wildly flattening the truck tires in the frenzy. Another man peeked out of the barn door gun ready to fire upon any intruders.

Miya raced toward the near wall throwing the still smoking shotgun up into the hay loft before clambering up a rope. She looked down to see Franklin and two other armed men. Franklin was immobile, unconscious, restrained by rope attached to chain from one of the barn’s structural beams.

Ichi, the one that had looked at Caskata and her was the one looking out the door with his carbine in hand. “What are we going to do, Samir?”

Samir unsheathed an Aruval machete holding it to Franklin’s vulnerable form while his pistol pointed elsewhere. “Find the intruder and murder them of course,” He cut down on the ropes restraining Franklin although Miya almost cried out fearing he would decapitate her objective, “before that fire spreads.”

“They are too close to Franklin,” Miya drew her compact revolver from her belt and slung the shotgun over her shoulders, “I can’t risk it.”

Wood creaked under her as she switched position in the loft. Ichi turned and fired randomly into the hay loft. Miya winced as splinters cut into her and made the hay red with her blood. “Find them, Ichi!”

Ichi slowly walked up the stairs his eyes moving rapidly between growing shadows dancing in the firelight from the open barn door. “Come here little mouse.”

A kama strike from shadows below a window caused him to lose his balance, consciousness, and life in one fell strike.

Samir drew the back edge of his Aruval to Franklin’s throat. Shouting at shadows while the fire grew behind him. “You want Sakamoto for yourself, is that it?”

Three shots rang out from the side, each one found their target. Miya stepped out and over the fallen man whose bloody shirt had come unbuttoned to reveal a metal medallion beneath with a stylized Combine crest on it and ‘Filli Draco’ emblazoned on the edge.

“Not really, I just don’t know why you want him. I also don’t really care.”

The fire spread dangerously close to the truck, Miya pocketed the medallion, attempting to move Franklin’s body out of the danger zone. “Come on, Franklin! Move your ass!” She couldn’t budge his deadweight, concern/panic, the smell of smoke, and heat of fire hastened her senses until she found the perfect solution.

A creaking wheelbarrow protested the sudden weight and hasty exit away, the truck exploded, and fire began to consume the barn and crime scene while Miya pushed Franklin down the path toward the main road. “You better appreciate this, Franklin. You ruined my great sushi dinner and special dessert because of you.”


The Pay Off[]


21:15

Miya stood before Imar Singh, the President of Mondavi Casino, resplendently adorned with gilded accessories while she only had bandages and clothes with hay still sticking out. “Miss Kibo, I understand that you returned Franklin Sakamoto to us after he was drugged and abducted by an unknown party.”

“Correct.”
“I also understand that you are currently employed by the Masamori Metro Police and a friend of Lord Percival Filington.”
“Both also correct.”

“I don’t know if you understand but our casino prides itself as a secure entertainment venue. If word of this abduction during our highest profile event were to appear in an official report. It would be very damaging to our reputation.”

She stood up straighter as the objective of this interview became more apparent.
“That would certainly be tragic, Mister Singh.”
“It would, so I am prepared to offer you something to ensure that this incident remains…” he tapped his fingers nervously on the desk, “between us.”

“I have three wishes.”
“Ask them.”
“One, I need to be on a shuttle ASAP. I have duty tomorrow and my pilot is incapacitated. If I were late that would require an explanation.”
“Done.”
“Second,” Miya deposited a detailed invoice within a manila envelope on his desk, “Mister Sakamoto has been through a harrowing event. He will need special care from a trained professional. Say five times a day for the next two days and it would be only suitable that you should compensate him for prior services.”

Imar opened the envelope to find the invoice printed on Dawn Circus stationary. “I will contact Srinagar immediately.

I fear your third request will be even more demanding.”

“It is your reputation on the line. I only ask for a quarter million Ryu in gold within a briefcase.”
Imar snapped his fingers to summon one of his directors, “Open the vault. Get her what she wants and out of here.”

The director returned opened the briefcase the reveal 14kg of gold and shut it immediately after. “We have a car ready to take you and your bags to the Starport. You will leave within the hour.”

Miya nodded at the men, “Thank you, President Singh. I had a wonderful time at your establishment.
I will tell all my friends.”

12/14 03:35

An exhausted Miya arrived back to her apartment, immediately falling into bed and asleep without bothering to even close the door behind her.

03:55

‘Buzz’ ‘Buzz’ ‘Buzz’

Miya silenced her phone alarm, “Ten more minutes.”

04:05

‘Buzz’ ‘ Buzz’ ‘Buzz’

Miya grudgingly rose to the alarm, “I hate Mondays.”


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