Rosetta: A MORFS Universe Story

By Joreymay


Part 8

 David did not like what he was seeing. He was able to use the pin he had given Rose as a homing beacon, making it easier to shift his awareness to her vicinity whenever he wanted to and wherever she was. Unless she was in a suppression field.

And she was about to be in a suppression field for a long time.

While she was meeting with the other negotiators, and speaking to them in a language he didn't understand, David gave them a quick going over. He found one strange thing: one of the men was wearing nose filters. Sophisticated ones, at that. Whatever that was about, it couldn't be good. He went inside of them and used his transmutation abilities to open channels in the filters, rendering them useless.

He was just about to check the man's brief case when they stepped into the room. David recognized the kind of room, and beat a hasty retreat outside before the field inside came on.

He kept his location outside the room, fixing it in his mind so that he could go back there with little trouble. Since he was not projecting any illusion of himself, nobody would notice that he (or at least, the focus of his telesense) was there. He had the whole evening free, and would not suffer from the time difference since his body was still back home.

The field in the room came on, rendering the room opaque to him (and uncomfortable to look at). After a good imitation of forever - even though it was less than ten minutes - the field went off. He looked around outside the room and noticed that all but two of the people in the office were unconscious.

The two exceptions were very strong looking, well dressed business men. One carried a briefcase, the other some tools. Both carried guns of some sort, and both wore nose filters and night vision goggles. David assumed that the lights were out, a situation that did not hamper his telesense.

The men went into the room and to the man with the nose plugs. One prodded him, but he was as unresponsive as the rest seemed to be. They swapped briefcases with him, carefully positioning the new one where and how his had been. While his cohort did that, the other one put a piece of paper under the briefcase of Rose's father. The one without the briefcase picked Rose up and carried her out the door.

David followed them to the emergency stairs, looking closely at Rose as he did. She was as unconscious as the rest, but seemed otherwise ok. After they opened the door, but before they got to the stairs, he used the "dart drug" trick he had learned from Angel. As he had hoped, the one carrying Rose sort of collapsed, rather than dropping her or falling on her. Their bodies blocked the door open, which was also as David had hoped.

Using the approach he had learned helping the little girl with the poison needles in her, he went through Rose's body and found - and eliminated what he could of - the blood borne effects of the knock out gas. He gave her a strong jolt of adrenalin - one of the few stimulants he was familiar enough with - and formed a small illusion of himself in front of her.

"Huh? ... Wha?" she tried, eloquently.

"It's me, David. No time to explain. You need to go down the stairs to the landing after next. You're in danger, and there's only so much I can do."

Rose nodded groggily, and climbed to her feet. While she started toward the stairs, he went back to the room, and spent a couple of moments in the briefcase of Rose's father. He barely got out before the power came back on and the suppression field snapped back to life.

He caught up with Rose, and saw that she was approaching a landing. He dropped his illusion and went through the door on that landing. The good news was that nobody was nearby or looking at the door. The bad news was that the door opened into an office area rather than a corridor. Even with that, he decided it was a good risk.

He reappeared to Rose, and told her to go through that door quietly. The door was locked, but he was able to remedy that in short order. They made it to the front door of the office suite with no trouble, but saw that there were a lot of people standing around outside, apparently talking to each other.

It was all gibberish to him. "What are they talking about?"

"The blackout, and the alarm. Apparently, a lot of police are in the office two stories up, and people are hoping they'll release the elevators soon."

David, who had faded out again, took a quick look and reported "They seem to have done so. At least one of them seems to be operating normally."

He guided her to the working elevator, and she did her best to blend in with the crowd waiting for it. While David couldn't quite manage a full body sized illusion at that distance, he did disguise her face and hair. After another eternity or two, they were able to board an elevator for the descent to the lobby.


Rose's father came around slowly, to find himself face to face with a policewoman. She asked him a question - at least, he thought it was a question - in a language he didn't understand. "I only speak English," he groaned.

He looked around for Rose, hoping she would translate for him. When he didn't see her, he grew alarmed. "Where's Rose? Where's my daughter?"

In heavily accented English, the officer explained that Rose was not in the room when they arrived, and they assumed they would find her elsewhere in the office. She went on to question him about the events leading up to his unconsciousness. At her suggestion, he checked his briefcase to see whether anything had been disturbed or taken. Everything seemed in order, except for his business cards. Since they weren't important, he didn't bother mentioning that part to her.

When he had a moment, he looked at the cards. The second to top one had been changed. There was a logo there, with the letters CP sprouting wings, and a somewhat cryptic message: "Rose safe, free. Feign ignorance." He knew the message had to be from Rose's winged friend David. He slid the card back into the stack, then went back to dealing with the situation.

When he moved his briefcase, he noticed a piece of paper under it. He pulled it out and read it. It said that Rose was alive and safe - for now. He was not to tell the police, or anyone else, about the note. And that the people who had arranged things had a similar hold on one of his opposite numbers.

Their involuntary agent would utter a code word sometime during the negotiations. In response, he was to agree to whatever the agent proposed. If the agent gave another code word, he would suggest that they adjourn for the day.

After he read the note it disappeared, leaving a rapidly disappearing residue.

It was going to be a long, hard day.


Rose had to get away and hide. She was conspicuously neither Japanese nor an adult, so somewhere quiet was probably out of the question. She needed crowds of people, preferably including a lot of people about her own age.

She made her way to the nearest station, paid at the kiosk (which talked, much to her relief) and got on the first train she could. Safely (well, relatively safely) seated, she took stock of her resources. She had a small guidebook, which she had planned to read during her breaks so she could plan out her later sightseeing and shopping. She had some local money - not a lavish amount, but enough for her likely immediate expenses - and a little American money. Out of recent habit, she had a few sanitary supplies as well. And a pen and a small notepad. Not much, all told. But it was better than nothing.

Her non tangible assets included her language abilities, her education, her youth, sex, and general health. Not the stuff of legends, but it would have to do.

She got off a couple of stops later, and got on another train. She hoped that would help throw anyone who tried to follow her off the trail. That train she rode to Tokyo, to an area her guidebook had recommended for teens.

Mini-David popped in to let her know that her father was safe, and that he knew she was safe. It would not be safe for her to contact him or her family for a while, or to go back to their hotel. Even the police were out for the time being - no telling who might be on the "wrong side". She would have to disappear and lie low for a day or two, until things blew over.

It was like a scene out of a nightmare. Now that she thought about it, it was a scene from a recent nightmare. She was in a strange city, where most of the signs were incomprehensible, and all of the people were strangers. Customs and social behaviors were subtly different, and she didn't know the rules. And she was being chased by strange men in suits. Dangerous men, on their home turf, who could be anywhere.

She wanted to hide, but she knew it would be even more dangerous to try. She wanted to blend in, but she stood out with her western face and American clothes. She wanted to go for help, but she didn't know who she could trust. The government might be involved. Some of the police might be involved. Or they might have been fed some misinformation about her. The phones, even the eComs, might be tapped or monitored.

Anyone she saw or spoke to - anyone who saw her - could be a part of the problem.

More than anything else, she wanted to be safely home, surrounded by her family and her powerful friends.

She did the only thing she could think of - she walked along, acting like she was window shopping, and listened. Most of the conversations were surprisingly unexotic. They were the same kinds of things she would have expected to hear at the mall. The names and so on were different, but the gist was the same.

She got very nervous when she caught parts of some conversations about finding "her" (or even "him"), but after a moment or two of frantic concentration she was convinced that she was not the person any of them were talking about.

Finally, she caught something that might be useful.

"It's not fair! Here we are, a team of super powered morfs, and our lives are boring. Boring! We should be having adventures, fighting the bad guys, saving the world... that kind of thing. What do we get? Homework and cram school." The boy had red orange hair, and stood almost a head taller than the tallest of the girls.

"You've been watching the tube too much." The blue haired girl chided. "Besides, we're not a team. We're friends, sure. And we have powers. But teams train together. They are organized and have formal rules and things. They don't just hang around together and wish for something exciting to happen."

The third girl turned toward Rose. *Hey! This is a private conversation here! Eavesdropping like that is rude!* A shout would not have carried half as far - or as clearly - as that thought did. Obviously a telepath.

But could they help her? Would they help her? She was tired, scared, and - despite the occasional appearance of Micro David - alone in a strange place. A place that was altogether too much like a recent half-remembered nightmare. They seemed like her only hope. The fact that they seemed to be about the same ages as her friends David, Lena, and the rest seemed reassuring as well.

Summoning up her best abilities with communication and persuasion, she suggested that helping her with her problem might provide just the excitement they were looking for. She outlined the problem, and waited as they argued over helping her.

In the end, it came down to a sort of shrugged "Why not?" Not exactly the enthusiastic support she would have liked, but she would take what she could get.

"First, a makeover." Yuko, the tallest of the girls with straight black hair, said with a half smile. "That face just won't do."

As she raised her hand, Rose understood. "You're a bio elemental." It wasn't a question. "One of my friends back home is, too."

Yuko nodded, and then waved her hand about six inches in front of Rose's face. Rose felt a skin crawling sensation over her face, just like those some people had described. When it stopped, she looked at her reflection in a store window.

A stranger looked back. Her skin was a different color - a little less pink, a little more yellowish tan. Her eyes were very different, their new brown color peeking out through typically Japanese epicanthic folds. Even her cheeks and lips looked different. While she was looking, the rest of her skin changed color to compliment her face.

"Rose?" a familiar voice asked, next to her ear.

"Yes, David. It's me." She saw that the others were looking at her like she had a screw or two loose. "Could you let my new friends see you?" She held out her hand, palm up.

Mini David appeared over her palm, and waved at the startled teens. Kohaku, the boy of the group, caught himself starting to wave back and quickly dropped his hand.

"I have good news and bad news," David told her. He waited as she translated for the others. "Your father knows you are free and safe, but he has to pretend you have simply vanished. I will keep watch over you two, though there is not too much I can do at this distance. He suggests that you find somewhere to hole up for a day or two, while he works things out."

"What about the rest of my family?"

"Lena let them know the situation. They are safe for the moment, and the others are looking out for them."

Somehow, that sounded ominous to her, but she could also "hear" the implied "don't ask" under it. "so what am I supposed to do?"

"Well, for starters you could introduce me to your friends."

Embarrassed, she did so and translated greetings back and forth. Once he was confident they would help her, he vanished.

"And now..." Aoi, the blue haired girl announced dramatically, the boy flinched and the three girls chorused "Shopping!"

Rose wasn't so sure. She liked shopping as much as the next girl, but... "I don't have much money with me. And I don't dare use any credit - they'd find me in a nanosecond."

Maki, the green haired telepath, looked her in the eyes. "Are you good for it?"

"Of course I am. Well... my folks are, anyway."

Maki looked at her seriously for a moment. Then she grinned. "No problem then. Let's go!"

What followed was a whirlwind familiar throughout the civilized world: teenage girls shopping, with a token boy to carry the bags.

While there was as much of the other girls trying things on as there was looking for things for Rose, they were remarkably efficient as far as their token male could figure out. Some of the styles and cuts were a little different than Rose was used to, but they had her looking like one of them in no time.

Rose had a brief moment of disorientation when the girls insisted she try on some oddly cut shorts. It wasn't the shorts themselves (although they were disconcerting). It was the name: "Dromedaries". At first, it didn't translate. Then she realized that the word wasn't in Japanese. It was in English, with a decidedly Japanese pronunciation.

"They will make you look more Japanese. No American girl would be brave enough to wear them, I bet. You have some weird ideas about sexiness over there." Maki shook her head. "You guys would not believe the things I have seen in their heads!" She rolled her eyes.

Rose still wasn't sure, until they pointed out three other girls about her age, all of whom were wearing the fashion.

Rose shrugged. "When in Rome..." she muttered, pulling them on and handing the tags to the others. They were right about one thing; nobody looking for an American teenager would give her a second look in those pants.

She made sure that she transferred her pin to her new outfit, pinning it in place where it would not be easily visible to the casual observer. Somehow, that seemed important.

They paid for the clothes, and bundled her clothes into a shopping bag. They left the store, and moved to an unoccupied bench. Then they started in on her makeup.

Yuko looked at her watch, and swore quietly. "I have to run. My danna" (some sort of title, which didn't translate) "will be very disappointed if I am not there and ready when he arrives." She shook her head and dashed off.

Rose was confused. The untranslated title carried some sort of sexual and business connotations, but also something else - something she didn't have the concept of. It was not that Yuko was someone's mistress, or some kind of prostitute, but there were similar elements.

Maki read her confusion. "I thought you said you could learn languages. What's the problem?"

"If there's a concept I don't know, I won't understand the word for it."

Aoi, looking exasperated, muttered "Ignorant American culture..." and Kohaku just shook his head.

Maki was a little more understanding. "Have you ever heard of Geisha?"

Rose noticed that the term didn't translate, but she did understand it. Somewhat. "Only in the movies. And even I know better than to trust that."

"Classically, they were a highly skilled combination of entertainer, hostess, courtesan, and what you would consider a mistress for pay. They were not prostitutes, like some of you westerners tend to think, but many did have sex with their client as part of their duties."

Rose could tell she was oversimplifying a much more complex concept, but at least she was following the explanation.

Maki noted her understanding, and continued. "Earlier in this century, the new realities of business and our culture gave rise to a new variation. The men of wealth and power didn't have as much need for personal entertainers, and it was more appropriate for wives or employees to serve as hostesses at formal functions. But the concept was too powerful a part of our culture to just fade away as a historical novelty."

She took a moment to gather her thoughts, then continued. “Women’s roles had changed. We were always a part of the power structure of business and government, but only in a limited way. Now we became much more integrated into those power structures. We could head multinational corporations, and not just as figureheads."

"Girl power!" Aoi grinned.

Maki nodded, then continued. "At about the same time, MORFS took hold of the world. Some people gained abilities that the powerful found useful. Telepaths, bio elementals, technopaths, cyberpaths, and so on could be powerful allies. Human nature being what it is," she paused a moment, then shook off whatever she was thinking, "they felt they needed a way to gain control of such people. They weren't stupid... mostly... so they knew that any attempted use of force would be counterproductive, and ordinary employment is subject to poaching by others."

She grinned. "It's not clear who came up with the idea, but there are stories that it was an Okami..." another word that did not really translate. Maki noticed her confusion and took a moment to explain. "Think of a convent. There are nuns and novices, and over the whole thing is a Mother Superior."

Rose looked a question at her. "Don't ask." Maki replied lightly but firmly. Rose accepted her desire to avoid talking about where she learned about convents.

Maki continued. "The convent is called an okiya, the nuns are geisha, the novices are maiko, and the Mother Superior is the Okami." She grinned. "Anyway, this particular Okami was apparently smart and ambitious. She wanted to reach beyond what she saw as a dead end position."

She took a moment to think. "Whether or not it was her, a new form - an evolution, according to some - of the more traditional geisha emerged. Instead of an entertainer and hostess, she became a sort of a highly skilled personal assistant and confidant, with a knowledge of business and its specialized culture, skills at negotiation and building relationships with potential customers, joint venture partners, and so on, all of which was more of a match to the more traditional ways than you might think."

She looked at Rose as though gauging her. Rose felt a telepathic probe, and let it through. Maki withdrew, frustrated. She continued with her explanation. "Like some schools of the more traditional geisha, they are also highly skilled in the arts of seduction and the arts of the bedroom."

Despite the change to her skin tone, Rose's blush almost lived up to her name.

Maki smirked a little, then continued. "The other part that made it all work so well with the more hidebound elements of the corridors of power was the MORFS-induced abilities. The notion of having a," she pulled a face, "pet telepath or the like was tremendously appealing."

Rose was puzzled. "I can understand that part, but why the"

The others grinned at her difficulty with the question.

"Three main reasons. The first is tradition. At first, that was a major part of it. Now, less so. The second and third take a little more explaining." Maki drew a breath, then continued. "The training and apprenticeship is very expensive. Most families, including Yuko's, simply couldn't afford it. After all, she comes out the other end with the equivalent of an MBA degree and a position very high in the hierarchy of a major corporation. Her danna pays for all that - with or without help from the company - and her lodging in the okiya and general upkeep as well."

She let Rose absorb all that for a moment, then continued. "One element of the sex is that it symbolically and psychologically binds her to him, making her more likely to stay with the program and with him. That being said, there is also an element of his getting something for his money along the way. Not just sex per se. He gets a companion with whom he can safely share all the secrets, frustrations, and company politics of his day - she is bound, legally and in other ways, to protect all such information. That is especially valuable for pillow talk. It is very distracting to have to carefully watch what one says in the throws of passion and post orgasmic bliss."

She seemed to enjoy the way the more direct references to sex brought up a blush in Rose.

"Why not his wife?"

"In part, so his rivals and enemies can't get the information from her, or otherwise threaten her. In large part, because she would probably find some of it more than a little disturbing; major companies being what they are. And again, the element of Tradition raises its hoary head."

Aoi gave a twisted half smile. "And in some cases, the company or the husband could not really trust the wife."

"You watch the tube too much." Maki grumped, humorously. "But it has been known to be a problem from time to time."

Rose decided she had passed the point of Too Much Information about the whole thing far too long ago. But she still had one question: "How long has she been doing that?"

"About six months ago, right after she turned 16. That's the minimum age for starting the training."

Another big question came to mind. "What does her family think of all this?"

Maki looked uncomfortable "That's... a little more complicated. For historical reasons, it's not the kind of thing her family is going to brag about. Among other things, it points to the fact that they do not have the money and influence to get her that kind of education and those kinds of training and opportunities themselves. On the other hand, it's not going to make them turn away from her or hang their heads in shame."

Rose knew that it would take a while for all of that to sink in. At least she had some idea what was going on. She didn't need all of the details. There was one detail that seemed a little off. "With all that, how does she have time to hang around with you guys?"

"It's part of her preparations." Maki explained. "She's supposed to use the time to network and develop resources." She grinned. "And what better resources to develop than a group of powerful morfs?"

Rose smiled at that. But then she remembered what David had told her. She was going to have to find somewhere to stay for a day or two. She wasn't cut out for the life of a street person. Especially in a strange city with unreadable signs and unknowable customs.

"Don't look at me." Maki said, apparently noticing her thoughts. "Small apartment, big family. And I don't think you're qualified to move into the okiya with Yuko. " She paused and then grinned. "I'm sure Kohaku would love to have you spend a night or two." Rose could read the sexual innuendo in Maki's voice and body language.

Rose looked dubious. "Uh... I'm not sure I could afford the rent."

Kohaku just grinned. Then the three of them turned and looked at Aoi. Having missed the nature of the last few statements, she just looked back at them - blankly. "What?" she asked, more puzzled than annoyed.

Maki looked at her pointedly, and Aoi's eyes briefly glazed over. "Oh. Well... yeah, I can probably work something out."

Rose looked a question at Maki.

*No, I can't control anyone's mind. I just filled her in on the last little bit of the conversation. Her mind starts to wander sometimes.*

"Thank you" Rose said to Aoi, noticing that it came out "Domo arigato". "You're really saving my butt."

"Nah," Aoi came back, grinning. "Kohaku isn't into that. Yet."

Rose wiped her forehead in an exaggerated gesture of relief.

Aoi got on her eCom and called home. After a moment, she gave them a smile and a nod. "All set. You're a friend of Yuko's, from America. You obviously can't stay with her, and we have room."

While they had been talking, they had finished working on her makeup. That done, they went back to their shopping. Even Kohaku ended up getting a couple of things.

When they stopped for lunch, Rose was a little surprised that they all chose American style food. Somehow, she had expected them to go for what she thought of as Japanese foods - tempura, sushi... that sort of thing.

"Hey, this is the exotic foreign food to us." Maki teased, 'hearing' the thought. "Actually, it's pretty much as common here as anywhere else. Even at home. My mother makes a killer burrito, but her tempura shrimp can't hold a candle to Aoi's mom's."

Rose decided it was time to change the subject. Turning to Kohaku, she asked "Since I was sort of eavesdropping earlier, what kind of a team did you really want to be?"

"You know, a hero team... like in the manga," (which sort of translated as "comic books", but not completely) "... movies or the tube. That kind of thing."

"My friend David - the one you sort of saw before - is part of a team like that. They don't have uniforms or some formally recognized organization, but they really are a team." She paused for a moment. "I guess I'm part of that team, too."

"You guess?" Aoi asked.

"They're all older, and they've been together longer than I've known them. And like I said, there is no formal organization. They just sort of operate as a team. And they do it well."

That got their interest. They started to pepper her with questions.

"How did they get together?"

"Do they have secret identities? Code names?"

"Do they really fight bad guys?"

...and on and on.

Rose was a little worried that they might attract attention, and "said" as much to Maki.

*We're teens. Any group of more than two of us is going to attract attention. And just as quickly lose it. It's like a law of nature.*

Reassured, Rose tried to answer their questions. "I don't know how they got together. They were like that when I met them. They don't really have secret identities, but most of them have code names. David is known as The Captain or CP. Their telepath is known as Radar. Their teleporter is called Flit."

Aoi interrupted her. "What about you?"

That stopped her. She hadn't really thought about it before. Her hand moved to her semi hidden pin as she considered it. That gave her the answer. "I haven't really used it, but I'm Rosetta."

Maki looked like she understood, but the others gave her a blank look. She briefly described the Rosetta Stone, and the light dawned.

That taken care of, Kohaku got the conversation back on track. "So... do they really fight bad guys?" His friends gave him a brief scowl, but turned their attention to Rose for her answer.

"Well... yes. They have fought kidnappers, bombers, assassins," she shuddered at the reminder of the events in the basement. "and the like. But mostly, they like to help people. Like when they rescued a little girl who was hurt in an industrial accident."

They were impressed. Then they got down to more practical issues.

"How much do they train together?"

"What is their headquarters like?"

"How do they hold the team together?'

The questions were sort of all at once, and Rose had the thought that it must be something like the experience of telepathy. Gamely, she plowed in again, answering what she could.

"No headquarters. They - we - get together at someone's house or at a lunch place or something." That seemed to disappoint them a little, but she went on.

"I've never seen - or even heard of - them training together as such. They'll get together sometimes to help each other develop parts of their abilities, or even to help each other with homework or the like. And David and Radar are a couple. But mostly, they seem to hang out like you guys. That seems to be more than enough to hold the group together."

She looked around the table. "We know what each other can do, and what other resources we have available. Sometimes we'll work on ways to combine abilities." She thought about Lena using her translation abilities to read the assassins' minds.

*Who's Lena?*

*Radar. Her real name is Lena.*

Maki nodded, and gestured for her to continue.

"One big thing that we do," Rose went on, "is to help each other think of new ways to use our powers... individually or together. Ways we might not have thought of on our own."

"Like what?"

"Well... what are your powers?"

Maki was a telepath, with a moderately strong TK as a compliment. Rose wondered whether all telepaths had additional powers, since most of those she'd met did.

Aoi, in contrast to her blue hair, was a fairly powerful fire elemental. She could absorb, produce, and control fire. She sometimes amused herself by creating flame sculptures.

Kohaku, the red headed boy, was an electrical elemental. In addition to producing, absorbing, and controlling electric currents, he could sense them.

And Rose already knew that Yuko was a bio elemental - apparently more powerful than Angel by a good bit.

Even with her limited experience in combat or the like, one obvious thing came to mind. "If you two stand close together," she indicated Aoi and Kohaku, "you can confuse an enemy pretty easily. People tend to think that unusual hair color tends to match a person's powers. If you made it look like Aoi was shooting lightning and Kohaku was shooting flames, they would guess you had each other's powers and attack accordingly."

They liked that idea. A lot. Rose commented that Maki could use her TK on nearby plants to make it look like she had some plant-related power which complimented her green hair.

Rose went on. "That sort of thing. And it doesn't stop there. Think about the things you know about - hobbies, training, family businesses, and the like. Yuko already knows a lot about big business, and the specific business her danna is in. If you needed to deal with something like that, her knowledge is a huge asset."

An avid technophile, Kohaku had been disappointed to learn that he was neither a cyberpath nor a technopath. The others had equally useful skills and knowledge.

"And finally, there's the issue of who you know. Who your families know. Even who your teachers know. All potentially useful."

She looked at them seriously. "And all potentially dangerous. Any of you could seriously hurt or kill the others. The people who know you might try to manipulate your friends - the rest of the team - through you. And your specialized knowledge and hobbies tend to make you think in certain ways - ways which might be less than useful in a novel situation."

Wow. Here she was, lecturing the older teenagers after they had been so nice to her. And while she still needed their good will. Their reactions reassured her.

Their shopping trip got cut short when Maki noticed the time. "We'd better move. We may have had the day off from school, but cram school waits for nobody."

At Rose's expression of distress, Aoi suggested she come along and see the school while she waited. The three of them went to the same one anyway, so they went together. On the way, they explained that there were two basic kinds of cram schools. One was just for exam preparation, sometimes specializing in a particular school. Rose was surprised to learn that some prominent American schools were among the targets.

The other kind of cram school - the kind they went to - also offered preparation for entrance and qualification exams, as well as for graduation exams. But they also offered specialized instruction in other areas. Some offered programs in the arts, martial arts, business, or the mastery of morf powers.

The three of them were enrolled in the exam preparation program at their cram school. Since theirs was one of the ones that also offered powers mastery courses, they were well set up to handle powered students in their more conventional programs.

When they got there, Aoi and Maki introduced Rose to the head teacher for the program, explaining that she was visiting from America and was interested in seeing how a top flight cram school operated in Japan. Rose thought they were laying it on a little thick, but they got the job done.


Yuko was happy that she had managed to impress Tanaka Sensei, her danna. After exchanging the ritual greetings, he told her that he was setting her an exercise. There had been an event at a certain office, and it was being kept very quiet by that company and the police. He had given her just enough that she was able to recognize it as the situation Rose had described.

Working from the outline Rose had given them, some images Maki had relayed from Rose's mind, and a few shrewd guesses, she gave him a narrative of the negotiation setup (including Rose's role as translator), the attack, and Rose's escape. She finished with a vague description of Rose coming into the city and changing her appearance.

Impressed, Tanaka Sensei asked her the expected question. "Where did you acquire this information?"

Her answer was wrapped in ritual. "You have heard this information from me."

He nodded, satisfied. Like so much else, there were laws and traditions (often more binding than the laws) concerning certain sources of information. In particular, the uses of information gained by way of telepathy were severely circumscribed. But as is so often the case, there was a formalized workaround.

Information from a properly trained subordinate, especially a trusted maiko who is not a telepath, could be assumed to come from appropriate sources. There was simply no need to know those sources. By saying what she did, she was telling Tanaka Sensei that he did not want to know the sources of her information. Knowing that at least one of the teenagers she spent time with was a reasonably powerful telepath, he was satisfied with her warning.

While he did ask her whether she knew where the girl was currently, and she was honestly able to answer that she did not, he did not ask her more about Rose.

Acting as teacher and mentor, he explained his interest. A division of his company was in competition with the firm that Rose's father was trying to acquire for his firm. He had been aware of Rose, and her power with languages, since her father first brought her in. He had even sent a couple of hired investigators to watch her and gather more information. Their deaths had been regrettable.

At her look of distress, he told her about the third group, and their violent opposition to the acquisition. To the best of his knowledge and belief, the girl and her friends had nothing to do with the deaths. That being said, he warned her to be aware of the dangers the nationalists posed - especially when she continued to gather information for him.

He mentioned that it would be in his company's interests to gain some leverage over Rose, or especially her father. But even getting an idea of where she was could be helpful.

He gave her a brief smile of congratulations for her initiative and results, then moved on to other aspects of her training.


After cram school let out, her three new friends escorted her to the station and shepherded her aboard the correct train. Kohaku, as usual, was stuck with carrying the shopping bags. While they rode, they talked about ideas for bringing themselves together into a team.

After getting off the train, they walked down what seemed to be a sparsely populated street. At least it seemed that way to Rose, judging by how few and far between the gates were. After a particularly long gap, they turned through a gate and into the grounds of what Rose could only think of as an estate. A large house, with a number of outbuildings, stood surrounded by several carefully manicured acres.

"Well, this is it." Aoi grinned, then went on "I think we can fit you in somewhere."

The others laughed in what Rose recognized as a friendly way, and they continued their hike toward the house. When they arrived, Aoi let them in and ushered them into the kitchen. They were met there with a variety of snack foods, set out for their predictable hunger.

As they were setting down their burdens and getting ready to dive in, a woman walked in. She was slightly taller than Kohaku, and elegantly turned out in what appeared to be designer clothes and an immaculate coif. Rose noticed a resemblance to Aoi, and assumed she was her mother.

The woman greeted them in a friendly way, then asked whether Rose was to be their guest.

"Yes, I am that person." The construct was better - and more proper - in Japanese than it was in English. "Thank you very much for honoring me with your hospitality, Mrs. Tanaka."

End part 8



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