Rosetta: A MORFS Universe Story By Joreymay


Part 9


 "Thank you very much for honoring me with your hospitality, Mrs. Tanaka."


Rose noticed that her new friends flinched at the way she said that, but the woman seemed unperturbed.


The woman responded that Rose honored them with her presence. Rose understood that the response was cloaked in ritual, but that Aoi's mother genuinely meant it. The woman went on to invite Rose to enjoy the snacks, including the other two guests in the invitation. She gave Aoi a significant look, which Rose's powers interpreted as "you know what you need to do".


Aoi smiled and shrugged at her old and new friends, then turned to follow her mother out of the kitchen.


*Now you've done it.* Maki commented.


*What?* Rose was genuinely puzzled.


*You used the formal forms, and invoked the Traditions of Hospitality.*


*And that's a bad thing?* Rose enjoyed being able to hold a conversation while chewing on a snack.


*Not just the "stopping by for a visit" kind of hospitality. The kind that obligates them to treat you like visiting royalty.*


*Oh.* Now she got it. By trying to be polite, she had ended up putting Aoi in an uncomfortable position, and had turned her visit into something more formal. It was annoying to recognize her own ability to screw such things up, despite the nature of her powers. *Is there any way to undo this?*


*Not without both sides losing face. Especially Aoi. It would be a terrible insult to their family.*


*No way out but through, huh?* Rose was becoming resigned to the situation.


"Pssst...Rose!" a quiet voice whispered in her ear, startling her. "It's about midnight here, and I'm going to bed. I still have school in the morning. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."


"I'm not sure I'd anything you would do, CP. Night." At a puzzled look from the others, she explained "Just a quick message from my little winged friend. It's midnight back hone, and he needs his beauty sleep."


They laughed at that, and went back to snacking.


*Don't fill up too much.* Maki warned. Part of the hospitality thing is feeding you. Generously.*


*You think she'll make some of that tempura you mentioned?*


*I guarantee she would, if you asked. It's that hospitality thing. But it's a lot better if you let them choose. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.*


*I wouldn't want to be an imposition.*


*Too late for that. But don't worry too much. Aoi's mom loves to show off her cooking.*


Aoi came in in a beautiful, but very formal, dress. Her hair was neatly done up, and she had a little more makeup on. "You honor us with your visit, honorable guest," she intoned, bowing. The comment wasn't as redundant in Japanese.


Sensing that some reply was needed, she looked a question at Maki. *Wing it.* came the grinning reply.


"I'm honored by your generous hospitality. Thank you."


The bowing out of the way, Aoi got down to business. "May I show you our home?" she asked, still somewhat ritualistically.


"I would like that, very much."


*You can relax a little now.* Maki advised her. *Aoi will make sure you know when any formal stuff is coming up.*


Kohaku spoke up. "Mind if I use the dojo a while?"


Aoi grinned, and answered informally, "Sure. Go ahead. We might join you later."


"You have your own dojo?" Rose asked, impressed.


"Oh, yes. It has been in the family for a very long time, but they modified it to fit my powers. I'll show you as part of the tour."




*Why does it always have to be a school night?* Lena grumped, as she coordinated their threat response.


*Tell me about it!* Robin agreed. *If I have to do much, I'm gonna lose my whole weekend just to make up the school day.*


*I'm already beat.* David complained. His efforts at helping Rose and her Dad long distance had left him more than a little drained.


*We'll do what we can without you.* Lena assured him. *After all, we have plans tomorrow night.*


The emphasis she put on the "we" got his attention, all right. He was looking forward to their Friday night out as much as she was. And what might come afterwards...


*None of that, mister! I'm trying to concentrate, here.*


The three men were shielded, but it was a different, lower quality shield than the five dead men had employed. They didn't seem as coordinated, either. Lena decided they were locals... well, relatively local, anyway.


*Shit! The short one's a 'porter.* Robin complained. *And he's warming up for a jump.*




*Dunno yet. Probably waiting for one of the others to give him a location. Or to jump them out if they get caught.*


*How do they see out through that field?* Lena complained. *It gives me a headache just to look near it.*


*Want me to kiss it and make it better?* David grinned.


*Not... There! Tara's room!*


*On it * Robin was there in a flit. And invisible, as usual.


*Something's wrong here. Don't do anything yet.*


Robin watched as the intruder flitted in and froze for a moment, looking at Tara. Now that she could see him better, she could see he wasn't much older than her. Maybe a college freshman or sophomore. Apparently satisfied that Tara was still asleep, he moved to her dresser. Quietly opening the top drawer, he stole a pair of her panties and closed the drawer as silently as he'd opened it.


A final look at Tara, and he flitted back outside. Robin followed, and before he and his partners in crime could escape, she turned off his shield.


David and Lena both got mental fixes on him before he took hold of his accomplices and 'ported out. They helped Robin find where they had gone, and she 'ported after them.


Robin listened invisibly, and Lena "listened" as they talked about their panty raid and the old guys who had suggested it.


*Get back here! Carefully!* Lena warned Robin.


While Robin and Lena were dealing with the boys, as they now thought of them, David had been looking and "looking" around the neighborhood. He quickly found three men - definitely not teenagers - parked nearby and apparently discussing the raid they had just watched.


They spoke Japanese. At least, he thought it was Japanese. He really missed having Rose around, just then.


Lena confirmed that they were wearing shields, of the same sort as the dead men from the truck crash.


The men parked the car just a little way from Rose's house, and then they seemed to concentrate.


Seeing that this was not the time to mess around, Robin pulled out three of the darts David had made for her, and flitted into the car. She quickly stabbed the driver and one of the other two with the darts, when a still sleeping Tara appeared on top of her.


She was intangible (except for her finger tips), so neither of them was really harmed, but it was really unpleasant for Robin, and startled her enough to make her drop the dart.


As the other 'porter looked around at his companions, telling them something she couldn't understand, she picked up the dart and stabbed him with it. Falling into her sitting position roused Tara, and she was starting to move around. Robin went tangible, grabbed Tara, and flitted back to Tara's bedroom.


Tara woke up the rest of the way and it was not a pleasant awakening. Robin went visible, and shushed her. Using Lena as a relay, she gave Tara an overview of the events, and reassured her that everything was in hand. She suggested that Tara go back to sleep, and they would take care of the rest.


Tara, who also had school in the morning, agreed.


Lena "called" one of her police contacts, who was on duty that night. She quickly filled her in, but asked that they just take the report of the three suspiciously unconscious men at face value for the time being. She would produce the pranksters the next day. Or rather, later that day.


David slouched over and physically watched the car until Lena warned him that the police were getting close.


In the meantime, Robin flitted back to the older boys. After invisibly flitting the stolen underwear back to Tara's room, she moved in front of the boys and appeared.


"You idiots!" she yelled into their faces. "Do you have any idea what you just did?"


Shocked by her sudden appearance, and taken aback by her yelling, they just sort of stammered.


"Those old guys who talked you into that stupidity? They just tried to kidnap that girl!" To her ears, the emphasis she put on "kidnap" sounded a little more shrill than she had intended. Still... no sense in backing off. She glared at them, one at a time.


"She could have been killed. You could have been killed. They were using you as decoys, to test our defenses. If we hadn't seen through it, we could have seriously injured you. If they had succeeded, they could have killed you to keep you from identifying them. Idiots!"


She took a few breaths to calm down, keeping them pinned with her eyes. "In the morning, here is what you are going to do..."


After she spelled it out, Lena reinforced the point. *Don't even think of trying to run or hide. We'll be watching you!* She gave them her best overtone of frightening authority. *Tell them Radar sent you.* Robin was amused to notice that one of them blanched at the mention of that name, but she kept her face stern.


Spearing each of them with one final glare, she flitted back to the others.


"I don't know about you guys, but it's way past my bedtime. If there's any more trouble tonight, I'll flit back to now to tell us." She waited a moment for herself to appear. When she didn't, she yawned a good night, then flitted herself back home.


*Hey, what about us?*


*You live next door, lazy! Kiss your boyfriend goodnight.*


Lena did so, and Robin popped in, sent David to his room Flit Delivery, and went back home.


Surprisingly, after everything that happened, she was asleep within minutes of crawling into bed.


David took even less time. He kicked off his shoes, fell into bed fully clothed, and was out by the time his head hit the pillow.


Lena had to stay up a little longer, answering a few questions from the officer. But only a few.




After helping Rose settle into her guest room, Aoi began the tour with her room. By Rose's standards, the room was very small. She had somewhat expected that to be the case, from her reading, but it still took her by surprise a little. It was also very neat, another thing she expected.


On a shelf over the small study desk, she spotted a familiar looking gold and gem covered object. Her face lit up.


Aoi got nervous, because under some circumstances an object of such admiration would be expected to become a gift to an honored guest. But that egg had particular value to her.


"Hey, you have one too!" Rose exclaimed, relieving Aoi no little bit, but puzzling her. The eggs weren't really on the market yet, the last she had heard. Rose made as though to reach for it. "May I...?"


Aoi nodded, and watched as Rose expertly opened the egg. She grew alarmed again when a look of what could only be envy crossed Rose's face.


"Is that...?" Rose pointed to a portion of the controls. "It has to be. You're so lucky!"


Now Aoi was very worried, since she wasn't sure what it was about the egg that Rose was looking at. Until Rose continued.


"That has to be the comm functions. Mine doesn't have that. Probably my parents' idea. They keep saying I'm too young to have a full eCom." She gave Aoi a Universal Teen Look that said "Parents. What can you do?", closed the egg, and returned it to its stand.


"So, you know Step?" Rose grinned.


Aoi was puzzled. "Who...?"


"Sergei?" At Aoi's look of recognition, she continued. "Last time I saw him, he was calling himself Steppenwolf, because of the change."


It had been a while, and they hadn't kept in touch. "The change? He got MORFS?"


"Big time. He's a wolf hybrid now, with elemental powers. How did you meet him?"


Aoi indicated the egg. "My father's company makes some of the components for that, and some of the other products of Sergei's father." The actual comment in Japanese wasn't quite as awkward, Rose noticed. Sometimes her power was like watching a dubbed movie.


They moved on, touring the more public areas of the house. Then they moved outside. Aoi indicated a nearby wooden building that looked very old, but extremely well maintained. "That is the dojo. Father had it modified for my use, and it works well for Kohaku as well."


Rose notices that the inside of the building was covered with what looked like some high tech materials - the sort that were extremely fireproof, among other things. On one wall, there was a case filled with swords and other weapons. Some of them looked more or less familiar, some not so much.


Aoi disappeared briefly behind a screen. Rose watched Kohaku apparently throwing small lightning bolts at a small metal target on a stand near one corner. Aoi reappeared wearing what rose recognized as a ghi.


"Want to see a great trick?" Aoi asked. Across the room, Kohaku stopped what he was doing and grinned knowingly.


"Sure." Rose agreed.


Aoi selected what seemed to be some kind of practice sword from the cabinet. Rose noticed that there seemed to be a small channel along the blade.


Aoi struck a pose. "Hai ya!" The blade was surrounded by a ribbon of flame. Aoi held the sword aloft, and the flames grew bright and hot. As she did so, Rose could feel the heat from several feet away. Aoi turned, and swung the sword through what looked like some sort of log sitting across a couple of saw horses. A slice off the end fell neatly to the floor, leaving behind a thin trail of smoke which quickly dissipated. The smell pleasantly reminded Rose of campfires, as though from a distance.


Aoi extinguished the flame, then moved the blade to her side as though sliding it through her belt. She looked at Rose, expectantly.


"That was... fantastic!" Rose enthused.


Aoi grinned, then put the sword away. "I have a pair of daggers I can do it with, as well." she explained. And I'm working on doing the sword without a physical blade."


"Like a light saber." Kohaku grinned, relishing the ancient reference.


Rose recognized the reference, and just smiled. "There's no question about it," she thought to herself, "boys are boys, wherever you are."


"I've been trying something similar, but I just can't get the hang of it." Kohaku griped.


That gave Rose an interesting idea. "Can you shape the path your electricity takes?"


"To an extent. Why?"


"I just wondered if you could make it go in circles."


"I don't see why not." Then his eyes widened in understanding, and he grinned. He turned toward a small piece of steel that he had been using as a target, then sent out what looked like a low powered lightning bolt. It snaked and bent for a moment, then formed a circle perpendicular to his hand and a few inches in front of it. The circle briefly got a little more intense, then seemed to vanish. It was clear that something was still happening, however.


After a moment, his target jumped from its stand and smacked into his hand. "Ow! Sonuva..." He shook his hand, sucked on his knuckles a moment, then grinned. "I would say that worked. Thanks for the idea." While he would never be a magnetic elemental, this opened up some interesting new possibilities.


"This is all fantastic, but can you two do anything practical with your powers?"


Aoi and Kohaku grinned at each other. "Shall we?" he asked.


"Let's." Aoi nodded.


They went to a cabinet in the corner of the room, and pulled out what looked like leather aprons. While Kohaku put on a pair of leather gauntlets, Aoi brought a pair of very dark goggles over to Rose. "You'll need these."


After the two of them put on face shields with dark visors, they went back over to Kohaku's target. With a barely visible grin, Aoi pointed her finger. A small flame sprang into being in front of her finger, bright at first, then somehow dim and intense at the same time. Using her other hand, Aoi took hold of Kohaku's target and moved her flame across a part of it - neatly cutting off a corner.


Kohaku, with what looked like a very thick wire in one gloved hand, took the severed piece in the other hand, and held it next to the metal stand. He brought the wire close to the two, and a very bright spark briefly arced from the wire to the metal. He pulled the wire away, then brought it to the other end of where the corner adjoined the stand and repeated the process. He let go of the corner, and it remained in place.


He went to the cabinet, put down the wire, and picked up a spray bottle. He sprayed liquid on the corner, and it sizzled and evaporated. He repeated the spraying until the reaction was no longer violent.


"Ok. You can come look, but it's still very hot." he cautioned. As Rose approached, she could feel the heat radiating from the piece. She carefully looked, and each place he had touched with the spark was neatly welded to the stand.


"I have to admit that's practical. And impressive." she grinned. She looked back and forth between Aoi's hands and Kohaku's gauntlets. "But why...?"


"With my power," Aoi explained, "things can get very hot without bothering me."


"No such luck, for me." Kohaku said, ruefully.


"Voice of experience?"


"You have no idea." he replied, rubbing one gauntleted hand over the other in memory. "It doesn't seem fair. She can heat things up and hold them no problem. I warm something up just a little too much, and I'm branded for life!"


"Don't be such a baby," Aoi shook her head. "Yuko fixed the damage."


Kohaku tried on his best hurt victim look "But you have no idea how much it hurt, until she got around to it."


"Yeah, all of a minute and a half." Aoi laughed. She turned to Rose. "Can you imagine a wimp like that surviving childbirth?"


Rose smiled, but shuddered slightly. "I'm still not sure I can imagine surviving that myself." she replied, ruefully.


They all laughed.


After returning the welding accessories to the cabinet, Kohaku excused himself and left.


While he was putting the things away, Aoi slipped behind the screen and changed.


When they got back to the house, a well dressed man was waiting there. Aoi introduced him as her father. Rose gave him a slight bow and formally thanked him for his hospitality. He nodded politely, then looked meaningfully at his daughter.


"You have been showing her the dojo?" he asked, with a somewhat complex overtone. It seemed to convey something improper, but that the act of showing the dojo was not the improper part. Rose guessed that it was something to do with Aoi's less than perfect appearance.


"Very good." he continued. He turned again to Rose. "If you are willing, my wife would like to ask you something about food. I believe she is in the kitchen." The invitation was polite and pleasant, but the implication that he wanted her to leave the room was clear.


Once she was gone, he turned and addressed his daughter, quietly.


"Is she the girl Yuko changed?" he asked.


It would have been unthinkable to answer less than honestly. "Yes."


"And is her name really Rosetta?"


"It is her hero name. Her name is Rose."


"And did she ask you to lie to us in order to gain our hospitality?"


Aoi was scandalized at the idea. "Of course not. I just... simplified things when I spoke to Mother."


He nodded his head. "Very well. She has had a very bad time of it today, and she is in danger. It is your responsibility" he stressed that word in a way that spoke volumes about family honor and tradition " to see that she is safe. You will need to know where she is at all times, and I may ask you about her activities from time to time. Do you understand?" Again, the tones spoke volumes.


Aoi did understand. For some reason, Rose's well being was important to her father, and what she did - and probably when, where, and with whom - was also very important to him. He didn't casually invoke family honor when telling her what to do. "Of course, Father. I will do as you ask."


"Good. Is she in contact with anyone, other than your friends?"


"One of her friends from America appears to her in the form of a winged boy."


He nodded. That would complicate things a little. The boy was most likely the lawyer's son he had read about in the briefings. The reach of his powers was truly impressive.


"I see. Anyone else?"


"No, Father." Aoi answered formally.


He nodded a dismissal, and she left.


He knew that there were limits to what he could ask his daughter to do, even by invoking sacred honor. But that didn't really matter. He could get all the information the girl had easily enough, without distressing either girl (or their friends). He suspected that she didn't have much. Her talent with languages would have made her useful to her father in the negotiations, but she was too young and undisciplined to be entrusted with too much sensitive information.


So the girl would be safe. And comfortable. And right where he wanted her.


His was a subtle game, not the overt moves of the ultranationalists or the outlaw faction in the company Rose's father was working to acquire. Slight, almost ninja like moves now could pay off quite well in the months and years ahead. Just as with his company's takeover counteroffer (which had been a feint), the opportunities this opened the door to were long term rather than immediate.


The fact that she was in contact with the boy almost certainly indicated that she was in contact with her father through him. On the other hand, that contact was not constant, and the boy was at the other end of a rather large time differential. That could work to his advantage.


He would be busy after dinner. And he would not be the only one. Turning to his computer, he checked his available information and then sent a couple of discretely worded messages.


Aoi's mother did not like having Yuko come to the house. She was a perfectly nice girl, and had been a good friend to Aoi for some time. But the plain truth was that she was jealous. She understood the traditions and nature of the girl's position, but there was still a part of her that could not get past the fact that the girl was having sex with her husband. And the very fact of her jealousy made her uncomfortable - tradition said she should not be.


Such a dual relationship - the head of the family becoming danna to a friend of an immediate family member - was unusual, but not unheard of. It just presented some complications, politically, emotionally, and logistical. For instance, since their guest was a friend of the girl, it would normally be most appropriate to invite her over to join her friend for dinner. But as the family of her danna - and especially the wife of her danna - a certain distance is expected. One of the functions the girl serves is as a barrier between the family and certain company information. Too much social contact would create the impression that the barrier was compromised, which would be dangerous for her and for the family.


In the end, she would have to leave the decision to her husband. And she was honest enough to know that a decision against inviting the girl would not exactly reduce her to tears.


She was distracted from her thoughts by the arrival of their guest. Putting on her happy hostess face, she asked Rose about her preferences and limitations about food.




Rose's father was not looking forward to the evening. The day's activities had disrupted business enough that he would be at meetings all day Saturday - without Rose. His dinner plans were doubly disrupted, with his opposite number detained for questioning, and his would be hostess recovering from a suspiciously safe and comfortable hostage experience, his original plans were out the window. Instead of sharing a pleasant (if somewhat political) meal with Rose at the home of his opposite number, he would be having a somewhat hastily arranged "banquet" with people from both companies (all of whom had to cancel other plans to attend) without the personal comfort and linguistic (and other) help of his talented daughter.


Worse, he was still effectively obligated to go through a time honored sucker punch for the visiting businessman - the Holo Bar "wind down". He was completely aware that the tradition was, more than anything, a way to disadvantage the visiting negotiator the next day, and probe for information and personality quirks in a theoretically informal setting. And had been for decades, with little change beyond the nature of the participatory entertainment at the bar.


And turning it down - even under the circumstances - was unthinkable. Whether it really was or not, it would be treated as an insult to the people, the company, and quite likely, the Country and its culture.


He had prepared for the games as thoroughly and diligently as for any other work related assignment. The outline of the evening was ancient and inexorable. After thanking his hosts for dinner, he would join members of his team and the other team for some "relaxation". Jackets and ties would come off, drinks ordered, and the ritual would begin. He would allow himself to be talked into trying "the game" (he was glad it wouldn't be a retro karaoke bar - his singing voice was somewhat embarrassing), and he would show a respectable but not exceptional skill at it. Drinks would flow, everyone would (apparently) relax, and he would be one of the first ones to make a fool of himself with a rapidly declining skill at the game.


But there were rules to this game as well. Use of an alcohol inhibitor before or during the festivities would be considered cheating and a sign of weakness. While it could be useful to have the opposition underestimate him, that kind of weakness went beyond useful limits. Position would not matter - everyone would act like equals. Rude jokes, of a sort more common for boys Rose's age, would be exchanged and laughed at. But even then, there were places you did not go.


This excursion was never going to include Rose. For one thing, it would inhibit the festivities, and for another, things would be said and done (including by him) that he did not want her to see. Powerful tool for commerce or not, she was still his barely teenaged daughter. He had a flash of worry at the thought of his youngest. Her winged friend had assured him she was safe, but it was not the same.


When he had discussed the planned evening with his wife, she was more than a little amused. While his wife's side of the family was known to favor the bottle, his branch of the Reids was little less than legendary. He endeared himself to his then fiancé’s family by drinking the family champion - an uncle of hers - under the table. He was careful not to go to excess around the girls, but the occasional mad night out with his wife was never a sober experience.


He had also carefully observed the stages of drunken behavior. His own would never be appropriate - he tended toward the serious and over dignified, a sort of staggering stuffed shirt. That would be a problem in the schoolboy atmosphere. So he would allow himself to seem progressively drunk, with the slurred speech and the declining reflexes, while adopting a more relaxed and convivial persona.


That was the plan.


Dinner went as planned. Well, pretty much in line with plan B, anyway. The food was good, and the atmosphere was business semi formal. Whether an act or not, he could see that some of his companions were a lot more relaxed on their way out than on their way in.


The transition to the bar, and the beginnings of the elaborate dance there also went pretty much as planned. Until he was on his way back to the table from his first, lightly lubricated, attempt at the game.


He was intercepted by an elegantly dressed man accompanied by a teenage girl in smart business attire. He was more startled by her than by him, since she seemed to be about Tara's age. A quick glance at his table showed his companions to be impressed by the man, and their clear expectation that such a meeting was more important than their bar hop.


A professional smile and unspoken invitation by the man found them at about as quiet a table as the place offered. The man nodded to the girl, and she put a device about twice the size of an eCom on the table and activated it. The noise level seemed to drop a little.


"We should be able to talk freely now, Mr. Reid. This," he nodded toward the device, "should prevent any eavesdroppers or telepaths. My name is Itsuo Tanaka, and this is my intern, Yuko."


Abashed, Rose's father acknowledged the greeting. Of course he knew who the man was, and he should have recognized him. He allowed himself the partial excuse that he would not have had any reason to expect to see the head of one of the largest conglomerates in Japan - and his chief rival for the company he was there to acquire - in such a setting.


Tanaka San gave a slightly more personable smile. "You can relax, Mr. Reid. I am not here as a business rival. In fact, we have come to see your acquisition of that company as potentially advantageous in our own long term plans. We have withdrawn the bid."


At the mildly puzzled look, he continued. "I have actually come to reassure you on an entirely different matter. Your daughter is now a guest in my home."


Rose's father was stunned, and a moment too late to prevent it showing. Tanaka San continued.


"You have no need to worry. She is perfectly safe and comfortable." He handed a fully functional business card across the table. "You may contact her at my home at any time. I have included my daughter's eCom number as well, in case they are out somewhere. Of course, you can also contact her by way of her small winged friend." Even without Rose's power, her father could read a certainty in the other man's smile, a sharing that the last comment more clearly identified Rose.


"She is welcome to stay with us as long as she likes, but I would suggest that she visit her new friend, the bio elemental, before you go home. I would suspect that you prefer her original appearance to her current disguise." He pulled out an eCom and called up a display of an attractive Japanese girl of about Rose's age.


His mind racing, it took Rose's father a moment to realize that he was looking at the new face the bio elemental David had told him about had given Rose. Tanaka was playing a deep game, and he could not yet understand its dimensions. It was clear that Rose was not a hostage or anything that crude. If anything, she was in about the safest place she could be. She didn't know much about any company secrets, and understood even less. So she was safe, but out of play - a factor that Tanaka apparently understood to some extent.


"I thank you for that. I had been told she had somewhere to stay, and I'm relieved to know she is so safe. Is there anything else I should know?"


"Two things. First, while I am no longer a rival or a threat, you still have enemies within and outside your new company. I can keep your daughter safe from them while she is in my home, and I believe that she would be reasonably safe if she goes out with her new friends for short excursions. Until you have completed your business, she would likely be unsafe elsewhere."


Mr. Reid understood the subtext in the comment. Tanaka knew that he was losing a useful - almost vital - part of his functional team by allowing his daughter that safety. But she was his daughter, and no other choice was possible. She had already been attacked once at the company, and he didn't want to risk another attempt.


"In light of your loss of her talents, I can recommend this firm for an interpreter and document checker." Tanaka San slid an ordinary business card across the table. "I believe your firm has used them before, and found them satisfactory."


It was another warning - a reminder that he could not trust anyone recommended by the other side of the negotiations. The firm was a familiar one, with an excellent reputation for both their work product and their discretion.


"Thank you. I will keep them in mind. And the other thing...?"


"Far more worrisome, I'm afraid." he paused briefly, then went on. "Your daughter went on a shopping spree with money borrowed from her new friends, as well as their enthusiastic encouragement. I am afraid that she will be expecting you to repay a rather substantial sum. But then again, I understand you are already familiar with the effects of teenaged shopping."


Rose's father remembered the evil glint in Tara's eyes after her mother's mention of a shopping trip in his absence, and gulped.


"You have my sympathies, my friend. I know what a daughter that age can be like." Tanaka San gave a rueful smile, then rose from his chair. The girl rose as well, glanced at her mentor, and deactivated the device.


The men exchanged brief bows, then shook hands. Mr. Reid nodded to the girl, as well. and watched the two of them leave. Then he made his way to the table where his wide eyed companions waited. At their half spoken questions, he smiled.


"We just reached an agreement to join forces and take over the world.' He causally told them. Then his smile turned to a grin at their stupefied faces. "Not really. He let me know that they dropped their counteroffer for the company, leaving the way clear for the business at hand. Then we discussed a mutual acquaintance for a moment before he left."


At their continued silence, he mused. "His intern certainly seemed poised, for someone so young."


That brought them out of it. They explained that the only way she would be in that position would be if she was a very powerful morf - probably a telepath, cyberpath, or bio elemental - acting more as his apprentice than his intern. He had a vague understanding of the geisha derived tradition, so he understood what they were getting at. He was even more impressed.


After briefly wondering whether something like that could be set up in the States, he decided that it probably couldn't. And even if it did, he was nowhere near high enough on the ladder to have such an apprentice.


He bought the next round of drinks, and the evening settled back into its expected pattern.


On the way to drop Yuko back at her okiya, he explained. "I am aware that the insurance company is sending him another translator, and that person is secretly in my employ. I also have an understanding with both of the translators that company I recommended would be likely to make available. Either way, I can exercise a certain control over the final wording of the agreement. I have also contacted the rogues in the company, and arranged their cooperation in this matter. If we do this well, his employer will never notice the way their agreement ends up benefiting our company. Where force may draw only attention and resistance, subtlety may draw power."


Yuko was impressed. This was the sort of major league activity that she had barely dared hope she would ever witness. However, one thought still bothered her.


"Is Rose still in danger?"


"Very much so. The nationalists would like nothing better than to strike at her, and some of the rogues are so afraid that they are likely to try something even more stupid than they already have." At her questioning look, he went on. "In addition to the unfortunate events this morning, they tried to kidnap her sister. Because of her rather powerful friends there, the attempt failed badly." His voice took on a new emphasis. "She should be safe enough at the house. None of them would be foolish enough to try anything there. But if she goes out, it is vitally important that you and your friends keep her safe. It is now a matter of honor, as well as a business matter."


That much she understood. Whatever she expected when she started her new career, it was certainly turning out interesting in unexpected ways.




Rose enjoyed the dinner. Feast was more like it, with a wide variety of dishes she had never seen before. They certainly didn't have anything like it at the local tempura takeout. She was mildly relieved to learn that Yuko wouldn't be joining them, since it avoided the complications of the "friend from America" story. She still felt bad about being there under false pretenses, but she knew that she was still in danger if those mysterious people found out where she was.


Besides, there was something odd about the body language and tones of Aoi's mother when Yuko's name came up. Rose got the distinct impression that she didn't like Yuko, but the reasons were complicated and she didn't want to show it. Strange.


After dinner, Rose offered to help with the dishes, and was politely but firmly rebuffed. Aoi took her aside and explained that it would be a breach of hospitality. Then she assured her that her mother understood that customs were different in America, so no real offense was taken. Aoi explained that it was now her job to properly entertain Rose, but conceded that they could just listen to music or watch the tube or a vid if Rose wanted.


After the excitement of the day, Rose was all for such simple, low key pleasures. Aoi put on a morf hero show that her friends liked. With a couple of character explanations from Aoi, Rose had no trouble following and enjoying the show. After that, and listening to a little music, the day started getting to Rose.


Aoi loaned her a neosilk nightgown, then made sure she was safely in bed and wished her a good night. She was barely out the door before Rose was sound asleep.


End part 9




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