fbpx
You have 4 free member-only stories remaining for the month. Subscribe now for unlimited access

Nobody’s Daughter – 2

Chapter 2

What little shelter the close-spaced shanties offered soon gave way to uneven ground, a slight rise where rivulets carved their way around rocks and rushed over sodden grass. Buffeted by chill gusts, Kei and I picked our way up the slope, dodging ankle-twisting crevasses and pieces of sharp, rusted debris. When we reached the top, Kei withdrew a small circular device from his vest and depressed its center. The air shimmered through the downpour as the ship’s cloaking shields disintegrated.

When he said he had a ship, I’d been expecting a freighter or an older zephyr-chaser. Something fast and easy to maneuver in tight spaces. Something inconspicuous.

So much for that.

Mottled grey panels, many of them patch welded and studded with dents, covered the ship’s extensive body, from its round-nosed tip to its twin tail fins. Its wings, down-folded to provide extra stability when its ski-like skidders were in use, added to its hunched appearance, making it look like a one-eyed buzzard. Stunned into silence, I stood in the rain, open-mouthed.

“It’s a Silver Serpent,” Kei said, brimming with pride. “Best Recon vessel ever made!”

Not in this century. The thing had to be older than both our ages combined. So old, no Shinu worth their clan ink would ever think of hijacking the thing. My heart sank at the thought. So much for Plan A.

“We can go anywhere in her without detection: air, land, even underwater!” He turned to me. “What do you think?”

“I think I should’ve shot you when I had the chance.”

Kei patted one of the wing panels, laughing. “Don’t let her looks fool you, Renata, she’s very sturdy. I should know; I refurbished her myself.”

“You?”

“Still think I’m a lickspittle? Come on, let’s get inside before we drown.” He ducked beneath the wing.

Resigned to my current fate, I followed, taking careful note of his hands when he opened a hidden compartment on the side of the ship. Their soft unblemished skin did not assure me in the least. Refurbished? Who was he trying to kid?

Part of the panel lowered, revealing a ramp and releasing an eye-watering pong, a stench reminiscent of the foul vapor from the detainment cell.

We rode the ramp in silence, rising from the ship’s dark cargo bay to a large common area. Mismatched and frayed, blue and green sectional pieces crowded around a low table. Beyond them, the pine-paneled cabinet doors lining one wall had popped open, revealing recessed sinks, smaller sets of stacked drawers, and magnifying lights on metal extension arms. Taller numbered cabinets divided the spaces into separate workstations. I counted four before the shadows swallowed them.

“What kind of recon will we be doing from those?” I pointed to a workstation.

Instead of answering, he led me to a set of escalating stairs. Set at the far end of the ship, they cascaded up to the main level. Recessed ceiling lights casting dim pools on the scuffed tile floor reminded me of the detainment center. The bleary grey through an oval-shaped skylight further underscored the gloom. I shuddered.

“Your room’s down there on the right. I’ve laid out some fresh clothes for you,” Kei said, indicating one of two archways. One stretched down a long corridor while I assumed the other led to the bridge.

“While you’re settling in, I’m going to get us off this rock pile. My coordinates will take us to an abandoned paralaunch on Motosu’s southwestern shore.”

“Isn’t that opposite the forest?” I balked. Why not head to the old fort or Lake Sai? Both are closer.” Closer, yes, and riddled with caves where I could disappear in a heartbeat.

“Because they’re closer.” Kei shot me a knowing look, then handed over my pack. “Now, off you go. We’ll talk more over dinner.”

He darted through the other archway before I could argue. Not long after, I heard the whine of the engines and a groan as heavy wings unfolded, preparing for take-off.

Slick bastard! He might’ve won this round, but no matter where he landed his stupid ship, at some point we’d have to enter Aokigahara. Once we did, I hoped the forest’s sheer density, along with its iron-rich volcanic soil would deactivate most of Kei’s high-tech gadgetry, thus leveling the playing field. Two of us would enter Aokigahara but only one would venture out.

Kei was right about one thing, though. A hot shower was just what I needed. Emerging in a less murderous frame of mind from the spartan bathing area, I found dry socks, new leather field pants, and a heavy, long-sleeved t-shirt. All were black and all a perfect fit. The clothes stood out in stark contrast to the narrow bed’s pale blue coverlet.

Although my naginata and pack sat undisturbed, someone had removed my anorak and dirty clothes while I was showering. The same someone had also placed my boots on a pair of Insta-Dry prongs. Dressing with haste, I pulled them on, grateful for the added warmth their soles provided.

Rain sluiced against the chamber’s tiny window, which offered nothing more than a view of the glaucous clouds. Determined to explore my new surroundings and maybe learn more about my new captor-slash-partner, I crept into the dim hallway. Though the many doors that lined its length gave at the slightest touch, each of them opening on an identical version of my sleeping quarters, none contained evidence of habitation.

Exploration proving a dead end, I headed for the bridge. I’d no sooner stepped on the landing when Kei called out to me from somewhere below. The realization didn’t instill confidence. I ran to the railing by the escalator.

“Hey, if you’re there, who’s flying the ship?”

“Who said we were still flying?” He looked up, flashing a canary-gobbling-cat grin.

I noticed he’d changed back into his uniform as if he were about to tuck in to a fancy state dinner, instead of what this really was. The gold and bronze designs on his collar and shoulders shimmered in the candlelight.

“Hope you’re hungry.”

When the delicious scents reached my nose, my stomach howled in agony. Steam curled from deep bowls of miso and rice soup brimming with vegetables. Beside them on the low table, salmon filets topped with lemon slices glistened beside colorful tsukemono nestled in tiny bowls.

Back home, the freeze-dried version of one of those entrees would’ve made a meal. Now, imagining the pungent flavors—wasabi, and the tsukemono’s pickled daikon, cucumbers, and carrots—made my mouth water. There was even tea! Real brewed tea! I hadn’t had a decent cup in months! Despite the lavishness of the spread, the beautiful linens, and flickering tapers, my feet refused to budge.

“It’s not poisoned, Renata, I promise. There’d be no point in doing that,” Kei said, moving to the bottom of the common room stairs.

“What exactly is the point, then?”

“One we won’t arrive at on empty stomachs. Come on. I know you must be ravenous.” Ever the gentleman, he extended a hand.

“Why does every answer have to be a riddle with you?” I shot back.

“Well, if you won’t come down, I guess I’ll have to start without you. Of course, I can’t guarantee there’ll be anything left by the time you make up your mind.” Smiling, he walked back to the table and took his seat.

Next chapter: https://simily.co/all-stories/fantasy/antoinettemccormick/nobodys-daughter-3/

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Adventure, Coming of Age, Fantasy, Horror, Sci Fi, Young Adult (YA)

Responses