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Nobody’s Daughter – 4

Chapter 4

“What now, bigger fish, or are we sinking for real this time?” I hollered.

Kei’s head appeared in the doorway. “It’s an incoming communique from the Doctor General.” He put a finger over his lips.

“Aw, the head toad misses his favorite toady.”

“Renata, for once, please—” He motioned again, now pointing to a spot just outside the doorway. The alarm continued its irritating summons.

“What? Trust you? No thanks.”

“Listen or not. It’s up to you.”

He shook his head, then ducked back inside. Tempted to take my fuming elsewhere, I started for the stairs. Now that he’d basically invited me to eavesdrop, he probably wouldn’t say anything worth hearing.

In the end, however; curiosity overruled rage.

I crept to the archway and pressed my back against the wall. The position afforded a view of Kei, features rendered waxen in the bluish light from an enormous screen.

“Have you acquired the target? And the supplies, have all been accounted for?” 

At first, I thought Mazawa was referring to the poisoned—correction: contaminated—rations. Having a story like that leak wouldn’t do great things for his image.

“All but one, which was destroyed during Ms. Darkfell’s ill-conceived attempt to enter the Sawagi undercity.”

Kei’s answer stunned me. They were talking about the vials of powder. What was so important about them? More importantly, why had Kei just lied to Mazawa? He’d taken one but I still had others.

“Are you absolutely certain, Special Liaison?” Mazawa’s hideous face swarmed closer. “You know what would happen if it fell into the wrong hands.”

Light flickered over Kei’s grave features. Static crackled on the screen. “The situation is under control, Doctor General. I assure you.”

“If memory serves, you also assured me the boy could carry out a simple command,” Mazawa sneered, punctuating the jibe with a soft thud.

“Squaddie Hiro simply misunderstood,” he began.

“You will not speak until spoken to!” The exclamation ended in a thready wheeze. “What about the girl? Has she sustained any injuries?”

Girl. I bristled at the remark, picturing him at his holo-table with an oxygen mask planted firmly over his scar-ravaged face.

Kei straightened; hands clasped behind his back. “None that will alter the current timetable, Doctor General. Although motivating Ms. Darkfell to the task at hand is proving somewhat… problematic.”

“She needs an incentive, does she?”

His sinister laugh shivered through me.

“More in the way of reassurance, Doctor General. Certain events have prompted a belief that her brother is dead.” Kei laced his fingers behind him and rocked back on his heels. “Since I was not made aware of any plan to that effect, I was hoping you might—”

“Pathetic! Worse than the boy! To think you could hide anything from me,” he barked. “I know you’re there, Renata. Come out where I can see you!”

I quit my hiding place and marched onto the bridge to face him. Still in the indigo-colored room from our first meeting, still wearing the surgical mask and dust mop of a wig, he was even uglier on the widescreen. The thick dark coat he now wore, which matched the walls in shape and texture, made his head look like a grotesque untethered balloon. Bursts of white noise, dividing the screen into wavering segments, provided some relief to the hideous sight.

“Where is my brother?” I crossed my arms, glowering at him. “Is Satoshi still alive?”

“I am not in the business of assuaging the feelings of pretty girls,” he replied. Then, lowering his mask, revealing the rubrous scar that split his cruel mouth into a hideous, jagged, ear-to-ear grin, he skewered Kei with an evil glance. “What are your feelings towards Ms. Darkfell, Special Liaison?”

“Excuse me, Doctor General?” Wincing, Kei took a step back.

“It seems you’ve become quite fond of her in your short time together,” he seethed. “Your behavior is most irregular, unbecoming to someone of your rank.”

“Screw that! I asked you a question, Mazawa,” I spat.


“Shut up, Kei!” I sauntered up to the screen and poked the screen with my finger. Bursts of white noise erupted across it, distorting his disembodied head. “Is my brother alive or not?”

“Insolent clan brat,” he said, lips twisting in a cruel grimace. “You will—”

“Or what, you’ll give me nokuru? Flip my kill switch? We both know you won’t.” Arms crossed, I stood my ground, matching Mazawa glare for glare. “Whoever this Madman guy is, you need me to find him. Not Kei, not your stupid soldiers, but me. So, Doctor, maybe you need me more than I need you.”

“Stop it!” Kei yanked me away by the arm. “Forgive her, Doctor General. The last two days have been a struggle for Renata. She doesn’t know what—”

I shoved him aside. “Now answer my question, you son of a—”

“Satoshi is gone,” Mazawa intoned. His ravaged lips made a slurry of the words, which rang through the control room, but his beady gaze never left mine.

It felt as if someone had punched me in the gut, right before they sucked all the air from the room.

“Gone?” My voice sounded so small and far away, swallowed by the darkness suffusing the edges of the room.

“Yes, gone. And one less Darkfell in the world, the better.” His head bobbed amid more interference. Then, turning his monstrous face to Kei, he said, “This is the second time you have allowed sentiment to cloud your judgment, Special Liaison. There will be consequences.”

“Please, Doctor General,” Kei pleaded.

The screen sputtered out. But his last words to me hovered in the air like an unwanted spirit.

One less Darkfell in the world the better…

I sank into the nearest chair, still reeling from the disclosure. Satoshi… dead? It didn’t seem real, didn’t seem possible. Satoshi, the only blood family I’d ever known, ripped cruelly away by some maniacal, scar-faced bastard! “One less Darkfell in the world,” I repeated, fighting but failing to stem the too-familiar void erupting just below my sternum. “One less—”

“Stupid girl!” Kei seized my shoulders and shook me like I was a sack of beans. “Do have any idea what you’ve done?”

He’d breached polite social distance on purpose, sticking his face, purple with rage, mere inches from mine. I could smell him: musk and steamed salmon and vinegar.

“Me?” The word hung in the narrow space between us, feeble as a dying firefly. “Mazawa killed my brother, and you’re asking me what I’ve done?”

Kei pushed me away with a disgusted snort, then began pacing in front of the chair. As he worried his unbound hair with one hand, his brows furrowed in a fierce scowl. “You don’t know him, Renata,” he began, “what he’s capable of—”

A cry, high-pitched as a wounded animal’s, issued from outside.”


Ashen-faced, Kei raced from the bridge. I sped after him. As we hurried down the hall, the shrieks and thuds grew louder. I’d never heard him curse before. Of course, until now, I also thought we were the only two aboard.

The hallway was so dimly lit that I hadn’t registered the slight depression in the wall at its end. Even now, it looked like a decorative border for the end panel. But when Kei placed his palm on it, a section of it slid aside.

A small child stumbled through the opening. Wailing, he pitched himself at Kei. Blood trickled between his fingers and soaked the back of his rumpled, mustard-colored tunic.

“Squaddie Sour Face?” I blurted. Just when I thought this day couldn’t get any worse! “What the hell’s that little shit doing here?”

Kei knelt to gather the boy in his arms. “I’m here, Hiro. It’ll be okay. Shhh…”

“It hurts, Otōsan! It hurts!” he wailed, burying his face in Kei’s chest.

The sound of the word was as shocking as seeing the boy again. “Otōsan?” I echoed, still unwilling to believe my ears.

“Yes, Renata. Hiro is my son,” Kei said without looking up. “My only son.” He pulled Hiro close and rocked the distraught child.

Too late, I realized why he’d wanted me to keep silent. He’d been trying to tell me all along. I knelt down beside him, not knowing what to say. “Kei, I-I’m so sorry… I should have—”

“I thought, if I brought him along, I could keep him safe. Or at least keep him from getting into more trouble. When Mazawa learned what he’d done… I’ve never seen him so angry, so unhinged…” He trailed off, nuzzling the top of Hiro’s head with his cheek. “As punishment, he—he—” Body quivering, he tightened his embrace around the boy.

Seeded him. He didn’t have to tell me. “Kei, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” I reached out to him. “If there’s anything—”

His hand shot out, knocking it away. “No, Renata! I don’t want to hear anything else! I can’t bear to look at you. I don’t care where you go or what you do, just leave us! Go away!”

Kei rose. Cradling the still-sobbing Hiro in his arms, he strode into the room.

The door snapped shut in my face. 

Next Chapter: https://simily.co/all-stories/fantasy/antoinettemccormick/nobodys-daughter-5/

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