Jennifer Alice Chandler

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 16

Fortunately, the following day had been set aside as an extra work day for Takara’s course. The local university was out for the semester, so there was a lot more time available for Takara’s class to work at the computer lab in the arcade. Initially, Takara was concerned that she wouldn’t be allowed to go to these more frequent field trips, but when she had found out that her mother was coming it seemed like less of a problem. In fact, maybe her mother would stay long enough, so that Takara could finish up the course. It would be nice to spend some extra time with Kenji before she left, especially without all the drama she had been experiencing lately.

Still, as hopeful as she was about how things would be when her mother got there, she couldn’t help but remember how strange her encounter with Mr. Tyler had been the night before. Things seemed to be deteriorating rapidly on that front. Takara feared that if she didn’t get out of the Institute soon, Mr. Tyler might end up striking her. She decided to lie low and try to avoid Mr. Tyler for the rest of her stay there.

It would be nice if she could go to the arcade that day, but she was prepared not to. If Mr. Tyler felt the need to take away Takara’s privileges before her mother arrived, so be it. In fact, Takara was so convinced that being grounded would be the punishment she would ultimately receive that she was shocked when Patty came in wanting to start Takara going on her day.

“Are you sure?” Takara stammered before she had a chance to think her words through.

Patty looked at her briefly.

“That’s what the schedule says.” Patty returned.

Maybe Patty just hadn’t spoken to Mr. Tyler that day.

“Oh well,” Takara decided. “I might as well go along with things.”

Letting her believe she’d be allowed to go might actually give Mr. Tyler more satisfaction when he finally did disappoint her.

After Patty took the breakfast tray away, Takara proceeded to dress and collect her belongings. Then, she sat at her computer chair and faced the door. Her eyes drifted toward the clock periodically. It was getting close to the time when she would need to leave. Apparently, Mr. Tyler was waiting until the last possible second to withdraw his consent. And then the time was upon her. Takara lifted an eyebrow as she stared at the clock. Next, she headed for the door … then down the hall. Nothing happened. She exited the Institute and nothing happened. Takara walked down the driveway. She still thought it was possible her permission would be revoked all the way up until the bus pulled up in front of her. The doors of the bus sprang open. She looked at the driver in a daze; then, she looked briefly behind her before slowly proceeding onto the bus.

 

***

 

“That’s great news about your mother.” Kenji offered.

“Uh-huh.” Takara uttered.

Kenji was taken aback for a moment. Takara seemed particularly distracted that day.

“So, is this the last time I’ll see you?” he ventured, wondering whether the thought of leaving the colony she had lived on for so long was the reason Takara was down.

Takara finally looked at him with her big brown eyes.

“No.” she concluded. “I think my mom will let me finish up here. After all, there’s still a ton of things we would need to do before departure; for example, I doubt we’ll get on a transport right away.”

“Then … well …”

“What is it?”

“I don’t want to pry, but what has you so down then?”

Takara looked away as she considered.

“Something … last night. I had another run-in with … well, you can guess.”

Kenji stiffened.

“What happened?”

“Oh, it’s not … that bad. He was in my father’s study again is all.” she whispered. “And he had my father’s personal work folder in his office.”

“Well, wouldn’t your father have wanted that?”

Takara thought for a moment.

“Possibly … so.” she concluded. “Maybe it just seems they don’t respect him enough to me. They just took what they wanted and threw out the rest … like me, I suppose. I mean, I have a room, but it feels more like a prison cell.”

“Heads up.” Erik said, returning to the cubicle. “The teacher’s making her rounds again.”

“Thank you.” Kenji responded.

It was nice to talk to Kenji if only for a little while, Takara thought. What was she saying? It wasn’t as though she wasn’t going to see him again. In fact, moments later, something happened to make Takara smile once more: an announcement was made. Apparently, this wasn’t going to be the only extra work day this week. A window of time two days later was available because of a last-minute cancellation. Though it would be very early in the morning, Takara was determined to try to make it. Even Kenji took notice of Takara’s enthusiasm.

 

***

 

Takara was surprised that the day had gone fairly well. Actually, she felt a wave of renewed optimism as the bus pulled away from the Institute’s driveway. It was a pretty nice day, she decided: the sun was shining, and it was pretty much the perfect temperature. Soon Takara’s mother would arrive. Takara would finish her class; and then, finally, she could start putting the pieces of her life back together. Maybe things could end up making sense again someday.

As soon as Takara was able to get away from the Institute, even her experiences there would not likely seem so bad. She’d be capable of viewing it as merely a personality conflict between her and Mr. Tyler. It was being forced together that was causing the trouble, she concluded. Mr. Tyler had obviously never wanted to be left with a thirteen-year-old girl as a dependent. The whole situation just wasn’t healthy for either of them. Takara wouldn’t tell him this before she left. No, that would be too awkward. Still, if she could only convey it to him — that there wouldn’t be any hard feelings, on her end at least, in the future. Then again, maybe it was less about him and more about her. She wanted to believe his animosity towards her was normal — that it wasn’t an indication of something worse, more sinister.

Yet, once she neared the door to her bedroom and saw the locksmith finishing the installation of a brand new deadbolt upon the outside of her door and then saw Mr. Tyler turn and smile at her — she knew the truth. It was staring her in the face. And while the memories weren’t there at that moment, it was as though some part of her brain was aware.

Takara stood stock-still. She racked her brain trying to come up with an answer — some way to make this right. How bad was this going to get? Did this mean her mother wasn’t coming for her? Her stomach dropped. Could it be that Mr. Tyler was going to lock her up and leave her in there?

“That’s great!” Mr. Tyler told the locksmith.

As the locksmith passed Takara, she just happened to utter, “How am I supposed to go to the bathroom?”

The man stopped; then, he laughed. “I don’t know, honey. You’ll have to ask your dad.”

“My dad is dead.” Takara said in a low tone.

And what was more, when Takara looked up at Mr. Tyler and saw the look on his face she knew the reason that her father was dead had something to do with him.

 

***

 

Patty came hourly to check on Takara and to supervise her visits to the restroom. Takara was told not to drink too much water before sleeping as she was to be locked in her room for the night; it was humiliating … at first.

Later, Takara found she was in too much of a daze to really notice. She felt nothing. She simply sat staring straight ahead as Patty sealed the door behind her for the final time that day. In fact, Patty had actually turned out the light, leaving Takara and the room in total darkness.

Takara’s eyes drifted to the side as she heard the last sounds of doors and footsteps fade. Then, there was silence. Takara breathed out, unaware that she’d been holding in her breath. Next, she lay on her side on her bed with her eyes still open.

What would she feel when the shock wore off, she wondered. There seemed little to do but sleep. They had even removed her computer; that action suggested her enrollment in her online classes was over. And there was no way to contact Kenji to tell him why she wouldn’t be talking with him again. Yet, even though she had nothing to do but lie there, Takara was loath to sleep. After all, the quiet was peaceful, and it seemed the days were now the things to fear.

It was a different type of dream that descended upon Takara that night. It actually seemed more like a home video — only her eyes were the lens of the camera.

A soft smattering of fresh snow had deposited upon the sidewalk outside. It was too soon for anyone to get to clearing it. But Takara wouldn’t have it any other way since the colony only created snow for special occasions. Still, it was slippery, and as her feet gave way underneath her she clutched onto her father’s arm — her father.

She looked up at him in a daze. That moment something inside her present mind told her that this wasn’t right — that he wasn’t here anymore.

Yet, even though her mind was partially roused from slumber, her heart clung on to him. And he smiled down at her. She quickly returned the sentiment. Then, just as quickly as the thought that she was in fact really in a different time and place appeared, it vanished.

Into the limo they went. She could see her breath upon the window, feel the cold pulling the heat away. She removed her right hand from the white muff she had been carrying and began etching her last name into the fog on the window. There was a jolt as the limo went forward, and Takara’s heart beat with just a little more force. It was almost as though something was troubling her, but then she remembered that at that moment nothing had happened … yet. So, the concern flitted away.

Her father asked the driver to go downtown past the shops and their displays.

Takara was thrilled. Her father had been too busy to take her there last year. The lights were even more spectacular than she remembered; they glistened like raindrops in the morning sun.

And then the driver made the turn down the dark road towards home.

“It’s been a great night, hasn’t it, Takara?”

“Yes.” She smiled at him.

“We’ll have to do our best to make it here again next year.”

“I …”

There were lights behind them now, only they were the high beams of an approaching car. Takara turned and looked back. The approaching car hit a dip in the road then, and the lights pointed downward briefly.

“Mr. Tyler?” Takara uttered.

The car behind them jutted forward suddenly, right as the limo was taking a curve.

For an instant, Takara caught sight of her father as he was … as he had always been to her. Then, and for a few moments afterward, a montage of spinning, of jerking to and fro, and of blood filled her mind. And then there was just darkness: darkness in her mind and the darkness of her room at the Institute —the darkness which had swallowed her whole.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 19

Takara sprang towards the mystery door as quickly as she could. She managed to fall through the opening and pull her feet clear before it shut again. Takara breathed unsteadily. Was whoever it was here for her? Had he or she come looking for her? Perhaps she had been seen on a video monitor after all. If so, it wouldn’t be long before they came into this second room after her. One of the problems Takara faced in the second room was that it was pitch black.

Takara wrung her hands. Then suddenly, the lights in the room started to come on row by row, line by line. Though her eyes were pained by the fluorescent beams, Takara just couldn’t seem to help but turn her face toward the part of the room that was being illuminated. The room was massive and contained all sorts of typography. It all seemed to be on rails as though it could be easily moved on a whim. And there seemed to be other rooms as well, going out in different directions. Above her were also rooms with varying ways to get to them: stairs, a rock climbing wall, a rope ladder, and blocks you could pile on top of one another. And there were traps as well. A spike pit was placed precariously behind her. Spears jutted out from the walls. Laser beams cut a path along the wall to her left. And then there was a giant robot — a wasp — silently waiting to be awoken. Finding a place to hide suddenly didn’t seem like the real problem anymore. Getting out of this room alive? Now, that was another story.

Takara was unsure of what to do next. But then the decision was made for her not long after. As the robot began to move, Takara dashed to the nearest doorway. She figured that whatever traps were to be found within that smaller room had to be less deadly than the threat that lethal-looking robot posed.

Still, Takara decided to linger in the frame of the door rather than head completely into the next chamber. That way she could minimize the danger she might find in the next room while also being able to see what that robot was about to do next. Her eyes then widened. A large cargo bay door began to open. Takara bit her lip. Should she try to escape through the opening? Part of her wanted to make a run for it. Maybe she could make it. What if the cargo bay door stayed open just long enough for her to pass through it, and she didn’t even bother to try to escape? This could be her last chance to get away from Mr. Tyler. Takara tentatively placed her foot out into the main room.

Suddenly, a violent wind began to stir. Takara braced herself. It took a moment for Takara to figure out that the wind was coming from the wings of the wasp. They were starting to flutter! Then, the wasp began to lift.

“At least this time the robot is not after me.” Takara thought.

There was no way it could be. Certainly if someone knew she was in there, they’d have sent someone in after her. They wouldn’t have started up a robot that large in order to just kill her — not when it was so easy for Takara to slip into one of these alcoves. Then again, what if the purpose of the demonstration was to force Takara to seek cover in a death trap?

Takara turned. Her eyes strained to see into the darkness of the smaller room she was standing in the doorway of, but the only thing she could make out was that there was a portion of one wall that was darker than the rest of the wall. More than likely, it was another doorway. At that point, there was no way Takara was heading into that darkness — not given the types of things that were in the main room. If they wanted her to flee where she was standing, they’d have to come in after her themselves.

As far as the large cargo bay door went, it quickly became clear that it was not an option. It was unlikely she could even crawl against the stream of air the robot was now creating. Takara did wonder why it was just hovering there. If the robot really weren’t after her — and the cargo bay door opening seemed to reinforce that it wasn’t — then surely it had somewhere else to be. What was it waiting for? More importantly, what was Mr. Tyler waiting for?

Waiting there seemingly in a safe position did give Takara a chance to think. She recalled that the last robot episode had most likely been an attempt to murder her. It was an attempt that failed and must have brought a lot of flak upon Mr. Tyler. It couldn’t have been a foregone conclusion that Mr. Tyler would get out of being punished for it. What was so important to Mr. Tyler that he would risk trying to use a robot for his dirty work twice? His motive for trying to kill Takara was because she was a witness. Did someone else know something Mr. Tyler didn’t want the rest of the world to find out?

No, Takara shook her head; it didn’t make sense. Yes, Mr. Tyler had gotten away with attempted murder last time, but the attempt hadn’t worked. And certainly he could find a more effective means of killing someone if that was all there was to it. No, this had to be something bigger. But what could possibly provide Mr. Tyler with a big enough reason to risk this scheme again?

Perhaps it was some sort of blackmail? If someone didn’t surrender money to Mr. Tyler, he’d destroy something with that thing? No, it wouldn’t be hard to find out Mr. Tyler was behind it then. If Mr. Tyler got a sudden infusion of cash, it would be obvious. And where could he go on this planet that they wouldn’t find him? Even if he got on a transport carrier, chances were that they’d figure out what he’d done and track him down before the carrier could even land someplace else. There would be no way that Mr. Tyler could escape prosecution. Certainly, Mr. Tyler had to be smart enough to know that. After all, Mr. Tyler had first been hired on as her father’s employee before eventually becoming his business partner. Surely her father wouldn’t have hired Mr. Tyler if he didn’t have some sort of ability. So how could he hope to get away with it? Frame someone else? Bribe more people? Eventually, he’d have to bribe the whole government in order to avoid someone wanting to convict him — particularly if someone died this time. Unless … of course … there was no government!

Takara’s eyes widened.

“Could it be a coup?” Takara wondered. “Is Mr. Tyler going to rebuild the government from the ground up?”

There was no proof. Yet, the large robot seemed to say it wasn’t all that far-fetched a theory though. While Takara couldn’t see Mr. Tyler as a political leader, she definitely could see someone else hiring Mr. Tyler to do it — someone like that man Mr. Tyler introduced her to: Mr. Connelly!

Takara wasn’t sure that it was true, but she was suspicious enough to want to find out more. Still, she needed to get proof in case it turned out that it or something like it was true.

As Takara waited, her foot started to feel prickly from standing there for so long. For the first time since she spotted the robot, she remembered that time was slipping away from her. She could see the sky starting to lighten beyond the massive opening. It was only a matter of time before Patty entered Takara’s room and found that she was missing. Would she send word to Mr. Tyler? Certainly, if he weren’t already aware of where Takara was, it would take him awhile to find her. Was that what was going on? Was that why the robot was merely hovering? Were they busy looking for her? Takara wondered whether she shouldn’t try to bypass the robot after all. Fortunately, before she had a chance to step into the main room, she decided that they probably hadn’t discovered she was missing yet. It was still too early for that. It didn’t seem probable that Patty would have come in earlier than usual today. She hadn’t come in earlier than usual before. Takara had considered asking Patty to come in earlier this morning, so that Takara could attend the field trip today — but that was before she had been imprisoned in her room.

Was it Takara’s imagination, or was the wind suddenly picking up? Takara quickly hid behind the wall just in time. There was a loud noise as a current of air rushed by her. Then, the stream of air dissipated. It was pretty obvious that the robot had left. Takara really didn’t need to see that the room was empty to know that. And yet, she needed to see whether the cargo bay door was still open. Takara whipped around the corner. She stopped short. The door was already closing swiftly. There was no way she could run across the massive room in time to slide under the door safely. Takara went back into hiding. What was she going to do now? Once again she was trapped. All she could do now was to wait for Mr. Tyler to come get her. Well, whether Mr. Tyler was coming or was going to send someone in after her, Takara was going to be ready. She was going to have to find a way to defend herself. Maybe there was a way to use the traps scattered around to her advantage. She certainly didn’t think she had the nerve to physically fight off Mr. Tyler directly. Yet, she had no doubt that, given what she had seen on the computer and with that robot, she’d never make it out of the Institute alive if she didn’t come up with some sort of plan. Then again, maybe Mr. Tyler had never intended to let her leave … alive anyway. Takara breathed unsteadily.

Takara felt frozen as stress overtook her. What action should she take? Circumstances had changed since she had started this mission. The illusion that she was the only one in the building had vanished. The cold indifference she had experienced just after she realized what had happened to her father was also gone. She had also lost the one commodity she thought she still had: time. At any moment, Mr. Tyler could be told she was missing … if he hadn’t found out already. At any moment, the review of the surveillance videos could begin; then, it was only a matter of time until she was discovered.

The major question was whether that room with the computer — the seemingly only avenue of escape — would remain occupied until they found her. And how would she even know whether it was still occupied? She couldn’t see into the room, nor could she hear anything through the door. Yet, were there any other options? Just as Takara began to fret, the thought dawned on her that maybe there was another way out … somewhere in that maze.

Takara looked toward the dark space on the wall that she assumed to be a door and breathed out. This option was almost as bad as the alternative. It was impossible to know whether traps had been set up in there. Yet, even if a trap was supposed to have been activated it didn’t mean that it had been. Maybe the other rooms were unfinished just like the main room. But what if the traps in the smaller rooms were armed? Takara realized at that moment that she might need to risk searching for a light in the room she was standing in. Actually, in order for this new plan of hers to work, it was essential she find a source of light. If she didn’t know where the traps were, she could easily end up a victim of one of them.

Actually, skimming the walls might not be the worst idea. More than likely, the walls were the safest areas. Unless, of course, touching them triggered some sort of trap. Takara shrugged that thought off. She couldn’t afford to think like that; it would keep her frozen. Danger was coming — she had to prepare for it, or she would die. Her father wouldn’t have wanted that if he were here. Neither would Kenji. Though that wasn’t the entire list of people who would have cared if they were aware of the predicament she was in, it was enough to start Takara searching the walls for a light switch.

Slowly, she reached out a shaky hand toward the wall. Her fingers slid across the surface of the wall. She knew that at any moment she could hit upon something that could trigger her death. Yet, it couldn’t be avoided; there was no other way.

Then, the tips of her fingers came upon something. She had found the round softness of a button. It resembled a switch. Here it was: the moment of choice. Takara breathed. It had to be now. And since she didn’t feel she had a real choice, she pressed the button.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 15

“Takara, please sit down.”

Takara looked at the man for a moment; then, she looked at Mr. Tyler. Finally, she did as the other man, Mr. Connelly, requested. Takara instantly felt anxious upon entering the room. She decided to do her best to hide it. She crossed her hands in her lap. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder what Mr. Connelly could want. After all, it had been how long since she had seen him? It seemed like forever.

“I received an interesting message today.” Mr. Tyler began.

Takara glanced down slightly, considering.

“You don’t seem surprised.” he noted.

She looked up.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Takara replied in all earnestness.

“Your mother …”

Takara worried that her eyes had flashed recognition. Yet, she couldn’t help but want more details about her mother. Then, her heart sank. What if he was going to prevent her from leaving somehow? Takara could feel her heart begin to pound.

“It appears she’s coming here to visit with you.”

Mr. Tyler stood and began to pace.

“Apparently, she received word recently — from somewhere — that your father had died. Now I wonder what she could want. She hasn’t been in your life for years.” Mr. Tyler noted.

Takara could tell he was fishing for information. He obviously wanted to know what her mother knew. He probably already suspected that Takara had been the one who had gotten word to her mother. But he wasn’t the only one with suspicions; Takara had plenty against Mr. Tyler as well. And they all centered around what had happened with Kenji the day she gave him her letter. It seemed clear that Mr. Tyler had tried to stop her from telling others about what was going on in her life just as he now knew that he had failed at it.

“Is there anything you wish to say to me?” he suddenly asked her.

Takara looked at him with intensity.

“Why would you possibly care that I leave here? Assuming my mother is even coming here to get me, I would have thought you’d be happy to have me gone. I’m clearly in the way here.”

Mr. Tyler looked at Takara a moment.

“Hmm … do you think she’ll take you back with her?”

Takara’s brow furrowed. She wasn’t sure what he was getting at.

“Yes, I mean she probably will. Her work is on another colony.”

Mr. Tyler thought a moment.

“All right then. Make sure you have all your things together. Your mother should be arriving within the next couple of weeks.”

“Couple of weeks …” Takara repeated wistfully.

“Thank you.” she said. She started to stand up.

“Yeah … you’re welcome.” he responded. He waved her off dismissively.

Suddenly, Takara froze. She saw something on top of the file cabinet behind his desk. Her brow furrowed just slightly at the sight of her father’s folder, the one missing from his office. When she looked back at Mr. Tyler, he was just turning towards her again. She focused on the news about her mother in order to be capable of smiling at him. Then, she smiled at Mr. Connelly and left.

Takara paced around once she got back to her room. She also started to wring her hands. On the one hand, why should she be surprised that Mr. Tyler was the one who had taken her father’s folder? It stood to reason. He was the only one she had seen in her father’s office. Perhaps, she had just become so preoccupied with everything else that had been going on that she forgot about the folder. No … that wasn’t it. What had really happened was that Takara had assumed the staff had just been clearing out her father’s office in order to reuse it. Only they never did do that.

But what difference did it make? Of course, they would use her father’s research at the institute he founded. And yet, for some reason, she couldn’t stop it from bothering her. Takara sat upon her bed. Maybe, despite visiting her father’s grave, she still wasn’t capable of letting him go. She sighed. Maybe she was expecting too much of herself. She would always love her father, after all. And yet, she still felt as though she was letting them both down. Maybe it was the seemingly disrespectful way his memory had been treated since the accident. Not only would her father not have approved of the way Takara had been treated, but the people around here never talked about how much he had contributed to this place. And then to have his office rooted around in … it was as though they used him and tossed him aside. And Takara? It was almost as though she was a reminder of him that they wanted to get rid of.

“Well, I might as well try to sleep.” Takara concluded. “Nothing can be decided tonight.”

She went to switch off the light. Then, she got back into bed. Only, of course, she couldn’t sleep.

“It’s okay.” she told herself softly. “It doesn’t matter that they took his folder …”

Mr. Tyler couldn’t take her father’s memory away from her. Thinking of that did the trick. She could finally feel herself relax again, and she could feel her mind begin to drift …

Then suddenly, a noise brought her back to alertness. Maybe if a few more moments had passed, she would have sunk so deeply into sleep that she would not have noticed the noise or would have blown it off. Instead, it jolted her awake. Someone was in the hall.

“At this time of night?”

Could it be that Mr. Tyler was about to go back into her father’s office looking for more information? Takara went toward the door and began listening in.

“I don’t know why we’re bothering. I told you it wasn’t here.” a voice said. It sounded like Mr. Tyler’s voice.

“Well, then where is it? It doesn’t bother you that it’s missing? I mean, it could be problematic if someone were to stumble across it.”

“All right.”

Takara could hear a door open and close. Then, all she could hear was mumbling.

Takara leaned her back against the door and waited. She could hear things being jostled about inside her father’s study. Eventually, after what seemed like a long time, the two men re-entered the hall.

“I don’t get it. Are you sure no one else has been in here?”

“I told you I searched it right after …” Mr. Tyler responded. “I have no idea where he put it, but as I said I made a copy of it. No one is going to be allowed into the Institute that day, so what does it matter for all intents and purposes?”

“I guess. But we might have to move up the timetable.”

“What? Really?” Their voices became fainter as time progressed.

Takara breathed out. She had grown anxious when the men had questioned whether someone else had been inside her father’s office. Yet, Mr. Tyler didn’t seem to remember her having been in there.

After there were a few moments of silence, Takara reached for the doorknob. She slowly turned it; then, she waited. She breathed again. She considered just going back to sleep, but more than one thing was motivating Takara to leave the room. One part of it was anxiety. The noise from outside the door had upset her, and she wished to pace the halls. The other reason was that she wanted to see whether there was any evidence of what the two men had been up to in her father’s office. She had a feeling there wouldn’t be any evidence, and the door was most likely locked again. And yet, she couldn’t seem to stop herself from checking.

Takara slid out into the hallway as quietly as possible. It was strange, but she walked along in a sort of daze. It seemed unreal as she spied her father’s door in the dimly lit hall.

And then, could it be? Could it be that the door was left slightly ajar? Takara reached her hand out toward the knob. Her fingers barely grazed the metal when she heard a voice behind her startling her ears.

“I knew I forgot something.” Mr. Tyler said.

Takara whirled around toward him. Moments later, Mr. Tyler pulled her father’s door shut and locked it.

“Going to the bathroom again?” he asked her sarcastically.

Takara stood her ground this time and looked up at him defiantly.

“What difference does it make?” she countered. “It’s my father’s office. He even slept there on that sleeper sofa. Why shouldn’t I go in there? I’m his daughter.”

Mr. Tyler appeared to be taken aback by Takara’s sudden brazenness. He stood there a moment just staring at her.

“And you just happened down this hallway? You weren’t eavesdropping on me and my client?”

It was Takara’s turn to be stunned silent.

“I could hear voices.” she admitted. “But mostly I couldn’t understand what you were saying.”

“Because it’s none of your business!” Mr. Tyler relayed. “This whole institute is none of your business. This institute is my business. Your father’s effects are part of the Institute. I thought the lock would make it clear to you that I don’t want you in there. You’ll be leaving here soon thankfully. The least you can do is to try to stay out of my way until then.”

Takara was suddenly afraid that Mr. Tyler could become violent. There was an ominous air about him. His eyes seemed particularly dark.

“I suggest you go back to your room — now!”

Takara turned without hesitation and headed straight there.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 20

 

Kenji kept tapping his pencil upon the computer keyboard. As Erik studiously worked, Kenji kept glancing over at the empty third chair.

“Something on your mind?” Erik wondered without lifting his eyes from the screen.

“It’s just …” Kenji began. “Takara’s not here.”

Erik looked over.

“Yeah … have you heard anything from her?” Erik asked.

“No.”

“This type of thing has happened before …” Erik pursued.

“Yeah, but I thought those days were over.”

“You think she was caught the other day?”

“No … but she did seem worried about something the last time I saw her. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but now … I mean, Takara hates it there. I can’t imagine her not taking the opportunity to leave when she can.”

“Well, there’s one way to find out … ask.”

Erik directed his eyes toward the main room. There stood the teacher. As Kenji and Miss Harrington’s eyes connected, a weird look crossed Miss Harrington’s face. She looked evasive; even Erik noticed it. The way Takara had been treated was ridiculous; that was obvious to the two boys. Kenji approached Miss Harrington, and at first she wouldn’t look at him; in fact, she seemed to be avoiding eye contact altogether. Kenji decided to be assertive.

“Miss Harrington.” Kenji stated in a firm but respectful tone.

He could see her stiffen as her name rang out. Still, she wouldn’t look at him.

“Miss Harrington, where is Takara?”

Miss Harrington turned a flushed face onto Kenji.

“Don’t you have work to do?” she retorted.

Erik quickly arrived as backup.

“It’s done.” Erik announced.

Miss Harrington became flustered by Erik’s intent gaze. She shrunk back.

“She isn’t in this class anymore.” Miss Harrington finally admitted, a lilt of shame in her voice.

“Why?” Kenji uttered.

“It wouldn’t be the first time a student dropped.” Miss Harrington defended herself.

Miss Harrington abruptly turned from them. She then started speaking so loudly to the student who was standing next to her that it became clear that she was done talking about Takara. Erik and Kenji looked at each other. They slowly walked back toward their computer station.

“I need to go there.” Kenji whispered to Erik.

 

***

 

Takara’s eyes were shut tightly; and yet, she could still see the light beyond her eyelids. She forced herself to look. After a moment of adjustment, her eyes took in the room which spread out before her. It was almost eerie how empty it was. The stark white walls were only divided by a long, barren, wooden table. The only other thing of note was the dark space that indicated another passage was ahead of her.

Takara stepped forward toward that opening then stopped. She looked back at the switch. She decided that she would test out a path through the room with the light on then head back to turn the light off. Then, she would proceed toward the next chamber in the dark. That way if she was followed there wouldn’t be a lighted path to her next location.

As scary as it was to carefully step across the floor in the light, it was even scarier in the dark. On the one hand, it made sense; the darkness intensified the experience. Still, rationally, the first time across should have been the dangerous part. That was, of course, if she was following the exact same path the second time that she had the first time. No, she couldn’t think on that — she had to press on. It already seemed as though time was moving faster than she was. She was so slow; she had to speed up. Yet, just like in a dream, her feet didn’t seem to have the will to move any faster. On the other hand, maybe it was for the best she took things slowly. Takara surely couldn’t afford to make a mistake.

As Takara entered the next room, she found her feelings were mixed. The farther into the maze she went, the more trapped she felt. Still, at least she was getting farther away from any pursuers. Takara was glad to find that the light switch in the next room was in the same spot. The next room was pretty much the same as the previous one — only instead of one possible exit there were now two. One was straight ahead of her and the other to her right. For the first time, it really sank in to Takara just how easily she could become lost in there.

Then, Takara remembered something: if you ran your hand against one side of a maze you could find your way out again. It was worth a shot. Maybe by using this strategy she could avoid getting confused and re-entering the same room twice. She decided to use her left hand since the wall to her left was the closest one to her as she faced the door in front of her. As she headed slowly from room to room, Takara began to take a certain level of comfort in the fact that the rooms seemed unfinished, even more so than the main room. Actually, they were almost barren. She hoped that meant that any traps were also unfinished.

The going seemed to be pretty easy until, suddenly, she was confronted with a very short door. She would have to get on her hands and knees to fit through it. Why was this door so short? That was the question. What was the purpose of this door? It must have one, Takara concluded. Surely her father wouldn’t have created this door as some sort of death trap. This whole section of the Institute seemed to be the nebula-reaper defense training course her father had mentioned to her previously. But how could that small door be useful for training? But then, the fact was that every time she came upon something unusual she had to wonder if it was solely her father’s design, or whether someone else had altered it since her father’s death.

So, should she bypass the small door and hope to come across an alternative route in another room? Doing that, of course, carried the risk of inadvertently heading back around toward where she had come from. That would be disastrous; time was running out already. She had to find another way out of the training course … and soon. What she would do after she got out she had yet to decide.

Takara concluded the best thing to do was to give the door a closer inspection before making her final decision. She bent down and peered through the opening. There was no light. Takara reached inside and touched around the hidden spaces within. Even though she could tell that the space was confined, there was nothing about the tunnel that convinced her not to try to crawl through it. She would use the same strategy she had used with the rooms — keep her hand along the left wall. She hoped there wouldn’t be another maze ahead; she hoped there would be an exit.

In the end, Takara found she was intrigued by rather than afraid of the small space. Despite everything that had happened with Mr. Tyler, something about the door reminded her of her father, and that feeling won out. After all, he had hidden his real login within a dot. Perhaps he had hidden something important within this small space. Takara turned off the light to the room then headed into the tunnel.

Takara had never been particularly afraid of enclosed spaces before. And yet, she had a feeling that if she did survive this ordeal that she probably would be in the future. There wasn’t enough space to crawl on her hands and knees; instead, she had to inch her arms forward and pull her body onward. She couldn’t help but feel stressed by this. How would she turn herself around if she had to? She had to steady her breathing. She forced herself not to panic … not yet … just hold on a little longer … just a little longer. Then, the space seemed to open up, and the air around her cooled. She reached her hand up and felt … nothing. She was out of the tunnel; she lifted herself up. She felt for the wall. When she found it, she began feeling it for a light switch. She was exhilarated. Perhaps this room would be the answer. On came the light. Takara’s eyes fell upon two things — one right after the other: one was another computer and the other another large, metal slab. This slab Takara assumed to be a door, even though there was once again no knob.

Takara beamed. It was her way out! Finally, there was hope for escape. She merely needed to use the computer to open the door again. After that, she’d still have to find a way to sneak out of the Institute. But first thing was first. Takara sat at the desk and placed her hand upon the sensing board with eagerness. She then searched the screen for the speck … only it wasn’t there. Takara sat back in her chair. There had to be a way into the system; there wouldn’t be a point otherwise. Why were there two computers anyway? Maybe if she could figure out her father’s reasoning …

About the only thing Takara had seen on that first computer was surveillance video. Suddenly, it struck Takara that her father might have stored his work on this computer. But that would indicate that he hadn’t trusted Mr. Tyler. Certainly her father must have trusted Mr. Tyler at some point. So, her father’s opinion of Mr. Tyler must have changed somewhere along the way. It made sense. Maybe her father’s most recent information had been placed on this second computer because his relationship with Mr. Tyler had soured. Of course, that didn’t mean there wasn’t more to be found on that first computer.

Still, it would have been a struggle for her father to fit through that space, and Mr. Tyler probably wouldn’t have been able to. Actually, given her struggle to make it through that space, Takara was almost certain Mr. Tyler couldn’t do it. If that were so, Mr. Tyler wouldn’t have had access to this computer at all. Maybe that was the point to this room.

Then, Takara got to thinking. In the first room, the login icon had been barely visible. What if this one weren’t visible at all? Takara bit her lip. She began clicking randomly. At first she clicked slowly, but then her clicking speed became unchecked. Eventually, Takara just laid her face in her hands out of frustration; still, a light managed to penetrate through the gaps in her fingers. A new screen had popped up.

Suddenly, more videos began to pop up onto the screen; one was of particular interest. It seemed to be the view from onboard that humongous wasp robot she had seen less than an hour ago. She recognized the color of the metal and some of its features. It seemed to be flying toward the capitol building — only it was meeting with resistance. Yet, the planes fighting it appeared to be less than a match for it. Takara decided to try to get a better view of what was happening. She motioned with her finger in order to adjust the camera on the robot. Her field of vision did change, but strangely the position of the camera in relation to the robot did not. She could still see the same part of the wing of the robot. Could it be? Did she have control of the robot? Quickly, before she had the chance to answer that question for herself, the course of the robot was corrected. Had she just imagined what had occurred before? Could she really override the course of the robot with just a press of her finger? There was only one way to tell. Slowly, she moved her hand across the sensor pad as she had before. And once again, the robot moved. Only this time she kept adjusting the direction of the robot until she could be sure.

“It’s true!” Takara exclaimed.

She had control of the robot! She could stop the coup!!

Takara breathed. Should she try though? There was the door. Shouldn’t she just find a way to open that large, steel door? But what would become of the government if she did nothing? Would she even be permitted to leave the colony alive? It was true that Mr. Tyler probably wouldn’t be at risk for prison anymore if he took over the government. He would, therefore, have nothing to legally fear from Takara being alive. But then, he would also have nothing to legally fear if he did away with her. Also, he wouldn’t have to worry about Takara harming his reputation if she were dead.

No, she couldn’t run yet. She had to stop Mr. Tyler from using her father’s inventions against the colony. Takara held her breath then pressed her finger onto the sensor pad as hard as she could; then, she left it there. At first, Takara thought she could remove her finger as soon as the robot had reversed course. Only it seemed stuck in position once it was just shy of a 180 degree turn. It took a moment for the reality to register. Obviously, someone else was trying to turn the robot back around, and that person and Takara were cancelling each other out! Yet, as long as Takara kept her finger on the controls then the robot would come close to returning to the Institute. But it also meant that Takara couldn’t leave that spot. She looked plaintively towards the door. Then, she looked around the room for something she could place on the sensor, so she could leave. She thought of using her shoe, but it probably wouldn’t be heavy enough. Not to mention, it was probably too big to apply pressure to the sensor in just the right spot.

Takara sighed. She only had to wait until the robot returned, she told herself. What she’d do after that she had no idea. Maybe she would be fortunate, and the military would take down the robot before then. She hoped no one would get hurt.

Suddenly, Takara’s wandering mind was redirected back to the screen. The robot had moved just enough to be directly on a return course. Should she remove her finger lest it continue to change course? Only it didn’t seem to be moving any farther. What could that mean? Then, in the dark distance she got her answer. A familiar male voice rang out, slowly and mockingly, “Takara!”

Takara was startled; she instinctively raised her finger from the sensor. Then, right away she could see the robot shift. Mr. Tyler had somehow managed to keep the pressure on the sensor at his end. Takara replaced her finger. She had lost some of the direction she needed. What could she do now? Did Mr. Tyler know which room the second computer was in? Had he somehow seen her on a monitor, or was he just assuming she was the only one who could be interfering with his plans? Maybe he was hoping she’d be stuck with her finger on the sensor until he managed to find her. He was making a big assumption that she was so invested in returning the robot to the Institute that she wouldn’t just leave it to spin in circles. She had to admit it was now very tempting to do just that. Perhaps it was time to try to find a way to open that door after all.

Takara’s eyes suddenly fell upon the dark hole that she had entered from. She then realized how bright this room had become with the light on in comparison to the darkened passageways she had left behind. Yet, there didn’t seem to be anything she could do about it; every time she lifted her finger from the computer sensor she lost control of the robot. It seemed there was no way for her to win. Mr. Tyler would eventually find her, and the course of the robot would then be returned to the one Mr. Tyler wanted. The door seemed to be the only option. But really, could she hope to escape the Institute now? It would have been hard enough before they realized she was missing, but now? If only there was a way to create a diversion. If there was only a way to gain sole control of the robot … If she could get it to ram into the Institute …

So what if Mr. Tyler hadn’t left someone at the first computer? What if he had just left an object on the sensor pad? Maybe there really was no one there at this point … or, perhaps the person wasn’t paying close attention. There was really no way for Takara to know for sure if she was still in a stalemate with someone on the other end of the controls at this point. The not knowing wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if the robot were heading directly back towards the Institute. The fact that it wasn’t meant that Takara had to take some sort of action to right the robot’s course. It could be a simple matter if there was no one there, but if someone were there the robot’s course could be turned even further off course by that person.

Then again, at this point, regardless of the cause, Takara couldn’t seem to alter the robot’s direction either way. But then she thought of something: maybe instead of going against the other computer she’d go with it! It was a risk, especially if someone else was watching the monitor. But even if the robot wound up heading where Mr. Tyler wanted it to go, it would end up that way eventually if she did nothing.

Seconds later, Takara shifted her finger in the opposite direction. Rather swiftly, the robot began to turn in a circle.

“Come on …” Takara whispered to herself. Takara held her breath as the robot finally slid back into alignment. It was heading towards her again.

“Yes!” she cried out in relief.

It was hard to tell how long it was going to take for the robot to get back to the Institute, but some of the neighborhoods began to look familiar to her.

Then, Takara suddenly looked toward the dark opening. Maybe it was just her imagination, but Takara thought she could see a dim light glowing in the small tunnel. Her decision to turn off the other lights in the rooms leading up to this one was seemingly backfiring. She hadn’t anticipated being stuck in a lit room without the ability to turn off the light. Unfortunately, she also hadn’t thought of turning off the light before realigning the robot, so she was still stuck where she was.

Takara could feel her danger growing. And yet, she couldn’t shake the fear that if she let up on the controls that someone could by now be waiting to seize control at the other computer. Perhaps … Takara grabbed one of her shoes. Maybe she could hit the light switch with it. The room wouldn’t be completely dark because of the light from the computer, but the light would be much less obvious. Takara tried to gauge the shot the best she could. Then, she threw the shoe … and missed. But it was close. It just needed to be a little higher and stronger. This was it; one more shoe. Takara steadied herself and threw the shoe with her one free arm and what strength she could muster. She gasped at the darkness that ensued. It seemed things were going her way … finally.

Also, the robot was finally near the Institute! It was time to risk letting it spin in circles on its own until the air force caught up to it. Takara doubted she could safely maneuver it into the cargo bay on her own, even if that massive door were still open. Then suddenly, and surprisingly, the robot veered in the direction she was pressing — before she had the chance to remove her finger and allow it to spin on its own. But how? Was the counterpressure on the sensor from the other computer gone? No, the robot was spinning too fast for that.

Then, it dawned on Takara that someone was now at the other controls and was doing the same thing Takara had done before: he or she was pressing on the sensor in the same direction Takara was in order to alter the robot’s course. Was it Mr. Tyler? There was no way of knowing. The other person then pressed in the direction opposite Takara’s, thereby causing the robot to fly in a straight line. Once again the robot was heading away from the Institute. So, Takara pressed in the direction that other person must be pressing in order to get the robot to turn again. It worked for a moment, but then the robot stopped turning seconds later. She tried again and once again she was met with the reverse. The other person was countering whatever she did! The robot was stuck on its former course … or, at least close to it. This other person now had the advantage: the robot was on the course he or she wanted. And that person, unlike Takara, had the time to see it through.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Chapters 14-21 below. For chapters 1-13 press button. The book is now available on Amazon Kindle and print formats!

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 17

Takara was aloof the next day. The thoughts from her flashback still clung to her mind. But what difference did it really make now? She was a prisoner.

What was more, Takara found she wasn’t in the mood to try to curry favor with Patty. And, quite frankly, she doubted there was even a real possibility of that anymore anyway.

Takara was concerned about how she would react if someone confronted her. Maybe Mr. Tyler would come around in order to take pleasure in Takara’s reaction to the lock on her door. How could she not glare at him — knowing what he did — knowing that he ran her father’s limo off the road and killed him?

No wonder Mr. Tyler hated her; no wonder he was always staring at her, seemingly trying to see what she was thinking. It had a whole new significance to her. She had seen him that night! And that one man— yes, that one guy Mr. Tyler introduced her to. He seemed to stare at her with even more intensity than Mr. Tyler did. And boy how relieved he had seemed when she didn’t recognize him!

But Takara wasn’t oblivious to the truth anymore, and there was no way she could hide it from them at this point. But there was something more pressing weighing on her mind. As Patty came to and from the room, Takara watched the way the lock worked. And after awhile, she formed a plan. Then, she waited …

“So, you went to the bathroom?” Patty asked in a condescending tone.

“Yes.” There was no point in refusing to answer. After all, Takara’s way of rebelling against their control of her was coming.

“If there’s anything else you need, you should let me know now. After all, you can’t leave this room after I’m gone.”

Takara looked up and stared at Patty. As if she didn’t already know that! Patty had a look on her face that suggested she knew she was just rubbing it in. It wasn’t as though Patty felt bad for what she said though; she merely appeared to be taken aback by Takara’s reaction to her words. Perhaps, it reminded her of the reaction someone whose feelings she did value would have had.

“Well.” Patty quickly remembered what Takara’s position was. “Good night then.”

Patty went to the door and headed out. Every time she left the room during the day, she would always pause at the door and retrieve the key to the room — probably from the small pocket she had on her skirt. Then slowly, she would turn the key. At no time did she ever check to make sure the bolt took. Maybe this last time before bed she would check, but Takara was counting on her not to. For by the time Patty retrieved the key, Takara had slipped her old school ID between the bolt and the door frame. She could hear the metal hit the plastic. The question was had Patty heard it? Takara held her breath and listened. What was the delay? It seemed to be taking a long time for Patty to turn and head down the hall. What was going on?

Then suddenly, she heard the woman’s footfall retreat softly. Takara allowed herself to breathe. It was done. Now Takara was free to do what she needed to do: find proof that Mr. Tyler had killed her father. After all, no one in authority would rely solely on the delayed recollections of a coma patient to convict Mr. Tyler. In the very least, even if Takara failed to find proof of Mr. Tyler’s guilt that night, maybe she could still find a way to get word to her mother about her incarceration and Mr. Tyler’s role in it.

Takara decided to remain in the room until every noise coming from the other side of the door had vanished. She had considered sneaking into the bathroom lest Patty come back to check on the door and discover it was unlocked. But she decided against it. After all, if Patty checked the door at that point and found it unlocked she would probably go looking for Takara anyway. So, Takara sat in a nearby chair and waited until the hallway was silent. Then, she forced herself to count to one hundred slowly. Finally, she roused her stiff legs and moved toward the door. For a moment, as Takara turned the knob, a wave of fear shot through her. But it was fortunately just a brief moment. For shortly afterward, as Takara stepped into the hall, she suddenly felt emboldened. In fact, she didn’t even bother to cower. Instead, she stood up straight and shut the door confidently behind her.

As she walked down the familiar halls, it was as though her father were still alive. She retraced a thousand different memories that took place in these spaces. Silent tears flowed from her eyes by the time she reached the atrium. She could visualize her father in that big chair — the one that Mr. Tyler had since claimed for himself.

Takara stood at the gateway to her and her father’s wing, staring for a moment, trying to say good-bye to the positive memories that still remained in that place. It did seem strange to Takara that she would feel the need to say good-bye to the place right then. After all, where would she be going? A chill went through her; somehow, it just seemed true that she wouldn’t be back. This was one of those moments when things were going to change one way or another.

Takara turned from the atrium and towards the door — to the parts of the building that had become forbidden to her. She sighed as she stepped forward toward her future. Takara wasn’t surprised that the doors to the rest of the complex weren’t locked this time. After all, the assumption was that Takara was safely stored away in her room. Though, the thought had occurred to her earlier that they might have locked the doors again out of habit. Then again, she thought coolly, if they had locked the doors it would have required Mr. Tyler to expend energy in order to unlock them again before embarking on his ongoing raid of her father’s office.

The hall right off the wing that Takara resided was familiar to her. She had traveled down it many times as she came and went from the Institute when her father was still alive. Yet, at that moment, the building as a whole seemed foreign to her somehow. It occurred to her how truly unusual it was that she actually lived at the Institute. While her father was alive, the building had always seemed like home. After he died, it had become this impersonal, intimidating building filled with dozens of dark passageways. Takara knew that most of these corridors would be unfamiliar to her. She sighed as she looked about her trying to decide which way she should go.

The halls were lit with dim accent lights, and she couldn’t see what was in the shadows. She decided it would be best to start looking for secrets somewhere she’d never been before. It seemed doubtful they’d be hidden in plain sight. Still, she had to remind herself that from there on out the bravado she had been recently experiencing would no longer be advisable. Somehow, she would have to strike a delicate balance between fear and carelessness. Mr. Tyler, or someone in his pocket, could be anywhere amongst these halls. There could also be monitoring being done by video relay. No, she would slowly inch along the shadows, even though something inside of her told her to rush since the night never lasted forever.

Since Takara usually headed left to get out of the building, she decided to start her quest by going to her right. She suddenly thought again about how Mr. Tyler had gone into her wing late at night and rooted around in her father’s belongings; now, it was her turn to do it to him. That thought filled her with a sudden jolt of enthusiasm, which was the very thing the necessity to exercise caution had robbed from her.

Takara tried many doors only to find most of them locked. She went down hall after hall and found nothing of particular note. Then, just as quickly as she had recaptured it, Takara felt her enthusiasm melting away.

Where was Mr. Tyler’s office? And even if she did end up finding it, it would probably be locked. Or worst yet, Mr. Tyler would be in it.

Takara sat down on the floor in a lump. She crossed her hands in front of her knees and stared into space. Some of the halls had clocks on the walls, and Takara could tell she was running out of time. Add to that the fact that she was tired, and there was a case that could be made for her returning to her room before she was missed. Maybe no one had spotted her on a surveillance camera. She felt silly for not thinking this whole thing through. Of course most of the doors were locked!

Takara stretched out her tired legs. As she did so, she crinkled her toes in order to work the tension out of them. And that’s when she felt it: the object she had stowed inside her shoe — the one she had grown so accustomed to that her mind hadn’t given it much thought — the key.

Takara proceeded to slowly pull off her shoe — as though the key might get lost if it fell out on its own. Then, she held the key in both her hands.

Certainly, it wasn’t the key to Mr. Tyler’s office. Her father wouldn’t have had the key to that room unless the room once belonged to her father. But whatever the key was used for, Takara was sure of one thing: it was important … important enough to bring a second man around to look for it! Takara hadn’t made the connection before that Mr. Tyler and that mystery man were probably hunting around for this key! They had seemed so worried that someone else would lay his or her hands on it … and it turned out someone had!

Takara grinned as she clutched the key in her right hand. Maybe it was foolish, but at that moment Takara completely dismissed thoughts of going back to her room. She was determined to find the lock that this key fit into that night.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 18

Takara was having trouble figuring out where this newfound drive was coming from. After all, part of her had been thinking she should head back to her room and try again tomorrow. But the part that won out told her that if she went back at this point she would never leave that room again. It was a convincing argument, even though it appeared on the surface to have no foundation. Still, there was a strong chance her exploits would be discovered, and that Patty would end up being more diligent in checking the lock to Takara’s door in the future.

Either way, as Takara feverishly went from lock to lock, she felt that her direction was set. The momentum was carrying her forward, and she needed to see this thing through. What was so important about this key that it would make Mr. Tyler so concerned when he found it was missing? He already knew he could get another key made. No, it had to be something … something.

And just like that the lock sprang open, and the door cracked a few inches — revealing a dark, quiet space. Takara blinked. She hadn’t really thought this door could be the one associated with the key when she had come upon it. It was merely thoroughness that caused her to try the lock. It was a pretty unassuming door compared to the others; in fact, it resembled the door to a closet. Could it be a closet?

It was at that moment that Takara noticed there were no other doors along the wall to her left for as far as she could see. This was a deceptive room, and on some level that scared her. Still, loitering outside a forbidden room seemed foolish.

Takara stepped inside and felt the wall for a light switch. As her fingers happened upon a metal plate, the lights instantly came on. What was revealed by the light was a seemingly small room with a computer along the adjoining wall and a single other door. Takara turned back toward the door she had entered and noticed for the first time that the lock was no ordinary lock. By the look of it, there was some sort of circuitry embedded in it. Takara brought out the key then and really looked at it. At the bottom edges where the key had made contact with the lock, she noticed there was circuitry there as well. Of course, her father made an electronic lock for this room — whatever this room was used for — as a precautionary measure. Takara was just glad that she hadn’t damaged the key by having it in her shoe all this time.

Certainly, she could see that trying to force the lock would not have been a good idea. Who knew what contingency plan there was in place if that happened.

Takara slowly shut the door. After the door was closed completely, she could hear the lock slide securely back into place on its own.

“What now?” Takara wondered to herself.

Should she bother to check whether she could unlock the door from the inside? Takara concluded that she shouldn’t bother trying. After all, she might escape the room, but she still couldn’t escape the building at night. When she and her father had first moved to the Institute, Takara had been scared of all the nooks and crannies in the complex. Her father had taken her by the hand and showed her that not only did the door to her wing lock, but that the exit to the Institute was nearly impenetrable at night.

The only way the main entrance lock could be deactivated at night was if there were a fire — and Takara was fresh out of matches. No, she figured, if she did decide to try to sneak out, she would have to wait until the next day’s employees began to arrive. That was assuming she could find what she was looking for in the meantime, and, of course, she didn’t get caught. After she prayed for a moment, Takara continued on with her mission.

Still, Takara sort of wished she could just leave right then. After all, she hardly saw this situation coming. She was in a forbidden room with one door and a computer. She had planned on just sneaking into Mr. Tyler’s office then going back to her room. And even that had been a risky prospect. It was the enormity of her father’s death that had spurred her into taking this risk to begin with. But this … What was this? This room couldn’t possibly have evidence about her father’s demise in it. After all, it didn’t seem as though Mr. Tyler even had access to a key to this room until recently. Without that drive to uncover information about her father’s death, her courage, she feared, would soon fade. Then what?

Yet, the thought that this room had at one time been solely her father’s not only warmed her heart, but it also intrigued her. Perhaps, it was indeed like her father — bare bone simplicity on the surface and a wealth of complexity underneath.

The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that there had to be something truly spectacular hidden within this room. Maybe she wouldn’t uncover Mr. Tyler’s secrets that night but her dear father’s instead. Perhaps, she could finally learn exactly what he had been working on those many months ago.

Takara carefully pulled the rolling chair away from the computer. She frowned when she realized the chair had been positioned not for a man her father’s height but for someone much taller. So, Mr. Tyler probably had been in the room since her father’s passing after all. Perhaps Takara had even been wrong to assume Mr. Tyler hadn’t had a key for a while now.

Well, Takara didn’t have time to think on that; she had to make the most of this room while she had access to it. Takara started up what was more than likely a deceptively simple-looking computer. Nothing seemed unusual as the password screen popped up. Password? Password … This could be tricky. What if Mr. Tyler had changed the password? What if entering the wrong password set off some kind of alarm? It could even be a silent alarm, which could alert the guards of her presence without her even knowing it.

“Father didn’t even like passwords.” Takara mumbled to herself. “He always said that there was so much on his mind he didn’t want to waste the space.”

So perhaps this was Mr. Tyler’s password after all. If so, chances were good that Takara would never be capable of cracking it. Still … Takara just stared at the screen, trying to figure out what she should do. She tapped her fingers over the sensor pad. Then, as her eyes traced along the edge of the screen, she noticed something out of place. A single extra pixel had found its way on to the lower right hand of the screen. At first, Takara just blinked. Was she right or was she just seeing things? Her heart leapt when she realized she was right. There was an extra pixel. Her father had been subtle in his life. Could it be? Had he created a backdoor in plain sight?

Takara carefully moved the cursor towards the spot — her mind questioning whether it had really been there the entire time. Then, when the tip of the pointer arrow rested upon the dot, she selected it.

The screen went blank. Takara gasped slightly. She tried catching the released sound with her hands, even though it had already escaped. She was terrified of drawing attention to herself even in this empty room. She couldn’t stand the thought of even the slightest utterance escaping her lips — not after all these months of poor treatment. Still, it was the fact that this one last link to her father had disappeared that caused her heart to sink.

Then, on sprang the computer screen. It was rebooting! On the monitor appeared neatly rendered icons and graphic thumbnails. Strangely, it was so reminiscent of her father that it was almost like seeing his handwriting displayed before her! And eventually, in the center of the screen, something that appeared to be a small display window shot up. The dates surprised her. It seemed as though her father had installed a silent program in the background of the computer, and it was monitoring and recording any usage. Apparently, her father didn’t trust Mr. Tyler after all. Could he have known what Mr. Tyler was up to before he died?

Part of Takara wanted to search back through any logs recorded before her father’s death and see whether she could discern the difference between her father’s distinctive style and that of an intruder. But something inside her told her not to; there wasn’t time for that. She suddenly felt that it was more important to see what Mr. Tyler was up to now. Something told her there was useful information on the computer for her to discover. Maybe she couldn’t expose Mr. Tyler for what he did to her and her father, but she could still hold him accountable for some misdeed he was performing now. Besides, chances were that even if her father suspected Mr. Tyler was capable of accessing his work without permission, she doubted he suspected Mr. Tyler was contemplating murder. The thought certainly never would have crossed Takara’s mind back then; in fact, it hadn’t crossed her mind at all until recently. It had taken a dream to shake those memories loose. And now his murderous deed was the one thought that she seemed unable to shake.

But she had to fight the urge to dwell on her anger. She had to focus. What was it that she wanted to know? How to take Mr. Tyler down was the first thought that entered into her mind. But it was simpler than that — she needed to know what he’d been up to. And she was sure it was something; his behavior was too suspicious for it not to be something. Before she had made the mistake of believing his behavior was merely a product of his not liking her. It turned out it was more than that — he was afraid she knew what he had done. The funny thing was now she did. And thanks to that key her father had hidden in his boot, she might end up with the power to expose him.

“What?!”

What Takara now saw on the screen was confusing. Mr. Tyler had decided to write everything in some kind of code — though it wasn’t a very sophisticated code. He basically just used code words for various projects he had going on. Actually, it was quite humorous since he used types of fruit as substitute words. The references were also fruit-related. He picked something here; he cored something there. It was ridiculous! If Takara weren’t so annoyed, she would have laughed. Still, one thing did catch her eye. It was a reference to an orange rolling off course and missing its target. Apparently, this orange caused quite a bit of damage, and the cover-up required a tremendous amount of bribe money, which was given to city officials. The date seemed familiar somehow. What was it about that date?

Then, the connection was made. That huge robot! That’s when it made its way through the city! So, it was from the Institute!! Takara’s brow furrowed. And the bribe money — that’s why the investigation went nowhere.

“Why would Mr. Tyler have unleashed a robot on the city?”

Takara retraced the words on the memo with her eyes. It said there was a target, and it was missed.

“The bus.”

Her heart sank. Could it have been an attempt on her life? And he thought a robot would be easier to cover up than some other means? Then again, her death would have been considered an accident more than likely. Mr. Tyler would have been sued surely but possibly not imprisoned. His reputation would have been maintained, especially if he blamed an employee. There also wouldn’t have been an investigation into her father’s death then. If Mr. Tyler had killed just Takara, people might have wondered why anyone would want to kill her. And where would that have led? An investigation into her father’s death?

Takara desperately wished she had been able to bring a disk drive or something else, so she could copy the information on to it. Yet, she realized the information alone wouldn’t be of much use with those laughable code words in it. Not to mention, Takara also figured a lot of powerful people must be in Mr. Tyler’s pocket. But still, the right person might be capable of making something of it all the same. Takara inspected the desk. She lifted a pencil holder and examined it. There was nothing on the desk like the key — nothing that contained any hidden circuitry.

Takara was loath to leave the room to go looking for a drive. By the time she would be able to find anything, she was sure it would be too late to return to this room. And even that was assuming she wasn’t caught in the process. No, the only thing Takara could think to do at that moment was to open that mystery door and see where it led. Perhaps, they stored something within it that Takara could use to copy the data. Even a camera would be useful.

Takara went to the mystery door and looked it over. It was metal, and it seemed to slide into place from the left to the right. There was no discernible lock or knob. That meant the computer was most likely the key to opening the mystery door.

Takara sat back down at the computer. She looked over the files and saw nothing that stood out as being connected with the mystery door. There also didn’t seem to be any more out-of-place pixels that she could click on. Takara decided to exit out of the window that housed the log of Mr. Tyler’s efforts. She would have just moved the window or decreased its size if that had been given as an option. Of course, part of her worried that exiting from the window would be a mistake. What if she couldn’t get the window back? But she decided that there was no reason to believe that was true; no reason to think she couldn’t go back to it later. Besides, she couldn’t just sit there as precious time ticked away. The information would probably be useless anyway if she couldn’t find a way to record it. And once she did find the means to archive the information from the computer, maybe she could even find a reference to her father’s death in Mr. Tyler’s notes. That thought reinvigorated Takara, and she clicked the window into oblivion with purpose. The screen went blank. Seconds later, the computer rebooted, and she was back at the login screen. Takara gasped when she found that the link to the mystery door had in fact been hidden beneath that window.

She clicked the icon, and the mystery door slowly opened. Takara stood in amazement. Then, she looked back at the monitor. At that same moment, Takara could hear the mystery door creak as it opened as far as it could; next, and to Takara’s dismay, it began to slide shut again. Takara wasn’t sure that she was ready to leap through the mystery door just then. Perhaps, if she found something to prop the door open she’d feel more secure about going through it. After all, the last thing she wanted was to be trapped on the other side of that door in yet another unknown space. She couldn’t decide what would be worse: being trapped on the other side of that door indefinitely or being found there by Mr. Tyler. As it turned out, it was a moot point, for something then happened that made the choice easy. Suddenly, at that moment, someone was in the process of unlocking the main door that exited into the hallway!

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 21

 

There was only one thing left for Takara to do: bring down the robot. That would cause a disruption for sure. If she brought it downright away, it would probably crash in front of the gate. Debris would probably hit the complex. Takara hesitated. She hoped it wouldn’t cost any lives. But what other choice was there? Doing nothing would just mean putting the robot in Mr. Tyler’s hands once again. Eventually, she’d be discovered and the robot completely reclaimed. And waiting for the robot to reach a more densely populated area would be even more dangerous.

It was decided; Takara maneuvered the robot toward the ground. Right after it started to descend, the person at the other computer tried to bring it out of the dive … but to no avail. Takara could see through the camera on the robot that the robot had crashed into the perimeter fence in front of the Institute. The building shook. Almost instantly, an alarm sounded. It started far off in the distance at first then spread to where she was. It was time to find a way to open that door!

She moved the window box on the computer screen; it now showed the blackened-out view from the camera on the robot. Her heart leapt when she realized the icon to open the door was now visible. She had just managed to click the icon for the door when she heard a strange muffled noise coming from behind her. Takara turned toward the sound in time to see Mr. Tyler’s head emerge from the tunnel. Takara screamed. Mr. Tyler turned his face towards her and smirked. Takara looked toward the door, which was slowly inching open. When she looked back at Mr. Tyler, he had just made it through the opening and was about to stand.

Takara dashed in her sock-covered feet toward the door. She started to try to squeeze through the widening space as Mr. Tyler approached her. His eyes were wild with rage. He made a dash for her just as the space became large enough for Takara to squeeze through. Takara scraped through the slit between the wall and the door then stumbled into the hall. Mr. Tyler’s arm reached out for her. Maybe it was just her imagination, but she thought she felt his fingers touch her hair.

Takara resisted the urge to turn back; instead, she ran down the hall as fast as she could. All she could hope for was that this hall would lead somewhere. She didn’t recognize where she was at all. She tried to orientate herself in her mind. But after all the passageways she had gone through earlier, there was no way she could tell in which direction the entrance of the Institute was. Fortunately, Takara came upon an elevator that a woman had just stepped into. Takara slipped inside and pressed the first button she could reach. To her relief, it was the first floor button, and it was already lit — presumably by the hand of the woman.

For the second time, Takara had barely escaped Mr. Tyler’s grasp. She could hear him beating upon the closed elevator door. Takara wrung her hands.

“We should have waited for whomever that was.” the woman chastised her.

Fortunately, the woman wasn’t brave enough to wait.

“We probably shouldn’t even be in the elevator.” she muttered.

As the elevator headed for the first floor, Takara knew she had to be ready to run. She’d have to keep up the pace — assuming she was fortunate enough not to run into Mr. Tyler when the elevator doors opened. When the doors did slowly open, Takara could see that there was a commotion in the halls. People were making their way down the hallway — all moving in the same direction. Takara and the woman quickly joined the crowd. Takara looked back and noticed that the elevator didn’t seem to be heading back up. Mr. Tyler was probably taking the stairs somewhere. He could pop out of any one of these doors. He could also be waiting at the entrance, blocking her from leaving. Would any of these people around her come to her aid? Takara’s eyes scanned the wall to her right, which was the wall closest to her. Suddenly, she felt someone touch her left arm. Takara lurched away.

“Hey, it’s me!”

Takara turned a surprised gaze onto … Kenji! Erik was there as well. They had made their way along the opposing wall toward her.

“Kenji …” Takara gasped.

“You don’t want to go that way. Some guards surrounded the door right after we entered.” Erik informed her.

“He’s right.” Kenji affirmed.

“Well, I don’t know how else to get out of here!” Takara declared in an exasperated tone.

Kenji grabbed her hand.

“It will be okay. You’re not alone anymore.”

Takara managed to smile slightly then nodded.

“If only there was a way to get those guards to move …” Erik stated. “Wait, I think I have an idea. We’ll let them see Takara from afar … bear with me. And the two of you duck into that door over there. I’ll be in the elevator. When I hear them coming, I’ll close the door. Hopefully, they’ll follow me thinking it’s you guys and take the stairs to the second floor. Then, you can escape.”

“But what about you?” Takara asked.

“They don’t want me, and I’ll be no worse off than I am now. Listen, we don’t have a lot of time.”

“All right.” Kenji agreed. “Let’s go.”

Just as expected, at least some of the men chased after Takara on sight. As she ran down into the adjoining hall, Kenji quickly pulled her into a room and secured the door softly behind them. There, they waited until the sound of the men’s boots dissipated.

“Come on.” Takara stated with a shaking voice.

She was eager to escape. But the experience of the last few months had taken its toll, and she found herself unsure. Still, when Kenji grabbed her hand she found she was able to rush forward with him. They seemed to be moving in slow motion, but they were making it. They had a straight shot to the exit. They were there … at the threshold.

“Stop!”

Takara froze. Then, she and Kenji turned to face the voice. Mr. Tyler was merely feet behind them, pointing a gun at them. Kenji stepped in front of Takara — not that it would do much good. Mr. Tyler’s hand shook. He looked around him. He was apparently not used to acting outside of the cloak of darkness.

“Step away.” he told Kenji in a barely audible voice.

As Kenji shook his head in refusal, the sound of sirens could be heard behind Takara and Kenji. All three froze, straining to hear whether the sound was getting louder. It was. Mr. Tyler grew pale as emergency service trucks pulled up in front of the Institute. The workers exited the vehicles and rushed toward the building. Mr. Tyler lowered his gun as the men and women stormed the complex.

“Everyone needs to leave the area!” a man told Mr. Tyler as that same man ushered Takara and Kenji out of the building.

“Can you take us home?” Kenji asked the man.

“Sure. You can wait in the vehicle.”

“And our friend is inside.” Takara added. “He might be in trouble … with security.”

“We’ll get everyone out.” he assured them as he walked them to his vehicle.

Takara was careful where she stepped with her shoeless feet.

“Later …” Takara started. “I have some information about what happened here.”

“Really?” When they got to the car, the man leaned over the passenger’s side window, which was open, and spoke to the man inside the car. “Briggs, contact headquarters. Let them know we have a possible witness here. On second thought, I’ll drive them there myself.”

Takara cleared her throat.

“There’s a man inside named Mr. Tyler. You might want to secure him before he can destroy any evidence.” she put forth.

Takara then offered him a description of Mr. Tyler. Briggs spoke over his radio and told dispatch to have all of the law enforcement community be on the lookout for Mr. Tyler. As it turned out, they wouldn’t find him in the building; he had already managed to sneak away.

At that moment, Erik and the security guards emerged from the building. Two men seemed to have a hold on Erik’s arms.

“I’m assuming that’s your friend.” the first officer observed.

“Yes.” Kenji agreed.

“Just a second …”

The man went to retrieve Erik from the men. Then, all three friends climbed into the car. Finally, the car slowly pulled away from the Institute. Takara would never step foot inside the Institute again.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 14

As it turned out, Erik wasn’t hard to find. On most afternoons, he was either in the virtual reality corridor or waiting to go in. During the waits, he spent time at a computer station learning the way the computer’s program interfaced with the program running in the virtual reality corridor. When he spotted Kenji at the arcade on a Tuesday afternoon, he assumed Kenji was there for a similar reason. Actually, Erik was sitting in a different spot than usual. So, when he saw Kenji heading toward the console they usually worked at, he called out to him. Kenji came right over.

“See this video on the latest advancements at the Virtual Reality Institute.” Erik pointed out to Kenji. “Apparently, they have created an interaction between robotics and the program. It also allows you to utilize simulated energy weapons instead of the real thing, but the program reacts to it just as though it were the real thing. And the rooms can be enhanced by the virtual reality. You see, the physical typography of the room might even have the capacity to be staged. That way, it could conform to the virtual reality setup. Of course, some of this is still in the planning stages.”

“Yeah.” Kenji stated in a dazed tone of voice.

“Is something wrong?” Erik asked. “You seem distracted. You weren’t kicked out of class after all, were you?”

Kenji looked around then sat down next to Erik.

“I’m actually worried about Takara.” Kenji admitted.

Erik raised an eyebrow. Kenji had thought a lot about whether or not to confide his concerns to Erik. After all, it wasn’t absolutely necessary for Takara and him to do this thing — to visit the spot where her father was buried. He spent many hours lying awake the last couple of days wondering whether he should try to do it and whether he could pull it off if he did try.

In the end, he concluded it was worth it to try. It was important to Takara, and he wanted to do this thing for her. It also gave him something to think about other than the fact that she would soon be moving far away.

“So, what is it?” Erik wondered.

“It’s that.” Kenji said while nodding toward the screen.

“The Institute?”

“Yes, she lives there.” Kenji whispered.

“Really?” Erik responded in an equally low tone. He looked at the screen again. “I mean, I knew she lived close by. But then, I guess there aren’t really any houses near there. Still, I didn’t know anyone actually lived there.”

“Her father was instrumental in the creation of the Institute, but he died not that long ago.”

“Yeah, I think I heard about that.”

“Anyway, she … is hardly ever allowed to leave that place.” Kenji confided. “What’s more, she was in a coma when he died. She never got to go to the funeral, so she never had a chance to see the place where he was buried. She thought he might be buried in a local cemetery. I stopped by the place, and I found the grave. I was hoping you could help me give her the opportunity to go there.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Erik asked.

Kenji smiled. Then, he considered.

“All I can think of is that we get our work done quickly; then, we all go to the virtual reality corridor. We’ll start the program then leave. Then, you could stand outside the chamber, and tell the teacher you’re waiting for us to be done, so you can go in.”

“All right.” Erik hesitated. “I guess that could work.”

“Well, obviously if Miss Harrington insists on going in to check up on us you could get into trouble.”

Erik shrugged.

“I don’t care. I’m more concerned about being bored that long.” Erik joked. “Just make sure you get back when you can.”

 

***

 

Takara thought it was possible that her mother would take her to her father’s grave. Maybe it was wrong to involve Kenji and Erik more than she already had. Still, what if she had to leave the colony quickly? How could she leave without visiting her father’s grave? Maybe it was selfish, but she needed to do it. She needed to out of respect for her father but also because she wanted to spend some more time alone with Kenji before she left. Takara tried to bury her guilt and just nodded when Kenji explained his plan to her. Both he and Erik seemed so willing to help her, but should she let them?

“Well, let’s get this work done!” Kenji exclaimed with enthusiasm.

The assignment was actually tough this time. For a while, it filled the three with anxiety. Takara realized how much she wanted to go to the cemetery when it occurred to her that Kenji’s plan might fall through after all. Even Erik started to bite the inside of his lip.

“There. I’ll turn it in; you two head out.” Erik announced hurriedly.

“Are you sure?” Takara asked.

“Yes, just don’t get caught.” Erik told them. “Oh, and get back soon. We’ll be cutting it close as it is.”

Perhaps it was wrong of her, but Takara didn’t think much about Erik after she stepped outside the arcade. The wind on her face was enough to make her forget all of her stress — if only for a little while. In fact, Takara was feeling so relieved to have this feeling of freedom back that she did something she probably never would have had the nerve to do otherwise: Takara reached out and grabbed Kenji’s hand.

Kenji looked over at his hand entwined in hers and smiled. This was turning out to be a good day after all.

It was getting hot. The temperature outside wasn’t too bad, but the pace Takara and Kenji were setting for their walk made it seem hotter. But there wasn’t any time to spare. As the church and its grounds came into view, Takara worried what would happen if they had trouble locating her father’s grave. What if Kenji forgot where it was? But he didn’t; he led her right to it.

Takara’s eyes began to water as she stood before her father’s tombstone.

“I miss him.” Takara admitted. “I wish I could talk to him one more time — have him hold me … You know, I feel as though I let him down somehow.” she added in a whisper.

Kenji looked over at Takara, unsure of what to say to her.

“There’s obviously nothing you could have done.” Kenji heard himself saying aloud.

Takara looked over at him through her tears; then, she smiled at him wanly.

“Thank you … for your sincerity.” Takara told him.

Takara looked down at her father’s simplistic tombstone.

“At least he’s in a better place.” she remarked.

She smiled softly. Kenji nodded.

As they looked at each other, the shared feeling became clear. They both leaned forward slowly, somewhat hesitatingly, and then they kissed. Their lips barely touched; they felt the pressure. A rush went through them. And then it ended — just as their nerve did. It was enough.

Takara’s eyes glanced downward briefly. She could feel her face redden a bit.

“Well …” Kenji started. “We should probably head back … if you’re ready.”

“Oh, yes, we should. I mean, I could probably stay the rest of the day, but that isn’t fair to Erik or to you. Not to mention the fact I can’t afford to get into trouble, especially now that my mom is coming.”

“I’ll give you a moment then.” Kenji backed away.

Takara stepped forward and placed her palm on the tombstone. She softly spoke a little prayer to God. In it, she thanked Jesus for taking care of her father. Then, she smiled and bit her lip. Finally, she forced herself to turn away.

“Kenji.” Takara spoke as she approached him.

“Yes?”

“I think I’m ready to go now.”

“All right.”

They walked off together hand in hand.

Takara still wasn’t in the best of shape, but she was going to walk as quickly as possible anyway. After all, the sooner they got back the better.

“What time are we looking at?” she asked Kenji as they reached the outskirts of the cemetery.

Out of the corner of her eye, Takara could see Kenji lift his wrist to look at the watch strapped on it. Suddenly, he stopped short. Takara stopped as well. She leaned forward to catch her breath.

“What is it?” she gasped.

Kenji looked ashen. For a moment, Takara wondered whether Kenji was going to pass out.

“We’re cutting it pretty close. We hurried to get here, but it must have taken longer than I realized.”

“What are we going to do?” Takara questioned.

Kenji’s brow furrowed.

“Wait! I have an idea.” Kenji sifted through his backpack. Finally, he pulled out his phone.

“Kenji, I’m not sure we can risk calling a cab.”

“That’s not whom I’m calling.” Kenji groaned. “Hey, Mom, it is I … Kenji. Yeah, I know you have only one son, and I didn’t need to finish that sentence. Umm … yeah … okay … yeah. Yes, I have a reason for calling. I was wondering whether you could give my friend and me a lift. No, I’m actually at the church on Willard. Thanks. But can you come right away? Oh, great! Thanks! Love you, too. Bye.”

Kenji hung up.

“Now I just hope she does come right away.” Kenji mentioned.

He and Takara sat nervously on the curb. Takara looked over at him questioningly.

“We never could have made it back on time if we had tried to make it there on foot.” Kenji noted. “Still, it is hard to just sit here and wait.”

Takara nodded.

Fortunately, it was not long after that statement that a familiar hover vehicle rounded the curve and came down the street. Kenji jumped to his feet.

“Here she comes!” he announced ecstatically.

Takara rose slowly and dusted herself off. She smiled when Kenji’s mom came into view.

Kenji held the car door open for Takara, and they climbed into the back seat. Mrs. Moto looked at them in the rearview mirror.

“Do I need to drive you home, dear?” she asked Takara.

“Umm … can you drop us off at the arcade?” Kenji asked.

“You mean, class isn’t over?”

Takara and Kenji looked at each other.

“Kenji … he walked me to the cemetery to see my father’s grave. I was in the hospital when my father was buried.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“We finished our homework, but if they call roll again …” Kenji began.

“No need to explain further, Kenji. I’m glad to help!”

“Thank you.” Takara responded.

“I’ll try to get you there as fast as I can … without risking being pulled over, of course.”

“Thanks, Mom!” Kenji exclaimed enthusiastically.

When they arrived back at the arcade, Takara and Kenji were relieved to see that the bus was still there, though parked some distance away. Still, it didn’t mean their absence hadn’t been noticed.

“Thanks again, Mom.” Kenji repeated as he and Takara exited the car.

“No problem. I hope it goes okay.”

Kenji and Takara forced themselves to walk slowly into the building. At least that way if they were caught re-entering the building the teacher might assume they’d been close by the arcade all along.

As they got off the elevator on the third floor and turned the corner, their eyes searched for Erik. He was standing right where they’d left him. The only way they could tell he was stressed was by the way he was staring at the clock. He was noticeably relieved when he saw them.

“Wow, you guys …” he stopped short.

His gaze had caught something above and beyond them. Takara and Kenji turned toward where he was looking and saw Miss Harrington.

“There you three are. We’re loading up the bus.” she announced.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019