In Gods' Good Time
C V Ford
Chapter 15: A Snake In Eden
"Please! Naoi-san! I ... I didn't mean to, I-"
The loud smack of a back hand impacting on an anxious face echoed across the top of Class C. The target automatically slumped to the roof, it being part of the drill he had been through many times before. Naoi-san was having one of his periodic fits of rage and the NPC, in his limited way, realized it best to "take it" and let it pass.
The student council Vice President pushed up on the bill of his cap as he, leering crookedly, looked down on the cowering figure. What had originally been a tasteless chore in maintaining balance while stranded in this "in between" had slowly morphed into the deepest of pleasures. He now more than understood why bullies took such satisfaction. That feeling of power over others ...
"Whether you meant it or not matters little if at all. What does matter is you're here, I'm here ...
"AND WITH THAT!"
The antagonist raised his right foot, about to send a stomping, forward kick into the hapless target. It enraged him as he saw the boy raise his arm in protection. Then again, Naoi would have been enraged if the kid didn't. Whether they took it like the stupified cattle they were or put up resistance, the bully would never be pleased. Their very existence pissed him off to no end and that HE ... GOD! ... had to put up with it. At least, for the moment, he'd be compensated.
The kick never came.
Ayato Naoi gagged as his collar "punched" his adams apple on being yanked abruptly and violently back, almost falling in the rearward stumble. A rough hand spun him around then grabbed the front of his collar, jerking him forward ... Into the eyes of a very hostile looking foreigner.
Duffy turned to the would-be victim sprawled on the roofs' tarmac.
"Get outta' here kid," the man commanded. "Me 'n the veep here's got things to discuss."
The now relieved victim struggled up. Dashing to the door, the 'droid' took a quick last look and ducked inside.
"Y'know ... ," Jack noted the NPCs' exit and turned his gaze back to the momentarily subdued student Vice President. "I've had my eye on you off and on for the past few weeks. It's a pretty good act you put on ... making like one of the walking dead 'n all. I see you going through the motions, almost no variation in your routine ... almost. And that's what gave you away. You know ... little things ... like your not eating the same thing every Tuesday at lunch ... that sorta' thing-"
"Why ... why would you-"
Hand tightened on the collar, choking off Naois' utterance.
"Quiet! ... You had your say while knocking that kid around. As for my watching you, nothing personal ... til now. Just something I do to pass the time while working. You'd be surprised how many zombies here that really aren't. Everybody here has their own way of coping with this wierd set-up. Some, like you, try to pass themselves off as part of the scenery. Up til now, you were just one of the 'fake outs' I happened to notice and nothing more.
"So here I am, at the other end of the roof working on the air conditioning, when I see you and this other kid arrive and you start giving him a hard way to go-"
"It's not like they're real people or anything! They can't really-"
With a gasp, Naoi felt both hands on his collar, now lifting him up, so much so, the young man stood on his toes.
"I ... said ... shut ... the hell ... UP!
"Real or not ... don't matter ... What is real is ... I ... DON'T ... LIKE ... BULLIES ... Never did. And you sir ... are a bully.
"Now maybe your being such a secret little prick is your way of counter acting being such an outwardly model student ... maintaining equilibrium so to speak ... so's ya won't disappear 'n all. Then again, it could be you're just a useless punk who gets his jollies beating up on people.
"Either way or whatever ... You better make sure the NEXT time you go pushing someone around, that I'm not within earshot ... 'Cause if I catch you hurting someone again ... real or otherwise ... I'm gonna' ... KICK ... YOUR ... ASS!
Duffy shoved the diminutive bully away.
"Now git outta' here."
Gaining his balance and backing up a few feet, Naoi faced Duffy. He was always careful about using his 'talent', so far, on only NPCs. He wasn't sure how it would work on his fellow 'genuines'. Without thinking, he decided to try it on the foreigner.
|"So ... A sense of justice is it?"|
You don't know the half of it, kid.
"And it's been a source of regret you didn't deal with it in a better manner than in the past."
Yeah. Could have handled it better. Should have kicked more ass back then than I did. Hell, half the people who gave me a hard time, I could have taken easily. God, I was such a wimp then!
"Fear, doubt ... and possibly other things ... That feeling of helplessness ... powerless ..."
I know what you mean. Why ... Why am I having trouble focusing? What's this kid-
"Maybe you were in situations beyond your control. Situations caused by those older ... parents ... teachers ... maybe? Authority figures of some kind ..."
Oh yeah ... those bastards ... in that ... place. The drugs ... abuse ... mind games ... the- Wait a sec ... Well HELL!
"What they did ... You'd like to correct that ... wouldn't you? You'd- URK!"
Duffy closed the few feet separating them inhumanly fast and Naoi felt himself being jerked off his feet a second time. The enraged foreigner holding the collar in a viselike grip, their eyes only inches apart.
"So that's it! I was wondering how a runt like you could beat that kid around. He looked like he could mop the floor with you yet you had him begging. I could see you're no martial artist with the way you were gonna' kick him ...
"Power of suggestion ... Yeah ...hypnosis of some kind or other. Gotta' admit. You almost had me kid ..."
The thought of another attempt flashed through Naois' mind but he thought the better of it. The foreigners' hazel eyes bespoke the cold rage seething behind them. Telling him the man had past experience with this kind of power ... An experience that DID NOT AT ALL go well for him. And he was on the verge of taking it out on Naoi!
"How? ... How is it ... you ..."
"Never you mind, kid ... Not important."
The grip tightened.
"What is important is ... I'm on to you."
"What's also important is what I'm putting on top of my first warning ... "
The piercing eyes bore deep into those of the student Vice President, DARING him to make another attempt at mesmerisation.
"If you should ever ... EVER! ... try that shit on me again ... If you ever even hint at it ... I ... WILL ... KILL ... YOU ... In the most excriutiating and graphic a manner possible.
"Oh sure. It's true that's only a waste of time here, being what this place is and all ... but that's not all there'd be to it. Oh no. There's also the fun part after.
Naois' eyes widened.
"I'll toss what's left of ya' in a contemplation room and leave you there ... WITH THE DOOR WELDED SHUT!"
Jack pushed his face even closer to that of the would-be mesmerist, noses almost touching.
"With only your sick little thoughts to keep you company ... FOR-EV-ER!"
Shoving the kid away, he watched as the young man stumbled and fell on his posterior. Duffy leaned forward, his right index finger pointing between the boys' eyes.
"I reiterate ... This is not a threat ... This is not a promise ... It is a WARNING.
Ayato wasted no time in picking himself up and departing. At the door, he took one last dreading look at the seething figure, its' right hand now at its' side, thumb hooked in the belt.
Ayato hurried down the stairs as if the very demons of hell were following. Frequently glancing back, the thought of the vengeful angel on the roof at the forefront of his mind.
"How was that gaijin able to fend me off like that!?"
He knew there was the possibility of resistance but, so ... violent. It seemed it was all the American could do to keep from hammering the young man into the buildings' roof. The would-be mesmerist was lucky to get off as lightly as he did and more than knew it.
Yes, it was the first time he actually tried it on a sentient human ... almost succeding.
"Went too far, too fast," he thought. "Must take it slower ... Study more ... refine my technique. He'll pay ... They'll ... ALL pay. Yes ... study ... refine!"
If the kid was armed, he wondered if Naoi might draw on him and held his stance, watching the young man leave. As it was, Naoi scuttled through and was gone.
He waited over a minute, keeping his eye on the door in case the Vice President returned.
"Heh ... ," calming down. "Too many movies ... westerns ... Yeah ... Too ... many ..."
Knees shaking, his legs wobbled, threatening to collapse out from under.
Staggering, Duffy, with right arm, leaned against an AC unit, other hand to his head.
"Oh God ... headache ... Hurts like hell! Little bastard almost had me."
Slumping down, he turned and sat, his back to the unit. Holding his head with both hands, he softly rocked back and forth in an attempt at willing the pain away.
"Kid's a menace ... Gotta' keep an eye on him ... Can't let my guard down ... Can't let him ... THEM! ... get to me.
"THEM! The bastards! ... Why ... Mommy? ... Daddy? ... why ... Why did you send me there? ... That ... place? ...Why did you let them ... I know I wasn't like the other kids ... I know I was ... different ... but ... What did I do that was ... What did I do to deserve ...
"Oh God ... dear Jesus ... why ... Why did it happen ... to me ... What did I do to deserve it? ... And why am I in THIS place now? Maybe this actually is hell ... IS this hell, Lord? Maybe ... "
Standing but a few feet away, a silent, stealthy presence watched protectively as the man, now oblivious to his surroundings, coped with his mental as well as physical pain. The apparition reached out, wanting to put a comforting hand on a shoulder but heistated, long practice of being unseen preventing.
Turning, the wraith went over the retaining rails to the roofs' edge and waited. On seeing Naoi making a hasty exit from the building and wending his way in the dorms direction, it slipped over, quickly climbing down.
Yuri had to know.
After a cautious trip down to Class Cs' top floor, Duffy, legs still unsteady, put his head around the corner and scanned the hall for signs of his new enemy.
"Are you all right?"
Heart in mouth, Jack stiffened then relaxed. No, not Naois' voice in the questioning.
|... his eyes beheld the slight, silver-white haired form of the "angelic" one.|
"Nothing wrong hon, I'm fine."
Kanadae could see the man was sweating, nervous. Blinking once, she inquired further.
"Are you sure? I saw Naoi-san leaving the roof. He seemed quite fearful."
"He oughta' be," Jack replyed ominously. "If he's any smart he'd ... better be."
"Was there a problem with him?"
Duffy sourly chuckled within over the young ladys' understatement. He countered with a question of his own.
"Are you ... ," apprehension building, "working with him ... in any way?"
"Only in matters dealing with student affairs, nothing more."
"You know he's a real person, don't you? Not one of-"
"The non-entities? Yes. Though he has hidden himself quite well."
"I take it then you know of his ability ... what he can do?"
"I am aware of his powers of manipulation and how far he can go. I have taken measures to counter them. It appears you have as well."
The man blinked hard against the now dull ache above and behind his eyes. Yes ... when one realizes what's happening ... is mad enough.
"Just plain cussed meanness hon," was the best he could come up with at the moment."
"If you are all right, then I must go. Business to attend to."
Duffy let her pass, giving her a few seconds before starting off on his own.
Making his way to his apartment on now steady legs, he entered and immediately went to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Opening it, he grabbed the bottle of aspirin.
He looked down at the two tablets, quickly adding a third, then, slumping in the barcalounger, rubbed his temples against the receding ache.
"That ... Damn kid. Almost had me ... DID have me. DAMN! I thought I'd forgotten that ... hell. Put it outta' my mind best I could. Little bastard brought those things back ... In freakin' living color! Man, I don't wanna' remember that hell ... that ... place ... Little scumbag brought it all ... back!"
A real enemy this time. Maybe. If the punk tried to cause trouble later, he'd know what to do.
For a start, he reached for the phone.
Phone to her ear, Yuri alternately switched her vision from the ceiling to the ninja seated on the other side of the desk. It was but only a half hour between when Shiina informed her and Duffys' call.
"Anything more you can tell me of him?"
"Only what I said before ... That he's been masquerading as an NPC and that there's something strange about him," Yuri explained. "I've given orders to casually observe and have as little contact as possible."
"Well I TOLD you what's strange about him."
"That you did," the Front leader replied. "We only had a vague idea of what he could do. For all we know, you're the first non-NPC he's tried it on."
"Like I said, it didn't go well for him ... or me. You watch it around that guy, y'hear?"
"Thanks for the heads up."
"I ran into Tachibana right after."
"Seems she knows about him, probably more than you or I. Except for student business, she says she's not working with him and is leery of him too."
"That's good to know."
"Hey, one wild card at a time, right?"
"You got it!" Yuri exclaimed. "Again, thanks for the info."
"No prob, talk to ya' later."
The Front leader set the phones' reciever in its' cradle and looked over at Shiina.
"Anything to add?"
"As I said before," the ninja began in reiteration, "I spotted Naoi and the NPC from the library roof and Duffy-san moving up on them. I got over just as the gaijin started on Naoi."
"And it looked like Naoi was getting the better of him?"
"I was about to jump in when ... He rallied ... exploded."
"He was that mad, right?"
"Yes. And Naoi frightend. He was quick to leave."
The ninja girl glanced downward for a moment then back up.
"After Naoi left, Duffy-san looked like he was in terrible pain. Was on the ground holding his head. I stayed awhile longer ... made sure he was alright and that Naoi had left the area ... Then came straight here."
Yuri felt Shiina might be leaving something out but couldn't put a finger on it.
"You really like that old foreigner, don't you?"
"I respect him, nothing more."
Looking into the burgundy eyes of the tracker, the Front leader could tell it was so.
Shiina WAS holding out, having made no mention of what she overheard while Duffy had been talking to himself. As it was always Yuris' policy of any personal info be submitted by the person him/herself, Shiina felt she was in no betrayal by with-holding.
Leaving the office, Shiina thought on what she overheard Duffy say in his anguish.
Everyone here was broken in some way. Having dark corners in their minds they would as soon not see illuminated. The way the man carried on to himself proved how heavy the burden he carried. And the weight ... HEAVY. She hoped he would find a way to lighten it.
As for her, one of the ways she found to ease her own came in with several others as she was leaving.
A sidelong glance at the group held no significance to them but for one.
The significance being: Tonight. Again! You. Me. Usual place. Not neccessarily ... the usual.
To the "object of her affections" it was: Be there ... OR ELSE!
It was the alternate night of a jog instead of a brisk walk and Duffy had no intention of varying his routine. The discovery of a possible adversary was not going to deterr him. He decided if Naoi made another psychic move on him, he'd forego the excriutiating torture he proclaimed before and just put the kid "on ice" by incarcerating him in a contemplation room ... After, of course, a 1050 feet per second, cranial injection of 230 grains semi-jacketed hollow point.
To say Jack was furious, was an understatement. He, however, decided on playing it smart, kool and not let it get the better of him. Maybe he would catch that kid bullying others. Maybe that bullying would be a trap to sucker him in. Would others be in on it with the little Svengali?
Unlike Yuri, he had no compunction about shooting anyone, NPC or human, who might assist the kid. A human shield, willing or otherwise, was still a weapon that had to be taken out. None of that Blackhawk Down krap for him!
Passing by the gym building, he was brought up short.
A rear door was ajar. He distincly remembered having locked it earlier in the day.
Though off duty, Jack still carried his work radio.
"83 to 85."
"Go ahead," voice of the co-worker NPC, Kaji in response.
"Just noticed the northeast rear door to the gym is open ... Gonna' check it out inside."
"Probably one of the kids. Making a note of it, 85 clear."
He doubted it had anything to do with Naoi. He was sure it was too soon for any possible retaliation and the gym just wasn't the student Vice Pres' thing.
"Probably Takamatsu working out," he thought. The young mans' extra 'phys ed' after closing was one of the things Duffy purposely overlooked in regard to the kids. "Have to talk to him about such carelessness."
Nevertheless, Jack drew the Officers' Model Colt from its holster before entering.
Walking past the locker rooms, he glanced into the weight room. Lights off and no Takamatsu to be seen. Duffy proceeded to the gym proper. Might as well see if everything else was in order. Making a circuit of the vast space he came upon an open storage room door by the stage. The one with an HVAC unit toward the back.
Backtracking a distance, Duffy plugged in the earpiece to his radio.
"83 to 85," he whispered.
"Probably nothing but I also found the door to storage room 4 open. Gonna' check it out."
"Noted. 85 clear."
Quietly walking up, Jack quickly reached around, snapping on the storage room light. A rustling sound came from the behind the HVAC unit.
He wasn't about to just rush in. Back to the wall and off to the side he held the pistol at his side, pointed down. Though a thin possibility it MIGHT be Naoi, he wasn't going to take the risk of pointing a gun at an innocent.
Something on the floor caught his eye while taking a quick glance in. A mechanical wind up toy of a cat. He'd seen several tucked away in there before and thinking none of it, put the minor anomoly out of his mind.
"Okay ... Whoever it is ... Come on out ... Not gonna' hurt ya ... Just you're not supposed to be here after hours."
"Uh ... Duffy-san?" A male voice in response.
A young man slowly sidled out from behind the HVAC, embarrassed look on his face, followed by an equally flustered ... Eri Shiina(!?), both hastily buttoning, straightening out their ruffled clothing.
"Oh ... Geez! ... Uh ... Sorry kids." Quickly holstering the Colt, Jack turned and beat a hasty retreat. " ... um ... Thought it was ... something else ... uh ... Carry on! ... I guess ..."
The two would-be lovers stood stock still, not making a move as they heard the receding footsteps of the American. Breaking out of her stupefaction first, the ninja girl quickly moved to the door. Noting Duffys' exit from the gym, she softly closed it while snapping the light switch.
She was on the young guy so breathtakingly fast, he could only feel her approach. Feminine arms coiled about him in a constrictors' embrace, preventing movement.
"Guess I ... forgot to ... close the ... door?" His nervousness evident.
"Idiot! ... Moron!" Exclaiming low and breathlessly. "This is just so ...!"
Still holding him in irresistible enfoldment, she sank her teeth into a shoulder, expressing her displeasure at their mutual ineptness and hormones still very much in play.
"83 to 85 ... Just checked the Gym. Nothing unusual. Someone left a door open, nothing more."
"85 to 83, got that and noted."
Duffy continued with his jog around the grounds perimeter.
"Looks like Japan wins THAT one," he mused putting one step after another. "Though having successfully snuck up on Shiina ... That's gotta' be a first!"
He wasn't naive as to the things going on with young people. After all, he was one himself once.
Once? But a few months before, he was pushing retirement age and ... now? He now had the body of one still in his youth in as fantastic and weird a setting as any in science fiction.
A couple times before, he inadvertently rousted young folk engaged in "fun 'n games" while making his rounds on duty. It never occurred to him to run across "seldom seen Shiina" ... C7? And with ... THAT guy? Of all people, he never would have expected her to have any thoughts toward HIM.
Snapping out of his mirthful surmising, his thoughts turned back to Naoi. Another snake in Eden.
Eden? That required an Eve and, for him, there was none.
There certainly wasn't one among the ersatz, NPC staffers. And he wouldn't even consider any of the students, real or not. That was just wrong.
No, not Eden.
Hell? In a way ... yes.
He had no idea "Eve" was soon to arrive ...
To be continued ...
In Gods' Good Time Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.
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