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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 7

Takara didn’t hear anything more about her attending the field trip, and she didn’t ask. She waited for Patty to mention it, but she didn’t. As the day approached, she figured Mr. Tyler had given her teacher an excuse as to why she couldn’t attend. It was probably only the possibility that he could be blamed somehow for her not being able to go that he had objected to. He probably didn’t want the questions. As for his objecting to Takara bringing up the fact she possibly couldn’t attend the field trip? Why wouldn’t she have had doubts about that? What, with all the restrictions he had her adhere to — it only stood to reason she would wonder. And what was more, she could very well see him changing his mind at the last minute in order to mess with her head. In fact, every time she logged in to that one class, she was surprised to find her name hadn’t been removed from the roster. Takara had no intention of giving Mr. Tyler the satisfaction of reacting to any of his mind games.

Takara lay upon her bed and stared at the ceiling. It was a Friday and, while that used to be a joy for her, she now found herself with nothing to do. It was actually the copious amounts of free time she had that wore on her the most. She sighed. That was the moment Patty came into the room.

“Takara.” she stated. “Why aren’t you dressed yet?”

Takara looked at the woman quizzically.

“Your field trip …” Patty added impatiently.

“I’m going?” Takara wondered.

“Mr. Tyler said you would be difficult about it. He said to make sure you went …”

Instead of letting Patty finish her lecture, Takara stood and began to assemble her belongings. She decided to hurry lest they change their minds. Still, she waited for Patty to leave before retrieving the letter she had written for her mother.

Takara had begun moving the letter around the room when it was dark. She also figured someone would be less likely to search the same place twice. And though Takara concluded it was probably silly, it did give her a sliver of self-determination — something she’d been lacking for quite a while.

Today, Takara slid the letter up one of her long shirt sleeves. It was probably a warm spring day, but Takara figured her health issues would answer any questions they might have as to the reason she had dressed warmly, so that she wouldn’t have to.

After she was dressed, Takara got some surprising news. Instead of being driven to her destination, Mr. Tyler had arranged for her to take the bus. Takara tried to temper her shock that he expected her to wait outside for a bus the very first time she left the house after her coma. But then, she knew how it would look if she protested — as though she wanted special treatment — so she just nodded and let them escort her down the long, winding driveway to the side of the road.

Since they put her out early, she had time to wait and time to realize just how weak she had become between the coma and the captivity. Then, there was the fact she was standing alone in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, she wondered whether she should just throw caution to the wind and escape right then. Then again, where could she go that Mr. Tyler wouldn’t find her? She realized at that moment that her situation could get worse. Then, before she could go any further with this train of thought, she noticed that there was one security camera pointed right at her. Takara looked away and froze under its prying eye.

Fortunately, the bus pulled up not long after. Takara’s first instinct when she boarded the bus was to apologize to the other students for making them go so far out of their way in order to retrieve her. But then, she decided, if Mr. Tyler were to hear about it he would probably view that statement as a personal insult.

As it turned out, it didn’t seem to matter. Most of the students seemed to be completely uninterested in her. Then again, why should they be interested? Theirs wasn’t an abnormal reaction once Takara got to thinking about it. She probably wouldn’t look at every person who stepped onto the bus. And at least this meant that the extra distance the bus had traveled hadn’t caused the other students to become annoyed with her. Takara did manage to make eye contact with one of the students. Of course, he eventually looked away.

Takara took a seat in the middle of the bus. She leaned back in the seat. Still, even though she was being driven away from the Institute, she couldn’t completely shake that feeling of anxiety she had had since learning her father was dead. She was out in the world now, but there was no real sense of relief. Maybe it was because she knew she’d have to go back to the Institute later on that day. Or, maybe it went deeper than that. After all, she had never had a chance to say good-bye to her father, never attended the funeral. There was no one to grieve with: he was just gone.

Takara suddenly wanted to find his grave and visit it. But this trip, this only reprieve from her prison sentence at the Institute, was for a different purpose; it was to learn. Takara managed to cheer herself up by remembering that it was her father’s work that they were studying. She knew a little about the subject, too. Those nights when she would go to see him in his office — sometimes he would explain his ideas to her. It was probably to occupy her while he finished up whatever project had captivated his mind. But, still, she grew to enjoy it all the same. He’d even told her once that she had a natural ability for his work. At the time, she wondered whether he was just being her father. But after starting this course, she began to see that it was true. And she figured in this small way she could hold on to him. Certainly, she felt her father would be pleased she was following in his footsteps. It would probably be the only aspect of her current life he would be happy with.

The bus slowly rolled to a stop in front of a three-story building with tinted windows. There was a bright sign in the front declaring it to be a virtual reality center.

Takara braced herself for the inevitable falling forward followed by the falling back that came with riding the bus. Then, Miss Harrington stood at the front of the bus and gave the students instructions on the day’s assignment. She sent a copy to the students on their tablets. Takara reddened. She didn’t have a tablet. Then suddenly, as though sensing her concern, Miss Harrington announced that she had a tablet in hand that had been purchased for Takara.

Takara didn’t know what to make of that. Takara released the top of the seat in front of her, which she had been grasping, and sat back in her seat. On the one hand, it was a relief; on the other hand, Takara found it strange. Mr. Tyler on his own volition had probably arranged it. He was very aware of everything she did apparently. Only he didn’t just give her the tablet beforehand for some reason. Could it be that he didn’t want her to have it at home? Takara blushed thinking about the embarrassment that would ensue if her tablet was taken away from her at the end of the day. Miss Harrington stepped off the bus and headed into the building. One by one, the other students filed off.

It was then that Takara felt a wave of exhaustion. She braced herself. Was she even well enough to be doing this? That’s when Takara noticed that a boy, the boy who had looked at her before, had paused next to her on his way off the bus. She looked over at him.

“Are you all right?” the boy asked her. He had a serious look on his face.

Takara considered briefly. She looked down for a moment. Then, she finally looked back at him.

“Yeah, I think I’ll be fine.” she replied.

The boy smiled briefly then continued on. Takara pulled herself up and made the effort to catch up with the others.

As Takara met up with the group inside the building, Miss Harrington began to speak.

“Well, we’re going to start with a tour.” she announced.

Miss Harrington looked off to the side, and a man from the Virtual Reality Gaming Complex came forward. Takara wasn’t sure whether the tour was a good or bad thing for her. Takara wouldn’t have to think much to make it through the day, but she would have to walk. Fortunately, there was an elevator to ride on when the tour headed for the second and third floors.

There were many things of interest in the complex. Of particular interest to Takara was a computer room with the most advanced computers on the colony. With them, the students could run their own virtual reality programs. Each computer had its own booth with a tabletop to place items such as tablets on.

Another area of interest was the virtual reality corridor. Takara’s heart leapt when she heard that her father had designed those rooms and had donated the money to build them. They were apparently a smaller version of what was at the Institute. Next, there was automation. That was a more recent addition. Takara’s father would read a lot of his plans for the automation program to her. Of particular interest to him was combining the two concepts. Actually, that was what he was working on right before his death.

For a second, Takara thought the others might ask her about the facilities at the Institute. The truth was that she had never seen the facilities there; she just knew they existed. She had gotten the impression that they consisted of many large rooms that linked together, and that they even extended underground. Takara was relieved, though a bit surprised, when no one turned to her while they were discussing her father’s work. Part of her wanted to talk about her father, but since she was afraid what she might be asked if she brought it up she didn’t volunteer any information.

Then again, as Takara scanned the group of other students she did notice that one student, the same one who had approached her on the bus, had turned and looked at her when her father’s full name was mentioned.

“Could it be?” Takara wondered. “Could he know who I am?”

Takara considered.

“He does look somewhat familiar.” Takara admitted to herself. But was she just fooling herself?

Suddenly, Miss Harrington announced that they would be trying out the computers with the time remaining. Only since she hadn’t reserved the computers ahead of time, there weren’t enough computers available for all of the students. So, they would have to take turns.

Takara was not one of the first students chosen, but that boy from before was. Takara decided she may as well observe his experience. When she walked into the computer lab and began to look for the boy, she noticed an alcove she hadn’t spotted before. It jutted out from the rest of the room. The most unusual part of it was that the walls of the room were transparent. Takara kept her eyes on the view as she made her way into the room. The main room and the entrance below began to unfold before her. Then, right to her left was the boy from before and a couple of other students observing. Takara crept in beside them. Her attention was split between what was happening below her and what was on the screen. Takara began to slowly tap her toe against the floor. After a few moments, the boy turned and looked at her. She turned and looked at him in return. Then, she smiled softly. He nodded then went back to his work.

Takara’s brow furrowed a bit. It was probably nothing after all. He had indeed seemed familiar, but it was probably just wishful thinking on her part, she concluded. She was so desperate to find someone who knew her — or at least who knew of her from better times — that she had started to believe she recognized this boy. It was actually a bitter disappointment. Maybe she could still build a friendship with a fellow student anyway … but that probably wouldn’t go unnoticed by the teacher. And could she even trust that student if she did reach out? Would that person trust her? Takara decided a new friendship would only work under these circumstances if that person trusted her right away and believed that her judgment could be relied upon. How could she expect that from a total stranger? She had made the mistake of hoping Patty would be on her side, but that hadn’t lasted. And what had been more disturbing was that Takara still hadn’t figured out why the woman’s attitude toward her had changed so drastically. She could only assume it had something to do with Mr. Tyler. Takara sighed.

“Can you see the screen, all right?” the boy asked her unexpectedly.

Takara looked down at him and saw a flash of recognition in his eyes. Could it be?

“All right, students. Please finish up what you’re doing and meet me in the lobby.” Miss Harrington pronounced.

As a couple of students pushed forward to get a last-minute glimpse of the screen, Takara decided to head for the elevator. She was tired. Overall, it was a good day, but her body yearned to lie down again. It was frustrating to realize that after wanting to leave the Institute for so long she wasn’t capable of making the most of this rare opportunity to be free of it. Her fatigue did have one positive effect on her; it made her determined to get stronger.

Once she got into the hallway, she saw the teacher standing at the entrance to the lobby. She was making some sort of a phone call. Takara just walked forward as usual — that is until she heard her name mentioned. Takara froze.

“Yes, we’ll be leaving right now. Yes, she’s doing fine. All right, good-bye.”

The teacher hung up. Takara released her breath as her teacher turned and saw her standing there.

“Takara … A woman called from the Institute to check up on you. I told her you were fine. I hope I didn’t overstep.”

Takara shook her head. The teacher smiled.

“I think you had a good day, but we’d better get you back.”

Takara frowned and looked off to the side.

“Yes.” she forced herself to say.

Fortunately, that boy came upon them then.

“Kenji, right?” the teacher asked.

“Yes.” The boy pushed up his glasses.

“Well, we’d all better get going.”

Takara looked at the boy named Kenji briefly as he walked past her. She thought about trying to walk next to him. But given how ill she was feeling, she doubted she could keep up with his pace. So, she decided against it. After all, trying to hold him back as though she had something important to tell him might seem incredibly suspicious. Kenji might be her only link to the outside world — that is if she didn’t blow it in the meantime.

It wasn’t until she was standing there facing the bus that she remembered her letter. Takara froze in place. It seemed as though the plan was to return to this place one day, but when? It could be weeks from now. Being at the Institute now was bad enough, but having to wait to even mail the letter that could allow her to escape seemed almost unbearable.

“Takara? Are you coming?” the teacher called from the bus.

Takara blinked. Then, almost as though Miss Harrington could tell what she was thinking, she added, “We’ll come back here soon.”

The word “soon” wasn’t exactly specific, but it was reassuring, nonetheless. Certainly, it gave Takara just enough will to spur her legs towards the bus. Still, she sighed when she retook her seat. It was disheartening to be returning to the Institute. It was as though she was on a rail, and she couldn’t get off. Takara bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t force herself to leave this train and claim her own path again. Where was this path leading anyway? Maybe it was crazy, but it didn’t feel good wherever it was going. Takara tried to convince herself that she had made progress that day towards freedom despite the fact that she had failed in her most important task: sending that letter on its way. But then there was Kenji; he could be important. She dare not look at him now, but she did see him get on the bus. Somehow, knowing someone might know who she used to be was comforting.

“All right. We seem to be missing one.” Miss Harrington checked the list. “Has anyone seen Erik Lancaster?” she asked.

People looked amongst one another. Then, a voice called out from the back, “I think I saw a guy head into the virtual reality corridor when all the computers were taken.”

“Oh.” She turned to the bus driver. “Oh. It’ll just be a moment. I’ll go find him.”

Miss Harrington headed off the bus and into the complex. It wasn’t all that long afterward that she returned with a boy, who appeared to be a bit younger than Takara and Kenji. He looked a little embarrassed as he stepped onto the bus. Still, he held the light brown hair atop his head high in spite of it.

“All right.” Miss Harrington breathed. “We can go anytime.”

The bus driver started the bus. And with a slight jostling of the students in their seats, they were off. The bus petered along dropping off one student at a time. Takara sighed. She might as well relax. After all, this was going to take awhile.

Suddenly, the bus came to an abrupt stop.

“What?!” Miss Harrington exclaimed aloud.

Takara and the other remaining students peered over the top of their seats.

“It’s okay, everyone. It’s just a tree limb.”

Suddenly, there was a loud noise in front of them and to their left. All the students seemed to turn simultaneously towards it. Then, despite Miss Harrington’s protestations, they headed to the left side of the bus in order to watch a giant … something moving off into the distance toward their right while destroying everything in its wake.

The thing was a bulky reddish creature about two-stories tall. It resembled a lobster.

“What’s that? It’s alive!” one student commented.

“No, it’s not alive.” Takara spoke up. The group turned toward her. “It’s just a robot.”

“Cool! It’s a robot!”

The students began to chatter among themselves. It was as though this was part of the course experience. Takara just kind of stared at the robot in disbelief. It was just like the automation that her father had envisioned, but the scale — that was unexpected. Takara then looked over and saw the horrified expression on Miss Harrington’s face. All the teacher kept repeating was that if they’d made it to that spot moments earlier — if they hadn’t been running late — they would have been crushed. After the creature had left their line of sight, the bus driver suggested he find an alternative route to progress. Miss Harrington seemed eager to leave the area, so they backed up and headed down a side street.

Just like that morning, Takara’s place of residence was the last stop. As she passed by Miss Harrington, she noticed that the woman was still pale. Takara paused. It really was a big deal to almost die. Takara had acknowledged that reality in her mind but wouldn’t allow herself to really feel it. After all, no one at the Institute acted as though Takara’s near-death experience had been a big deal. Takara was moved by sudden compassion, and she said to Miss Harrington in a tone she wished someone would speak to her in and with the words she secretly wished they would say: “It’ll be all right. You’ve been through a lot, but you’re still here. And tomorrow is bound to be better.”

Miss Harrington turned and looked at Takara. Takara was expecting a disapproving look to cross the woman’s face given the way she was treated at the Institute; instead, Miss Harrington broke into a beautiful smile. Then, she suddenly hugged Takara. Finally, she whispered, “Thank you, Takara. You take care of yourself.” The woman let the girl go, and Takara smiled back at her. Then, she forced herself to head off the bus and start the long walk up the driveway.

Should she have given Miss Harrington the letter? That’s almost all Takara could think about as she slowly plodded on. Takara stopped to catch her breath a moment. “When am I going to take action?” she chastised herself.

Takara had never had trouble asserting herself before. Why was she so indecisive now? It was as though she was limping along emotionally, incapable of rebalancing herself. Yet, the biggest thing — literally — that Takara thought about was that large robot that had torn through the forest and toppled those trees.

Where had it come from? Maybe the news would have a story on it — if she ever got back to the Institute. Then again, to even watch the news she would have to have permission from Mr. Tyler to stay in the atrium for a while. After all, the television sets were only left on during the work day.

“Takara!” Miss Harrington’s voice suddenly called after her in a frantic tone.

The woman came running up to Takara over the short distance Takara had been able to cover. The bus was still waiting behind the woman. Takara was unnerved that Miss Harrington appeared to be out of breath.

“Takara …” she gasped.

“Yes?”

“I need … I need your tablet back.”

 

***

 

By the time Takara made it up the steep incline of the driveway, she found she was very thirsty and, of course, tired. No one at the reception desk seemed to lift their eyes as she passed by on her way in. So, she slipped into the elevator and got off on her floor. Takara, upon entering the building, thought she might stop by her room before checking to see whether she could watch the television in the atrium. But as she passed by the atrium, the television was turned on, and it drew her attention. There was the story about the robot, and a whole group of people were standing in front of the television. Mr. Tyler was among them. Takara came up behind the group and stood there watching the footage different news agencies had managed to gather. That’s when Takara noticed that one of the receptionists she’d seen at the receptionist desk over a year ago appeared to be crying. Could it be a relative of hers had been hurt?

“Has something tragic happened?” Takara asked. The question was directed at the woman.

The woman turned and gasped. Then, Mr. Tyler and a bunch of other people turned towards Takara as well. Takara was confused.

“You should be in your room!” Mr. Tyler quickly barked at her.

Takara flushed with embarrassment. She quickly turned on her heels and walked as fast as she could back to her room. She couldn’t recall having taken a breath until she secured the door behind her. She went and grabbed the pitcher of water from her dresser and poured herself a drink. She sat on the bed and proceeded to consume the water.

“What was that about?” Takara wondered. Was it really that easy for her to mess up? One thing was for sure; the fact they were that reactive to her showed the problem was obviously them and not her. Still, it was bothersome — both because she had to live among them and because it meant she wouldn’t be able to find out more about the incident with that strange robot.

“Something just seemed oddly familiar about it.” Takara concluded.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 6

Takara was glad when the first day of school finally came. She even got dressed in her old school uniform for the occasion. Fortunately, it all still fit. She wanted to pretend things were normal as much as possible. She decided to make the best of her living situation for now. What choice did she have really?

In the meantime, she hoped she could feel normal again for a while even if her school was merely online …

 

***

 

Kenji Moto [Ken-jee Mo-to] wasn’t too pleased with the situation he found himself in. After all, he’d been looking forward to summer vacation. And yet, his parents were going to Colony 11. His mother had been assigned the task of upgrading the atmospheric regulator in that colony during the upcoming academic year. And despite protests from Kenji that he could stay behind for those few months, his parents weren’t having it. So, in order for him not to fall behind in his studies in the fall, they had him enter an online academy in the summer. His parents thought it would be a great opportunity for him since he was actually pretty smart … or so they said.

“So I get punished because I’m smart?” he retorted.

His parents just laughed. Kenji grimaced. They never did take him seriously. He sighed and sat next to the computer. He played with the mouse.

“Why? Why me?” he mumbled. He could hear his parents laughing down the hall. Kenji spun around in his chair, staring at the ceiling while he waited for the first class to begin.

“Boring.” he said aloud. Then, he caught himself lest he unwittingly cause another round of riotous laughter. He next faced the computer and, leaning his face against his hand, he waited. His eyes started to drift shut. Why did this have to be so early? Oh, that’s right. After this session, he had to go to his regular school and complete the day there. He’d have to keep up this schedule until the end of the semester. That was the moment he saw it: a name he thought he recognized on the class list.

“Takahashi, Takara … no, it couldn’t be.”

He clicked on her profile, but there was no information listed. Was she stuck as he was in this before-school program? Kenji didn’t know Takara well. She was the class president this past school year. She was actually in Class C, and he was in Class A of Level 7. He had seen her give a speech, and occasionally he saw her in the cafeteria. She seemed nice enough, though he never got the chance to say hello to her because one day she just disappeared. No one in Class A talked about it, and Kenji just assumed she moved.

Kenji considered. Maybe he should message her and ask her whether she was the same Takara he knew. But before he had a chance to click on the message link, the teacher’s face appeared on-screen. Kenji jumped back slightly and adjusted his glasses. Much to his dismay, he could hear his parents laughing again.

Kenji was pleasantly surprised by the topic of the class. It was entitled, “Advancements in Virtual Reality and Automation.” The topic was of interest to Kenji; in fact, he even thought of working for the Institute someday. Actually, he had once heard that Takara’s father worked there. Maybe it was the same girl after all; maybe she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps.

“All right. My name is Miss Harrington.” a voice came over the speaker of the computer. “I will be your teacher for this course. Well, let’s start this course by introducing ourselves … in a manner of speaking anyway. What I mean is please turn on the camera app on your computers.”

Kenji did as she requested. One by one small boxes with live images of the students appeared on-screen. The teacher’s picture was in the center. The eight other slots surrounding hers were reserved. Each slot had the name of the student underneath it.

“Oh, no.” Kenji thought suddenly.

He concluded there was no way to avoid attending these class lectures. He couldn’t just do the homework on his own time; the teacher could see if he wasn’t there. He groaned. Just having to look at his tousled black hair and his plain blue t-shirt as shown in his screenshot put him in a bad mood. He hadn’t thought his appearance would matter in an online course. Now he wished he had put a little more effort into the way he looked. Finally, the last picture came into view. It was actually she — the Takara from his school!

“I can’t believe it!” Kenji exclaimed.

“Who said that?” the teacher’s voice asked.

The other students shook their heads.

“It was I.” Kenji finally admitted. “It’s nothing.”

“Okay. Well, I’m sorry you haven’t been given your texts for this course yet. I understand the reading materials for the other courses — for those of you who are taking more than one course — have already been made available to you. The thing is I was just recently assigned to teach this course. However, I will make the reading supplements available to you by tonight. Oh, and I want to have field trips or at least some meetups so we can work on our studies firsthand. I figure in about a week we might meet at the Virtual Reality Gaming Complex.”

There were cheers all around.

“So, maybe next Friday. I will arrange to have a bus available to pick you up, if needed. Just print off the form and have a parent or guardian sign it. Oh, wait does anyone think there might be a problem? A scheduling conflict perhaps?”

Most of the students shook their heads “no” or said “no” except for one — that one student was Takara.

“Umm …” Takara started.

“Yes? Does someone have a problem?”

Kenji saw Takara look down for a moment.

“The thing of it is … I’m not sure I’m allowed to … go anywhere.” she admitted.

At the moment she admitted she was housebound, Takara wondered whether she should also admit she was trapped. But that could lead Mr. Tyler to make up stories about her just as he probably had with Patty. Still, it was very tempting. On the other hand, what she said was true. She wasn’t able to leave the house. Mr. Tyler would probably just tell the teacher that she was too sick to leave and that would be the end of that.

“Oh, well, I’m sorry to hear that.” Miss Harrington said. “I will have to give that one some thought.”

“All right.” Takara replied. “All right.”

The next day, Takara was summoned to see Mr. Tyler in the atrium. She grumbled, wondering what this could be about. She slid out of bed and began dressing herself.

“He better make this quick.” she thought. Her first class began in thirty minutes. Still, Takara felt conflicted. Should she walk there as quickly as possible to avoid being yelled at, or should she do what she suddenly felt like doing and drag her feet — proving she had some small amount of self-determination left? She sighed. She did still have things she could lose if she got decidedly on his bad side. Of course, walking quickly gave her less time to consider how she should act when she got there. Pretty much from the beginning Mr. Tyler hadn’t seemed to expect her to be friendly towards him —which was strange considering she barely knew him. Still, Takara guessed that he would be more suspicious of her if she put on a happier face now. It was true that she wanted to be treated better. Never before had people been so wary of her … so hostile. Takara couldn’t grasp what had happened. You’d think they’d have some sympathy for her; she had just been released from the hospital after months in a coma. Her father had died in the same accident that put her there. And yet, she was treated as though she were a manipulative brat. What had she done to these people? She had no history with them. She racked her brain trying to come up with a slight she had given them, but there was none that she could remember.

And yet, here she was — treated like some sort of criminal in her own home, summoned as though she needed to go to the principal’s office. Takara came upon the atrium, the room in which she had experienced some of her fondest memories. As she stood in the foyer, she found it wasn’t the same room. It was as though her cherished memories could never have happened here.

Mr. Tyler was in a meeting with another person. Takara wondered whether the meeting was about her. Maybe she had to meet with this man, too. Perhaps they were going to send her away. But then, Mr. Tyler excused himself from the gentleman’s company. He stood and walked towards Takara. When he got to her, he guided her back into the hall. Takara prepared herself for any emotional whim Mr. Tyler felt like displaying. She figured he could be nice to her one of these times just to throw her off. Most likely, however, he’d be just as skeptical and disapproving of her as he had been. Maybe she’d get a lecture about leaving her room and going into her father’s office. As it turned out, it was a lecture — only it wasn’t about her father’s office.

“Takara.” he said with familiarity. “I got a message from one of your teachers.”

Takara’s brow furrowed. She was perplexed. Certainly it was too early in the term for anyone to have any complaints about her. Was this some sort of game? Perhaps he was toying with her.

“She said you told her that you had a problem with one of the course requirements.”

He seemed to be waiting for her to say something. When she said nothing, he continued, “The field trip. You actually said you couldn’t go.”

“So?” Takara returned.

“So, you didn’t even ask me.”

“I just assumed given what happened when I asked to go to school …”

Mr. Tyler looked grim.

“The field trip isn’t optional.” he said. “So, you can go.”

“Thank you.” Takara offered.

Though her response was far from over the top, Mr. Tyler looked skeptical but said nothing. Takara was, in fact, grateful to go. But apparently Mr. Tyler wouldn’t believe any positive emotion coming from her … for some reason. Takara noted that in the future she should not appear to be too excited about anything he did for her, not if she didn’t want him to retract the offer later.

“Anyway, I have to get back to work. I’ll be sure to have your teacher contacted about this.” He paused. “… You can head back to your room now.”

Takara nodded then watched as Mr. Tyler turned around and headed away from her and toward the other man. Takara considered. She decided to turn away and get out of there. True, it was tempting to linger around the other people gathered there and feel normal for a moment. She was growing tired of being kept in the same room. Not being able to choose her own schedule heightened this feeling of being trapped.

Still, once she got outside of his scope of vision Takara slowed down significantly. They may be able to tell her where to go, but from that point on she would control how fast she got there. Since her meeting with Mr. Tyler had been so brief, Takara found she still had plenty of time before her first class. She sighed when she finally caught sight of her room. With her homework done, Takara only had thinking about what Mr. Tyler was going to say to her teacher to occupy her time until the morning class began.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 5

When Patty came the next morning, Takara was still asleep. Usually, she was awake well before Patty’s arrival. This time she heard Patty knocking at her door. Takara pulled herself up.

“Takara!” the woman cried out.

Takara went and opened the door. She had set her doorknob lock to the locked position the night before, even though she didn’t think it would be very strong. Takara had had trouble going to sleep that previous night. All she could think about was how she was being denied access to her school and to her father’s room. It seemed she had no way to contact her mother now. Still, it was the fact that she saw Mr. Tyler walking the halls the day before that had driven her to decide to go ahead and make this public display of her mistrust.

“I see you’re sleeping in this morning” Patty observed.

“I guess.” Takara returned. “But really, why does it matter?”

Patty looked surprised and somewhat annoyed as she stepped into the room. Takara closed the door.

“Actually …” the woman started.

Patty and Takara both turned toward the door as it was suddenly reopened — only Patty didn’t appear to be surprised. Takara braced herself for another visit from Mr. Tyler. Instead, it was a different man, who was carrying a box.

“Where should I put it?”

“What?” Takara asked.

“You can set it up on the table. Go ahead and move those books.” Patty directed.

“What’s going on?” Takara questioned.

Patty sighed. She obviously had a very different and very negative opinion of Takara now.

“Mr. Tyler has bought you a computer for your classes.” Patty informed her.

Takara sat on her bed as Patty turned back to the computer technician.

“I’m going to be making the girl her usual breakfast. You don’t need me here, do you?”

“No, I should be fine.” the man returned.

Patty left without another word to Takara. Takara watched the man set to work on the computer. She noticed that he had a badge from a local computer store on his shirt. It occurred to Takara that she was now a prisoner in her own home. The only people she felt she could risk trusting at all were ones who didn’t directly know Mr. Tyler … like this man.

“I guess that one’s going to have parental controls?” Takara asked.

The man looked at her skeptically.

“Of course.” He turned back.

“I guess I’ll have to be careful what I write.”

“No, I don’t think so.” the man said. “You just won’t be visiting any sites but that school’s site — so I guess it’s pretty much the same thing.”

“That’s fine.” Takara laughed.

When the man looked back, Takara was smiling.

“I was bored for so long; even homework sounds pretty good to me now.” Takara declared. Sadly, it was partly true.

The man smiled but looked doubtful. Takara looked off to the side. She could only visit the website of the school … but at least there wasn’t a keystroke logger. Then again, she couldn’t be sure of even that. And certainly, the teachers would report to Mr. Tyler if Takara said anything too provocative; Mr. Tyler wouldn’t have allowed Takara to communicate with a school, even online, if that weren’t the case.

As Takara was thinking these thoughts, Patty returned.

“Here is your usual. I hope it will be okay.”

“It’s fine.” Takara replied.

Takara wished she could go back to the way things were with Patty a week ago, but then she reminded herself it really wasn’t Takara’s fault that there was tension now. How was she supposed to know there would be an issue with her going back to school? How was she to know her asking about it would be viewed as though she were trying to get away with something? Usually kids were questioned for wanting to stay home, not for wanting to go back. Why couldn’t she leave this house or talk to other people anyway? It made no sense. Takara shook her head.

“It’s not to your liking?” Patty asked with an edge to her voice.

Takara just looked at her. What could she say that wouldn’t rub this woman the wrong way?

“It’s fine.” Takara repeated blankly.

Apparently, now she couldn’t even think without being questioned.

“All right. All set.” the computer tech stated.

“Oh, good.” Patty returned.

The cheerfulness in Patty’s voice rang hollow to Takara given Patty’s current treatment of her. The man nodded then looked at Takara.

“I hope you feel better … and enjoy your classes.”

Takara smiled sincerely.

“Thank you.” she said.

“I’ll show you out.” Patty insisted.

As they left, Takara was glad the man hadn’t alluded to their conversation. Takara had been hoping he wouldn’t think much of it if she downplayed it. As long as Patty didn’t give him the third degree, Takara doubted it would come up in conversation. Speaking of Patty, what was with her anyway? The change in her attitude towards Takara was hard to fathom. What could Mr. Tyler have said to change Patty’s opinion of Takara so completely? Takara hardly knew Mr. Tyler — or Patty for that matter. The whole situation was odd. If Takara couldn’t find a way to be viewed as a normal person again, she knew that this harsh treatment of her was bound to take a toll.

Takara stood up and headed for the computer. As she sat down, she braced herself for the possibility of more of the same bad treatment. She couldn’t trust anything completely anymore. Everyone she met online might have the same rotten opinion of her that Patty now had. Takara had effectively been isolated from everyone who knew and liked her. Still, if she didn’t try to connect with those outside the walls of the Institute it wasn’t going to get any better. One thing was for sure: playing nice with Mr. Tyler wasn’t an option. She was just getting further and further trapped in his cage. No, it was best to not care what the people around here thought of her. Her parents had always loved her, and her mother was still alive somewhere … hopefully able to be reached. Takara was determined to reconnect with her. Yes, she would find a way out of this prison they held her in even if she had to lie low for a long time before an opportunity to escape presented itself. She clicked on the power switch to the computer.

Takara ended up being somewhat relieved as she logged on to the course site. There were no people there that were mean to her. However, that might have been because the only one she interacted with on the video relay was a website administrator. The administrator helped Takara through the course selection and registration. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that the administrator was merely following a script. Takara feared that this level of emotional distance would be typical of her interaction with the school. If so, it would seem this online school wouldn’t be helpful in Takara’s efforts to contact her mother after all.

The school itself had both positive and negative aspects. The classes seemed interesting enough. Yet, Takara couldn’t help but feel agitated that she had been forced out of her old school for no apparent reason.

“All right, we’re all set here, Takara. You can access your texts online. I will send you a notice with the links.”

“All right.” Takara managed to smile.

“The next term starts on Monday. Some of the teachers have a reading list for you, so you can start working on that.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. If you have any questions, just message us.”

“Okay.”

The woman disappeared from the screen. It was nice, Takara concluded, to have someone not act negatively towards her, even though the interaction was superficial. And in addition, Takara felt a certain level of excitement. She finally had something to do with her time — something to occupy her until she found a way to contact her mother. Maybe this would give her a way to keep her morale up in case it took awhile for her to be freed.

Takara got to work reading the assigned text. Every time she started to feel bored, she would stop. Unfortunately, it was then that she realized it was even more boring to just sit in her room doing nothing. So, she would begin to read again. Unfortunately, after awhile her eyes started to blur.

“What now?” Takara thought.

There was a room down the hall, kind of big and airy. She and her father had spent time there during special occasions such as New Year’s Eve. When her father was very busy, she’d lie on the floor and read in front of the fireplace. When she first came back to the Institute from the hospital, she noticed a lot of people gathered in there. They were all dressed in business attire with drinks in their hands. It seemed the atrium, which was actually a part of her father’s wing, had been taken over by the Institute. Little by little, traces of her father were being erased. Now that her father’s door was locked, how long would it be before someone took over his office? Maybe that was why Mr. Tyler had been there: to stake out the room for himself. If the company was going to encroach this far into her living area, how long would it be before Takara completely lost her home? Or at least what was left of it.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 4

Two weeks passed. It was nighttime, and Patty had left long before. For some reason, Takara found herself awake. Everything was dark, including Takara’s room. And as Takara felt her way to the door, she felt a sense of invisibility. She liked that. She carefully opened her door and found the hall to be deserted and almost as dark as her room. Fortunately, Takara knew these halls, so the barely existent light from the skylight would be enough for her to get to her father’s room. As she progressed, she felt free for the first time since she woke up in the hospital. She felt she could determine where to go in this wing and how long to stay there. Takara breathed. She could remember feeling this way when her father was alive. Suddenly, the emotional heaviness that had weighed on her was gone.

Then, as she dragged her hand along the wall at the correct height, her fingers stumbled upon the knob of her father’s door. It was exhilarating. She opened the door and slipped inside. Then, she made her way to the sofa and sat upon it. She leaned back and listened to the clock tick. Finally, she lay down. She figured she might as well rest in here awhile. After all, it wasn’t hurting anything.

Around midnight, the clock struck; this time the sound was enough to stir Takara. Then again, maybe it wasn’t just the clock. Takara sat up when she heard the sound of feet shuffling out in the hall. The sound appeared to be coming from the entrance to the wing. Takara sat stunned as the sound became louder and louder. Finally, it stopped by the door frame. There was a moment of silence in which she could hear the person breathing. Then, the light came on. Takara squinted. When her eyes finally adjusted, there was Mr. Tyler standing in the doorway glaring at her. After a moment of gawking at her, he suddenly reached for the doorknob and shut the door. The sound of footsteps then retreated back toward where they had come from, and the sound of a large door being shut vibrated in the distance.

 

***

 

About a week earlier, Takara had begun dropping hints that she wanted to go back to school. At first Patty smiled and seemed happy about the progress Takara was making. Then, one morning — the morning after Takara’s run-in with Mr. Tyler — Patty’s reaction to the conversation became decidedly different. She frowned and cast her eyes downward.

“Well, let’s get you something to eat, shall we?” she suggested coolly.

As soon as she got Takara’s order, Patty seemed to dash from the room. Takara was confused. She tried being very nice to the woman when she returned, but after Patty arrived with the food she stood feet away and avoided eye contact. Then, Patty came forward to remove the tray. Takara tried to get the woman to look at her but to no avail.

“Is something wrong?” Takara asked.

The woman looked down at the tray.

“No, it looks like you’ve eaten most of it. Good job.”

She glanced at Takara then departed from the room. Takara didn’t know what to think. She wished she had been more direct with Patty somehow. So, when Takara saw the door slowly reopen to her room she was relieved.

“Patty.”

Takara recoiled when she saw the frame of Mr. Tyler quickly slip through the doorway. He then carefully shut the door behind him.

“Did I scare you? I didn’t mean to.”

Takara ‘s eyes narrowed.

“What …?” she uttered.

“I heard you were planning on going back to school.”

“Yes.”

“So, I thought we should talk about that.”

“Talk about what?”

Mr. Tyler stepped away from the door. Takara did her best to hold her ground while she remained sitting on the bed.

“Well …” Mr. Tyler grabbed a chair and sat in it. He entwined his fingers and leaned forward. Takara questioned what he could possibly be up to.

“I’ve been thinking you’re a smart girl. I think you should be capable of studying from home. There’s an online school I think we might try. You can get your assignments and any help you may need over the school’s network.”

“But why?” Takara pondered.

“Well, what’s the rush in going back to your old school? I realize you’re bored. Really, Takara, this seems to be the best solution given your health. I would hate for you to get sick again. Also, it turns out that they have an advanced program for those as smart as yourself …” He paused. “All right.” The man stood. “I’m glad we had this talk.”

Mr. Tyler quickly left the room. Maybe Takara was being paranoid, but his words felt almost like a threat to her. Either way, it appeared as though Takara’s plan to get out of the Institute had failed.

Takara hadn’t wanted to speak to Patty at dinner, and apparently the feeling was mutual. They barely spoke, except for the necessary niceties such as Takara’s menu selection. This wasn’t going to work. Takara needed to contact her mother. And now she knew for sure there wasn’t anyone here whom she could ask to contact her mother for her. She had to find a way to do it herself. She needed her mother. Her mother was her only family and her only way to get out of this prison.

Needing to think, Takara headed to her father’s office later that night. Only when she got there, she found the door was locked. She pulled at the door in disbelief. Sure enough, the door was locked. Takara headed back to her room. She was grateful for two things: that she already had her mother’s address and that there was no lock on the outside of her bedroom door.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 3

Takara made a lot of effort to get better. She ate well and tried walking back and forth down the hall in front of her room. Takara and her father had resided in a wing on the second floor of the Institute. There had been a guest room in this suite. This was the room that Patty was given. Patty didn’t sleep there overnight, but she used it as a sort of office when Takara didn’t need her during the day. Takara’s room was between Patty’s room and the room her father used to occupy.

As Takara walked down the halls, she noted her father’s room. At first, Takara purposefully didn’t look at the room. But on subsequent days her eyes would drift to the side and towards the room.

Eventually, Takara stopped in front of her father’s door. Her hand hesitated on the knob. She breathed. Finally, she turned the knob. She stepped inside then shut the door behind her. Unlike her room that seemed to be different somehow, her father’s room seemed the same. Of course, she hadn’t spent much time in there actually. Her memories of that room basically consisted of peeking into the room nearly every evening. She would take her father a cup a green tea. It was one of the few moments that Hayato Takahashi would actually stop his work and take a break. Dr. Takahashi would spend hours straight consumed with his work. Yet, he would never seem to be annoyed when Takara stepped in briefly; in fact, it ended up becoming part of their nightly routine. Once he even said this was the best part of his day. Takara wasn’t completely sure whether she believed that, but it made her feel good all the same.

Takara felt protective of her father. Even though he never let on, she could tell it bothered him being away from Takara’s mother, Ran. They had all planned to move to Colony 29 as a family. Dr. Takahashi had finally gotten the financing to open the Institute, and he concluded that Colony 29 was the ideal place to establish it. It had many qualified scientists that could be hired. It was merely days before they were to board the shuttle to Colony 29 that Takara’s mother got a phone call. Her boss had recommended her to replace the CFO of one of his subsidiaries. It was a tense few days. Takara’s parents talked a lot in soft subdued voices; then, they just stopped talking altogether. When it was time to board the plane, Ran Takahashi gave her daughter a hug and a message capsule, so they could exchange messages. Takara knew what that meant. Her parents had decided that, though Dr. Takahashi would work as much as Mrs. Takahashi, since Dr. Takahashi would be residing where he worked the Institute would be a better place for Takara to live. This would allow Dr. Takahashi to work from home in a manner of speaking. It was settled; Takara would live with him. So, Takara and her mother said they loved each other, and Takara and her father left. Takara looked back towards her mother until she disappeared from view.

No one asked Takara what she wanted. The fact was she was almost grateful for that. She wouldn’t have wanted to choose; she didn’t think she could have. She learned later in a communication with her mother that she was going to seek a transfer to Colony 29 as soon as it was available. That was nine years ago. No one said that the situation was definitely going to change back to the way it had been; no one said much of anything.

Takara decided she would come back to her father’s office again soon. She thought it would make her feel better. She had thought of something else to do right then. Takara stepped out of the room and carefully shut the door behind her. She remembered she had gotten a message from her mother before the accident. Takara hadn’t replied then. It seemed as though this would be a good time to respond — even if she dreaded being the one to announce her father’s death. No one said anything about her mother knowing about his death. Maybe they didn’t even know her mother existed. Either way, it would take some time for her mother to come to get her once she received word — if that was even possible.

As Takara stepped outside the door to her father’s office, she could see Patty’s form enter her room. She could hear Patty call her name. Takara quickened her pace to meet her. She didn’t want anyone to wonder where she’d been. She wanted to keep her visits to her father’s room a secret.

Patty stepped back into the hall just as Takara arrived.

“Oh, there you are. Oh good, you’ve been walking.”

Takara just smiled.

“Well, I’m supposed to take your vital signs as part of your discharge orders. Also, I wanted to know what you wanted for lunch.”

“Wow!” Takara exclaimed. “I’m not used to having such treatment!”

“Really? As great as this place is, I would have thought this was the lifestyle you were accustomed to.”

Takara frowned.

“Not really.” she said. “I helped my father cook dinner. I had lunch at school most days.”

“So, you go to school?”

“Yes. Grove Academy. I am at Level 7 — at least I was. I imagine I have a lot of catching up to do. I wonder whether I’ll have to repeat the year now.”

“Well, we can see whether they’ll give you some of your work to catch up on. Really though, we should just be grateful you survived given how bad the accident was.”

Something flashed through Takara’s mind then, and it caused her head to spin.

“Come on.” Patty said. “You shouldn’t be overdoing it.”

Patty took Takara by the arm and led her to her bed.

“Thank you.” Takara offered.

“No problem.” Patty replied.

Patty suddenly started treating Takara like a young child.

“I’m going to go ahead and make you some of my homemade chicken noodle soup. It always made my kids feel better. I just wish there were someone to take over when I go home in the evenings.” she lamented.

Takara looked at Patty searchingly. Obviously, her dizzy spell had really frightened the woman. Then, a thought occurred to her.

“You don’t think I’ll have to go back to the hospital?” Takara questioned.

The woman looked at her in stunned silence. Obviously, that was what the woman had been thinking. Takara’s eyes began to water.

“No.” Patty was quick to offer. “But I do think it would be good for you to get in to see your doctor. I’m not a nurse. A professional needs to be keeping an eye on you.”

Takara nodded.

“Now let me get the soup.” She patted Takara on the arm. “It’ll be okay.” she reassured Takara.

Patty left, and Takara looked after her. Takara really wanted to confide in Patty about the message she was planning to send her mother — but she just couldn’t. Patty wasn’t wary of Mr. Tyler the way Takara was. Patty might, therefore, say something to him. Takara didn’t know whether Mr. Tyler would have a problem with Takara contacting her mother, but just in case he did she couldn’t chance him finding out. The relationship between Takara and her mother had been distant since the move. Takara couldn’t stand the possibility of being left wondering why if her mother never responded to the announcement of her father’s death. No, Takara would make contact with her mother once she was sure she was alone, so no one could stop her. In Takara’s mind that meant getting back to school and, therefore, out of the Institute as soon as possible.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 2

The next day was busy with one medical test after another. For some reason, Takara wasn’t too scared about the tests. Before the accident, Takara could remember being afraid of needles. The tuberculosis test she had had as a child had left her in tears. Now she felt numb – or at least she thought she did.

After she got back to her room after the MRI, the X-Rays, the CT scan, and the blood tests, Takara thought she was done. When she found out that there was yet another blood test, she grew agitated. Fortunately, the nurse mentioned her diet had been upgraded to normal foods. When Takara was handed a real menu, her mood improved significantly.

“I’d recommend the turkey.” Mrs. Taylor called from the other side of the curtain.

Takara looked at the curtain a moment.

“Thank you.” Takara called back.

Takara reached for the phone. She felt a jolt of enthusiasm that she hadn’t felt since she awakened. Then, Takara spied her teddy bear wedged in the crack between the mattress and the bedrail. She suddenly felt a bit bad for her teddy bear — that she hadn’t been more affectionate towards him. She patted him on the head. Room service answered the call, and Takara gave them a pretty large order. Then, she thought better of it; she reduced it by half. After all, Takara may have felt hungry, but she doubted her stomach could accommodate all that food. She did opt to keep Mrs. Taylor’s suggested turkey, so that Mrs. Taylor wouldn’t be offended. Besides, Takara liked turkey.

It seemed like forever before the meal arrived. Takara wasn’t sure she could stand the wait much longer. Finally, as the sun started to fall beneath the horizon, she could hear the familiar sound of the food cart as it rolled down the hall. Finally, it was coming with actual food for her! The food attendant went to Mrs. Taylor’s bedside first, and for a second she thought she heard the cart turning away. She gripped the blanket in her hands. Fortunately, the woman turned back around and headed for Takara’s bed.

“All right, Ta-ka-ra Ta-ka-ha-shee?”

“Yes.” Takara responded.

It was close enough anyway. She would take the shaky pronunciation if it meant keeping the food. The woman placed the plate on a tray and positioned the food in front of her. Takara thanked the woman, who nodded then left.

Takara unwrapped the silverware and placed the napkin in her lap. As she swallowed her first bite of the turkey, Mrs. Taylor asked, “So, how is the turkey?”

“It’s delicious!” Takara admitted.

“Yes, it’s great, isn’t it? I’m actually going to miss it tomorrow.”

“Why? What happens tomorrow?”

Takara thought Mrs. Taylor meant she was going to have another procedure tomorrow or the next day. She had just had one that morning.

“Oh, I’m going home tomorrow.” Mrs. Taylor stated.

Takara sat back and away from her meal. For some reason, she was afraid to have Mrs. Taylor leave. Suddenly, Mrs. Taylor pulled back the curtain.

“You’re going to miss me, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Yes.” Takara replied earnestly.

Mrs. Taylor seemed surprised by the response.

“I mean, I’m happy for you.” Takara added.

“Well, don’t worry. You’ll be let out soon.”

“Yes.” Takara said. “I hope so … I hope so.”

 

***

 

Just like every test she had been given while she had been unconscious, when the latest test results came back they showed nothing that would explain why she had been in a coma all this time. The doctors would have to be satisfied with the explanation that comas were hard to understand. Fortunately, the fact that the test results didn’t indicate a problem allowed Takara to be discharged the following day. On that day, she was given instructions to take along with her so that she could deal with a few issues: she was anemic and a bit malnourished. She also had muscle atrophy.

“That would explain the weakness I feel.” Takara told her doctor.

“Yes.”

“Will I get better?”

“There’s no reason to think that you won’t. The tests don’t show any permanent damage.”

Takara nodded. Dr. Thatcher noticed the girl seemed a bit down. That seemed odd given how much she had wanted to go home. So, Dr. Thatcher took the opportunity to ask, “Do you have any concerns you need to ask me about?”

“No,” Takara considered. “I don’t think so.”

“So, you feel ready to go home?”

“I think so. I mean, it won’t be the same without my father.”

“That must be it.” Dr. Thatcher concluded to himself. “Well, do you have a family doctor you can follow up with?” he asked her.

“Yes.”

“Are you comfortable making an appointment?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Well, I’ll give you my card. If you need anything or start to experience any odd symptoms, feel free to call my office. I specialize in neurology.”

Takara took the card from him.

“All right.”

“I wish I had more answers for you.” the doctor admitted.

“That’s okay.”

Dr. Thatcher smiled. He reminded himself that this was the outcome he had hoped for; this was a success story. He had done everything he could for her. Yet, something was troubling him. Dr. Thatcher decided to dismiss the concern. It was important to maintain some professional distance; he wouldn’t do any of his patients any good if he didn’t.

“Well, I’ll have the nurse call your contact information. And I’ll get that paperwork filled out for you.”

He offered her his hand, and she took it.

“It was nice meeting you, Takara.”

“Yes. Thank you for your help.”

Dr. Thatcher left. It wasn’t all that long afterward that a nurse came in to remove Takara’s IV. Next, Takara was wheeled out toward the nurse’s station where a young woman Takara vaguely remembered seeing at her father’s office was waiting for her.

“Hello, Takara.” The woman smiled with a large grin on her face.

“Hi.” Takara returned in a more reserved tone.

The woman seemed surprised. It was true that Takara had been more of an extrovert before the accident. Maybe it was the loss of her father or her current weakness, but she didn’t have the energy to be enthusiastic with people right now.

“Well.” she said, placing her hand on Takara’s shoulder. Takara looked down at the hand for a moment. “Let’s get you home, shall we?”

Takara managed a smile.

The woman, Angela Barts, looked at the orderly who was pushing the wheelchair for a moment.

“If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to the car.”

Angela Barts turned abruptly and headed toward the door. The orderly began pushing Takara in that direction right away. Takara suddenly wished she could slow the journey down, but then what good would that do? Takara couldn’t stay at the hospital; she’d have to go home eventually.

The “car” that was waiting for her was actually a limousine from the Institute. Takara gripped the arms of her wheelchair. The limo was just like the one she and her father were riding in on the day of the crash.

“Whatever happened to the driver?” Takara asked aloud.

Angela turned toward her; she looked at Takara with curiosity.

“I’m not sure.” she said. “I believe he’s fine, though, and has moved on to another company.”

“I can’t recall his name.” Takara admitted.

“Well, you don’t need to, Takara. As I’ve said, he’s fine. And he wasn’t at fault for the accident.”

Takara looked up at Angela Barts quizzically. Why did she assume Takara meant something like that?

“Well, let’s get you in the car, all right?”

Takara noted that there was an edge to Angela’s voice. The orderly helped Takara into the back seat. Takara thanked him. Angela sat across from her then pulled the door shut; next, she tapped on the glass behind her. The car pulled forward and headed off. Angela Barts then made a short phone call on her cell phone. During the conversation, she basically just confirmed what the other speaker was saying. After the call was over, Angela stared off into space toward the window on her side. Takara could tell that the woman was avoiding eye contact with her. Had what Takara asked really bothered her that much? Just as Takara was going to speak again, Angela received a call. This time she talked a lot more. By the sound of it, the conversation seemed more personal in nature, and it was almost as though Takara wasn’t even present anymore. Takara decided to look out her window lest the woman remember she was there and think she was purposely eavesdropping.

The city streets started becoming less crowded, and the trees began to increase in number as they headed toward the Institute. It wasn’t long before the massive building surrounded by a tall, wrought iron fence came into view. It was actually quite intimidating all of a sudden.

Takara had thought her fear would have left her when she returned home. Only it seemed to have followed her there. Takara realized when her father was alive the Institute felt like home; now it didn’t. Instead, Takara wondered whether she really had a place here anymore. What would stop them from kicking her out tomorrow? It seemed to her that they owed her next to nothing. Takara wasn’t even aware how her father provided for her in his will. All she knew was that Mr. Tyler was in control of her father’s estate … and her. Speaking of Mr. Tyler, Takara was surprised to find him standing at the entrance to the Institute waiting for them when the limousine pulled into the circular drive. Takara suspected that at least one of the calls Angela had made had more than likely been made to him.

Takara hesitated as Angela slid out of the back seat and opened the door. It occurred to Takara that Angela appeared to be very comfortable with the limousine. Angela flounced up to Mr. Tyler.

“We’ve brought Takara home safely.” Angela then turned back toward the limo and finally noticed that Takara hadn’t left the vehicle. She looked at Takara with a confused and annoyed look on her face.

“Come on.” She waived Takara out of the vehicle.

Takara slowly pulled herself out of the back seat. She pulled her bear along with her as she exited.

“She hasn’t been herself since …” Takara heard Angela say.

Takara stopped short and glared at Angela. Takara wouldn’t have presumed to say personal things about Angela; she hardly knew the woman. And to Takara’s knowledge the woman hardly knew her. Takara climbed the rest of the way out of the vehicle.

“Well, are you going to thank Mr. Tyler for all he’s done for you?” Angela asked in a condescending tone as though Takara was a mere child.

“That’s fine. That’s not necessary, Miss Barts. Takara has been through a lot. I’m just happy to see she’s all right.”

Takara just looked blankly at Mr. Tyler for a moment.

“Well, Patty should be here any minute. Ah, here she is.”

An older woman came upon them then.

“Takara, this will be your nanny.”

“Nanny?”

“Yes, she will take care of all your needs.”

“You can come shake her hand, Takara.” Angela directed her.

Takara hesitated. She decided she didn’t like Angela. Still, because she didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with her new caretaker, she decided to do as Angela instructed. That didn’t mean Takara trusted Patty. After all, she didn’t trust Mr. Tyler or Angela, and it seemed obvious that Patty would be reporting to one of them. Takara reached out to shake the woman’s hand. Patty looked at the hand for a moment.

“She’s not contagious.” Angela reassured her.

Patty looked as though she felt a bit ashamed but then reached out for Takara’s hand. Takara’s heart sank a bit.

“Well, let’s get you to your room.” Patty suggested.

“Is it the same one?” Takara asked.

Everyone looked at Takara funny. Patty seemed confused. Angela and Mr. Tyler appeared to be insulted.

“Don’t worry.” Patty assured the other two. “Let’s go, Takara.”

Takara was glad to follow the woman just to get away from the other two. When they were alone on their way to her room, Patty said, “I’m sorry for before. They didn’t tell me why you were in the hospital, and my daughter and her kids live with me.”

“That’s fine.” Takara smiled at her. Something about this woman seemed sincere. Patty smiled at her. Takara was relieved when they got to her room. It was the same one. Takara opened the door. For the first time, it occurred to her that her room had a lock on the door. Funny, it had never occurred to her to want one before.

“Well, if you need anything.” Patty handed Takara a portable intercom. “Just let me know.”

“Thank you.” Takara stated.

Patty smiled again then left. Takara shut her door. The room looked exactly the same, but it didn’t feel the same. Takara went and lay down on her bed with her bear. It felt good to be in her own bed again, and yet she couldn’t wait for the sun to go down. Somehow, it felt as though people could see her.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 1

Many decades earlier, technology had advanced far enough to make space colonization a possibility. Of course, not everything could be anticipated. Most of these unexpected issues were able to be worked around without incident. There were, however, some major issues that weren’t able to be gotten around. Those “issues” were the nebula reapers: entities of strength, speed, and ferociousness. The nebula reapers attacked ships and their passengers and consumed them regularly. Fortunately, the creatures would hibernate periodically in clusters, and the first attempts at containing them in energy force fields seemed to work. There were many roving groups of these creatures, and one such group was spotted and contained close to the doomed planet of Colony 52.

Colony 52 hadn’t planned on using its force fields to contain the nebula reapers; it was just a fluke that seemed to work. At first, it was actually a source of pride for Colony 52 that they had stumbled upon a solution to the nebula-reaper problem that other colonies would later emulate. The colonists believed the containment field would be a solution – that the nebula reapers were merely a temporary inconvenience. After all, how long could they live in there? Only they didn’t die — at least not enough of them — and their presence started to scare off supply traffic to Colony 52. As the years passed, the resources of Colony 52 began to dwindle, and the fear of the nebula reaper’s looming threat increased. The colonists of 52 were no longer the vanquishers of the reapers. The reapers were winning — patiently waiting out their captors.

Then one day, disaster struck and an explosion from a then unknown source ripped through space. The cluster of nebula reapers on Colony 52 was freed. Tragically, it wasn’t long afterwards that most of the inhabitants of the tiny planet were gone — more than likely consumed by the nebula reapers.

What was more, this group of nebula reapers seemed to have learned from their captivity. This development made the nebula reapers particularly difficult to contain, and, therefore, a larger threat to the other colonies and their citizenry. Their increased level of aggressiveness, cunning, and even speed was unexpected and alarming. Each reaper also seemed to no longer have a problem attacking its own. Oftentimes, they no longer felt the need to travel as a group. However, when they did move as a unit, they found they had an ample supply of things to feed off of when contained.

Far away from the remains of Colony 52, there was a tiny planet known as Colony 29. It was a planet rich in resources. Because of this plentitude, the colony developed a large scientific community. It was not surprising, therefore, that when the news of the outcome of Colony 52 came to the attention of the Security Force that help from Colony 29 was sought. In particular, there was one man named Dr. Hayato Takahashi [Ha-ya-to Ta-ka-ha-shee], a leading researcher and the founder of the renowned Virtual Reality and Robotics Institute, who was approached for assistance.

Since the nebula reapers were no longer able to be consistently contained as a group, the Security Force was open to new ideas. And Dr. Hayato Takahashi had the most innovative concept of all the scientists on Colony 29 — arming the individual for ground combat. At least this way a person would stand a fighting chance against a rogue reaper. Dr. Takahashi had actually been working on the concept for years despite other people’s insistence that the nebula-reaper threat had been resolved. But Dr. Takahashi persisted. And, though he had yet to complete his work, there were rumors all over Colony 29 that a breakthrough was imminent — that was until Dr. Takahashi’s untimely demise.

Takara Takahashi [Ta-ka-ra Ta-ka-ha-shee] had been in a hospital bed for months. She had been in a coma that entire time. No one knew exactly why she was unconscious for so long. True, the concussion she had sustained was severe, but all of the tests showed that her brain activity was normal. It was particularly difficult to be a doctor on such a scientifically advanced colony and not be able to help a patient. Everything Dr. Thatcher had tried seemed to do nothing. Takara just continued to lie there day after day – so still … so very still. One of the nurses suggested Takara seemed as though she was waiting for something. But what? Another offered that Takara looked like Snow White with her long, straight black hair and wan complexion. The only part of that observation that had been helpful to Dr. Thatcher was the comment about Takara’s complexion. The severe paleness was a sign that Takara’s health was poor. Dr. Thatcher just couldn’t figure out the reason Takara’s health was no longer improving. Strangely enough, it wasn’t until the hospital ran out of room and had to move Mrs. Taylor, a rather talkative patient, in with Takara that a breakthrough occurred.

Mrs. Taylor was waiting to have surgery several days after her admittance. Given that Mrs. Taylor was something of a social butterfly, after visiting hours she would talk to Takara about a television program she was watching or about what the weather was like outside of their shared window. Then one day, as Mrs. Taylor was recovering from her surgery, Takara finally opened her eyes. Mrs. Taylor quickly pressed the nurse’s call button repeatedly.

“Hurry! It’s a miracle! She’s awake!”

The nurses arrived soon after; still, Mrs. Taylor felt as though it had been a long time. Mrs. Taylor had been afraid the girl’s eyes would drift shut again, and that the hospital staff would think Mrs. Taylor was just loopy from her pain medication. Fortunately, the girl’s eyes were still open when the nurses got to her. Oddly enough, as they looked upon Takara they noted that Takara’s eyes seemed to be fixated on the ceiling. Mrs. Taylor was rather insulted when one of the two nurses then pulled the curtain closed between Mrs. Taylor and Takara thereby blocking Mrs. Taylor’s view.

“There’s gratitude for you!” Mrs. Taylor exclaimed.

Not long after that, Dr. Thatcher arrived and went beyond the curtain. As he emerged moments later and seemed to be leaving the room again, Mrs. Taylor spoke, “See it’s all the talking I did. The girl just needed to hear a human voice.”

Dr. Thatcher wasn’t sure what to make of Takara’s stare. Her eyes were responsive to light, but she just stared unseeingly forward. Eventually, he snapped his fingers next to the side of her face; however, instead of her eyes moving to the side, they just started to water. Then, about a minute later, her eyes shifted over, and she looked squarely at the doctor. Next, her eyes slid from person to person until she had looked at every one of the medical staff who was staring down at her.

“Let’s remove the feeding tube.” the doctor mentioned.

Takara coughed violently as the tube was removed. Then suddenly, Takara sat straight up in bed.

“Father!” she screamed. “Father!!”

Takara then pulled her knees up to her chest and wept.

“Honey!” a nurse called out. The nurse placed her hand on the young girl’s shoulder.

Takara’s lip quivered as she looked back at the nurse.

“Where — where’s my father?” Takara finally got up the nerve to ask.

The medical professionals looked amongst one another.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Takara’s voice cracked. Her voice didn’t sound right to her; it sounded hollow. “Where is he?”

“Should I get her a sedative?” one nurse whispered.

“No. We can’t risk that.” The doctor leaned down beside Takara’s bed.

“I’m very sorry, Takara. There was an accident. Your father died.”

Takara’s brows furrowed in disbelief. Then, she buried her face in her hands and began quietly sobbing.

“She’ll be all right.” the doctor concluded. He looked at the nurses, who looked helplessly back at him. Dr. Thatcher hadn’t considered what would happen when Takara woke up. Dr. Thatcher had been so preoccupied by whether she would wake up at all that he hadn’t considered what would become of her if she did. When she came into the ER, Dr. Thatcher had seen her with her father — wheeled in on gurneys side by side. He had handled thirteen-year-old Takara’s case. Later, when he heard her father hadn’t made it, he somehow still viewed them as a unit. Now it occurred to him that the young girl was alone. There hadn’t been a single visitor. How could that be, and what would become of Takara now?

“Who’s been paying the bills?” the doctor whispered to one of the nurses.

He received an odd look from the nurse.

“I’m trying to figure out whom we should contact.”

“Oh.” the nurse looked at the girl. “I’ll go find out.”

The first nurse left the room.

“Would you like something to eat or drink?” the other nurse asked Takara. Then, she paused abruptly. She turned toward the doctor. “Is that okay? You haven’t updated her chart.”

“Yes. Only start her on a clear liquid diet.”

“Yes, Doctor.” the second nurse stated before she also left.

Doctor Thatcher waited anxiously for the first nurse to return. Eventually, Takara looked up at him through her tears. The doctor looked at her.

“I’m sorry you had to hear about it that way.” he awkwardly put forth.

Takara nodded.

Suddenly, the curtain was pulled back halfway. The first nurse had returned, and she was carrying in her arms a small brown bear with a purple ribbon tied around its neck.

“I wasn’t sure what you would like. I’ve always liked teddy bears, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

She offered the toy to Takara. Takara looked at it quizzically for a moment then reached out and took it.

The doctor looked at the nurse expectantly. She gestured with her head that they should talk off to the side.

“The bill’s been paid by her father’s institution. There is no other contact information. I’m afraid there might not be anyone who can take responsibility for her. After all, she’s had no visitors.” the nurse informed the doctor.

“Oh yes, she has.” Mrs. Taylor spoke up.

Mrs. Taylor was a bit surprised by the look on the medical professionals’ faces. But then she realized they must have thought she was asleep. She hadn’t really done anything to make them think otherwise. After all, they were used to her speaking nonstop when she was awake.

“At least I believe so.” Mrs. Taylor corrected. When the look on their faces suggested they were going to dismiss her account, she added that the man only came once — the first night Mrs. Taylor was in the room. “I never saw him after that. The strange thing was he left right away when he saw me. At the time I thought he had the wrong room, but then he had burst in here as though he knew for sure where he was going. Still, as I said, he never did come back.”

The doctor and the nurse looked at one another unsure of what to make of Mrs. Taylor’s story. If someone had come looking for Takara, then that could be a good thing. But then why would he come at night? And why would he leave and not return?

“Well, go ahead and call the phone number of the Institute. Maybe they can locate some sort of will or something. If we can’t find a suitable guardian for this girl … Well, let’s see what we’re dealing with before we go there.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

The nurse filed out. The doctor left as well. He figured there was no point in being around until things were settled. Still, Mrs. Taylor was surprised the staff would leave that young girl alone again.

Mrs. Taylor reached out to the curtain. It took some effort and some stretching to get a handle on the fabric; finally, she grasped the divider with two fingers. It took a couple of attempts before she was able to open the curtain wide enough to see the girl.

The girl was looking straight ahead. At first, Mrs. Taylor wasn’t sure the girl was aware that the curtain had been moved. But then suddenly, she looked over at the woman with curiosity.

“Hey, I’m going to be your roommate for a while. It must be very hard for you that you’ve lost so much time.”

Takara’s forehead crinkled.

“How long has it been?”

“Well, I’m not sure. It’s just that the doctors and nurses acted as though it’s been awhile.”

“Well, what day is it?” Takara asked.

“I’m not sure exactly.” Mrs. Taylor reached over and grabbed a newspaper from off her nightstand.

“March 29th.” Mrs. Taylor read.

“The last thing I remember was going to a New Year’s Eve party with my father …” Takara began blankly. “We went into a limousine afterward. I think there was ice on the road that night. Could that have been it … what caused this to happen to us?”

Takara touched her head with her hand suddenly. There was pain there. It started when she saw a flash of something in her mind she didn’t want to think about. Whatever it was, she knew it wasn’t something she wanted to remember.

Takara instead decided to focus on the memories she had from the time right before the accident. Then again, in a way it was more painful thinking of those last moments with her father. They had been attending a New Year’s Eve gala. They had been introduced to the large gathering below while standing at the top of a very large staircase. Takara had worn a long red velvet dress; her hair was pulled back in a braided updo. Takara usually wore her hair in a loose braid, but this was a special occasion. She had even accentuated her hair with red jeweled barrettes. Over her hands, Takara carried a white muff.

Takara’s father, a man of medium height, escorted Takara down the staircase. Her father was always a distinguished man with a kind smile and a pair of small spectacles on his face. This night he replaced his white lab coat for a dark gray suit. He usually worked so hard that Takara wasn’t able to have her father’s full attention very often. But this night her father had made time for her, and Takara couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Takara guessed that the dress she had worn that night must have been ruined in the crash. But that locket her father had given her for her birthday, was that also gone? She needed something to hold on to. Takara looked at the bear. She grasped it to her chest and lay back down on the bed. Takara felt exhausted. She had been unconscious for over three months; maybe she’d slip back under once more. Takara’s eyes watered and tears slipped down her face. Did she really want to stay awake? But then the question of what might happen to her if she did fall away again came to Takara’s mind. She wiped her eyes.

Takara realized that she didn’t have any real control over her future. Yet, if there was something she could do to improve her chances, she decided she would try. The first thing she wanted to do was to get out of this bed and eventually out of this hospital. Takara wanted to sleep in her own bed again.

“Teddy bear,” she whispered. “You’ll like my room. There are a bunch of stuffed animals there you can be friends with.”

Takara curled up in a ball on her side with Teddy wrapped in her arms.

“It will be nice to sleep …”

It was dark when Takara woke up again. Her first thought was one of wondering how long she’d been asleep. Her second thought was one of wondering what that form was that was looming by her side.

“Doctor?” Takara whispered.

Takara could see the man’s eyes glisten from the dim light streaming in from the outdoor street lamps. When there was no reply — only breathing — Takara began to freak out.

“Who are you?” she gasped as she lurched backward on her bed.

Takara turned away and began to scream as the man seemed to reach for her. Suddenly, the light by Mrs. Taylor’s bed came on.

“What’s going on? Are you all right, girl? I’m calling for a nurse!”

Takara could see the man retract from her bed. Takara squinted at him.

“Mr. Tyler?” Takara murmured.

Suddenly, the nurse entered the room and was redirected by Mrs. Taylor to Takara’s bedside. The doctor came in soon after, seemingly fearing the worst; instead, they found a strange, thin man of medium height with slightly disheveled, stringy, pale blond hair standing by Takara’s bedside. Despite the girl’s frantic look, the man appeared as though nothing was unusual. His striking business attire made him appear to be less than threatening. Still …

“Hello, you must be Takara’s doctor.” The man offered the hesitant doctor his hand. “I’m Mr. Tyler. I was a colleague of Dr. Takahashi at the Institute … I just received your phone call.”

“Oh, yes.” the doctor said, taking in the scene. “I just wasn’t informed by the nurse’s station that you had checked in.”

“Oh, I didn’t.”

The doctor had taken up Mr. Tyler’s hand; now, he released it.

“You wouldn’t happen to be the one who Mrs. Taylor saw in this room the other day – the one who came to see Takara.”

“Yes, that was me.” the man said, situating the vase on a nearby bedside table to his liking. “I lost my nerve I’m afraid to say. I didn’t know what to say to the child … assuming she could even hear me.” Mr. Tyler looked up. “So, is she ready to be released?”

“I’m afraid not.” the doctor said. “I’ve set up some tests tomorrow to make sure she is all right. I wouldn’t feel right about releasing her until I was sure she was ready.”

Mr. Tyler looked over at Takara.

“Yes, of course. Well, call the Institute again, and I’ll send someone to pick her up.”

“I’m sorry but do you have the authority to take her?”

“Oh, yes.” Takara was surprised when Mr. Tyler pulled something out of his breast pocket. “Here. I am the executor of the estate. I also went to the trouble of becoming Takara’s guardian.”

The doctor took the form and looked it over just to be sure. This whole situation left Dr. Thatcher with an uneasy feeling, but he couldn’t pinpoint a valid objection. He handed back the document. Takara watched the document as it was passed back and forth.

“Do I get to go home?” she asked.

“As soon as you’re released.” Mr. Tyler said without looking at her. He put the form back into his pocket. “As I’ve said, contact the Institute again, and we’ll pick her up.”

Mr. Tyler headed for the door.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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