Subject: [FFML] Re: [C&C] [AYA] Wild, Wilde East - Chapter 5 - Run, Run Away
From: GL Sandborn
Date: 12/28/2006, 12:21 AM
To: David McMillan
CC: FFML <ffml@anifics.com>

David McMillan wrote:

GL Sandborn wrote:


                         The Wild, Wild East
                      Chapter 5 - Run, Run Away

        Cue Flock of Seagulls!

                         by GL Sandborn


    "Miyabi-san, is there no word yet?" Aoi asked as her guardian
entered the family room where she and Kaoru had been patiently waiting.
    "I'm sorry, Lady Aoi," Miyabi said bowing.  "I was just speaking

        said, bowing
 

It's that 'comma' thing again.  I seem to do it all through this chapter.

with your mother.  She has taken an unusual interest in this case."
    "Mother?" Aoi gasped.  "I... I thought Mother was following the
Sakuraba Group's decision not to get involved."

        Was that a 'surprised' gasp or an apprehensive one?  Hm...
 

A little of both.  I suspect Aoi has been kept ignorant of the inner 
workings of the Sakuraba Group.
She has always struck me as the quintessential 'girl raised in a box'.  :-)

    Miyabi cleared her throat, averting her eyes as if this were
something of a secret.  "Your mother has not always... not always agreed
with the decisions of the group."

        "Thirty days of darkness!  Rivers and seas boiling!  Dogs and 
cats,
*living together*..."

    Kaoru blinked as he looked between the two women.  "Aoi's mother
acts independently of the Sakuraba Group?" he muttered.

        Sug:  "he wondered under his breath"
 

I think either could work. 

    Miyabi, however, clearly heard his voice.  "As much as it pains me
to say, Aoi's mother has often displayed a streak of individual

        <gaijin mode> My, what an... insult.  </gm>

thought."  She looked at Aoi with a strange little smile.  "Much like
her daughter."

        Heh.  What is scandalous behavior for a settled matron of the 
Sakuraba
appears to be a bit more indulged in ojou-sama.
 

Perhaps.  Perhaps not. 

    Aoi's hands quickly covered all but her eyes.  Kaoru couldn't be
sure but it looked to him like she was hiding a little smile of her own
behind those hands.  She was obviously pleased with the thought of her
mother being so much like herself.

        "So I DO have genetics to blame it all on!"  :)

    It also explained why her mother allowed Aoi-chan to stay with him
when it was obvious the group would be most displeased.

        That, and her mother also understands (or so I suspect) that when
breaking the most spirited horses, sometimes the 'discipline' approach
siimply leads to Pyrrhic victory.  Sometimes you just need enough time
(and a long enough rope) to convince them that what you want them to do
was their own idea all along.
 

I think Kaoru might have some insight into that.  :-)
However, with Aoi, all this comes from my vision of the Sakuraba Group.  
While the men run the organization, it's the women who hold the real 
power.  They are the glue that holds the group together.  In that, Aoi 
is being manipulated to follow her mother's footsteps, always taking 
care that the girl thinks her little 'discoveries' are hers alone.
So, yes, I think you have analyzed the situation correctly.

    "She has been making quiet inquiries on her own through contacts
only she is familiar with," Miyabi said.  Her eyes swept between Kaoru

        The Secret Sakuraba Shojou Surveillance Society!

and Aoi.  "I'm afraid there is still no news concerning Miss Tina."
    Aoi's hands slowly lowered and her chin dropped.  The first makings
of a scowl touched her face.  "I see."
    "She wants you to know that she will continue her inquiries."
Miyabi seemed pleased with her news.
    Aoi just nodded as if grateful for her mother's intervention.

        Uh oh.  Normal Aoi behavior would be to politely thank Miyabi 
(and by
extension, her mother) at this point.  Between this and the "scowl" (not
an expression that befits her naturally), I'm worried about what's going
on in her head.
 

As you said above, her mother is indirectly guiding her and molding her 
into the kind of woman who can manipulate and control the Sakuraba Group 
from behind the scenes.  I think Aoi is beginning to see some of the 
dichotomies between what she wants and what is expected of her.

    "On another matter, your mother insisted that I relay to you an
important reminder."  Miyabi shifted her weight as if what she had to
say made her nervous.  "You are to attend the opening of the Sakuraba

        Smart lady.  The last time someone threatened to take someone 
she cared
about away from her, Aoi did something... precipitous.  And if anything,
I'd say she's *gained* self-confidence since then.
 

So true.

Center this coming Friday.  You are to wear your indigo kimono with the
gold obi.  I will see to it that you arrive in time for you to enter
with your parents."
    "Very well," Aoi said before turning to Kaoru.  "I'm certain we can
provide Kaoru-samma suitable attire for the occasion."

        SP:  sama.
        ...wait a minute.  Did she just throw down a gauntlet?

    "Perhaps I did not make myself clear.  You are to attend this
function with your parents only," Miyabi said in a firm voice.

        She DID!  She DID throw down a gauntlet!  And I *did* see a 
puddy tat!

    "What?" Aoi gasped, her eyes wide.  "That is unacceptable.
Kaoru-samma is --"

        SP:  sama.
        Okay, maybe I was wrong about the gauntlet.

    "Not a Sakuraba," Miyabi finished for her.  "Lady Aoi, this is a
very important event in which your family must present a harmonious
appearance."  She hesitated long enough to look directly at Kaoru.  Her
expression sent chills up his spine.  "This is nothing personal, Sir
Kaoru.  But it is imperative that we maintain appearances.  Many
dignitaries will be on hand. Prominent people from many countries and
the Prime Minister himself will attend.  There is even some suggestion
that a member of the royal family will be in attendance."  She regarded
Aoi with the same stern expression.  "I'm sure you understand how
important this is to your father."

        <facepalm>  Miyabi, you realize you just handed Aoi a hostage 
situation
on a platter, if she's motivated enough to use it?
 

Naw, Aoi has gone along with this stuff about not being familiar with 
Kaoru as it would possibly harm the Sakuraba Group because she realizes 
just how real the danger is.  Miyabi knows Aoi might do something that 
only her parents are aware of but would never think of causing her 
parents a public embarrassment with some selfish act.

    With her eyes squeezed shut, Aoi shook her head.  "I cannot accept
this.  If Kaoru-sama cannot attend, then neither shall I."

        Okay, I'm pretty sure that's a gauntlet.
 

Either that or a tantrum.

    Before Miyabi could launch into another of her lectures on proper
behavior, Kaoru interrupted.  "It's all right, Aoi-chan.  Miss Miyabi is
right.  This is very important to your family."  Aoi regarded him with
astonished eyes.  "Besides, Professor Isemoto wants me to complete my
research for him by Monday.  This will give me a chance to work on it at
the university without worrying about leaving you home alone."  When Aoi
continued to stare at him like she didn't understand, he smiled at her
in a reassuring way.  "It'll be all right.  You go and show everyone how
much of a lady you are and I'll be here when you get back."

        Three guesses as to what he's really planning.  And the first 
two don't
count.
 

Wrong on all three.  :-P    
This time, he's being honest.  At least, as far as he knows at this 
point in time.

    "Kaoru-sama?" Aoi asked in a tiny voice.

        She sounds a bit betrayed here.  But surely he hasn't attended 
her to
formal functions before?
 

Not since they moved into the mansion.  She's been quietly kept in the 
background until the family can gauge whether or not having Kaoru 
living, even as a boarder, in the mansion compound would cause any 
trouble.  Since all appears quiet, they are now starting to involve her 
again in formal functions of the group.  Kaoru, however, is still on the 
outside looking in.

    "It'll be fine.  You'll see."
    "Sir Kaoru, I am pleased you understand how things are," Miyabi
said in her most official voice.  Turning to Aoi, she wore a satisfied
expression as she bowed.  "I will see to the arrangements, Lady Aoi."

        Oh, Miyabi, Miyabi, Miyabi.  So easily deceived, sometimes.

    Miyabi quickly turned to leave, but not before casting one last
look Kaoru's way.  To his surprise, she nodded as if extending to him a
respectful honor.

        ...or, perhaps not.  Hm.
 

You almost caught it.  ;-)

    As Miyabi left the room, Aoi gently touched Kaoru's shoulder.
"Kaoru-sama?  Are you certain this is what you want?" she asked as if
she herself wasn't quite sure.
    Kaoru nodded and smiled.  "Everything will be fine.  Miss Miyabi is
correct.  It is very important to your father to maintain appearances
and the opening of their new conference center will be a boon to all
sorts of activities in Tokyo.  I can appreciate why he just wants his
family there."
    "You're almost family," Aoi noted with a hint of bitterness.
    "Someday I will be a member but not just yet."  He took her hand in
his and looked directly into her deep blue eyes.  "I think it best we
follow Miss Miyabi's advice.  Besides, it'll give you something to take
your mind off of Tina.  I know you've been worried sick about her."

        "And it'll give me a chance to go do something stupid, 
impulsive, and
heroic -- I *am* the male lead in a harem series, after all."
 

Close but not quite.  That's all still two chapters away.

    Aoi closed her eyes and leaned into him, her forehead pressing
against his chest.  His arms gently enveloped her in a loving embrace.
"I truly do want to believe that she will come home again but it's so
hard sometimes," she said.

        "again, but"

    "It's only been two days since she disappeared."  Kaoru stroked her
hair with his cheek.  "Sometimes it takes longer for someone to return."

        Actually, isn't it the FBI rule of thumb that abductees not 
recovered
within 48hrs usually aren't ever?
        Um.  Okay, I won't tell Aoi if you won't.
 

I think we covered that in the last chapter, when some of Miyabi's 
contacts in law enforcement mentioned that very thing to her.  (Well, 
they framed it in a xenophobic way, gaijin kidnapped by gaijin, but 
essentially it's the same.)  Kaoru is just trying to reassure Aoi here.

    "Then you believe, too?" Aoi said, lifting her head to look up into
his eyes.
    Kaoru suppressed a chuckle.  "It's hard not to.  Tina always seems
to land on her feet, no matter what."

        Except when she's drunk, and then she tends to land on whatever 
person
she likes who happens to be in range.

    Aoi's arms went around his body, pulling him into a tight hug.
"Then we shall believe together, Kaoru-sama.  Nothing will keep Miss
Tina from returning.  Nothing."

        I sense a scene change with a joke lead-in coming.
 

Naw, that would be too easy.



    Tina's mind was far from the train car she was riding in.
Daydreaming about all the times she had taken trips with the photography
club through this part of Japan, she was trying to recapture the feeling
of those trips.  In some ways, this journey wasn't all that different.
She wasn't alone and they had limited funds for such an expedition.  Of
course, back then, she didn't have people hunting her who wanted to do
her harm.

        Except for all the bartenders who'd gotten stiffed on her tabs.

    She glanced at Steven, just long enough to see his eyes were closed
as if taking a nap.  Little wonder, she thought, he probably didn't
sleep much the night before, being constantly on his guard over threats
that were very real.  Considering what he told her this morning, his
vigilance might also have been due to something else.
    The thought that someone felt the need to protect her brought a
tiny smile to her lips.  She never before felt like she needed
protection while traveling, even on her trip around the world.  Having a
man feel the need to take care of her was something she could get used
to, so long as he understood she was an independent woman.

        <eyeroll>  Women.  If what they want from men wasn't always so
self-contradictory, we'd all get along so much better.
        (of course, when I mention this to my "independent woman" 
sister, I'm
sure she'll have some choice comments the other way.  If she doesn't
just smack me around)
 

Actually, I've been meaning to insert more of that self-contradictory 
nature into the plot.  I guess I better get started.

    Steven's eyes blinked open as the train applied its brakes.  He
quickly set about checking the other passengers with cold, suspicious
glances.

        Suspicion:  Good.
        OBVIOUS suspiscion:  Bad.
 

Was it that obvious?  I don't want him to be perceived as giving other 
passengers an 'alpha dog' stare.  Perhaps, this line needs a revisit.

    "You okay?" Tina asked.
    "Fine," he abruptly replied as he shifted his attention to the
approaching train platform.

        I'd swap "abruptly" and "replied" -- the adverb is describing 
his tone
of voice more than the speed of his response.
 

Quite right.

    She wanted to say more, perhaps even admonish him a little for
being so cautious, but knew it wouldn't change a thing.  His job
demanded carefulness.  The Koreans were still be lurking about.  The
threat to their lives was still very real.

        I dunno... having those guys shooting *at* you might be safer than
standing behind them.

    As the train pulled to a stop, Tina started to get up but was
quickly pulled back into her seat.  "Hey!" she yelled, frowning at
Steven and then at his hand gripping her wrist.
    "We have to be careful, Tina.  Slow and steady.  Understand?" he
said in a low voice.  It didn't sound menacing but conveyed exactly the
calm and serious way he was approaching this detour to Kagome.

        Sug:  "menacing, but conveyed the deadly seriousness with which 
he was"
 

Hmmmm, let me roll that one around a bit.

    Tina blinked a moment before nodding.  "Oh.  Yeah.  Right."  She
joined him in looking around, although she had no idea what constituted
a threat.  In that, she kind of envied Steven.  Despite his protests to
the contrary, he seemed to know what he was doing.  Well, most of the
time, anyway.  She was counting on him to spot trouble before it spotted
them.

        He's already spotted the biggest Trouble in the immediate 
vicinity:
the blonde boozhound sitting next to him.  :)

    He waited for a few moments before nudging Tina out of her seat and
they gathered their bags.

        Sug:  "before he nudged Tina... and together they gathered..."

    Stepping onto the station platform, she scanned for signs
indicating the shop the old lady at the inn suggested while he continued
his threat surveillance.
    "Why are you so nervous?  We haven't seen a Korean since Tokyo,"
she said, still looking for the shop between glances his way.  "I think
we lost 'em this time."

        Cue!
 

Wrong!           (Sorry, that was too easy.)  :-[

    "The problem is that every time I start to think that way, the
Koreans show up again," he replied.  "It's like they know where I'm
going even before I do."

        Has he checked his socks for hidden GPS-RFID-ABCXYZ devices?
        Hm.  They didn't show up at the hotel.  They only showed up at 
Hotel
Aoi because they'd ID'd Tina.  And they certainly didn't know he was
coming to play one-man army at the warehouse.  So tracking devices don't
seem too likely.  And I don't think he's been phoning in to HQ...
 

Heh, you've really thought this through.

    Tina wanted to admonish him for being so paranoid but he probably
had a point.  After all, they found him at the zoo and tracked him to
the Sakuraba house.  Maybe his paranoia was justified.

        It's always comforting to know for certain that they really 
*are* out
to get you.  *So* much better than mental illness....

    "I wonder where that clothing store is," he said, eyeing a couple
of businessmen over by a vending machine.
    "Don't know," Tina admitted, glad to put her mind to something more
pleasant.  She dimly remembered passing through Kagome with her
photography club two years ago.  But everything looked different while
half asleep on a train than from the station.  Spotting what looked like
the town's main street, she tugged on Steven's sleeve.  "Let's try down
there."
    Taking his hand, she practically towed him out of the station and
down the street.  It took her a few tries but she eventually spotted
what appeared to be an abbreviated version of a Tokyo department store.
    She paused to admire the window displays.  "Yup, this is the
place," she chirped happily.  When they got to the front entrance, she
hesitated at the sight of a familiar symbol above its polished glass
doors.  It left her with a homesick feeling.  "Sakuraba Group," she
mumbled.

        Heh.  Saw that coming.

    "What was that?" Steven asked as if he only half heard her.
She averted her eyes from the symbol and shook her head.  He probably
had no idea what she was talking about.  How could he?  The Sakuraba
Group couldn't have meant anything to him.

        ...oh, dear.  I sense a plot point just stealthily slipped by.
 

Shush, don't tell anybody.  :-)

    "Nothing," she replied in a dismissive manner.  "Just something I
happened to remember."
    A cheerful young lady bowed to them as they entered and welcomed
them with a childlike greeting appropriate for the time of day.

        Huh?  Is this another cultural tidbit?
 

Sure is.  I love slipping these in.  Keeps the whole 'Japanese setting' 
thing alive in the reader's mind.

    Bowing past the woman, Tina stopped and drew a deep breath. The air
smelled of merchandise and money.  With a satisfied smile, she searched
for the women's wear department.  It was time for some serious shopping.

        Oh ghod.

    "Keep it real, Tina," Steven warned.  "We don't have a lot of money
for this."
    "Don't worry," she replied with a dismissive wave of her hand.  "I
just need some underwear and three outfits."
    "Underwear and TWO outfits," Steven corrected.
    She frowned.  What a skinflint, she thought.  Still, since money
was an issue, she'd make the sacrifice - this time.  After all, he was
going to owe her a lot more after this trip was over.  Maybe a full
night shopping on the Ginza.

        <sniffle>  She's already treating him like her boyfriend.  It's 
just so
romantic!
 

There, there, it won't last for long.

    Cracking her knuckles like she was about to do battle, she led the
way across the store and into the women's wear department.  Making sure
he was still behind her, she grinned mischievously at how uncomfortable
Steven looked as she wound her way towards the summer fashions.

        Wuss.  *I* don't start getting uncomfortable until we reach the
lingerie section.  And I don't *look* it until after I start getting
used as a bra tree.
 

Tut, tut, I can relate to his discomfort.  After having all those girls 
living with us, I got hauled to more than one 'shopping spree'.  Nothing 
makes a guy want to head for the Electronics Department faster than a 
daughter picking out underwear.

    "May I help you?" asked a young female clerk when they emerged from
the shoe section right in front of a whole wall covered with fashionable
summer clothes.
    "I need... uh, something casual and appropriate for the season,"
Tina said, eyeing some of the more expensive outfits on the wall.
    "Very good.  About how much were you looking to spend?" the clerk
asked, her smile never wavering.

        ...I'm going to be hiding under that cement truck three blocks 
down.

  

< snip >


    Steven shyly arrived just as she was about to pick out some
underwear.

        <twitch>  bad timing.  Oh, SO bad.  Oh, geez, I'm backflashing! 
 No,
not the Summer Clearance Sale!  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

    "Find what you were looking for?" she asked in jest.
    "Yeah.  So, you finished here?"  He glanced around like just being
in the women's wear department made him more nervous than dodging North
Koreans.

        He has his threats in order.
        Hmm... I'm not sure, but can't Womenswear be one word? 
(although my
spellchecker disagrees.  But then, it doesn't like 'spellchecker'
either, so what does it know?)
 

Don't get me started with spellcheckers.  I cringe every time somebody 
on the FFML barks at some poor writer about using their spellchecker.  
The fact is, the damn thing is wrong almost as often as it's right.  (I 
guess it depends on the product being used.  Some are pretty good but 
others sound like something that's been outsourced to a country where 
English isn't the first language.)

    "Just need some personal necessities," she said with a giggle.

        Run, Steven, RUN!

Holding up a pair of fairly common cotton panties, she smiled sweetly.
"You like these?"

        "Plead the fifth."
        "Silly, this is Japan!  There ain't no Fifth Amendment here."
        "In this situation, the Geneva Accords, the ICC Protocols, and 
the Pax
Sub-Roseata all apply roughly equivalently."

    Steven tugged at his collar and quickly looked away.  "They're
fine."

        Forget it, Steve.  She won't rest until you say that she's 
shown you a
pair that makes you want to rip them off her and do Unspeakable Things
to her virginal, nubile young body, thus giving her an excuse to wallop
you for hentai-ness while secretly enjoying the compliment.  And buying
that pair.  And making you pay for them.
 

Ah, another brother who knows the female mind.  Remind me to show you 
the secret handshake some time.  :-D

 

<snip >

    "Will you just pick something," he hissed.

        Sug:  "something!"

    "Yeah, you're right.  Cotton is much cooler," she replied with a
mischievous grin.  She glanced at the giggling women and winked, causing
them to giggle even louder.  A few other curious women had wandered
closer to watch the show.  Clutching a package of bikini cut white
cotton panties to her chest, she sighed loudly.  "I just don't know what
I'd do, if you weren't here to help me choose.  After all, you're the
only man who will ever see me in these."  She held the package out for

        He may see her *in* them, but he won't see *them* at the time. 
 Well,
unless the usual sex-comedy-of-errors chain of unlikely events happens,
in which case... Um.  Nevermind.
 

No-no, do go on.  It was getting better than the real plot.  :-)

the clerk.  Steven's cheeks colored deep scarlet and his head tried to
imitate that of a turtle.
    "Tina, this isn't funny," he said in English.
    "If a wife can't have a little fun, what's the point in being
married?" she asked, sounding like a Texas cheerleader.

        "2-4-6-8, what do we appreciate?  MATRIMONY!"
        Seriously, I'm not sure what "Texas Cheerleader" is supposed to 
'sound
like,' here.
 

The best way I can explain this is to think of that damn Dish Network 
commercial that takes place in a Texas bar.  The guy slaps the girl's 
butt, she drops him to the floor and plants her foot on his neck while 
proceeding to extol the virtue of the Dish Network.  Got her voice in 
your head?  Now, read Tina's line hearing that voice.  Bingo, you got a 
typical Texas cheerleader.

    Turning to the clerk, she handed over the panties.  "He likes
these.  We'll take 'em."
    The clerk giggled, casting amused glances at the still embarrassed
Steven.  "How do you get a husband to submit to such teasing?" she asked
Tina in a hushed voice.

        <blink>  I thought all women were *born* knowing that.
 

Not.....   Oh heck, that's too easy.

    "Well, you gotta train them early," Tina replied with a wink.  "But
you don't want to overdo it.  Scares them off."
    The clerk giggled again, the other women giggled some more, and
Tina smugly soaked it all up.  This part of the trip was turning out to
be more fun that she hoped.
    Steven hastily paid for her shopping spree, never once commenting
on how much it cost him.  He seemed more interested in getting out of
the women's department.

        Which is how they get us to pay all those outrageous prices for 
all
those items they'll only ever wear once...
 

But they never seem to get around to donating them... or something.

    "You find what you were lookin' for?" Tina innocently asked.  She
knew he was embarrassed at the show she had put on.  His stony silence
hinted that he was also just a little bit upset.  She felt a bit
irritated at how he was acting but there was also a hint of remorse at
putting him on the spot that way.  He really didn't deserve it.  After
all, he'd rescued her twice in the last few days and treated her pretty
well since.  Perhaps she had gone too far this time.  She knew her sense
of humor took a little getting used to and they hadn't known each other
very long.  Maybe that was it.  He didn't understand it was just her way
of coping.

        Oh, please.  Like she wouldn't do the same even if they were an 
item.
Or if he was Kaoru, and Kaoru wasn't unavailable...
 

Just tweaking her emotions here.  You're probably right but I'm going 
for how she really feels when she does all those things to Kaoru.

< snip >

    His hand suddenly gripped her upper arm.  Before she could protest,
he yanked her between two buildings.  Spinning her around to face him,
Steven scowled her way.  "Look, what you did was cause a scene," he said
in a scolding voice.  "One of the first things you have to learn about
this business is you never do anything to draw attention to yourself.  I
know that's hard to do being a Westerner in Japan but you have to try.

        Ohhh.  He's not *personally* pissed off, he's *professionally* 
pissed
off.  That'll faze her a bit more.
        Nope, he wasn't embarrassed back there at all, no sir.  Just 
irritated
about her breaking tradecraft.  Yep.  That's all.  Uh huh.  Fer sure.
 

Hey, it's all he's got right now.  After all, HE's the professional 
spy... er, agent.

Causing a scene invites people to look.  When people look, it can
sometimes expose you folks who want to do you harm.  Do you understand?"

        It also makes you memorable, which makes it easier for pursuers to
track you down.

    Tina pouted.  She didn't like being scolded but had to admit it was
probably deserved.  Despite their peaceful innocence, every place they'd
been was potentially dangerous.  Her actions today compounded that
danger.  "You're right.  I'm sorry," she said softly.
    "I'm not angry with you, Tina.  I'm just disappointed.  I thought
after what those guys did to you that you'd be a little more cautious."

        Ooooo!  Now he pulls out the "disappointed" whip and smacks her 
with
it!  REVENGE!  BWAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA!!!
 

[ bowing ]  Thank you.  Wrote that one waiting for the S2 server to reboot.

He let go of her arm and adjusted the bag over his shoulder.  "I don't
want you to get hurt, Tina.  To be honest, I'll consider this mission a
success if I can get you home safe and free of the Koreans."
    "But what about that... thing you stole?" she asked.
    Steven shook his head.  "It's more important to someone else than
to me."  He looked deep into her eyes.  "To tell the truth, getting you
home is more important to me than some lousy piece of circuitry.  The
fact is, Tina Foster, I really like you and that's the part that makes
this even harder."

        Nice Guy School of Emotional Aikido, Female Disabling Strike 
Technique:
  Confession of Liking!
 

Keep reading.  There's a reason.  ;-)



< snip >

    "I don't understand," he gasped.  "How do they keep finding me?
What am I doing wrong?"

	Well, you got involved with Tina...
	No, actually, that's a good question.  I still don't buy that they're 
tracking him directly -- they lose track of him too often.  But there's 
got to be something that he's doing periodically that gives them a 
location update.
 

<sigh> Okay, I'll give away a little bit of the plot here.  It's 
important they can't constantly track him.  There's a very good reason 
why. 
 From my limited experience 'tracking critters', the tracking devices 
are not 100% reliable.  Things interfere with the signal, the device 
fails for any number of reasons, and it sometimes flat out doesn't work 
at all.  The reason for their intermittent tracking gaps is relevant to 
the story and will be revealed.  Trust me, it's worth it.

	Hm.  How did he pay for the train tickets?  And Tina's clothes?
 

Cash.  Lots and lots of cash.  That's why he has 'limited funds'.  Once 
what cash he has runs out, he has not way of getting more without 
obviously revealing his whereabouts.

    Tina knelt next to him, a little shaken herself.  Only she was
shaken more over his reaction than their predicament.  "It might just be
a coincidence," she offered, not really believing it herself.
    Steven shook his head.  "NO!  Everywhere I go, they show up.  It's
like they know where I'm going to be."
    She chanced another peek around the corner.  There was no mistaking
the two Korean agents standing guard to the entrance of the train
station.  She recognized both from the warehouse.  Two more soon
appeared from the nearby bus station.  There was no way she and Steven
were going to get past them and back on a train.
    When she returned to her partner, he was still muttering questions
about the things he should have done to evade his pursuers.

	Well, there's a few things to try -- dump EVERYTHING, even the McGuffin 
Item (but put that someplace you can surveill), use nothing but cash, 
and change your appearance as much as possible.  Break every possible 
means of contact with the pursuit.
	Of course, in RL it's not always easy.
 

Ain't that easy in the story, 'neither.

    "Maybe, they got spies all over the place who are reporting on us,"
she said.  She couldn't believe that the kindly Mrs. Ohta was a North
Korean spy.  She didn't want to believe that.  There were others along
the way who could have informed on them but two traveling Westerners
were fairly common in Japan during the summer.  Picking her and Steven
out of so many seemed like an impossible task.  So how else could they
be tracking them?

	Tina hasn't hit any bars lately, so that can't be it.
	I'd almost suspect some kind of beacon in the McGuffin Item, but then 
I'd expect them to be zeroing in on the Happy Newlyweds right now. 
Heck, even a GPS chip with a 'phone home' feature would be getting them 
closer than they appear to be getting.
 

Yes and no.  See above.

    Tracking them?  That thought suggested an obvious possibility.
"You know, when folks in those big animal parks want to track the
movements of an animal, they put a tracking collar on 'em.  Could the
Koreans have done something like that to you?"

	Okay, he *should* have thought of that himself.  But he's new at this, 
and not exactly having a good week...
 

He's also not that good at this.

    "No," he replied, his eyes squeezed shut as he dismissed the idea.
"I ditched all the clothes I wore when we penetrated the Korean's
hideout back in Tokyo."

	Obvious question:  list every item that you still have on you from 
during or before that timeframe.  Include fillings, chewing gum, and 
that weird suppository thing Q stuck you with just before you left HQ...
 

They assured him it was so he wouldn't get pregnant.  So far, it's 
worked.  =-O

    Tina hummed her agreement and slowly looked away as she rolled
around in her head the tracking collar idea.  If the Koreans didn't slip
something into Steven's pocket or something like that, there had to be
another reason.
    She was about to dismiss the whole idea when something occurred to
her.  "What about that gizmo you took?" she anxiously asked.
    Steven's eyes popped open, like the same thought occurred to him as
well.  He shrugged off his bag's shoulder strap and started clawing at
the collar of his shirt.  In moments, he produced a small brown leather
bag that hung on a leather strap around his neck.
    Yanking open the bag, he pulled out the stolen electronic card key.
Holding it up, he carefully examined both sides of the device.  After
several minutes, he sighed.  "I don't even know what I'm looking for but
I'll bet you're right," he said softly in disgust.

	The problem is, if that's giving off a signal, why don't they have NKs 
dropping in their laps right now?  It's got to be something less 
straightforward.
 

Not necessarily.

< snip >

    "Well, it looks like it ought to work," he said.  "I just hope the
foil doesn't short circuit anything on the key."
    "Who cares?" Tina replied, dismissing his fears as easily as she
had the excess aluminum foil.  "Even if it does, they won't be tracking
us anymore and you can still deliver what's left of it to your people."

	Just watch for it to get hot.  I got careless and dropped a 
high-capacity battery in my loose-change pocket once -- took me a while 
to notice I was getting a nice burn...
 

Ouch.

    When Steven agreed that her plan was pretty good, she blushed at
his compliment.  "So, what now?"
    "We need to get out of here," he said, standing up and shoving the
mint container into the pocket of his pants.  "We better stick to the
back streets."
    Both shouldered their bags as they set off deeper into the alley.
It ended at a cross street that ran along side the railroad tracks.
Leaning over, she could see the tracks disappear around the corner of a
building a couple of blocks away, probably heading into the train
station.
    A gentle nudge from Steven and she turned away from the station,
staying close to the buildings as Steven followed her towards the far
end of town.
    The minutes seemed like hours as they carefully picked their way
through the little town, keeping to the back streets and checking around
each corner before proceeding.
    Before long, they emerged into the outskirts of town on a road that
seemed to hang on the edge of the mountain.  It was only then she
noticed that Kagome had been built on a flat plateau that overlooked a
beautiful valley hundreds of feet below.  Any other time and this would
have been a perfect photo opportunity.  But this wasn't just 'any other
time.'

	Not to mention, I don't think she has her camera with her...
 

Details, details.  She could just hold her hands up and say, 
"click-click".  :-)

    Steven turned off the road into a small grove of trees, his caution
as evident as ever.  Dropping his bag he surveyed the possible escape
routes.
    "We could stick to the road but if they figure out we cut the
tracking signal, that's going to be the first place they'll look," he
said, kneeling down to rummage through his bag.
    Tina peered over his shoulder trying to determine just what he was
searching for.  "I guess you probably have some high tech gizmo in there
that's going to tell us which way to go."

	Yep, a genuine Pentagon-issue Digital Decision Generator: a quarter.
 

Naw, the line would just go dead again.  Besides, I don't think there's 
a phone in Japan that takes quarters.

    "Not quite," Steven replied.  Pulling out a detailed map of the
region, he spread it on the ground.  Adding a common compass, he rotated
the map until everything pointed north.  "Okay, we are here," he said,

	<whistles innocently>  Hope he checked his magnetic offset lines...
 

And is not trying to do this under power lines.

pointing to a spot just outside Kagome.  Tracing the road with his
finger it only confirmed that it would be the most likely escape route,
one the Koreans would most certainly check first.  Following the road
would probably expose them to discovery long before they got to the next
town.

	Of course, with the signal cut, the *really* clever thing to do would 
be to hide in Kagome until the pursuers fan out to cover their escape 
radius.  But if the bad guys are clever, they'll think of that...
 

Not with their leadership.

    "What's those little dashes?" Tina asked, pointing to a couple of
dashed lines that left the main road and appeared to head into the
valley.
    "Looks like some kind of trail."  Steven traced the first but found
it just wound its way down to the floor of the valley and then back up
to the other side of Kagome.
    The second wasn't much better, ending only a short distance down
the mountain.
    The third, however, seemed to emerge onto another road in the
valley that led directly to the town of Katise.
    "That's about five kilometers," Steven said, turning to Tina.
"Think you can make it?"

	Cue Nancy Sinatra.
 

Talk about your 'flash in the pan' career blond.  All she had going for 
her was her name.

    "Hey, it's downhill all the way," she chirped.  "Besides, I've
walked farther on my trip around the world."
    Steven started to fold up the map.  "How are your ankles?"
    Tina had forgotten about her painful injuries received from the
kidnaping.  Wiggling one foot, she smiled confidently.  "I'm okay."

	He'll be carrying her that last klick or two.
 

Probably.

    If he suspected otherwise, he hid it well.  Stuffing the map and
compass back into his bag, Steven pulled out a couple of brochure-sized
papers.
    "What are those?" she asked, curiously leaning in, trying to pick
out some of the Japanese words printed on the documents.
    "Bus and train schedules for the region," Steven replied as he
thumbed through a few pages.  "I think we can catch a train for the
coast just before dark.  That would put us into Aomizusaki a little
after nine."
    Tina shook her head.  "You sure have a lot of amazing things in
that bag.  What else you got?"

	"An electronic Thumb, a copy of the _Guide_, and a towel."
 

"DON'T PANIC!"

    With a sigh, Steven just closed the schedules and stuffed them back
into the bag.  "Just a few things I need.  I packed this just in case I
got separated from my partner.  Mienaku-Naru was my escape point.
That's standard procedure when on a mission."
    "You don't have another gun in there, do you?" she asked, a little
unsure that she really wanted to know.  She didn't like guns very much.

	<snort>  Maybe not *after* her little redecoration fiasco at Hotel Aoi.

She had seen how they were used in some of the places she had visited on
her travels.  They weren't the prettiest of memories.

	Mmm... this is a bit inconsistent with Ch2.
 

Sorta but not totally.  She never went where there was a war.  You know, 
two groups of guys shooting at each other. 
She's been to South America and Africa.  Good portions of each feature 
military-style 'governments' where the main hobby is to round up 
dissidents and shoot them.  Since such activity only creates more 
dissidents, it becomes non-stop 'fun' for the guys with the guns.  She 
could travel to lots of places in which the State Department has no 
warnings out and see all the local thug gun club activity she can stand.



    They had gone less than a kilometer when the pain in her right
ankle got bad.  Still, she tried to cover her growing disability by
appearing to be cautious, stepping more carefully over the rocky surface
cut through by exposed tree roots and dangling vines.
    By the second kilometer, she was limping.  Both ankles ached with
every step.  Every time Steven looked back her way, she tried to pretend
to be stepping carefully over some obstacle.  She hoped it fooled him.
    A few minutes later, he stopped.  With a heavy sigh, he turned to
look directly at Tina.
    "What?" she asked innocently as she could.
    "Give me your bag," he said, holding out a hand.
    "Why?"
    "Because you've been limping for the last half hour," he said,
grabbing her bag's strap and pulling it off her shoulder.  "If you don't
have to carry any extra weight, you might make it to Katise."
    Tina started to protest but knew he was right.  Both her ankles
ached so bad she wasn't sure if she could make it at all.  If she
couldn't, he would probably end up carrying her.  That would be
embarrassing.

	Or a prelude to *romance*... <waggles eyebrows, brandishes Barry White LP>
 

Save Barry for later chapters, bub.  They ain't there yet.  ;-)

    Shouldering both bags, Steven resumed negotiating the trail but at
a slower pace.  Tina had to admit, it was easier walking without the
added weight on her shoulder but it was still unpleasant.
    By the time they got to the halfway point, her limp was really bad.
She felt flushed and wanted nothing more than to sit down somewhere.
Steven pulled off the trail opposite a small Shinto shrine.  A thin
mountain stream cut its way close to the trail there and a couple of
boulders were placed next to the stream as if designed to give hikers a
place to rest.

	And dangle aching feet in the water?  :)

    Guiding Tina to one of the low boulders, he dropped the bags and
knelt down to examine her ankles.  She watched with increasing anxiety
as he gently handled her bare leg.

	Anxiety about her leg, or his hands?  ;)

    "Swollen," he said before untying the laces of her right shoe.

	Isn't that a bad idea?

Easing it off, he gingerly felt around the injured area.  "This isn't
good, Tina.  Your ankle is as swollen as it was the night I found you in
the warehouse."
    "That bad?" she asked, knowing full well it was that bad and
possibly worse.
    "Ordinarily I'd hole up somewhere until they healed enough for
travel but I need to get to Aomizusaki by tomorrow."  He reached for her
other leg.  Cradling it in his hands, he removed her other shoe and
sock.  "What are you doing wearing these flimsy sneakers anyway?"

	<bink>  Oh, I didn't realize she hadn't put the boots on.  So much for 
Nancy Sinatra...
 

That's what the record companies said back in 1975.  Of course, the less 
said about that Playboy spread in 1995, the better.  Talk about desperate.

    "Well, I didn't know we were goin' to hike all the way there," she
growled, crossing her arms defiantly.  How was she to know they were
going to take this nature trail?  The plan was they were going to ride a
train down to the coast.
    Steven checked his watch and looked back up the trail as if
deciding what to do.  "We've got less than an hour for you to rest.  I
doubt that will be enough but it'll have to do.  For now..."
    Without warning, he spun her part way around on the rock and
plunged both her ankles into the swift-running stream.
    The shock of the cold water on her skin caused her to throw her
head back and squeal loudly.  Her frantic attempts to pull her feet

	<eyeroll>  geez, Tina, it's not like he dunked you or anything.

out
were stopped by Steven's weight on her legs, trapping them in the icy
stream.
    "What are you doing?" she managed to gasp.
    "I don't have any ice.  We need to reduce the swelling before I can
try to get your new hiking shoes on," he said in a surprisingly calm
voice - considering she was now pounding on his back in an attempt to
get him to release her legs.  "They have better ankle support."

	I like this guy.  Anyone who can maintain a calm, rational conversation 
while some ungrateful female is beating on him wins cool points.  :)
 

He has his moments.

< snip >

    As her feet soaked in the icy stream, Steven went about condensing
their two bags into one.  Things he thought could be abandoned were.  In
the end, all that was left were clothes for both of them and a few items
he must have thought necessary.

	You're being coy, Greg.  That always gives me a bad feeling.  :)
 

[shicker]

    Thirty minutes later, after several cold water dunkings of her
ankles, Steven pronounced the swelling sufficiently reduced to try her
new hiking shoes.
    Her feet were still numb from their icy plunge to feel much when he

	"still TOO numb"
 

Yeah, that sounds better.

< snip >

    It took them an hour longer than planned but they eventually
emerged from the mountain trail onto a smooth road just outside of
Katise.
    "You want to try and walk?" Steven said, stopping just off the
road.
    "I'm heavy, aren't I?" she asked.

	Like he's going to ANSWER that question...

    Steven chuckled.  "No but I'm getting tired and it wouldn't look
good if I carried you into town.  You remember what I said about
attracting attention?"
    "Yeah, I guess a big American carrying a dainty little blond girl
on his back would attract attention."  She eased herself off his back,
gingerly testing her ankles as her weight settled onto them.

	Not sure Tina really counts as *dainty.*  But I won't tell her if you 
won't.
 

Not for all the royalties on this story.  :-)

    To her surprise, they didn't feel all that bad.
    Stretching and readjusting the bag still on his shoulder, Steven
offered his hand.  She shyly took it and followed him onto the road.
    Their pace was slower than normal, due to her stiff gait, but they
easily made their way into town.
    From his earlier use of their map, Steven knew approximately where
the train station was.  Remembering what happened to them in Kagome,
they warily approached.
    To their mutual relief, there wasn't a Korean in sight.

	<repressing Ethnic Joke Reflex>
 

Aw, go ahead.  (Lord knows, I've written a bunch of 'em - - just before 
I erased them.)

    "Looks like your hunch about the card key was right," Steven said.
"By now, I'm sure they've discovered they can't track us anymore.  I'll
bet they're having kittens trying to figure out where we went," he said
with a chuckle.

	Or, if they're smart, they're slapping agents on all the nodal 
chokepoints for anyone trying to escape the area.  Of course, their 
manpower may not be unlimited...
 

It's not and there's a reason.

    Tina, placing each step carefully, just hummed her agreement.  She
was determined to walk into town and get on the train under her own
power.  She squeezed his hand in a reassuring way.
    The distance to the train station wasn't all that far, certainly
shorter than what she walked that first night.  Each step was stiff and
flat-footed as she tried to put as little strain on her injured ankles
as possible.  Despite the slow pace, they made it onto the platform and
to a seating area near the ticket windows.
    Easing into the seat, Tina groaned softly as weight left her
ankles.  It was a blessed relief.  Their walking was over, for now.  On
the train, she'd have time to rest her ankles and maybe they'd be okay
for the rest of the trip.  She certainly didn't want to return home
limping like some war refugee.  That would have been embarrassing.

	Er, yeah.  Guess it hasn't occurred to her that Aoi, Kaoru, and the 
gang are going absolutely nuts...
 

True but since calling home might give their position away....

    Home.  Funny how that old Victorian mansion in Tokyo had come to be
called 'home'.  It was really just another stop on her long journey
through life - and a temporary one at that.  Sure, it had people she
regarded almost as much as her own family but they were only a
collection of misfits like her.

	"regarded as much as her own family" doesn't really work, gramatically. 
 Maybe "regarded almost as family"?
 

This is another of my famous 'rewrite a line enough times to get sick of 
it and just leave it as it is' technique.  I'll give it another go, now 
that I've got my stomach back.

	And Tina?  Some families are born.  Some are built, out of whatever 
lost, broken odds&ends happen to be wandering around looking for 
someplace to belong.

    Taeko, the clumsy but good hearted maid, had no idea what she was
going to do after college.  But then, that wasn't unusual considering
how the girl's mind worked.

	It works?  <ducks>  Okay, that was mean.
 

Well, it sorta works.  Of course, in a family that considers Chika the 
'smart one'.....

    Chika was a bundle of energy, just coming into young womanhood.
Despite her constant attempts to fix up Taeko with an eligible young
man, she meant well and was always a joy to have around.  Her future was
the most open of them all.  She still had the rest of high school and
then college to look forward to.
    Miss Manager would probably stay by Miss Landlord's side but that
really wasn't much of a life for her.  She'd just end up taking care of
Miss Landlord's children and repeating the cycle over without a chance
of finding someone for herself and maybe having her own children.

	Miyabi's biological clock starts ticking.  *There's* a story idea with 
some disaster potential.
 

A one chapter wonder, at best.

< snip >

    She looked over her shoulder and watched Steven get their tickets,
still casting wary glances at every person who came or went from the
little station.  Why did he say those things to her in the alley back in
Kagome?  Did he really like her in that way?  Why did that bother her so
much?

	Either she finds him subconsciously repulsive, or she's trying to deny 
a certain growing attraction.  I know which I'm betting on.  :)
 

Yeah, he is kinda repulsive, isn't he?  Oh wait, you meant the other 
one.  :-D

    She was still deep in thought, her eyes staring unfocused at the
floor in front of her when she felt Steven take a seat next to her.
    "We're just in time," he said.  "The next train is due in about ten
minutes."
    She heard him but only enough to acknowledge his presence. Her mind
was still working out what he meant this afternoon.
    "We're not going directly to Aomizusaki," he said softly.  He
sounded as tired as she felt.  "We're heading west to Nagano.  We can
catch a train heading south from there.  That should put is in
Aomizusaki by dawn."
    "Dawn?" Tina asked, snapping a confused look his way.
    "We need time to sleep.  At least, you do."  He smiled down at her.
"We can't afford another place to stay.  The ticket agent assures me the
seats we got are as comfortable as those on an airplane."

	Coach or first class?  Not that either is saying much...
 

Probably coach.  Gotta save those yen.

    Airplane seats?  Tina sighed and looked down at the station
platform floor.  The last time she tried to sleep on an airplane, she
woke up with a terrible headache and a sore neck.

	Last time I fell asleep on a plane, I woke up in a DHS holding cell 
accused of being an Al-Queda "Snore Bomber," whatever the heck *that* 
was supposed to mean.
 

I think I sat next to you once.

< snip >

    Tina's eyes blinked open.  Kaoru?  How did he know about Kaoru?
She only mentioned him once and that was in passing.  It wasn't like she
told him everything.  How could he possibly know about her relationship
- or lack thereof - with Kaoru Hanabishi?

	She talks in her sleep, doesn't she?
 

Yeah, I figured it was obvious.  (Either that or you're reading ahead 
again.)

< snip >

    Before she could work the right words free, Steven slapped his
knees and stood up.  "Well, I guess I better see about some coffee," he
said.  "I'll just be a minute."

	Darn it, Steve, don't RUN!  Oh, heck...
 

Well, he IS embarrassed about beginning to fall in love with a girl who 
he now thinks has a steady boyfriend.

    As he walked towards a row of vending machines at the far end of
the station, Tina sagged into her seat.  Squeezing her eyes shut she
hissed through gritted teeth, "Stupid, stupid, stupid!"  What was wrong
with her?  Why couldn't she say anything?  Why couldn't she tell Steven
it was all a mistake, just a dream from her past?  Kaoru had been part
of her dreams for a couple of years now.  At first, they were hopes
about things that might become real.  Lately, they had become dreams
like any girl might have about some unobtainable guy - like a rock star
or athlete.  They weren't to be taken seriously in real life, and this
was as real as life got.

	Well, technically one might say that falling into a Hollywood spy movie 
isn't exactly "real," but...

    Hanging her head, she shuddered like a chill had take her body.
She'd screwed up again.  One of the nicest guys she'd met in Japan had
given up on her and was about to walk out of her life, if only in an
emotional sense.

	This sounds like a cue for the NKs to show up and *drag* him out of her 
life.
 

They missed their cue and there's no 'retakes' in this game.

    Despite her best efforts, she felt the first tear work its way
free.

	Guess not.  <sniffle>  Poor Tina, her love life is like the Edmund 
Fitzgerald.  But don't give up hope yet, Tina -- don't noise it around, 
but I think the author likes you....
 

Alas, no.  I'm partial to Miyabi.  Now THERE's a woman.


	IN OUR NEXT THRILLING INSTALLMENT:
	Will Aoi draw a line in the sand?
	Will Kaoru do something stupid?
	Will Miyabi have something to get angry about?
	Will Miyabi have something to REALLY get angry about?
	Will Tina manage to get a lifeboat off the sinking ship of her love life?
	Will Taeko make a mess?
	Will we get any closer to learning what the heck that keycard does?
	Tune in next... um... whenever!  Same FFML time, same FFML channel!
 

What sand?
Do bears shit in the woods.
Only after she finds out Uzume's been in her underwear drawer again.
Only after she realizes Uzume looks better in them than her.
Probably, but it's the one with a hole in it.
Does Teako ever NOT make a mess?
In two chapters - promise.  More or less.  Probably.  Maybe.
Working as we speak.  ;-)


David, another delightful trek through a master's mind of mirth.  
Between you and DB, I'm getting this story into shape.  (I'm just not 
sure WHAT kind of shape yet but it's definitely taking shape..... of 
some sort.)

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.  I always look 
forward to one of your reviews.

- GL



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