Chapter 24: In motion (5 in 1)

I.

Miyo began to get up from the work stool behind the counter but hesitate before rounding the outer edge. She set the book back on the counter, tapping its cover as she considered her options in who she could talk to about all the questions whirling in her head.

 

Youko and Hiroki were the nearest choices but they would have to rely on Miyo’s translations of the book and Miyo herself wasn’t confident in her translation abilities. Fumi would be able to read the book on her own and translate it into a Siren’s song for say, Youko or Hiroki if needed, but the other master was still traveling to promote her book.  Or she could just forget about the whole thing altogether.

 

The last option had its merits. After all, she had a tea shop to run. It wouldn’t do to close it whenever she felt like it and just leave her customers in the heat and sand, parched and without tea. Miyo could easily take the book back to the library and place it in the book drop. There would be no need to tell the librarian about the questions it rose or the curiosity it stoked. For all Miyo knew, the contents of the book could be completely fictional.

 

Miyo sighed and leaned against the counter. That was exactly why she was in this position. She had no idea whether or not the stories pressed within the pages were actually true. It seemed too fantastical, really, the idea of warrior tea masters. Though it was less the things they had done – amazing feats that were impressive on their own – and more the fact that they too were of two worlds, and yet were able to find ways to make a space for themselves, and a name of their own choosing and creation.

 

While reading their history and the accounts of their heroic deeds, Miyo had found herself imagining each master speaking in their own tongue, in their own voice, telling the stories right there at the seat across the counter from her. They filled the tea shop with their songs, with their honor and wisdom. And most of all, they filled Miyo with their energy, with the reassurance that she wasn’t alone.

 

Miyo straightened at the thought, turned it over and over in her mind until a laugh bubbled forth. Alone? Of course she wasn’t alone. It was why she had the options to begin with. She shook her head and smiled to herself.

 

She picked up the book and headed towards the door. She would reach out to all of them. After all, it wasn’t about being right or wrong; it was simply about connecting with each other.

 

II.

Akari sighed when she finally arrived into the cool alcove of her home, settling into a chair thankfully just a fathom from the entrance. It was nice to be still and quiet for once. The entire day had been filled with rushing from one area of the market to another to restock wares, all the while navigating the summer crowds with their bustle and noise.

 

‘And always remember to smile,’ she thought with an eye roll at her manager’s incessant reminder. She especially hated that he sang out the message to all of the staff every other hour. In Akari’s opinion, it was another example of over relying on song, though in her manager’s case, it didn’t help that he was incompetent as well.

 

A growl rumbled in her throat. Sirens weren’t meant to rely on song for everything.  ‘And we definitely are not meant to swim around like fish on a line,’ she thought darkly.

 

Akari held onto her anger for a moment more but then shook her head, forcing thoughts of the day from her mind as she stretched out in the chair. It always happened like this – dark thoughts simply fell away when in this chair. She and her father had found it several moons ago and had dubbed it “the lucky chair” after it had saved them from that baby water dragon.

 

‘If only it had been lucky enough to keep the Y-1 fever away,’ Akari thought, her head slumping back against the chair’s high back. Then maybe she’d have more on her shelves, or just more shelves in general. But it was hard to collect big things as just one person. ‘It’s hard to collect as just one person at all,’ she corrected sadly. Besides, her father was the expert. Even though she had accompanied him on what he called “collections” ever since she was a child, he had the most knowledge, the better instincts, and the smoother skills at talking his way out of fines and possible jail time.

 

‘And I bet he’d know about the warrior tea masters Miyo was talking about.’ Akari thought back to the conversation they had shared at Hiroki’s bar. She straightened, wondering if Hiroki had been able to look into that possible site like she’d mentioned.

 

Akari reached out to unclip the magi-tech screen that had been floating next to the chair. She straightened when she saw the blinking new message from Hiroki, feeling the first inkling of excitement pulse through her in what seemed like a very long time. A grin spread across her face as she read. It was true.

 

A giddy laugh escaped her. It was true and the site wasn’t far at all, she could go there now if she wanted. Akari looked up at her collection equipment on the shelf, waiting to be used after so many weeks.

 

Before she could move towards the shelf, the magi-tech screen lit up with an incoming call from one of her coworkers. Akari sighed and keyed a voice call.

 

“Akari, I know it’s late but could you cover my shift? I swear it’s only this once.”

 

Akari’s shoulders slumped. If she were being practical, the money would be worth it, especially after that fine the Siren militia had hit her with the last time she had gone out collecting. ‘But if I find something worthwhile, I could sell it for a good price …’

 

“Hey, Akari, you still there?”

 

Akari imagined saying yes, putting down the magi-tech screen and swimming back to work, already feeling the exhaustion and the toll on not only her body, but her spirit as well. It was a job, a job that she needed, yes, but she wasn’t about to let it take over her life.

 

She cleared her throat and spoke evenly, eyes fixed on the collection equipment on the shelf. “Sorry, my friend, there’s something important I have to do.”

 

Akari ended the call and reattached the magi-tech to its floating line, her movements calm and deliberate. It felt like a wave of cool water had just come through, cleansing all of the dark thoughts and leaving brightness and hope in its wake.

 

‘This,’ Akari thought as she changed into her gear and her mind began to shift into planning mode, ‘This was what I’m meant to do.’

 

III.

Rikito paused at the bottom of the path, gritting his teeth at the pain in his leg. But then the depth lift dinged next to him, and he straightened immediately, making sure to swim in front of the opening doors so the people inside could see that he had beat them.

 

He stopped at an unmarked opening and tapped the pattern on the communication shell at the entrance. While he waited for a response, he leaned against the edge of the opening and closed his eyes against the pain.

 

He was in the middle of cursing out the Siren militia for the fourth time when a voice came from inside the cavern. “Heard you got manhandled by the CR team’s captain.

 

Rikito picked out Saito’s features from the shadows, particularly the smirk on the other Siren’s face. “You heard wrong,” Rikito said tightly. He swam forward, keeping his face clear of any wincing, which was just as well since he was focusing all his energy to give Saito his hardest glare.

 

Saito’s expression didn’t change – in fact, the smirk seemed to spread into a grin momentarily before disappearing into his usual vague expression of interest. “How many?”

 

“Four vials.” Rikito glanced behind him, checking that the corridor was clear. ‘Why aren’t we deeper in the cavern?’ Rikito thought. They usually conducted their business where there wasn’t the potential for curious eyes to see. ‘Maybe he knows I’m hurt?’ Rikito’s eyes narrowed, searching for signs of pity.

 

“Seven hundred shells.”

 

Rikito coughed. “What? Last week it was only six hundred.” Despite his words, Rikito counted out the bags of shells and handed them over.

 

Saito shrugged as he took the shells and shook Rikito’s hand. Rikito took the vials hidden in Saito’s palm and slid them into his pocket. “You want premium quality, you pay premium prices.”

 

“Who said anything about quality,” Rikito muttered as he began to turn away. But then he gasped as pain lanced up his leg.

 

Saito’s eyes were dark glittering stones, pulsing at the same time as the song crushing Rikito’s leg. “You know,” he said, his voice as calm as if they were talking about the tide, “I don’t have to sell you anything. The next quadrant has plenty of sellers in your price range.”

 

Saito finally stopped his song and the pressure disappeared from Rikito’s leg, but the throbbing pain that followed was just as bad. “Oh but you’d have to be strong enough to swim there first,’ Saito sneered as he sank back into the shadows, leaving pain in his wake.

 

*

 

The barracks bustled with activity but each corridor became eerily quiet whenever Rikito swam through. He gritted his teeth against their whispers and stares. The probation list had likely made its rounds, with Rikito’s name at the top. If it had been any other Siren militia member, his name would have been on a different list, carved into the accolades posted at the entrance of the Black Wave’s headquarters. But now, he had to worry about just staying in the Black Wave.

 

The corridor leading to his quarters had been empty, but his gratefulness for the quiet became horror when he entered his space. They called them “surprise inspections.” At any time, a senior member of the Black Wave had the authority to go through your space to make sure there wasn’t any contraband. While they said this could be done to any member, it was typically limited to those on probation.

 

Like Rikito.

 

He swam slowly, picking his way through the chaos. Everything that had been on a stabilizing line had been cut free. Everything that had been in a case was now either in the sand or floating in the space. The magi-tech screens, he could always replace. ‘But the memory shells…’ Rikito swallowed, knowing he could never get those back.

 

Rikito pressed his clenched fists against his eyes, fighting down the surge of helplessness threatening to overtake him. Flashbacks from the fight came back as well. Rikito had thought he could overpower the captain with his size and strength, but none of that had seemed to matter. And then that lackey of hers had used that human weapon – Rikito’s leg throbbed at the memory.

 

He couldn’t let that happen again. He had to be stronger, had to show the Siren militia the strength of the Black Wave, the truth of separatism, and prove that his name deserved to be in the hall of accolades. Rikito took out one of the vials, an injection needle already in his hand. He watched the liquid slowly move from the vial to the needle to his arm.

 

No one was going to be stronger than him again.

 

IV.
“So basically everything Captain Shino said it was,” Kimura cut in. His expression remained apathetic, despite the glare he received from the researcher he had just interrupted.

 

The researcher pursed his lips and handed the magi-tech screen he had been reading from to Kimura. “This is a place of research and logic, Lieutenant, not conjecture. It would do you well to know the difference.”

 

Kimura rolled his eyes as the researcher swam away. Before he could retort, a hand came to rest on his shoulder, pressing down lightly on the pair of silver stripes on the shoulder bar of his uniform. Kimura sighed. “One day, Shino, they’re going to admit that you know more than them and all their precious equipment.”

 

Shino pulled her hand back and shrugged, the four stripes on the shoulders of her uniform catching in the light. “They’ll have to learn to acknowledge that female Sirens actually exists,” she answered evenly.

 

Kimura growled low in his throat as they swam down the corridor. “I still don’t understand why we even have to go to them in the first place. You were able to figure all this out the day you found this thing. Why do we have to wait a week for these fishheads to say exactly what you did?”

 

Shino let a small smile touch her lips briefly. “Maybe the top brass prefers more pompous sounding words.” She relaxed as Kimura began to laugh and the red that had begun to creep up his neck faded. “Besides, this time it was all second-hand knowledge.”

 

Kimura’s brow furrowed. “Second-hand? There’s someone who actually knows more about human antiques than you?”

 

“About tomorrow’s exercises …”

 

“Smooth subject change there, Captain.”

 

*

 

Shino frowned as several reminders filled her screen as soon as she accessed the terminal in her office. She tapped the screen several times to dismiss them, but paused at the last one. ‘Is the deadline already today?’

 

She and Kimura had been casually interviewing other Sirens in the department, but no one had stood out enough for Shino to recommend them to the opening on her team. It was a tough role to fill – it wasn’t purely research, despite the title. That was because the CR team didn’t exactly work within the same rules of many of the other teams, even within the Intelligence department. For other teams, last week’s incident would have been the most action they would have seen the entire moon. But for her team, it was what they dealt with everyday.

 

In fact, the only Siren who had caught Shino’s attention at all lately had been the civilian collector from last week’s incident. Shino normally didn’t care for collectors, but she hadn’t been able to ignore this one. Shino wasn’t the type to just swim by when she saw someone being harassed, especially by one of those Black Wave separatists.

 

The collector had seemed not too disturbed, now that Shino thought back more closely. She had kept her cool while Shino had inspected the contents of her bag, whereas most collectors immediately start to wiggle their way out with lies and excuses. And the human antique that Shino had eventually confiscated turned out to be exactly as the collector had guessed.

 

Shino was glad it hadn’t gotten damaged in the fight that had followed. She still didn’t have any leads on the Siren who’d attacked them, but she was certain that he had been on those striped kelp enhancements. If that collector hadn’t been there to help, Shino would have been in some trouble.

 

A thought came to Shino’s mind but she dismissed it quickly, rising from the terminal to swim across her office then back again. It was a ridiculous idea. The recommendation would get denied instantly. The collector’s experience wasn’t exactly legal, for one, and she certainly didn’t have any experience grappling.

 

Shino crossed her arms and floated for a bit. Kimura hadn’t known much grappling when he started, but Shino had been able to teach him. Judging from the way the collector had moved during the fight, there was some potential there. Plus, she was a good shot, considering how she’d used the dart gun. ‘And that’s not an easy weapon to use…’

 

It felt as if all the songs around her was pulling Shino towards the same melody. She shook her head with a helpless smile. Who was she to fight against it? Shino swam back to the terminal and opened up the recommendation form on her screen.

Recommendation requestor: Captain Shino Nobusa
Recommendation for: Akari Yamada
Role: Research
Team: CR – Collections & Rescue …

 

V.

And that was “Memories of Crystal Ridge” by The Jazz Kids Club. Thanks again for tuning in to 2KL Siren radio. It’s the top of the hour, so it’s time for some news.

 

This morning, the Siren militia announced a discovery that proves the existence of the warrior tea masters. The discovery was made by Captain Nobusa and new recruit Yamada of the militia’s Intelligence department, and they will be working with the humans of Crescent Island to in joint research.

 

In other news, the search continues for Rikito, a member of the Black Wave, the militarized separatist group. Rikito had been placed on probation for attacking an Siren militia member and civilian within the restricted area last week, but is now charged with the disappearance of Saito, a trader from Northern quadrant. Any information about Rikito’s wheareabouts can be reported anonymously to the Siren militia hotline.

 

Onto our main story. Use of the striped kelp muscle enhancement has been on the rise this year, and with it, an increase of violent incidents, medical emergencies, and more. Our field reporter Maki has more…

 

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