Jen Air: Asterion – Oshiros

In todays extract from the novel I’m currently working on (the sequel to The Little Queen), Kaya drops by to visit her friend Sayuri who is working in her father’s shop:

Irongate was located in a valley surrounded by trees and hills and a lake not far away.  It had essentially been built around a steel mill, but when that business dried up had successfully transitioned into a home for a university and several science and technology based companies.  Today all sorts of people lived here, from gruff and surly old folk who still remembered the good old days when many of their friends died in mining mishaps, to more recent immigrants like the Oshiros.

Sayuri had actually lived in Irongate her entire life, but before her birth her parents had travelled the entire globe in search of new experiences and adventure.  What made them settle and raise their daughter here rather than return to Japan was a question sometimes debated in the pubs Mr Oshiro frequented.  Some said that Mr Oshiro had been a yakuza and had spent his life on the run from authorities in his homeland.  Or that he had crossed the gangs and was in some kind of witness protection program.  Sayuri knew that although her father did have a sword, it was a movie replica and he had no idea how to use it or any weapon.  He hadn’t any tattoos either, and her parents did speak to friends and relatives from Japan and had a few times discussed moving back there.  They only stayed because they liked the whiskey.  Besides which, they did have a moderately successful business going trading all sorts of goods.

On occasion something curious arrived on her counter.  She leant over, peering, touching, sniffing at the object but no matter how closely she scrutinised she still had no idea what the thing was.  It was a convex disc made of wood and metal.  Maybe it was stand for a globe, or perhaps it opened up there was a compass or something else inside.  Or maybe it was just a primitive waffle maker.  But she couldn’t find how, if it all, it opened.

Giving up for now, she turned to her paper and read todays horoscope.  ‘You have a nurturing spirit,’ it told her.  She was less sure, but she read on. ‘So long as you feel appreciated, you’re happy to go the extra mile.  You can expect to feel loved by those around you.  You have a willing, giving nature and it shows in your aura like a beacon’.

“Beacon, huh?” She took a deep breath, straightening up in her spot behind the counter prepared to beam warmly over whoever next walked into the store.  It wasn’t long before she heard the bell ring and she smiled and started to say happily, “Hello!  Welcome to Oshiro’s!  How may I…”

“What’s up scobberlotch,” she heard a voice interrupt, “and you can start by wiping that stupid fake grin off your face.”

“Oh, it’s you,” Sayuri allowed herself to relax, seeing it was just Kaya.  “How’s Jen?  And whatshername… the kid?”

“Jen’s fine,” Kaya said as she approached the counter, going around shelves filled with all sorts of paraphernalia; toys old and new, animal cages, globes, a bull mask.  “A little weird, but I guess she always has been.  And Tenley… she’s okay I guess.  I mean she hasn’t killed either of us in our sleep yet, so I guess that’s okay.”

The shopkeeper maintained her smile.  To her, it looked like Kaya had been blessed recently – apart from the whole being chased and nearly having her eyes gouged out by psychopathic changelings thing – she’d gone from being alone and living in her car to having a really nice place to stay with, despite Jen’s quirks, a nice person to share it with.  Yet she could tell there were a lot of things still bothering her friend.  “You don’t think she would really kill you in your sleep, do you?  I mean, from what you told me before you’d have been impaled by an umbrella if she hadn’t saved you.”

“No,” Kaya admitted with a half moan, half sigh.  “I don’t think she’ll kill us.  Not plan to anyway.  But it’s like… you ever held a Chimpanzee?  Sure, they can look cute and harmless enough most the time, in the zoo.  But you feel how strong they are, you know they can break you easily if even the littlest thing sets them off and they start acting like animals again.”

“She’s not a Chimp.  And you trusted her enough to leave her alone with Jennifer.”

“Yeah, well, I reckon Jen is the last person she would hurt.  She’s enjoying being doted over, for now.”

“You want to know what I think?”

Kaya put her elbows down on the counter, palms on her cheeks stretching anc curving her lips.  “Yeah, go on.  I’ve nothing better to listen to right now.”

“I think you’re so not used to things actually going your way that now they have been you’re desperate to find a catch so that everything will seem normal again, at least to you.”

“Say, I live in a lighthouse with a genius, her supercomputer and army of robots, and god knows what’s up with the rats around there; I saw two of them playing Tetris with blocks of cheese the other day.  Not to mention the little girl who’s like an entire army by herself.  Trust me, I’m way past caring what’s normal anymore.”

“Just don’t be a bitch and I’m sure it will all be fine.”

Kaya’s nose twitched suggesting she really wasn’t convinced, but was getting tired of discussing it.  “Well never mind all that.  How have you been?  How’s…” the blue haired woman caught sight of something over Sayuri’s shoulder and immediately straightened up, forcing a smile on her face.  “Hey, Mister Oshiro!  How are you?”

The middle aged man stood in the doorway leading to the stockroom holding a very small shot glass in one hand as he peered intently at the visitor for what seemed like forever, to Kaya, before grinding his jaw and shaking his head disapprovingly, muttering to himself as he went away.

The punk had leant back, her eyes wide and still fixed on the place he’d been standing as she asked, “er… what’s up with him?”

“Oh, nothing,” Sayuri said, smiling politely.  “He’s just bitter because I’ve made more profit than him this month.  See, we had a little bet going on…”  she was interrupted by her father passing by the door again, muttering more loudly but Kaya didn’t know enough Japanese to work out what he was saying.  Whatever it was caused Sayuri to wince and spit something back before she returned to smiling.  “Incidentally,” she said, picking up the convex disc from the counter, “have you any idea what this thing is?”

Kaya took the item, giving it a cursory examination before speculating, “um… paperweight?” The answer didn’t seem pleasing to Say, so she tried again.  “Maybe a piece off an old crane, or a ship, or something…”

“Oh…” Sayuri thought, “that’s good.  I could say it’s from a famous wreck, like the Titanic maybe…”

“Isn’t kind of wrong to lie about this stuff?”

“Well, it’s only really lying if you know the truth,” the shop keeper shrugged.  “As far as we know, it could be, so…”

Kaya slowly breathed out the word, “right…” Again she wasn’t really convinced.  “Anyway, you ready to go yet?”

“Sure.  I just…” she heard her father’s grumpy muttering again.  Maintaining her smile, she held up a finger instructing her friend to “wait a moment,” before walking to and leaning round the door.  At that point she launched into a thunderous and fiery tirade that lasted about a minute.  Kay caught only a few of the words she had picked up over the years, like baka and hekoki.  When it was done Sayuri returned to the counter, the pleasant smile back on her face as she said, “okay.  Let’s go.”

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