Chapter 14:

Calm before the Storm


It was a Friday night.Bookmark here

Someone in the next apartment was talking so loudly on the phone that Yukio just couldn’t concentrate on the class notes. One moment, he understood the equations in front of him, and the next moment, they lost all coherence. The signs and symbols became a bunch of illegible scribblings, impossible to decipher.Bookmark here

Just like his life.Bookmark here

As the person shouted at his phone again, Yukio got up from the chair, and threw his body at the bed. He knew the man was not the reason he couldn’t concentrate; he got used to his late night talks a long time ago. Today his mind was just looking for an escape; an excuse to concentrate on other, more important things. And it had found one.Bookmark here

After all, tomorrow he was going on his first mission.Bookmark here

There was a time when he was almost sure that either Tetsuya-san or Sumeragi Sensei would tell him that he’s been kicked out of Minus Plus. The thought wasn’t surprising, considering what he did at Ebromia and on Earth 2.0. And at that time, if Yukio said that he was heartbroken, it would’ve been a lie.Bookmark here

But, fortunately or unfortunately, that didn’t happen. After he and Kawata-san returned, he was taken to Kichiro-san’s clinic. She didn’t utter a single word during the time she treated her; which worried him, but also made him somewhat relieved.Bookmark here

The worry took the center stage when suddenly both Tetsuya-san and Sumeragi Sensei appeared before him.Bookmark here

He wanted to ask Sensei about Earth 2.0, about the job Kawata-san had there. He would’ve also liked to ask Tetsuya-san about Tetsuya Kiyoshi, who was definitely related to her. But their solemn expressions prevented him from uttering a single peep.Bookmark here

At first, they showed concern about his health. Once that was out of the way, it didn’t take them long to breach the main topic. It was Tetsuya-san who first talked to him.Bookmark here

“Takanashi-san, I heard you…”Bookmark here

His heart did sink at that moment, but he was prepared for it. He apologized to her, promised her it won’t happen again (a typical apology), and then mentioned that he was willing to take full responsibility for what happened, and accept whatever punishment they saw fit. “Just tell me I’m not needed anymore”, he wished.Bookmark here

But she didn’t say anything like that. And soon, the conversion was hijacked by Sumeragi Sensei.Bookmark here

At first, he apologized for drinking in the middle of the day, acknowledging his part in the incident. Before Yukio could fully digest that, he started talking about Ebromia; how the people there had hampered his work several times before, how they forced him to live almost inside a forest, and how they conveniently forgot to mention that a deadly creature roamed the forest now and then. Tetsuya-san was completely silent during that time, and only nodded slightly during some parts.Bookmark here

“So what I’m trying to say is, don’t worry about it. In fact, if you didn’t get out, the creature might still have come. And we can only guess what would’ve happened then.”Bookmark here

There was still a bit of surprise left. When Sensei brought out a TD from the inside of his coat, Yukio couldn’t believe his eyes at first. It might’ve surprised Tetsuya-san as well; he couldn’t be sure, as her expression remained unchanged.Bookmark here

“Welcome to the team.” Sensei said while handing over the TD.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

A sudden sound halted Yukio’s train of thought, and made him check his phone. It was a message from Onee-san.Bookmark here

The past week, she was messaging him a lot on the MINE app. Well, it was mostly her checking up on him and pestering him with ‘funny’ cat videos. He wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about them, but the messages showed that she was willing to connect with him again, which he didn’t mind.Bookmark here

“LOL!!” the message read.Bookmark here

As he opened the app, he saw that it was a response to his earlier message, “Nothing. Will stay in my room and study.”Bookmark here

He sent her the ‘unamused face’ emoji, and dropped the phone on the bed. After a few moments, it pinged again.Bookmark here

“OMG Yuki!! Weekends are for going out and having fun!” was the message. As he read it, another one arrived, “What are your friends doing?”Bookmark here

My ‘friends’, huh…Bookmark here

He thought of messaging her ‘The same as me’, but then thought better. She believed him when he said he had a few friends at the new school, and he didn’t want her to question that belief.Bookmark here

“IDK. Probably going out.” He tapped the arrow icon, and instantly regretted it.Bookmark here

“Then talk to them!” was the immediate reply. “Have fun!”Bookmark here

If only it was that easy, he thought.Bookmark here

The truth was, he didn’t talk much to Amanda after coming back. She did ask him how he was, but it was a formal concern, something he would’ve expected from Kichiro-san or Sugi. In fact, she seemed so distant that it had been impossible for him to bring up Kiyoshi-san, or to learn more about the mission. She did talk to him after school, but it was mainly about how he was holding up, and how the next test was going to be so tough for the two of them.Bookmark here

I don’t even know whether she’s going to join me tomorrow, Yukio thought while closing his eyes.Bookmark here

Hagiwara Sensei was also relentless. Every day during the past week, she gave him a stern look before leaving the class. It wasn’t hard to understand what it meant; ‘If you don’t join a club by next week, be prepared for something really bad’.Bookmark here

But clubs were the last thing on his mind. Even though he managed to attend all the five days of school this week, he could hardly pay any attention to the classes. He remembered his vow of keeping Minus Plus and his studies separate, but it was easier said than done. Especially now that he knew how dangerous their job was. And every time he was going to another world, he might not come back.Bookmark here

After drinking a glass of water, Yukio visited the washroom. As he was peeing, and thinking about whether to brush tonight or skip it, someone appeared behind him.Bookmark here

“Oh God!” Amanda shouted after noticing his appearance.Bookmark here

With a scream, Yukio quickly covered himself. “What are you doing here?!”Bookmark here

“I just came to…” Amanda’s eyes were darting towards the part he was trying to hide.Bookmark here

“GET OUT!” He shouted.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

“So, how much did Kichiro-san tell you?”Bookmark here

As usual, Amanda was lying on Yukio’s bed, her face supported by her hands. It was hard to realize that she was trying to have a serious conversion. Her dress today, a sleeveless T-shirt with a short skirt, didn’t help either. If someone looked at them, they would’ve thought the two of them were talking about something trivial. Like planning a trip.Bookmark here

They would’ve been half right.Bookmark here

“Not much,” Yukio answered, being conscious of the way he sat on the chair in his pajamas, “She just called me Wednesday and said I was selected for another Expedition. It was my chance to redeem myself, blah blah. Also, the Expedition would go on for two days this time.”Bookmark here

“Yes,” Amanda didn’t change her posture, “We will leave Saturday evening, so if you have anything to do at the school, you can take care of it. Call me whenever you are ready, and I will come and get you.”Bookmark here

“But… What are we…”Bookmark here

“That is exactly why I’m here,” She finally got up and sat on the bed properly, “Kichiro-san sent me to brief you. Sorry about the past few days, I know we haven’t talked much. I was busy with the arrangements-”Bookmark here

After a quick pause, she resumed, “Anyway, tomorrow we will be going to the planet Kegmar, which is not much different than the Earth. It will be a rescue mission, where we have to enter an enemy base and get a prisoner out. Well, a group of Rangers would do the ‘rescue’ part, and you just have to be a Navigator. I assume you know what that means?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” he continued even though he was unsure, “I have to be on the lookout, right? Collecting information, or clues?”Bookmark here

“Just the first one,” Amanda laughed, “You’re not an official Navigator yet, so don’t worry about having to become a spy. Your job would be simple. You’ll be placed on a building, and given a task of observing its entrance. Basically, if someone enters the building, you need to walkie one of us. You’ll soon be out of there, and the rest will be handled by the Rangers.”Bookmark here

After a few moments of silence, she asked Yukio, “Do you have any questions?”Bookmark here

Quite a few, he thought, the most pressing of them being why you call missions ‘Expeditions’. But he knew it wasn’t the right time to ask that.Bookmark here

“Can’t you just-”Bookmark here

“Stop right there,” Amanda raised her hand, “I know that one. What’s the point of this mission when we can just Jump there and take the prisoner out, right?”Bookmark here

After he slowly nodded, she continued, “It’s not that simple. First of all, we don’t know where he is being kept. It can be either in an extremely tight place where we can’t reach him, or even in such a room where we would be dead the moment we set foot on it. On top of that, only two members of our Expedition team have seen the prisoner. I’m not one of them. Anyway, the prisoner has a very special power, which is why he’s being held captive. And that’s also why the security would be tight.”Bookmark here

“What is the special power?” Yukio was finally starting to feel some sort of excitement.Bookmark here

After a long pause, she said, “He can scan the memories of other people.”Bookmark here

“Like Kiyoshi-san?” he was awestruck.Bookmark here

“So you’ve heard about him…” Amanda was looking at the floor.Bookmark here

Yukio wondered whether it would be a good time to learn more about him. But before he could say anything, Amanda resumed, “So you understand why he is a very special Tract. We need to get him out of there, out of the hands of Weimers.”Bookmark here

“Weimers?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” She looked at him, “They are our opponent this time. If I’m being honest, this Expedition has a lot riding on it. Even after everything we have planned, there are several things that can go wrong. And there won’t be a second chance.”Bookmark here

Amanda suddenly got up and stood next to him.Bookmark here

“Yukio, I don’t care what you did last time. This time, you have to follow orders. Can you do it?”Bookmark here

“Y-yeah,” he somehow managed.Bookmark here

“Good.” Ignoring his stammering, she took her seat at the edge of the bed, “Do you have any other questions?”Bookmark here

“Would I be given any weapons?” Yukio asked her point-blank.Bookmark here

Amanda looked uncomfortable for a few seconds, then answered, “Not really. You won’t need one anyway. The moment you notice someone in the building other than yourself, you should just open your walkie, and you'll be out of there in no time.”Bookmark here

“But, exactly what are we dealing with here?” Yukio absolutely didn’t like the fact that she left out a lot of things about the Expedition. Did she really think telling him they would be fighting ‘Weimers’ was enough explanation?Bookmark here

“Oh,” she seemed to realize something, “I understand. Don’t worry, Weimers are just like us, and every bit as bad as us. It took several long, bloody wars for them to settle for their king, and then the king turned his eyes towards other worlds, as he was from a family of Tracts. Now we need to make sure Kegmar does not become another Tiztaan.”Bookmark here

Both of them were silent for a few minutes.Bookmark here

“If you have any more questions, call me.” She got up and stretched her body. Yukio tried not to look at her, but his attention was still towards his peripheral vision, through which he saw her bellybutton being exposed.Bookmark here

Were those… abs?Bookmark here

“Goodnight,” Amanda said, “Contact me tomorrow when you’re ready. Well, try to be ready before 8 pm, or we might leave without you.” Then she was gone.Bookmark here

“Are you tempting me?” Yukio muttered.Bookmark here

Before turning the lights off and going to sleep, he checked MINE for the last time.Bookmark here

“Did you talk?” was the message from Onee-san.Bookmark here

“Yes. Made a plan.” Yukio replied, “Got a big day tomorrow.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.