I have this list. There are ways I want to wake up, and things I want to see when I open my eyes. Waking up to a beautiful woman leaning over me happens to be pretty high on that list. I could have done without the slapping, though. The dog licking my hand could go, too, and it could take the splitting headache with it.
Damn it all to every single one of Enma's hells. I had no idea what was going on. The woman was familiar, but only just. The dog-- No, two of them. Two tongues, at least. Little things. I tried to get a look at them and the world slid out from underneath me. I fell five or six feet before I realized I'd never moved.
The woman bit her lip and said something I couldn't hear. She might've been cursing. I couldn't tell. It wasn't all that important, really. The world was empty. Her words sent off into an absolute vacuum to freeze and shatter. A bit of hair had escaped its bun. I reached out to touch it, fascinated. It was gold, like honey. Like sunlight. Like the beam of a semi-portable plasma lance. Like an old-fashioned force shield, the kind that were always the color of amber.
I remembered hair falling down her shoulders, blocking her face. Like a force shield. A bar. A cocktail with fruit and a thin beer. There was a cigarette that tasted like old gloves.
How long ago was that? The room was dark enough that it could be the middle of the night. I checked my wrist for the time. The wrist on the same I arm I was reaching for her hair with. The time wasn't there. No date, either. There should be numbers hovering above my wrist. No numbers.
No data tags. No notes. No kami whispering in my ear. Enma's hells.
I checked my other wrist. The one that owned the hand the dogs were licking. Nothing there but a line of bruised skin that matched a line on the other arm.
“What happened?” It didn't hurt to talk, not exactly. My throat felt fine, but the movement sent blood pounding through my head and it made the headache worse.
“Nan deshou ka nee,” the woman said. I laughed. She frowned. The phrase always made me laugh. It was a funny sentence, so many tentative words strung together. Japanese was a wonderful language for saying nothing at all. “What the hell kind of business trip are you on?”
The geisha. What was her name, Helen.. Hestia. Hestia something.
Hestia slapped me again. It hurt more inside my skull than in my cheek. “Hey. Pay attention.”
“I feel like shit.”
“You look like shit.”
She didn't. She was nice on the eyes. “What time is it?” I asked.
“Can't access dataspace?”
I shook my head, and the world swam around more than it should have. Hestia slipped an arm under my shoulder and helped me sit up. A pair of tiny dogs circled us and yapped excitedly as Hestia leaned over my shoulder. Her breasts brushed against my cheek and ear. Nice breasts. Full. Round. Her kimono and its belt did a lot to highlight them.
“There's blood on the back of your neck,” she said. “Not a lot, but it looks like someone hit you with a datalance. Maybe.” She rocked back on her heels and rested her elbows on her knees. She looked concerned. Really concerned. It was kind of cute.
“A nerve jammer.”
Nerve jammers did... things.... to your nerves. Jammed them, I guess. Knocked you out. Shut down your wetware. Poured molasses in your brain. Things you didn't want strangers doing to you. For that matter, things you didn't want your friends doing to you.
“Can you fix it?” Hestia asked. “Or do I need to get you to the hospital?”
“It'll fix itself...” The dogs were still running around in circles, making shrill little barks. LA terriers. Horrible little dogs, the Los Angeles terrier. Useless dogs bred for useless socialites in a society that had been long past its prime.
She slapped me. Again. “Stay here.” She was right, of course. Forcing myself to concentrate would help clear the remnants of the nerve jammer from my system. “Do you need a medic to reboot your wetware?”
“No, it'll self-boot soon. The blackout doesn't normally last much longer than the sedation.”
“This your idea of a normal Friday night?”
One of the dogs stood on its hind legs and danced. The other sat itself down at my feet and watched the first make a fool out of itself. Another dog might have watched with contempt. This one just watched with apathy. I got the feeling that it was just too lazy to join in. “Besides the mutts,” I said, “Yeah. Pretty much.”
“Hell of a business you're in.”
“You can say that again, sister. Where in Enma's hells am I?”
She arched an eyebrow. It was darker than I remembered. Her skin paler. Her lips more crimson. It was the kind of subtle makeup more experienced geisha were allowed to wear. I heard shrill laughter in distance and the drone of distant conversation. “Susanou's Governor's Mansion. In the library, I guess, with all these books in here. And you're lying on the floor.”
“Sitting,” I said.
“Whatever. Your hands were tied when I found you.”
“Huh.” I fished out my cigarettes. The pack had been smashed and the smokes ruined. I balled up the ruined package and tossed it at the wall. The boss didn't pay me enough for this.
“I see you're concerned about that.”
“Like I said, business as usual.”
“What business is that, exactly?”
“Sou ka? Yakuza ka?”
“Chigau yo, kiddo. Why would there be yakuza in the Governor's mansion?” I could think of any number of reasons. I wanted her ideas, though. People have a way of surprising you.
“Oh, high society is very much abuzz with rumors of a Yamaguchi-gumi assassin. I thought he might be you.”
“Not really,” I said. “He attacked me. I...”
“Hai?” she prompted.
My head gave one last throb. It was a doozy, a tsunami of pain and vertigo. I clutched at Hestia's arm and hated myself for it. Weak.
Dataspace came back all at once. Data tags snapped into existence. Kami clattered for attention, at least half a dozen shouting in my ear, all of them trying to out shout the others. It reminded me of holidays with the family.
My memory was on its way back in, too, dragging its feet and feeling a bit worse for the wear. At least, though, I got an idea of what I was doing here. I rifled through my pockets until I found the invitation the coroner had given me. A little card made of genuine, honest-to-god paper, lettered with something that might have been genuine, honest-to-god gold leaf. Fashionable for a few decades ago, tacky as hell these days.
The dancing dog yipped, dropped onto all fours, and then onto its back legs again. I wanted to punt it. The pair of them had met at the fence, and followed me the entire time, yapping and dancing and generally being a pain in the ass. A little embarrassing. The hero is supposed to sneak in with style and grace, or at least be met by a pair of angry dobermans or something. Not Los Angeles terriers looking for love.
Assuming I was the hero, anyways. I'm sure a lot of colonials would disagree. Enma's hells, maybe even Hestia would disagree. Depressing, but what the hell. Wouldn't be the first girl that thought I was the villain.
I suppose I looked like I was zoning out again. Hestia's hand flew towards my face. There was a flash of color inside her sleeve.
My movements were still sluggish. I didn't manage to catch her hand before she connected, but I got a grip on her arm and yanked her sleeve up past her elbow. There was a vicious scar that started at her elbow and disappeared up her sleeve that marred an arm's worth of china doll-skin, but not the tattoos I thought I saw.
Hestia blushed. Not exactly the reaction I was expecting. “Childhood accident,” she murmured.
I ran my fingers along the scar. The skin was smooth and silvered. “This can't be that expensive to fix.”
“My dad was a firm believer in learning from your mistakes.”
She lowered her eyes. Bit her lip. She did the thoughtfully sexy thing far too well. “Watakushi mo,” she said. “Dad and I see eye to eye on that.”
“Hell of a thing to ask a kid to live with.”
“It was a hell of a thing for a kid to do.”
“And that was?”
“Something for another time.”
I didn't have anything to say. It's a funny feeling for a guy who fancies himself witty and clever to be out of things to say.
“What are you looking for?” She wiggled her arm a bit. “A knife? Pair of aces? The fluffy white bunny I'm gonna pull out of your hat?”
“You've got a fluffy bunny?”
“Not up my sleeve,” she said. The woman with the shrill laugh in the other room went at it again. It was a horrible sound, and it was closer than it had been. Maybe it was just the natural tides of humanity carrying the woman closer. “You didn't answer me.”
“I thought I saw tattoos.”
She covered her mouth with her free hand and laughed. “I'm not with the yakuza.”
“I don't know that.”
“Sou. You don't.” I felt the muscles in her arm tense. The amusement in her features vanished like water drying up under the summer sun.
I suppose we were quite the sight, or were if the couple that burst through the door were really paying any attention to us. The door thumped in its frame once and flew open. Bright light and the sound of a dozen conversations stabbed into the room. Hestia threw herself on top of me. Damn near bowled me over. I tried to curse, but her lips were doing a good job of keeping mine busy.
I half-heard a man apologize. The woman's hyena-screech laughter, though, came through loud and clear. It sounded nervous, maybe. I don't know. It was hard to pay attention.
The door shut and Hestia pulled away. She'd managed to make a mess of her hair and her kimono had slipped open enough to fall over her shoulder. It was a nice shoulder, in keeping with the general theme of the girl. Even the tail end of her scar couldn't ruin it.
She pulled a small mirror from somewhere inside her kimono. “Enma's hells, I look awful.”
Not so much. She looked just fine. Maybe not what a geisha should look like in polite company, but fine just the same. “What was that about?”
Hestia snorted. “What those two didn't see. Namely, a geisha who should be off somewhere flirting with the governor's guests and a bakufu agent who should be hogtied and unconscious. They got an eye-full of another horny couple going at it in a dark corner instead.”
“You know who I am.”
“You're forgettable enough if you're just walking down the street,” she said, “But in weird situations? Finding you unconscious and tied up? It doesn't take that long to put a name to your face. You're the public face of the Shogun's grip on the galaxy. Of course I recognize you.”
“You play along well.”
“I'm a geisha. Playing along is what we do.” She straightened her kimono and fiddled with the obi around her waist. Her shoulder disappeared inside her kimono. “Most people that contract our services are guys like the governor. People who desperately want to be important but really aren't that big of a deal. We play along. We fawn over them. Hang on their every word. Laugh at lame jokes. Flirt shamelessly and just loosely enough to let them think they have a chance to get in our pants. We are very good at it, nee? We've been doing it for thousands of years.”
“Well,” I said, “There goes all the wind out of my sails.”
Hestia laughed. It was a sweet sound. Gentle and innocent, completely out of place with the cynicism she'd been shoveling. “Not you, angel. You might just be genuinely important.”