Continuing with the weekly postings of the GPR3 draft.
– II –
Initially it was a surprise, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me.
The Cat Princess was a mechanical, remote controlled body.
I didn’t know what it was like for the operator to experience their surroundings through the interface with the avatar, but it was possible they lacked the tactile sensitivity a human or Simulacrum possessed. In other words, the Cat Princess’s Meister didn’t feel her surroundings as much as I did. This was something I only realized while grappling with the Cat Princess aboard the VTOL.
When I felt the knife in her back pocket, I was able to steal it from her without being discovered. As we continued to scuffle, she made no mention of the knife, so I went further and succeeded in removing the gun from the holster she wore under her jacket. It wasn’t easy, and I honestly feared she would notice my intent, yet she didn’t. Uncomfortably hiding the small gun in the band of my denim trousers, while keeping that side of my body facing away from the Cat Princess, I once again waited for her to notice she’d been disarmed but she remained oblivious to the fact.
It was then apparent that as realistic as she was – which included breathing – she didn’t possess the same degree of touch sensitivity as a real person. She wasn’t aware of all the changes in pressure to her body, and that certainly surprised me. It also made me curious as to how a Meister operated the mechanical avatar. What was the experience like for them? How did they view and feel the world around them? If the result was limited like the Cat Princess demonstrated, then their perception of their surroundings was woefully trivial compared to how clearly I could experience my environment.
I decided it was something I’d ask Erina or Ghost about later.
I’d ask Ghost about it later when we were alone.
With the Cat Princess glowering at my back, I followed my sister and Pearson out of the waiting lounge and into the innards of the apartment complex. The landing platform was constructed on one corner of the six-sided building, but it wasn’t located at the top of the megascraper. In fact, the middle of the hexagonal pyramid towered a dozen or more floors above the platform. After a short walk down an opulent hallway, we arrived at a bank of elevators and caught one up several floors. Exiting the lift car, I trailed behind Erina and Pearson, and came up to a pair of doors at the end of a short corridor. I expected Erina to unlock the doors, but instead she touched the doorplate to the right of the jamb, and with Mirai’s acute hearing, I listened to a chime sound faintly somewhere ahead of us.
When one of the doors unlocked and then opened gently, my eyebrows rose dramatically to the ceiling and try as I might I couldn’t bring them back down.
A young woman in a traditional maid outfit poked her body out into the corridor.
No, no, no. Allow me to properly elaborate upon that observation.
A young woman in a traditional French Maid’s outfit, with a bodice that clung tightly to her well-endowed chest, poked her body out into the corridor. At sight of Erina, she opened the door fully, revealing the rest of her, and I ran my gaze quickly over her short skirt, and slender shapely legs perched atop a pair of black high heels. Her long, auburn hair was arranged into what I guessed was a thick braid, and I judged her to be a little older than me, though still in her teenage years. It was then that my eyebrows lowered, when I found myself wondering if she was a Menial, and perhaps this was all the employment she could find herself after graduating from second tier education, otherwise known as high school. When I realized what I was thinking, and I flinched in shame as I averted my gaze.
Who was I to judge her? I wasn’t even human. I was a fraud. But more so, what right did I have to be critical of her?
While I felt contrite over my supercilious thoughts, Erina had no qualms or regrets in regarding the girl as an inconsequence.
“Lady Kassius—” the maid started to say but hurriedly stepped aside when my sister walked into the wide hallway beyond the doors, almost pushing her way past the pretty girl.
Pearson gave me a hasty look before hurrying after my sister.
I exhaled slowly, aware of the Cat Princess standing close by and when I glanced at her, I noticed the veiled reproach on her face and wondered if she was directing at Erina.
She can display subtle emotions, yet she can’t feel her surroundings the way I can. How strange.
Seeing that the maid was looking anxiously at me, I took a quick breath, then entered the apartment through the open doorway. As I stepped past the girl, I bowed my head to her, and offered her a softly spoken apology.
The girl blinked quickly, then her lips curled into a faint smile, but she said nothing until after she’d quietly closed the door behind the Cat Princess who followed me silently into the apartment.
“This way, please,” the young maid suggested as she ushered us down the wide hallway to a spacious rectangular living area with a sunken floor at one end that was furnished with sofas, a low table made of tinted glass, and a holovid projection system that belonged in a private cinema. A permaglass window spanned the length of one wall, and offered access to an enormous balcony that was several times larger than my dormitory apartment. An open kitchen area was situated adjacent to the living room, and two hallways led deeper into the apartment, undoubtedly to the bedrooms, guestrooms, bathrooms and so forth. The floor, walls, and ceiling were all a light creamy color, and that included the soft pile carpet underfoot.
Everything about the place projected luxury, comfort, and convenience, and that included the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
In terms of opulence, the apartment was on par with Mat’s family home in Ring One, District Ten where society’s affluent lived.
It was a richness that made me uncomfortable as I slowly walked around the living area, aware that my sister and Pearson were watching me, while the Cat Princess gawked at the interior of the apartment.
As for the maid, she was keeping to herself at the entrance to the living room.
I faced my sister. “You planning on living here as well?”
“Yes, I am.”
That brought a snarl to my face that I had trouble clearing away. “Just frekking wonderful….”
“I need to be here,” she stated sternly.
“No,” I shook my head at her, “you don’t.” Walking up to her, I folded my arms under my big chest. “I don’t need you around, and you don’t need to be here. I have no doubt that you have a surveillance system installed in this apartment, so you can watch me from somewhere else, you voyeur. But I won’t tolerate having you here.”
I turned around and started walking toward the hallway leading to the apartment’s entrance.
As I’d expected, the Cat Princess stood in my way.
I punched a fist into a palm. “Ready for round two?”
She gave me a disappointed look, and that wasn’t what I was expecting.
From behind me, Erina’s voice reached my ears. “It’s important that I be here.”
“Why?” I asked without turning around, my attention on the Cat Princess who stood before me with arms folded under her bust. “I’m not your lab rat, Erina, so you don’t need to be here.”
“I’m still your sister.”
“No. You’re Ronin’s sister.” This time I threw her a glare over my left shoulder. “You’re not my sister.”
I’d finally made the long overdue admission that I no longer considered that woman as my sister, and I felt lighter for it.
However, Erina’s response was to sigh at me as though I were a stupid child. “According to legal documents submitted to the Civil Registry, the Sanreal Family has made me your guardian.”
“That’s a stupid thing to do. If I’m a member of their family, shouldn’t I be living with them?” Taking a step back from the Cat Princess, I half turned to look at Erina. “Just what’s the deal here.”
“I’m your guardian, though you are soon to be my sister-in-law, even though officially you’re only a half-sister to the Sanreal siblings.”
“You mean, Mat?”
“I’m speaking in terms of what’s recorded in the Civil Registry. Matrim is a Praetor. You are a Sanreal.”
“So who are my other official siblings? Clarisol?”
“She is one of them.”
“Does that mean a Simulacrum of Clarisol will eventually be unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses?”
Erina started to sigh but stopped herself abruptly. “Her absence would be problematic, thus the answer is ‘yes’.”
I mulled that over, wondering if this version of Clarisol would be less extreme than the previous incarnation, and wondering why it would be a problem if she disappeared from society’s pages. “So who else is a half-sibling of mine?”
“Simon Sanreal. The head of the Sanreal Family.”
Abruptly, I frowned and turned to look behind the Cat Princess at the maid standing silently by the hallway’s entrance, wearing a confused expression that she failed to hide.
“Hey,” I asked her, “who are you?”
The girl’s eyes widened in a heartbeat and she bowed frantically. “I—I’m Cecilia. I was hired as the maid—I—I mean housekeeper. It—it’s a pleasure to serve you.”
I winced at her reaction, but tore my attention away from her chest bouncing wildly in her bodice. “Okay—okay! Stop it. You’re making me dizzy.”
The girl stopped bowing and regarded me anxiously.
“Could you please…give us a moment?” I asked of her.
I noticed the glance she threw at Erina before bowing to me quickly and then hurrying off into one of the hallways connected to the living area.
With the maid now having left the scene, I took a deep breath, then turned to face Erina. “How much does she know?”
“She knows that you’re Isabel val Sanreal, the youngest member of the Sanreal Family, and that you’re also an illegitimate child.”
“You mean a love child,” I grumbled harshly in a low voice.
“Yes. You are.”
“What else does she know?”
“That you’re lacking in manners, good graces, and you’re a tomboy. That despite your appearance as an attractive girl, there is nothing ladylike about you.”
I heard the Cat Princess snicker but decided not to confront her, and instead directed a scowl at my former sister. “Anything else I should know?”
“You’re also convinced that you are a teenage boy.”
“What?” I growled.
“You have delusions of being a boy in a past life. In other words, you believe you’re a boy reincarnated as a girl.”
I swear I could hear my tendons pop as I clenched my hands. “No thanks to you….”
To my surprise, Erina folded her arms under breasts and smiled at me like someone about to say ‘checkmate’, yet she said, “We have all the bases covered.”
“Yeah, I can see that. You have the maid believing that I’m crazy.”
“Oh, and you like girls.”
This time I blushed. “Well of course I do—” I cut myself off as I realized I was about to say something that would further incriminate me as being delusional.
I’m a straight guy in a girl’s body. Of course I’d like girls. But now this makes me a lesbian!
Abruptly feeling drained, my shoulders slumped and I relaxed my hands.
The Civil Registry keeps a profile on people. I wonder what they have on me.
“You sure laid it out nicely, didn’t you,” I applauded her.
“What choice did we have?” she asked in return. “You’re not aware of it, but you don’t move like a girl. Your mannerisms are barely feminine in passing. Other than your looks, there’s little else that’s feminine about you.”
I frowned at her. “Meaning—”
“Meaning that come Monday morning, everyone in Telos Academy who encounters you will start to wonder what kind of upbringing you’ve had.”
I began to realize what she was implying. “Because I don’t act like a girl.”
“Correct. And soon it’ll be all over the social media waves that the youngest daughter of the well-known Sanreal Family is a tomboy…and that’s putting it politely.”
Taking another deep breath, I planted my hands on my hips. “So what?”
Erina’s eyebrows rose and fell. “Indeed. So what. Well, you’ll find out eventually. By then, you’ll have dug yourself into a social pit of your own making. Frankly, it’s not my concern. As I’ve said before, you have a purpose and so long as you meet that purpose, it’s not my problem if you ruin your school and social life.”
“Wow, and here I thought you cared about your lab rat.”
She stepped up to me. Since our heights were comparable, I met her gaze at eyelevel.
“Only the lab rat, Isabel. You make it impossible to care about the rest of you.”
I wet my lips slowly. “Then get out. Or better still, have the school assign me to a dormitory, and I’ll continue living on my own—as I’ve been doing for the past three years.”
I smiled at her. “Then I plan to make your time here as unpleasant as possible.”
“Do you want to be boxed?”
“Go ahead and do it,” I answered with an unwavering stare.
From behind me, I heard a heavy sigh. “Eri, you’re going to give yourself ulcers again. Remember what your doctor told you? This time it could be a lot worse than last time. If you end up hospitalized—oops!”
Hospitalized? Did she say hospitalized?
While I had trouble hiding my shock, Erina shifted her attention onto the Cat Princess standing behind me to my five o’clock. “Unlike many people, I learn from my mistakes.”
The Cat Princess sighed again. “And now you’re going to make a new set of mistakes.”
I narrowed my eyes at Erina. “You were hospitalized? For real?”
She snorted loudly and regarded me with contempt. “It’s none of your concern.”
I nodded. “You’re right. And I don’t intend to go easy on you. When I’m done, you’ll have sworn off having kids for life.”
Without warning, Erina violently flung her hands and arms into the air. “Oh have it your way! Do whatever the Hell you want!”
I have to admit she took me by surprise to the point where I almost took a step back.
Erina poked me hard in the collarbone. “You want to live alone? Fine. Live alone. I’ll have you assigned to a dormitory in time for school next week. But until then, you’re going to live here for the next five days, and learn how to be a lady! At the very least, learn how to walk like one!” She took several deep breaths. “Is that clear?”
Erina stared at me hard until I replied with a curt nod, while holding back a grin.
It might seem like a small victory, but no one had ever won a war overnight.
Well, no one I’d ever read about.
Invariably it was a series of poignant victories that led to ultimate success.
Even dropping the A-bomb on that island nation back on Earth centuries ago was the result of years of conflict that brought the American forces ever closer to their enemy’s homeland.
I watched Erina inhale deeply, and then squeeze her eyes shut while pinching the bridge of her nose. Unexpectedly, she turned and sluggishly walked off without a word, exiting the living area and disappearing into one of the hallways. However, a few moments later she re-emerged, crossed the living area, and entered the hallway on the opposite side of the large room.
Did she get lost? I wondered, then proverbially patted myself on the back. Wow, I really got to her. Hooray!
Pearson was standing in the middle of the living area, looking in the direction Erina had wandered off.
I gave her contemptuous look. “Go. Run after your master.”
The young woman flinched but didn’t wait for me to tell her twice before fleeing after Erina.
I exhaled loudly and let my shoulders slump. “Shit. She’s so exhausting….”
“I bet you feel really proud,” the Cat Princess said.
I half turned around to look back at her. “Yeah. I’m clapping madly inside. Woo hoo.”
“Then why do it?”
“That’s a stupid question,” I retorted.
“Then when are you planning to stop lashing out at everyone around you? What good will that do you? You’re not going back to being Ronin Kassius.”
I straightened as I stared at her. “So you knew about that.”
“I bet you enjoyed watching me think that I had some hope of being a man again.”
She shook her head and seemed sincere when she replied, “It wasn’t fun at all.”
“Well, you sure looked like you were having fun.”
“That was the intention. It doesn’t mean I enjoyed it.”
This time I turned around and faced her properly with my hands on my hips. “You think I’ll believe that bullshit?”
“The point was to give you a traumatic experience so that you would want to wake up.”
“You shot me.”
“And you woke up,” she stated as though it was a natural result.
“No. I died.”
“You were already as good as dead. That Simulacrum wouldn’t have lasted more than a week at best. But the truth is that your consciousness was already mapped into Mirai’s brain. You were connected to the Simulacrum’s mind, so that you could experience everything it experienced. But you were already inside Mirai.” The Cat Princess glanced away. “It still sounds weird no matter how much Erina explained it to me….”
I felt something wasn’t adding up. “Clarisol told me that my sister—I mean, Erina—knew that the Empress wanted my mind inside Mirai two months ago. So why put me in a Simulacrum that wasn’t going to last?”
“We knew about her intention to stick you in Mirai. What we didn’t know was that she was going to throw Ronin Kassius into Limbo. Everything happened so fast. And then we found out we couldn’t wake up Mirai. She was experiencing some weird dream state after Ronin’s mind was imprinted into her in a rush. So the Simulacrum of Ronin Kassius was produced on short notice.”
Was this really the truth? It sounded probable, but why the rush to wake up Mirai? Was it because they were trying to keep up with the Empress changing the rules on them? Despite what my sister had said about standing up to the Empress, they were still dancing to her tune.
I gave the Cat Princess a sour smile. “When you put it that way, I’m surprised I’m still sane.”
“I’m not following you….” She looked genuinely confused.
“I mean that I’m surprised Erina did anything right. I could have ended up with multiple personalities or a complete nut job in a padded cell.”
The Cat Princess remained silent for a while before declaring, “The night is still young.”
“Oh wonderful.” I rolled my eyes and started turning away.
“If you want to blame someone,” the Cat Princess continued, “then blame the Empress. Blame her and not Erina. She doesn’t deserve your scorn.”
“Oh, she deserves it,” I countered. “Every bit and more. She has treated me like nothing more than a science project. And she made it clear just now that that’s all I am to her. So she can get frekked for all I care.”
Once again, the Cat Princess was studiously quiet for a long while before declaring, “She may have said that. But to me you’re a lot more.”
“You said you wanted to see the real me. Fine. I’ll show you. Maybe then you’ll understand how important you are to us in different ways.”
Puzzled, I watched the Cat Princess walk past me toward the far wall of the living area. This was the wall that was composed of floor to ceiling permaglass with a view of the city and the apartment’s balcony. Sliding aside one of the permaglass partitions, the Cat Princess stepped out onto the balcony, allowing the cold night air into the apartments temperate interior.
She didn’t wait for me to do so, and instead walked out to the middle of the balcony floor space. Then she sat down cross legged on the ground, and closed her eyes.
Standing by the open permaglass partition, I wondered what she was up to when I abruptly sensed a wrongness in the air around the balcony. It was disconcerting, like experiencing weightlessness and disorientation simultaneously. For a moment, I feared a translocation was imminent and I clenched my gut to keep myself from feeling overly sick as I hastily swept my gaze over the balcony. Moments later, I noticed a warping of my view of the city buildings beyond the balcony, something akin to a fish eye lens effect, and a deep thrumming filled the air. I could feel that thrumming work its way into my bones, and quickly recalled experiencing something similar when I stood near a Sarcophagus, but never at this scale.
The phrase, ‘speak of the Devil and he shall come’ rushed through my head as I watched the lens effect warp my view of the city even more before a giant gunmetal grey Sarcophagus emerged from the distorted area, and float inches above the balcony. The giant device towered over me and the motionless Cat Princess as it belched a cold white fog much like an ancient locomotive venting steam. Within moments the thick billowing fog nearly obscured the balcony, and I was able to glimpse the shadow of the Sarcophagus as it opened up and deposited something on the ground. But I could also see the dark shapes of many tentacles reach down and pick up the silhouette of the seated Cat Princess, quickly drawing her into the machine’s dark innards. The fog began to dissipate quickly after the Sarcophagus closed its doors and disappeared back into the warped area above the balcony.
As soon as it vanished, the disorienting sensation went away and I felt my surroundings return to normal.
Whatever the Sarcophagus had delivered was slowly moving on the ground.
I waited until the fog had evaporated some more before cautiously venturing out onto the balcony to see what it was. However, after walking a few meters toward it, I stopped and stared uncertainly at it.
A young woman with long, blonde hair, wearing a white leotard, was half-lying on the balcony like a beached mermaid. She had propped up her torso on her arms, and was shaking her head slowly while blinking in a staccato rhythm.
Swallowing quietly, I stepped closer to her.
Sensing me draw near, she looked up at me with a strained expression, and my innards tightened when I recognized her.
“It’s you…,” I whispered.
She swallowed a few times before saying in a hoarse voice, “You remember me.”
I nodded absently though I was looking at her intently. “You were there at the game center the day my nightmare began. You were playing the Gun Princess Royale, and Class Rep—I mean, Shirohime—she called you stupid.”
The young woman snorted softly. “Yes, she did. And you were hiding in the crowd.”
Remembering the wheelchair she’d used – the one with the Telos Corporation logo – I regarded her legs. There were odd grey rivulets running all over them, scarring their skin. Sweeping my gaze over the rest of her body, I noticed it was waifish, and her arms had the same rivulets running their length. I recalled that back at the game center she’d been wearing long sleeves and her legs were sheathed in stockings. At the time, I’d thought she was a burn victim, but now I understood she was hiding the condition of her skin.
“What’s wrong with you?”
With a groan, she shifted her body, indeed much like a mermaid.
“Humanity hasn’t solved all medical conditions,” she replied. “There’s a few they haven’t fixed yet.” She looked up at me again. “My body looks horrible to you, doesn’t it.”
Her laugh was gentle yet bitter. “This is the result of your sister saving my life.” Seeing me frown slightly, she smiled in pity and I felt it was directed at herself. “I suffered from muscle dystrophy, and your sister tried to save me by using the Angel Fibers she had cultivated. It was illegal, and contravened scientific practices, but I had nothing to lose, and she was running out of time. So I became her first human test subject…and her last.”
“It didn’t work…?”
“Yes and no. The Angel Fibers stopped my muscular dystrophy, but they paralyzed my legs and scarred my body when they ripped out of me.”
I winced in reaction to the image her words painted in my mind.
Akane Straus nodded slowly. “That’s right. I wasn’t a pretty sight. But I survived, and whatever changes they made to my body stopped the muscular dystrophy in its tracks. But they also disrupted my motor controls, crippling my legs. I can feel them so in that respect I’m not a paraplegic, but I can’t use them. I can’t even crawl on them.”
“What happened afterwards?”
Straus looked at me puzzled. “Afterwards?”
“You said my sister operated on you illegally.”
“Oh. Her superiors suspended her, but the Sanreal Family who own the Telos Corporation stepped in and re-instated her. However, rather than using human subjects, they provided her with Simulacra instead. That’s when she learnt about the other universe and the truth about the Sanreal Family.”
Startled, I turned toward the apartment and saw Erina standing by the permaglass entrance to the balcony. Umi Pearson was there too, with the large magazine sized tablet in her hands, but it was Erina who rushed out and dropped to her knees beside Straus who was now sitting on the ground.
“What are you doing? What were you thinking?” Erina asked the young woman.
“It was something I needed to do,” Straus answered her.
Erina looked aghast. “What? Why?” She shook her head in condemnation. “No. It wasn’t. You didn’t need to do this at all.”
“Yes, I did. She needed to see me.”
“We can argue about this elsewhere. It’s cold out here. We need to get you inside.”
Erina attempted to pick up Straus, but she was unable to cope with the young woman’s weight.
She looked pathetic to me, and I held back a sigh because it would have sounded too much like a derisive snort as I stepped closer to Straus. “I’ll do it—”
“Get away from her,” Erina shouted at me.
Surprised, I stepped back and stared at her with eyes wide.
“Don’t touch her,” Erina snapped, and resumed her feeble attempts to pick up Straus.
However, the latter reached out with her hands and stopped the woman that I no longer considered to be my sister. Facing me, Straus spoke in a manner that did not reflect her personality as the Cat Princess. She sounded quite calm and composed while supported by Erina as she half lay helplessly on the ground.
“Do you still want to hit me? Or am too pathetic?”
I couldn’t tell if she was taunting me or asking honestly for my opinion.
I chose to be honest. “If I hit you with Mirai’s strength, I’d probably kill you…and I don’t want your blood on my hands.”
Straus smiled wistfully up at me. “I don’t know whether to be grateful or not.”
I started to shrug indifferently. “I’ll find another way to make you suffer.”
Erina stood up swiftly and spoke in a heated, menacing tone. “You will do no such thing—”
She looked down sharply at Straus who wore an admonishing expression on her face.
“This is between her and I,” Straus stated calmly then painfully rearranged her legs on the balcony floor so that they stretched out before her.
When she looked up at me, I could see the strain on her face.
“I told you, to me you’re a lot more,” she said. “To me, you’re my hope.”
I understood what she meant, and I didn’t like it at all.
I felt she was being unfair to me, and I could have said as much, but instead I shook my head slowly and replied in a perfunctory manner, “At least you have something to hope for. I don’t.”
I walked around her, leaving Straus and Erina behind me as I approached the edge of the balcony.
To prevent people from jumping off the balcony, it was bordered by a permaglass wall around ten or twelve feet high that also deflected the wind blowing strongly this far above sea level.
I pressed myself against the almost perfectly transparent material, and peered down at what lay below, before stepping back a couple of steps. Leaping upwards, I caught onto the rounded top of the permaglass wall, then easily levered myself over it and down onto the other side. Because of the sound damping properties of the transparent wall, and the blustering wind, I barely heard Erina shout at me in protest at my escape.
Landing on the ledge running along the outside of the balcony, I used the permaglass wall to steady myself against the wind, before jumping off the side of the pyramidal megascraper.
Dear Readers, just a reminder that GPR Book Two is available here from Amazon KDP.
I'm hoping to continue serializing Book Three on TG BigCloset by posting at least once a week, either on a Sunday or Monday.
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