Chapter 6 Part II was rewritten but not reposted. As a result, readers may find some disparities in the character descriptions and in the way Arnval behaves.
The rewritten Part II will be released with the eBook, effectively replacing the version posted here.
– I –
It was a hard landing into the pool.
At the last second, I was able to right my body and plunge into the water feet first.
The impact was severe, and for a moment I thought I’d blacked out, but a combination of the cold water and my feet striking the bottom of the pool snapped my consciousness awake.
That surprised me…and concerned me.
Why, you may ask?
Because when I kicked off the bottom of the pool, and then broke through the surface of the water a couple of seconds later, I immediately looked around for my companions…and one of them was missing.
Straus and Arnval were treading water, the latter appearing somewhat disoriented from the splashdown.
But as I’d suspected – maybe even feared a little – there was no sign of Erina.
Treading water myself, I swept my gaze around me in a full circle once more, before inhaling deeply and diving underwater.
I despised her.
I hated her for what she’d done to me.
I’d claimed to have cut my ties with her, no longer thinking of her as my sister.
And yet I found myself searching the depths of the pool for her.
Again, why? Perhaps because this wasn’t how I wanted her to meet her maker.
She wasn’t going to escape my retribution this easily.
And I wasn’t alone in my efforts to find her, though our reasons for doing so may have been disparate.
Straus had dived along with me, and I was briefly amazed to see the mechanical avatar swimming as easily as an in-form teenage boy.
He – I mean she – had probably realized the same thing I had: that Erina was human and thus the weakest of us. Hence, the impact from the water landing had undoubtedly knocked her unconscious. At worst, it may have killed her.
I chose to swim in one direction, and Straus went the other.
We had three things working in our favor.
The first was that the pool was shallow, no more than ten feet deep.
The second was the clear nature of the water. It was so clear that I could see for dozens of meters all around me.
The third was that the pool was illuminated, making it even easier to see into the distance.
Because of all this, I was able to quickly locate my former sister…floating unconscious at the bottom of the pool.
No, this wasn’t how I wanted to see her die.
She had much to atone for before I would allow her to kick the bucket.
Swimming up to her, I reached out and shook her brusquely, but she failed to respond.
I felt my heart thump loudly, before quickly wrapping an arm around her waist, then kicking hard back to the surface of the pool, breaking into the air a second or two later.
By then Straus had swum over to me, and lent me his support.
With Erina between us, we swam for the nearest edge of the pool.
First hauling ourselves then Erina out of the water, we carefully yet quickly carried her to a soft grassy bank a meter or so beyond the stone tiles bordering the pool.
Laying her down supine, I felt for Erina’s pulse by pressing my fingertips to her neck…and found none.
“Frek!” I cursed loudly, then realized I had no idea what to do.
I had never trained to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
In a panic, I looked up at Straus kneeling beside Erina. “I don’t know CPR!”
Ghost materialized in a corner of my vision. “Princess, I can advise you of the proper procedure.”
Before I could decide whether to accept Ghost’s offer, Straus pushed me away from Erina and quickly straddled her body. “I do.”
“But you’re a mechanical—”
“This body is fully equipped,” he replied less than calmly.
“What? You have lungs?”
“How else would I pass myself off as human?”
He quickly unbuttoned Erina’s blouse, exposing her chest and belly.
From somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, I remembered an ancient superstition that said your spirit wore the clothes you died in.
At sight of the expensive looking bra cupping Erina’s breasts, I sarcastically thought, Well if you have to go, at least go in style.
Then I recognized it as a push-up bra, and despite the gravity of the situation, I sniggered inwardly.
Ah, so that’s how you’re making mountains out of molehills.
Abruptly I felt a sharp pang of guilt, and shook my head brusquely.
No, no, no! What the Hell am I thinking at a time like this!
Straus misread my body language. “Relax—I know what I’m doing.”
While I’d been preoccupied scoffing at Erina for wearing a push-up bra, Straus had tipped back Erina’s head, then opened her mouth and buried his fingers into it.
“I have a lot more than just lungs…,” he muttered solemnly.
For a heartbeat, I remembered questioning him if he was anatomically correct, and the memory made me blush.
Wait—why the Hell am I blushing? This is no time to be blushing!
Kicking the thought aside, I focused my attention on Straus with his fingers deep in Erina’s mouth.
I frowned deeply.
Shouldn’t she be reflexively gagging?
My frown grew deeper.
Is it because her heart has stopped? Is that why she’s not responding?
An unpleasant cold crept through me, and it had nothing to do with me being soaked to the skin. Rather, it was a slowly dawning reality that Erina may very well be dead.
No, no, no! Think positive! She can’t kick the bucket like this. Not like this!
I realized I was clenching my hands into fists.
Okay. Maybe she’s not clinically dead yet! But how long can she stay like this before she suffers serious brain damage?
Straus muttered while concentrating his attention on the fingers in her mouth. “Her airway seems clear.”
I heard a young man’s voice, and recognized it belonged to Arnval. Looking up quickly, I saw him standing in his wet clothes, peering down at Erina while talking to someone through his phone.
“Indeed. She’s unresponsive. I do suggest you hurry, Kyoko-chan. The situation is dire. Another three minutes and she may suffer serious neurological damage. Yes, yes, I know it can be repaired but that will take time, and we can’t afford the complications.”
My face broke into a deep frown.
Brain damage can be fixed? What the Hell kind of technology do they have? But if he’s talking about complications does that mean it’s not perfect?
I looked down at Erina.
Will this affect her status as an Alpha?
I watched Straus breathe air into Erina’s open mouth, then place his hands low over her sternum, and begin the chest compressions.
On impulse I asked, “Can I help?”
Straus shook his head quickly. “No. I can blow clean air into her lungs.”
“Average oxygen content in the air is twenty-one percent.”
He compressed her chest some thirty times, then leaned forward to breathe twice into Erina’s open mouth.
When he pulled back to resume the compressions, he said, “Humans consume about five percent of that when they breathe. That leaves about sixteen percent left over when we exhale.”
I nodded absently though I was following his explanation.
Straus continued while performing the compression. “But I don’t consume more than two percent oxygen, so that means I can breathe cleaner air into her than you can.” Without stopping, he glanced up at me. “Actually, I wonder how much oxygen you consume…?”
I leaned toward him and pointed at his hands on Erina’s sternum. “Then shouldn’t I be doing the compressions while you breathe into her?”
He stopped for a second and stared at me blankly before abruptly nodding hastily. “Good idea. You compress, I breathe into her. But we need to establish a rhythm.”
We changed positions with me straddling Erina’s legs, and Straus kneeling beside her head.
I placed my hands on Erina’s sternum where I’d seen Straus place his.
“Don’t push too hard,” he warned me sharply. “With your strength you’ll crush her chest and rupture her organs—”
“O—okay. I get it. I get it.” I grit my teeth together. Yeah, no pressure. No pressure at all!
Straus began to act as a breathing apparatus, while I carefully compressed Erina’s chest at regular intervals.
I would count a second, then push down on her chest, then count another second, and repeat the compression.
Straus timed his breathing with my actions.
I don’t know for how long we did this. It could have been only a minute, but it felt like an eternity.
When I felt my rhythm begin to falter, Ghost began counting for me with a precision I lacked.
Then Straus surprised me.
He lifted his head away from Erina’s, and then sharply punched her chest.
He punched it again, and I felt the blow work its way through Erina’s skeleton.
When he punched it a third time, I was certain I felt her breastbone crack.
“What the frek are doing?” I yelled at him.
“Shocking her heart,” he answered. “Come on, Eri! Don’t frekking give up on me now!”
He punched her chest a fourth time, and again I was certain I felt her sternum fracture.
“You’re killing her!” I snapped at him.
But Straus ignored me as he yelled, “Erina!”
And then it happened – I felt something go ‘thump’ inside her chest, and a moment later Erina convulsed.
Water spouted out of her gaping mouth a handful of times, as she coughed violently.
With my hands on her chest I could feel her heart beating irregularly, but it was beating, and after regurgitating the pool water, Erina was gasping for air on her own.
The sickly wheezing coming from her throat reminded me she was still in trouble, but I felt the worst had passed.
The sound of running footsteps grabbed my attention, and I looked up to see a trio of young women wearing maid café outfits and carrying silver metal cases with them.
“Excuse us, please,” said a young woman with short chestnut hair, wearing a cat ears headband. She crouched beside Erina and a waved a medical wand over my former sister’s body while holding a data slate in her other hand. After a few seconds studying the results displayed on the slate, she spoke quickly to one of the other girls. “Tamara, the breather please.”
Another maid, this one wearing fox ears over her short auburn hair, knelt beside Erina’s head and quickly strapped a breathing apparatus over her mouth. The device was connected via a ribbed hose to a black box with gills that opened and closed like those of a shark.
The maid with the wand then addressed the third maid, a buxom blond girl wearing bunny ears, who was busy laying out something on the ground nearby.
“Penelope, the stretcher please.”
The blonde maid finished attaching a couple of black rectangular boxes to the stretcher. The device shook to life and abruptly launched into the air.
“Stretcher ready, ma’am,” the girl reported with a sharp salute that made her bunny ears – and voluptuous chest – bounce.
However, the stretcher had other ideas and suddenly rocketed off from a standing start.
“Whaaaat?” The blonde bunny eared maid let out a cry of disbelief, shot to her feet, and chased after the levitating stretcher. “Come baaaaaack heeeeere!”
Have you ever filled up a balloon with air, and then let it go? The balloon will jet around erratically, making it hard to follow.
The bunny maid was experiencing the same situation, running all over the place as she pursued the errant stretcher.
Standing nearby, Arnval regarded the fruitless efforts of the bunny girl as he addressed the maid with cat ears.
“Kyoko-chan, you do have a plan-B, right?”
The maid in question finished waving the wand over Erina’s supine body, and nodded calmly. “I do indeed.”
She placed the wand back into the black medical pouch hanging off her skirt, then stood up.
However, she turned her back to Erina and then smoothly squatted on the ground.
“I shall carry her on my back,” she announced.
Arnval nodded thoughtfully, his eyes tracking the progress of the stretcher and the hapless bunny maid trying to catch it. “I have a better idea,” he declared.
From the wet innards of his trench coat – yes, he was still wearing the damn trench coat – Arnval pulled out a gun.
My eyes widened at sight of the firearm.
That bastard had a second gun!
With a fluid motion, Arnval aimed at the stretcher and fired twice in rapid succession.
Sparks flew from the stretcher and the device crash landed on the ground a dozen odd meters away from us, and quickly skidded to a stop.
“That’s plan-C,” Arnval calmly stated as he returned the gun to the confines of his trench coat.
Straus pushed himself up to his feet, and ran over to the fallen stretcher, ignoring the bunny maid who’d collapsed to her knees beside it.
“Oh, thank the gods,” she gasped as she struggled to catch her breath.
With the stretcher under an arm, Straus hurried back to Erina.
I scooted back to give him room, then helped him load the unconscious woman onto the powerless stretcher.
Straus positioned himself at the front of the stretcher, while I took up the rear, and the cat maid picked up the rebreather apparatus.
“On the count of three,” Straus called out. “One, two, three.”
Together we hefted the stretcher up off the ground, careful not to drop Erina in the process.
For her part, the cat maid carried the rebreather in her hands.
“Which way?” I asked her in a hurry.
Before the young woman could reply, Arnval strode briskly past us. “Follow me, ladies.”
He led us away from the pool onto a wide path made of paving stones that gently wound its way through the well maintained garden in the direction of the palatial two storey house in the distance.
The fox maid, Tamara, ran ahead of us into the house, undoubtedly to prepare the way for us.
However, the bunny maid dragged her feet as she trudged in our wake and quickly fell behind though I was able to hear her mutter in a pitiful tone, “Why…why does it always happen to me…?”
I grimaced in discomfort as I followed the path up to the steps leading into the house.
I was cold, wet, and my soaked uniform clung tightly to my skin.
However, because it was nearly black in nature, it didn’t turn translucent when wet.
As a result, my underwear was safe from perving eyes.
Also, I was wearing the black panties and bra that Tabitha had chosen for me, so when combined with my dark uniform there was little chance of them being exposed.
I offered a silent prayer of gratitude to whomever had decided that Telos Academy’s uniform for boys and girls had to be dark, for there were many other schools within Ar Telica that had light colored uniforms, including white. That said, significant advances in material and fabric technology over the decades had revolutionized school uniforms such that young girls wearing angelic and virginal white dresses, skirts, and blouses no longer feared being caught in a sudden downpour without an umbrella.
Naturally, those advances had been applied to Telos Academy’s uniform, so I had even less to fear. But while the uniform was designed to protect my modesty, it wasn’t designed to be waterproof.
After all, if it was waterproof, how could it be washed?
Actually, let’s not get it into that.
What I will say is that it was distinctly unpleasant to walk in soaked clothing.
My breasts felt uncomfortable in the wet bra, as did my butt clad in sodden panties.
But what really bothered me was the wet squelching of my feet in my water-logged shoes, so much so that I had to stop and kick them off. Luckily, Straus didn’t complain when I asked him to give me a few seconds to do so. And luckily, I had the bunny maid to help me remove my shoes and socks. I thanked her courteously, before resuming our rapid walk to the immense two-storey house.
The path branched in two directions, one that continued to circle around the lagoon pool, the other leading toward the white house with red-tiled roofing.
Naturally, Arnval chose to walk toward the latter.
I looked down at Erina as we approached a wide flight of steps leading up to a set of broad, double doors.
“How is she?” I asked the maid.
“Her vitals looked strong,” the young woman replied. “However, we’ll know more when we place her inside a med-capsule.”
I had more questions, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask them because they felt redundant, superfluous until Erina could be given proper medical care.
But to me, a lay man – or woman – with only cursory medical knowledge, the fact that Erina had failed to regain consciousness was concerning.
Again, I questioned why I cared or worried over her, and reluctantly acknowledged that some bonds were a little harder to cut than others.
It was going to take me some time to divest myself of any lingering ties to Erina, and truthfully, I wasn’t sure if I could completely cut myself free of her.
Arriving at the foot of the wide steps leading up to the broad entrance, I gazed up at the large house looming before us, then carefully climbed the steps, mindful of the need to keep the stretcher with Erina as level as possible between Straus and I.
At the landing before the double doors, I paused to give the exterior of the abode a good look, and despite the nature of our arrival, Erina’s injuries, and the fact that I’d been effectively kidnapped, I found myself wondering what I would find within rather than of whom I would meet.
While in freefall toward the lagoon sized pool, I’d noticed that the house was built in the shape of a square – a quadrangle – with an immense garden in the middle.
The side before us must have been around a hundred meters long.
Balconies with repeated archways ran the length of what I could see of the first and second floors. The windows on both levels were wide, tall, with semi-circular fanlights, and there were glass double doors leading out onto the balconies at regular intervals, each probably belonging to a separate room or suite.
The more I looked at the house, the more it reminded me of the houses I had seen in historical documentaries of ancient Earth. To that end, I would describe the building as the blending of a Spanish and Roman villa.
A sour thought crossed my mind as I realized those memories belonged to Ronin Kassius. But since I had accepted my role as the keeper of those memories, I pushed the bitterness aside.
Little by little, I’ll make memories of my own.
Truthfully, I was already doing so. Unfortunately, few if any of those memories were pleasant or worth keeping.
With a heavy sigh, I directed my gaze onto the closed doors.
Unexpectedly, the lyrics of a song swum up from the murky depths of my memories.
“Welcome to the Hotel California,” I sang softly. “Such a lovely place…such a lovely face….”
Arnval half spun around to face me, and now stared at me with poorly veiled surprise, and when I glanced at him, I noticed the disquiet in his eyes.
“Where did you hear that?” he asked me in a serious tone.
I shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t know. I just remembered it now.”
Arnval’s disquiet darkened and he started to say something but he was interrupted by a loud bang as the double doors to the house abruptly burst open.
The maid, Tamara, reappeared in the company of a half dozen other girls, each of them wearing a maid uniform and different animal ears, though one girl was wearing reindeer antlers.
What kind of weird fetish does Phelan Sanreal have? I wondered uneasily.
Quickly, the maids surrounded us.
Since I was still in Mirai Mode, I decided to concentrate my awareness on the young maid and suddenly her aura came into view. Then I quickly surveyed the maids encircling us.
Simulacra. All of them. Why am I not that surprised?
Considering the goings on around the Sanreals, perhaps it was best to have staff you could trust…and dispose of.
“We’ll take it from here,” the cat maid, Kyoko, declared in a respectful and patient tone.
“Where exactly is here?” I asked, keeping my tone civil since this young woman had yet to earn my ire.
“The Sanreal Estate,” she replied smoothly. She indicated the entrance to the house. “Please, we mustn’t delay.”
Straus had half turned to look at me. “Mirai…?”
I gave the unconscious Erina an ambivalent look that reflected my mixed feelings. “Fine. Whatever….”
Damn it. Why was I reluctant to hand her over? Why should I feel this way? Did I fear for her safety?
I ground my molars together for a moment.
Why do I goddamn care?
The maids moved in and took the stretcher from Straus and I, and we then retreated a couple of feet to give them room to maneuver through the wide, open doorway.
I shook my head inwardly as I watched them disappear into the house.
Deal with it later, I told myself then listened to Kyoko address us as a group.
“If you’ll follow Penelope and I, we’ll lead you to your rooms.” The young woman briefly indicated the blonde maid with bunny ears who had chosen to remain behind. “Dry clothes have been prepared for you.”
She turned to guide the way into the house, but I crossed my arms and fixed a hard stare on Arnval who was quick notice it.
“We’re not on Teloria, are we?” I asked him in a low, flat tone.
“And what makes you say that?”
“The gravity is weird here, the sky overhead looks weird, and I can’t tell which way is north.”
He arched an eyebrow at me. “Ah, yes. Your ability to sense magnetic waves—”
“So where are we?” I asked, ignoring his remark. “A station, an orbital city, a ship?”
Straus exhaled loudly as he watched the exchange between Arnval and I. “We’re actually still on Teloria. We haven’t moved off world.”
“Oh?” I pointed up at the sky. “So what is that?”
I hadn’t noticed it until I stared up at the house, but the sky was covered by a faintly visible grid of hexagonal panes. It gave me the impression that our surroundings were under a transparent dome of some sort.
Straus glanced upwards. “A mimetic sky-field combined with an aegis-field that’s protecting the estate from outside weather conditions.”
Lowering my hand, I slowly frowned. “What weather conditions?”
Arnval laughed lightly. “Perhaps it’s better if we showed you.” He gave the patiently waiting Kyoko a somewhat amused look. “Well, Kyoko-chan? Shall we show the Princess what lies beyond?”
The maid displayed the first sign of indecision since her entry onto this fool’s stage.
“Are you certain?” she asked him.
“Indeed, I am,” he replied confidently breaking into a thin smile. “I do believe her reaction will be priceless.”
Kyoko studied me for a moment then politely nodded once. “Very well. Please follow me.”
She smoothly turned away from the house and descended the steps down to the path we’d followed not long ago. At the T-junction, she stepped onto the route leading around the pool and into the surrounding gardens.
I hesitated as I wondered why Arnval and the maid were being so dramatic, then hurried after her, with Straus and Arnval following suit.
It took a few minutes to circle the pool and then walk through the lush, verdant garden.
The place was beginning to remind me more and more of those palatial villas the Romans had enjoyed millennia ago.
Exiting the gardens onto a sandy beach, the maid came to a stop.
I halted beside her, and looked ahead at a vast ocean of green and blue stretching out to the horizon. But then I noticed the faint hexagonal grid extending down to the sand a few feet shy of where the ocean waves lapped the beach.
“It really is a dome,” I muttered half to myself, and half to the maid.
“Yes, it is,” the maid concurred as she reached up and touched one of her cat ears. “Grania, can you hear me? Good. Could you shut down the mimetic sky-field, please? Why? We have a guest who hasn’t seen what it’s like out there. Master Arnval wishes to see her reaction.”
I stared sidelong at the young woman, noticing Arnval standing beside her with a smirk on his face.
Prick, I thought at him.
Then I quickly looked at Straus and asked in a confidential manner, “Is that what those headbands are for?”
Straus gave me a faintly apologetic smile. “Pretty much.”
“Well, at least they’re ergonomic,” I whispered.
“And it’s part of their charm,” he added.
“I guess so. I did find those maids were cute.”
I was being honest with my opinion.
The Simulacra maids had been rather pretty. Dressed in their short maid outfits and wearing cute animal ears had given them a peculiar charm – though I wasn’t sold on the reindeer antlers.
Straus shook his head lightly. “No, that’s not what I mean. But I’ll tell you about that another time.” He pointed in the direction of the ocean. “The sky-field is coming down.”
I faced the ocean just as the grid of hexagonal panes grew dark.
At first, I assumed I was looking at the inside of a giant storm-grey dome until I soon realized the panes had become transparent.
In other words, it wasn’t the dome that was dark but the vista that lay beyond it.
My eyes grew wide and I had to swallow twice before I could weakly ask, “…where the Hell are we…?”
I heard Straus chuckle uncomfortably. “Inside a Category Six hurricane.”
I swallowed again…twice. “…oh….”
Mouth agape, I stared in disbelief and terror at the incredible sight before me.
Outside the dome raged an ocean storm of unbelievable scale and ferocity.
Truly, one of Teloria’s seven nightmarish wonders of the world.
Thank you for your patience with this series.
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