A Bedtime Story (Part Two)

Characters: Klevetati Yoshino

with assistance from Joe R. Medina

The conversation was carried on in hushed tones, as Mariko and her son sat on the floor of the crow’s nest, out of sight, and their visitor stood and paced slowly back and forth, to preserve the appearance of a single guard in the tower.

“Why did you wait so long to call me?” he asked. “I could have hidden you before any of this started. And I could have gotten you out of Tanforan or Topaz… just as I helped you escape the Chinese.”

“I know,” she said. “The fault is mine, for being naive enough to think that things would never go this far. To believe that if I and others protested loud and often enough, someone would listen.” She snorted softly. “It’s true that the only difference between this place and Unit 731 is that there’s no vivisection here. At least, no vivisection of the body.

“And that’s why I called you. I want you to get my son out of here.”

“What about you?”

“I’m staying. I will either walk out of those gates in daylight, or my bones will sleep forever under this lava rock.”

The night visitor stopped pacing and turned to stare at her. Astonishment briefly displaced the angry glint in his eyes. “But why? None of you deserve to be here.”

“That is exactly why I must stay. By staying here and continuing to protest this imprisonment any way I can, I might inspire the rest to do so as well. Even if they never let us out of here, this government must be made to understand we will never submit quietly to the injustice.” She chuckled softly. “Or it may be that I am just a stubborn old woman.”

This brought a smile from her companion. “You have always been stubborn.”

“After 300 years, perhaps I’m entitled.” She bent her head, addressing the child drowsing in her lap. “Kendo, do you remember your Uncle Robert?” The boy blinked himself awake, then nodded vigorously. “Good. I want you to go with him. He will take you someplace safe, someplace warm and comfortable, where you won’t have to worry about soldiers with guns or barbed wire fences.”

“Won’t you come too, Mama?” he asked.

“I have to stay here. Maybe for a long time, so you must be as brave as you can. But I will always, always love you. Never worry about that. All right?” Kendo nodded, and Mariko said, “Now you must promise me. You must be very quiet, and do what your uncle tells you, so he can get you both safely where you’re going. Will you promise?”

“I promise, Mama,” he whispered.

Mariko nodded. “Good.” Setting her son on his feet, she got her own under her. Still in a crouch, to be unseen from outside, she looked up at her visitor. He had replaced the mask on his head, leaving only his dark, angry eyes visible through the hazy wash of silver. Quickly then, she stood and hoisted Kendo up. He clung to his uncle’s back, as his mother said, “Take good care of him.”

“We will,” he said, gesturing for her to go ahead of him to the ground. Once there, she touched his shoulder, then her son’s, and turned to look around.

His voice, not at all muffled despite the mask, stopped her with a slight shiver she’d never been able to control. “And when you need me again, try not to be as stubborn.”

She gave him the only answer she could think of — a deep bow — then turned again and started back for the barracks complex.

It was only a few steps from the guard tower to the fence — high, strung with many tangled strands of barbed wire, possible for a determined, acrobatic man to climb alone, but not with a five-year-old child on his back. But the contingency had been planned for. Pulling a box of matches from his pocket, he crouched and leaned forward. Poking one arm through the wire, he set a match to the length of fuse lying on the ground.

The faint hissing and sparking ran away from him, down the fence line, as he sat back on his heels and exchanged the matches for a small pair of wire cutters. The first tangles of wire surrendered to them as the explosions began.

The explosives — genuine Chinese fireworks — didn’t do a great deal of damage, but they put on a spectacular show. And they brought the guards pouring out, swinging searchlights and sounding alarms. All from three to five hundred yards away from where the ghostly man in black finished cutting a hole through the wire, and dashed through, not slowing until he had reached the spot where a motorcycle was tucked behind a clump of brush.

He lifted the machine, mounting it and helping Kendo to a place on the seat in front of him. The commotion from behind covered the roar as he kicked the cycle into life and sped away.

The light in her quarters was dim as Yoshino awakened, but it was enough for her to see around her and remember where and when she was. Rolling over quietly, she could see Chief Engineer Santiago asleep on the bed, looking as if she hadn’t moved since falling into it. Near the door, Kuri was endeavoring to chase and bat at a small ball of rags — and doing a reasonable job for still being effectively three-legged.

She stretched out on her back, closing her eyes and reflecting. Her great-grandmother always ended the story this way:

“And thus it was that Kendo not only grew up free, but thrived, and in time became the ancestor of our family. And it is said that his rescuer, Mariko’s great friend, became a sorcerer one day, as immortal as Mariko herself… and that they both may be alive yet.” Yoshino smiled to herself as she drifted back off to sleep. She found that rather hard to believe, of course.

But it was fun to dream.


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