Kaiser's X Blessing - Book 1 - 12 - Intermezzo

Intermezzo.
– I –
(Caelum)

Island Three. Habitat Three.

New Year’s Eve.

I made the mistake of challenging Caprice to a bout the day before.

Nearly six months of arduous training had toughened me up to a level I’d never imagined was possible for me. Part of it was because of Arisa’s Symbiote that would occasionally invade my body when the researchers had need to study my body’s response to the worm. The rest of it was due to hard training and the fact that as a Familiar, my body improved quicker than that of a Regular. So I was confident in what had been hammered and drilled into me by my two Instructors, and challenged Caprice to a match on what was much more than a whim.

It was a duel, so to speak…and I lost.

Why? Because I’m an idiot who challenged her with a handicap.

Caprice had the Symbiote inside her at the time, and I didn’t.

As a consequence, my body ached from the pounding I’d received at her hands and feet. With the worm inside me, it would have healed most of the bruising by now. I was offered the Symbiote, but I turned it down. This was pain I needed to carry with me, to teach me a lesson not to underestimate the fairer sex.

Have I mentioned that when Caprice moves it’s like a ballet – pure poetry in motion.

I guess her dance lessons before she became a Familiar were paying off for her.

When combined with the martial arts training she was receiving, it was downright lethal.

She had stopped short of breaking or fracturing my bones, but despite the fact we’d been wearing sparring armor, my body was sporting bruises it didn’t have before.

Oh, I should also mention that we weren’t allowed to use our Fragments or summon any effect-fields. That was something to be saved for another match, and this time I wouldn’t be giving Caprice any handicap.

Because she was a girl, I’d made the mistake of taking her too lightly.

I think that’s why Caprice hit me so hard.

It wasn’t that she was angry at being challenged, but angry that I’d chosen to give her the handicap. She probably felt that I was being unfair and treating her like a girl.

But what the Hell was I supposed to do? She was a girl.

True, I trained with her almost every day, and we sparred quite often, with and without our Fragments, but deep down I couldn’t overcome my reluctance to hit her, and I suspected that she knew that.

Lying on my bed, I threw an arm over my face, and winced as my shoulder ached.

But I did really deserve to be hit so hard?

- # -

My apartment Monitor informed me that someone was at the door.

I really didn’t know why the Monitor did so. It was pretty obvious someone was at the door since they’d rung the bell, and I’d heard the chime as I dozed on my unkempt bed.

Checking the clock on my bedside table, I saw that it was eleven a.m. in the morning.

We had no training scheduled for today, so who the Hell was at the door?

The chime rang again.

“Give me a minute,” I called out, and the Monitor relayed it to whomever was outside the door.

Exchanging my t-shirt and track pants for some decent clothes, I brushed a hand through my hair, and rubbed at my face as I walked down the short corridor to the door.

Passing the door to the bathroom, I quickly ducked inside and washed my face and hands, drying them hurriedly on a towel by the entrance.

Out in the corridor, I used the security console to see who was waiting outside.

I grimaced. “…shit…what is she doing here…?”

I opened the front door a little, enough for my head and shoulders to be seen.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

Rarely did we greet each other with, “hello, how was your day?”

I guess she didn’t see the point and neither did I. After all, we were seeing each other regularly on a daily basis. So in that respect there was no separation between us.

It just felt like a waste of time.

Standing outside the apartment on the open air balcony running along the outside of the building, Caprice Steiner shook her head gently. “No.”

“Then…why are you here?”

“It’s New Year’s Eve.”

“Yeah, I know….”

“I’m not busy,” she informed me.

I frowned slightly. “Okay…good for you….”

“You’re not busy either.”

My frown deepened. “As a matter of fact I am.”

“You are?”

“I’m busy giving my body time to recover.”

“Are you well enough to walk?”

I hesitated as I wondered where this stilted conversation was going. “I am.”

Caprice nodded just once. “You said that the winner could demand one thing of the loser. Correct.”

My frown faded as I grimaced. “Yeah, I did say that but—”

“But that was because you expected to win.”

“Well, obviously.”

“But you lost.”

I sighed and opened the door a little more, making sure to keep my attention on her face, and not on her outfit that was surprisingly girly for a change. “So why are you here?”

“To pick you up. If I told you to meet me at the station it is highly unlikely that you would show up.”

“Maybe.” Unable to contain the urge, I glanced down at her outfit, then back up to her face. “Maybe not.”

Caprice stood silently for a moment. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

I considered my options, then shook my head as I stood aside and opened the door for her. “Come in.”

“Thank you.” She stepped past the threshold. “Pardon the intrusion.”

“Yeah, yeah.” I closed the door behind her. “The place is a mess. Sorry. I was too tired and beaten to clean up after I got home last night.” I walked past Caprice who stood quietly in the corridor. “Do you want something to drink?”

She followed me round the corridor bend into the living area that served as both bedroom, living room, and kitchen.

My apartment was like a million others, not too big, but not too small.

It had a balcony view of the apartment complex’s open middle. This is because the building was constructed like a steep Aztec pyramid with a hollow center. But because of this, the view was of the balconies of the hundreds of other apartments in the complex. In other words, it wasn’t much of a view unless you wanted to peep at your neighbors walking around in the birthday suits.

And yes, there were a couple of girls living in an apartment on the opposite side of the building who did that, but they weren’t my type so I got bored of them real quick.

Yes, I do have a type.

I opened the refrigerator door to show Caprice what I had.

She pulled out a lemon soda that I happened to buy yesterday at a convenience store on my way home.

Closing the door to the refrigerator, I looked at her properly this time.

As always since the new regulations came into play, she wore the thin black collar around her neck with the pendant bearing the Phoenix emblem of the Lanfear Pride. Since it was something we couldn’t take off without authorization, I wore it too. We had to eat with it, sleep with, bathe with it. There was no escaping the damn thing. But I looked past the collar, and focused on her attire.

Caprice was wearing sneakers that resembled tennis shoes, and a pair of denim shorts with a white belt that accentuated her toned behind and long sleek legs.

Caprice is shorter than I am, standing five foot five to my five foot eight, but seen from afar, you’d think she was a tall girl because she’s slender and her legs are quite long. I knew this because of seeing her in her training leotard and her Skin-Regalia.

But right now, I was surprised to see her legs on display.

Other than the occasions when wearing her school uniform, Caprice always wore pants. Whether they be trousers, slacks, or trackies, she never wore in a skirt or dress when out in public. In fact, on every occasion we’d spent together outside the hours of school and training, she was always keeping her pins under wraps.

I’ll be the first to admit that was a darn tooting shame.

Legs like hers needed to be out on display.

Complementing her shorts and shoes, she wore a light grey halter top that forewent the spaghetti straps for the thicker kind. However, it left her shoulders exposed and her arms bare. It didn’t have a plunging neckline, but it did promote the contours of her breasts. Sadly, they weren’t much to mention. But then I frowned inwardly, and gave her bosom another quick look.

Was there indeed some improvement in that area?

Could it be that over the past six months some much needed development was afoot?

Were the gods in high heaven finally granting this girl the bosom she so mightily deserved?

I was wearing the Kaiser’s Blessing’s bracelet, so I summoned its sensorium-field at low level so that the collar wouldn’t notice.

Cautiously, I extended it toward her chest.

Immediately I sensed another sensorium-field blocking my field.

When I pushed, it pushed back, or rather she pushed back.

“Caelum.”

“Yes?” I was trying to out-wrestle her sensorium-field, looking for an opening.

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to verify something for myself.”

“Am I wearing a padded bra?”

“Ah…yeah….”

“Give up. I’m not going to tell you.”

“Then let me check for myself.”

“Give up. You won’t succeed.”

I growled in the back of my throat and worked my sensorium-field into various shapes and forms, trying to get it past her field that was blocking mine.

After a minute or so, Caprice sighed wearily. “Caelum, you can’t beat me at this.”

“If I can beat you at thumb wrestling, I can beat your sensorium-field.”

“Caelum, I don’t check out your package so don’t check out mine.”

“You’re welcome to do so. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Damn, she was quick. No matter how I tried slipping my field past hers, she managed to cut me off or disrupt it.

“This is not why I came here,” she murmured in her usual monotone, but this time it sounded even flatter than was customary for her.

I stopped fighting her and withdrew my Kaiser’s sensorium-field. “Why are you here?”

“You lost the match. Therefore I’m here to collect.”

“Collect what?”

“Collect you.”

I frowned at her. “Why?”

“Because it’s New Year’s Eve, and you’re going to treat me.”

“What? Again? I treated you on Christmas Eve.”

Caprice narrowed her eyes a fraction of a millimeter and then slowly crossed her arms.

Something on her left wrist glinted and I glanced at it.

My heart stumbled when I noticed she was wearing the bracelet I gave her as a Christmas present. Caprice had given me a rather stylish gentleman’s watch that I was a little too afraid to wear out in public for fear of damaging it.

“Like I said,” she repeated without inflection, “you lost the match.”

I sighed long and heavily, allowing my shoulders to sag. “So you want me to take you out on a date.”

“No, not a date. We’re not a couple therefore it won’t be a date.”

I felt my heart twinge upon hearing her say that. “Fine. Whatever. But you’re going to have to give me a little time to get ready.”

She nodded shallowly, and held up the fabric shopping bag she carried in her left hand. “I brought breakfast.”

“You brought or you bought breakfast?” I knew for a fact that Caprice can’t cook to save her life, and she admitted once that Home Economics is her worst grade at Galatea Academy.

“Both,” she replied, and stepped around me to the kitchen counter. “I’ll heat it up and make some tea.”

I started rubbing my hair, and then stopped.

There was no point arguing with her, and to be honest, I wasn’t bothered by her presence.

“Just give me a half hour,” I said to her.

“Twenty minutes.”

“Twenty-five.”

“No, twenty minutes.”

“I can’t hurry.”

“If you’re ready in twenty minutes, I’ll tell you if I’m wearing a padded bra or not.”

I stared at her for a second or two, then hurried to wash up and get changed for an outing.

Taking a shower and getting dressed in record time, I checked the clock on my bedside table.

It was then that I noticed Caprice had cleaned up my apartment…again.

Almost every time she was over, she would clean the place up.

Even the bed sheets had been changed, and I saw that my laundry basket was full.

Caprice had warmed up the breakfast of muffins and rolls she’d bought from a convenience store, and there was the scent of hot tea wafting through the air.

A gently breeze blew in through the open glass balcony doors at ran along one wall of the multifunction living area.

It served to air out the apartment.

I pulled up to the counter one of the two stools I had bought a couple of months ago when Caprice started coming over more often.

Sitting at the counter, I thanked the gods for the grub, and ate up the convenience store food.

Caprice did the same, and we finished breakfast in silence.

Then she slid a box of painkillers over the counter toward me. “Here.”

I took it, read the instructions, and then downed two capsules, helped along by the remainder of my warm tea.

“Sorry,” I muttered.

“Apology accepted,” she replied mechanically.

“Next time I’ll take you seriously.”

“I’m not wearing a padded bra.”

Her revelation was so sudden that I froze for a heartbeat before my gaze dropped to her chest.

Mentally, I pumped a fist in the air.

Yes! Boobies. Finally. Can’t wait to see her in a swimsuit.

Keeping my face unreadable, I indicated the bathroom with a wave of my right hand. “You wanna freshen up.”

“Yes, please. Thank you.” She offered me a slight bow, then walked gracefully into the bathroom.

I sat at the counter for a while, and then disposed of the empty plastic containers after rinsing them clean.

Then I walked over to my inbuilt closet, opened the doors, and pulled out a drawer.

Taking out the black box with the watch inside, I opened it, and retrieved the timepiece.

I read the inscription on the back, then slipped the watch over my left wrist.

Putting the box away, I shut the drawer, then closed the doors to the in-built closet, but not before staring at my reflection in the mirror mounted on the inside of the door.

“…what the Hell are we doing…?”

I shook my head slowly, and shut the closet’s door.

– II –

When did we start hanging out?

I can’t really remember.

It just sort of happened.

After training on a Thursday, we grabbed a bite to eat.

The following Thursday we did the same, and then wasted time at a local arcade.

I guess we were looking for a way to wind down after a long day of school and training.

And so it became a habit, and Thursday became our night of doing nothing, of simply unwinding.

I bought her a gift for Christmas – a thank you for everything.

Though I made new friends at the new school in Island Three, there was a limit to how friendly I could get as I had to keep my secret of being a Familiar from them.

But it was different with Caprice.

I could talk to her about things that I couldn’t talk to with my classmates.

I didn’t have to hide who I was from her, and she accepted my lecherous behavior, though I kept testing her to see how far she would bend before snapping back at me.

Caprice wasn’t as open with me as I was with her, so it took me a while to learn what life at Galatea Academy was like for her.

It was more or less what I’d come to picture.

Friendless, cold, and lonely.

There were other Familiars in other classes, but Caprice wasn’t a part of their circle.

Then one Thursday night, while we were gorging ourselves on junk food to replenish everything we’d burnt through during two hours of arduous training, I saw firsthand what some of her classmates were like. We had the misfortune of running into them which was surprising since Galatea Academy is located in Island Three, Habitat One, and we were stuffing ourselves in a fast food joint in Habitat Two.
The change to the regulations governing Familiars had come into effect by then, and Caprice and I were both wearing our collars. I hadn’t received the Kaiser’s Blessing yet, so I was temporarily bonded to a Fragment known as a Chevalier.

Caprice’s classmates were sitting nearby, talking between themselves, but making sure we could hear them and their not-so-subtle innuendos.

I knew that girls can be cruel. As a guy, I didn’t really care for gossip so it was water off my back. But girls react to words differently, and I could sense that Caprice was growing increasingly uncomfortable through her expressionless façade. So when we finished up, I took both our trays to the waste disposal bins. As I did so, I decided payback was in order.

Extending a thin Hecaton-field toward the bustiest girl in the group, a petite blonde with a voluptuous chest hidden under her school blouse, I unhooked her bra.

She had been leaning forward with her elbows on the table, so you could hear the heavy whump as her bust landed on it. There was a surprised silence followed by gasps of shock and faux concern from her companions as they asked her what had happened.
When I returned to the table, the girls were too busy with their embarrassed friend to bother Caprice any longer, and we left unnoticed.

Sad to say, we did encounter those girls a few more times afterwards.

Happy to say my skill at unhooking bras improved tremendously, and so too my skill at unbuttoning blouses inconspicuously.

Surprised to say that those dimwits never noticed I was responsible for their wardrobe malfunctions, and while unleashing punishment, I also learnt the limits of the collar, and figured out how strong a field I could generate before it took notice and zapped me.

I should mention that Caprice acted as though she hadn’t noticed anything suspicious.

Not once did she ever mention anything about snapping bras and popping blouses.

– III –

We rode the mag-lev from Island Three to Island One.

The carriages were pressurized so that they could make the vacuum run between the immense asteroid islands.

It was midday by then and a Saturday, so we found ourselves on a crowded carriage.

I did do the gentlemanly thing and shielded Caprice from the crush of bodies within the carriage, though I was careful not to bump into her.

As I’ve said before, I really don’t know the bounds of our relationship, so crowding her just to feel her body against mine was off the table.

Were we friends or just fellow Familiars?

Did fellow Familiars invite each other out on New Year’s Eve?

Did they buy each other gifts for Christmas?

Did they hang out religiously every Thursday evening?

The more I thought about it, the more my chest grew tight, and a headache began to grow.

At a mag-lev station in Island One, Habitat One, I trailed Caprice from one platform to another and we caught the connecting line to the Harbor Sphere.

It wasn’t only starship docks that occupied the inside wall of the giant hollow sphere inside Island One. There were mini-habitats as well, a kilometer or so in length and breadth, that resembled alcoves cut into the Harbor Sphere rock wall. Where the mini-habitat joined the wall, large parks were built, and people could sit on the grass and look out at the immense open space before them.

If I haven’t mentioned this before, I’ll do so now.

The Harbor Sphere and Harbor Tunnel that connects it to the exterior of Island One was a pressurized environment. Hundreds of effect-fields emitters built along the length of the tunnel acted like air-locks that prevented the precious atmosphere from venting into the surrounding Hurakan Nebula.

These effect-fields also protected the parks that looked out into the Harbor Sphere.

So the lack of a glass shield or transparent wall offered a perfect view of the empty ball in the middle of Island One.

I say empty, but in truth it was a haven of activity with dozens upon dozens of superfreighters vying for space as they carefully traversed the void without bumping into each other. In that respect, even though the Harbor Sphere was round, it was crowded like the Panama Canal once was on distant Earth.

From the mag-lev station, Caprice and I walked to the park.

Sporadic crowds were beginning to build up here and there as we neared the park. When we arrived, I saw that it had been turned into part festival, part amusement park, with fenced off areas for the rides.

“Hah,” I muttered as I stopped and stared around me, spotting something large and round in the distance. “Hey, there’s a Ferris Wheel.”

“Yes, there is.”

I looked down at Caprice. “I’m not riding it.”

“Are you afraid of heights?”

“That’s a strange thing to ask. We are living in a space colony.”

Caprice arched an eyebrow at me. “A wise man once said, ‘an island is only an island if you look at it from the water’.”

I stared at her nonplussed. “Is that so. What’s that have to do with living in a space colony?”

Caprice shrugged. “I don’t know. I just thought I’d mention it.” She pointed at the festival stalls. “I want candied apples.”

“You do? Wait, you want me to buy it for you?”

“You lost the match. The loser does the winner’s bidding for the day.”

I growled at her, and she batted her eyes innocently at me. “Fine,” I grumbled.

I would have bought it for her anyway, especially if I one day I could see her in a revealing bikini.

Dear gods, grant her the big boobs she deserve.

Realizing I was starting to drool, I turned my face away and wiped my mouth.

Then I slapped my cheeks a few times to snap out of my fantasy, and ignored the flat look Caprice gave me.

“Now, let’s get you those melons--I mean apples….”

I headed to the festival area looking for a food stall that sold candied apples. After finding one and completing my first mission for the day, I walked with Caprice through the festival area, visiting the stalls, playing the games, and gradually made our way over to the amusement park area with its mechanical rides.

By then it was early afternoon and I was starting to think about lunch, when Caprice suddenly yanked me by the hand, and pulled us off in an unexpected direction.

“Hey—what are you—?”

“This way,” she replied in monotone, though she looked tense.

But no sooner had she pulled me away when she abruptly skidded to a stop, and I almost knocked her over.

“What are you—?”

The words died in my throat as I stared at an unexpected vision of beauty.

“Caelum?”

In front of us, a girl with an impressive, mouthwatering rack, beautiful chestnut hair, and large brown eyes had come to a stop not far away. She was dressed casually, with a short sleeve white blouse and pleated denim skirt, and she wore wedged sandals on her feet that revealed her painted toes.

I swallowed hard as I met her eyes. “Haruka…?”

Haruka Amiella looked at me and then at Caprice holding my hand. Her lips twitched for a while before breaking into an uneasy smile. “H—Hello.”

Caprice nodded faintly and replied flatly, “Hello.”

Haruka’s lips twitched again, and then she noticed the collar around my neck, and her face paled.

Caprice exhaled loudly, and then began pulling me away.

But I stood my ground and resisted her efforts.

“Caelum?” she asked.

I glanced at her. “What are you doing?”

“Leaving.”

“Why?”

Caprice suddenly looked nervous, and that surprised me.

But before I could say anything, two other girls, a blonde and brunette with short and shoulder length hair, arrived behind Haruka.

The blonde patted Haruka’s back. “Haru, what are you doing? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

The brunette peered at Haruka and then followed her line of sight to Caprice and I. “Oh, it’s the Silent Doll, and”—she frowned at me—“her boyfriend?”

Haruka’s eyes widened immensely. “Boy—boyfriend?” She seemed to recover from her shock at realizing that I was a Familiar, and began looking at the two of us with a mixture of disbelief and disapproval. “You and Caelum?”

I started to reply but Caprice stepped closer to me and pressed her body into my right arm, stifling my protest. “Is that a problem?” she asked.

I was about to question her but she drew even tighter against me, pressing her left breast firmly into my arm.

Abruptly, a startling sensation travelled from my arm to my brain, jolting my awareness out of my body.

I felt like I was floating in a sea of clouds.

Caprice had indeed been telling the truth.

She wasn’t wearing a padded bra.

She wasn’t wearing a bra at all!

Happy New Year, Caelum Desanto!

I had trouble seeing my surroundings as my awareness was preoccupied by the incredible sensation of Caprice’s small breast digging into my arm.

I had to remember to swallow when I started to choke on my saliva.

After doing so, I blinked a number of times and struggled to focus on my surroundings.

Gradually my attention settled upon Haruka.

She had started to retort to Caprice, but then looked conflicted and her mouth opened and closed a number of times.

The blonde girl beside her started to laugh. “Ha ha. This is incredible. The Silent Doll has a boyfriend.”

The brunette nodded as she eyed me from head to toes. “Yeah, and who have thought she’d land herself quite the catch.” She narrowed her eyes. “Even if he is a Familiar he’s still quite something to look at.”

My ego began to tap dance happily.

Quite the catch? Me? Is she serious? Well of course. I mean, just look at me!

The blonde waved at me. “I’m Alistair. Alistair Kell Avenir.”

The brunette folded her arms under her modest breasts. “I’m Siobhan Saint-Clair Avenir.”

I cleared my throat, still conscious of Caprice’s breast against my right arm, and started to bow politely to them. “I’m Caelum Desanto—”

“And we’re leaving,” Caprice cut in.

“Why?” Alistair asked with a smirk on her lips.

I looked down at Caprice. “Yeah, why?” Then I suddenly realized the obviousness in this situation. “Wait a minute! You know these babes?” Caprice scowled at me, and I was so surprised that I jerked back. “I—I mean—you know these girls?”

“We’re classmates,” Siobhan said. “Silent Doll sits at the back of the classroom, but we still share the same room.”

I turned to the brunette. “Hey, she has a name and it’s not Silent Doll.”

“Yeah, whatever,” she remarked and deflected my warning with a casual wave.

I took a couple of steps toward the girl but the blonde, Alistair, stepped forward.

“Relax. She didn’t mean anything by that.”

“I want to hear that from her, not you,” I said to her in a low tone.

Haruka intervened. “Stop this. Alistair, Siobhan. You’re being rude.” She swallowed and took a deep breath. “Caelum, it’s been a while.”

I was glaring at Saint-Clair when I replied to Haruka. “Yeah, it has been. You’re boobs are bigger than they were six months ago.”

Hah!” Haruka looked incensed. “We haven’t seen each other in six months and that’s what you say to me?”

“Well, what else am I supposed to say?” I broke eye contact with Saint-Clair and stared at Haruka. “They’re hard not to notice.”

Alistair started to laugh. “He’s just like you said he was.” Then she openly gaped. “Wait a minute! If you two are this close, why is she with him?”

That reminded me of what I’d realized moments ago, and I turned to Caprice. “You’re classmates with Haruka?”

Caprice’s unreadable façade was beginning to crack and reveal her worry.

I took a deep breath that I released unhappily. “Come with me.”

Pulling her ten or so meters away from Haruka and her friends, I stopped and stared hard into Caprice’s emerald green eyes.

Not for the first time, I noticed how much they looked like Arisa’s eyes.

And not for the first time, did I notice the growing number of streaks of red in Caprice’s long, raven hair.

When I asked her if she dying her hair, Caprice had adamantly denied it.

Green eyes like Arisa. Red hair like Arisa’s. The only thing missing her prize winning bust.

However, her appearance wasn’t enough to distract me from what I wanted to ask.

It came close, but not close enough.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I questioned her, keeping my voice low, though it also sounded hard and a little angry.

Caprice swallowed hard. “I couldn’t tell you.”

“What? Why not?”

“Arisa told me not to tell you.”

I drew back a few inches. “Arisa did? Why?”

“Because”—Caprice looked openly worried even though it was faint—“there are things that you don’t know.”

“Such as?”

She pressed her lips together tightly and shook her head. “We should leave.”

“Caprice, what did Arisa say to you?”

“That it was best if you didn’t know.”

“Know what?”

“About Amiella’s condition.”

I frowned down at her. “What…condition…?”

“That her family had her memories of the incident on the rooftop removed.”

I stared at Caprice and lost my anger and my train of thought. Suddenly, I was feeling very, very cold. “What happened? What happened to her?”

Caprice looked up at me with regret. “The trauma was too much for her. She had a mental collapse. And so her parents opted to treat her by having her memory of the experience removed.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, yet I could sense that Caprice was telling me the truth.

And I could sense through the sensorium-field, that going against Arisa’s instructions was difficult for her, as her emotions were a conflicted mess.

Averting my gaze, I had some trouble clearing my throat. “What does that have to do with not telling me that you were classmates?”

Caprice flinched and lowered her gaze. “Nothing….”

“Was that really Arisa’s doing? Not telling me about you and Haruka attending the same school—was it really her doing?”

“Yes. She felt it was better if you didn’t think about her. She wanted you to focus on your training.”

I spun away from Caprice, and planted my hands on my hips as anger washed through me.

I didn’t want her to see me angry, so I kept my back to her.

“Caelum, I’m sorry.”

Shaking my head, I closed my eyes tightly.

“Caelum, I wanted to tell you. But I couldn’t. But part of me didn’t want to tell you either.”

In the corner of my eye, I could see Haruka looking at me from the near distance – looking at me with unease.

“Caelum, I agreed with Arisa. I thought it would be better this way.”

Again, I shook my head. “Did you think I would come running to see Haruka? Is that what you thought? That I would butt into her life?”

“If not, then why are you angry?”

I turned and faced her. “Because you kept the truth from me.”

“You never asked me.”

“I didn’t know that you were classmates. I asked Arisa, and she told me she didn’t know which school Haruka was attending.”

“Is that really why you’re angry? Or is it because you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye?”

My anger grew cold once again. “I did say goodbye to her. That day, on the rooftop courtyard, I made her cry when I broke my ties with her.”

“Then why are you angry?”

“I’m angry that you and Arisa didn’t trust me. And no—I would not have gone running to Haruka. I know where she and I stand. She’s an Aventis. I’m a Familiar. Whatever we had between us is over.” I threw Haruka a glance. “We’re not even friends anymore.”

Caprice looked uncomfortable. “You may not be friends…but does that mean you don’t feel anything for her?”

I looked at her sharply. “What? Why are you asking?”

“How do you feel about her?”

I opened and closed my mouth a number of times, then eventually said, “I care about her. She’s my childhood friend. She was there for me when my parents died. She was there for me when my sister died.”

“And she was there for you when you died, and came back to life.”

My feeling coalesced into a lump in my throat that made it difficult for me to swallow. “Yes, she was….”

Caprice’s lips quivered for a heartbeat. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not telling you. I’m sorry for keeping it a secret. I’m sorry for dragging you out here.” She closed her eyes and shook her head faintly as she bowed her head. “I’m sorry for hurting you.”

I started reaching for her, but then I withdrew my hand.

Caprice looked up at me. Her face had regained its composure, but her eyes glittered with regret.

“I had no idea she would be here.”

“…you didn’t…?”

“I won’t stand in your way.”

“…what…?”

“This was probably meant to be.”

“…it was…?”

“You should talk to her. But just be careful with what you say.”

I looked into her eyes, and then shook my head faintly as I began to understand what she meant. “Caprice, I’m not going to run back to her.”

“I know. But…you should talk to her.” Caprice retreated a couple of feet. “I won’t tell Arisa. That’s a promise.”

I exhaled loudly and stared at her lopsided. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going home.”

“No, you’re not.” I closed the distance to her. “Caprice, didn’t you hear me? I’m not going to run back to her.”

A hint of confusion crossed her face, then vanished.

Again, I released a heavy breath. “Didn’t you say that today the loser does what the winner says.”

“Yes, so you should be with her.”

“No, dummy. You called yourself my girlfriend.”

“Ah…about that—”

“Then for today, I’m your boyfriend.”

Caprice openly gaped at me. “Huh?”

With a sigh, I shook my head. “So today, I’m spending New Year’s Eve with my girlfriend.”

“Just for today.”

“Yes, just for today.” Then I shrugged lightly. “Though, if I lose to you next time….”

Caprice’s eyes widened faintly. “Oh…next time…yes….”

Silence fell between us and I found myself gazing into her eyes for a long while.

Yes, they were definitely like Arisa’s eyes.

Damn it—if only she had Arisa’s bust!

I shrugged a shoulder at her. “I don’t get it.”

“Get what?” she asked sounding the slightest bit distracted.

“With me attending Galatea Academy next year, I would have run into Haruka eventually.”

“Yes, but this way you weren’t distracted. You focused on your training.”

I couldn’t believe the extent to which I’d been manipulated.

With a sigh, I allowed my shoulders to slump. “I see….”

“Caelum—”

“Wait for me here.”

I turned and walked over to Haruka, who watched me anxiously in the company of her two Aventis friends.

Standing before her, I slipped my hands into my pockets. “Haruka, it’s good to see you. I mean that. I’m glad you’re doing well.”

Her lips parted a few times, and she glanced at Caprice standing some distance behind me. “Caelum, I didn’t know about you and her.”

“Yeah, neither did I.” I laughed softly, then noticed Haruka’s confusion. “Ah, well, you see we just started dating.” I laughed again and added, “But as you can see, her boobs are small so I don’t know if it’ll work out.”

“Caelum,” Haruka said sharply.

“Yes?”

“You’re an idiot.”

Then she turned away and walked off with angry strides.

“Haruka—I took the entrance exam.”

She stopped in mid-step, then looked at me over a shoulder. “What exam?”

I smiled cheerily at her. “I passed. I’m attending Galatea Academy next year.”

Alistair and Siobhan had been smirking at me, but their expressions fell and they gave Haruka anxious looks.

As for Haruka, she was looking worried. “You—you’re attending Galatea Academy? Why?”

“Because all Familiars with these”—I indicated my collar—“have to attend an Aventis school.”

Again, she paled and it took her a few seconds to recover.

I felt I had to say something quickly. “Haruka, you don’t have to worry about me.”

“Why not?” she asked cautiously.

I wagged my eyebrows at my childhood friend. “Cause I’m bad ass.”

Haruka stared at me for a long while, then grimaced. “Caelum, you’re still an idiot.”

“Yeah, whatever. But now I’ll be able to keep track of your progress.”

“What progress?”

I gave her a thumb’s up gesture. “I’m cheering for you Haruka.”

She stared at me blankly, then grew bright red. “You—you idiot!”

This time she stormed off.

I have to admit her reaction puzzled me. “Why is she so embarrassed?”

The two girls nearby exhaled and gave me pitying looks.

Alistair spoke up first. “There’s a boy she likes.”

Siobhan shook her head at me. “And you just said you were rooting for her.”

My eyebrows rose slowly but significantly toward my hairline. “Oh…she thought I was rooting for her love life.”

“Exactly,” Alistair replied.

“But I was rooting for her chest.”

“What?” both girls muttered.

“I was rooting for her to reach the next letter in the alphabet—wait! She has a boy she likes?”

“Yes, and she’s here to meet him.” Alistair smirked at me again. “We came along to support her.”

Siobhan wagged a finger at me. “So don’t even think about interfering.”

I remembered to close my mouth.

The girls laughed and then chased after Haruka before I could find a suitable retort.

“Haruka likes someone?” I whirled and walked back to Caprice. “She has a boyfriend?”

Caprice’s eyes widened briefly before she shook her head faintly. “No. She doesn’t. At least not yet.”

“Heh?”

“They’re still dancing around each other.”

“Oh, I see.” I frowned at her. “So what’s he like?”

“He seems like a well respected young man. Very upstanding. Comes from a rich family.”

I arched an eyebrow at her. “You seem to know a bit about him.”

“I listen to the girls talk in my classroom. And in the bathrooms. And then there’s the gossip forums. So I keep up to date.”

“All essential doings for a healthy high school life,” I remarked.

“Exactly.”

“So now what?” I asked.

Caprice’s lips parted and I realized that she had no idea what to do next.

I held back a sigh and pointed at the rides. “It’s afternoon. The queues are pretty long. Do you want to get something to eat instead.”

Caprice looked relieved with me taking the lead, though the untrained eye wouldn’t have noticed.

I guess I’d spent so much time around her, that I was starting to recognize all her subtle facial expressions.

“I have tell you something,” I said.

“What would that be?”

“I have no idea how I’m supposed to act as your boyfriend.”

“And I have no idea how to act as your girlfriend.”

I glanced at my watch. “Well, I guess we have about nine hours of practice then.”

“Yes. I suggest we observe how the other couples behave.” In the corner of my eye I noticed her frown at me. “Caelum.”

“Hmm?”

“I’m over here.”

I turned away after studying a couple of busty blonde girls in revealing garb walking nearby, and looked down at Caprice. “So you are.”

Caprice stared at me flatly, then stepped closer. “Caelum.”

I had the sudden impression she was up to something. “Yes?”

Without warning she slammed the heel of her shoe into my foot.

I yelled out and dropped to one knee. “What was that for?”

“I'm practicing to be a jealous girlfriend.”

She walked off with an inappropriately placid expression, leaving me to massage my wounded toes.

“Fine. I guess I had that coming.”

My gaze fell on her tight derriere, and I had to wipe the drool from my lips, but then I suddenly grew extremely anxious.

Today wasn’t going to be like those other occasions when we just hung out.

If I messed up here, how would that affect our relationship as fellow Familiars later on?

“I guess I’d better not screw up—”

Because I’d fallen behind, I noticed a group of young teenage guys eyeing Caprice with salacious interest.

My feelings of anxiety and dread were swept aside in a heartbeat.

Rising to my feet, I chased after Caprice and surprised her by taking her hand.

“Caelum?”

“It’s nothing,” I replied, and steered her away toward one of the rides. “How about we try that one first.”

“What about something to eat?”

“We can do that later,” I said. “Let’s have some fun.”

In the corner of my eye, I noticed the dark looks on the group’s faces, and prepared myself for trouble.

– III –

“So then what happened?” the Enforcer officer sitting behind the desk asked.

“I beat them up,” I replied matter-of-factly.

“You beat them up?”

“Yes, sir.”

“All five of them?”

“Yes, sir.”

He gave me a dubious look, and swept his gaze over me, stopping briefly at the collar of my neck.

“You beat them up on your own?”

I nodded faintly. “Yes, sir.”

“Why?”

“Because they were harassing my girlfriend.”

“And so you beat them up?”

“Yes, sir.”

“All on your own?”

I hesitated. “Eh…well…my girlfriend did knee one of them in the groin.”

The Enforcer slowly and wearily rubbed his forehead. “I see.”

This was the third time I’d recounted my fight with a group of Regulars.

For the record, this was a different group of Regulars who’d chosen to lay claim on Caprice. The first group had given up when Caprice and I lost them in the crowds.

For six hours, I’d been forced to wait to be interviewed at the Enforcer Station. Then when it was finally my turn, I was questioned for a half hour.

“Sir, can I go now?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On whether they press charges against you and your girlfriend.”

“What?” I stood up off the chair in front of his desk. “But that’s not fair. They were harassing her. What was I supposed to do?”

“Call the authorities.”

“Are you kidding me? Was I supposed to stand and do nothing while they made off with my girl?”

“It’s the legal thing to do.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Officer, do you have a girl?”

“Ah, I do.”

“And if some group threatened to steal her away from you, would you let them? Would you let them take the love of your life.” I stepped closer. “Are you going to tell me that when you were my age you never stepped up to the plate to protect your girl?”

The man was silent for a long while, then looked across the open office area at another desk where Caprice was being questioned by a female officer.

“Is that your girl?”

“Yes, sir.”

“She’s a pretty girl.”

“Yes, sir. She’s the most beautiful girl in the colony.”

Yes, I was exaggerating a little but only a little.

He sighed. “To be young and stupid again.”

“Sir?”

“Hold out your hands.”

I blinked in surprise, then held my hands out for him.

He unlocked the handcuffs.

“You’re letting me go?” I asked as I rubbed my wrists after wearing handcuffs for six hours.

“Not exactly. You’ll be issued with an infraction notice for being a public nuisance—amongst other things—and fined. This will go on your juvenile record. And your Guardian has already been contacted. She’ll be fined as well for your misbehavior.”

My lips drew back in terror.

I am so dead! Arisa is going to string me up by my—no! I don’t want to think about it!

The Enforcer officer retrieved the handcuffs. “You’re getting off easy. These days the public isn’t comfortable with Familiars running around with powerful Artifacts.”

“I didn’t use it,” I told him truthfully. “Against that bunch of Regulars, I didn’t need to.”

The man shook his head. “Kid, you need to exercise some restraint and better judgement. Now, there’s a waiting area outside. Take a seat while we process the paperwork. Don’t even think of running away before you’re discharged.”

I almost cringed. I’d spent the past six hours in the waiting area only to be sent back to it.

Swallowing unhappily, I asked, “Sir, what about the Regulars I beat up?”

He pursed his lips for a moment. “More than likely your Pride will protect you from any charges those boys choose to lay. You should be so grateful to them.”

I felt a little queasy upon hearing that I’d be relying on the Lanfear Pride to keep me out of trouble.

He pointed across the office area in the direction of the waiting ‘lounge’. “Go on. I’ve got others to deal with and it’s not even midnight.”

“What about my girlfriend?”

He threw a look across the office. “I imagine she’ll be released shortly.”

I nodded. “Thank you, officer.” Standing up, I offered him a respectful bow. “Happy New Year.”

In the waiting area, I sat on the uncomfortable plastic chair and stared up at the ceiling.

This was turning out to be a New Year’s Eve to remember, but there was only an hour remaining until midnight.

And it wasn’t turning out to be memorable just for me.

The waiting area was crowded with people waiting to be discharged or interviewed.

I sagged in the plastic chair, and stared emptily off into the distance until someone stopped in front of me.

“Caelum.”

I looked up to see, Caprice.

Her light makeup was still unblemished, but her eyes were puffy as though she’d been crying.

I shot up to my feet and grabbed her the shoulders. “Are you okay? I mean—what happened? What did they do to you?”

She touched a finger to her lips. “Relax.”

“You’ve been crying. How can I relax?”

The officer who’d interrogated me arrived beside us. “Here. Take this and you’re free to go.”

I took the envelope he handed me.

To think that in this day and age, paper was still in use.

“Your infraction notice has been mailed to you and your Guardian,” he said. “This is just a formality.”

With that he turned and walked away as though glad to be done with me.

Caprice took my right hand and pulled me toward the exit. “Let’s go.”

Outside the Enforcer Station, I followed Caprice down the steps to the sidewalk. Quietly, I folded the envelope and slipped it into a back pocket.

“Caprice, I’m sorry. I messed up your date.”

“Our date.”

“Okay, our date. I’m sorry.”

Caprice turned as she continued pulling me along. “I understand. Apology accepted.”

At an intersection we waited for the traffic light to change so that we could walk across the street.

“Caprice, are you mad?”

“No.”

“Will you tell me why you were crying?”

“Tears can be very effective.”

I realized what she meant, surprised that she could cry as the situation demanded. “Oh, and they didn’t see through them?”

“She told me I needed practice and gave me a few helpful tips.”

“Caprice, you’re terrible.”

“It was for your sake.”

I winced and shut my mouth.

We crossed the street, and headed in the direction of the park with a view of the Harbor Sphere. We walked in silence and fifteen minutes later, we joined ten thousand other people who had gathered to see the final fireworks display of the night. We’d missed the earlier show because we were captive at the Enforcer Station.

Unfortunately, the park was crowded so we couldn’t get close to the Harbor Sphere, but we still had a pretty good view of the giant void that was the domain of immense starships.

I looked up over the tops of people’s heads at the Harbor Sphere to see that it was bereft of traffic. Only the ships responsible for the fireworks display were out in formation. The superfreighters and liners had all docked in the alcoves cut into the spherical rock wall.

While we waited for midnight only minutes away, I glanced at Caprice.

She was busy removing her lipstick with a handkerchief.

A part of me was a little disappointed to see her do so, but I kept it hidden from her.

What an odd day this turned out to be. Even if it was a practice date, it had gone horribly wrong when I accepted the challenge from those Regulars. But I knew deep down that given a second chance, I would have still beaten them up, and that bothered me as it said something about me that I didn’t like.

I had changed since becoming a Familiar, and realized I wasn’t the best person that I could be.

“If it bothers you, don’t worry about it,” Caprice said above the noise of the chatter around us.

“What?”

“You had a reason to beat them up.”

“What reason?”

“Me.”

I closed my mouth and swallowed down some of my regret. “You’re not disappointed?”

“Of course I am. I’m disappointed in them, not in you.”

I shook my head slowly. “No, you should be disappointed in me.”

“Then how do you plan on making it up to me?”

I blinked sharply at the insistent, earnest look in her eyes. “How?”

She nodded. “Yes, how?”

I rubbed my hair nervously. “Ah—can I sleep on it.”

“You have until midnight.”

A glance at my watch told me I only had a minute left on the clock.

Caprice looked expectantly up at the Harbor Sphere, while I agonized over what to do or say.

Then the people in the park started counting down the new year, and I threw caution and restraint to the wind.

I reached across and took Caprice by the shoulders.

She was counting down as well and looked faintly startled.

“You’re still my girlfriend?”

She nodded.

With a finger under her chin, I raised her head.

Then I leaned down and apologized to her by giving away my first kiss.

I thought my heart would explode out of my chest when my lips met hers.

I don’t think I even heard the sounds of the crowd cheering or the fireworks.

My awareness was consumed by her and her lips…until she broke away and stepped back.

“Caprice…?”

She smiled faintly. “Practice is over.”

“Huh?” I felt as though I’d been punched in the chest so hard that my heart stopped.

Was I wrong about her?

“Happy New Year, Caelum.”

Was I wrong about us?

Caprice turned and slipped into the standing crowd.

“Wait!”

I yelled at her and tried to follow, moving between the throng of bodies in pursuit of her.

“Caprice—wait!”

I lost sight of her so I stretched out my Fragment’s sensorium-field, spreading it around me in search of her.

There was a limit to how far I could project the field before the collar noticed.

I didn’t care. I needed to find her, and so I ignored the sharp jolt from the collar as I spread the field to almost fifty feet in a conical shape.

Sweeping the conical field in a semi-circle, I failed to catch any sign of her or her sensorium-field.

“Damn it!”

Moving away from the crowded areas of the park, I pulled out my palm-slate from a pocket and dialed her number.

I got the standard message about the other party being unavailable but I growled in frustration when I learnt the voice mail was disabled.

I sent her a message instead.

It took me longer to type it out because my hands where shaking so badly.

PLEASE DON’T GO.

Then I resumed searching for her through the crowded park.

Eventually, I gave up and headed for the mag-lev station, realizing that was what I should have done when I first lost contact with her. But that would have proved fruitless with the massive crowd that eventually swamped the station looking to make their way home.

My palm-slate vibrated in back pocket and pulled it out in a hurry.

YESTERDAY WAS INTERESTING. I HAD FUN. I’LL SEE YOU TODAY FOR TRAINING. DON’T BE LATE. HAPPY NEW YEAR.

I stared at the screen for a long while.

Slowly, the cold, hard truth dawned on me.

I had been rejected.

I laughed at myself.

I felt gutted, winded, and stupid.

What kind of idiot was I do something like that?

How could I have risked our friendship by stepping over the line?

Slipping the palm-slate back into a pocket, I leaned my back to the wall behind me, and kept out of the way of the crowds passing through the turnstiles and onto the mag-lev station’s platforms.

The sight of happy couples here and there made me feel emptier inside.

It also filled me with regret.

Would she even listen to an apology?

How would I react when I saw her again? Should I just pretend it had never happened?

And if she was planning on rejecting me—why the Hell was she wearing no bra!

Eventually, with my head swirling with questions for which I had no answers, I walked through the turnstiles, waited on the platform for a half hour, and boarded a mag-lev for the trip home to Island Three.

In a few hours, I was expected to attend training.

For the first time in months, I honestly contemplated skipping it, until the thought of Arisa coming down on me like an avalanche quickly made me reconsider.

– IV –
(Caprice)

I sent Arisa a message.

I HATE YOU FOR DOING THIS TO ME.

I HATE YOU FOR MAKING ME DO THIS.

Then I turned off my palm-slate.

I didn’t want to read her reply or replies.

No doubt she would confront me soon enough.

Staring out the window of the automated cab, I looked at the habitat buildings flashing by. Then the cab entered a tunnel connecting the small habitat to the larger Habitat One within the asteroid Island.

“…Happy New Year…Caelum….”

I was glad there was no driver to see my tears fall.

“…Happy New Year….”

– V –
(Arisa)

Seated at the dining table, I read the message that arrived on my palm-slate.

Around me the restaurant deck of the cruise ship was lit brightly by yet another round of fireworks exploding out in the Harbor Sphere.

The patrons were boisterous in their celebrations.

Everyone sounded happy at the prospect of a new year during which to rob and plunder and make more profit than last year.

I re-read the message and felt my heart sink.

Sensing someone approach me, I quickly cleared away the screen and slipped my palm-slate back into my purse.

My aunt, Yolonda Imreh Lanfear, the Primatriarch of the Lanfear Pride, regarded me with warm concern as she sat down at the table.

“Is everything alright?” she asked.

I smiled at her and nodded, but her concern became a suspicious look and she dipped her head at me.

“Arisa?”

I swallowed tightly, and lost my grip on my smile. “I think I may have made…a terrible mistake.”

My aunt’s eyes widened slightly.

I swallowed again, and took a deep breath. “I told a girl not to fall in love.”

“And?”

“I believe she fell in love….”

My aunt sat back in her chair. After a short while, she broke into a thin enigmatic smile. “Well then. This shall prove to be most interesting.”

I cleared my throat once more. “And Caelum Desanto was fined for brawling in public.”

My aunt’s expression fell. “Wonderful.”

She reached over to her tall glass of champagne that was half full, and downed it in one swig.

Slamming the glass back down on the table, she glared into the distance.

“Bloody wonderful, indeed.”


Draft only.
Final piece will be more refined.
I mean the grammar. Not Caelum.



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