Saeko woke up
slowly, her mind barely registering the din outside. Last night had been hard.
All she wanted to do was sleep. She took a deep breath, wrapped tight in her
stained sheets, feeling some soreness in her back from last night.
hated when they used the belt on her. Scars on her back would hurt her
salability. And being nineteen, already she was on borrowed time.
noise became louder. Or maybe she was registering it more. Saeko reached over
and took her lavender satin robe off one of the posts on her rusty iron bed,
bringing herself up to a sitting position. She looked at the clock on her
10:15 in the morning. Too early to be open,
she thought. What is going on?
willed herself to focus on the noise. After a time, she could pick out a phrase
or two through the fog in her mind.
they could do for her."
I bet it was an overdose. Looks like Rush, coupled with whiskey."
anyone talked to Sauvage?"
stood upright, walking with one hand over her stomach since the sash for her
robe was long gone. She threw the door to her shabby room open and stepped out
into the hall, nearly throwing up at the smell.
was more than the usual reek of sweat and body oil and wine the conglomerate
stench of base lusts and animal desire Saeko had been smelling for so many
years, so long she wasn't aware of it anymore. This was a different smell.
padded down the hall towards the knot of girls standing in front of a door at
the end of the hall. Some of the shorter ones stood on tiptoe to see over the
taller girls. The older ones hung back; they had seen it before.
the room were two paramedics and Gao, the man who owned the place. He was
balancing himself on a cane, his face impassive, nodding as the paramedics
talked to him about the cause and time of death. He had seen this before. Many
tried to squeeze in between the girls. She could see the woman on the bed, skin
blue from lack of oxygen, but she couldnt see her face. Saeko couldn't keep
track of everyone who lived here four floors, as many as twenty girls on each
floor, and on a busy night, she never left her room.
tilted her head to the side, catching a glimpse of the dead girl's face, matted
over with wet blonde hair. The paramedic closed the girls eyes, logging the
time of death on his data clipboard. She looked to Saeko like she was sleeping.
paramedics moved away. One started to put his equipment away while the other
led Gao to another corner of the room to talk about funeral arrangements and
body disposal. All very routine, all very clinical. After all, she was dead. No
reason to pretend what was lying on the bed had ever been a human being.
looked at the woman's throat. Around it was a silver chain, holding a small
coin bearing two Chinese characters.
backed away slow, bumping against the
other girls on the way out. She felt a lump rise in her throat. Shock, fear,
revulsion all grasping her chest in an iron death grip. Squeezing out her
knew this woman. Not personally. Only from afar.
rushed back to her room and dressed quickly. Rarely did any of Gao's ladies go
out. Even on Hantu Street, there were few people more looked down upon than
swallowed. A whore, she thought. The least I can do is be honest with
buttoned her denims and put on a purple shirt. She rifled through the drawers
of her nightstand for something while putting on her shoes with her free hand.
Her fingernail scraped against it on the bottom of her top drawer: a small
white card with a number written on one side.
sighed and turned the card around in her fingers, sitting on the side of the
bed, wanting to be somewhere else. For a small card, it felt incredibly heavy.
She would call the number. She had done it before. Heard him breathing softly
into the receiver as she relayed the latest bad news about the now-dead girl.
idly rubbed her shoulder, still feeling the sting of last nights belt straps.
She thought of the man on the other end of the line, the way he sighed. Every
bit of bad news, another hard whack against him. Deeper than physical pain.
stood up slowly and walked to her dresser, sweeping the money on top of the
dresser and flipping through it, pocketing her share. She held Gao's cut in her
hand as she stepped through the door, closed and locked it. The crowd around
the dead girls room had thinned out a bit, but there were still a few
made her way down the stairs, the weathered wood squeaking under the stained
red carpet. She stopped by Gao's office, put his take in an envelope and wrote
"Saeko, room 209" on it, sliding it under his door. She then turned
on her heel and walked out into the streets of Kuran.
block away was a phone kiosk. She walked to it briskly, dodging thick knots of
street vendors and customers on the way. Saeko stood before it, taking out the
white card and a small coin. The screen on the front of the phone had the weather
forecast today. Always 100% correct.
Rain period scheduled for today,
Saeko thought idly, punching in the number.
think you'd call," the blonde woman said, smiling shyly. She idly wrapped
the cord around her finger. "You seemed, I don't know preoccupied at
the party last night."
ashamed to admit this, but at the time, I was looking for the bathroom,"
Kienan Ademetria replied. "I meant to try and speak to you again, but I
felt like Id made such a terrible impression, I decided to leave."
didn't." His voice, it was like being caressed by callused hands, the
woman mused. "Honestly, I havent quit thinking about you."
didnt know I'd forgotten your name."
Kienan replied. "For all of two seconds. Then I looked at the card. Quite
a name you've got, Jayla Kyren."
no, Kienan Ademetria for sure," Jayla said with a smile. "Do
you get paid by the syllable?"
bit her lower lip. "Look, do you want to go out with me or not?"
surprise was audible. "I . . . uhm, well, I wasn't expecting that."
direct approach?" Jayla clarified. "Well, I was tired of waiting for
you to ask. Keep up the wait-and-see attitude, and you'll end up alone for the
rest of your life, Kienan."
. . . heard that somewhere," Kienan said, exhaling softly. He seemed so
shy and awkward. How could someone so calm and collected be so naïve, Jayla
wondered? "How about if I pick you up at eight?"
pick me up at seven," Jayla replied, grinning. "I hate waiting. In
case you hadnt noticed."
Saeko sat on the
park bench, looking at her shoes to avoid the harsh judgments in the eyes of
the people who walked by her. Even here, in Isis Park, far from Gao's Place and
the men and women who knew what she was, people just seemed to know somehow.
Every now and again, she would glance up to see them glaring at her. She could
hear their words in their mind, as though they were transmitted when their eyes
sharp shocks. Like the belt, but scars only on the soul. It hurt all the same.
this agony because it wasn't enough to tell him over the phone. Saeko had
suggested they meet and talk. And he agreed. The most words the guy had ever
said to her.
stared at the neatly paved walkway and the lush green grass that surrounded it.
It seemed so different from her part of Kuran. Could places really be this
she reminded herself. It's all illusion. It looks like paradise but it's a
trap, a prison. You can never escape.
fat manila envelope was tossed into her lap with an audible thump. Saeko
reached for it, her fingernails still wearing the remnants of the nail polish
from last night
for you." His voice came from right behind Saeko. She jumped; she hadnt
heard him coming.
Ademetria loomed over her, his chestnut braid caught in the light breeze of
late afternoon. Saeko had seen him only twice before. The first was her second
day in Gao's Place. He was with the woman she had been charged to watch. Hed
gone wild, nearly shooting up the place and giving Gao the wound that caused
him to need the cane.
second time had been even more terrifying. She had awakened in the night with
him standing at the foot of the bed. Even in the darkness, his eyes seemed to
shine like a tiger's.
her," he said with quiet clarity, tossing her the white card and an
envelope full of cash. The man sleeping next to Saeko hadn't even heard Kienan
come and go.
dont usually get this much," Saeko murmured. "At least not for
over for you now," Kienan said, his voice cold and clinical. "Inside
is a passport and enough cash for you to leave this place far behind."
didnt know her, mister," Saeko retorted.
not eaten alive with grief about her dying. You paid me to keep an eye on her
and that's what I did. I appreciate the good deed, but why give me this?"
like the right thing to do," he said, fumbling for a cigarette.
what if I dont want to go?"
closed his eyes, exasperated. "Then youre an idiot."
Saeko looked at him. His emerald eyes were dark. Just as she had seen scorn in
the eyes of the people who walked by her, she could see sadness in him. Deep
black waters of sadness.
I know youre sad about what happened, but rescuing me . . . well, dont act
like you're doing it for my sake," Saeko said quietly, taking her usual
pay and laying the envelope on her lap.
trying to help," Kienan replied, sounding wounded.
can't bring her back by some act of charity."
know that," Kienan snapped. "She was lost to me a long time ago.
There was nothing I could do to save her."
was the life she chose."
the one you chose?"
looked down. "I know what I am. I live with it every day. Do you?"
Kienan said coolly, flicking the cigarette at a sign that said "NO
LITTERING." It spanged off the sign and into the grass.
you accepted it?
looked down for a split second. "Yes."
was a rumble. The skies began to darken. High above, machinery was moving into
place. Saeko stood up and regarded Kienan one last time.
was beautiful, and he looked strong enough to kill her at any second. She could
remember being afraid when he waved a gun at everyone that night. She
remembered being even more scared of him when he woke her up two nights later.
right now, he looked pitiful.
can still take the money and the passport," Kienan spoke under his breath.
"It's selfish as acts of kindness go, but my offer's genuine."
Saeko looked up at the sky and frowned. "You can't rescue every wounded
bird who comes along. Some just dont want to be rescued.
glanced at Kienan. The rain's coming. You should go. They say it's going to be
an hour-long period."
stay," Kienan said. "I dont mind the rain."
yourself." Saeko looked down and sighed. "Look . . . if you ever
decide to, uhm . . . come by I'll make it worth your while."
the last thing on my mind right now."
come over anyway," Saeko said, a faint smile on her lips. "I'll sing
you a song."
leaned forward, his braid sliding down and over his left shoulder. The skies
went dark and the rain came, hard rain that pooled on the pavement within
minutes. It soaked through Kienan's clothes and hair, but he didnt seem to
stared at his shoes: black leather with water beading on them. The rain felt
almost pleasant. It made him feel secure.
all, who would notice a few teardrops in a rainstorm?
top," Kienan said. "You can see every city from here."
beautiful," Jayla breathed, pushing back and resting her head against his
chest. "How'd you manage to pay someone enough to get us a spot here, all
just say I have some pull with the transit authority," Kienan said,
grimacing. He kept his face in the shadows and away from her eyes when she
asked questions like that.
wasn't that they annoyed him. It was, as he reminded himself for the ninetieth
time, better she didnt know. After all, he knew what happened last time.
Sometimes when he and Jayla were together, he thought of her and felt guilty
for it. Hed found her, rescued her and made her like him. It was terrifying
and exhilarating in the most awful and wonderful way.
had loved her. But not enough. So he killed her, and the part of himself she
eyes were closed. Kienan idly ran his fingers through her soft blonde hair. He
thought about what he was doing. It had been two months now, since that first
nervous date with her. style='mso-spacerun:yes'> The smart thing
to do would have been to not get too involved. The life of a professional
killer was not one designed for personal relationships.
that fact hadnt stopped him. Or maybe he hadnt been able to stop himself
months of ducking and evading questions. Hed only been caught by her a couple
of times. Sometimes she would get angry and demand that he open up, but he wouldn't.
eyes half-opened and looked at him. "Hey," she said. "What's
wrong? I know that look."
reached up and touched his face. "In your eyes, silly. Your eyes go this
very dark green and you look down a lot. What's wrong?"
Jayla retorted. "Kienan, why cant you be straight with me? Why is every
single detail like pulling teeth?"
my life's not that interesting."
wouldnt know, would I?" Jayla leaned forward and looked out at the city
as she sighed. "Are you seeing other women? Are you married?"
I married?" Kienan repeated, emphasizing the improbability of it.
"No, Jayla, I'm not. I promise I'm not seeing any other women, and I'm
definitely not married."
that's two possible guesses out of the way," Jayla said with annoyance.
"Why wont you talk to me?"
things are hard for me to say."
everything's hard for you to say."
mulled that one over. "I guess
so." He struggled with words for a
way out. "I guess I'm intimidated by you."
turned to him. It was her turn to be shocked. "Intimidated? What
the hell for?"
so confident. So certain."
laughed. The longer she did, the less happy she sounded. "Confident. Certain.
Kienan, if you believe that, you know even less about me than I know about you.
Until this moment, I didnt even think that was possible."
looked away, guilty at his feeling of relief. Hurting her had gotten him off
the hook. That was all that was important, right? And he could make it up to
her in other ways, right?
I'm a mess. I have been since I was thirteen years old. I hated my family, and
I made them pay for it every way I could think of."
they didn't love me, Kienan, Jayla muttered. Only what they thought I should
be. I couldn't live with the hurt of disappointing them, and I couldnt be what
they want She glanced at Kienan. I wanted to be so . . . dirty . . .
that no one would ever think of me as their
put his hands on her shoulders, but she pulled away. "I look, and I dont
even know who I am."
tried again and she pulled away again. "Jayla, I'm sorry. I didnt
Jayla squeezed her eyes shut. Her fingers rubbed the necklace Kienan had given
her. The tears came anyway. "No you didn't, and you never thought to ask.
I hate you sometimes."
blinked. He couldnt blame her. "Jayla, if I can help you . . . I . .
snapped, glaring at him. "Arent you listening to me? Didn't you hear what
I said? Im not a princess and Im not your victim. I want you to love me for
Kienan said, taking her in his arms. "I do.'
he held her that night, he resolved to save her from herself. There had been no
one to stop Kienan down the road he was on, not until it was too late.
maybe, just maybe, if he saved Jayla, some metaphysical scale would be
turned those words over in his head as the rain poured down. At the time, they
were the first words he'd heard in months.
had been drifting, alone in a cold metal pod, freezing under a blanket, almost
starved to death and half-mad. He'd escaped from hell. Or so he'd thought. In
his heart he was never far away, and neither were the things he'd left behind
on his birth world. There were monsters, writhing, clawed monsters that he
still carried inside him, that always threatened to drag him down.
put his hands over his face and leaned against the back of the park bench. The
rain had caused his clothes to stick to his body, leaving a cold dampness in
more than ever, he was alone.
didnt have to be. He knew that. He had friends, but he couldn't will himself
to go see them. Some fearful thing was in his heart.
fear, and pain. And more than anything, loneliness.
He sighed. He needed to get away. Not only
from the rain, but everything. He rose from the bench, eyes downcast, Saeko's
words in his mind, mocking him like a long shadow.
"You can't rescue every wounded bird who comes along. Some just
dont want to be rescued."
and over in his mind. An unfading echo in the hollow of his heart.
looked at his hands. No gloves today. He wasn't working. He wore red gloves
when he was: the color of blood to symbolize those he had lost.
looked up at the clouds, as if appealing to a God. But there was no God in the
sky. And Kienan had his answer, despite trying to run. He could no more escape
it than he could his own shadow. All that remained was to keep running or
closed his eyes, the rain dripping down his face. He shoved his hands in his
pockets and walked in the rain.
Kienan crumpled the
piece of paper in his hand, sitting on the edge of the bed. The apartment they
had shared was empty, though not of Jayla's things. They were still there in
the same disarray. But the place might as well have been empty.
was what had come from trying to save her.
felt good to admit it. Didnt seem so much like failure that way. More like a
dream that didnt come true. Those he was used to.
"He's all alone."
from years before. The refrain of his favorite song.
he ever been otherwise?
many questions. No answers. Kienan held the note in his hand, his knuckles
white as he crushed it. He felt tight as a drum, the tension in him rising in a
white heat, like a supernova.
screamed, throwing the note against the wall as hard as he could. He stood up
from the bed and kicked the mattress off the box spring, tearing the sheets
from the bed and finding Jayla's drug injector tangled in them.
green eyes blazed with fury as he smashed it against the dresser, not feeling
the pierce of the silver needles in his hands. Plastic and delicate metal and
glass tubes flew as he pounded the injector against the dresser, again and
again. He threw the injector across the room, balancing himself on the wall and
leaving streaks of his blood. He kicked in the dresser, spilling the drawers
onto the floor and throwing them one by one against the walls. They exploded,
punching through the outer paneling as they fell apart on impact. Kienan tipped
over the remains of the dresser and kicked through it.
wheeled around, nothing but rage. His eyes fell on the mirror. Her mirror. How
many times had he stood behind her, gently brushing her hair, admiring her
elegance. Confident that not only could she be saved, he was the man to do it.
reached behind him, drawing his pistol from the waistband of his jeans. He
fired at the mirror, the blast hitting his reflection in his chest. He held the
pistol in his hand and stared at his reflection, chest heaving as he regarded
the hole in the mirror.
holding the gun, he sank to the floor, the storm of anger gone and with it, any
energy he had.
was dazed. He couldnt remember destroying the room. His throat was raw. He had
been screaming the whole time, and never realized it.
ran his hands through his hair. His braid had come undone. He exhaled slowly and
smoothed it out with his left hand, still sitting in the center of the
demolished room, looking for all the world like a man who was having trouble
keeping himself together.
paramedics made their way up the stairs, wasting no time staring at the girls.
When the fat Chinese man was at the top of the stairs beckoning them to the
room at the end of the hall, they weren't listening. They knew the way. They
squeezed past him and made their way down the hall to room 209.
daylight streamed in through the windows, adorned by gauzy threadbare curtains.
On one post of the wrought-iron bed hung a lavender satin robe.
junior paramedic fished out his data clipboard and loaded the form for a death
certificate. He was only twenty-two, new on the job. This was the kind of day
senior paramedic pulled back the sheet. Beneath it was a young woman lying on
her back, her eyes wide open and looking at the ceiling. She wasn't asleep or
unconscious. She was dead.
the junior paramedic gasped. "She cant be more than nineteen."
nothing unusual." The senior paramedic looked her over and undid a length
of lavender satin from around her neck. He held it in his hands and looked over
his shoulder at the robe on the bedpost.
them, Gao balanced his rotund form on his cane, his eyes impassive, nodding as
the senior paramedic ran through the familiar series of questions. There was a
dull routine to it, an impersonal air that seemed to cheapen the life of the
dead girl. Life and death, love and hate, all reduced to plain banality.
another day in the big city.
junior paramedic filled out the clipboard. He was getting a lot of practice
this week. "Cause of death seems to be sexual strangulation, he mused to
himself. Traces of fluid on her body back it up, so we dont need the police
involved do we? Looks like death by misadventure."
senior paramedic was busy arranging terms of body disposal with Gao. Burial was
out of the question -- no room for cemeteries on Kuran.
have to be cremated," Gao sighed. "She had no friends or no family
that I know of, so a funeral wont be necessary either." He turned to
the junior paramedic called, waving his clipboard at Gao. "I forgot to ask
her name. I need it before I can complete the death certificate."
walked over and checked the clipboard hanging from the wall. So many girls. It
was hard to know them all by name. His eyes went down the list until he found
the room number. He held the clipboard in his hands as he walked back to the
Her name was Saeko." Gao looked
down at the clipboard. Fishing in his pockets, he pulled out a pen and drew a
line through her name.
Logged it. The junior paramedic turned to his senior. The paperwork's done.
I'm going to go downstairs and get the bag."
it was a beautiful day, the kind of day when the sun shines and fills the heart
with such joy at the mere fact of being alive. No sign of yesterdays rain that
had poured from the sky like the sorrow of angels.
The senior paramedic felt a pang of sorrow for
the girl lying naked and dead in the bed.
said a silent prayer for her and closed her eyes.