That, he figured as he touched the thick white bandage around his neck and turned his head slightly to the right to ease the pain of swallowing, was the root cause of it all.
In this case, though, it had done more than just kill the proverbial cat.
What would have happened, then, he wondered, if he had not been so curious?
Or if Isao’s professor had not called him away? Or if it had been raining that day? Or if he had simply gone to the library to study like he planned?
So many small details, insignificant in and of themselves, yet together they brought about such tragedy, and on such a grand scale. He touched the bandage again, then let the pillows behind him take on his full weight as he sank back to recline on the bed again. He was tired, but his thoughts would not let him rest.
Once more, his mind wanted to go over it all again, to see where it started. Where it went wrong. How he could have been so blind and so stupid at the same time.
Instead of fighting it, this time, he let his mind bring him back.
* * *
He felt buoyant, lighter than air, even weighed down as he was with his books and laptop in his arms and his workout duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He walked across the university quad with a bounce in his step, the warm early spring air as intoxicating as the sunbathing girls dotting the new grass were enticing.
He lifted his face to the sky, feeling the warming touch of the sun, glad to be who he was, and where he was. Just completing his junior year at university, the spring semester rapidly coming to a close, and his summer internship already applied for, there was nothing he could need or want. For Toshiro Oniishi, life was good.
“Hey Toshiro!” a voice called out to him and Toshiro opened his eyes and blinked just in time to see three of his friends from the rowing team barreling towards him. He braced for the impact, tightening his arms protectively around the books and laptop as the bodies of the three young men slammed into his own.
“What are you doing?”
“Are you crazy?”
“It’s too nice to be stuck in indoors with your book up your nose.”
This last comment coming from Isao Masaki, his best friend and roommate. It was a running joke between them, as each studied late into the night, one often trying to outlast the other.
Shorter than Toshiro, stocky, with a shock of flyaway light brown hair and soulful brown eyes, Isao was also the eldest of their group. He was a graduate student, but due to an overcrowding at the university and a glitch in paperwork, he ended up rooming with Toshiro, though it was only supposed to last for a few weeks until an apartment could be found. But they had hit it off immediately, and when an apartment did open up, Isao declined it and continued to stay on with Toshiro. Isao was, for all intents and purposes, the brother Toshiro had always wanted, and he liked to think that Isao felt the same.
And when Isao joined the crew team on a lark, so did Toshiro. The fact that Toshiro excelled at it, given his long limbs and strength, was no surprise and Isao took great pride in his friend’s success, even as his own performance was less than stellar.
“Ah, what do you know?” Toshiro replied, mocking Isao, giving him a shove with his free shoulder.
“Know enough to say blow it off,” Isao replied with a laugh as the three boys fell into step with Toshiro. “So, where are we going?”
“The library.” Groans rose up around him. Toshiro grinned. “If you didn’t want to know, you shouldn’t have asked.”
“We got a better idea,” Jiri Naruda said, looping his arm through one of Toshio’s.
“Yup, you’re coming with us,” Hugo Fuentes said, sliding his arm through Toshio’s other arm.
With Isao pushing Toshio from behind, they steered him off the path leading towards the library and began the trek back across the quad.
Just as they reached the middle, Isao’s cell phone rang and they halted their forced march of Toshio as he answered.
“Damn,” he swore lightly as he ended the call.
“Problem?” Toshio inquired, concerned at the look on his friend’s face.
Isao shrugged. “It was my professor. His other TA just called in sick, so now I have to help cover tonight’s lecture.”
“He probably didn’t want to be stuck indoors either,” Jiri said with a grin.
“Probably not, the bastard,” Isao sighed. “Guess I’ll have to catch up with you guys later tonight.”
“Sucks to be you,” Hugo teased.
“Tell me about it,” Isao said with scowl as he began to walk towards the engineering building. “See you later, ‘kay?”
They waved and nodded as Isao walked away and stood in a little uncertain cluster for a moment.
“Guess it’s the library after all,” Toshiro announced after a moment, turning slightly on his heel. His friends immediately put up a protest.
“Hey, you can’t bail on us now.”
“Yeah, no reason why we still can’t go through with our plans.”
Jiri held tight to Toshiro, as did Hugo. Neither young man had any intention of letting their friend ruin a perfectly good spring day with something as boring as studying. Who cared if finals were only a few weeks away? They had plenty of time for that when the sun was not shining and fun begged to be had.
Automatically, the three began to walk towards the gymnasium, where much of their free time was usually taken up with workouts. The goal in mind was go beyond the gym, though, and towards the lake where the rowing crews often practiced. Even with Isao gone, the three of them could still take out a sculling boat and enjoy the rest of the afternoon skimming across the water’s surface.
After Toshiro realized where they were headed, he no longer put up a fight, but willingly followed them. Having grown up exclusively in a city, with rare vacations always in the mountains, it was not until he came here, to the university, that he was exposed to joy of rowing.
He liked the quietness, save for the unison splash of the oars in the water, and the feel of the resistance of the water against his arms. He had always thought sculling to be what birds must feel while flying, the lift and drag of a natural element against the body, all the while defying gravity to move fluidly through it.
Just as the threesome approached the boathouse, however, they heard voices, then a muted sound, like a cheer. A look passed between them, and without a word, the trio walked towards the building from which it seemed to be coming. Toshiro frowned as they approached the brick structure.
In the two years that he seen and passed by this building, he had always assumed that it was part of the university’s complex systems of heating or cooling, or maybe electrical, works. He could not recall ever seeing anyone even remotely near it. It was just there.
And now, there were more than a few people crowded into it. Feeling daring, they snuck up to the door that had been propped open to let in what cooling breeze that came off the lake into the building.
Careful not to catch the attention of the man positioned at the door, who stood with his back to them, they looked in, amazed at what they saw.
From the outside, the building looked as though it housed engines, pipes, and other industrial-type equipment. On the inside, however, it had the feel of a large conference room or auditorium. Row upon row of folding chairs lined the entire area, with only small aisles along the walls allowing room for people walk up and down, and all faced a small stage, behind which dark red draperies hung down, upon which a bright red graphic spider had been pinned. Nothing else hung from the bare walls, but no one seemed to mind or notice. Or care.
The standing room only audience was completely focused forward, now quiet, as they listened with rapt attention.
There were four people on the stage, but only one was standing at the moment, pacing back and forth, microphone in one hand as he used the other to specifically point to this or that one in the audience before him.
“We are on the verge of history,” he emphasized, clenching his free hand into a fist, “and we are the chosen ones, called to answer that destiny.”
Murmurs of approvals rippled through the audience, comprised mostly of college-aged adults, though he could see a few older people in the audience as well.
To his surprise, he recognized the speaker on the stage as being a professor in History Department. Professor McCallum. In fact, Toshiro had taken his class in political science as a freshman.
“Look around you,” McCallum ordered. “Look around and see who are your true support, the system that will uphold you just as you will uphold them. Together, we can bring about the changes that our society needs – cries out for! – and prevail over those who are too resistant to change, too unwilling to see that once the Dividing happens, there will be those left still standing and those who will crumble to ground. My friends, we will be the ones still standing at the end.”
At his pause for breath, the audience cheered and clapped. A few girls in the back rows openly wept. Toshiro and Hugo exchanged looks and rolled their eyes, grinning at the sight before them. It seemed so silly and over the top.
Were these people really serious, Toshiro thought with a laugh.
That was when he realized that the man standing at the door had done a double-take and noticed them standing there. With lightening fast reflexes, the man grabbed Hugo by the back of his shirt collar before the young man could even think to move.
“You want to see,” the man said, hauling Hugo in, “then come in. Galactor welcomes all who are willing to serve with open arms.”
Immediately, Toshiro and Jiri fell back, but did not run, their concern for Hugo causing them to hesitate. The man held the door open for them.
“You can all come on in,” he invited.
* * *
What had made them go in, Toshiro wondered, staring at the ceiling tiles. Loyalty to Hugo? The fact that the guard had actually invited them in?
Because they were curious?
Toshiro’s hands tightened into fists. It all circles back to that. Were they not so curious, none of this would have happened. Would it?
He heard footsteps at the door and turned his face to the wall, closing his eyes. He could not bear to face anyone just yet.
Pretending to be asleep, he let the nurse or whoever it was take his blood pressure, heard the notes to his chart being made and then he was left alone.
He fought the urge to call her back as the memories once again rose up in his mind and transported him back to a time when all he had to do was just turn away ... as simple as that ….
* * *
A girl at the back row turned her head as he stepped into the room and their eyes met and held. Toshiro’s heart nearly a skipped a beat at the sight of those large, exotic dark brown eyes and a small smile touched her lips before she turned back to face the stage. Her dark brown hair was cut into a short bob which barely brushed the bottoms of her small earlobes.
Maybe he would stay for just a little longer …
Up on the stage, Professor Charnock saw his sponsor’s daughter turn, saw the exchange take place, and made a mental note as to the lanky youth who caught the young girl’s eye. She was being groomed for big things … and he had no intention of letting her ruin it now on some schoolgirl crush, especially since his sponsor had charged him with keeping watch over her.
Unless, he considered, the boy was the right one for her … and for Galactor.
* * *
It was harder than Toshiro thought it would be to find out when the next rally meeting was. There were no posters, no signs, no hint of anything going on, until he managed to uncover a small sign, no bigger than an index card, which had been tacked up on the notices board near the history department.
Standing in the doorway, feeling awkward and slightly silly, he glanced around to see if he could see that girl from before.
“Coming in?” a man in dark suit standing next the door inquired.
“Uh, yeah,” Toshiro said with a nervous smile. The man regarded him blandly and stepped back, allowing Toshiro entrance.
He was slightly early, so the room was not full yet, but judging from those milling inside and the number of people he saw headed towards the building, that would change very soon.
Reluctant to lose his advantage of height, but not wanting to simply look foolish standing there, Toshiro selected a row near the back and slid onto a folding chair. His knees scraped the back of the chair ahead of him as the rows were placed so closed together that there was hardly any room between them. Thinking that maybe an aisle seat would suit him better, Toshiro began to scout around, looking for an available seat on an end, when his eyes stopped at the sight of a familiar face.
Quickly, he rose and headed over.
“What are you doing here?” he asked as he slipped into the empty chair next to Jiri.
Jiri’s head whipped around, his eyes round at the surprise of being caught. Then he blinked.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Jiri replied defensively.
Toshiro grinned. “No mystery there. I wanted to see if I couldn’t find that girl I saw last time.”
“You’re here just for a girl?”
Toshiro ignored the derisive tone to Jiri’s question. “Hey, not just any girl. She was really … special. But what about you? I thought you and Hugo were supposed to go scout out possible summer jobs this afternoon.”
Jiri gave him a desultory shrug. “We did, for a bit. Then I told him that I had a headache and we came back.”
“So you didn’t tell him about this?”
“No,” Jiri shot back. “Did you tell Isao?”
He had not and, now that Jiri mentioned it, Toshiro had to wonder why not. “No,” he replied truthfully. “It just never occurred to me to say anything.”
But the more he sat there, thinking about it, the more he realized that he kept silent about the rally – and seeing the girl – because he was embarrassed by it. From what little he had heard, the rally itself seemed silly, right down to the odd red spider image, or whatever that was supposed to be, attached to the onstage curtains. Who could believe such things?
He was also hesitant to say anything about the girl because, well, he had no way of knowing if she would be interested in him, or if he would get shot down in the first thirty seconds. This was not something Toshiro really wanted his closest friends to know about until after it had been decided, one way or another. If even then.
But for Jiri to come here, and with that intense look on his face, could only mean that this was going to be another of his “fad-du-jour’s” as Hugo nicknamed them. Before this, he had dabbled in several of the clubs based on campus, along with meditation, yoga and holistic healing. Rowing for the crew team was the only thing he had actually stuck with, and that was only because he, Isao and Hugo kept insisting that he stay with them.
Toshiro sighed. This fad might prove to be a little more painful to listen to him talking about than the others, he thought as he watched today’s speakers take their places on the stage. To his surprise, Dean Charnock, from his own engineering department, joined the group.
Toshiro tried to think back, but did not recall seeing him there last time. Then again, Toshiro had been so busy looking at that girl that he really did not remember seeing anyone else at all.
As the final speakers took their places, those coming in quickly found places to sit. Those who could not, once all of the seats had been taken, were forced to stand in the back.
“Friends and fellow comrades,” began the first man to speak, “allow me to welcome you here today …”
At that moment, Toshiro spotted her as she entered through a side door. She shifted her heavy bag from one arm to the other in an obvious attempt to get comfortable for the entire time that she would be standing. Toshiro leaned over into the aisle and waved, trying to catch her eye every time it looked as though she was looking in his direction.
“… to ask everyone to please rise …”
In getting up, Toshiro waved to her again and then indicated his seat. She blinked at him, then pointed to herself, then at his chair. He grinned and nodded. Taking advantage of everyone standing, the girl came over and switched places with Toshiro.
“Thank you so much,” she whispered to him, her relief at being able to put her bag down evident on her face.
“You’re welcome,” he whispered back, then followed her lead as she snapped to attention with near military precision and began to repeat what the speaker was saying.
Toshiro made his way to the back just as the recitation ended and the first guest speaker stood.
At that meeting, Toshiro did not pay all that much attention to what anyone was saying either; he was too busy staring at the girl to whom he had given his seat and who kept giving small glances back at him whenever there was a break between speakers.
She was interested, he thought joyfully. She was looking at him! And that was enough to convince him to go back.
* * *
It took him another three meetings before he was able to speak to her again, to get her name and ask if they could grab a coffee after a rally. At the coffee shop, they began to talk in earnest.
Deena frowned. “So what you’re saying is that you don’t mind having someone step over you just because of who they are or the fact that they could afford to do it, even if it’s something that you earned?”
“Of course not,” Toshiro denied. “If someone works hard and is deserving of a position, then they should, by all rights, get that position over someone who has a lot of pull and very little else.”
“And that’s what Galactor is willing to give everyone, an equal chance,” Deena argued. “What they are not willing to do is let people slide on someone else’s ambitions.”
“But are they, really? I mean, there’s a hierarchy within every organization, from schools to companies to governments, even within families …”
“Well, of course, there has to be a system in place,” she acknowledged with a toss of her head, her short bobbed hair swinging with the movement, “and Galactor’s system is the best one to take over from these arrogant asses who run our governments now. At least Galactor believes in a system where each person makes their own fortune. As it stands now, we’re all dependent upon luck or fate or who you know.”
Toshiro frowned in thought. “ ‘Never bother about your comrade’,” he softly quoted.
“That’s right,” Deena said with a nod of her head. “You are not responsible for what anyone else does, or doesn’t do, just as they are not responsible for you. Everyone has gotten so lazy these days. No one wants to do anything for themselves; they all just expect to be handed things without actually working for them. You help someone out, then they will always expect help. In fact, they come to rely on it and, after a while, they will not feel compelled in the least to lift a finger to help themselves. They will also begin to think of such help as their right and privilege; what the world owes them for simply having been born into it. Better that every single person in society knows that there are no easy ways out, no willing sap to just give them everything they want. And, in the end, we will all get what we have rightly earned and justly deserve.”
This last struck a nerve with Toshiro. She was absolutely right about that. He had seen many of their class mates act without thought, always expecting someone else to clean up their messes. And just listening to the jobs and careers that they expected to get fresh out of college proved that they did not plan to work their way up, but instead, expected someone to just hand it to them, simply because they showed up.
“And you really think that Galactor would be able to change that?”
“Everything would necessarily change, don’t you think?” she asked, coyly dropping her gaze, then glancing up at him through her lashes. “With Galactor in power, everyone would get only what they work for, what they truly deserve. No handouts, no giveaways, no free rides, finally freeing up those who have supported them for years, and they will be able to stand up and throw their oppressive weight off their backs once and for all.”
Toshiro smiled at her vehemence. “You make a compelling argument. Soon, you’ll be one of the rally speakers.”
“That is an honor of which I can only dream,” she replied softly, earnestly. They fell quiet for a moment, then she looked up at him with hopeful eyes. “Will you be going to the next meeting?”
“Oh, ah, well, I was actually kind of hoping we could see each other before then,” Toshiro shyly admitted, as he nervously turned his coffee cup in circles between his fingers. Deena laid a hand on his, stopping the action. When he looked up at her, she gave him a full smile.
“I’d love that.”
* * *
The weeks that followed had gone by so fast, they seemed hardly more than a blur, leaving Toshiro to wonder if it had really happened, or if it was just something that he had dreamed.
Deena Dillen took up most of his thoughts then, Toshiro remembered, staring at the curtains that hung on the room’s only window. He came alive at the times when they were together and thought about only her when they were not.
His interest in exercise and crew practice had vanished. All that existed for him was the incredible Deena. Who only talked of Galactor.
He should have realized it then, he knew, and he did now, looking back.
But then ... at that time ... she held him in such thrall, that there was no turning away. Not even his friends could break the spell, though they tried. He seemed to vaguely recall several times when they pleaded and cajoled him into joining them for something or other, but he steadfastly turned them down. The only one he wanted to see was Deena.
Toshiro did not remember anything from those last weeks of classes; in fact, he did not even remember attending, though he must have. Didn’t he?
Or was that something else that Galactor had ‘fixed’ for him?
It was not until that last meeting, Toshiro pinpointed, when everything was turned on its head and his life was never the same again.
* * *
The air was almost crackling with anticipation, with everyone speaking in low, excited tones. This was to be the day when the one who would lead Galactor would personally and publicly address them. Deena was practically bouncing in her chair as she sat beside Toshiro, her enthusiasm equally matched by Jiri, who sat on the other side him.
“I cannot believe that he’s actually going to be here,” she squealed for what Toshiro believed to be the thousandth time since they had arrived and sat down. “My parents saw him at the annual BC rally once and they said he was amazing, simply breathtaking.”
“I can believe it,” Jiri seconded. “From what I’ve heard from other people who’ve seen him, they say he’s quite a sight to behold. That once he starts speaking, it’s electric.”
The rally started as they always did, with the pledge to Galactor, but this time, there were no others up on the stage. Just a single stand with a microphone. Then the lights dimmed and the curtain began to rise. Toshiro could hear Deena’s sharp intake of breath as the outline of someone detached from the purple behind the curtain and stepped forward.
And it took everything in Toshiro not to laugh. This was the one who was to lead Galactor? A man dressed in purple with a mask and a flowing cape? With long, pointed ears and a gold star shape down the long, pointed nose, he looked more like he fell out of a comic book than someone who existed in real life. Were they really serious?
But they were. He glanced at Jiri, who stood stock still, his face pale, his eyes wide and staring. He was, Toshiro realized, completely under the spell of this man. A look to his right and he could see that Deena, too, was transported merely by his presence alone.
And as the one named Berg Katse began to speak, Toshiro found that he could not turn away. He held his breath along with everyone else to listen to what this man had to say … and, to his amazement, what he said made complete sense to Toshiro.
“We of Galactor have come together to finally stand as one,” Katse began, then paused a moment before continuing. “The time has come for Galactor to claim its right and rescue the people, the land … the entire Earth! … from the greedy and grasping clutches from those currently in governments so that a new power can rise up for the benefit of all!”
As he spoke, he made wide-sweeping gestures with his arms, as if to encompass them all, to take them all under his protection.
“Too long have those in power sucked the systems dry. Look to the history books and you will see that all forms of government have been tried … and all have failed. But Galactor will not fail because we who are Galactor will not succumb to the same pitfalls and mistakes that so plagued those down through history. We have distilled what works, we have studied what failed, and we know how to continue so that once Galactor is established throughout the planet, there will be no failure, only success!”
Toshiro shivered at Katse’s intensity. In fact, all around them the audience seem to have been hypnotized. Toshiro’s eyes went back to the figure in purple and red, who had paused in his speech.
For some inexplicable reason, although the audience squashed into that room had to number in the hundreds, Toshiro almost felt as though Katse knew that he, Toshiro personally, had looked away from him for just that split second. Toshiro looked straight at him and could feel those blank green eyes boring at straight him as Katse continued his speech. It was as though Katse spoke only to Toshiro, as thought there was no one else in the room.
And Toshiro wanted nothing more than to prove himself worthy of such attention.
“Today is the day honor is restored to us ...” Katse continued, gesturing wildly with his arms.
Several shouts erupted from the audience.
“Today is the day we proclaim victory over those who would happily see us fail ...”
“Now is the time we come together and stand as one ...”
“For the glory of Galactor!” Katse finished.
The audience went wild with cheering. Never had Toshiro felt so exhilarated and enervated. He felt like he could conquer the world.
“Are you ready to give yourself to Galactor and take the oath of the Galactor soldier?”
“We vow as soldiers of Galactor ...”
As one, everyone in the audience repeated the oath as Katse led them.
“... to do all that is evil against those who would do evil to us, with no consideration for our own lives, for Galactor will protect and care for us, in loyalty to Galactor from this moment forward!”
With his fisted right hand over his heart, Toshiro said the words as loudly and exuberantly as Deena and Jiri.
He was now a full-fledged member of Galactor.
* * *
“So,” Isao said, rubbing his hands together and looking expectantly around the table, “who’s up for coming with me to deliver the equipment to the test site?”
The three he addressed exchanged guilty looks at each other, but no one said anything.
“Come on, guys,” Isao whined plaintively, “I need help and you all said you would.”
“Uh, yeah, I know,” Toshiro acknowledged first, “but I have a, uh, meeting to go to.”
“Me too,” Jiri mumbled into his drink cup.
Hugo shot them both an angry look. “Don’t tell me you guys have been going back there?” When neither of them spoke, Hugo slammed a hand down on the table. “Seriously? You guys are that stupid to believe those crackpots?”
“They are not!” Jiri defended hotly, rising to his feet, fists clenched. “Perhaps if you had stayed and actually listened, instead of just trying to make fun of things, like a spoiled brat, you’d understand what their goals really are.”
“And what are they?” Isao asked before Hugo could get the words out. His head tipped to the side and his eyes narrowed. “Who are ‘they’? And going back where?”
“That nice day that you got called in,” Toshiro quickly explained, “we stumbled into a meeting rally and listened to what they had to say.”
“What kind of meeting rally? What’s the group’s name?”
Toshiro and Jiri exchanged a nervous look. Neither wanted to be the first to say the name aloud.
Instead, Hugo answered for them. “That oddball group that calls themselves Galactor.”
“Galactor?” Isao repeated, his eyes going wide. He looked straight at Toshiro. “You’re actually getting mixed in with them?”
“Why?” Toshiro hedged, turning it back on Isao. “What would you know about it? Have you ever been to one of their rallies?”
Isao pressed his lips together, taking time to frame an answer instead of just blurting out the first thing that came to mind.
“No, I haven’t,” he admitted, “but, Toshiro, I’ve heard some things about them. Some really, uh, not nice things. From what I’ve heard, they aren’t a group you really want to get in too deep with. I mean, we’re not talking the chess club or ballroom dancing, or the Anachronistic Society here. Those people are hard-core weird.”
“It isn’t weird to want a better society,” Jiri shot back, unable to refrain any longer, “and they have the viable plan to do it. I don’t know about Toshiro here, but I can see the wisdom in what they’re saying. Look around you. Look at the news. Our society is falling apart and has been for decades. Politicians are just in it for themselves, people don’t care about each other, everything’s all disconnect and disharmony. With the one true ...”
“Stop!” Isao demanded, a fury lighting sparks in his eyes. “I don’t wanna know. I don’t wanna hear. I know what I know and that’s enough.” He turned to Toshiro. “Seriously, man, listen to him. You want to become brain washed into something that some guy thought up?”
A stab of guilt lanced through Toshiro at the look of worry in Isao’s eyes. “It’s because of Deena, really, that I keep going,” he confessed in a small voice.
Isao’s brow raised, but his next question was drowned out by Jiri’s ranting. He made a mental note to ask Toshiro about this girl in private.
“The tenants of our leader are not something that ‘some guy’ thought up. Ours is the true leader, the one everyone will bow to in the end. Our leader will rise up those willing to follow, and will crush those who oppose. Now, what side would you rather be on come the Dividing?” His body trembling with emotion, Jiri stopped to catch his breath. Without another word, he then turned on his heel and stalked off, leaving Toshiro, Hugo and Isao to stare at one another.
Within two days, Jiri found himself on the receiving end of a large check that was nearly equal the amount of his tuition for that semester. The college bursar told him that it was discovered in the records that he had overpaid.
Though Toshiro was happy for his friend’s newfound wealth, he began to wonder if a simple mathematical error was all it was.
* * *
He hated these times. Like clockwork, every twelve hours, two nurses would show up with their own special brand of torture for him in mind.
Toshiro leaned his head back and endured the pain of the nurses cutting away the bandages at his throat in order to change them. This time, though, a doctor was also present and poked and prodded at the stitches.
“Keep changing the dressings every twelve hours,” the doctor instructed, careful not to look Toshiro in the eye. He took the chart from the nurse behind him and began jotting down notes. “I don’t like the way the edges are looking here. I want this antibiotic started, just in case it’s going towards infection.”
With a final jotting and a signing of his initials, the doctor left Toshiro alone with his two tormentors, who began the process of putting new bandages on.
He fought back the tears, though not from the physical pain of the wound.
He did this to himself and he had only himself to blame. Why didn’t he listen to Isao when he had the chance?
Because of Deena ... and the promise of something more.
* * *
Dean Charnock leaned back in his chair as he contemplated the young man before him.
“You have a very promising future, Toshiro,” he intoned, pushing his desk calendar with his fingertips to get it lined up just so with the edge of the desk.
“Thank you sir,” Toshiro said with a reflexive nod of his head. “I am honored you think so.”
“And I would hate to see something happen that would prohibit your reaching your full potential,” he said, then paused and gave a subtle tap at his collar. “Do you know what I mean?”
Toshiro blinked, then remembered. The pin. “Yes, sir,” he said, and flicked over his own collar to reveal the red Galactor pin. “I know exactly what you mean.”
Charnock smiled broadly and slid a piece of paper across the desk to Toshiro. “Good, good. I’m glad to hear it. Well, then, as long as we understand each other, I can tell you that a special internship has become available and, if you’re interested, I would be more than willing to put your name in for consideration.”
Toshiro glanced at the paper and read the description.
“Individuals with mechanical engineering background are sought as interns to help design, build and test cutting edge robotic and aviation technology. Self-motivated individuals will work on projects from beginning to end with the goal of creating world’s fastest automated robots. Individuals must be self-starters, able to work with others, and efficient. Competitive salary, benefits.”
“Sound like something you would like?” Charnock prodded.
“It sounds … wonderful,” Toshiro breathed, his eyes locked on the words ‘competitive salary.’ Most of the internships he had been offered were unpaid positions only; in order to live, he had thought that he would have to get at least one, if not two, part time jobs. To get an internship that paid him would mean he would not have to struggle along like he anticipated doing, like many of his peers would be. Instead, with a decent paycheck, he could also set aside money for his final year at university. He looked up at the Dean. “How soon would I know if I got the position?”
Dean Charnock smiled benevolently at him and tapped at his collar. “Consider it yours as of now, my boy, so you better get ready to leave. They want all new recruits to report to the training facility on BC Island by week’s end.”
“By the end of the week?” Toshiro was stunned at the news. “But what about final exams? They start next week.”
Dean Charnock waved his hand as if brushing them off. “No need to worry. It’s all been taken of care of already.”
“Yes,” he tapped his collar again, “it has.”
* * *
All morning, Isao watched without comment as Toshiro packed his things. Finally, he could stand it no more and tossed the book he had been reading aside.
“I can’t believe you’re really going there,” he said, a note of disdain in his voice.
“I don’t see why not,” Toshiro countered. “It isn’t as though I have any family to go home to, or even a home at all to go to, so why not? This is a good, solid position, and you’re just jealous …”
“Jealous?” Isao interrupted. “Are you crazy? What’s there to be jealous about? You don’t really know these people. How do you know what they’re telling you is really the truth? How do you know that what’s waiting for you at the end of this is truly what they say it is, or something worse?”
Toshiro calmly folded a shirt and patted it onto the stack already sitting in his suitcase. “They said that those closest to us would be cynical. You don’t have to let such feelings like jealousy destroy you. They are willing to help all those who come to them; I’m sure that they could still find you a good position, if you wanted …”
“I already have an internship, thankyouverymuch,” Isao practically sneered. “It may not pay top dollar, like yours, but working in the ISO will be an impressive line in my curriculum vitae. You don’t even know what the name of the company you’re supposed to be working for.”
Toshiro shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter at this point,” he said nonchalantly, “and besides, Dean Charnock assured me that since I plan to continue my studies to a doctorate level, I’ll be able to go through several internships, all designed so that I can become the best mechanical engineer I can be …”
“All for the sake of the lactose people,” Isao muttered under his breath.
“Gal-actor,” Toshiro corrected, “and if you cannot be respectful to the organization, then I will thank you to at least refrain from speaking about it at all.”
Isao sighed. Not that long ago, Toshiro would have laughed at that as the joke it was intended to be. Now, he took everything so seriously. Isao missed his fun-loving friend.
“Yeah, well, whatever,” Isao tossed off, rising to his feet, “Any time you’re there, Toshiro, you just call me, you hear? I won’t stop you, but I won’t let you sink without a fight. You need anything … anything at all … you call me … because if you need someone to help you, we both know you’re going to call me …”
Toshiro gave him a look that made Isao shiver. “I do not anticipate needing your help, or anyone else’s. I will be looked after, I will have mentors and guidance, and, from here on out, I will not be so completely alone.”
“You weren’t before,” Isao countered, losing his patience, “and you had all of that before falling in with these people. And besides, what am I? Chopped liver? After nearly three years as a roommate and now I’m just tossed aside like a dirty sock? Thanks. Thanks a lot. I’ll remember that.”
“You should not look at this like Galactor is the enemy, Isao,” Toshiro said in a tone typically reserved for dealing with unruly children.
“No,” Toshiro emphasized. “After all, we all want the same things … good jobs, good lives, a place to call our own … you can’t get angry with me for trying to find those things within Galactor.”
“And why not?” Isao challenged. “Especially since I think they’re full of shit.”
Toshiro spun around, slamming his fist against the wall as he did so. “That’s just your opinion,” he shot back. “Why is it just because it’s something that I believe, it’s wrong, but if it’s something you’re involved in …”
This sudden burst of violence surprised Isao, but he refused to back down now. “Like what? What am I involved in that can even compare …”
“You’re in the reserves, aren’t you?”
“Because it’s the military. An official, government-sanctioned group that’s been around as long as the country itself. It’s not some weird cult some egomaniac dreamed up …”
“And the government isn’t made up of egomaniacs? Watch the news some time, Isao, and tell me they aren’t the ones getting out of hand and going off the deep end. In some cases, it’s just as much a cult as anything else. And just because someone came up with a solution that may seem radical …”
“Well, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck …”
Toshiro’s eyes narrowed in anger. “Always have to take it to a childish level, don’t you? That’s your problem. You’re never serious about anything!”
“Well, I’m dead serious about this, Toshiro Oniishi,” Isao shouted back, “you are not the friend I once had. When he returns, give me a call. Until then, don’t bother.”
Toshiro breathed hard. “Don’t worry, I won’t bother you at all!” he yelled back as his friend stormed out of the room.
He felt bad that things had to end this way between them. They had been such good friends, and now ….
He tucked the last shirt into his suitcase and zipped it shut.
“Hey, come on,” Jiri said as he appeared at the doorway, luggage in both hands. “You ready? I don’t want to be late.”
Perhaps, Toshiro thought with a twinge of sadness as he followed Jiri out, it was better to end things this way, though. Like Professor McCallum had told them … clean breaks make for better recoveries.