2 Things to remember
"Do you really think it's a good idea?" Ayako spoke into her cell phone doubtfully.
"No worries, just be there!" the woman on the other end assured her.
"Well, ok. . . . I'll come along."
"Thanks! Oh, and bring a colleague with you. It's easier when you aren't the focus of attention all the time," her inviter advised her.
"Understood!" Ayako answered.
The way she said it challenged the woman on the phone to banter her in return: "Oh, now you really sound like a tough policewoman. Do it again!"
"Yes, Ma'am!" Ayako snappily answered, chuckling immediately afterwards.
"Glad to hear you're looking forward to the fun tomorrow. See ya!" the voice wished her goodbye.
"Wait, I . . ." Ayako wanted to interrupt but the woman on the other end had already hung up.
She wasn't sure whether she wanted to go through with this. She had been uneasy about the outcome of the performance review already, too nervous to speak before a group of people. If ESWAT was going to be dumped, all her efforts to become a reputable policewoman would turn to nil. Frightened about the idea that it would be mainly her fault if it came to that, she found herself muttering, "No. . . . NO. . . . Don't think like that!" But it was her fault, at least partly. She hadn't acted professional. It was rage at best, more likely rampage.
Needing some distraction from those bad feelings, Ayako turned on the TV. More bored than really interested, she zapped through the channels to find something she liked, something funny or at least nice. Her sight quickly left the screen and wandered through the room without a real aim, resting on the plants, the wooden furniture, the fine white drapes, the window . . . the scenery outside. She got up and went on the balcony to see the last glimpse of sunset. The horizon was a bright blue-yellowish stripe, the sky already dark and the city below her the usual sea of lights. Yes, she had a fairly nice place to live in, though it only was a council flat at the 22nd floor of a large residential compound. Not in one of the three arcologies of course, no policeman could afford one of those luxury apartments. However, the view of the city was great from her flat too, and it wasn't noisy at all.
The wind dried the tears on her face quickly and she felt the burn from it. It was better to go back inside. Ayako headed for the bathroom to wash it off, but just before reaching the door she hesitated to step inside.
'It' was inside.
'It' was a wall-to-wall mirror. When she was originally looking for a place to live the bathroom mirror was what made the final decision. It was so big and the light so soft she felt like some model in a studio when she did her hair and make-up. But now, every view into that mirror gave her a shiver.
For the outside viewer, Ayako was a pretty young woman. From the eyes in her perfect round face one could have assumed she was of asian origin, but her long, brunette hair and the long, pointed nose told another story. She had only very mild make-up. Too bad she had not smiled at that moment, it would had been one of those faces you cannot forget.
But there was no use avoiding it. Thanks to the distance to the door, the mirror had a clear view of her. Under the door frame stood a young woman in some sort of armor, closely but not entirely resembling a biker's dress: her belly, her hips, her arms, even her neck were covered in some black enameled rubber-like material. Her thighs and knees were black too, but there were some hard shell plates attached to them, protectors presumably. The shinpads covering her lower legs were gray, same with the shoulder pads. Right down at the bottom she wore hard, spiky boots, black of course, with ridiculously high heels. Coming to the more dubious parts of the outfit, her breasts were covered by something which could have counted as a bra worn outside if it weren't made of the same hard, shiny, gray material the other protectors were made from. Aname plate below that piece announced the name of the freak: Mirrors do not lie. They just reflect what anyone
could easily see. A freak. But that wasn't what Ayako actually wanted others to see in her. More like a considerate person. Someone to call for help. A policewoman.
She began to cry again and rushed into the room, ripped the faucet open and bent down into the washstand to squirt water on her face. A lot of water. She was frozen for almost an eternity, and when she finally raised, she obviously avoided to look at the mirror. Trying to shield herself from the reflection, she raised her hands and rested her head in them. Ayako couldn't avoid to peek through the finger gaps. Small drops of water glared like diamonds on her hands. Shiny, black hands. Slowly, she bent the fingers and let the fingertips slide over her eyes. She could feel their sleekness, the coldness of their touch. And she could feel the texture of her skin sliding beneath through them. These fingertips were hers.
Thinking about it may have depressed her again but the ringing of the doorbell freed Ayako from her agony. She took a towel and sketchily dried her face.
"Deunan!" the voice on the entry phone bellowed.
Ayako followed the implied command and pressed the buzzer. 'Damn, I forgot to give her instructions on how to find the apartment on the floor,' she thought. 'I better go catch her at the lift.'
Rattling and swinging like a fun ride, the lift approached its destination at the 22nd floor. At least it was fast.
"Phew, what a worn-out building," Deunan mumbled. "I thought she could afford a more decent place."
When the lift halted, the rumble from the air conditioning immediately took its place in the orchestra, at only a slightly lower volume. Deunan left the car and, as expected, she wasn't prepared for a labyrinth. The 22nd floor was a maze of tiny little passages all alike. Numerous narrow corridors led to flats, looking from outside all alike too. There was no chance for a first-time visitor to find the correct flat without an extensive search.
Deunan picked a random corridor, as they all looked the same anyway. After some turns, the lighting was broken.
"Now it gets creepy," she cheered. Deunan sure wasn't the kind of woman which could be frightened easily. To her amusement she could hear a slow clicking from behind. It even stopped when she had stopped to listen carefully. At a junction she hid behind the corner to wait for her follower, who obviously hadn't noticed her dodging move in the dim light. Deunan grabbed the person as soon it had reached the intersection.
"So, what a stupid game is this?" she shouted with a gleeful voice.
The woman skrieked loudly. Deunan let her go immediately, realizing it wasn't Ayako as she had expected.
"I'm sorry, I haven't meant to..." she tried to explain.
"Who are you, assaulting people in the half-light? This isn't the 'house of horrors', do you understand?" the woman shouted.
"I'm sorry Ma'am," Deunan tried to apologize. It was odd as the woman was clearly younger than her. But she was right, one shouldn't make such teenager jokes with strangers.
Trying to get away from the awful situation, Deunan turned around.
"UWAAAAHHH!" This time it was herself who was shrieking. Centimeters before her a bulky black figure had hoicked her arms trying to grab for *her*. Only a second later, when Deunan found out it was Ayako, her pulse got back to normal.
"Hi, Mrs. Janicki", Ayako greeted her neighbor, waving waggishly.
"Hello, Ms. Boer," the woman greeted back seriously, "could you please tell your friend? colleague? to grow up!"
"Oh, she's not my colleague but my..."
"Ssshhhh," Deunan stopped her.
"Yeah, what?" Mrs. Janicki harped on it.
"Girlfriend," Deunan blasted, "Problem?"
Mrs. Janicki squinted, eyeballing Deunan. Then she spoke to Ayako. "I had no idea you're into older *women*. Have fun!" she cheered and left the scene for her apartment, which was just two doors away.
The two "girlfriends" used the other passage to go to Ayako's place. It was narrow so Deunan followed her subordinate.
"Was this neccessary? Now she thinks I'm a lesbian," Ayako complained.
"Problem?" Deunan smiled spitefully, "Look, if you hadn't stopped me, I would have got away without that trick."
"Look who's talking," Ayako replied.
Deunan tried to apologize: "I just wanted her not to drill any further so I had to make up something which is more intriguing than a police chief assaulting people in her spare time... ...and I only had one second."
"Ok, ok, excuse accepted," Ayako answered. She wondered why her boss had even showed up at her home. She had expected Deunan to chew her out at the office for her misconduct. Was it that bad she brings the pink slip by herself to make it less awkward? Walking a straight line wasn't easy thinking of this.
Deunan noticed Ayako's insecure steps. "Something wrong?" she asked.
"No, it's nothing," was the reply.
"You walk like a drunk," Deunan insisted.
"I'm a little stressed, okay?" Ayako fluttered.
"Well, we all are," Deunan ended this fruitless topic, "by the way, isn't it a bit flashy to go out like this in public?"
Ayako was speechless when she realized she had left her flat without covering herself into a coat. Damn hurry! And the boss had noticed.
"What's with Mrs. Janicki? She doesn't seem to be astounded?" Deunan drilled deeper, "So your cover-up is a fuck-up, too?"
"No, no, Mrs. Janicki is thinking I'm into biker clothes," Ayako tried to excuse it.
"So first it's wearing funky biker clothes at home, then dating older women... now she *must* think you're a real freak! Sorry," Deunan snickered. Unseen by her, Ayako had to swallow another burst of tears.
The two arrived at the flat a second later, when Deunan noticed her subordinate was near collapsing. Ayako barely managed to type the doorlock code, then let Deunan and herself in.
"I'm... I'm sorry," Deunan tried to calm her.
"No it's nothing boss, just take a seat", Ayako mumbled, and turned off the TV quietly. The biggest blow was yet to come anyway.
Deunan had to break the ice somehow and looked around the living room.
"You have a nice home," she complimented her, "what's these flowers, they are beautiful!"
"Cyclamen," Akayo willingly took the chance for smalltalk, "I like them because they don't need much care. Just a cool, bright place and some water. Same with the Fuchsia over there."
"Oh, yes, these are pretty, too," Deunan took their smell, "and they have a nice scent. But only pretty mild."
"That's mostly because I'm not heating much, only about eighteen degrees. You know, I'm heating...," Ayako explained hastily, "...if I had known you would come over, I had..."
"No, it's ok," Deunan interrupted her, "I just keep my jacket on. Anything to make you comfortable."
When she aimed to flop on a leather armchair nonchalantly, Ayako tried to hold her back: "Ah, not there," but it was too late.
"Ouch!" Deunan squealed quietly when the chair striked her rear.
"Sorry, should have told you to take seat on the sofa," Ayako advised her boss, "I had the chair reinforced. Something to drink? Green tea?"
"Oh thanks, green tea is fine, but not too much trouble," Deunan took the offer and Ayako left for the kitchen. Time for Deunan to examine the armchair.
"No trouble, I have it always prepared," she shouted from the kitchen and came back immediately with a teapot and mugs in her hands.
Caught red-handed, Deunan explained her interest in it: "a stylish chair, like all your furniture. Our sofas and chairs all look pretty ratty once Briareos had sat in them for a while."
"Yeah, I had that problem, too," Ayako sat down on her chair slowly, and took a sip of tea: "when it was nearly worn out I didn't want to scrap it, so I took it to a carpenter and he added a metal frame along the wood. And of course, he had removed all the springs and had put a thin gel cushion on the seating instead."
"So now one need REAL buns of steel to sit in it?" Deunan joked. Ayako blushed, and Deunan noticed she made her subordinate uneasy again. "Sorry, I meant... ," she wanted to apologize, but Ayako was already yelling.
"I know what you meant!" - "I...I'm sorry, Ma'am," she continued, daunted by her own emotional release.
Deunan hadn't expected such an reaction and spluttered an excuse herself: "I'm sorry, I'd been sometimes said to have 'buns of steel' myself, yet I failed your chair. It was a bad joke. Sorry." She took an endless number of small sips from her tea mug to drown out the following silence.
"To bring us back to topic," Deunan neglected her fruitless attempt of chatting, "I think you already know why I'm here." Silence took the room again, and Deunan noticed her subordinate was still feeling discomposed.
"Kicking my butt," Ayako replied in a hushed tone. Even knowing Ayako's insecurity for a while, Deunan was still perplexed by the whole difference between her apperance and her character. It was surreal to see this bulky, metal-clad, power-boosted woman in such a depressed mood. Not to mention kicking her... Deunan had to disregard the thought.
"Well, yes, I have serious business with you," Deunan continued, discarding the setting, "we have this performance review running, and your performance was..."
"Bad", Ayako sniveled. "No!" Deunan exclaimed, "Not bad, but what you've said to that hostagetaker will get us into trouble," she continued. "Lance suggested I should talk to you beforehand."
"Beforehand?" Ayako was puzzled.
"There will be an official hearing about the performance review and your 'great monologue' is in the files. Lance thinks the committee will be nitpicking on this. At least the whole idea of this performance review was to dump ESWAT, we think."
"I, ... I don't even remember what I've said then," Ayako trembled.
Deunan refreshed her memory: "it was along the lines of 'I certainly had choked you to death if you have had killed the boy.' Certainly nothing a policeman should ever do. Neither say."
Ayako bursted into tears again. "I... I'm sorry... I didn't mean to...," she hesitated to say, "...I'm not really a policeman...," and sobbed again, "...I'm just a ki..ll..er...," she cried out loud.
Deunan had to stop this nonsense. Immediately. "Constable Boer. No. Constable Ontemba, spring to attention!" she commanded. ESWAT wasn't exactly trained like military drill, but Ayako vaguely knew what she was expected to do. She leaped to her feet, took a straight posture, put her hands on her side and ... finally tried to hold back her tears. Deunan was relieved she found a cure against the continous blubbering. No way to talk in plain language with such a person.
"Okay, constable Ontemba, the reason I'm here is to prepare you for the coming hearing on the performance review. Understood?" Deunan reasoned. Ayako was still in shock about the command. "Understood?" Deunan repeated.
"Understood," Ayako replied quietly.
"Louder, I cannot hear you!" Deunan commanded.
"UNDERSTOOD!" she replied.
"Good. The most time of the hearing your attendance is not required. You will only be called as a witness when the committee decides it needs you. Understood?"
"UNDERSTOOD!" Ayako replied again.
Deunan continued: "You will tell the truth, no strings attached. Understood?"
"Good. And you won't collapse and talk gibberish about being a killer or similar nonsense. Understood?" Deunan commanded. Ayako trembled again. "Constable Ontemba, have you understood?" Deunan asked again. No answer, Ayako looked as she was turned into stone. If there were not the tears in her eyes.
It was hard for Deunan to keep her nerves. She touched Ayako's left shoulderplate where she had the ESWAT coat of arms embossed into: "Ayako, you know what this sign on you represents?"
"It represents the Olympus ESWAT police force. To serve and protect the people," Ayako replied calmly but irritated.
"Yes. But that's only the half of what it means," Deunan explained.
Ayako still hadn't understood.
"This sign ON YOU represents YOU being a member of the Olympus ESWAT police force. YOU serve and protect the people," Deunan exclaimed.
"I still don't understand", Ayako pled, "I know this is my duty. Which I failed." Finally Deunan became angry: "THE HELL, GIRL, YOU HAVEN'T FAILED! ENOUGH OF THIS BULLSHIT!" She grabbed Ayako by her shoulders to shake her back and forth; no use, Deunan could have tried with a pillar instead. "You cannot fail," Deunan continued much more calmly, "you cannot fail as long as you pledge yourself to protect and serve the people. Your intent is what counts," she continued further, "Just learn from the mistakes you've made. You won't become better from grieving. Do you understand this?"
Ayako was really moved by her boss encouraging her so much. "Yes, Ma'am, I understood," she acknowledged.
"Well, then: WHO serves and protects the people?" Deunan prompted.
"I do," Ayako replied.
"Good. Why do you use force?" was the next question.
"To protect people," Ayako replied.
"That's fine for me," Deunan comforted her, "and what's the difference between force and violence?"
"The intent," was Ayako's reply.
"So you remember police academy well, I see," Deunan stated and took a deep breath, "So now for the final quiz, it should be easy for you to take: why do you have choked that man?"
Ayako gulped. "To protect the children from his death threat."
"Ah," Deunan patronized her, "wasn't there a less violent way to stop him?"
Ayako reflected a moment: "I've used force, not violence."
"Hmm. Then: was there no way to stop him with less force?"
"No. There wasn't," she insisted.
Deunan was delighted and asked the final, most agitating question: "Why do you have threatened the man with death?".
It was hard for Ayako to stay calm. After some seconds she came up with an answer: "I haven't threatened him. I said he's lucky because I *won't* choke him to death because he had shot me instead of the boy."
Deunan was astounded about this last answer: "Huh, some cold-blooded fish you are. I've expected you to apologize."
"Sorry, if I'm meant to apologize I do so," Ayako nodded unassertively.
"No, no, not at all," Deunan calmed her, "if you apologize before the committee, you admit you have done something wrong. So they have to punish you but *may* only reprimand you because of your apology. With your answer, they have to resolve on what you said was really intended as a threat. And I don't think all the committee members are decided on that."
Still astonished, Deunan wondered loudly: "I don't get it. When I came here you could barely stand on your own feet, and now you're talking yourself out of trouble without even blinking an eye. Why all the crying? Why all this nonsense talk?"
"I... I don't know..." Ayako struggled for an answer.
"No-no-no-no-no, it's just this insecurity which makes you break down," Deunan interpreted Ayako's former reactions, "and we'll have to fix this." She caught at her subordinate's shoulders and gazed right into her eyes, "You feel insecure, why? Because I'm here?"
"Ye...Yes, Ma'am," she shuddered.
"But you stopped feeling insecure when I told you what to do?" Deunan wondered.
"I... I haven't thought about it," Ayako tried to avoid eye contact.
Deunan realized the conversation wound up in circles again. "Constable Ontemba," she calmly said while strengthening the grip on Ayako's shoulders, "I'm here to prepare you for a challenging situation. See it as a personal briefing. This is a good thing. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Ma'am," Ayako still avoided eye contact with her boss.
"Hey, look at me when you are talking to me," Deunan angrily responded. She concerned her: "I want you to be grateful for my assistance, let alone waiting for an apology for all this drivel."
At last, and still shuddering, Ayako did what her boss expected from her, "Sorry for my misconduct. Thank you for briefing me."
"Very good, that's how I like you to be. Just you have to THINK this way, not only play it, understood?"
"UNDERSTOOD, MA'AM," Ayako replied loudly.
"I think we are done. But remember to behave this way at the hearing, too. Or best, ALL THE TIME! The hearing is end of next week, I call you later for the appointed time." Deunan let go of Ayako and headed for the door. "One last thing before I leave," she continued, "I originally had the idea to suspend you from service until the hearing to show how concerned we are, but now with your savvy answering this doesn't seem right anymore. Anyway, the vacation schedule has been changed already, so please take some days off until end of next week."
"And I thought you would fire me...," Ayako mumbled
"Ksshsssh, don't you dare to start it over again," Deunan stopped her, "Even if whole ESWAT should be dumped, you gave a pledge to the people. This pledge is good for life." That sounded pathetic, but maybe it was needed to keep the girl on track. "I hope I can go now and leave you alone. I, ...no, WE count on you." Deunan said goodbye and left, without waiting for an answer; Ayako would be alright.
The sudden escape of her boss left Ayako confused. She waved after her, but Deunan had already vanished into the darkness of the corridor. Ayako closed then door and went back to her armchair. What exactly had happened? Her boss wanted her to be prepared, she insisted on that more than enough. But she left in the midst of action in Ayako's view. So what was her turn now? Her thoughts revolved around what just happened and became more and more loose with each recapitulation.
After a while of thoughtless tinkering with her flowers, she remembered about what Deunan had interrupted her at: the appointment tomorrow, she should bring a colleague! Ayako picked up her mobile phone and pressed a speed dial.
"Boyd," a male voice on the other end of the line announced.
"Hi Thomas, it's Ayako," she answered.
"Hi Ayako, what's up?" Thomas greeted back shortly, "anything wrong with you?"
"No," Ayako replied, "...why do you think it's something wrong with me when I call you?"
Thomas was stumped: "Uhgnnn. Usual..ly... ," he started stuttering, but Ayako already lost her temper:
"I'm fine, forget it!" she closed the call and hung up.
"Fff, that girl got some nerves," Thomas said aloud. He could be sure the plastic shards around him would keep their mouth shut. Same for the nuts and bolts, metal rods and broken circuit boards on the desk. Only a small spot on the huge workbench was more or less clean. A tiny mechanism mounted on top of a small support was laying there, various wires running to a circuit on a prototyping board and further to some power supplies and measuring equipment buried in the heap. Thomas turned his chair around to another desk and placed the phone on a free spot between two of the flatscreens. All this was his personal realm.
Quietly, he continued his work on the miniature servo when the phone bugged him again. "AWW, SHIT," Thomas exclaimed as soon he had recognized the ring tone. The girl again. Would this ever stop? "Hi Ayako," he started, "so I heard you are fine. How may I be at your service then?"
"I'm sorry," a soft female voice replied, "you are right I only call you when I need your help."
"So something's broken after all?" Thomas asked, but Ayako denied immediately:
"No, I'm fine. Still I need your help."
"Hmmnn, now it gets interesting," Thomas spoke into the phone while he was fiddeling with the servo again.
"You remember the children I'd saved from that robber last week?" she continued.
"I only heard you'd saved some children by hammering the wall into that guy," Thomas answered her while he was watching the servo moving. It flipped over and a small spring hurtled off. "NOO, NOT AGAIN!" he yelled, starteling Ayako on the other end of the line.
"Thomas, are you even listening to me?" she asked, upset again.
"Sorry Ayako," he excused himself, "I'm working on a delicate mechanism right now, still I take time to answer your call."
Ayako was pissed: "IF YOU DECIDE TO PICK UP MY CALL, WOULD YOU PLEASE GIVE ME YOUR FULL ATTENTION?" - "Please?" she added quickly, in a much softer tone.
Being fussy on talking clear words himself, Thomas couldn't refuse that request: "Okay, bring it on. What do you want?"
"To make it short: I want you to attend me when I go to these children's school class tomorrow," she explained.
"Whoa, that's... ," he struggled for words, so she continued.
"Some show-and-tell piece. Their teacher heard they had been saved by a policewoman and she wanted the whole class to meet that policewoman in person. To work against gender bias or something like that, I think."
"And she knows you... ," Thomas inquired.
"No. Dunno. At least she was pushy enough to have our dopey PR department give her my private phone number," she continued.
"Aww, that's really stupid," he agreed, "and why I should be with you? To give you some rest?"
"I think so," she went on, "maybe you could tell about what a police technician does. So it's not all about sneaking into a good position and waiting for the strike to make."
"Yeah, I don't think that's suitable for school kids," Thomas concluded. "Hey, don't steal my thunder!" Ayako giggled.
"Won't happen! Not possible, I think," he quickly assured her.
"Oh, and you have to pick me up!" Ayako added, "tomorrow at 0800. Okay?"
"Okay," Thomas confirmed, "0800 at your place. Better go to bed soon."
"Yeah, thanks for remembering me. You are the one who's always playing around past midnight," she answered, but Thomas wasn't as sheepish she had thought.
"Working! And you'd be in luck more than once because of that."
"Whatever, bye," she ended the call quickly. He silently put back the phone on its cradle and turned back to his work.
"C'mon, little springy, where are you?" he chanted while digging into the pile on his workbench. That could be a long haul.