Part three of four of an ongoing story.
She will be sent back on a train, trailed by smoke.
Akane opened her eyes and squinted into the sun, bright for this time of year. The further away you drove from Osaka, the brighter the sun got. The air became clearer and clearer, until the sky was almost blue. Akane was grateful for the colour.
She slowly heaved open an old gate, and stepped into her father’s yard. A low-lying house lay ahead of her, nestled amongst trees. It was one of the last houses in the area. Most of the land that wasn’t reserved for spiritual sites or a last ditch effort at natural conservation was overgrown with tall tenements – as it was in most of the world, now.
Akane remembered being a child, running through this garden, blissful and unaware. Her friends would visit her, and sit for hours at the bases of trees, feeling the cool, clear wind, marvelling. She could never understand it. Now, after years in Osaka and in the United States and on long haul space flights to the distant Alpha colony, Akane could finally recognise the wonder in a soft breeze.
Akane stepped carefully through the meticulous garden up to the front door of the house. She slipped off her boots, and placed her palm on the pad next to the entrance. A quiet whirr, a small warmth over her hand, and the door slid back.
She held her breath and stepped inside.
Her father stood hunched in the hall, watching the door. Akane exhaled sharply. He wore an old cotton gown, pulled tight by cord. His eyes peered over aging glasses. His feet were bare, wrinkled and sinking into grey carpet.
They stood, watching each other a while, saying nothing.
Finally, Akane’s father held up his left hand. Just a thumb and an index finger, the other digits long gone, scars slowly gnarled. He waved her forward, and disappeared further into the house.
Akane stepped into her childhood home, and wondered where she was.
Always lost to the breeze.
In the living room, the two of them sat quietly and sipped at their tea. Akane said nothing – just sucked down the warm liquid and let it percolate in her stomach. Her father stared out the window, eyeing the sun. He spoke softly, in quiet, reverent Japanese – his tone belying the hollow shell of his words.
“What brings you here, Akane?
Akane put down the teacup.
“I’m on shore leave, father. I thought you might appreciate a visit.”
He shook his head gravely.
“I am not in need of your care.”
“I never said that.”
“No. I suppose you didn’t.” Akane’s father stood. Walked closer to the window. Let the sun stream down onto his face.
He reached up to wipe a streak from the glass with his remaining fingers, carefully edging away the tiniest of blemishes. The sleeve of his robe slipped back, and Akane caught a glimpse of the swirling grey and red tattoos that swept up her father’s arm. Faded now, but as important to him as Akane’s were to her.
“Have you been saying your prayers?” Finally, he turned to her.
“My father saw horrible things during the Exclusion. They were terrible days. Crimes were committed for which humanity cannot atone.”
“Father, I know all—”
“And yet you still work for these men! This GreyLink, they are a nation built upon corpses, Akane. There was a truth we could have learned, a light we could have accepted as a gift, but these men crushed it under their heels! These despicable, hateful men.”
Akane lowered her eyes. “There is nowhere else for me to go—”
Akane’s father scoffed, loud and hard. Akane looked up at him, silhouetted against the bright window.
“There is always somewhere.”
They stared at each other, long and hard. Akane’s eyes began to swelter against the bright light.
She moved to speak, but her voice caught in her throat. A sound filled her ears, quiet at first, but rising up through her skull like a crashing wave. She became awash.
Through the buzz, she heard her father. She tried to focus on him, but all she saw were stars.
“Do not come back here, Akane. Do not ever come back here.”
Akane tried to stand, but lost her footing. As she fell, she span – tumbled through the air. Never hit the ground. Began to float towards the pulsing shade of her father, the bright open window, the blue sky above. She sank, weightless, into the air.
“Do not come back here, Akane.”
Akane felt a numb, burning sensation around her upper arm. It rose and built along with the sound. She recognised the sound, slowly but surely. Her brain latched onto it, decoded it and relayed the information back to her.
The sound of air escaping.
Not unlike the sound of a soft breeze, rustling through leaves above.
Her father’s voice, almost lost to the rushing: “Do not come back here, Akane.”
Akane looked at her sleeve. At the red bleeding through it.
“Do not come back here, Akane…”
And once again, she opened her eyes.
Around her, the ship was on fire.
She had briefly fallen, back to Earth – before she was sent back to hell on a train, trailed by smoke.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright David Keen.