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Chapter 12 Main Chapters Chapter 13

Interlude 12

Ayuko looked about the store, which extended several stories upwards. The floor she was on was a fairly good floor, with plenty of good possibilities as far as clothes. She had to check out the jewelry section on the level above before she departed, although the pearl section had disappointed her before. No one seemed to care about pearls quite as much as she did. All she asked was that each be perfectly free from the smallest smudge and that each have a certain shine. It was not much to ask, but the employees all seemed perfectly blind to the small imperfections on most pearls. Naturally she pointed out the deficiencies, pointing and insisting until they understood. If only she could make this education more permanent, these shopping trips would be perfect.

She pondered her situation as she tried on a long feather boa. At one time, she had thought outer space a sheer waste of the powers of the artifact, but now she was being persuaded of its usefulness. An interstellar voyage was what everyone else wanted to do, and it was best to acquiesce. From her perspective, there was also the advantage that they had only to keep Zinv a secret until they blasted off, and then there would be no one on the planet who had access to the technological might of the civilization that Kumu and D were once a part of. Only she and the others would be able to command its powers.

The boa suited her, Ayuko decided, and she instructed her staff to add it to her purchases with a gesture. It was now her seventh hour of shopping and she was still going strong. Ayuko could not imagine how people could continue to turn down her invitations to join her on these excursions.

It had been some time since the meeting with Dr. Warai and his graduate students, and she considered it to have gone well. They had agreed to work on designs incorporating the technology of the artifact, or rather such technology as they could divine from the data of Zinv. She and her staff went up the elevator to see the jewelry.

Smiling, she stared at the glittering array of jewelry. Indicating one large necklace, she asked a store employee casually, "Please hand me that necklace so I may try it on."

The young woman stared at this well-dressed woman and her strain of attendants. She was new here, and had never seen Ayuko before. "I'm sorry ma'am," she said, "but store policy is not to-"

A manager hurried forward, and removed the necklace from the display case. The clerk looked at her in shock, but the woman had already brought the necklace to Ayuko. "Of course, madame," the manager smiled obsequiously, "Perhaps you will care to look at some other pieces as well?"

"Only that one," Ayuko communicated indifferently.

This manager, Ayuko knew perfectly well as the manager continued to fawn over her, did not even require bribes to be corrupted. The manager loved being near the powerful and rich, in the vain hope that she would gain benefits from them. Some people were different, and could be harder to persuade. Dr. Warai and his graduate students looked to be very difficult to control.

For the moment, raw power did not concern Ayuko. She still had her riches and a free hand on shopping expeditions. It was almost everything a woman of sophistication and intelligence required. She was determined to fully use the opportunities given to her. The future's opportunities, she surveyed and planned for only in the depths of her mind.

Ayuko was admiring the necklace around her throat in the mirror, then jerked in surprise when a cellphone rang, one which turned out to be her own. She frowned at it. Ayuko had selected it for its looks and pleasant ring tone, but it still seemed terribly gauche at this moment in time.

Calling her was a person she had not expected in the least. Ayuko decided she ought to make more of a habit to check the caller identification before simply answering a call. Still, it was almost unprecedented that her niece Mitsuki Sanada would contact her in any way at all.

"Old lady, can you hear me?" Mitsuki Sanada asked.

"Yes, my dear niece," Ayuko replied sweetly. "How are you?"

"I'm well," Mitsuki Sanada grumbled back, "and I know you're also doing well, spending all of Uncle Rara's fortune on baubles and abusing the salespeople. Speaking of Uncle Rara, he needed someone to ask you if there was enough milk in the fridge."

"I don't understand," Ayuko was astonished, "I don't usually handle that sort of thing. I don't rival the wonderful talents of you or my daughter or Ms. Schwael at cooking, so I don't set foot in the kitchen."

"We all know that you're useless," Mitsuki huffed, "but that's the message that got to me anyway. Apparently they're all really busy at the lab, he must not have been thinking clearly."

"I can't even recall the last time any of us drank milk," Ayuko told her as her eyes began to dart back and forth nervously. Normally her husband was harmless, but sometimes he could strain her nerves with his bizarre concern for trivial matters.

"There's nothing else to tell you," Mitsuki Sanada concluded the call.

Ayuko closed her phone sharply, the force derived from a sudden memory. Two weeks ago they had stocked a fridge in one of their two homes with some milk- her husband had some ridiculous idea of using it in some exotic appetizer for a party. Which house had it been? Who had bought it? Was the milk still there?

She began to hyperventilate as she considered the prospect of having to smell sour milk. This couldn't be happening to her. Ayuko turned around abruptly and instructed her entourage, in a scream, to immediately disinfect every fridge the Raras owned and vaporize all spoiled foods.

"Whatever the problem is, madame," the manager made Ayuko nearly leap into the air with the shock of suddenly finding the woman again by her side, "we'd all only be too happy to help."

"Good," Ayuko gasped, "you," she pointed to the manager, "and you," she pointed to the junior jewelry saleswoman, "obtain every bottle of perfume in this store and pour it all in the kitchens in both of my houses."

The junior saleswoman's stare had grown less and less unabashed, and now she felt free to admit to her bewilderment. "But I'm going off-shift in twenty-five minutes-"

"It is clearly my duty, and my responsibility, to help you in this time of crisis," interceded the manager. "I shall do this task with all my effort, alone and unaided, dedicated to your service, madame."

Dr. Hiroshi Rara came home late that night. It had been a long day, but it was good to come back to his own castle. Here, his staff kept everything neat and orderly and-he gagged on the incredible mixture of smells that came to his nostrils. Presumably, the perfumes had all smelled good individually and in moderation. Now they all combined to form an odor incredibly pungent.

"What's happened?" he sputtered, and heard Ayuko reply, "Just freshening the air, dear." Her voice indicated severe nasal congestion. "The staff didn't find any milk in our refrigerator, but I wanted to liven up the house."

The wheezing Dr. Rara staggered out the front door again, resolved to take several deep breaths of air before making any attempt to reenter. Perhaps, the doctor thought, he ought to rent scuba gear for the nonce.

The sleeping bag had been arranged on the balcony as best Ayuko's staff could through their watering eyes. She supposed she and Hiroshi would have to sleep out there tonight, where the cornucopia of scent was somewhat diluted by the breeze.

It was only appropriate for a woman of her abilities, Ayuko thought as she blew her nose and daubed her eyes, that she was rich enough that she never had to smell spoiled milk!

Chapter 12 Main Chapters Chapter 13