With one full day to go before Sasha’s return home Saya grew thoughtful after the morning’s practice session. As the mid-day meal grew to a close Saya sat straighter in her seat.
“We have reached a –” She drew a hand in a line in the air before her chest.
“A leveling off? A plateau?”
“Yes. And my mother is saying we should give you a … picnic. And show you some of the sights. It would be shame to come to Japan and see nothing of it.”
Sasha nodded slowly. Saya had indeed reached a plateau, not only in the training the two had been sharing, but also in the improvement of her body which Sasha had been carefully nurturing. Saya was now about as physically perfect as a human being could be.
Barring superhumans like Sasha and Dr. O’Neill’s long-ago rescuer and friend.
Saya said, “I think we should call our training done. And go to a nightclub tonight. And do a little shopping for it!”
Which was how they ended up getting out of a taxi in front of one of the city’s premier night clubs in company with two of Saya’s friends. They were both as cute as girls could be and dressed very fashionably and rather skimpily.
The facades of building all along the street flashed and danced, bright primary colors giving the night a surreal tinge. A cool wind blew briskly down the concrete canyon, fluttering the girl’s dresses and pressing them tightly against their slender young bodies — at least those dresses which were not already as tight as they could be.
The four sashayed up to the doorman. The big lumpy Japanese took one look at the friend leading their way and bowed them inside, ignoring several protests from those waiting in line. Ayako was a rising young actress who had recently starred as a sword-wielding heroine in a successful martial-arts movie.
Sasha took one look at the extravagant clothing worn by the women bouncing on the dance floor and felt grateful she had listened to Saya’s mother as the three of them and Saya’s younger sister had shopped during the afternoon. Her tight pants and low-cut bodice of iridescent blue and low-heeled half-boots of matching color looked — to her — tastefully restrained yet sexy.
Still she appreciated the costumes on her companions and the other girls in the club. Saya was a Lolita girl in poufy white satin pinafore trimmed in pink lace and red roses, wearing hose of black and white horizontal stripes ending in Dutch boy white pseudo-clogs with a low heel.
The heels of her two friends were not so demure. They were four inches at least. Ayako wore black thigh-high boots that appeared lace-up but were Velcro sealed. She wore a Goth outfit of black leather and a wide very short lacy black skirt over pants. Her friend’s boots were white platform with buckles, a filmy gold dress and a red polyester wig. She wore no bra and her nipples pricked her dress.
Even more extravagant dresses adorned the bodies of the other women in the club, and not a few men. There were wigs of all colors, especially purple. A dress which seemed to be all white silk cords. Collars with spikes. The variety was bewildering. On top of that there was a rotating light ball over the dance floor which shot beams of colored light everywhere.
Saya zipped across the dance floor to a long high table against the wall with high cushioned backs against the wall. She was greeted with squeals from several girls there and engulfed in embraces. There were two boys there also. They looked effeminate but the kisses they gave Saya, shoving at each other to get to her, did not seem at all gay.
Ayako and Tukiko drifted after Saya. The little crowd at the table greeted them in the same way. Saya introduced Sasha. At that the crowdlet gave her bow which was an abbreviated head nod, then gave her an equally warm greeting.
Sasha submitted to this with laughter and hugs and kisses back, except for the boy’s kisses. To those she turned her head so that it was her cheeks which got kissed. She smiled at them and kissed their cheeks back, however, to show she was not offended.
For the next two hours Sasha danced, mostly with Saya’s friends as a group. When the two boys, or others, tried to dance exclusively with her she smilingly avoided them.
The club was a young-person’s club and no one drank alcohol except Ayako, who was older than the rest, who drank three or four fruit juices for every glass of juice cut with alcohol. In the cab she had been enthusiastic about her new health regimen, so Sasha gathered she was not into intoxication. Besides, Sasha would have tasted the woman’s ill-health in the cab from breathing the air given off by her lungs.
In the air shared by everyone she did smell the odors of stronger drugs. But since none of those at her table were involved she ignored the indications.
After about three hours some of those at her table began to suggest they go to another club. Saya was the most emphatic. Sasha guessed it was because earlier she had gone into a back room with a young man where people watched music videos on huge wall screens and played with each other erotically. None of them were having public sex beyond caresses, so Sasha ignored it.
Until Saya came back seeming a bit annoyed. Following a few minutes later emerged the man, looking more than a bit annoyed. He was also rubbing an upper arm. Sasha guessed he had made the mistake of going too far with a World-Federation silver medallist.
Sasha exchanged a glance with Saya as she sat down at group’s table, an eyebrow raised and her lips tightened in the effort to keep a smile off them. Saya gave her eyes a brief eye-roll in acknowledgement.
Nothing came of it, but Sasha had memorized the man’s face.
The new club was no different from the first to Sasha, at least to her eyes and ears and nose. Maybe her companions just wanted to walk a bit. Which they did, though only a couple of blocks. They were noisy and bumped into each other a lot. The two boys were still with them and they took full advantage of the contact. One walked hip-to-hip with one girl, the other with two girls, all with arms around each other.
By now the crowds on the streets were noticeably thicker and more boisterous than three hours earlier. But everyone seemed good natured. There were a couple of pickpockets at work. Sasha tripped one as he walked quickly past her party, a purse in his hand. Two girls hotly pursuing him caught up and began to beat him up.
Sasha stopped a moment to make sure the man did not pull a weapon or otherwise fight back. Instead he was very willing to escape without the purse.
Saya had stopped beside Sasha. Instants later the other members of the group stopped. They and other onlookers had a good laugh at the expense of the pickpocket.
After a couple of hours at the new place the party-goers with Saya and her friends began to drift away. Most of them were students and had to get up the next morning.
Shortly afterward Sasha began to want to follow the others. She was getting bored. Also she’d had her own encounter with a man who wanted to feel her up. He had tried to urge her into another dark room and she had pulled away from him. Then he grabbed her and roughly tried to force her to come with him. Sasha had inflicted a good deal of pain on him.
As she walked back to her table he yelled things at her in Japanese until silenced and hustled out of the club by a couple of bouncers.
A little while later Saya and Sasha began to say goodbyes. It took a while as everyone wanted to hug and kiss them.
Outside a line of cabs were waiting. They were doing good business and the two women got in a line.
Sasha noticed the men first, as she did everything around her. Unconsciously all her senses had become more sensitive when she went into what her subconscious had interpreted as a riskier environment.
Five men were in the opening to an alley beside the club, leaning against a wall and sharing a bottle. They were looking at Sasha and Saya. One was Saya’s and the other was Sasha’s incautious swains.
When the five began to walk toward the cab stands Sasha turned to fully face them. An instant later Saya did the same. Her body language settled into a quiet Sasha knew from fighting the young woman.
The men swaggered as they came. Saya said something sharp in Japanese as they came close. They stopped and laughed, their attitude for all to see as jolliness at their lady friend’s asperity. They came closer.
Saya’s earlier would-be lover snapped a baton to full length. Sasha’s drew a long knife. The men kept the weapons low beside their bodies.
The knife man spoke to Saya. Sasha knew they were threats. Maybe Come with us or we’ll hurt you.
Saya’s answer was scornful. She made a gesture at Sasha, then one at herself. Maybe You would threaten the winners of the Judo contest? One of the would-be assailants looked doubtful.
A few passers-by had noticed the by-play but hurried on. A couple of the nearby cab men had also noticed, but stood watching.
The doorman outside the club may have noticed. But he stayed at his post.
Sasha said, low, “I’ll take the knife.”
“Hai. The other is mine.”
Sasha spoke to the knife-man. “I won the gold medal. I’ll break your arm. And more if you anger me.”
The doubtful one began to speak emphatically. Another of the five men looked doubtful. Said something pleadingly. The strongly doubtful man turned to walk briskly away.
This angered the knife-man. He raised his knife.
Perhaps he only meant to intimidate. But it was the signal for all Hell to break loose.
Time running slowly, Sasha imprisoned the knife-hand at the wrist, caught his elbow with her other hand, and raised her knee to break his forearm. She followed through with a trip that put him flat of his back. He lay stunned.
She had kept a fraction of her attention on Saya. The man opposite her, alarmed at Sasha’s move, had raised his weighted baton over his head, likely to protect himself rather than attack.
Poor technique, Sasha noted peripherally. He should have kept it at waist level to attack. Maybe placed it diagonally across his chest to self-protect.
Saya took the baton away from him and cracked him smartly across one cheek with it, just enough to daze and bring blood but not injure badly or kill. Then she pivoted, grasped his shirt front and belt, and threw him over her shoulder. At the last second she slowed his fall so that he fell flat on his back but did not crack his head and maybe his spine.
The third man jumped forward toward Saya’s bare back. Sasha would have intervened but she knew Saya. Already the woman was moving to the side. He met an outstretched arm at throat height, fell backward, was helped along by her foot sweep.
The fourth man was standing with both hands up in an “I’m peaceful!” gesture. The fifth man was running away.
One of the cabbies was standing with a cell camera up. He had caught the action. He quickly put it away as Sasha glanced at him. She did nothing. The camera would show that the men had attacked first.
Now that everything was over there was plenty of help. Cabbies came forward to glower at the male fighters. Another had caught the running man and was escorting him back, with an onlooker following to help, loudly chastising the would-be runner.
The club’s doorman was speaking on a cell-phone, maybe calling for police. But a policeman was already there, pulling up in a little electric-powered runabout, jumping out to take charge.
Sasha thought there would be a little fuss, but not much. Two very respectable girls had been hassled by five drunks and defended themselves with only mild injuries resulting.
She began to realize her mistake when paparazzi showed up while the policeman and other officers were getting statements and hustling the three hurt bad guys into ambulances and their two companions into the back of a police car.
Sasha had called her coach and Saya her family. Saya’s family showed up first, with her coach close behind. He was accompanied by Sasha’s coach. Like Sasha he had been taken into a Japanese family, in his case that of Saya’s coach.
The two women were driven to a police station in the back of a police car, a big black SUV with no partition between them and the driver and her companion. Two motorcycle policemen before and behind the car escorted the SUV. They were getting VIP treatment.
The treatment continued at the station. They were shown into a well-appointed conference room with comfortably leather-lined seats. Saya’s family and the two coaches joined them.
They were met by two high police officials, one in uniform and the other a distinguished older man in an expensive suit. Shortly afterward a very brisk American arrived. She introduced herself as an aide to the American ambassador. Close behind was a man who introduced himself as the representative of a Japanese cabinet minister. There were bows all around, Sasha imitating the depth and style of Saya’s bow.
Apparently an international incident had taken place.
It seemed there was to be no conflict between the views of the two countries, however. The ministerial representative, a dapper man who seemed a very cool customer, fresh as could be despite the hour, apologized very nicely to Sasha and her coach. He assured them the Japanese government would exert all its powers to “resolve this unfortunate incident as expeditiously as possible.”
Lawyers arrived, several for Sasha and as many for Saya. They carried many papers. There was much bowing and fussing and discussion, in Japanese and English. Sasha and Saya, seated cozily with their family and supporters, exchanged poker-faced glances of amazement and amusement.
At one point the woman from the American embassy addressed the Japanese government minister sharply. In seemingly flawless Japanese.
The man answered her in definitely flawless English, assuring her about something. He was as smooth as smooth could be. Sasha guessed he would go high in the Japanese government.
Eventually the two women signed papers and were free to go. To avoid the paparazzi they and their companions were escorted through a long echoing sub-basement two blocks away. Limousines took them home. The personal cars of the coach and Saya’s family would be delivered to them at home shortly.
The breakfast the next morning included the two coaches. They were delivered by a government limousine, a necessary precaution. Paparazzi surrounded the house, held back by a ring of police. Over breakfast, proudly and efficiently presided over by Mama-san, the two women’s stories were gone over yet again. Sasha twitted Saya on her straight-arm-to-the-throat take-down of bad guy #3.
Saya got a bit huffy. Such a sorry foe did not deserve the respect of correct action. That was when Sasha learned that Saya took the code of Bushido seriously. She was such a modern girl otherwise that this was a surprise.
Sasha stood and bowed low. “I apologize for my offense. I am unworthy of your friendship.”
She did not know if this was completely correct. She could only hope that the intent outweighed any incorrectness.
Apparently it did. Saya stood and returned the bow. “You are family. You have not offended.” Then she became a modern girl and came to share a hug.
After breakfast Sasha called her family again. This time she gave a more complete description of the fight. After close questioning her mother assured her she had done exactly right. Her father was not so easily calmed. He chastised her for exposing herself to danger. He wanted to jump on a plane and come take his little girl home. It took some effort by Sasha and her mother to dissuade him.
Meanwhile Saya had been watching over her little sister’s shoulder as the girl trolled the Web for stories about last night’s incident. Sasha joined them. The three were kept laughing for nearly an hour.
Most reputable online newspapers and webzines had gotten the facts right. The tabloids had not, or ignored the facts to make a better story.
Five men, not three, had been vanquished. Seven, fifteen. The men were Yakuza, which Sasha thought were a myth. The two women were secretly crime-fighting superheroes. They had declaimed and postured. The awards of gold and silver World Judo competition were reversed. Or two golds had been given to the women. Saya was shown flying through the air in a taekwando pose, forward foot extended, arms braced in a strike-defend position. Sasha had only defended her friend’s back, bravely, but was not needed because Saya was so fierce.
That last was a popular story. Even when Sasha was given credit for taking down one enemy she was portrayed as a sidekick. These were also the stories that awarded Saya the gold rather than to Sasha.
Saya was offended on her behalf. It took a bit of persuasion to cool her down. Finally she became calm when Sasha said, “I WANT them to discount me. It will get me home quicker. I miss my family.”
Saya understood that. Her family was very important to her.
Mid-morning the woman from the American embassy and the man from the Japanese ministry arrived together in a chauffeured limousine. It took several police and careful driving to get through the paparazzi. When they arrived in the house Sasha smelled sexual tension between the two. She wondered if they were lovers or would become so.
The visit seemed to be more to soothe any distress the two young women and their families might feel. But it had non-diplomatic aspects, too. The officials brought more information about what could be expected in the next few days. They also wanted to be sure Sasha and Saya would go along the path laid out to smooth over the incident and ease them back into daily life with minimal publicity.
Sasha was agreeable to the arrangements. They would get her home in just a few days. She called her mother and that redoubtable attorney agreed the suggestions seemed reasonable. She, however, would be in contact with attorneys at home and in the Japanese embassy to vet and monitor actions.
Saya was more stubborn. She had been deeply offended by the men’s actions. Apparently Bushido was more than just a teen enthusiasm for her. This surprised Sasha. The woman was so modern in every other part of her life. But finally she agreed to go along with the program if each of the five men personally apologized to her and to Sasha. The ministry official said he was sure that could be made to happen.
The officials left before the noon meal, citing duty, but expressed deep appreciation for the elaborate tea service enacted for them by Mama-san.
That afternoon, under that woman’s guidance, escorted by police guards, and surrounded by paparazzi, the girls shopped for evening wear and formal wear to their appearance in court on Monday. The evening wear was worn that night at a famous restaurant, which must have had to cancel several reservations. The two coaches stoutly resisted being included in the party.
Cameras flashed like lightning in a summer storm as the party arrived, restaurant representatives accorded them quiet respect, and several times the meal was interrupted by famous people congratulating the women for their wins at the competition and apologizing for their country. A Chinese film director slipped Saya a card, saying he wanted to do a martial-arts film with her as a star. A beautiful red-headed Australian star told Sasha they must get back together in L.A. and gave her a napkin with her cell number on it.
Never was a meal more exhausting and exhilarating. At Saya’s home there was much reminiscing by Mama-san while her husband looked on stoically but with a quietly raffish air. In Saya’s bedroom the two women and Saya’s sister, Suki, shared their own reflections on the absurdities of the evening.
Sunday Mama-san had her picnic, accompanied by police and paparazzi, and Sasha did get to see some of the nearby Japanese sights. Her favorite was one of several huge and beautiful municipal gardens. It had a small lake and streams crossed by arched stone bridges and several kinds of trees full of flowers, a petting zoo, and a botanical garden within it which, Saya said, was tiny compared to one city garden which was entirely devoted to botany.
Criminal court Monday was not arduous, but it was not fun. The judge who presided over the case let everyone know that justice would not be rushed or coerced, especially with the press and the nation and the world looking on, and that no corners would be cut. Still, with the five men each pleading no contest, it only took up an entire morning.
After sentencing a private ceremony was performed in a large meeting room. It turned Sasha’s stomach, though a stoic Saya found no fault. Each of the five men expressed deep regret for their shameful actions. The oldest, who had threatened Sasha with a knife, was sweating and halting. His English was minimal and he’d apparently had to be rehearsed.
At the end of it, he broke down and fell to his knees. Looking at Sasha he said, “No yakuza! Please, no say yakuza! I no yakuza!”
Sasha gazed for a moment at him, all senses fully alert. Apparently there really were such Japanese gangsters. And they had let this man know they disapproved of anything that brought attention to them.
She stepped forward and took his outstretched hands, lifted him to his feet. “Never will I say yakuza. No yakuza. No yakuza.”
Still holding his hands she twisted to look at Saya. The woman looked back, then solemnly spoke to the man in Japanese. Then she spoke in English to Sasha.