The Eight-Headed Serpent, Part III


kimiko_icon.gif marlowe_icon.gif otomo_icon.gif

Scene Title The Eight-Headed Serpent, Part III
Synopsis Roles are reversed when Marlowe Terrell is asked to fill impossible shoes.
Date April 28, 2019

Sometimes the hardest thing is putting one foot in front of the other.

Do you remember anyone here?

No you don't remember anything at all

I'm sleeping, I'm flat on my back

Never woke up, had no regrets

There are 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments in a single human foot. The sleek and metallic appendage that tentatively presses down to the surface of a moving walkway has sixteen times the number of moving components. Tucked into a tennis shoe, the cybernetic prosthetic looks nearly indistinguishable from an ordinary leg, save that the owner requested his in fire-engine red and sapphire blue: Optimus Prime’s colors.

There's a party in my mind

And I hope it never stops

There's a party up there all the time

And they'll party till they drop

A living foot in a matching shoe hits the moving walkway next, and within a matter of moments Hachiro Otomo is walking again, though still using the aluminum safety rails to keep his balance with both hands. “You think I can become a world class football player now?” Hachiro asks with a laugh, looking over to the woman at his side checking diagnostics on a transparent tablet.

Other people can go home

Everybody else can split

I'll be here all the time

No, I can never quit

It's been four months since Hachiro Otomo awoke from his coma, two months since he was fitting for his prosthetic leg, and hours of long nights for the leg’s designer: Marlowe Terrell. While Hachiro is happy to entertain a little light-hearted humor, the seriousness of these tests isn't lost on him. This is hour 160 of testing the limb’s active components. Two months of radially intensifying testing and iterative redesigns.

Take a walk through the land of shadows

Take a walk through the peaceful meadows

Don't look so disappointed

It isn't what you hoped for, is it?

“I kid,” Otomo says with a flash of a smile as if that wasn't already apparent. “Not a football fan: American or otherwise. But what I'm wondering is…” He looks down at his feet as he walks, then back up to Marlowe with a smile. “When I have to take my shoes off to get in a flight, will I also have to remove my foot?”

There's a party in my mind

And I hope it never stops

I'm stuck here in this seat

I might not stand up

It's been three months since Kimiko Nakamura relieves Kam Nisatta of her duties and Yamagato Industries was told that the interim President left without word back to Japan. In the months since, Kimiko has been settling in and re-acquainting herself with the goings-on of American operations. But the undercurrent of tension within that period of transition has been palpable. So many people in top positions have either been laid off, retired, or transferred back to Japan

Other people can go home

Other people they will split

I'll be here all the time

No, I can never quit

But there's only so much time to worry about the past. Hachiro’s ongoing recovery and his physical well-being have consumed much of Marlowe’s free time. From overseeing limb redesign iterations, to times like today where she and Hachiro practice walking and running for four hours in the Yamagato Building’s private gym. Right now she has to focus forward, less she become blinded by events outside of her control.

Everything is very quiet

Everyone has gone to sleep

I'm wide awake on memories

These memories can't wait

These memories can't

Like when the music stops.

Yamagato Building

Company Gym

April 28

3:34 pm


Kimiko Nakamura knows how to make entrances. Standing in the doorway of the gym, she cuts a slim tan silhouette in her cream-colored suit and blazer. She sets the remote control for the sound down on a table by gym entrance, and quietly steps inside, threading a lock of dark hair behind one ear.

“I hope I'm not interrupting?” Kimiko asks, but doesn’t show any sign of concluding any potential bothering.

"I'm not sure you'd be Cristiano Ronaldo yet, but you're certainly more than meets the eye, Optimus," Marlowe replies easily with a return smile through the transparent tablet cradled in her hand at the man between the rails. Her fingertips splay and swipe through the multiple open windows featuring the array of diagnostic and running input data, visualized from the thousands of micro-sized sensors fitted into hundreds of points along the latest iteration of the director's leg.

This is not merely a sturdy blade molded into a cast. It's certainly no peg leg. Even with other powers combined with her matter manipulative ability, those components within have been a challenge to engineer. The testing has been grueling, but ticks of a stopwatch compared to how much time the design and manufacturing have taken. A feat of medical minds and engineering skills have brought together the YX Calceus prosthetic limb, and Marlowe's insistence on being its project lead hardly contested.

Her laugh comes off a chuckle that rolls into a thoughtful tapping on an inert side of the tablet. "I… the materials are virtually the same as Moni's. And I know the Cestus design meets all the requirements of TSA and FAA. I don't think she has to check her arm," muses the engineer aloud as she distractedly observes the movement, "but I actually don't know. I don't think I've asked her that before." Something to file for later, mentally.

There really is no time for that sort of questioning now, either. She pokes at fluctuating levels of calibration and adjusts Hachiro's cybernetic limb response by a live tweaking of the sensory data, so he can adjust to the leg's active servos sending him feedback of what should be similar to nerves. Amidst the process, though, the music pauses and triggers an immediate stoppage of the work.

And the fact that it's Kimiko Nakamura standing at the doorway of the gym stops the rest of Marlowe's work. Possibly even her heart for a hot second. "Shachou!" The greeting is immediate, practically military-grade crispness in the way Marlowe comes to attention before bowing forth in customary polite greetings of their origin country's culture. "Douzo ohairikudasai. You're not interrupting at all," she says. A brief glance passes to her other superior by way of still checking on his state.

Hachiro looks over at Kimiko and taps an icon on his smart watch, slowing the treadmill down to a crawl. Still walking, but not with as much urgency as before. “President,” he greets formally, dipping his head down in a contrastingly informal nod. Kimiko affords Hachiro a warm and surprisingly familiar smile, then steps into the room, holding a tablet under one arm.

“I hope you don’t mind if I borrow Ms. Terrell for a moment?” Kimiko asks with a look over to Hachiro, who smiles confidently and taps that same icon on his watch again to stop the treadmill.

“I needed a coffee break anyway, all this marathon training is quite the workout.” Hachiro offers a quick look over to Marlowe, his brows raised and that smile reflecting more as pride than confidence to her. Kimiko doesn’t intrude any further into the room, though Marlowe can hear the whirr of the servos in her prosthetic leg as it maintains her balance and the click of the metallic fingers on her cybernetic arm against the touchscreen of her tablet.

Straightening but remaining quiet, Marlowe looks up and blinks in surprise when it’s not her being dismissed in lieu of a private conversation. Painted lips part just so in the middle as the woman glances between her bosses. Hachiro gets a lingering look, fleeting but heavy with suspicion. She’d ask if it’s a joke, but this is the company president here. Who, rumors have swirled around, is not the joking type when it comes down to the business. Not that Marlowe pays rumors very much mind. Come on, now.

The engineer breaks off from Hachiro’s side to make her way to the waiting woman. Marlowe may be the taller of the pair, the more extra-accessorized despite the other having cybernetics, but she keeps her spirit contained and her approach to a polite distance as implicit manners dictate of meeting someone above their station. “How may I be of help, Madam President?” comes the eventual inquiry, curious tones carrying in her inflection.

“I apologize for this meeting happening on the floor and not in a boardroom, as may be expected by corporate tradition,” Kimiko begins, walking with Marlowe out of the gym and into the hall. “But time is my most precious commodity right now and… unfortunately I am not my late brother, and have only so much to go around.” There is a bittersweetness to Kimiko’s tone, and Marlowe sees in her interactions — even after just having met her — an earnesty that people like Hachiro speak of when they talk about her father Kaito.

“I understand it is you I have to thank for Hachiro’s recuperation?” Kimiko asks, though it’s rhetorical. “I also understand that you led Mr. Otomo’s division during his medical absence,” is a statement rather than being veiled as a question. “You have been a valuable interface with allies in Raytech, you’ve maintained your own personal projects and assisted in the launch of our US telecommunications arm…”

Kimiko stops by a long, curving wall of glass overlooking the south parking lot and the ocean beyond. “According to our physicians estimates, it will take Hachiro nine months to fully recover from the prosthetic enhancements, alongside his neurological recovery.” Her brows pinch together briefly, and she looks aside, then back up to Marlowe. “He and I have already spoken on this, which is why I wanted to… talk to you personally, while I have a moment for face-to-face interaction.”

The start of the walk is tentative, like following the path to the principal's office, even if they never get that far. "Please," entreats the engineer as Kimiko starts, Marlowe lifting her gaze from the slightly downward angle to look full upon Kimiko, "there's no need to apologize. The floor is an office unto itself." And an environment far more freeing than a corporate boardroom, to be sure.

When the president continues on to list a few accomplishments and milestones, she smiles faintly. "There were contingencies in place, and project schedules to keep. But still." Still, she can't help but utter underneath it, "Did it all without gaining too many kilos. You also look amazing, by the way." Hopefully Kimiko doesn't mind the ladies' humor. Marlowe's stress weight struggles are real, so she must assume with all the pressure, the other woman has other secret, personal battles. Now there's barely pretense of extreme politeness; the sonkeigo slipping away in favor of Americanisms. Or perhaps it's an influence of the very tech director's manner bleeding into Marlowe's.

The prognosis of their physicians with that recovery time makes Marlowe furrow her brow too, a press of lips flattening the initial verbal disagreement with such lengthy timeframe. But again, the curiosity peeks. "Spoken about…?"

Kimiko momentarily looks down at her own prosthetic hand, a wedding band still worn around one artificial finger. The ring being the only thing they could salvage from the entire arm. Dark eyes upturn to Marlowe, and her placid expression turns to a reluctant smile, as if she's allowing herself this one moment of levity.

“Your promotion,” is what Kimiko says when the moment passes. “Hachiro knows he needs to focus on recovery and maintaining Jiba, which is nearly a full-time job in and of itself. I asked him if he intended to step down from his position, even if temporarily, and he admitted in the affirmative.” Reaching under her arm, Kimiko withdraws her tablet and activates the screen, holding it out to Marlowe.

“All you have to do is review and sign, and we can start the process.” Though Kimiko is flat in tone and matter-of-fact, she is nonetheless confident of the weight this moment carries. It's evident in the way her brows raise when she makes a statement, as if subconsciously knowing everything comes with an unsaid question mark at the end. “Full disclosure: This would likely be a permanent position for you, Ms. Terrell. As much as it implies temporary, I know Hachiro is considering retirement. Or, at least scaling back his workload. What happened last year just accelerated the inevitable. He chose you to take that responsibility from him. He said he would have no other.”

There it is, that smile. Marlowe spots it, amplifies and echoes it from her own features. The offered tablet gets taken, a few lines initially skimmed. Notably, she doesn't sign it yet, but taps a few points and then swipes the document from one tablet onto the other cradled on the other arm.

"I don't want to say… because I don't want to believe that his full recovery isn't within sooner reach," she says, glancing over her shoulder towards the gym entrance briefly. "He gave us everything. Gave me a chance. Four years ago. Doesn't seem that long ago, but, kouin ya no gotoshi, desu ne."

It's by that sentiment that she glances at the digital clock lettering on the tablet in handing back the original tablet to Kimiko, along with a slow but more solemn nod. "I understand the implications. And will serve as long as the company will see merited." It's practically a signing, although given that she hasn't put down anything on the papers yet, Marlowe boldly ventures verbally given that she's presently got the president's ear. "That being said, President Nakamura, how did you feel about the Berlin wall?"

The question elicits a look of confusion from Kimiko, and for a moment there’s a twitch of her brows and a parting of her lips that makes Marlowe wonder if she just asked her that turtle question from Blade Runner. But, unlike a Replicant, Kimiko’s mind isn’t set ablaze and she is, eventually, able to get her conversational legs back under her.

“I…” It’s a slow process.

“I was… nine? Maybe ten years old when the Berlin wall fell.” Kimiko looks down to the floor, then slowly up to Marlowe. “I was a child, and it was a far-away political issue that didn’t impact me or my family. I… I can’t honestly say I’ve thought about it much at all in the years that have come since.” She’s puzzled by the possibility, distracted from everything else by it. “Why… do you ask?”

Turning to stare out of the window, Marlowe maintains the faint smile as a certain, confident shine glimmers past a carefully made up eye. "Maybe you didn't feel it directly, but the impact of it is an undeniable one," she responds. "How many people were there that day, seeing the wall come down like the last thing standing in their way to freedom? To their families? To their lives?"

Marlowe breathes in deeply, blinking once slowly as she turns her gaze back to Kimiko. "Madam President, have you looked at the walls of the Tokyo Restricted Zone and thought why they were there? And now that you have had a chance to look at the walls of the New York Safe Zone… could you not help but wonder what the people who built them up were thinking?"

Now that she's on a roll, Marlowe lifts her chin up at a proud angle. "What I wanted to propose is that we - Yamagato - bring down the walls that the old administration built with the ill intent of turning Manhattan into a glorified prison. It's been left alone too long. How much building material sits there, wasted as an eyesore and obstacle, instead of it being used to rebuild the roads, set into foundations of living spaces."

She may not realize just how bluntly she eventually speaks to the company president, and the animated way with which she does it. Marlowe projects her earnest ideals, and she's practically physically pumped. One must imagine that the boundless energy feeds the fires of her creations and font of ideas. "It's time we turn the skyline into something more beautiful. Don't you think?" And it is that passionate stare that bores into the other woman, pressing sincerity into every crevice possible left to faith and hope for humanity.

Some of the light drains out of Kimiko’s eyes as she considers Marlowe's proposal. She's quiet for a moment, and turns to look out the curving wall of glass toward where the jagged skyline of the Manhattan Exclusion Zone rises in the distance. She nods, once, then looks back to Marlowe with an initially opaque answer.

“Three hundred and seventy-eight thousand.” That is Kimiko’s response. At first, the large number is left to sit there by itself. Then, she elaborates. “That is the combined total estimated number of human remains beyond the walls of the Exclusion Zone. That is the total estimated number of fatalities during the scourging of New York. Nearly all of those souls still remain behind that wall, entombed in their homes, frozen in automobiles sitting on freeways where civilians were burned alive by napalm.”

Once more, Kimiko nods. “Your sentiment is a beautiful one, but it is not one so easily handled by prose alone. The US government is thinking of turning the entire island into a living memorial. Others demand the reclamation of the dead. It is… a complex topic. Mankind has never had to grapple with an atrocity quite that massive…”

Kimiko looks back from the skyline to Marlowe. “And if there is justice in the world… hopefully it won't ever again.”

“Compared to the millions who have died in this last war on the west coast, from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Holocaust, and from the so many other wars previous, I’m afraid that mankind has yet to learn about the tolls it takes on itself.” It’s first solemn, Marlowe’s tone, as she slowly nods in acknowledgment of the lives lost. “My friends and colleagues, fellow soldiers, count among them out there, from Manhattan to Los Angeles. But if there’s anything we can learn from it…” She pauses, a hand lifting, knuckling away a brief wetness at the edge of her eye. A deeper breath taken, and she brings back the smile, bigger even if it is a touch wry. “It’s that humans are resilient and we rebuild from what was lost. We remake with the hope of a better future. A stronger future. And we don’t simply lay down and die.”

She sends a glance back towards the gym where Hachiro’s taking a break. Her statement carries the personal weight with it. Then, Marlowe’s gaze strays down from Kimiko’s face to the other woman’s cybernetic arm, then to the mechanical leg, further acknowledging the personal stakes of all involved. When her gaze rises back to Kimiko’s face, the engineer’s glint of determination pokes through. “Nakamura-shacho, I’ll leave the prose to you and the PR team,” she says, grinning ever broadly. “And in turn, please allow me and the CED to handle the logistics.”

She clasps the tablet in her hands in front of her, peering upon the president’s face with the brightness of that unquenchable (if sometimes maddeningly untiring) spirit that Marlowe Terrell is known for throughout the department.

“I would urge a lesser person to impress me,” Kimiko says, her words afloat on a complex raft of emotions, “but you are no lesser person.” She extends her flesh and blood hand, receiving Marlowe’s in return.

“I know you will.”

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