Time Cat: An American Feline in Edo

Tobias is just an average black cat. Well, almost black - he has a white sock on his left rear foot and a white patch under his nose. One day while exploring the yard of his Human, he comes across a curious glowing orb. He begins to investigate it and inadvertently activates it, creating a rip in the very fabric of reality. Much to his dismay, he is sucked into the rip and carried through time and space to an era much earlier than his own. Now he must track this orb across time and space in order to activate it and bring him back home. Don't forget my author page: tinyurl.com/anrisarynfb

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15. Maeko and Kenji

         "You lost the key?" Ichiro bellowed, throwing his hands in the air. "You lost the key?"
          "I'm sorry!" Katsu cried. He was near sobbing, having felt very disappointed in himself and having let down Hideki. He tried to cover his eyes, but the angry, hot tears kept flowing. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
          "It's not use yelling at the boy, Ichiro-kun," Hideki frowned, pacing back and forth. "What's done is done."
          "He's only had it for five days!" Ichiro insisted.
          "Leave him alone," Shiro said, stepping forward. "He made an honest mistake. We've all done something like that before."
          "But this mistake may cost us our lives. Do you know what they could do with that key?" Ichiro insisted, his hands on his hips.
          "So, the shogun knows we have keys. So what?" Shiro shrugged. "What's he going to do?"
          "He could change the locks," Hideki said, pausing and turning to Shiro. "If he has as much money as I think he does, he could make the locks different."
          "But locks are easy to open," Shiro nodded. "You made that key rather easily, did you not?"
         Hideki nodded. "That is true, but it will take some time. I spent at least a few hours forming a new one, but making sure it fits won't be as easy. The guards are doubled now, especially in the areas with new and incoming prisoners."
         Ichiro raised his hand to give Katsu a slap, his face full of rage, but Hideki stepped in. Katsu shrank back against the wall in fear.
          "Like I said, Ichiro-kun." He grasped the doctor's arm and pulled it down. The rage slowly faded from the older man's face. "Violence won't solve anything in this situation. Focus on what we have done. Why, we have at least fifteen here now, thanks to us."
         Ichiro glanced around at all the concerned and eager faces, most of which were young men, but a few were women, which still surprised Hideki. But they had a force, and a way to fight back. Hideki saw that realization on Ichiro's face, and the other man nodded.
          "You're right. Gomen, Katsu. I'm sorry."
          "Yes, Hideki is right," Suki offered. "With this group, we can save even more and rise against the shogun!" She made a fist to emphasis her point and a cheer rose.
         Hideki suddenly hissed for them to be quiet and the cheer faded like a leaf on the breeze. The sound of boots outside the door sent them all into a silent panic.
          "Against the walls," he hissed, motioning for them to move back. All the refugees obeyed, except one who seemed it a good time to grab the rear of one of the female prisoners. He recieved a quick slap and Hideki hissed at her. She frowned, but stayed quiet.
         The sound of the boots drew ever nearer. They had never come this close before.
         What are they doing? Hideki asked himself, peering at the door as if it were some kind of poisonous animal. His eyes were filled confusion, but any sane man would also spot a tinge of fear and a sprinkle of anger in them.
         The marching stopped. The group had paused just down the hallway. The lights flickered, indicating the border between old and new.
          "I told you, Fujisawa, the only thing back here is the old lab."
         The voice sent a swift realization through Hideki. He held his breath, hoping it wasn't true.
          "Why did the shogun ask us to search here?" He shivered audibly. "This place is bad luck, Matsubara. No wonder the samurai have stayed away."
          "How is it bad luck?" Matsubara asked. His voice indicated skepticism and doubt, but he continued to listen anyway.
         Fujisawa didn't answer right away. The sound of scrolls falling on the floor did. After a few moments, he breathed as if he had been scared. His voice shook as he replied.
          "Let's just get out of here. I don't have my omamori with me," he replied.
         The sound of a thump on the back of someone, which Hideki could only assume was Matsubara trying to make a joke of the situation. 
          "You and your superstitions, Fujisawa," the other man said. Hideki could hear the smile on his voice. "Fine, we'll go. Even the samurai are getting uneasy."
         Hideki wondered what worried mechanical samurai looked like. The glances he got from Katsu indicated he was wondering the same.
         The man next to the woman that had slapped him gave her another grin. She glared at him, then they both caught Hideki's angry gaze and looked at the floor.
         The sound of footsteps faded into the distance and Hideki breathed a sigh of relief. The sound was echoed a few times over as the group relaxed.
         They didn't have long to, though. In his anger, Hideki stormed over to the trouble-maker and grabbed his collar.
          "And who taught you it was a good idea to do that to any woman?" he hissed. "What kind of scoundrel are you?" He glared at the young man, his eyes full of venom. "When I said be quiet, I meant be quiet!"
         The man shrunk under Hideki's glare. The rest of the room remained dead silent.
          "Do you even know her name, chibi-chan?" he snarled.
          "N-no, I don't," the young man stammered.
         Hideki, now suddenly calm, turned to the woman in question, still gripping the man's collar. She appeared to be about 16 - old enough to marry, but young enough to still be a child. "What is your name onee-san?" he asked her.
          "Suzuki," she said, bowing. "Suzuki Maeko, Hideki-san." An image of Shichiro flashed in Hideki's mind. He shook his head. There was no way they were related. Suzuki was a very common family name.
          "Please," he smiled, making a dismissive gesture. "Hideki is fine."
         In a swift movement, he turned back to the young man, a piercing glare on his face. "That wasn't hard now was it, chibi-chan? Think about that next time you decide to pull a stunt like that."
         He released the man's collar and began to pick up pipes and other things that could be used as weapons. He began to pass them out, nodded at those he handed them to. 
          "M-my name's Sato," the young man interuppted Hideki's thoughts. "Sato Kenji."
          "Well, chibi-chan," Hideki said, turning to him. He tossed him a piece of metal piping. "I'll call you by your birth name when you've earned it back."
         Kenji looked at Hideki, then back at the floor. He wasn't sure how to react, to be completely truthful, so he just held the pipe in his hands and looked at it, wondering what it was.
          "Now, we don't know what to expect," Hideki explained. "It's been an easy week, but now that the shogun knows how we gathered forces, something is bound to change." He caught in the corner of his eye Katsu looking at the ground in shame. He slowly worked him way over to the boy while continuing to speak. "But, we will get through this, because we have something the shogun doesn't."
         He paused for a moment to see if they could figure it out. When the looks of confusion didn't face away, he continued.
          "We have each other," he continued, clasping his hand onto Katsu's shoulder, his voice raising. "The only thing the shogun has is machines and incompetent attendants!"
         A cheer rose in the group. It was a small cheer, but a cheer none-the-less. Hideki smiled at Katsu, and squeezed the boy's shoulder.
          "It's alright, Katsu-kun," he said. "Anyone could have made a mistake, and nothing like that will stop us. You know that."
         Katsu gave Hideki a small smile and nodded.
          "That's the spirit!" the older man chuckled, thumping his friend on the back.
"Now, I don't know what time it is," Hideki said, the group quieting, "but I think we ought to try and get some rest. We'll sleep in shifts. I'll take first watch. Everyone keep your weapon close. You never know when you may need it."
          "I'll take second," Katsu volunteered. Hideki nodded his approval.
          "I'll take third," Shiro echoed.
          "And I forth," Kenji offered.
         Hideki looked and Kenji for a moment. It seemed the boy was seeking approval, feeling rather bad about his previous actions.
          "Fine," Hideki agreed, nodding at him. "Chibi-chan can take forth and Ichiro can take last."
         The doctor nodded in agreement.
          "If anyone else is asleep after that, they will be woken. We have a lot of work to do, and we can't be sleeping all day," Hideki nodded.
         As the rest of the group settled down, Maeko approached him. He was standing as if he was just about to walk out the door; his foot was holding it open.
          "Hideki-san," she greeted him, bowing low. "I would like first watch, if that is okay.
         Hideki raised an eyebrow at her. It wasn't that he doubted she could handle it. He had seen Akiko put up a very good fight against a bakufu samurai a few months back, so he was not going to doubt the younger Maeko's fighting prowess just because she was female. It was the fact that she looked rather tired and worried about the whole situation. She looked as though she might snap. He hadn't seen it at first; she had put Kenji in his place rather swiftly. But now that she didn't have to put up a front, her weariness was apparent.
          "Think of it as a thank you for helping me earlier, senpai," she suggested.
          "Alright," he agreed reluctantly. "But if anything happens, make sure you come and get me, okay?"
          "Thank you, Hideki-sama," she said, bowing again. 
         He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Please, Hideki is fine," he reminded her. "Now run along. First watch isn't always the easiest!" She nodded and stepped outside the door quietly, settling down against the wall with a yawn.
         Hideki smiled and did the same, but not before snuffing out the candles. Tomorrow was going to be a very busy day - for all of them.

         The next day came rather quickly. Not that anyone could tell. The lack of windows was still very unnerving.
         Katsu and Maeko were already awake, which surprised Hideki. Usually the younger ones slept a little later and had to be fought out of bed when the sun rose.
         Hideki lay there, his eyes almost closed, but open enough to see what was going on. He watched the pair, and listened, rather interested.
          "I'm from Tosa," Katsu stated, leaning back on the cold floor.
          "My home is in Satsuma," the girl replied, not looking at him. Her hair was rather long. She unraveled it from its traditional bun. It flowed over her shoulders like a silky river of black. She played with it a bit as an excuse to not look at Katsu.
         The boy noticed this, but said nothing. Instead he looked about the room in thought. The candles were all lit, covering the room in a dull glow. They were totally out of the sticks now. Katsu noted to himself to try and search the collection room when he had a chance.
          "What did you do before this?" she asked.
         Katsu was surprised she had spoken. She seemed rather shy, but perhaps she would open up the more they knew each other. He turned to her, touching his nose in thought.
          "I tended the rice fields with my father and mother," he said with a tinge of longing.
         Maeko didn't reply. She simply stared at her feet and wiggled her toes, watching the raised bumps they made in her slippers. Katsu lay on his back and put his hands behind his head, stretching slightly as he did so.
          "I liked to fish," she said finally, still watching her toes. Katsu looked at her, but kept his position. She continued, turning to him. "It wasn't something the women did. I was always told to go and work the loom with my mother."
          "Well, my okaa-san used to go fishing with us sometimes. She preferred to spend her time painting or weaving, but when the weather was nice, she would take me and my onii-chan down to the river or shore," Katsu offered.
          "It may be easier for you. You are a boy," she said quickly, her eyes sparkling with frustration. She was finally looking at him; Katsu could see her passion. He sat up and met her gaze, but only for a moment. She looked away a second later. "Gomen. I am sorry. I didn't mean to raise my voice."
          "I am not a boy, but a man!" Katsu said, flexing his arms. She giggled at his antics. "There, a smile! I knew you had one."
         Hideki, finally pleased with what he saw, sat up and stretched. The pair looked over at him, and Katsu wavedm realizing what the groaning was.
          "Good morning," Hideki yawned. "You two are up early."
          "I couldn't sleep," Maeko replied plainly, looking at her toes again. Katsu looked at her, then back at Hideki as if asking for help.
         Hideki stepped forward and crouched in front of her. He extended his index finger and placed it under her chin. Instinctively she looked up.
          "Maeko-chan," he said, looking into her eyes. "Whatever you have done in the past means nothing to anyone here." He removed his finger, but she continued watching him. "No one here will hurt you, and if they do, I will hurt them far worse."
          "Who are you?" she asked, blinking. The candlelight made the lines on her forehead stand out, making her appear older than she actually was.
          "A father," Hideki replied, standing up. "And if you were my daughter, I'd be protecting you just as much as I am now."
         Embarrassed, she looked down. Hideki looked at Katsu, his face saying "If you hurt her, I will hurt you." But Katsu understood, and he wasn't scared. He was humbled. He put a hand on Maeko's shoulder. She didn't push him away.
          "Alright, sleepyheads!" Hideki announced. "Come and gather!"
         Slowly, the men and women began to stir. They gathered in a standing group near Hideki, rubbing their eyes and yawning. Maeko and Katsu joined the group, standing next to Ichiro who greeted them with a smile.
          "Getting to know each other?" he chuckled.
          "Something like that," Katsu admitted, looking at her. The girl looked at her feet, not eager to speak on it more.
          "We do not know what is in store for us," Hideki explained, looking at his audience. "Katsu and Shiro will go scout ahead and find the patterns of the samurai. Chances are their numbers have increased and changed their patrol pattern."
          "What about the key?" Shiro chimed in.
          "There is no way of knowing if anything had changed," Hideki assured him. "The only way is to make use of what information we have. Until then, we have our fastest runners in charge." Katsu smiled at the mention of his task. "The rest of us must wait for their return. When they have reported back, we can head out."
         "Are we to attack these samurai?" one woman asked from the back.
          "If we have to, yes," Hideki nodded. "But they are hard to destroy, so it is best we avoid them if possible." The group rippled with nods. "Now, Katsu and Shiro? You know what to do."
          "See you in a bit," Shiro said to his wife, who hugged him tightly. She kissed him quickly and the pair of men were off.

         The hallways were mostly empty, much to Katsu's delight. He looked around the corner before motioning for Shiro to proceed. Their soft slippers made shuffling sounds on the hard ground.
         The boy had forgotten how white everything was. It was like he was in the middle of a snowstorm, but not a flake had fallen on him. Images of his family gathered around the stove to keep warm while his father told stories. He felts a twinge of homesickness, but supressed it. He would get to see them again soon enough. If he hadn't met Hideki…he could only imagine….
         The hall ended in a T-shaped intersection. On the opposite wall was a long row of doors - prisoner cells. There were no samurai about, so he risked a single word.
          "Hello?" he said quietly, barely loud enough for anyone to hear. Shiro hissed behind him, warning him to speak no more. They both waited in silence for what seemed like hours.
         A single voice replied Katsu. It was quiet at first, but then grew louder.
          "Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?" It was the voice of young boy. He sounded barely older than ten. "Hello?"
         Katsu looked at Shiro, his eyebrows raised.
          "Hello! We are here!" he hissed.
          "Hello! Can you help me?" the voice repeated. "I'm in this room!"           A small hand shot out from under the door and waved about. Shiro gasped and raced over to it, not even looked around for samurai. Katsu clenched his jaw and bared his teeth in anxiety, but raced after the older man.
         Shiro knelt at the doorway, reaching out to the hand. "I am here, chibi-chan," he whispered. Katsu knelt by him and grapsed his shoulders.
          "We will be back for him later, Shiro-kun," he explained. "We have work to do."
         Reluctantly, Shiro stood up, but not before giving the child's hand a quick squeeze. He nodded to Katsu, and they took off running in search of more cells.
         Nothing had really changed since they last visited the many doors. They were all still white, just like the halls. But something was a little different. The boy couldn't exactly figure out what it was. He slowed to a stop, Shiro racing by him. The older man slowed down, having realized he passed up his companion.
         Shiro jogged back to him slowly, wondering what had caused his change of pace. Katsu was looking at the door as if something was wrong with it, but he couldn't quite place it.
          "What's wrong?" he asked, looking at his younger counterpart.
          "Something's wrong with the door," Katsu observed, squinting.
          "What do you mean?" Shiro asked, blinking.
          "I don't know. Something's been added," he turned to Shiro, his brow furrowed in thought. He placed his hands on his hips and frowned in annoyance.
         Shiro opened his mouth to reply, but the sound of marching feet brought them both back to the present, as if he had just been shocked. They exchanged glances for a brief second before racing down a door-less hallway.
         The patrol of samurai passed by without even glancing down the hallway. The pair breathed a sigh of relief and looked at each other.
          "I think that's enough for now," Shiro breathed. Katsu agreed, but said nothing. Instead he nodded and and the pair set off at an easy pace to report the news.

          "There's something wrong with the doors," Katsu explained. He looked at Hideki, who was confused, but not worried.
          "I'm sure it will not be hard to open the cells, even if there are new locks," the older man reasoned.
         Katsu persisted, even so. "There is something much different about them, though," the boy insisted.
         Hideki placed a hand on Katsu's shoulder. "Katsu-kun, I have trusted you since the day I met you, so there is no reason for me to doubt your observations. If something is truley wrong with the doors, we will figure it out when we get there."
         Katsu nodded and swallowed nervously. "Do you think we can do it?" he asked, his voice shaking slightly.
          "We have a force that can outmatch any samurais that come our way," Hideki assured him.
          "But we are many less than them," the boy said with a worried frown.
          "But we have each other, remember? That is something the samurai will never have." He squeezed Katsu's shoulder reassuringly.
          "Stop talking like that. You're starting to sound soft!" Katsu smiled through his anxiety.
          "Wh-hey! It is the softness that makes us stronger, am I right?" Hideki grinned. "Now let's get going."
         The hallway was filled with the sound of cloth slippers on concrete. They were fifteen - not a large number by any means in comparison to the multitudes of samurai, but it was enough to make a difference, and that was all that mattered. Shiro lead the group, racing back to the door he had me the young boy in. Katsu brought up the back, making sure no one got left behind.
          "Spread out," Hideki ordered, indicating the far ends of the hallway. Kenji and Shiro raced to obey, each carrying a pipe. Hideki tossed them each a pair of metal balls. "If you get into trouble, toss these in the air and hit them at the samurai."
          "Like baseball?" Kenji grinned.
          "Exactly," Hideki nodded. He turned to Ichiro and motioned for the doctor to come closer. "Is everyone in position?" 
         The group was spread out, weapons raised and ready for attack. Even Suki, her jaw set in grim determination, was ready for anything.
         Katsu strolled over next to Maeko, who looked rather nervous. She stood with her knees bent, the pipe held in front of her like a katana. He looked at her for a moment, then reached over the adjust her grip. As he put his hands on her's, he realized she was shaking. But, he simply moved her thumb a little to help her grip become stronger, then stepped away and coughed awkwardly.
         She looked at him, her face turning just a tinge of pink. Then she looked away, her face becoming a mask of scared determination. He smiled a little and looked at her out of the corner of his eye.
          "Okay, let's get going, doctor-san," he said to Ichiro with a grin.
         At the same time, the men jammed their keys into the locks. Hideki gave a triumphant laugh when they both went in. Perhaps the locks were not different. He tried to turn the key, but it wouldn't budge. The men exchanged worried glances and tried to turn the keys again, but they wouldn't turn.
          "What's wrong?" Shiro asked, looking down the hallway. Kenji copied, raising an eyebrow.
          "The key!" Ichiro exclaimed, struggling with his makeshift tool. "It's stuck! It won't turn!"
          "Quiet!" Hideki hissed. "You don't know who could be listening."
         As if on cue, the sound of boots on concrete echoed down the halls. The group remained absouletly still, bareley breathing.
          "I heard them, over here!"
         Hideki yanked his key out with such force, the end broke off and stayed in the door. "Everyone, back to the collection room!" he hissed.
         The group took off running, not even needing a second bit of encouragement. Hideki helped them all along, making sure they all were down the hallway before turning back to see Ichiro was still struggling at the door.
          "Ichi-kun! We have to go!" he yelled back at his friend.
          "But, the key! If he finds it again, there's no telling what could happen!"
         The voice from down the hallway called again. "Yeah, I just heard them, too!" The sound of boots increased. They were picking up speed.
          "Ichi-kun!"
          "Just a moment longer! It's almost out!" the doctor hissed.
          "Ichiro! Let's go!"
          "There they are!" An attendant dressed in the black and red dressings of the shogun pointed at Ichiro and Hideki, both standing in front of the door, trying to pull the key out. 
         Hideki grabbed the other man's hand and pulled him as hard as he could, but Ichiro slipped and fell over his own feet. The samurai were on them in seconds.
          "There's a man that wants to talk to you, little man," the attendant said, grabbing Hideki by his collar, forcing him to his feet. "And I can tell you, he is not a happy man at all."
          "Is his name Tokubaka?" Hideki sneered.
         The attendant growled. "He'll know about that insult as well, Wonton-abe, you limp piece of ramen."
          "Look he has a sense of humor, too," Hideki chuckled, pointing at the attendant.
          "Restrain them," the attendant said with a growl. The samurai obeyed without question. But even if they would, what would they question? Their humanity had been stripped of them.

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