Without a Yesterday
by Kristen Lee Knapp
part 1 of 2
She woke naked, the frigid feel of the metal beneath her stabbing frosty daggers into her flesh.
“Relax now.” A firm hand rested against her forehead. “You mustn’t overexert yourself.”
“Where... But who...” When she tried to speak the words stumbled out, unfamiliar and strange.
A finger tapped her forehead. “No doubt you have a thousand questions. I will do my best to answer them. But you must try to slow down. You’ve been through quite an ordeal. Your vessel was knocked wildly off course and crash landed. We think it was a rogue meteor. You were the only survivor.”
She tried to open her eyes. An incinerating white light burned them shut. “I can’t remember anything,” she said.
“You’re lucky to be alive Ms. Memry.” He paused. “That’s your name. Ms. Sylph Memry. This all must seem very strange to you. Please remain calm and listen to my proposal.”
“Where am I?”
“A secure location.”
“This is not a dream.”
“Then... I’m a criminal?”
“No. You are a fine young woman. You’ve broken no laws. One of the top of your class. Graduated magna cum laude. Community service awards. Your mother must be proud.”
She tried again to open her eyes. This time she withstood the burning and the room slowly took shape, four pristine and sterile white walls.
“You’re recovering your senses.” He was an old man with a silver beard and a kindly face.
“Who are you?”
“Sometimes knowing too much is as perilous as too little. You would be wise to ask only the necessary questions.”
“Let me out,” she said.
The old man nodded and the restraints vanished into the table.
She sat up. “If I haven’t done anything, what do you want?”
“There is a casino at the very edge of the galaxy, Gifu Casino, named after a castle from the Muromachi period of Japanese history. We require you to travel there and become employed as a dealer.”
She rubbed her forehead. She dug her fingers into her hair and was surprised to see it was a rich, chocolate-color hue.
“Gifu is owned by Ujimasa Motonobu Tojo, known as Tojo-sama,” said the old man. “Born in the Japanese colonies, served in their expeditionary navies and helped chart the last reaches of the galaxy. Served with distinction in the War. Became rich trading. Suspected Yakuza ties. He’s murdered every agent we’ve sent.”
“If you know that, why don’t you arrest him?”
“Because there’s no proof. Not as tough we need it. But killing agents isn’t his game. Something else is going on. Something that inspired him to invest in cerebral recognizers and levy an army of mercenaries.”
“The brain is an electrochemical organ. It sends out its own waves. Tojo’s scanners can somehow detect our agents and operatives. Our basic training exercises are designed to condition our agents to extreme situations and psychological duress. That conditioning is apparently easy to spot. We need eyes inside of Gifu. We need you.”
Sylph wobbled to her feet. “Why should I?”
“You have accumulated a rather large debt.”
“So I should risk my life for money?”
“It may interest you to know it has been several years since your accident.”
Her throat tightened. “How long?”
“Several,” the old man said. “We have only now been able to revive you. The tissue damage was extensive. Unfortunately your loan companies have an exponential growth chart for penalty late fees, escalating for each month the debt goes unpaid. Your debt is rather astronomical I fear. If we were to release you it would be to a debtor’s prison.”
She sat. “That’s not right. How can they expect me to pay?”
“Your memories are buried but not lost. They can be retrieved from your subconscious mind. The brain accumulates things, stores things. Like a vault. You will notice your vocabulary remains. As do other skills.” He set a deck of cards down in front of her. “Shuffle these.”
“I don’t understand.”
* * *
She flipped through them. Her fingers moved in a sudden flurry as she began shuffling them, stripping them, weaving them, piling them.
“Your mother worked as a dealer at the Flamingo. Your father was a pit boss. They passed their skills to you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “What’s the difference? I can’t remember any of it. It isn’t my life any more.”
The old man smiled. “But it can be again. All you need do is work in a casino for a week. Days even. We will erase your debt and return your memories. And we will make you a rich woman.”
. “Keep your money,” she said. “I want my memories. I want my life back.”
Tojo never loses. She dealt the first three face up cards for a game of hold ’em: the jack of hearts, the jack of diamonds, the ace of spades.
Two of the players folded, sliding their cards across the table to her. “Three players,” she said.
“Twenty thousand,” Smith said, tossing in two 10,000 chips. He was a gaunt-faced man with a needle-pointed mustache.
“Call.” Rodrigo slid his chips in.
Tojo matched their bets. He hadn’t lost all night thanks to his dealer. No glimmer of pleasure could be seen on the chiseled lines of his face or in his joyless eyes.
She dealt the next card, the 8 of diamonds.
Smith checked his cards and ground his teeth. The tiniest smile curled on Rodrigo’s thin lips. Tojo snorted. “Check,” Smith said.
“Raise.” Tojo slid two 50,000 chips into the pot.
Smith grew a shade paler. “Fold, fold, fold,” he said, tossing his cards away.
Rodrigo’s smile widened into a toothy grin. He looked at Tojo and pushed his chips in.
“Call. Two players.” She dealt the next card: the jack of spades.
Rodrigo twisted his lips and tossed two more 50,000 chips into the pot. “Tienes los cojones?”
Tojo matched his bet.
Rodrigo flipped his cards. The ace of clubs and the queen of hearts.
“A full house. Jacks full of aces.”
Tojo flipped his cards. The jack of clubs and the two of diamonds.
“Four of a kind. Tojo-sama wins.”
Tojo gathered his winnings.
Rodrigo’s face went purple. “Tramposo!”
Silence. Men in dark suits emerged from the ambient crowds and encircled the table. Tojo’s son Hide appeared behind Rodrigo. Light flashed across gunmetal inside his coat.
“Nan ja?” Tojo looked at her.
She translated in her halting Japanese.
“We both speak English Rodrigo-san. Explain your words,” Tojo said.
“I’ve watched this little puta here feed you winning hands all night.”
“Are you saying you want your money back?” said Tojo. Murmurs of laughter.
Rodrigo licked his lips. “Give me your jacket,” he said to her.
She handed it to him. Rodrigo examined it. “Roll up your sleeves,” he said. She did.
“No.” Rodrigo snatched the cards from the table and searched them. A glossy sheen of sweat dampened his bald forehead. He shuffled the cards. “One more game. Winner takes all.”
“All,” Tojo said.
“All. All the winnings.”
Tojo stared at him.
Rodrigo laughed. “Que pasa, amigo? No tienes cojones?”
Sylph knew there was no way for Tojo to refuse and save face. “Agreed,” he said. “Deal.”
Rodrigo passed her the deck of cards. She shuffled the cards again and dealt. The entire casino floor seemed to be watching.
She dealt. The six of clubs. The ace of diamonds. The ace of hearts. No folds. No raises, everything was already on the line. The four of clubs. The three of clubs.
Rodrigo threw down his cards. The ace of clubs and the ace of spades.
Tojo flipped his cards: the five and seven of clubs. He stood and yawned. “Excuse me. I will retire for the evening..” He bowed his head a fraction and walked off.
“That’s impossible,” Rodrigo mumbled. Tojo’s guards dragged him away screaming. His shouts were soon drowned in the electric buzz of the casino.
“Well done,” Hide said.
“How did you do it?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Do you know what the statistical odds of getting a straight flush are?” Hide smiled. “Of course you do. You sent a clear message. Well done.”
“Wakarimasen,” she said, emphatic.
Understanding kindled in Hide’s eyes. “Of course. Please excuse me, I was merely taken aback at my father’s luck and skill.” He withdrew with a courteous half bow.
With an exact and calculating precision she began to shuffle the cards for the next game.
She stalked through the casino, under a barrage of glitzy lights and an orchestra of sounds: roulette wheels spinning, reels turning, patrons laughing and coins cashing out. Tojo’s guards lurked everywhere, black shadows hunting silently through the bubbly atmosphere of Gifu’s casino floor.
She surrendered her purse to the security waiting at the exit checkpoints and stepped through the cerebral scanners. The guard was a portly man with sunken eyes, and Sylph constantly caught him staring unabashedly at her chest. He handed her bag back. “Rough night?”
She smiled and leaned against the counter. “Too rough.”
“Can I help?”
“Can you?” Sylph folded her arms. “I’m embarrassed to even ask. I was in Mr. Rodrigo’s suite for a party. I’m afraid I left something there.”
“He left,” he said, nearly salivating.
“Could I trouble you for the passkey?”
The guard nearly dropped the key in his hurry to hand it over. She thanked him and promised him she would see him again soon and left.
She ascended on one of the lifts. The tall spires and flashing lights of the casino below flared up like a burning city. She passed the archives, the arcades, the restaurants, the theaters, the aquarium, the zoo, upward into the luxury suites.
She stepped off the lift and into another checkpoint. The guard on duty looked at her and the monitor and sat back.
She came to Rodrigo’s room and passed inside the filched key. The room was empty. Furniture looked as though it had never been used. Stars coasted by outside the window. She searched the room.
Flames crackled awake in the fireplace. “Konbanwa Sylph-chan.”
She spun. Hide leaned over the balcony and smiled.
“You surprised me,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
She bowed her head. “Gomen nasai, Hide-sama.”
“How ironic. Rodrigo spent so much on this suite. Now my father owns it again.” He walked down the stairs. “Maybe I could convince him to give it to you. Would you like that? One taste of the finer things in life and you’ll never go back. Did you ever read Alice in Wonderland?”
“No.” Maybe she had in her previous life.
“No? The story begins as Alice is with her sister near a river. She’s bored. She sees a white rabbit, and she decides to follow it. You’ve never heard of this?”
“Alice follows it down into the rabbit hole, where she has all sorts of adventures. Adventures like you can’t imagine. Would you have gone down the rabbit hole?”
“I’ll talk to my father. I still don’t understand how you stacked the deck like that..”
Neither did she. She thanked whoever her mother and father were for teaching her, they had undoubtedly saved her life.
“There’s a gorgeous view from here,” said Hide. “Like a tapestry.” He looked at his wristwatch. “Perfect timing.”
He pointed at a twinkling speck of light. “See there?”
“No. That’s our dear friend Rodrigo, along with Mr. Smith and my father’s other guests. They’re leaving Gifu, never to return.”
The light flickered and went out.
“Another snake’s head lopped off. I never liked him anyway.”
She swallowed. “He’s dead?”
Hide smiled. “You’re innocent. My father will cauterize the wound, don’t worry. With enough money Rodrigo’s organization will never miss him.”
“Just for insulting him?”
“I never said my father isn’t eccentric.” He traced his finger across her neckline.
“I should go.”
“So soon? What are you doing here?”
“What are you?”
“You’ve only been here two months. You don’t know my father. He’s losing his mind. I have to stop him. Do you understand? He’s going to ruin us. His plan is insane.”
She turned to leave. He grabbed her. “You knew I was here. That’s what you came for. Wasn’t it?”
“No,” she whispered.
“You aren’t a very accomplished liar.” He clamped his fingers around her breast.
She planted her palm in his chest and sent him staggering back. He stared at her, his face uncomprehending.
“I’m not a whore,” she said. “Not yours. Or anyone’s.” She looped her arms over his neck. “I came for you. But if you won’t let me in then I’m in the wrong room.” She pressed her lips to his neck and trailed downwards.
He told her everything.
She stood in front of the mirror. The gown she’d picked was cognac-colored silk with a strapless neckline and frilly, crinkled tiers. She fidgeted uncomfortably in it, shifting and tugging at the dress in growing exasperation. Neither her garnet droplet earrings nor her golden lariat necklace seemed right either.
Tojo had personally invited her to deal for a private game. If she played her cards right this could be her last night on Gifu. She felt close, close to escaping and reclaiming her life and memories.
She leaned toward the mirror and applied a poppy-red lipstick. It didn’t seem to match her bright brown eyes, a shade too dark to be green. In her two months at Gifu she’d grown to accept her appearance, but Sylph couldn’t shake the distinct and peculiar feeling that the face in the mirror wasn’t hers. She reminded herself that she had experienced a very horrific accident. There had likely been some surgical reconstruction of her face. She grabbed her bag and left.
The air on the casino floor smelled different. Tonight was her first time since her arrival that she wasn’t on duty, working the tables, or on her way back to her room after a double or triple shift. The heady glam of the casino lights enveloped her, causing her gown to sparkle. The distinct smell of pouring liquor from the many bars teased her nostrils. When she looked up, she observed thousands of guests bustling about the many levels of Gifu, like so many ants in a hill. There was an undeniable sense of majesty to Gifu, an ostentatious monument to the galaxy’s elite and corrupt.
She could feel heads turn and eyes stare as she walked toward the lifts. It only reminded her of her encounter with Hide. The sex had been quick and unsatisfying, not only because he revolted her or because he was incapable, but because he hadn’t made the slightest effort to pleasure her. When he had finished, he rolled over and fell into a snoring sleep. She supposed she shouldn’t hold it against him. He’d revealed everything she’d hoped and more in their brief rendezvous. Sylph suspected that he had outlived his usefulness, which made what she had to do next much easier.
The lift carried her up to the pinnacle of Gifu, to the entrance to Tojo’s penthouse. As she’d expected, a security checkpoint guarded the entrance. A tall Japanese man dressed in a dark suit and wearing a big smile bowed before her. She returned the perfunctory show of respect. “You must be Ms. Sylph-san. Good evening, welcome. I am Gai. Tojo-sama has entrusted me with his personal security. So sorry, but I must ask for your bag while we search you.”
Sylph complied, handing her bag to one of the other guards. Gai stepped behind her and began to frisk her thoroughly. When their search was complete, they ushered her in.
The incredible penthouse consisted of four complete floors of Gifu, as vast as it was extravagant. A waterfall rushed downward from above, stirring the waters of a sprawling pond filled with overfed koi. Antiques ranging from katana swords to full suits of armor, from propeller-powered vehicles of the mid-20th century to matchlock rifles were in evidence. Most striking of all was a winding sakura tree, its branches laden with new blossoms, fluffy and pristinely white.
Hide descended the stairs. “Sylph-san.”
“Hide-sama.” She bowed.
He smiled and her stomach rolled. “You’re gorgeous,” he said.
“Just be natural tonight. My father’s quite taken with you. He wants to reward you. Whatever he offers, accept. We don’t want him to know about us or the plan. That’s the future. Wakarimasu ka?”
“Wakarimasu.” They climbed the stairs together. The fourth floor was decorated in traditional Japanese style, complete with tatami flooring and sliding shoji for doors. They slid off their shoes and entered.
The room was as lavishly decorated as the rest of the penthouse, the sliding walls painted with various prints of Japanese woodblocks. Tojo was sitting high on a decorative cushion, his legs folded beneath him. Four men in formal dinner jackets sat on either side.
Tojo pointed to opposite seats. “Kochira.”
They sat where they where bid.
“The guests for this evening’s game,” Tojo said. “Moseley, owner of a diamond mining operation in the Cerberus belt.”
Moseley was a weasel of a man with tiny eyes, a thin mustache and a bulbous nose. He nodded, never having glanced at Sylph.
“Possamai. He owns several dozen casinos.”
“Enchanté, mademoiselle.” Mr. Possamai dipped his head, the sagging folds of flesh beneath his chin overlapping.
“Al-Fulan, a professional gambler.”
Copyright © 2009 by Kristen Lee Knapp