Volume 12, Chapter 17-1: Spring Training Camp Day 2, In the Future Once More

Sunday Spring Quarter 2016 Week 2

“Is it really safe?” I stared at Tess, questioning her judgment.

“It’s an efficient, accelerated growth opportunity,” Tess replied, adjusting one of her hairpins.

I understood her reasoning but still didn’t like the idea. She pulled me aside once I arrived, asking to speak with me in private. Tess decided it was in my best interest to train with the future versions of the heroes through a mind dive.

“When did you consider this?” I questioned, spinning around in the office hair.

“A few days ago. I was unsure of potential complications. However, if they lack a Gatekeeper, then that complicates the process. I support Long’s idea for your cousin to take over. She is more than capable,” Tess answered.

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“You seem rather… well, calm about your… you know,” I stammered.

“Her future is not definite. There’s no reason for any sorrow. Your goal is to mend Mirei’s alternate outcome. I suggest you take care when utilizing your powers. I lack insight on any repercussions,” Tess warned.

“You’ll bail me out if something goes wrong, right?” I stared straight into her eyes, seeking reassurance.

“Yes. I assume responsibility,” Tess confirmed, giving me a confident nod.

“What about everyone else?” I stood up, massaging my sore back.

“They’ll continue training,” Tess responded.

Zhuyu and Kisai entered the main laboratory, already dressed in workout clothes. The zero vector user wore a long-sleeved athletic shirt with the local football team logo, a Chinese sparrowhawk, across the center of it. He also wore a pair of black joggers and the same shoes from yesterday. Kisai wore an unbuttoned white-dress shirt, a plain red T-shirt underneath it, and gray basketball pants. Both men’s hair were wet, sweat drenching their foreheads. Guess Tess must have sent them out on an early training session.

“How’s your body feeling, Tomo?” Kisai asked, logging in onto a computer.

“Not great. It hurts pretty much everywhere,” I answered, noticing a research paper appearing on his screen.

“You should try the sauna at the training facility or here. There’s trace amounts of healing magic involved so it’ll help out with the soreness and pain,” Kisai suggested, calling his friend over.

of course no one mentioned this yesterday. I should definitely visit once today’s training concluded. Although, where the hell was the sauna located? It would have been a useful amenity to know about after returning from the Crossroads and other dimensions. Zhuyu scratched his hair, shaking his head as Kisai informed him about a graph. A minute later, the two researchers entered.

“Morning Tomo! I’m rather excited. The results we obtain from you are always very helpful,” Emily greeted.

“That’s great to hear. It’s pretty entertaining for me too,” I said.

“Long and Jin, please prepare for our upcoming discussion. The relevant pages are listed in the shared document,” Tess instructed.

Emily led me over to a pod, helping me into it. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Okay, what would happen this time? Hopefully, the time elapse wasn’t too significant.

“Holy…,” Jacque uttered as a pile of pens from his desk fell.

Jacque’s apartment, huh? Three display screens were mounted to the walls. A wide light table used for drawing was beneath them. The artist adjusted his glasses, grabbing the pens from the floor.

“Yuki, you scared the s*** out of me. How do you keep just appearing out of nowhere?” Jacque pushed his chair in, turning off the light source illuminating his drafting table.

“I wish I could tell you, Jacque. Hey, I got a favor to ask,” I requested, handing him the remaining pens.

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“Let me text Long. I’m pretty sure I’m not the person you want to ask. Hmm, it’s been about two week since the last time,” Jacque informed me, checking his phone.

I sat down in a nearby sofa, explaining the situation. Jacque nodded, tracing over lines on sketches.

“What are you working on?” I glanced over his shoulder.

“Some project for a fashion line Felicity is working on. It’s not even my department but all the available designers are off. Only reason I’m doing it because she’s paying me overtime,” Jacque revealed.

“What kind of team just takes a break?” I was worried about Felicity’s company.

“who knows? Things are messed up right now. Felicity’s dealing with a merger she just finalized. The suits haven’t sorted everything out yet. Since you’re here Yuki, mind giving me a hand?” Jacque questioned.

“Sure, I did just drop in here without telling you, so it’s fair,” I agreed.

Jacque provided a quick walkthrough of inking the preliminary sketches. I messed up at first, but did a decent job by the third drawing. This was a thick stack though. Why was Jacque assigned so much s*** to do when he was the only person working on it?

“Are you responsible for all of this?” I waved my pen over the pile.

“Pretty much. Feels like I’m back in school again. It’s the best,” Jacque joked, depositing a finished page into a cardboard box.

“You have to send all of this somewhere?” I noticed a mailing label on it.

“Yep, back to the place that sent all of this to me in the first place,” Jacque answered, grabbing a new pen.

“Felicity put you in a rather bad position,” I commented, handing a finished page over to him.

“Kind of my fault really. The bosses aren’t fond of me asking for extensions, but I do good work. Guess that makes up for it,” Jacque said.

“Nothing ever changes, huh?” I remarked.

After two hours, Jacque finally called it a day. I searched for a clock, but didn’t see one anywhere. The artist seemed like the type to not have one anyways.

“Probably should drive you back to your place,” Jacque decided.

“Oh yeah, I do have a place here. I keep popping in and out though. Doesn’t anyone at the apartment building find it strange?” I wondered.

“That’s a good question. You should ask Long or Jin,” Jacqu recommended.

Jacque drove me back to my apartment, telling me he would contact Long and the others. I unlocked my phone, checking the date. Everyone should be free tomorrow since it was Saturday.

Saturday, 20XX

I woke up, looking around the room in confusion. Oh yeah, this wasn’t my normal room. Time to check out the closet and see what I could change into. I yanked it open and discovered a wide selection. I checked one of the labels and found the Sica company label. Not to mention, it was one of their higher end labels too.

“Only in my dreams I would have so many nice clothes,” I muttered, deciding not to touch any of it.

My phone rumbled. Oh, a message from Jacque, he was picking me up in an hour. My next priority was food. So strange, living in an apartment. But, this was a good experience, preparation for when I moved out. Definitely no way I could afford a house unless I was loaded like Felicity or Tess. Inside the fridge, I found only packaged food.

“Yuki, you’re not the best cook. Of course, there’s no actual food in here to put together,” I thought to myself.

I sat down at the dining table, pouring cereal from the cupboard, too lazy to even heat anything up from the fridge. Before long, the doorbell rang. Jacque stood outside, wearing a fur lined hood, raising his hand up in the air to greet me.

“Yo, morning, Yuki. How do you feel? Anything different?” he greeted, taking his shoes off.

“Nothing too crazy, just feels weird to be in a place that’s not home. What’s happening today?” I rinsed my bowl in the sink, offering a glass of water to the artist.

“Meet up with Long and talk about that favor you wanted. Jin’s still out of town, doing some research. Uh, Shigetzu’s training some new lab technicians. Pretty much everyone else is busy with some kind of work,” Jacque summarized, thanking me for the water.

“Weird that Zhuyu is free then. Shouldn’t he be super busy too?” I checked around the apartment, making sure I didn’t leave anything behind.

“Long’s busy, but he’ll make time if it concerns the heroes. Don’t really think he has much to do besides preparing his lesson plan for classes on Monday,” Jacque replied, exiting first.

Twenty minutes later, we arrived at an apartment complex in the \textit{Laodi} section of the city. The \textit{Laodi} district was one of the older parts of the region. Elder people usually occupied the streets, haggling and gossiping with street vendors. However, in recent years, an influx of younger people arrived because of its proximity to the new tech companies in downtown. I didn’t even realize this was where Zhuyu lived last time. Not extremely fancy, but still considered upscale. Jacque entered a parking lot and handed the attendant a card. The barricade blocking our way lowered and the artist parked inside.

“There’s been a lot of construction around this place, huh?” I pressed the elevator button.

“Ever since the Shakai Group bought up a lot of the land. They were hella fast building all of this. Long lives on the third floor. Pretty nice place, I hang out with Long whenever I’m not swamped with work,” Jacque replied, watching the numbers change on the display above the buttons.

“Must be pretty amazing,” I commented.

We arrived on the third floor and Jacque led me to a door labeled “3M”. He pressed the buzzer and pulled out his phone. The door behind the metal grate swung open. Zhuyu wore a disheveled dress shirt and the back of his hair stuck out in all directions. Seemed like he just woke up.

“Oh, it’s you guys. Come in,” Zhuyu greeted, suppressing a yawn.

Inside, the entire place was tidy. Jacque sat down on the sofa and peered downward. What was he looking at? There was an organized shelf of video game cases. Although, their appearance was different than ones I saw before.

“Wait, all of these are visual novels. Damn it, Long, you freakin’ got me,” Jacque exclaimed, peering at the back of one of the cases.

“What? Nah, that’s your fault. The ones you’re looking for are over there,” Zhuyu informed him, pointing at the adjacent shelf.

“Sweet. I haven’t played this in awhile,” Jacque said, placing his finger on a game case spine.

“Uh guys, you’re forgetting the reason we’re here!” I reminded everyone.

“Wait, it wasn’t to play games, damn!” Jacque shook his head in disappointment.

“Jacque, go ahead. I’ll talk with Zhuyu,” I decided, glancing over at the math instructor.

He led me into the dining room. I saw a bowl of oatmeal on the table. It was a strange dark gray color, containing a seafood odor. It wasn’t pungent, but definitely not a smell I associated with that type of food.

“What is that?” I pointed at his bowl.

“Oatmeal with shrimp sauce from last night’s dinner. And eggs,” Zhuyu answered, stirring the mixture with his spoon.

“Never tried it before,” I remarked.

“Yeah, not something people usually do with oatmeal. From what I heard, you willingly returned this time,” Zhuyu responded, placing a spoonful of it into his mouth.

“Sorta of, it’s more Tess’ idea than mine,” I revealed.

“Tess, huh? Fits her style. So, what does she want you to do?” Zhuyu questioned, pouring a cup of tea for me.

“Training, pretty sure you know what that means,” I answered, taking a small sip.

“I assume Tess is hoping by training with us in the future, your growth will increase at a faster pace than in your own timeline. Although, I have to tell you, it’s not going to be fun. Might be worse than Tess’ training sessions,” Zhuyu said, a serious look on his face.

“That bad? What are you planning?” I couldn’t even imagine anything worse than Tess’ beatdowns.

“Just basic training, right?” Zhuyu grinned, finishing his breakfast.

“Hah, you guys still aren’t telling me everything, just great,” I said before asking for a refill of tea.

“I really don’t know what I can teach you. I don’t know what level you’re at so I rather not push you,” Zhuyu admitted.

“You can’t exactly pull up an artificial dimension so how will we train?” I realized.

“Luckily, your cousin accepted the role of Gatekeeper. One less thing to worry about,” Zhuyu revealed, tossing his bowl into the sink and filling it with water.

“Yukie accepted? She is the type of girl to do that. What does she know so far?” I asked.

“She’s a quick learner so almost caught up with everything. I hope she’s free today,” Zhuyu replied.

“Did you tell her anything about me?” I watched him pour dish washing soap into the soaked bowl.

“I haven’t brought it up really. I assumed you wouldn’t come back, but here you are again. I’ll call Yukie and see what we can do,” Zhuyu responded, scrubbing the bowl with a sponge.

I waited as he spoke with my cousin. His face showed no noticeable signs of emotion. When he hung up, the man gave me a confident look.

“Yukie is free. We’ll meet up around 1. She’s very interested in speaking with you,” Zhuyu relayed.

“Got it. What are we going to do until then?” I watched him wash his hands after putting a bowl and pot into the dish dryer.

“Play games?” Zhuyu shrugged his shoulders.

“Seriously?” I stood up, glaring at the man.

“What did you have in mind?” Zhuyu cleaned the table with a wet wipe.

“I was hoping you had a good idea,” I replied, frustrated he didn’t provide an actual answer.

“How about some math lessons?” Zhuyu offered, a sincere look accompanying his words.

“What do you mean? That doesn’t sound fun at all,” I asked, confused by his offer.

“You might find it helpful for developing the zero vector power. Makes sense to learn it from the person who actually uses it, right? Don’t worry, I’ll try not to delve into any unnecessary theory if possible,” Zhuyu clarified.

“Guess that makes sense. Okay, let’s do it,” I agreed.

I learned a few tricks about his powers during the next two hours. Zhuyu explained an move which I never understood the execution for. This was actually enjoyable which scared me. Was it his teaching or just motivation on my part to learn more?

“That’s how it’ll work. This is a good stopping point,” Zhuyu concluded his lesson.

Jacque came in a few times during my lessons, but exited right away after glancing at Zhuyu’s piece of paper. I couldn’t blame him. The math instructor and I returned to the living room. Jacque cursed, sighing as he placed his game controller down on the sofa.

“Jacque, we’re ready to go. Need to grab anything from your car?” Zhuyu opened up a drawer, grabbing his keys.

“Just my sketchbook. Been awhile since I’ve drawn anything in it,” Jacque answered, turning off the TV.

“Cool, meet me by my car, unless you want to drive,” Zhuyu said, swinging his lanyard around on his finger.

“Nope, I’ll take the free ride,” Jacque declined with a grin.

A few minutes later, Jacque entered Zhuyu’s car, carrying a sketchbook in his right hand. I thought he might bring all his gear, but the man only carried a small art tote bag. Although, bringing all of his equipment was probably too bulky. It made sense for him to travel light.

“The meeting place is the training facility? I thought Felicity would have sold the place by now,” I asked Zhuyu.

“It’s kind of on the outskirts so no one really cares,” Zhuyu explained.

“Until people want to build houses there,” Jacque chirped.

“Yeah, that’s true. I expect we’ll have to clean up the place. No one has been there in years as far as I know,” Zhuyu agreed.

The man parked outside the building. It looked the same to me. The windows sparkled in the dim sunlight, no traces of any buildup. The entryway was clear of debris and a bit damp. Who did this? Zhuyu said he wasn’t aware of anyone coming here.

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