Chapter 4
My Father the Sellout

Royal Precinct, Tianjing

It had been four days since Yasuko arrived in the Capital. Her time was divided mostly between her lessons and additional beauty treatments. She would only see her mother once or twice in a day and never for very long. No real chance to actually talk with her, not that Yasuko had any idea what to say around her. There was some childish part of her longing to reach out to her, to have the sort of mother-daughter connection she'd dream about when she was a little girl, after Tía Nayeli died. Then there was the part of her who saw her mother as just another Celestial, an enemy she'd have to kill one day. It was probably just as well that they didn't see much of each other.
She was in the middle of her music lesson. Her mother had been a renowned player of the koto and it was thought that Yasuko had inherited the gift. A talent for music was said to be a shortcut for advancement in social circles, but Yasuko doubted she could get the hang of it.
Her music teacher was a strange old man. He didn't speak a word. He only communicated by the occasional hand gesture and he taught by demonstrating the actions he wanted her to reproduce. He started by plucking a string and waiting for Yasuko to produce the same note. As she did that, they progressed to two notes at a time, then three and now four. Much unlike her other teachers, he didn't get angry or yell at her whenever she made a mistake. He would simply play the notes again, though if she made the same mistake too many times, his plucking of the strings became decidedly more insistent.
Yasuko had just flubbed another sequence of four notes. Her teacher played the notes again, but before she make another go at it, the door opened and in walked her father.
"Am I interrupting?" he asked.
The music teacher bowed his head in silent greeting and her father nodded in reply. He then asked the teacher, "Would you mind stepping out for a moment? I'd like to speak to my daughter."
The music teacher nodded, motioned for his assistants to pick up his koto and together they left the room. As the door closed behind them, Yasuko and her father exchanged awkward glances in silence for a moment before he finally spoke up.
"You, you're lookin' nice," he said to her, switching from Celestial to Lingua. "Almos' didn't recognize ya."
"I almost don't recognize me either," Yasuko replied.
"So, how're ya likin' the Capital?"
Yasuko sprang to her feet, which wasn't easy in her kimono, and shouted, "What the hell, Papi!? What the actual hell's goin' on here!?"
"I could ask could ask ya the same thing," her father replied, not getting angry like she did but sounding more than a little perturbed. "How'd ya get back here?"
"I stowed away on the space elevator."
Her father's eyes widened as he sputtered, "The, the space ele-- That's suicide!"
"Not if you're prepared it ain't."
Still reeling a bit, he switched gears and said, "Okay then, why'd ya come back? I left ya with Jorge so ya'd be safe. Why'd he--"
"Tío Jorge's dead, Papi," she said bluntly. "Been dead almost six years now."
This staggered him further.
"What? Dead? How?"
"Some Celestials tried ta take me away. He resisted. They killed him."
Yasuko balled up her hands into fists. Yes, that was why she was here. For revenge. And her father was working for the enemy.
He took hold of her shoulders and asked her, "Nayeli?"
"Tía Nayeli died a couple years before Tío. TB, I guess."
The empty look in her father's eyes when he asked about Tía Nayeli showed he was already expecting it, but when Yasuko told him, the strength drained out of his hands and his arms fell limply to his sides.
"Nayeli... Jorge..."
Yasuko felt a flush of anger and promptly shoved him.
"Don't you dare!" she snapped. "Don't you dare act sad when you're workin' for the people who killed them!"
Her father went quiet. This only served to make Yasuko angrier. She shoved him again, but even without any strength to him, he bared budged from where he stood.
"What... What've you been doin' all this time?" he asked in a dazed voice.
Although part of her wanted to keep pushing and shouting at him, Yasuko found her anger being dialed down to a simmer.
"Been goin' from place ta place," she told him, "wherever I could find my next meal an' learn what I needed."
"Learn what ya needed for what?"
Yasuko just glared at him silently, telling him everything he needed to know. A fresh wave of energy snapped him out of his daze and he took hold of her shoulders again.
"I don't know what ya think ya can do," he said, "but it ain't gonna work. There's eyes an' ears ever'where here. Nothin' ya say or do's a secret an' your mother's name only protects ya so far. Whatever ya got planned, give it up before it's too late."
She continued to glare at him, but then he drew her in close and hugged her tightly.
"I'm sorry, Yasuko... I'm so sorry... I never meant for it ta turn out like this."
It shouldn't have affected her. If her resolve was even half as solid as it needed to be, she would've felt nothing and went right on being angry at her father, resenting him, hating him, but it wasn't like that at all. Held in her father's arms, it was like the clock had been turned back ten years to those faded memories from before the time she was left in Tío Jorge's care. It felt like she was going to burst into tears any moment, but she fought it with every fiber of her being. Whatever feelings were being dredged up, she refused to show any weakness.
"I need time ta think thin's out," her father said. "Too many people know 'bout ya now. I need ya ta lay low, play 'long with all the stuff your mother's got ya doin' an' above all, don't do nothin' stupid."
He pulled her away from him so he could look her in the eyes.
"Ya got me?"
As much as she wanted to defy him, to spit in his face and call him a traitor, all she ended up doing was simply nodding and saying, "Alright, Papi."
"There's a lot I wanna talk ta ya 'bout," he said, "but I don't know when I'll get the chance. Take care a' yourself an' stay outta trouble. Don't give your mother any grief. She'll jus' blame it on me."
He cracked a feeble grin that Yasuko couldn't help returning. As much as she wanted to hate him, knew that she was supposed to hate him, when she looked into his eyes, she just couldn't. They'd been apart for ten years, but he was still her father. She couldn't help loving him, even if it made her a hypocrite and a traitor right alongside him.