João Matos checked his pad again. It was as hopeless as before: no jobs that would meet the criteria. Sure, there were some that paid plenty, but he could not reconcile them with his do: dishonorable employers, unworthy targets, unsavory purposes. The ones he could reconcile to his path did not pay. He wondered if the ancient rōnin had this same problem.
A pair of small feet pattered into the room. The boy bowed. "Sensei," he said, not rising until his master would acknowledge him.
Matos stood. "Hai," he nodded to Gustavo. Even at only ten, he had learned proper manners better than most young favelados who studied at the dojo.
When Gustavo rose, Matos saw the fear in his eyes. Fear was something he had yet to master at so young an age, even if the rough life of the streets demanded it. "A man is here," he said, his voice barely steady. "He says it is for the rent."
A black eyebrow rose on João's face. "Show me him."
João followed his student out from the back room of the McDojo and through the main training hall. A few students hung around, though it was late in the day for them to be there. A few practiced their Capoeira ginga, others loitered apparently in need of shelter before the night fell. Matos didn't like the younger students especially to make it a habit, lest they attract too much unwanted attention and be accused of some unsavory trade, but he'd been lenient on it in the past and now hardly seemed like the time to drive them out.
Gustavo led him out the door, into the darkening alleyway the dojo occupied. Novo São Paolo glittered above, the setting sun making the acros look like glorious golden castles above the languishing filth of the favela. The traffic was light in the alleyway this time of day, most heading back for the shelter of their homes or enclaves before the worst of the gangs took to the streets. Gustavo pointed to an unusually well-dressed man leaning against a wall opposite his doorway. Matos nodded. So it was him. "You may go, Gustavo," he said evenly. The boy barely bowed before he bolted down the packed earth street.
As João, the other man looked up and smiled from beneath a colorful cap. "Obutsu," he greeted in Nipponese. "It has been a long time."
"Long enough," he answered back in the same tongue. "Why are you here?"
The middle-aged Nipponese man sniggered. "Oho, such quick words. Would you be done with an old benefactor so quickly?"
Matos waved a shining jet-black arm. "We have been long done. Two years done, Senpai."
The smile disappeared. "Yes, two years indeed. Two years that you have not yet paid back your debt!" He spat in the ground. "You have earned your name well, Obutsu, living among filth and acting the part!"
João crossed his metal arms across his chest, their roughly humanoid form obviously artificial even beneath his tattered gi. "I considered our contract done the day Ken-sama was arrested and your branch here fell. I fulfilled all that could be done."
"Not all," the Nipponese corrected with a wag of his finger. "A true bushi would have gone to the death. You still owe Tsurogi corporation that."
Matos snorted. "Shall I die now for you, Takeda-san? I do not suppose that would pay your debts." He nodded, the stiff queue his course black hair was tied in bobbing. "That is your only real concern, is it not?"
Takeda shrugged. "We must all pay our debts. And since yours is left unpaid and, as you say, your death would be sadly unprofitable, I come to collect otherwise."
"By what measure?"
"Your training was incredibly expensive," he noted, producing a pad from somewhere and running through a spreadsheet. He set it to project the numbers for Matos to see. "Not to mention all these expensive enhancements! Your arms, the power supply, subdermal armor... Very expensive, Obutsu." He highlighted a total, a sum enough to buy most of the favela as chattel.
Matos waved an arm through the image, the numbers wavering. "I told you, my contract is over."
Takeda sneered. "It is not!" He punched a few more commands in and a copy of the contract appeared. "Section VI, Paragraph 3, third clause," he declared, the pad obediently highlighting the section. "'Services shall be rendered to Tsurogi Industries and its Subsidiaries, Officers, and Executors until the Company absolves the contract, or after the act of death.' The wording is clear, Senhor Matos. You broke contract, and you owe me."
"There is no Tsurogi Industries in these states!" Matos finally exploded, cutting a swift arm across to the hum of servomotors. "The law is on my side, Takeda!"
"But not honor! Not your code!" His face was red hot for a few silent moments, then he shook his head sadly. "Appeals to law, then," he said, shutting off the pad. "How sad." He turned as though to walk away. "If that is your way, then it shall be. I can appeal to the laws." He stopped and looked behind him to see Matos' reaction. There was none, but he spoke one. "Your authorities still seek out zaibatsu men. In fact, they offer a healthy bounty on any who dodged the 'zaibatsu busts'. This contract seems a solid piece of evidence, does it not? I suppose if you will not pay your debts, your government can do it for me." He shrugged and began to walk off.
Several moments passed. "Wait."
* * *
João checked the message once more before sending it.
My plans have changed. If the offer still stands for the Anchorage job, I will fill the position you requested.
I am due to arrive in Juneau tomorrow. I have chartered a boat from there to Anchorage. If I do not meet you at the docks, I will seek you out.
It was curt, more than he might give another potential employer. But he had no real inkling of Johnson's motives, and little patience. He hit send.
João picked up his cheap carry sack, which carried his few necessities, and checked his weapons. They were licensed, and a well-placed bribe would easily slip them past any securit measures. Kumorigachi, strapped safely to his hip, would raise more eyebrows than the firearms but Matos doubted anyone would have the spirit to try and remove his sword.
He walked out of the back room of the McDojo and through the main hall, where one of his renshi was leading a kata demonstration. He nodded and waited as the assistant gave an order before jogging over to Matos. "Hai, Sensei?"
"I am leaving now, Isaura," he said plainly. "I entrust the dojo to you. Have you any questions for me before I go?"
The dark-haired young woman shook her head. "No, sensei, I understand all the orders. I wish you fortune on your journey." They exchanged bows and Matos moved to leave. "When do you think you'll come back?" she called out.
He paused in the doorway. "Soon, I hope," he said honestly. He walked out into the alleyway.