Aki stared at the laundry machine. Against all common decency, the laundry machine did not stop being white and complicated.
It was Saturday, and even though she’d only been in Germany for a few days, her laundry was already starting to pile up and she was running out of clean clothes. It was enough to drive her to the laundry room of her dorm. None of the guides of the international office had said anything about laundry machines, though. They seemed to assume that anyone who made it to Munich in one piece knew how to use one.
Well, taking a plane and dealing with all the boarding procedures was easy compared to this, Aki decided. Back at home, her parents had taken care of everything, and the Arcadia Movement had employed people especially for this. She took another look at the machine, then at her pile of clothes. Thirty degrees? Forty? What would the difference even be?
None of the other students in the room looked like they had any trouble using the things. Would Yusei know? She could always call and ask… But actually, Yusei had never been the one who took care of any of the practical stuff.
With a sigh, she got out her cell phone and dialed a number. Calls to Japan were expensive, but her parents had insisted on taking care of all her phone bills, the one thing she hadn’t been able to dissuade them on. It was a small sacrifice she was suddenly happy she’d made.
It took several rings, but eventually Crow appeared on the screen, rubbing his eyes.
“Aki, what? It’s two in the morning.”
“I’m sorry,” said Aki. Time zones were a hassle she’d never liked dealing with.
“Seriously, I haven’t been woken up at two since Yusei and Bruno’s engine-” He stopped abruptly and Aki closed her eyes. Some things still hurt. “What’d you call for?”
“It’s my laundry. I can’t figure out how to use this machine.”
“And that’s why you called?” Crow sounded distinctly amused. “You couldn’t have asked someone who isn’t thousands of kilometers away?”
Aki hadn’t actually considered that, though it was obvious in hindsight. But Crow took care of all those little children, right? He’d know more about laundry than Yusei.
“Let me see,” Crow said, shaking his head. Aki held her phone in front of the machine and Crow studied it for a long time.
“Well, that’s a bit different from the one we use,” he said at long last. “I haven’t seen a temperature dial like that yet, but it should be no problem. How much laundry do you have?”
Rather a lot, if Aki said so herself. Instead of replying, she turned the phone so Crow could see the basket with her laundry. He whistled.
“You’re not planning on washing all that in one go, are you?”
She had been.
“Of course not,” she replied.
Even on the video screen, Crow’s grin was obvious, but he humored her. “Keep the whites away from anything else. If you have jeans, wash them together and turn them inside-out. It’ll keep those white lines from appearing.”
Aki had no idea which white lines he was talking about, but she nodded anyway and started sorting out her laundry.
“On second thought, just turn everything inside-out. It’ll preserve the color.”
“So that’s it? What about the water temperature?”
Crow took a long time for that one. Finally he replied, sounding somewhat hesitant for the first time: “If it’s not really dirty, just put it on thirty degrees. If there are spots that won’t come out, try forty, but be careful with that.”
Thirty, Aki decided. She didn’t feel like taking risks yet.
“D’you think you get it? Just keep the colors separated, and if anything’s wrong just call me.” Crow yawned loudly. “Though I’d prefer it if you did so at a more reasonable hour next time.”
Aki winced. “I get it, don’t worry.”
“See you, Aki.” With a last wave, Crow cut the connection. Aki looked back at the pile of laundry and pulled out a T-shirt with bright pink and dark blue flowers on it.
Now did she put that with the dark colors or the light ones?
One row behind her, a girl and a boy were holding a conversation in busily whispered German. Aki shot them an irritable look that seemed to miss them entirely. They were distracting her, and she was already having enough trouble understanding the rapid German of the lecturer.
“In the same spectrum we have Kawasaki disease, an autoimmune disease that usually targets children aged five or younger. While quite rare, it is most often found with children of Asian descent.”
Aki redoubled her efforts to take notes. A quick glance at her neighbor told her that he was writing down much more than she was, and for a moment it annoyed her. To her other side, a student was tapping away busily on a notebook computer, but when she actually caught a look of the screen, it turned out he wasn’t taking notes at all. Probably why he’d opted for a notebook instead of the much more modern handheld computers with their see-through screens. She herself had chosen to write down everything, so she could practice German more efficiently. She still kept a recording of all the classes though, in case she missed anything important.
“First described in 1967 by Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki-”
Aki made a face and wrote down Kawasaki Tomisaku.
“-symptoms include fever, bright red tongue, rashes and peeling of the skin. You’ll find a full list in your textbook.” The lectures paused for breath. “It is often confused with the similar scarlet fever.”
Aki drew an arrow from Kawasaki disease to scarlet fever. Someone tapped her on the shoulder.
“You’re Aki, right?” the girl who’d been talking behind her asked in a whisper. Aki nodded, momentarily distracted from her notes.
“I’m Eva,” the girl introduced herself. She pointed at the boy sitting next to her. “That’s Ivan. We were planning on getting together on Thursday and play a few duels, and well, we heard you duel. Care to join us?”
Aki was about to decline, but she hesitated. It had been months since she’d really dueled. Yusei hadn’t played for weeks after the Ark Cradle, and although she’d had a few friendly matches with Ruka and Rua, it had been a while since she’d faced a new opponent. Her deck was in her room. Why not?
“Where and when?” she replied.
Eva lit up. “Great! Do you know the canteen at Goethestraße?”
Aki nodded. She’d passed the place a few times, but never eaten there. She’d found a small Japanese supermarket that sold passable food and preferred to get her meals there.
“We’ll be meeting there at six thirty on Thursday and moving to some place where we can play. Is that okay for you?” Ivan said.
“That’s good.” She looked at the two of them. They seemed friendly enough, and moreover, neither of them had made a reference to her participating in the WRGP. Did they just not recognize her? She rather liked the anonymity.
“I’ll give you my number,” Eva said. She scribbled down a number and Aki quickly saved it into her phone, then sent the other girl a quick message to pass on her own number. Eva added the number. She looked delighted.
“Class is almost over,” she whispered. “Want to go have lunch with us?”
Aki looked at her watch. She had two hours before her next class. “Alright. Do you know a good place?”
“So what we really needed was just a=F/m, but I didn’t think of it.” There was a strange melancholy in Yusei’s voice. “Good thing Tadashi-san realized it.”
“Right.” Aki nodded and surreptitiously opened her textbook to the page she was supposed to read by tomorrow. “But you figured it out in the end?”
“Yes. The system is going through a test run now. We’re hoping to have the preliminary results by next week.”
“That’s great news.” Aki had long since learned that when Yusei started talking physics, it was best to just let him. She took out a pen and neatly drew a red line under the title of the chapter, then shivered a bit and wondered whether she should turn up the heat some more. It was late November, and it was freezing outside.
“How is everyone?” she asked when Yusei paused after a long-winded explanation on parameters and testing conditions. Yusei seemed slightly taken aback at the sudden change of subject.
“Rua and Ruka are staying with their parents and Jack’s participating in the Pan-Asian tournament. He’s in the semi-finals.”
Aki had expected nothing less. Ruka had already told her about the tournament in an e-mail, but information was surprisingly hard to come by.
“Crow’s staying with Martha now. He’ll be watching the kids over Christmas and Martha wants to make sure he knows everything.” Yusei smiled faintly. “He complained that he already knew what to do.”
Aki smiled in return. She was sure that Crow didn’t mind being with his kids at all. Why would Martha leave them behind in the first place, though?
“Where will Martha be?”
Yusei smiled again. “It’s kind of a Christmas present from us. She’ll be visiting Satisfaction Town and traveling around for a few weeks, and with Saiga running his own business now, Crow offered to take care of the kids.”
“Yeah, Kiryu said that she should come.” This time, Yusei sounded rather amused. Aki was glad to see him like this. It had been a long time since he’d been happy. “I hope he’s prepared.”
She realized with a brief pang of disappointment that it wasn’t her making him happy. The realization was quickly followed by another one: she was happy too.
“Yes, sorry. I was distracted.”
Yusei glanced at his watch. “I need to go back to work. We’ll have the tests results of the B gear this afternoon.”
“I’ll talk to you later,” Aki said. She smiled at him and Yusei gave her a small wave. It was Aki herself who ended the call. She looked outside. It was a clear night, despite the cold. Tomorrow promised to be a good day.
Mid-December, it started snowing. When Christmas came, all the snow vanished in the blink of an eye.
Eva found this hilarious. Two days after Christmas, Aki met her and Ivan in a bar not too far from the city center. She’d just beaten Ivan for the third time in a row, to his great consternation.
“How’d you get so good at this?” he complained. Eva stifled a laugh. Aki believed the other girl knew perfectly well she’d participated in the WRGP, but Ivan remained oblivious.
“I used to play a lot when I was younger,” Aki said. It wasn’t technically a lie.
“Try playing against someone else,” Eva suggested. Their group wasn’t very big, but there were still quite a few people who showed up once in a while to duel. Some even provided Aki with a challenge.
“Oh!” Eva took out a bag. “I almost forgot! Merry Christmas, Aki!”
Aki hesitantly accepted the bag. Was it tradition to get presents for people you’d only known for a month? “I didn’t get you anything,” she said hesitantly. Eva waved her hand.
“Treat us to drinks some time.” She looked at Aki, who was still holding the bag uncertainly. “Come on, open it!”
Aki opened the bag and found a long tube. Inside was a poster with several black horses and one single zebra, standing in the middle of the horses and offering a striking contrast. She looked at Eva for an explanation.
“My brother used to study in England, and he said there was this proverb,” Eva said. “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, think horses, not zebras. It means you shouldn’t immediately look for a rare disease.”
Her teachers had told her that more than once. Aki carefully put the poster back into the bag. Her first Christmas present from people who weren’t her parents or a member of Team 5D’s.
“I’m getting you something in return,” she promised. “Thank you so much.”
“Can you let me win?” Ivan asked hopefully.
“Not a chance. It was my present,” Eva said, grinning. “Beat him, Aki.”
Whatever Aki had been expecting, it wasn’t this.
“What the hell do you want, Aki? ‘Cause if this about your laundry again, you can damn well do it yourself.”
“Crow?” To say that she was taken aback was an understatement. She’d even made sure that it was a reasonable nine in the evening in Japan. This was not the reply she’d been expecting.
Crow slumped. “Look Aki, just call back another time, okay? Kokoro’s getting worse and Taiga and Daichi still haven’t returned. I’ve seen these symptoms before and-”
“What symptoms?” Aki cut him off, knocking over a bottle of water in her haste to grab her notebook. She vaguely remembered Kokoro as the red-headed girl among Crow’s kids. “And where are Taiga and Daichi?”
“Getting a doctor, what else.” Crow’s worry now became laced with bitterness. “But why would any doctor care about a bunch of Satellite kids knocking on their door on a Sunday?”
His words momentarily distracted Aki from her search. “But the city was reunited!” It had been them who’d reunited the city in the first place!
“Did you ever think it was that simple? In their eyes we’re Satellite scum and no bridge is gonna change that.”
Had she really been so naïve to expect no more prejudice? With a sinking sensation, Aki realized that she had. She finally found her notebook and opened it, glad for the distraction it offered.
“I’m a doctor.”
“In five years, maybe.” Crow turned away. “It’s a bad time now. I’ll call you next week.”
“Crow, wait!” Aki took a deep breath. “If you’re right, then no doctor will come now, and Martha’s not around. At least give me a chance. What are the symptoms?”
Crow cast a troubled glance to his side, where Aki assumed Kokoro was resting. “She started complaining about a sore throat yesterday, and she had a bit of a fever, so I thought it was just the flu. But yesterday evening her fever got worse and this morning she was getting these red spots all around her elbows.”
Aki started paging through her book. He wasn’t giving her much to work with, but she was sure she knew those symptoms.
“And her tongue’s gone bright red.” Crow looked on the verge of tears. There was shouting and Daichi and Taiga came barreling into the room. Aki caught ‘doesn’t want to!’ and ‘called Security!’. Somewhere in another room someone started crying, and Crow disappeared for a few minutes. Aki thumbed through her notes. She knew this one. It was on the tip of her tongue.
Crow came back into the room, holding a glass of water, which he made Kokoro drink before he turned back to the screen. He looked paler than before, and when he spoke, it was in a slow, measured voice, as if he didn’t want to give away too much.
“I’ve seen this before. When we were kids… Every year there was always someone. Sometimes they’d get better after a week, but sometimes they died. Martha always tried, but when it happened in winter we never had enough medication.”
The few times Aki had been sick, her parents had given her all the care she needed. She swallowed and turned a page. “It’s not like that anymore. You can get her to the City if you need to.” Her eyes lit up as she read what she’d written months ago. “Crow, is she coughing?”
“No,” Crow said, looking from Kokoro to the screen and back.
Kawasaki disease, Aki thought excitedly. It all fit. The fever, the rash, the red tongue…Kokoro’d have to go to the hospital as soon as possible, but if Crow had any aspirin, they could help her right away. She opened her textbook to the right page to look up more on the treatment.
“Crow, I think I’ve got it. If you have any aspirin, give it to her.”
Aki hesitated. She’d need Kokoro’s weight to calculate the exact dose, and she didn’t want to risk an overdosis. As she looked for her calculator, her gaze fell on the poster with the horses and the single zebra.
Aki’s eyes widened. “Crow, how old is Kokoro?”
“She turned seven last October. Why?”
Kawasaki disease was a zebra. If it occurred at all, it generally didn’t occur with children over five. What if she was wrong? She scoured her notes again and a small arrow drew her attention. Of course.
“When did you say her fever started?”
It didn’t fit Kawasaki disease. Aki could hit herself. She’d gotten carried away.
“Crow, I’m sorry, I was wrong. It’s scarlet fever.”
There was a glimpse of recognition on Crow’s face. He’d seen it before but never connected the name to the disease.
“She’s going to need antibiotics so get her to a doctor or a hospital as soon as you can. Keep her hydrated.”
Crow threw a significant look at the half-empty glass next to Kokoro. Aki laughed sheepishly. Right. This probably was far from the first time he’d cared for a child with a fever.
“Scarlet fever. Alright.” When Crow looked at the screen again, he looked slightly less pale than before. “Thanks, Aki. I’m going to need the phone now.”
“Oh, of course! Take care of her!” said Aki. It was a rushed goodbye, but Kokoro needed antibiotics soon.
“Thanks for the help, Aki,” Crow said, and this time he actually smiled. “You’ll be a good doctor.”
He ended the call, and Aki leaned back, breathing a sigh of relief. Had she really done anything to help Kokoro? Crow would’ve taken her to the hospital anyway, and a real doctor would’ve figured it out faster than she had. She’d almost been wrong. That was unacceptable.
And yet… She was sure she’d made the right diagnosis in the end. Instead of other people helping her, she’d been the one to help someone today. It was an amazing feeling. This was what she really wanted to do.
Two days later, she got an e-mail:
You were right it’s scarlet fever. Kokoro’s getting better. You’re a lifesaver Aki.
Aki smiled and looked at the poster with the single zebra on it. She sent a text message to Eva.
Do you guys want to go to the zoo next Saturday? My treat.
Second term brought an influx of new students with it, most of them foreigners who came to study one term at the university. Aki greeted them politely when she crossed them in the hallways, but for the most part didn’t try to make conversation.
On Saturday morning, she headed down to the laundry room, carrying her laundry basket with her and setting it on the ground with a heavy sigh. She had no idea how Crow and Martha managed to do this for several kids. At least she’d gotten rather good at doing it herself. With practiced ease, she started sorting out the pile of clothes and stuffing them in the machine. It was only when she’d added the detergent and was about to start the washer that she noticed someone looking at her.
Aki closed the washer and started it before looking back. It was one of the new students, a boy who was probably older than her, but the confused expression on his face made him look far younger than he was.
“Everything alright?” she asked.
He startled. “Ah, yes, I’m sorry for staring. It’s just…” His gaze fell on the laundry machines and he quickly looked away. Aki had a sudden flashback of herself in the same position. She smiled.
“Laundry, right? It is complicated.” She checked that her own machine was running properly and wandered over. “Here, try sorting everything by color first.”
The boy introduced himself as Thomas, and together they sorted out his laundry and got the machine started. He looked up gratefully.
“Thanks. I hadn’t really expected it to be this complicated. It’s not really what I came here to do.”
“I know the feeling,” Aki said fervently. She absently played with her deckholder. She’d planned to reorganize her deck while she waited for the laundry machine to finish.
“Do you duel?” Thomas asked, suddenly sounding far more cheerful.
“Yes, I do. You too?”
He nodded, enthusiasm barely contained. “Yeah, but I didn’t think I’d find anyone to duel against here!”
That gave Aki an idea. “We usually get together to duel every two weeks. Do you want to come along next time?”
“That’d be great!”
“Good. I’ll give you my phone number.”
Thomas walked away a great deal happier than he’d come in. Hard to believe that she’d been that way herself not too long ago. Aki shook her head. She’d find out how well he dueled soon, and in the meantime she had to prepare for classes. It was no hassle. After Kokoro, she was absolutely determined to learn as much as she could. Her psychic powers might be good enough for some immediate healing, but to really be able to help, she needed to study.
It was a burden she’d gladly bear.
“You’re Aki Izayoi!” Ivan accused when he entered the bar. Aki looked up from her duel with Thomas.
“Why did you never tell me?”
Aki was fairly sure she’d told him her name a long time ago. She looked at Thomas for help, but he just shrugged.
“He just discovered you were in the WRGP,” Eva said, entering the bar behind him.
“No wonder you were always beating me!” Ivan continued. “You’re a professional player! You won the WRGP!”
Technically it had been Yusei and Jack and Crow who’d won. She’d only participated once, as Crow’s replacement. Either way, she wasn’t very fond of digging up memories.
“That was last year,” she said as she summoned Black Rose Dragon. Thomas looked momentarily flummoxed, but managed to evade any damage with a well-placed Spirit Barrier. No matter. He had no more monsters on the field to protect him. She’d get him next turn.
Thomas drew and looked at his hand for a long time, before placing two cards facedown. “Why did you never become a professional duelist?” he asked. “Jack Atlus won the Pan-Asian tournament last November, didn’t he?”
“I like dueling,” Aki said. She smiled. “But I would much rather be a doctor.”