Volume 10, Chapter 2-1: Tess’ Orientation
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Monday Spring Break 2016 Day 1

“I see. That’s really helpful. Thank you for the information,” Zhuyu spoke with Mom downstairs.

“No, the pleasure is all mine. The payment was just a joke. I didn’t think you would take it so seriously,” Mom responded.

Zhuyu jotted down notes on a tablet while Mom spoke. She showed him photos from my childhood. What the hell was going on here?

“Mom, what are you doing?” I questioned, tapping her shoulder.

“Morning, Yuki. Your friend here finally paid money to obtain information. I’m so happy I could cry right now!” Mom joked.

This was very unexpected. Out of everyone, Zhuyu seemed the least likely to do this. He should have no interest in these things considering his relationship with Kyoi. There must be a specific reason for his sudden interest.

“Tomo, sorry for the short notice. I was going to pick Jacque up but he had to finish something first,” Zhuyu apologized.

“It’s Yuki~, you know!” Mom corrected him.

“Right. Anyways, I’m gathering information for Tess,” Zhuyu explained.

“You don’t have to put it like that. Yuki will understand if you’re interested in her,” Mom disagreed.

“So, To-, uh Yuki, are you ready?” Zhuyu paused at first, noticing Mom stare at him.

“Yeah, I’m ready to go. Anything I have to bring?” I asked.

“No, not really. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Mrs.Tomo,” Zhuyu said.

“Leaving so soon? I didn’t get a chance to show you everything. Next time for sure,” Mom lamented, shutting the photo album.

I followed Zhuyu to his car, debating whether to sit in the back or next to him. Fine, I’ll just sit next to him. I’m sure Zhuyu didn’t care either way but it mattered to me.

“How far does Jacque live?” I asked.

“Not too far. Ten or fifteen minutes,” Zhuyu replied, connecting an aux cable into his phone.

“Oh, not too far. So, about Tess’ house, why is everyone so scared?” I asked.

“Don’t listen to what Jin and Shigetzu said. It’s not that bad,” Zhuyu responded, playing music from his phone.

There were no vocals at all, just instrumentals, mostly piano. It wasn’t of the classical genre either, feeling more like video game music. Zhuyu arrived at a brick house, parking on the curb.

“Zhuyu, is this video game music?” I asked as he unplugged his phone to call Jacque.

“Huh? Yeah, some of it is, but it’s just visual novel soundtracks,” Zhuyu answered.

This visual novel thing again. Why was it so appealing to Kuan and him? I would have to do research on my free time. Three minutes later, Jacque exited. He wore a black leather jacket with faded jeans.

“Yo, how’s it going?” Jacque greeted.

“Good,” Zhuyu replied.

“Could be better. Pretty scared about what’s going to happen,” I admitted.

“It’s not that bad. I told you, they were just exaggerating,” Zhuyu disagreed, giving a thin smile.

We drove for ten minutes on the freeway before arriving at a large house. There was no gate but it was isolated from the other residences in the neighborhood. Zhuyu parked in a designated guest area.

Once out of the car, I glanced up at the house. Three floors, probably more if there was an attic and basement. There were various devices placed on the front porch which blinked.

“Let’s have fun,” Zhuyu said, his expression not matching his tone.

“You serious? You don’t even believe that yourself,” I observed.

“Doesn’t matter what I think,” Zhuyu denied, ringing the doorbell.

Tess opened the door after a few seconds. She wore a skirt with black knee stockings, the first time I ever saw her such a combination.

“Welcome to my house, Tom and Jacque,” Tess greeted.

“Tess, I’ll update the records. Tomo and Jacque, you’re in her capable hands,” Zhuyu said, heading inside first.

“Thank you for your assistance, Long. Jacque and Tomo, follow me,” Tess directed.

Three large television screens hung in the living room with a very posh entertainment cabinet underneath them. There were four couches and two medium sized coffee tables. Damn, this was on the level of Felicity’s house.

“This is too much for me,” Jacque said to me.

“You’ll be more surprised by Felicity’s house,” I remarked.

“Would you like to rest first? You’ll undergo serious physical tests in a moment,” Tess asked, pointing at the couches.

No one told me about this. Is that what Zhuyu meant by the orientation we never received? Now I was definitely scared. Who knew what horrors Tess would subject us to?

“Let’s just go,” I declined her offer, noticing Jacque’s dismayed look.

“Let’s proceed then,” Tess said, leading us to a set of stairs.

We headed downstairs to the basement. Tess turned on the lights, revealing a variety of exercise equipment and a bookcase in the back. I wouldn’t even ask how her parents allowed this.

“What are we going to do here?” I asked, sitting down in a nearby chair.

“Run preliminary tests and evaluate your physical weaknesses. Excuse me while I grab something,” Tess answered, heading to the bookcase in the back.

She pulled out a binder and set it down on a table. Tess then instructed Jacque to get on the treadmill. The Gatekeeper then tapped her tablet, causing the exercise machine’s panel to light up with numbers.

“Jacque, keep running until I tell you to stop. Tomo, get on the other one,” Tess ordered, moving her fingers around on the tablet screen.

At first, the speed was manageable. However, it picked up after awhile and I soon struggled. I glanced over at Jacque, who looked worse than me. After awhile, I almost tripped. Tess noticed my stumble and stopped both of us. Jacque collapsed onto the floor, exhausted, sweat pouring down from his forehead. I felt woozy, my vision blurring, and legs burning.

“I see. We’ll move onto the next set after a five minute break,” Tess directed, checking her tablet screen.

I didn’t think my body could handle anymore. Did Tess did this every day? Just thinking about it made me shutter.

“Hey, Tess, you think we can get some water? I’m dying over here,” Jacque begged, still on the floor.

“That can be arranged after a few more tests. You can still talk so I can assume your focus is sharp enough to complete this,” Tess refused, handing him a clipboard containing a questionnaire.

“Damn, I should have kept my mouth shut,” Jacque muttered, finally standing back up again.

Tess handed me one as well. Wait, I didn’t even say anything. Fine, I guess it was part of her “orientation”.

“Tess, I’m feeling a bit woozy here. Can I get some more time to rest?” I requested, my eyes unable to focus on the words.

“Yes. Jacque, come with me. Tomo, you can stay here until we return,” Tess decided, hauling Jacque up from the floor with little effort.

Jacque gave me a forlorn look, full of sadness and betrayal. Tess went over to the bookcase, pulling out a thick sheet of papers from another binder. She handed them to me and descended downward with Jacque. How far underground did her house reach?

I finally regained my focus and inspected the thick stack of papers. What the fuck? This was a test, not an easy one either, written in the format of a college entry exam. Isn’t pushing us to our physical limit not enough? I sighed but picked up the pencil she left behind for me.

After struggling through half of the test, I finally completed everything. What was this madness, Tess? I filled out the questionnaire next and stood up.

Tess finally returned and Jacque looked dead inside. His entire face and T-shirt was drenched in sweat. He looked at me, unable to speak. The Gatekeeper deposited him down into a chair, handing him papers as well.

“Tess, I finished,” I informed her.

“Ah, perfect. I trust you feel much better now,” Tess said, taking both the questionnaire and test from me.

“Yeah, I think I’m fine,” I lied.

“That’s good to hear. Follow me, Tomo. I’ll run a few more tests and make sure everything is in order,” Tess directed.

Jacque gave me a weak wave as I left. Jacque, I’m sorry, but you’re not getting a chance to rest. You might think you are. Have fun with the test.

There was more exercise equipment, all hooked up to a machine full of flashing lights. Tess sat in front of the machine, adjusting knobs on a control board. She told me to sit down on one of the benches and lift weights.

“Keep going until I tell you to stop,” Tess requested, staring at the screen.

Tess stopped me five minutes later and attached a small lapel to my shirt. Probably a monitoring machine. The Gatekeeper then ordered me to run sprints back and forth. This wasn’t going to end well. I felt wiped out after seven minutes, but Tess didn’t say a word. Finally fifteen minutes later, she stopped me.

“Let’s see…. a two minute break and you’ll do four sets of crunches. Fifty in each set,” Tess informed me, no mercy in her eyes.

Each consecutive exercise drained my strength further and I was soon reduced to a sad heap on the floor. My head pounded and the sweat entered my eyes, blurring everything. Shit, I couldn’t even focus on the ceiling. Jacque, I can’t even imagine how bad it was for you. Tess remained calm, staring at the screen.

“Tomo, you still alive?” Tess finally asked, standing over me.

“Bare…. ly,” I uttered.

“Let’s head back up. I’m sure Jacque completed everything by now,” Tess said, hauling me off the floor.

I leaned on Tess the entire way as we ascended the stairs. Jacque stared at the exam, his eyes scrunched and complete confusion on his face. He saw us and gave a sigh.

“Tess, this is really hard. I can’t finish half of it,” Jacque admitted, placing his pencil down.

“Don’t worry about completing everything. Just do what you know,” Tess advised, walking back over to the bookcase.

She opened up a metal case, taking out a red pen. Ah, that brought back memories of the Christmas party. Fuck, why was I so nostalgic? That was an extremely dangerous situation. I just lived it again with Felicity being drunk the other day.

“Okay, that’s all I can do. No more, Tess, please,” Jacque pleaded.

“Very well. You two can return to the living room. Long will be present to speak with you. I will return these in about an hour. He also has water available for you so rest assured I am not a complete psychopath,” Tess instructed.

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