A Left Eye of Darkness ('Convent Girl' up 20180527)

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Serviam
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Re: A Left Eye of Darkness (upd 20150107)

Post by Serviam » Tue Mar 24, 2015 12:57 pm

Something tells me the Fragile X variant was a consequence of Uncle Sam nuking Japan back to the Edo Period.

EDIT: I seem to have spoken too soon; almost 48 hours ago, Lee Kwan Yew joined the ranks of those who have passed on this year.
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

In order of completion:
Lilly > Hanako > Rin > Emi
Currently on: Shizune

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Re: A Left Eye of Darkness (upd 20150107)

Post by brythain » Tue Mar 24, 2015 11:27 pm

Serviam wrote:Something tells me the Fragile X variant was a consequence of Uncle Sam nuking Japan back to the Edo Period.

EDIT: I seem to have spoken too soon; almost 48 hours ago, Lee Kwan Yew joined the ranks of those who have passed on this year.
Fragile-X variants are well documented though, I didn't make them up. :)

And yes, it would have been interesting. Then again, who knows?
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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The Katayama Mystique (upd 20150326)

Post by brythain » Thu Mar 26, 2015 12:36 am

Rika Katayama has always been a mysterious personality in the lore of the Yamaku alumni.
This writer came face to face with her once. It was quite an experience.



The Katayama Mystique (2022)

It was not an easy time for the lady I was to interview, but my old friend Natsume had arranged it. So I found myself face to face, in a hospital cafeteria, with the Ghost of Noda herself. She was as tall, pale and elegant as others have described her elsewhere. She was also fatigued, as I could tell from the faint purpling around her startling eyes, and the smell of disinfectant clung to her.

I had just finished setting up when she walked into the room, her posture stiff but upright. Her famous white hair was neatly tied up and clipped in place at the back. “Interviewer-san?” she said tiredly, still mustering the fortitude to bow exactly. It was the respect a junior accords to her senior; we were alumni of the same school, and she was younger.

“Dr Katayama, let us dispense with all this. You must be very tired,” I said firmly. “Thank you for consenting to this interview. If you wish, you may call me Misaki; I have no objection.”

“Ah,” she said, momentarily lost for words. She gratefully accepted the seat to which I gestured. “Thank you, ah, Misaki. Please call this one Rika.”

Sometimes, a clever journalist can ask questions enough to frame a good story because the interviewee is tired and willing to talk. Natsume says I am too ethical to be clever, and she doesn’t mind—it takes all kinds, she would be the first to acknowledge. I am not the sort to take advantage of a tired and hungry respondent.

So I got up, my hidden brace and corset uncomfortable against my flesh, and obtained drinks—two slightly sweet dark coffees, and some buns with sweet fillings. I turned around, and she was there; she had been so quiet I had heard nothing. Silently, she nodded and took the food from me, and we made our way back to the table.

“Tell me about yourself, Rika Katayama.” It was not the way I usually began my professional conversations with people, but I was already feeling sorry for her—and also, perhaps, a sense of sympathy.

“Hm.” She looked at me steadily and put down her bun. I noticed she had taken only one perfect little bite from it, exposing the dark red bean filling. “If I am not being presumptuous, how much of this one’s history do you already know, Misaki Kawana?”

I knew the usual things. Rika was a ‘princess’—a daughter of a wealthy and powerful family. My sources told me more; that at one time she had been groomed to potentially become the designated Katayama ‘first operative’, what a foreigner might incorrectly think of as a ‘consigliere’. She had apparently never wanted that position—yet her intelligence and ability to think about the future in unusual ways had come to the attention of her seniors in the Family.

She had only ever wanted to be a scientist, it seemed. That had intrigued me. I told her all that I had heard, and watched her expression flicker through several stages.

I was surprised to see resignation first of all, and then fragments of curiosity, humour and an intense passion, quickly hidden. She was a complex personality, perhaps someone who had once much to lose, and who had thought long about such things. She would be one, I felt, who was practiced at the art of using words, but would say things as directly as she permitted herself.

“That is mostly correct, Misaki. Some of these things are not matters to be publicly discussed, but as far as they pertain to this… insignificant person, to me, they are largely true. That you are present in Miyagi General at this time tells me that you have come to talk about a specific issue. Please do not spare my feelings. Our friend Natsume Ooe has already outlined the process of interrogation.”

She looked expectantly at me, a half-smile on her face. For perhaps the third or fourth time in this encounter, I found myself musing about what a strange and ethereal beauty she possessed. No wonder they called her the Ghost of Noda.

I looked her in the eye, and chose the indirect approach. “Tell me about my former classmate, Hisao Nakai, and your relationship with him.”

“That is not quite the point of your unspoken question, is it?” She shook her head ruefully and unclipped her hair, letting down an intricate single braid that must have reached her hips. Her half-smile grew very slightly wider as she continued.

“I have known our friend Hisao since 2007. I first encountered him in Dr Kaneshiro’s office, where in his usual way our inimitable Head Nurse made a slightly off-colour joke about how Hisao and I should join our hearts as one, thereby producing a single healthy heart. It was embarrassing to both of us, but common embarrassment made space for common humour, and then the openings for further communication.”

Dr Kaneshiro was well-known to us. He had not yet become a fully-qualified doctor when we had been students at Yamaku. Natsume had told me the story of how Saki Enomoto’s passing had hardened his resolve to continue further medical training. But this opening counterplay of Rika’s had piqued my interest.

“You knew him well, then?”

“Not really, no. He was, as you are, my senior. However, after I graduated from Yamaku, I had the honour of entering Todai, where a few of my esteemed seniors had already enrolled. He, and Hanako Ikezawa, and the unforgettable Shizune Hakamichi—they formed a little study group of sorts which my peers considered very effective, despite each of them studying a different discipline.”

“Is that where your interest in molecular biology and nanotechnology came from?”

“Ah. Well, this was an accident, I think. Hisao… he showed me around the organometallic laboratories once, and I asked him about his work. It had something to do with ruthenium metal clusters, groups of rare atoms made into surfaces and chains. When I got back to my apartment, I made sure to look it up. Then… one thing led to another: finally, Hisao suggested I go back to Yamaku to speak with Mutou-sensei, who was also interested in such matters. You will perhaps, ah, remember him?”

Indeed. Mutou had been an enigmatic character to me. As my form teacher in the final year, I knew him as someone who could be very inspiring—but there had been days when all the life seemed drained from him. On such occasions, his teaching had degenerated either into meandering lines of hard-to-follow ideas, or into listless digressions from the material at hand.

“Yes. He was an interesting man.”

Rika Katayama looked at me oddly. Perhaps the coffee was having a salutary effect on her nerves, for more colour had come back to her pale face. “He knew a surprising amount about the basic research in this field, and was able to point me towards further readings. When I was offered a research scholarship later, and eventually a post at the Noda campus, I asked his advice. And… here I am.”

“Here you are… and what is it, respectfully, that you have been doing here?”

She looked pensive. Her smile had faded to nothing, so gradually that I did not notice at first. She began to coil and uncoil her very long silver braid in the palm of her left hand.

“Here, we are deploying technology that may or may not work. Hisao is our first patient; we are fitting him with a device that will allow him to consciously control his heart rate, just as many other muscles can be controlled. It defaults to automatic behaviour when he is not actively controlling it, and it has a buffer that should keep it functioning normally most of the time. His heart itself has been extensively modified. The system is called RICARDO.”

“And your specific role in these events?”

“I have the privilege of being the lead researcher on this project, which is funded by Hakamichi Industries. In that capacity, I supervised the calibration of the device and monitored the telemetry during installation. Hisao long ago gave his consent for participation in the research programme, although he had been briefed on the potential risks.”

“Are there considerable risks? Were there alternatives?”

“Yes… yes, there is significant risk. Alternatives? None that were ready for deployment at short notice.” She had the quiet tension that I have noticed in people reaching their emotional limits, who are not otherwise inclined to show emotion at all.

“What do you think of today’s events?”

She sighed softly but deeply, and bowed her head a little. “I… I think I have done something unnatural to a friend of mine. I wish him well; I want him to be well. But as with all experiments, there is apprehension, anxiety… the idea that things may have unexpected consequences and uncontrolled effects. I do not know what I have really done.”

“Why do you think that way?”

“I have just come from the recovery chamber. On the way down, I saw Emi Ibarazaki. She is furious, I think because she was afraid that he had died, and now he has not. She perhaps does not know if she should grieve, or be glad, or be badly frightened. She loves him a great deal.”

She glanced up at me, her face sharp and beautiful even in the bad lighting and the sterile colours. Her ruby gaze and single silver braid gave her a wholly unnatural appearance, despite its gaunt loveliness. “I hope that they will have many more years together. But I fear that they will not.”

There wasn’t much to say after that. I thanked her for what she had told me, and also for the material she had released to Natsume under the Asahi Shimbun’s exclusive contract. She nodded, and was very polite. We parted on good terms, and later, I received a brief note thanking me for my kindness in such difficult times. I wrote back saying that it was I who should have thanked her first.

Looking back now in the light of later events, I regret not having spent more time with Dr Rika Katayama. She was truly a unique individual, although it seems trite to use that phrase these days: more so than many of us, she had come to a profound understanding of both death and the desire to live forever.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Sun Sep 27, 2015 1:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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The Colonel's Bequest (upd 20150415)

Post by brythain » Wed Apr 15, 2015 1:34 pm

The big question in our circles was always how on earth mad Kenji had managed to join the civil service.
It was a question mainly asked by those who had not known him well.



The Colonel’s Bequest (2023)

I had known my subject for more than a decade, perhaps because my editor and he were very good friends. Or at least, that has been my observation despite the inevitable clashes between two stubborn personalities.

It was in connection with at least two, and possibly as many as four, mysterious areas of inquiry that Natsume Ooe had requested this interview. Somewhat reluctantly, our old schoolmate had consented. Perhaps he felt obliged to do so; perhaps he felt whimsical. It had always been difficult to tell, with him.

I did not want to presume on our friendship, but I had aggressive questions in mind. I was feeling very thoughtful, and my gear felt heavier than usual as I approached the nondescript government office entrance where he had offered to meet me.

“Ha, Misaki journalist-san!” he barked in his familiar nasal voice when he saw me enter. He had risen to his feet from a tired-looking armchair in the corner of the reception area. I noticed he was still wearing a scarf that Naomi Inoue had given him many years ago.

Before I could decide how to respond, he bowed and said, “It’s good to see you. How have you been? Your security clearance got through okay?”

I returned his bow. “Hello, Kenji colonel-san. I’m in good health, so far. Thank you for asking, and also thank you for agreeing to this and arranging clearance.”

“Oh, no problem at all. I have an unpaid debt, and it has gone ten years without repayment. Very bad! You must have such unkind thoughts of me. Think of this as my gift to you. Please walk with me.”

I was quite surprised. I had no idea what he was talking about until I thought back ten years and remembered dark chocolate peach pizza and cold sake. I felt myself blush a little, warming my cheeks after the freezing winter air outside. “No, no, there is no debt,” I assured him.

“Debts of friendship and company, gifts and such, it’s all in the mind. The Japanese mind, we are full of it!” He grinned, his shaded gaze unnerving. As he guided me through a maze of clean but unremarkable corridors, I noticed the looks his colleagues gave him. Was he so feared as I seemed to imagine from their stares? Another mystery, perhaps.

We reached his office, which was in a part of the building made from rough-surfaced crude aggregate stone blocks and naked grey metal—titanium, as he explained when he saw what I was examining. “This is a different world, not the one with the M********* AtD-X4s or the H******** drones. My work is not so much with machines, but with ideas that connect people to machines. Sometimes, people that connect ideas to machines. Haha!”

We had been chatting along the way, something that would serve, in my mind, to prepare him for answering further questions. As he ushered me into his room, I looked around. A discarded nameplate on a side-table caught my eye: it read ‘Kenichi Satou’. I gave him a questioning look.

He glanced at the plate, then back at me. “Ha, just a convenient fiction. There’s a guy with a name that sounds similar somewhere around here too! It confuses foreigners when we go for meetings. But please, sit down, nobody will interrupt until, ah, lunchtime? Then we can have lunch if you still can stand my company.”

We sat, and I activated the recorder. He had already cleared the device with a look, and so I began.

“Colonel Setou, for the record, could you tell me about your family?”

“Sure. I’m the younger son of two. My big brother is departed, with my late mother, God rest their souls. My father is remarried, he is also a retired officer of the Defence Forces. I’m married and have two kids. Our friend Natsume is godmother to the girl, and your old classmate Hisao is godfather to the boy.”

He seemed relaxed, and I noted in my mind that he did not mention his late sister. A tragic background, but he had reduced it to a few short lines and gone on to happier things.

“Thank you. What is the nature of your work in this department, as far as you can talk about it?”

He paused for a long while. I could almost see gears of strange aspect whirr around behind his lenses.

“I am a technocrat, I think. Do you know what technology is? I’m not trying to insult you, Misaki. I’m asking about your thoughts.”

“Technology is a kind of art, using engineering to achieve human aims?”

His lenses gazed at me. The pale artificial lighting in his room reflected off them—it was like being watched by two glowing circles.

“That’s very good. Nat said you were smart. Yes, it’s something like that. So my work is to assess its power, to try to control its use, to see where it can best be used. Maybe it’s a user-friendly bidet. Maybe it’s a pen that can draw maps automatically in 3D space. Maybe it’s a starship engine. Maybe it’s just a nice mug. Or a new way to bake cakes. All mine. My team’s work.”

This was interesting. But it was only my way in, the approach to the more difficult questions.

“Kenji, this is not all the work you do, yes?”

“It is most of the work I do. Sometimes I have to chase the technology, in case one day the technology chases me.”

“Do you act to suppress technology or implementations of technology?”

He looked at me again, that odd expression on his face. He seemed conflicted, but not wary.

“Sometimes,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “the sakura blooms and then it dies. The fruit develops. Somebody eats the fruit. The seed falls, unseen. In Washington DC, they have many cherry trees that are from Japan. You can’t suppress technology all the time, you can only appeal to reason. And if no reason, ha, my job becomes more… complicated.”

“What do you think of broad-ranging tech-based corporations like M********* and H******** and so on?”

“We work with them. Often, they are working toward parallel goals. We want to give people a better life. Sometimes, we don’t see the same idea of what is better. Sometimes, it is better, but also worse. Complicated, and when these institutions get bigger, it gets much worse.”

Instinctively, I asked the question that had been lurking in my head for a while: “What is your relationship like, with Shizune Hakamichi?”

For some time, it had been rumoured that my old classmate, the current principal at our alma mater, had been helping Kenji gain access to certain hard-to-reach structures within the world of the tech families. Some of the more scurrilous had speculated on a different kind of relationship, but I knew otherwise.

“That is… ah, a very personal question.”

For some reason, my recorder failed to pick up what he said next. But here is the gist of it: they were friends, and had been for almost two decades; he respected her, and wished her well; sometimes they did not see eye-to-eye on technological issues, but that was okay. He seemed melancholic as he said these things.

“Yeah, we’re friends. Not the tabloid kind, just friends,” he concluded.

I nodded, and changed the subject.

“What technologies do you think are most significant for the future of humanity?”

“That’s a good question. You did not say ‘best’ and you did not say ‘most important’. I like that.”

He put the tips of his fingers together and thought for a while. It was my impression that he did it for effect, that he had already decided what he would say.

“I think people are asking what a human is. They are asking questions like whether there is a ‘basic’ normal and whether we should be normal. Also, whether we should live forever. I visited a place, they have a whole science industrial park doing research on life extension. But they know that living longer, it’s not always living better.”

“Biotech?”

“More than that. Life engineering, maybe. Making people have better lives. Better oxygen intake. Better sight. Seeing things other people can’t normally see. Or hearing them. I don’t know where it will end. But if you can control your heartbeat with a thought, are you the Buddha? Ha!”

It was an interesting idea. I looked at him thoughtfully. “Are you still reading all those comic books you used to read?”

“Another personal question! Do you know, you are actually a pretty girl?”

This, I knew how to answer. “No, that is just something that Japanese men like to say because I’m small and vulnerable-looking.”

His lenses winked. He shook with silent laughter, humour churning somewhere inside him. “That’s a good answer, so I guess I owe you one. To tell you the truth, since Kyoto, I have not read much manga, if at all. It reminds me too much of a person I used to know, and our trips to the International Manga Museum. I guess you can put that in the official interview, it’s not as if it will make anyone insecure.”

“Insecure?”

“Yeah, it will not breach security. Ha ha.”

I smiled. Even in his worst jokes, he was still funny, still laughing at himself. Yet, I could feel the undercurrents of pain. He was hiding trauma—not just the physical trauma of a swayback life or a severed limb, but deep loss, and perhaps more than one such. I was looking at a cripple who was functioning by sheer force of will.

A little reluctantly, after a few more bouts of fencing, strike and counterstrike, I decided to begin the exit phase. Perhaps, he had suffered enough. As Natsume once said, I was not hard-hearted enough to be a real journalist.

“What made you decide to become a civil servant?”

The second part of the interview turned out to be quite pleasant. I learned much about my old acquaintance, even though I steered clear of the more sensitive parts of his early life. He was forthcoming, eager to talk about his favourite foods, the more special whiskies he had drunk, the philosophy and meaning of life that he had discovered from sitting on various roofs in various cities.

He even shared with me his thoughts on the infamous Miura-Hakamichi technology discussion of 2015. It surprised me that he had known Miki so well, although the affectionate hug I had once seen her give him should have tipped me off.

On a whim, I decided to humanize him further. My last question: “Colonel Setou, you have known the ups and downs of human life quite a bit. What advice would you give to a young person who claimed they had fallen in love?”

I saw his lips twitch in a subconscious grimace, showing his lower canines. “Hmmm…” he began, then paused, twirling one end of his scarf slowly.

I nodded slightly, to indicate I was listening.

“You know, I would say this: tell the person you love that you love them, before it is too late. Even if you are wrong, you will not be too far wrong. Maybe there’s not enough love in the world, not enough friendship. It makes us all blind and sad.”

“Thank you, Kenji.”

“Stopping already? Well, not so bad. I was afraid you would get something personal out of me, Misaki!” he quipped as he stood up.

As he showed me out, I realized that I felt much more comfortable with him than I had before. He had been honest with me, perhaps more so than many of my previous subjects. Yet, he had also concealed much. A complicated man, this Kenji. I later told Natsume, “He makes you feel that he can be trusted.”

Her answer seemed a little strange, but was perhaps insightful: “That’s because he doesn’t trust himself, but wishes he could. And he wants to save everyone.”

=====
back to thread index | sakura—the kenji saga
Last edited by brythain on Wed Nov 25, 2015 4:58 am, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: A Left Eye of Darkness ('The Colonel's Bequest' up 20150

Post by Serviam » Thu Apr 16, 2015 10:46 am

Mitsubishi and Hakamichi.

Wait, did I just go Jack Ryan and play connect-the-dots?
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

In order of completion:
Lilly > Hanako > Rin > Emi
Currently on: Shizune

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Re: A Left Eye of Darkness ('The Colonel's Bequest' up 20150

Post by brythain » Thu Apr 16, 2015 12:16 pm

Serviam wrote:Mitsubishi and Hakamichi.

Wait, did I just go Jack Ryan and play connect-the-dots?
Well, there are real-world events, such as the 2020 Olympics, that Kenji has suspiciously not mentioned at all.
You have to wonder how much the editors of these pieces finally censored. :D
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Chemistry (20150927)

Post by brythain » Sun Sep 27, 2015 1:08 pm

Everyone saw Mutou-sensei differently. Perhaps his story was just more complicated than most others.


Chemistry (2024)

At the end of 2024, a year of dire portent for some of us, Natsume wearily requested that I have one of my little talks with an old acquaintance of ours. Mutou-sensei had been our form teacher once upon a time, and it would not be the first time that he had been interviewed by one of us.

I hauled myself up a steep but familiar street to a place I had never visited before as a student. Looking around, I realized that much of this section of the town had been completely rebuilt since the great Tohoku disaster more than a decade before.

Over the years, the equipment required for comfortable travel, and both sound and video recording, had become lighter and lighter. My work had given me a good medical benefits package, and an old classmate or two had surprisingly shown concern for my scoliosis and related ailments.

All that meant that by the end of 2024, I was out of surgery and, while still in some discomfort, was walking well—although with an unnaturally upright posture. I gave little thought to what people might see, looking at me. I only felt the oddness of being unable to bend in certain ways, more a bamboo than a willow.

He was waiting at the foot of the steps to his apartment for me. I bowed, and he returned my bow.

“Reporter-san, welcome back to Sendai,” he said warmly, a spark of life dancing behind his otherwise deadpan expression. “How is your back?”

“Titanium rods and nanobots, sensei,” I responded, having learnt to summarise my condition very briefly. “And very light modern equipment.”

“Ah,” he said, seemingly grateful for my brevity. “Excellent. May I invite you to enter my humble dwelling?”

I assented, and he ushered me up the stairs and into a small outer room where we changed footwear before entering the apartment proper. I remember that the lighting was strangely luminous despite the overcast December skies.

His main room was surprisingly neat. One tends to think that bachelors must have messy homes. In Akio Mutou’s case, he had somehow invented a way of sorting the messes into neat little sections, such that there was little clutter, and a kind of logical arrangement.

“Tea?” he inquired. “Do feel free to set up anything you need. Pick a spot that’s comfortable for yourself.”

“Yes, please,” I replied. “Many thanks.”

He nodded and walked quietly across his traditional wooden floor to the kitchen. I heard the sound of him flicking a switch, which was followed by the sound of something gurgling through narrow pipes.

I took the opportunity to mount my tiny ‘journalist’s assistant’, Ava—a little AV event-capture device of the kind many of us use—on a telescoping tripod. She whirred a while, then automatically captured a panoramic view of the house and began to craft a virtual space. I tapped a few items for investigation, which she acknowledged. Then I settled back into a comfortable chair.

He emerged, still looking deadpan, but slightly more relaxed. “I apologise that when I am at home, I use a machine to make tea. If it is any consolation, I invented it myself.”

I smiled at him. This reminded me much of the teacher he had been to us, always apologetic, and yet able to show flashes of mastery and wit. “It is an honour to sample the product of your ingenuity, sensei.”

“I think you can just call me Mutou, and I’ll call you Kawana, and it will be a bit more natural for both of us,” he said, laughing with his eyes. “Is that a Hakamichi EyePod you’ve set up?”

“Indeed it is, Mutou-san. How has life in school been since the last time this one last visited?” I asked casually.

His eyebrows flickered, as if a train of thought had suddenly flashed through the tunnel of his mind. He answered cautiously, “It has been an eventful decade.”

“May further questions be asked?”

“The work of a journalist is to ask questions. Miss Ooe would be most disappointed if you did not ask, or if I did not answer!” he replied, a half-smile appearing.

“What is it like, with your former student as principal of Yamaku?”

His half-smile vanished. The eyebrows twitched, like startled cats. Then he showed me an unexpected grin.

“She works very hard. She has a heart for many people, but she hides it so that she won’t use it up. She’s normally competent, and if she feels not competent enough, she will read and practice until she has comfort in her competence.”

He paused. “And what does it feel like, Kawana, to have your former classmate as principal?”

It was automatic for me to answer. When your former teacher asks a question, and nobody else is in the room, that is what happens.

“I think I am proud of her. Nobody else could have done that.”

“Forgive me if I am wrong, but I suspect you didn’t like her very much when you were in school together.”

I had the unpleasant sensation of being a casual hunter stalked by her crafty subject. But as we say, either way, you learn something.

“No. She was not popular. Especially when she replaced Enomoto as our class rep at the beginning of third year.”

“I remember that. I remember Enomoto well, although I never had much of an opportunity to work with her.” There was pain etched faintly into his face.

“Ah. But to the matter at hand…?”

“Apologies. Please ask your questions.”

“This reporter has spent some time in research, so would appreciate clarification and illumination.”

“Go ahead.”

“Mutou-sensei was born on Okinawa on 30th April 1971 and then found himself doing well enough in high school to enter Todai on scholarship. What was university life like?”

“Yes, that sounds right,” he replied, his forehead creasing slightly. “Hmm. University life was not so hard. The scholarship paid enough for survival, but for all the books I wanted, I had to work. I played the piano in various establishments in order to raise funds. It was not an acceptable thing to a few people, mostly my parents and some teachers, but most of them thought it was cool. We played a lot in university, but I wanted to study hard as well.”

“You met your wife there.”

“Yes,” he said. There was total silence for a while as his gaze disappeared into the distance. “I did.”

“Is it permitted for this one to ask about her?”

“Yes,” he said. “It is.”

“Please.”

“I won’t tell you all the details. She deserves her privacy. Is that permitted?” He showed me that half-smile again, but it was more sad than happy. I nodded in reply. He sighed, then continued.

“She was the youngest daughter of a… small business owner in the Tohoku region, near Sendai. Her eldest brother had studied at the university there and become an important business executive, starting first with Hakamichi Industries and then setting up his own import-export company. Her eldest sister married a Hakamichi herself.”

He sipped tea, and I joined him in that simple activity for a while. Then he resumed.

“She was pretty and smart. She studied many things, including law and even music. When I met her, she was studying the economics of food supplies in Japan. Then she got interested in biology and ecology, but needed help with advanced concepts. She put up a little advertisement, and I responded, since I figured that biotechnology was close enough.”

“An accomplished woman.”

“Indeed. She had great curiosity. Her name was, is written with the characters for ‘Beautiful Intellect’,” he murmured, sketching those characters on the table with his finger. “It turned out that she’d been coming to the nightclub to listen to me play the piano for many weeks. She didn’t know I would be the one to answer her advertisement. So, we fell in love.”

“Was the courtship long?”

“Three years. My parents were not happy. They felt she was from a different social class. When I pointed out what her parents did for a living, my father just said it was still different and I shouldn’t get ideas above my station.”

“Did you spend much time with her family?”

“No. I hardly knew them. In fact, by the time I was courting her, all her siblings had moved out of the family home. I had to meet her eldest brother, because he wanted to decide if I was worthy to court his sister. Quite a tough guy, very hardworking and goal-oriented. He didn’t mind me, so it was okay.”

“Her parents?”

“I liked her parents very much. Good, honest people. Very resilient. When their home was destroyed by the Tohoku disaster, I went back to help them rebuild. Her parents had done most of the work already.”

I knew part of that story, having interviewed Mutou-sensei’s father-in-law some years before. “When did Mutou-san decide to become a teacher?” I asked, sensing deep waters and not wanting to dive deeper.

He laughed, more as a cough than a sign of true humour. “I had always wanted to be a teacher. I just didn’t know what, so I settled in the end for physical sciences.”

His mood changed, became more somber. “There was a time I wanted to be the best science teacher in Japan.”

I wanted to ask what had changed, but was afraid it might seem rude. So I asked a different question. “How did school life change for you over the years, until you became our class teacher?”

“The year before I became your class teacher, we got divorced.”

He put his hand up before I could finish framing an abject apology.

“No, you did not ask that question, so it was not your fault. Here’s my confession, Kawana-san. I became a very bad science teacher for a couple of years, and sorry to say, your class suffered because of it.”

“But you helped many students do well. You stayed late to talk to them and go through the work with them.” It was true, and I was feeling bad for him.

“If I had been a better teacher, extra help would not have been necessary,” he said ruefully.

I wanted to ask about the divorce, but that was something too big to talk about. So I kept silent, and sipped tea. He poured me a fresh cup, and we let silence fill the room for a while.

“I lost my first love because of my teaching. And then I found love again, and taught better.”

So the rumours about him and Miyagi-sensei were true? Many years ago, I had interviewed pretty Rei Miyagi, and she had been full of surprises as well. But a good journalist tries to get questions answered.

“Were you in love with a colleague?”

He shot me a sidelong look that was chiding and yet kind. Then he chuckled slowly. “Most of you knew, I think. She later became my boss, and by then we knew it was not a relationship we could sustain.”

“And you never loved again?”

His look became sharp and searching. “I would not say that. There is always space for love, even if one cannot quite indulge one’s feelings. You are now as old as I was when I got divorced. You might understand.”

I looked at him. He was 53 years old, and still looked as if he was in his late 30s. He made me feel old. Worse, he made me feel as if he understood me. He probably did. Time for another change of subject.

“How do you maintain your youthful fitness, sensei?”

This time, he gave me a proper grin. “I work out at the dojo every other day. I am learning kendo from a master, and I also practice my hanbojutsu katas every morning.”

“Stick-fighting?”

He points at a black wooden stick with metal fittings. I had thought it a walking-stick of some sort at first, and had tagged it earlier for Ava’s attention. “African blackwood; the head is made from palladium alloy. A friend of mine helped me craft it a long time ago.”

“Do you have many good friends?”

“A few. Kaneshiro-san at Yamaku is one whom you would know. Maybe you could interview him. I am sure you would have many interesting questions to ask and would receive many interesting answers in response!”

We covered a few more topics, including his feelings on Hisao’s death, and then it was time to take my leave. I packed Ava up, together with her tripod. Then he walked me down the stairs, everything turning silver in the stray, thin sunshine of December.

I remember the stubble on his chin, for some reason. It looked stubborn. He had bags under his eyes, but his eyes were clear and sharp. “Thank you for coming all the way here just to see your old science teacher, Kawana,” he said quietly.

He turned to face me. “Titanium and nanobots, you said. It sounds like a good title for your autobiography. Some day, if you remember that, you can credit me with it.”

I smiled and nodded, and he smiled back. Then he clasped my hands in his for a moment before letting them go with a half-bow of his own.

*****

Postscript:

I am sitting here years after my recollections of that time. In my hands I am holding a little owl of greyish-silver metal. Its black eyes glow with an odd light, as if reflecting galaxies in space. There is a handwritten tag attached to it with fine red thread. The tag reads, “For Misaki Kawana: ‘Titanium and Nanobots’ — may you always see with wise eyes, and speak with wise words.”

I will treasure it forever.

=====
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Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: A Left Eye of Darkness ('Chemistry' up 20150927)

Post by Blank Mage » Mon Sep 28, 2015 2:20 am

Shame this wasn't in time for Mutou's section of the bookclub.
And we're back.
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"I wish I could convey to you just how socially inept I am, but I can't."
"I think you just did."
"No, I really, truly haven't."

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Re: A Left Eye of Darkness ('Chemistry' up 20150927)

Post by brythain » Tue Sep 29, 2015 11:42 am

Blank Mage wrote:Shame this wasn't in time for Mutou's section of the bookclub.
Thank you. Sadly, I have to wait upon my inspirational characters to tell me what they want to tell me. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Regrettably (20151110)

Post by brythain » Tue Nov 10, 2015 11:47 pm

What place has private regret in the public domain? In Japan, very little.


Regrettably (2026)

It was spring, and the season of the cherry blossoms would soon be upon us. My old friend Natsume Ooe, nominally my boss in some ways, was grimly silent. It took me several minutes, as I endured what should have been a peaceful walk in the tedious environment of downtown Osaka, before I noticed that she was in an unusually troubled state of mind.

“Nat?” I inquired softly. She would normally have unburdened herself to our friend Naomi, but Naomi was in Kyoto, visiting her parents.

“Ah. Sorry. Everything has a price. We may have a guest, and I’m wondering if you should speak to her.”

This was such a strange, awkward turn of phrase from Natsume that I stopped short in the street and looked her in her mismatched eyes. “Natsu?” I said, using a very slightly more formal tone of voice.

“That family…” her voice trailed off, in a rare sign of uncertainty. “Well, if she’ll talk to you, Misaki? It would be more than she has been known to do.”

She did more than that, as some readers might know. Excerpts of her session with me have appeared in Natsume’s series on expatriate Japanese who had returned to participate in the Great Reconstruction after our country went bankrupt in 2022-3. Here, however, are my recollections of the personal part of that interview—the part that never entered the public domain.

*****

I walked into the warm little coffee house. It had only ever allowed people to visit in ones and twos, and its deep, dark roasted product was something meant to inspire a spirit of reflection—perhaps, of poetry. I did not think the day’s interview would be a happy one. The shop’s unobtrusive sign said ‘Star Frost’, or perhaps ‘Time’, or ‘Eternity’, or one of the many other alternative readings we Japanese are prone to create from simple words.

She was already there, although I had been given to understand she was habitually late. She was looking absentmindedly out of a window, the angled sunlight shining on her angular face. For a woman in her mid-forties, she was remarkably youthful.

“Miss Satou?” I inquired.

She turned to face me, her sherry-brown eyes flashing momentarily red in some trick of the afternoon light. Without standing, she greeted me with her given name. “Akira. You’re Misaki? Gotta say, you look as traditional as you sound.”

I responded with the half-smile that Naomi had once said made me look like the Mona Lisa. I said nothing. I wondered what Akira Satou had on her mind.

After a few uncomfortable seconds, she smiled back. Her tone had changed. “Yeah, that might have come out a little better? Have a seat. Sorry if I sounded a little impolite there—I’m a little ashamed that I’m forgetting how to be Japanese.”

I felt my half-smile broaden before I put it aside and sat down. “That is all right. You are still fluent, and your eyes are Japanese still, senior lady.”

“Ha. Thanks, I guess.” She sounded a little dubious. Then curiosity entered her voice. “So, why are we meeting? You’ve got questions, Ooe said. Since I’m passing through Osaka on business, I don’t mind answering a few.”

I had interviewed her late grandfather more than a decade ago. Perhaps she had heard of that. More to the point, I was sure I had interviewed the father of her ex-boyfriend as well. It was that particular angle that I felt I should develop.

“Miss Satou,” I began, and then, in response to her sudden restless change of posture, “Akira?”

“Go ahead.”

“May I ask about the circumstances under which you relocated to Scotland?”

“The personal ones or the public ones?”

“If you could perhaps share…”

“The personal ones, I suppose. My break-up that wasn’t supposed to be mentioned, and probably is even more undesirable now, that kind of thing?”

“I am sorry.”

She gazed at me, and I felt as if she was gazing through the back of the coffee house. Perhaps she was, her distant stare raking the hills 1500 kilometres to the north, near a small town in Hokkaido.

“Yeah, you’re the kind who would be.” She sighed unhappily. “I tell you what. I’ll tell you a story, with some parts left out because people already know those parts. Then you can decide what to do with it. So this isn’t an interview, it’s just me, Akira Katharine Anderson Satou, and I’m talking to a coffee table. You’re Misaki Kawana, who happened to know my sister somehow, and you just also happen to be sitting there while I talk to myself. The recorder I don’t know about, perhaps it’s on?”

I nodded silently, unwilling to break the spell. Her gaze returned from its distant voyage, and locked onto my own for a moment. Then she turned towards the window, the light again outlining her sharp features. This time, the sun seemed to wash the shadows out of the corners of her face.

“In 2007,” Akira began, “I was only twenty-five. I had been dating a brilliant young man—let’s call him K—for a few years, and we’d even played with the idea of getting married. Or at least, I had, and he indulged me. He managed to do that for months, shuttling back between Columbia and Tokyo, spending time with me in places from Saitama to Sapporo and everywhere in between. We were careful and cautious, more for his sake than mine—I loved him enough not to care about myself very much.”

She paused. I sipped my coffee. It was mysterious, deep, bitter—as if the spirit of chocolate had been roasted in a charcoal fire. It reminded me of her, somehow.

“When he finished his studies, he had already made up his mind about his future. I knew that, and quite foolishly, I thought I’d be part of it. Y’know, the way young Japanese ladies think they’ll have a career even after marrying the boss’s son.”

She toyed with her coffee cup for a few seconds. Then she looked out of the window, before resuming.

“K had two brothers. One lived with him, and the other one was kept away from them because their father had divorced their mother before the youngest son was born. K’s father never met his youngest son, never wanted to. It was that kind of family. I hated the whole idea of such things. It frightened the hell out of me.”

She glanced at me. I continued to listen.

“Fine. 2007. It was the year certain legal arrangements came through. My father had risen through the Hakamichi ranks and eventually made a little kingdom for himself in Europe. He wanted his children to move to Scotland to be with him and Mother. He was afraid of reprisals, because somehow he’d managed to separate the subsidiary company from the conglomerate.

“I was a young and naïve lawyer then, full of fire. Ha! I went to see my uncle in Saitama. He laughed. ‘Hiroyuki can have the group. We have enough problems in Japan, girl. Question is, will you and Swordsman move to Scotland?’ I remember the look on his face. It was a mixture of crude good humour and sadness.

“I knew better than to say anything about that. My uncle was one of three men, now that I can look back clearly, who ever respected me: the crazy one. His wife, my father’s sister, was in Scotland.

“I told him that we hadn’t decided yet. Too many things going on, that kind of stuff. He nodded, and we left it at that.”

She took a shallow, sudden breath. Her gaze had drifted into the distance again.

“K and I spent time relaxing in a summer house my father had bought many years ago, up in the hills near Yoichi. I remember we were sipping apple juice after lunch. I told K that I’d be willing to see him three months in every year, even if family matters kept me in Europe much of the time.

“He nodded gravely—he could be funny, he could be serious, it was hard to tell which was which—and said that would be great. Except… and that’s when I just knew it was over. That word, ‘except’, did it. You see, the privileged of the establishment always make exceptions for themselves.

“I stared at him. Except what, I wanted to know. I couldn’t believe that there was an ‘except’ between us. He made a sad face. ‘My father,’ he said softly, ‘is retiring from politics next year. It’s a secret, so you haven’t heard what I’m telling you. I’ll be running in Kanagawa for his seat. I’ll be busy too.’

“I told him things would be fine. We could be busy and away from each other, and when we weren’t busy, we could be together a quarter of every year. K looked at me, his eyes steady, unblinking. ‘Serving the people,’ he said, ‘is a full-time duty.’

“To my credit, I didn’t lose my cool. I can’t remember much of what I said. We packed things up, cleaned up the house, drove down to Sapporo and then back home. It was a long drive, and we settled things. I’ve not seen him since, except on the networks.”

Again, that trick of the sunlight made her irises look red. I blinked, and they were warm brown again.

“So, Misaki, what d’you think of Akira’s sad story, huh?”

I looked at her. Perhaps it was time to shift the focus sideways.

“It is a sad story. But what of the others? You said that there were three men who respected you.”

A sharp laugh erupted from her, almost like the barking of a dog. She did not bother to hide it. A nearby fellow customer looked up from his tablet in annoyance.

“K wasn’t one of them. All the three who respected me were my relatives, and of them all, the one who said he loved me didn’t understand a thing about love at the time he said it.

“That’s life, Misaki. Sometimes you think you know it all, and then twenty years later, you realize nobody knows any damn thing. You could have a dry scientific wallflower like that Katayama woman and suddenly someone wants to marry her. You could have a beauty like my sister Lils, and she doesn’t want anybody to marry her. It’s all crazy, it’s all messed up.

“A word of advice? If you have something, keep it. If you lose it, move on. Everyone dies in the end, and there shouldn’t be any time for regrets.”

I felt a moment of empathy with her. A second of time hung between us, like the frosty glow of starlight. I had to smile, so that she knew it wasn’t pity that I felt.

“Akira, do you have regrets anyway?”

It came out more plaintively than I wanted. She smiled back, acknowledging my mood. Her half-smile was at least as powerful as mine.

“Regrettably,” she said.

The rest of our conversation was about the state of Japan’s economy and its future prospects. There was no avoiding any mention of K, considering his vocation and what he had done ever since handling his end of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. But in the ‘public’ section of our session, as those who have read it will know, Akira Satou’s analysis is intelligent and collected, very businesslike. There is no hint that she ever knew the man on a personal basis.

After we were done, I returned to Natsume’s office. I found Naomi sitting there with her. Both of them were smiling; clearly, my other friend had returned unexpectedly and that had lightened the mood considerably. I had been about to ask Natsume, “Why are all the stories so sad, so bleak?”

The answer would probably have been, “No, they aren’t. Life has happy moments too.”

*****

Postscript:

Many years have passed since I wrote the account you have just read. Is life ever happy? I do not know. Natsume didn’t either. Perhaps it is just that when we are happy, we value our joy so little; when we are sad, the weight of despair seems much greater. As Saki Enomoto once said, “We do what we can, with what we have. Who can do better?”

=====
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Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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A Left Eye of Darkness ('Regretfully' up 20160323)

Post by brythain » Wed Mar 23, 2016 8:03 am

There's always some kind of business. It never really ends, does it?

Note: As editor, I must point out that our reporter here salts her memoirs with references to other interviews.
In this case, the most salient of these are 'The Satou Legacy', 'Chemistry', and 'Regrettably'.



Regretfully (2030)

It was summer, and the time of gentle heat was upon us. Natsume, Naomi and I sat in a park in the middle of the bustling city, all three of us tired and sad. The sun reflected off the glass façade of a cluster of tall buildings, reminding us how different Osaka was from Kyoto, from which we had recently arrived after a stopover in Tokyo and a flight from Sendai.

“She needs to work,” said Naomi, her voice like a classical flute, a little thin and breathy, somewhat mournful.

“Who?” Natsume and I both replied, my own soft voice contrasting with my friend’s gruff contralto. I flushed, somewhat embarrassed.

“Well, perhaps both of you, then.” Naomi smiled at Nat, but Nat was already staring into the distance.

“You interviewed him before, Misaki. The year Nakai died.”

It was uncharacteristically blunt, even for Natsume. I knew who ‘him’ referred to—the man whom we had just paid our final respects to, our former teacher and occasional dispenser of unusual truths. I looked sharply at her. “Yes, I remember. Mutou-sensei was very courteous and told me much about himself.”

“Keep your files safe. There’s a story waiting to be born. Sometimes, even if you don’t know how the parts fit, you keep them anyway.”

Naomi looked at both of us. Over the quarter-century of our friendship, we had all learnt to read each other’s language of mouth and also of body. “Nat, who is it you want Misaki to ‘interview’ this time?”

“It’s a surprise.” Naomi and I looked at Natsume with outrage. She laughed, offering her usual dry chuckle of amusement. “A surprise to me as much as it is to you.”

*****

For some years, Nat had been compiling files on how people with disabilities had made successes of their lives, and on the kinds of technologies and social engineering that had made such things possible. She sent me out, as a rule to do what she called ‘the human interest thing’. She felt that my primary role as photographer made me more aware of people as subjects of interest, rather than targets of inquiry. To me, it was a living, so I acceded to her requests. I still preferred making visual images, rather than textual ones.

There is what the Catholics call a cathedral amidst the bustle of the city, south of Osaka Castle. I met the lady whom I was supposed to interview there. The sky was blue, and the sunlight was gold—two things I noticed as I saw her leaning against one of the shiny steel railings leading up to the main entrance of the Tamatsukuri church. She too was golden in the light.

As I approached, her head turned towards me. She had always seemed tall to me, when we had been in school together, but against the church, she seemed less tall than she had been. Her eyelids opened, and I saw that the colour of her eyes matched that of the sky, and also of the backdrop against which they had placed the image of their god’s mother.

I bowed, then realized how long it had been since I last behaved as I ought before someone like her. “Miss Satou?” I queried, unsure as to how to address her.

“Misaki?” she smiled. “Please call me ‘Lilly’. I’m not quite anything else.”

She had come almost to attention, her hands clasping the head of a long thin cane like some sort of avenging angel with the light around her hair. I smiled, and then mentally berated myself for forgetting a second time—Lilly Satou was blind. What one could not forget was that she was also beautiful, her small Japanese mouth somehow matching her large foreign eyes. This, everyone in our year had remembered, whether they had known her well or not.

“Lilly. Shall we perhaps find a place to sit and talk?”

She smiled at my formality. To tell the truth, her own formal phrasing was something I felt comfortable with.

“Let’s do that. I am at your mercy; I know nothing of Osaka, except for the kindness of Natsume and the local transport network.”

*****

“For the record, Lilly? May I have your personal details?”

Her nose twitched slightly, although I could not make out if it was in amusement or distaste. But her mouth seemed to smile before she began to speak. Her voice was light and airy, but with a moderately low register.

“My name is Lillian Alexandra Anderson Satou, resident of Japan and now Scotland. I graduated from Yamaku in Spring 2008 and am now the proud owner of several restaurants in and around Edinburgh. I was born blind…”

It came to me that she had never seen her own beauty. In my mind, I tried to recall my meeting with her elder sister, in the same café in which we now sat, more than four years before. I let the recording continue while I concentrated on watching her body language.

“Why have you returned to Japan from your home in Scotland?”

I knew the answer already, and she knew that I knew. This was for the record, though. Her gentle smile slipped, and for a moment, she froze. Then she continued, “I returned to Japan because of the death of a family member.”

This was not the phrasing I had expected. It had been years since my interview with Akio Mutou, my former class teacher who had recently passed on. With the subtle thrill of shock that comes when one had not seen something in plain sight, I suddenly understood. I had many pieces in my possession; I had not put them all together.

“The late Mutou-sensei was related to your father?”

“Yes. He married my father’s youngest sister.”

So, he was related to Shizune as well, then—one of the Satou sisters had married a Hakamichi from that infamous clan. “And Shizune Hakamichi is also a relative?”

“My first cousin. Jigoro Hakamichi married my father’s oldest sister.” Her face twitched at this, as if it were something unpleasant to think about.

The pieces fell into place. “I am doubly sorry, Lilly. When I saw you at the wake in Sendai, I…”

“Your apology is accepted. You could not have known we were related.” She was trying hard to be polite, judging from her tone. I had clearly misjudged the situation.

“Thank you,” I said, meaning it. “Perhaps we can proceed to the less personal parts of this interview?”

“I would find that more pleasant.”

And so, we began to chat about how she had slowly become a successful businesswoman in the heart of Edinburgh’s old town. She mentioned how she and her sister had come up with the name ‘Northern Light’ for their first restaurant, and then told a story about her first chef and the problems of setting up a new business in a new homeland. “I couldn’t believe that what they were speaking was English!”

She became more animated as we spoke, her hands skillfully describing circumstances and surroundings, items and people. It was clear that she had enjoyed her years away from Japan, although I detected some kind of deeper sadness. “I have enjoyed myself a great deal, although I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if I had stayed.”

Some of the details were fascinating. My old friend Hanako Ikezawa had apparently been the catalyst for Lilly’s transformation: it had been Hanako who had suggested she take up an informatics course of some sort, learning how to use computers with variable-surface displays to surf the internet and do business. “IT courses, and then business courses, and all because I told Hanako about my problems with Father!”

She spoke at length about how her elder sister had maintained links with Japanese contacts, and how those contacts had been generous with their advice, resources, and time. Then she went on to the chronological development of her very different restaurants, and the difficulty in maintaining quality in staff, service and production. “Hanako helped a lot, even there. She knows people, and she loves to write.”

This was a side of Ikezawa I had never expected to discover, I must admit—a complete reversal of roles, because most of us had thought of Lilly as the dominant character in their friendship. Then again, I had also been thinking of interviewing my former classmate about her marriage the year before, to someone considered one of the country’s top bachelors, and so many years her junior.

Too quickly, the time had passed. It was getting late when she reached across the table and put one hand on mine. “Misaki?”

“Oh,” I automatically began to apologise, “I’m sorry to have kept you so late!”

“It’s not that. My uncle left something for you, in his very long and complicated will. It will take time to process, but they told me all the items he assigned to people had digitized images. I would like to show his gift to you. Is there a projection volume available?”

I nodded, forgetting once again, and then said, “Yes, there is. I’ll adjust things if the volume is insufficient.”

She nodded, then raised her cane as if raising a magical staff. Pressing the top of the cane with her thumb produced a rapidly shifting pattern of light—a hologram grid. She flicked to the image gallery with her thumb. I had not seen this particular device before; the one I had used was twice the size and would never have fit in such a slim form-factor.

“Item 22,” she said softly. “Tag: Misaki Kawana.”

In seconds, the image had formed in the space above our coffee table. It was a little metal owl, painstakingly carved or forged out of a dull bluish-grey metal with a lustrous sheen. Its eyes seemed to flicker with little sparks of light.

“It is beautiful,” I whispered. “Let me describe it to you.”

After I did so, Lilly Satou replied, “There is also a message that goes with it, but they haven’t scanned the messages. I’ll make sure you get it. I like what you’ve told me about the owl’s eyes: I have always loved to think of stars, little points of heat and sharpness, embedded in a rich black velvet.”

I had never thought of my old schoolmate as being poetic in any way. What they say is true: real life has many surprises, and it is stranger than any story you could tell. I thanked her for her time again, and strangely, she thanked me for mine.

As we parted, I asked her, “Have you much business left unfinished in this country?”

She smiled, rather sadly. “Not very much. Regretfully, there is some that should have been settled many years ago. I should have settled all of it by August, around the time of the Sendai Tanabata festival.”

“I hope it all works out well. May you have greater success in your chosen career, Lilly!”

“And you in yours,” she replied. “Thank you.”

As the summoned podcar sped her on her way to the airport, I wondered. What kind of business would a woman still have, that could not have been settled more than two decades ago?

It would be quite a long time before I found out.

=====
back to thread index
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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A Left Eye of Darkness ('Foundation' up 20160414)

Post by brythain » Thu Apr 14, 2016 1:28 pm

Editor's Note: This piece is the first part in a triptych of interviews. I shall call it the Foundation trilogy, from a favourite author. (N., Osaka 2042)


Estimation is an art, but a solid foundation is always a good thing.


Foundation (2034)

I do not know when it all began, but it is now commonplace to call the person seated in front of me ‘the most underestimated man in all Japan’. I found him strange, even if he had not been completely unknown to me. In 2034, the Nakai Institute was opened, and behind it was the unknown but hefty weight of the Nakai Foundation. It had taken ten years to get that far.

So Natsume Ooe, my longsuffering boss and long-time friend, had asked me to talk to one of the faceless names behind the Foundation: its senior legal counsel. When I saw the name she had given me, I raised one of my shapeless, ugly eyebrows. Nat simply said, “Yes, it’s her brother.” I nodded, and a few days later, was in Sendai.

*****

I was sure, before I stepped into the room, that my memories of a somewhat weedy, almost feminine little boy, were correct. I had met him only once before, that I could remember, and my friend, the future lawyer’s sister, had at that time seemed embarrassed but protective of her little brother.

Not so little now, I thought to myself as he unfolded himself to rise and greet me. Either that, or it is the wrong Hakamichi. After all, there are many of them.

“Kawana-san!” he boomed softly, like a tympanum. He was over six feet tall, and broadly built. His hair was darkly sleek, almost blue-black, swept back and tied in a short ponytail behind him. His bow of greeting was like a wave about to crash upon the shore.

“Hakamichi-san,” I replied, still wondering how this could possibly be Shizune Hakamichi’s brother.

“Please, senior lady, be seated. Don’t worry,” he said, gesturing expansively. “My lady wife, she is not in Japan this day.”

His ‘lady wife’… In a sudden rush of nostalgia, I remembered that she was many years older than he; indeed, she had been a classmate of mine at Yamaku. I would have liked to have met her—I had not spoken with her for some years and I had a list of questions for her.

“Why would I be worried, Hakamichi-san?” I said, allowing a narrow little smile to appear on my lips.

“Just a little joke, Miss Kawana. You may call me Hideaki, and if you have memories of me from half your life ago, please leave them behind.”

“I am Misaki, then. May I?”

“May you? Ah, the paraphernalia!” He laughed, with what I can only describe as a firm, assertive boom. “Please, go ahead and set up what you need.”

“I have a 3D staging recorder, body-respecting. Would that be all right?”

“Indeed. But I have a question: why are you speaking to this humble lawyer when you could be speaking to my learned and intelligent wife? After all, she was once your classmate.”

“I had shamefully forgotten it was so, until I realized which Hakamichi I was speaking to.” Which was true, except that I had realized this when Natsume had spoken to me some days before. “But I was directed to talk to you by my chief at the Shimbun.”

“Ah, the inestimable Miss Ooe, of whom it is said that strong men would rather face a tigress than her, and strong women would fall in love with her rather than with men!”

“No comment,” I said primly. He grinned in reply.

This Hideaki was such an improper person! Or at least, that was what my first impression seemed to tell me. I felt a strange warmth rise to my face as this thought sank in. Quickly, I turned my intention to Ada, my recording suite, which unfolded and deployed in her various remote modules within seconds. Ava, my perennial companion from an earlier decade, was now retired, no more than a technological curiosity.

Hideaki looked on silently, exuding good humour. I noticed that his body remained unnaturally still, as if waiting or conserving energy. “May I begin?” I asked.

“Please do. I am your humble servant, Misaki Kawana.”

“Tell me about yourself, with elements of your childhood and what you see as defining moments.” It was an unorthodox approach, but he was, I sensed, an unorthodox person.

“Ah.” He nodded slowly and thoughtfully. “Hmm. I am Hideaki Hakamichi, son of Jigoro of Clan Hakamichi, if you like. I have a sister whom you know, and she is beautiful, intelligent, and very fierce. I had a mentor, whom you also know, and who is now sadly deceased, and I once thought my sister should have married him. I now serve as Senior Counsel in the foundation named for him. How’s that?”

“Not enough,” I said, smiling a little.

He smiled back. “I have an unfortunate habit of beginning personal accounts with the phrase, ‘I am Hideaki Hakamichi.’ This is possibly because I have to remind myself frequently who I really am, and also because it is a kind of tradition to me. Also, it is because the Hideaki I used to be is so different from the Hideaki I am now. Genetic traits catch up with you sometimes, and now I am larger than my father ever was. I thought I was small, until one day I realized I weighed more than a tenth of a metric ton.”

“How did you get that way?” I asked, remembering him again as a skinny fellow with oddly-dyed hair.

“Tennis, I think. Diet, perhaps. Also, Rika Katayama and her mountain of physical movements—a training regimen I have maintained till this day. My sister approves.”

His sister—always, his sister. I wondered about his family life, growing up with as intense a sibling as Shizune would have been.

“Tell me about your sister, and how she has influenced you.”

“Shizune…” —at this point, he developed a faraway look— “… taught me how to play chess. She looked after me when Father could not. Mother left us when we were very young, and I never really knew what a mother was. Maybe I have mother issues; I have thought about that a lot, and I believe that the women I have loved were perhaps in some way the kind of women I wanted Mother to be. Shizune ordered my life, and introduced me to Nakai-san.”

I looked at him in surprise. I had not expected this sudden baring of the soul. My surprise seemed to amuse him, and he flashed his teeth at me before continuing.

“Yes, I am quite open about certain things. Confession is good for the soul, and also to sell news. So I should give you something to sell, dear senior lady.”

I nodded silently, as unspeaking as Shizune would have been. Then I remembered myself and replied, “Yes, if you will.”

“I will,” he said. “Do you want to hear about love, life, work, what?”

“Perhaps about love and life to some extent, but I do want to hear about your work with the Nakai Foundation, mainly.”

“What specifics can I offer my charming senior lady?”

He was amusingly serious, and that was unusual—so I was bold. “Who was your first love, and what was your relationship with your father like? Tell me also about your relationship with Nakai-san, and how you came to know your wife. Then you can tell me about your work.”

“Is that all? Only these small bits of my soul?”

This time, he was joking. I merely tilted my head in reply, realizing that he was about to speak because he wanted to do so.

“Ah. Very well.” He paused, as if collecting his thoughts, and then continued. “I think the first girl I really loved, although I did not know it at the time, was a young lady of my acquaintance, from my neighbourhood in Saitama. Her name was Sachiko, and neither of us were able to talk about our relationship properly before she died.”

Surely, there could not be two such… I stared at him. To his credit, he read my mind quickly and effectively.

“Yes, she was the sister of our mutual friend whom we aren’t allowed to name. It was twenty-five years ago, and I have never forgotten a moment of our time together.”

After a while, I broke the silence. “It is unfortunate that the questions I have asked you all seem to lead to those who have departed.”

“Senior lady, I take no offence! But let me speak of my father, who has achieved local notoriety.”

Indeed, he had. Jigoro Hakamichi had always been publicly perceived by the business community as the least useful of the Hakamichi brothers. He had been prone to wear loud Hawaiian-style shirts and talk like a Western caricature of a katana-wielding dolt. After his death in 2028, things had begun to leak out, about how the self-called ‘consultant’ was really the ‘master juggler’, the financial ‘fixer’ of the Family.

“Go on, please.”

“My father was a bad father, he used to tell me. But he taught me how to be a man, while making it look like a joke. The secret, he once said, was to do your duty, while acting in a way that would lead people to discount the factual evidence and treat you as a person of no consequence. They would then underestimate you handily, and you would strike successfully at your targets.”

He sighed softly.

“He never got over Mother’s departure. Instead, he installed my lovely cousin Akira as child-minding watchdog, in exchange for a convenient living space near Tokyo. Akira Satou—so odd, that her name was so manly!—taught me a lot about life, and what love should be about. She would tell me about growing up, and how her own romances had failed, and why. It was through her, and my cousin Lilly, that I met my wife. My father was aghast: as you know, my lovely wife is of your vintage, not mine.”

I offered him the ghost of a smile to indicate that I was not particularly offended by this reference to my age. He returned my expression with a slight creasing of the skin around his eyes.

“It was a difficult time, my growing up. My sister had always been fond of Nakai-san, and Nakai-san himself had dated my cousin Lilly. The two of them had been good friends in their youth, then un-friends, and for a while, almost enemies. I was caught in the middle. Advice was not forthcoming from my father, and other advice was contradictory.”

A wry half-grin was on his face. I almost winced in sympathy.

“Somewhere along the way, Hisao Nakai found love again, and married Emi Ibarazaki. But he’d get a strange look around February, when he would think about my cousin in Scotland, and he never was quite comfortable around my sister. And one day, he died, and I realized he had been my friend, and I had not quite noticed that. What I am doing now, my work with the Foundation, is like a kind of penance, to make up for what Nakai-san was to me: a kind of elder brother, but not quite.”

Interesting, I thought to myself. If you included our unnamable friend you’d have three men, all very different, and a network of secret friendships all revolving around Shizune Hakamichi. I shook my head.

“Senior lady?”

“Please continue,” I said hastily. “How did you meet your wife?”

“I took her out for dinner after Nakai-san’s funeral. One thing led to another, I suppose. But the one event, strangely enough, that made me look at her in that way, was the time we spent in New York City.”

“When was that?”

He frowned a little. “The summer of 2012, I think. We went shopping down Amsterdam Avenue, of all things. With my sister, and her friend Misha, and our cousin Akira. I remember the heat of the street, and the scent that my wife wore, and the taste of Hungarian pastries, as if it were yesterday. Except that then, of course, I did not imagine she would one day agree to marry me.”

“That’s a beautiful scene.”

“Ah, but years later, when I asked to marry her, and she surprised me by accepting my request, my father was very angry. First he said she was too old. Then he said she was not right for me. We had arguments, and they were not pleasant. One day, I suddenly understood. For some reason, she reminded Father of my mother. You can imagine how awkward I felt. Yet, I wanted to confront him and force him to accept her. It did not work out very well.”

“When did he finally agree?”

“When he was dying.”

I looked carefully at his face. I could tell he was still grieving, more than five years after his father’s death. I decided to change the subject.

“Where do you think the future of the Foundation lies?”

The large man who was now a senior Hakamichi operative, and a power in his own right, tilted his head to face me directly. Quite soberly, he said, “The future of the Foundation is perhaps the future of our country and of our world. It probably depends on whether people want to live forever—or not.”

The rest of our discussion ended up as quotes sifted into the Nakai Foundation media special that the Shimbun released weeks later. As the years passed, I watched developments in the Families, and in the Foundation. When the future arrived, I wondered which side I would be on.

=====

Note: Hideaki eventually released some of his memoirs through the agency of his lady wife. I prevailed upon our long friendship to gain permission to publish excerpts from them. You will find some of them here. NO, Osaka, 2045.

back to thread index | part2 | part3
Last edited by brythain on Fri Feb 03, 2017 3:27 am, edited 3 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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A Left Eye of Darkness ('Foundation/Empire' up 20160609)

Post by brythain » Thu Jun 09, 2016 2:28 pm

Editor's Note: This piece is the second part in the triptych of interviews which I have called the Foundation trilogy. Thank you, Dr Asimov. (N., Osaka 2042)


Every story has two sides—as has every person.


Foundation and Empire (2038)

It was a sunny day in Sendai. My old friend Natsume Ooe had asked me to use the lens of my own senses to capture the city in my mind. I had thought this an interesting idea, and so I had left my instruments of war at home and ridden the lightning up.

I walked by an old familiar park, its character still embedded in trees that had survived the three decades since my graduation from high school. I had faint memories left, but they were in outline as strong as the character of the park. I could smell the scent of summer, and the distant aroma of some skewered snack.

It had been four years since I had met an elusive lawyer, and now, I was meeting his wife. Who would have thought the concept of ‘redoubtable’ to apply to Hanako Ikezawa? She had been shy, almost brittle, when I had first known her. You could, in retrospect, have seen a fleeting glimpse of steel, but most of the time, one would have felt it to be nothing more than an illusion.

She had married the most underestimated man in all Japan, a man many years her junior. They had two children now. So much time had passed, I pondered. Suddenly, I felt pierced with regret.

I looked up. My legs had brought me to the address, where a narrow staircase wound up along a terraced wall to a single doorway. I wondered how she had kept this apartment a secret from all of us for so long: rumour had it that it had been hers almost from the time of the great tsunami.

I was about ten minutes too early, and perhaps it was a discourtesy to inflict myself so prematurely on my host. As I stared at the beautiful interplay of trees and shadows and summer light around and along the old bricks, the door opened. My dazzled eyes struggled to make out the shape in the shadows above.

“Please come up, reporter-san. This one is at your service. May she carry your things? Godmother is anxious that you be made welcome in this house. She will be down in a while.”

The speaker was a tall young lady. She looked as if she might be carved from rich wood and sunbeams. My internal databases creaked into life, and I realized that this girl might be none other than Akiko Nakai, who might one day be heir to the Foundation bearing her father’s name. ‘Godmother’? Since when? Mentally, I added to the list of questions I would soon be asking.

“Good afternoon, Miss Nakai,” I said, allowing a hint of inquiry into my voice. “Thank you, but I have nothing burdensome to lay upon you.”

“This one regrets her discourtesy, reporter-san! Her family name is indeed Nakai and she should have introduced herself earlier.”

Was that a hint of a blush? I could not tell. I merely nodded and smiled to show that I had taken no offence. I thought a bit, and calculated that she was only eighteen years old, still a schoolgirl.

I climbed the steps, my stiffened back whining a little in my imagination. Young Akiko, if it was she, bowed as I reached the top, the cloth curtains fluttering behind her gently in a faint breeze. It was a warm day, but the shadow of the doorway was cool as I returned her bow and took off my street shoes in the alcove.

When I looked up, I was surprised to find that old familiarity ambushed me more quickly than old shock. The famous critic, traveller and Nakai Foundation deputy chairman Madam Hanako Ikezawa stood before me, her hair drawn back into a neatly asymmetric ponytail. The afternoon sun gleamed over the partly uncovered, uneven right side of her face, but the first words that entered my head were, oh, pretty, how pretty she is. The next thought I had was: she bothers less about her scars.

“Misaki!” she said, smiling without awkwardness. “It’s been a long time.”

There was no hint of her high-school stutter. There was a kind of relaxed warmth instead, as we exchanged greetings.

“Hanako? How have things been?”

“Come in first, come in and have some t-tea.” She turned to her god-daughter and whispered something. The two of them embraced, and then Akiko bowed and left us, heading upstairs.

“Please, sit down and I’ll serve you.”

I nodded with my best thankful acceptance, and took the opportunity to look around. The apartment was spacious, rather sparsely furnished. It was odd that there was a second storey—single-level units were much more common in the area.

Tea was served. A faint odour of cherry-blossoms scented the steam, and I breathed it in appreciatively. Some distance above us, I heard giggling. My old friend caught my glance.

“Ah, we have two, one is five and the other eight. Akiko is Hisao and Emi’s daughter, and somehow also my god-daughter. She makes a wonderfully serious minder for the two little ones. I’m sorry I was l-late to come to the door.”

“Oh, it was my fault: I was early.”

She smiled. “We’re both at fault, then. How are Natsume and Naomi? Tell me about your work!”

We spent some time reminiscing about old times, and trading in stories about the world in which we both lived—a world of critical commentary, last-minute editorials, and food photography. At some point, she had gone into writing about her travel experiences, and then into recommending some of those experiences. She’d been anonymous, and then eventually less so.

And then, slowly and carefully, we got into the professional reason for our meeting.

*****

“How did it happen, Hanako?” was what I asked, although perhaps not exactly in those words.

She looked at me thoughtfully, with the same withdrawn, slightly wary expression she had always evinced in class. She had surprised everyone when she had graduated as one of the top students of our year, and I think that she had even felt astonishment at herself. Some of that astonishment had never left. But she was older now, three decades older, as was I. There was more confidence in her, and perhaps not so much in me.

“I think… p-perhaps it was all those years competing with Shizune.”

She hadn’t stuttered. It was more a drawn-out moment of reflection. I nodded at her, signaled to her to continue.

“I hadn’t thought that I could ever compete with any of you. I just wanted my books, my world, and not to be unhappy. And then Lilly left, and everything should have fallen apart. But somehow, it didn’t. Hisao was somehow sadder than I was, and Shizune was sad for him, and Misha was sad for everyone, including herself. Then I realized that I was stronger than they were.”

She had certainly become more intense, more communicative with time. I listened, fascinated. Her once-halting behaviour was now deliberation. She was choosing cadences, rather than mere words.

“Stronger? How so?”

She smiled. “I was less sad. I had been sad so long that it made little difference. I had spoken with Lilly about her leaving, and I had wept enough, and I had nothing left to lose. But everyone else seemed to feel they had lost a lot. I got angry with them; they had lives to live, while I had none.”

“What was the next turning point for you, after Lilly left?”

She frowned. I had never really looked at her frown, and I realized at that moment how much the left side of her face creased, while her scarred right side hardly twitched in comparison.

“Shizune was the first to recover. She decided to get Hisao back on his feet, as if he were some sort of project that was suffering from lack of funding. She crowdfunded him—Emi to keep him fit, Misha to bug him daily, anything that anyone wanted to contribute. Not everyone bought into it. A lot of people didn’t particularly like her, and they didn’t know Hisao very well.”

I flinched inside. I hadn’t thought much of the sudden arrival either. He had come in the first week of June, in our final year, to sit in the seat vacated by Saki Enomoto. Most of us hadn’t paid any attention to him, once it had become clear he had little interest in spending time in our classroom. There had been some sort of big fight in the first few days between Shizune and her cousin Lilly, and Hisao had got caught up in it, and then after that, he’d spent more time with the blind blonde from 3-2.

“That was the turning point?”

“No… not quite. I think we became a study group next, helping each other with preparation for the examinations. Shizune constructed a study schedule. I helped find sample test questions and made copies for everybody. Misha stocked up on food and drinks for us. And then somehow we did… better than expected.”

I had noticed something unusual. The Hanako I had known had not been one to speak often about others. Now, she seemed at ease, speaking about others in familiar terms, as if she had spent time thinking about them over the years. I felt emboldened to ask more personal questions.

“Are you close to Shizune these days?”

She smiled wryly at me. “People are only as close to Shizune as she allows. But perhaps I am closer than most. After all, we’re family now.”

I had never had much of a family. Yet, that word struck a familiar chord in me, and I suddenly saw the opportunity to ask a particularly interesting question.

“Hanako, if it is all right with you, could you tell me something about your relationship with your late father-in-law and the other Hakamichis?”

Her wry smile widened a little, and I saw her teeth. “I have been married nine years into that family, and nobody has asked me this, Misaki.”

“Natsume will be so proud of me,” I said, hoping to keep the tone of our conversation light.

“Ah. I’m sure she will.” My former classmate frowned a little, then continued. “I was a little afraid of my husband’s father, at first. He seemed a violent man, consumed by mysterious passions. Towards his end, however, he seemed to… release his kindness, as if he had chained it up within him. I grew to love him. He treated me well in his final years.”

She sighed. “His brothers, however, were as different from him as mud from clouds. He was the youngest, and he had learnt to protect his own family from them. They were fearsome predators. To this day, my husband and his sister refuse to deal directly with their paternal cousins.”

There was silence for a while. The evening had come, and the last faint rays of the setting sun gleamed across her fading scars. It looked as if wax had been layered thinly over a beautiful portrait. I felt uncomfortable. Then she spoke again.

“You know, Misaki, I still find it funny that I learnt to see the world through Shizune. In 2012, we were good friends, and I was still a shy girl. She and Lilly’s sister Akira invited me to join them on a trip to New York City. I think it changed the whole path of my life. Shizune and I… we had learnt to be friends while we were in university together, but I sometimes thought she never really meant it. And then one day, she said to me, ‘I will be your friend forever.’ I could not believe my ears.”

“Shizune said that?” I too found it difficult to believe.

“Hai. Shizune can be very determined. She is my god-daughter’s guardian, you know. And that is because she was H-Hisao’s friend, and she sees it as a duty and a privilege together. Friendship’s important to her.”

“Where do you see your friendship going?”

“Hmm. Shizune reaches for the stars, and she brings her friends with her. I might not always agree with her on the work of the Foundation, but if she chooses to make an empire around her, I will help her do it.”

There was an odd fierceness to Hanako Ikezawa’s voice, as she said that. I looked sharply at her, but not so sharply as to be rude. She was looking at the horizon beyond the dim balcony of her house.

“I think a storm is coming,” she whispered. “But I’m n-not afraid. I have friends, and a family. In the end, we will stand together and not break.”

We finished our time together with other questions and answers—useful bits of information about the work of the Foundation and the kinds of things people would want to know about a minor celebrity. Then Akiko brought the children downstairs to be with their mother and to meet ‘Aunty Misaki’. They were sweet young ladies, the elder girl quiet like her mother and the younger girl cheeky like her father.

Later, as I rode the lightning back down to Osaka, I remembered the two little girls. And I thought of how we had all once been little girls. Little girls grow up, but some grow up more than others because they have a harder time of it. My friend Hanako was one such.

=====
back to thread index | part1 | part3 | hanako's story
Last edited by brythain on Fri Feb 03, 2017 3:26 am, edited 3 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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A Left Eye of Darkness ('Second Foundation' up 20160716)

Post by brythain » Sat Jul 16, 2016 12:36 am

Editor's Note: This piece is the third part in what I have called the Foundation trilogy, with apologies to the late Dr Isaac Asimov. (N., Osaka 2042)


I always wondered how much Natsume Ooe knew. It was only in 2064 that I could finally publish this.


Second Foundation (2042)

A year had passed since my friend Natsume had finally come out of mourning. In that year, I had come to know her and her extended family much better than I would have earlier thought possible. And so I sat down with her, meaning well, hoping to let her say things as if this were an interview never to be published.

At first, she would have none of it. She scolded me for going beyond the boundaries of our friendship. I gently told her, “Natsu, if there are such boundaries, then what is friendship?”

To my horror, she burst into tears. Tears are not what one associates with Natsume Ooe, Madam Dragon Chairperson of the Daishimbun. I did not know what to do at first, until she clasped my right hand and said, “I have so few real friends, I am shamed to push even one away a little bit.”

This was of course not exactly what she said. It is what I have recorded that she said. So it is with the rest of this interview, and it will not be published for a long, long time.

=====

“What happened that day, Natsume?”

I had not dared to ask this question, but it had been two years already, and if anyone had a right to ask this, perhaps old friends had. I thought I had been her friend long enough.

She looked at me dully, but not as if her mind had dulled—rather, it was as if she were shielding the activity of her mind from me. I lifted an eyebrow at her, and she sighed.

“Naomi saved my life.”

I nodded, hardly daring to do more in response.

“Do you know how she did it, Misaki?”

I shook my head once and blinked. I could feel the tension. She was deciding whether or not to let me into some sort of inner circle.

“She sensed a bullet coming. She made sure she was in the way.”

It sounded unbelievable. I could hardly say so, however. “How did she… ?”

Natsume had decided to continue. She waved aside the rest of my question. “I have to tell you the whole thing. She was my love, and also my sister-in-law, as you have known for so long. But you have to seal this account for now.”

I nodded again, and activated my recording armamentarium. My friend looked at me, her gaze turbulent, as if for once she was finding it difficult to assemble her thoughts and words. Then she began.

“My Naomi discovered that her life was in peril, or so she thought. She told me that she had found someone—I shall not tell you whom—who could bioengineer a pathway for her body to be more resilient and responsive. She had always had mild epilepsy, and this proposed intervention was in its own way a cure for that.”

A cure for epilepsy? It was not unthinkable; four decades into the 21st century of our modern era, many things were now possible.

“There were side-effects. The biointervention streamlined some elements of her neural network. She became more perceptive, her reflexes faster. She would lie awake at night, thinking too much, as she used to tell me. For a quiet, reflective person, it was hard to bear.”

Natsume paused, her mismatched eyes gazing into the distance. I waited for her to resume, feeling concerned and yet glad that she was finally letting it out.

“Besides myself, she confided also in our friend from Tokyo Central. He warned me that she would need careful watching, because she would take time to get used to her new level of function and ability. I did not understand it at first, but I saw her catch things she could not normally have caught, and solve problems I had not even begun to formulate.”

This was a big story. I wondered what other dots my friend would end up joining for me.

“It was only later that I discovered that she had used nanobiologicals that I had earlier tried to dispose of. There was a famous scientist, who has now been missing for many years. There was another one we knew from Yamaku, and these two had been collaborating with illegal experiments. It was the first step to building a Japanese super-soldier. They got the idea from an old American superhero movie, I think you can guess which one.”

I could not stand it. I had to interrupt, and I did. “Are you saying that the Nakai Foundation is dealing in illegal nano?”

I found it hard to believe, actually. For one, Hanako Ikezawa would never have stood for it.

Natsume stared oddly at me. “No, why would you think that?”

I had not been doing my homework, it appeared. I felt ashamed, an old feeling from the days that I used to do group work with her, and she had always been on task while I struggled to make sense of the basic ideas.

“There are two groups, I think you could say, that have started a secret war. One thinks it is more natural to use conventional medical technology—implants, surgery, cybernetic replacement—to compensate for people’s difficulties. That is the work of the Nakai Foundation: they and their allies use what they call ‘controllable technology’.”

I nodded slowly. It made sense to me, from what I had seen of the Foundation’s work.

“At the same time, less scrupulous Families have set up an organization that uses unconventional medical technology—autonomous nanobiologicals, genetic marauders, other forms of genome manipulation—to enhance other people. This is ‘disruptive technology’—it is uncontrolled in the sense that nobody knows what the long-term outcomes will be. Do you see the picture now?”

Her gaze had swung back to me, refocused. In my mind, I had a picture. I was not sure if it was the same as Natsume’s.

“So there are –two– foundations?”

She looked at me with the shadow of a half-grin forming at the corner of her mouth. It gave her a strange appearance, slightly twisted.

“Not quite. There is the Nakai Foundation, with its supporters and allies. There is the Shadow Organisation, which calls its leader the Black Dragon. They appear to operate mostly in the west and south, on Kyushu—mainly Fukuoka and Nagasaki, we think, and also further south, on Okinawa.”

“Are they going to move towards open warfare?”

“Not yet,” she replied, ominously. “But perhaps one day they will be fighting for the soul of our country. We Japanese have never liked uncontrolled change. There are those who argue that it is necessary, and that this should be forced on all of us.”

“Which side are you on, Natsu?”

“The Shimbun can’t be seen to take sides yet,” she said bluntly. “However, we don’t like walking in the shadows, or with them.”

It seemed as much of an answer as anything. I prepared to stop recording. And then Natsume said the strangest thing: “There’ll always be a second Foundation, and the names of the dead will live on.”

“Natsu?”

“Oh, nothing. If there’s anything, you’ll be one of the first to know.” She smiled apologetically and waved her fingers, the way she does when she feels uncomfortable about continuing.

I shut my armamentarium down, nodding my thanks for her cooperation. Yet at the back of my mind, that peculiar phrase stirred. ‘A second Foundation’? I wondered what that might be.

=====
back to thread index | part1 | part2 | natsume's narrative
Last edited by brythain on Fri Feb 03, 2017 3:26 am, edited 3 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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brythain
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A Left Eye of Darkness ('Village Girl' up 20161203)

Post by brythain » Sat Dec 03, 2016 12:17 am

It took me many years to draw the strings together. But in our long story, one figure was seldom illuminated.


The Girl From The Village (2043)

To me, she will always be the Librarian. She had been the senior student librarian when I was a freshman in high school, and by the time I graduated, she had become a staff member. Years later, I found myself sitting next to her at a press conference.

“Librarian-san!” I blurted out in greeting, so surprised was I to see her.

“Ah… um, Kawana-san!” she replied, looking oddly uncomfortable.

I was even more surprised that she remembered my name. Instinctively I looked for press credentials, and only found an odd-looking lapel pin on her jacket.

“Are you doing well?” I asked, very sincerely. I had always been grateful for the accident-prone senior who had introduced me to so much good reading. Her reddish-brown hair showed a little grey, and she looked much more dignified than she had when she had been a young librarian.

“I am, ah, in good shape,” she said, in tones that suggested otherwise. “And you?” she added politely.

“I am working with Natsume Ooe at the Shimbun.” I realized there was no need to specify which one, for Natsume was godmother to one of the Librarian’s children. That, and my own displayed credentials.

“Um, I am here by accident. I am not a professional journalist.” She sounded so terribly apologetic.

I looked at her badge more carefully. It appeared to show a tiny cherry blossom with an even tinier stylized eye, its pupil a near-invisible red dot, at its centre. Things became clearer to me. I nodded, and replied neutrally, “Perhaps we could catch up over coffee after this is over.”

“Thank you. I would appreciate that… very much.”

*****

Over coffee, she seemed much more relaxed. We exchanged stories, along with comments about the little cakes we were consuming. At some point, there was a pause, and she broke it unexpectedly with, “Um, I remember you interviewed my husband some years ago. I think your writing style is… elegant.”

The odd patterns of speech and the nervous manner were still lurking there. I suspected they were habitual, and not emotional. As for ‘some years ago’, it had be been more like two decades.

“That is a great compliment, but it is Natsume who edits everything until it looks right,” I replied, smiling.

“Oh, I can sense Natsume’s exacting touch everywhere in your newspaper, but you have a formal and classical writing style that shows through.”

Apparently, when talking about literary matters, she lost all hesitancy. Indeed, she was looking at me with a strange intensity.

I nodded. “That means much to me, because I have never been a good writer in my own opinion.”

Taking a deep breath slowly, I added, “I apologize for being so forward, but I was wondering about the circumstances that might bring a senior administrative officer of the academy on Mount Aoba to such an event.”

She laughed softly. “Kawana-san, would it, um, help if I told you I come from a small village high in the mountains of Gifu?”

I saw no connection. Cautiously, I frowned a little and shook my head, hoping she would say more.

“Do you know a fictitious place named Hinamizawa?”

Who had not heard of it? Hinamizawa had been the central location of a terrifying series of digital novels we students had enjoyed in our schooldays… And then I realized what the Librarian was getting at. I am not often as shaken as I was at that point. The fictional Hinamizawa had been based on a real village named ‘Shirakawa-go’.

“You mean all that was real?” For a woman in my fifties, I must have sounded completely naïve.

“Not quite…”

“Not quite?”

The Librarian sighed. “The cicadas are still there. And nothing supernatural ever happened, as far as I, um, know.”

We had just attended a press conference at which government officials had announced that reports of strange phenomena in the Gifu region had been exaggerated, and that the area was perfectly safe. I looked at her with, I am ashamed to say, suddenly very suspicious eyes.

“Perhaps not supernatural, but unusual and newsworthy?”

She looked at me sharply. Then she sighed again. “My family’s long been resident in that place. My father was in charge of a… military unit there. He’s long-retired now, of course. My husband appears to know more about that than I do. It was he who insisted I should, ah, attend this meeting.”

Her husband and I had known each other for a long time. I cast my mind back to that distant interview I had conducted with him in the early 2020s. He had been mysterious then. He was still mysterious now.

A faint glimpse of light began to dawn in my slow mind. “Could unusual biochemical phenomena be part of the history of the region?”

The sharpness returned. “Reporters who investigate such things tend to find nothingness instead.”

I thought I had misheard. “Excuse me. I have possibly misunderstood?”

“Something’s still happening, Reporter-san. It’s an old and long story, and not many people know much about it. I try not to know. It’s best not to dig up unhappy ancient things. It’s worse when they dig themselves up.”

She gave me a pained smile as she looked at the expression on my face. “Best to keep Natsume guessing. She can always call my husband for confirmation. Sorry, sorry, I have to go now, I’m late, I need to talk to my son before he does something foolish! Please excuse me for leaving first!”

I smiled back. This had been an unsettling conversation, but I felt nothing but goodwill towards this lady. Her farewell made her sound as if she considered me a colleague, and we were leaving our workplace.

“Go well, Librarian-san. Do call me Misaki in future!”

“I will remember. Thank you!”

Somewhat flustered, she made her way out and vanished from sight. I wondered to myself: was it time again to pay a visit to my friend the General?

=====
back to thread index
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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