Direction (post Rin neutral ending)(complete)

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Muphrid
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Muphrid » Thu Dec 13, 2012 3:00 am

It's not like I haven't changed since Rin left, either. I have. When I came to Yamaku, I didn't really know what I would do with my life—or even if I'd have that long to worry about it. But the future waits for no man. Rin went to pursue hers; I needed to do the same. Mutou was a big help. He talked with me about science programs around the country and helped me realize what my talents could do. If not for his advice, I wouldn't be here. So really, I shouldn't worry over how Rin may have changed. I'm sure we both have, and that's okay.

It's morning now. Professor Adachi's tour gave me a lot to think about, but it's a new day, and I have my own life to worry over. I get up at eight, down my pills, and sneak in a quick shower. Mitsuru is waiting for me as soon as I get out, looking bleary-eyed and zombie-like, but he heads in without a word. It's at this point I realize, for all my preparations, I've neglected to get any groceries for breakfast. I'm forced to go knock on Sumi's door to beg for food. I really need to make that up to her.

It takes a few moments, but she comes to answer. "Hey. You're not ready to go already, are you?"

I wasn't intending to, and she doesn't look ready either. Her glasses are askew, and her hair is all wet. She's dressed already—thank goodness—but I can smell a hint of lavender on her. She turns somewhat away from me as she tries to tie up her ponytail, and I can see the outline of a bird with its wings spread covering half of her upper back. This is no small tattoo. I had no idea she was into that sort of thing.

"Hisao? Hello?"

I turn my attention up, to her eyes, which are still furrowed in concentration as she ties up her ponytail. "No, I just, uh, realized I don't have anything to eat," I say sheepishly. It suddenly seems like begging for food isn't the only thing I have to be sheepish about.

"Food?" Her eyes flash in realization. "Shit. That's important. Uh…"

In her trademark controlled panic style, Sumi goes about the kitchen and the refrigerator, looking for food. We don't have a lot of time, and I think that limits her options. Hastily, she throws a couple pieces of bread in the toaster and looks at me with an apologetic simper.

"I'm so sorry; it slipped my mind. I went over my stuff three times, making sure I had the texts, my notebooks, pens, pencils, and so on, but I didn't think about food."

"I'm surprised Ryou didn't remind you," I say.

She makes a face at that. "Ah, he's not up yet. He'll probably take his time or go get something from the convenience store. Let me see, what else can I do…?"

"Don't worry about it. I already owe you too much for finding this place for me and treating me to lunch yesterday. I'm no expert cook, but I can handle some basic breakfast stuff. It wouldn't be a problem to do that regularly for the four of us."

She makes a wry smile at that. "Only if we all split the cost of food. Don't say anything different, either. You're too nice of a person, Hisao, and people will take advantage of you otherwise."

"People like you?" I joke.

"Maybe," she says coyly.

The toast pops up, finished, and she snatches the two pieces quickly, eyeing her watch. We eat as we walk, not talking very much except to navigate the campus and make our way to class. We make it to class with five minutes to spare, and most of our fellow students have already taken their seats. Sumi finds a desk in the second row, and I sit behind her. Like my major classes at Kyoto, girls are a rarity here. I count three in total, including Sumi. Well, that's all right. I didn't choose this field because of the dating opportunities.

Our first class is classical mechanics—the motions of objects under the influence of forces like gravity, but not including Einstein's relativity. In some ways, it's a basic topic, even if the approaches are a lot more sophisticated than what you'd see in undergrad. At the same time, it's essential because the techniques used are the foundation for other topics.

It is the first day, so the professor elects for a broad overview of what we'll cover and how it all connects together. He strikes me as a bit dull. He makes a joke about a being able to calculate how fast a frog would spin if it were struck by a car while crossing a road. I think it would be pretty funny, if in a morbid sort of way, but delivered in a serious context and with a serious delivery, all the professor is met with is stunned silence.

I feel a bit bad for him, but only briefly, because by the end of class, we already have assignments. We don't even know anything yet!

Our next class is an hour away, so many of us retreat to our offices. The department actually gives us two offices for the new master's students, where we're supposed to hang out and collaborate. Sumi's office is in the center of the building; mine is on the northern wall. I store my things in my desk and lock it. Both desks beside me are left with stuff hanging around but the owners nowhere to be found, so I start to crack open a book. It's one I've read before, and I'm almost at the end anyway—it still gets me every time the kid realizes the wargames he's been playing are real. I don't get too much further, for there's a sudden squeaking sound beside me. It's Sumi, spinning uncontrolled in a chair that doesn't belong to her.

"Really? Your first instinct when in a new situation is to open up a book?"

"There a problem with books?" I ask.

"No problem, but there's a time and a place. You should come to the other office. Everybody's doing it, which means you should be, too."

I glance down and back along the row of desks. Somehow, I managed to miss the memo about where the party would be, I guess. I need to figure out why that happens, but maybe later. I put my book away and follow Sumi back to her office, finding the desk next to hers unattended. Right away, I can feel the changed atmosphere. The lights are brighter, and there's chatter on both side of the divider that cuts the room in two.

"See?" says Sumi. "It's lively over here."

Another student rolls up to his in his rolling chair. He's a bit overweight, with stubble around his chin and up his cheeks, but his eyes are keen and his tone jovial. "Only reason we're lively is because the full magnitude of the doom coming to us hasn't really sunk in yet. Nice to meet you guys; my name's Takeda. Or you can call me Jirou, if you want."

I ask, "Why do you think we're doomed?"

"It's just the nature of the thing," says Jirou. "They're going to work us to the bone and see which of us can take it. That, and physics professors can be pretty scattered. I heard the quantum guy this year accidentally 'forgot' to give his students two of their assignments until right before final exams. Two weeks, twenty problems, and no one had any idea how to do half of them."

Another student turns around from his desk. He wears a sweater and has thin, oval glasses and short brown hair. He's definitely foreign, but from where I can't say. "It can't be that bad, right?" he says, with hardly a trace of an accent. "I mean, if we're all in that much of a pinch, they can't fail the whole class."

"Well, they won't fail you because you're on a scholarship here from France," says Jirou. "Everyone else here is fair game."

"Fair point, fair point," says the Frenchman. "I just don't see the point in stressing out about it. The term just started. I'm sure it'll all work out." He looked my directions and extends a hand. "I'm Michel Dubois. I'm over here from Nantes."

"Hisao Nakai," I say, touching my own chest. "And this is Sumi…ah…"

"Aoki," she finishes, giving me a slight jab in the ribs. "Really, Hisao? You forgot my name? I'm giving you so much shit for this, I swear."

I sigh, and Jirou and Michel have a good chuckle at my expense. The four of us spend most of the our just chatting to pass the time. It seems that here, like in Kyoto, most physicists are procrastinators, and the thought of starting our assignments so early—before we've hardly had any lectures, even—is anathema. Sumi and I tell the others a little bit about ourselves, and they share some of their background as well.

"I actually spend several years in IT," Jirou explains. "I'm twenty-nine. Coming back to science is something I never thought I'd have the chance to do, but I just got so tired of dealing with customers who didn't have the faintest idea what was going on, I just had to do it. So, if I seem a bit panicky to you guys, it's because if I get bounced out of here I don't know if I'll get another chance, you know?"

Michel, on the other hand, is the total opposite of Jirou. He's calm and relaxed, and I can't help but think every time he speaks that his Japanese is very good—not just for a foreigner, either.

"I always wanted to see the world, you know?" Michel explains. "And I've had a strong interest in Japanese culture and history for some time. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to get out here and see the country. I feel like it's a different mindset over here, a different work ethic than in the West."

"You mean aside from when we're all dicking around instead of working on our first assignment?" says Jirou.

Michel shrugs. "That I understand. I don't particularly want to get cracking on that either. What are we supposed to do, pretend we know Lagrangian mechanics on our first day?"

Before long, though, it's time to head back for class, and as Jirou hinted at, fate brings us to meet our new quantum mechanics professor. He's Russian, and well, he's very Russian. It's hard for him to get fifteen seconds into a thought about wavefunctions and superposition of states before he steps back from the chalkboard and stares at it ominously, like even his own handwriting and notes don't make sense.

All this downtime gives me a chance to doodle, and I think the most accurate way to capture the start and stop nature of this quantum class is to draw a wave packet traveling through space, only to abruptly stop while a mini, bespectacled Russian quantum professor holds up his hand to think about what the wave should do next.

It's probably not the next candidate for best four-panel comic in Japan. That much I'll admit.

To my surprise, Sumi passes the time in a similar way. She goes through a variety of different-colored pens, boxing various sections of her notes and covering the pages in a bewildering array of arrows and lines. She looks immensely satisfied when she finishes one such correction, even pumping her fist in excitement as she puts a pen down. It's pretty cute.

Beyond that, my eyes wander a little bit while our quantum professor tries to get his addled mind together, and I'm ashamed to say they happen to glance down, where Sumi's crossed legs extend into the aisle. Sumi doesn't seem fond of makeup or fancy dress. It's a fairly warm day, and Sumi's choice of attire is, I'm sure, comfortable for her. Her bare legs are shapely and toned. I think I remember her saying she used to run cross-country at one time. Maybe I should hook her up with Emi for them to do some distance running together.

Still, I try to force my gaze up to the chalkboard. Sumi's a married woman, after all. I suppose admiring is harmless, but if she catches me staring, that would get awkward fast.

Quantum class ends, I think the whole last five minutes were spent in utter silence while our professor stared at the board, lost in thought. He does, however, have the gall to announce our first assignment, which he says will come by e-mail later in the day. The due date, he says, is "negotiable."

This is a very strange professor.

I move to pack up my things, and I glance one more time down Sumi's chair.

"Hisao."

Oh damn. I'm caught. I'm caught, and I turn as red as a beet. I hesitate to meet Sumi's gaze, but her expression is as casual as ever.

"Have any plans for lunch?" she asks.

I really need to stop worrying about these things. I shake my head feebly, worrying that my voice will betray me if I dare speak up.

"Awesome. Let's go grab a bite then, yeah?"

Sumi leads the way around campus like she already knows the place. There are actually a few places to eat around school grounds, but they're all packed, and the lines are intolerable. We settle for instant ramen from a nearby convenience store, and we head back toward our offices to get water and use the department-provided microwaves. Still, it's too nice a day to stay inside, and once our food is ready, Sumi and I take our meals to a flat wooden bench outside the building.

"I really meant to make some lunches, too," Sumi notes, a bit dejected. "There's just so much going on right now. You know what? Mitchan should get off his ass and help out with some of this stuff. He can learn to make breakfast."

"It's really all right," I tell her. "You guys have done more than enough. I'm fine with getting lunch around here at the spur of the moment. Three meals a day is a lot for us to handle. We're students. We're busy people, and full home-cooked meals aren't necessarily cheap."

"That's true. Ryou was pretty pissed about how much I spent putting together lunch yesterday, but it's literally the first time I've seen my brother in six months, and I figured you'd enjoy a good meal, too. If I don't keep you well fed, you're no good to me."

I raise an eyebrow. "No good for what?"

"For mooching homework answers off of. What else?"

I laugh nervously. Did she really arrange for me to stay with her brother and all of this so she could…?

Sumi snickers, and when my eyes widen, she starts laughing uncontrollably. Her whole face goes red as she can hardly keep her amusement in. "Really, Hisao? You thought—ahaha! I'm not that bad; I promise. Honest to goodness. I mean, I might need some help now and then, and I'm not afraid to admit the speed that we're getting assignments is starting to scare me, but it's just better to learn the material together, you know? I've always felt that way."

"I think so, too," I manage to say.

Sumi smiles at that, and then she slurps up some noodles in a profoundly unladylike fashion. I don't mind, though. Sumi's pretty cool, and I feel like I've gotten to know her better over the last two days then I did in two years at Kyoto. It may be I was too hung up over Rin to really focus on meeting other people, even as friends, until later on. It still makes me wonder why Sumi's gone so far out of her way to help me out, but whatever the reason, I'm thankful for it.

As we finish up lunch, something vibrates in Sumi's purse. She fishes through it to find her phone. "Ah, Ryou," she mutters with a sigh. "Sorry. This'll just take a sec." She starts texting him back, and I politely avert my gaze. Something in her purse catches my eye, though. She actually carries quite a large bag with her, and it's enough to conceal a paperback: Kokoro, by Souseki Natsume.

"Are you reading this?" I ask her, nudging the book out to read the title.

"Hm? Ah, yeah. It was a gift from Ryou I've been chipping away at." She slides the book back in her purse and zips it up with a dose of finality.

"Is it any good?"

She shrugs. "It just about stuff right around the time of the death of Emperor Meiji. It's very much about the period. That's all I can tell you. I'm not very far in it, though."

"Well, if that's the case," I say, "I might pick up a copy and read it, too. I've been into books for a while. It'll be nice to read something with a friend."

She doesn't look up to meet my gaze, instead staring down at her food. "Sure," she says, her voice distant and flat. "If you want."

We don't say anything else for the rest of lunch.
Last edited by Muphrid on Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Direction (post Rin bad ending)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Thu Dec 13, 2012 4:19 am

Posting it twice is also a way of extending the length :lol:

Seriously, good chapter. Carry on.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by nemz » Thu Dec 13, 2012 4:47 am

Huh, that's a strange error. If it was all doubled I could sort of understand, maybe, but half twice then half twice? just weird.
Rin > Shizune > Emi > Hanako > Lilly

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Muphrid
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Muphrid » Thu Dec 13, 2012 12:05 pm

Hopefully it's all okay now. I know the board has problem with long posts, but I hoped that scene would squeeze in. It's also entirely possible I just made a mistake copy/pasting into the textbox.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Muphrid » Mon Dec 17, 2012 2:21 am

Afternoon is quite a bit less taxing than the morning, as we have no more classes for the rest of the day. Our schedules alternate with two classes three days a week and the other two classes for longer periods the other two days. The only activity this afternoon is a talk from the department chair about the goals of the department and resources for new students.

With so much time on our hands on a day-to-day basis, I'm looking forward to getting into research. I check the department directory for professors I'd be interested in working with. My background is in materials, more or less—solids and liquids, those sorts of things. Perhaps I'm overstating things. I spent a summer working for a professor in Hokkaido on carbon nanotubes; that's really about it. Still, it's what I'm grounded in, and I take down the names of a few professors I see are involved in similar research. All around the halls of the building, the professors have posters about their latest works, with the names of students who assisted in the research on there too like they're equal partners. It's exciting. It tells me I can be part of a small breakthrough, too, even in a short time.

I make a note to visit with some professors and look for research opportunities, but there's more to do. I promised Sumi I would start preparing breakfast for the four of us, so I ask around about the nearest market and pick up some eggs, rice, broth, and the like. I'm grateful for the distraction. If I had time to think about what's coming this evening, I might just change my mind.

It really shouldn't be a big deal. That's what I tell myself. It's just Rin. Yeah, she could be intimidating with that stare that seems to go right through you, but that was years ago. I'm a different person now, and so is she, I'm betting. The falling out we had is in the past. I'm sure we've both put it behind us.

When I get back home, it's about five. The exhibition starts in an hour, and it seems prudent to wash up and make myself presentable. I shower again. I put on a light blue shirt with black pants and shoes. I try in vain to get that little tuft of hair on top of my head to stay down, but that's a futile effort. It just makes me feel better. Once I'm sure there's nothing else I can do, I head out, running into Sumi at the elevator.

"Wow, it's been two days, and you've already got a date?" she teases.

I laugh nervously. "It's not like that."

"Sure it isn't. Are you going to be out long? Let me know if you take a look at the classical homework when you get back, okay?"

"I will."

She waves at me as she heads down the hall. "Have a good time, Hisao."

I'll try. I'll definitely try, but with someone like Rin, the way things turn out is hardly predictable.

The walk to Rin's school seems shorter this time than it did before. Maybe it's just my familiarity with the route. Maybe a little anxiety over the affair has quickened my pace. I admit, this is feeling like a bigger and bigger thing than I'd allowed myself to believe. When I left the hospital for Yamaku, I wasn't in a good state—either in body or in mind. Rin picked up on that. She saw I was in a bad place and pointed it out in the most matter-of-fact way, in a way that was very much her own. When I saw Rin falling down her own dark hole, I couldn't help her in return, and it broke her. She helped me, and I couldn't pay her back for that.

It could be I'm going to see her just to get some peace of mind, to convince myself that she's okay after all. Do I really need to visit her to know that? I saw her paintings. I met her advisor. There's still at least one Rin Tezuka on this earth.

No, that's not it, either. I think there's still a part of me that would enjoy a pinch of her presence in my life. I admit I probably tried to get too close to her, and like Icarus to the sun, the experience melted my wings and sent me tumbling down again, but I'm hopeful there can be a safe distance between us—closer than infinity yet further than the event horizon that would consume us both.

As I reach the exhibition building, I see a thin trickle of people entering, and I shuffle into the crowd. Inside, there's an eclectic mix of casually-dressed students and adults in more formal dress. Some of them I take to be professors; others I think must be museum curators or art aficionados. There are a few students better dressed for the occasion, like me, and I catch one of them standing before a pencil sketch and entertaining guests. He must be here to show his work, and Rin's probably doing the same. I head for the back corner of the exhibition hall, with the bright lights already working up a sweat on my brow.

That's when I see her.

Her top is black and a little thick. It's tight, and it hugs her figure well. As I remembered, she's tied the sleeves into knots below where her elbows would be, but that's where my familiarity with her appearance ends. Today, she's wearing a dark green skirt. Her legs are bare, and she walks on a pair of shiny, black open-toed shoes. Her hair is kept in place by a set of red barrettes. Her lips are cherry red and glossy, and touches of light blue eyeshadow adorn her lids.

I have never seen her like this. The girl I knew is gone, and by all appearances, a woman has taken her place.

That's not the only thing about her that's changed. At her side stands Professor Adachi, looking elegant in a full-length beige dress with pearls around her neck. They stand very close together, almost like Rin leans on her. Rin's having a conversation with a visitor, and what strikes me is her level of attention. She focuses on the person in front of her. Her gaze doesn't waver, though her face has a certain level of tension all throughout.

"May I ask," says the visitor, "I understand you experimented with pastels for this piece here. How did you find the process of using them compared to, say, oil or acrylic?"

Rin shrugs. "It's easier to get the colors in my head to come out, but I have to be a lot more careful." She glances left at right at her arms. "I'll have to practice," she adds.

"I see. And about this face here, why did you cut it off across the left eye?"

Professor Adachi chuckles, stepping in between Rin and the visitor. "Really, Mr. Kinomoto, I should think such a direct question on the artist's intent would be well within your talents to answer yourself. You're an art critic, aren't you? The last thing Rin here wants to do is color your expectations of the piece."

Abashed, the man bows slightly in apology. "Of course, my mistake. I didn't mean to put you in an awkward position, Professor, Ms. Tezuka."

Rin's eyes have wandered a bit, but at Adachi's prodding, she focuses back on the art critic and nods in return. After that, the critic politely excuses himself to visit with other students. Rin looks around absent-mindedly while Professor Adachi scans the room.

And catches sight of me.

Should I run? No, it's far too late for that. It's too crowded, and she'll easily catch me. Besides, isn't this why I came here in the first place?

Professor Adachi steps in front of Rin, taking her by the shoulders. "Rin," she says, "do you remember that student from Toudai I was telling you about? The one who was interested in your work?"

I can't see Rin's reaction, but she's as silent as death itself.

"Would you like me to introduce you to him?"

Gently, Rin steps out from in front of Adachi. Her eyes meet mine, and we're both paralyzed in an awkward stupor. Adachi touches Rin's shoulder and lightly eases her toward me. Rin's steps are short, only enough to keep from falling.

"Rin, this is Hisao Nakai, a graduate student at University of Tokyo in the physics department," says Adachi. "He's new in town, and he just dropped by yesterday, looking for some culture." She winks at me. "Am I right?"

"Of course," I say weakly. My throat feels very parched.

"Nakai, this is my student Rin Tezuka. She's in her fifth year of her bachelor of fine arts degree. The studio work needed is quite intense, so I assure you it's not at all atypical for someone like Rin to need another year to finish. In fact, she's my best student. Rin, perhaps you can convert this fine young man to the ways of art? I think he may have a budding interest already." She checks her watch abruptly. "Oh dear. If you'll excuse me, I must go see that the refreshments are being served. Pardon me for a moment."

Professor, I don't think there's a problem with the refreshments, considering there's a cup of ice in your hand. Still, I have to give her credit for being so natural about it.

Professor Adachi leaves us alone, and I'm left with just Rin's directionless stare.

I should say something. I should've planned something for this, something witty or natural or something. But the more I think about it the more I realize the truth:

I have no idea what to do now. It's like the whole idea of this reunion was so distant to me I never actually planned out what would happen, and now I'm in the position to bungle it royally.

"So, Rin," I finally manage to say, "uh, how are you doing?"

Even the vacuum of space has a hydrogen atom or two in every cubic centimeter, which is more than the content of that question.

She shrugs. "I'm fine."

I'm not sure what I expected; that she'd be angry with me for visiting her? Or sad? Or hurt? But Rin is Rin, and only when she was at her most desperate did she show anything at all. Once again, she's inscrutable to me, and I'm forced to come up with questions just to probe her reactions.

"I overheard you with that critic a little earlier," I say. "I guess you answer questions about art now?"

"Only sandy stuff." She hesitates, frowning. "That's not the right word, but it's…sandy. About what the art is made with and how. It doesn't taint perception much, and people want to know."

I nod. "I like your new paintings, too. They're…" I feel bad for saying this, but it's the truth. "They're easier for me to understand. I mean, like this one here." I go to the painting of a bowl of fruit. "I can see there's an apple and a banana and a rotten orange, and it makes me wonder why the orange is out there, all alone, you know? It makes me feel for the orange, I guess? I had a reaction to it. I think that's what I'm trying to say."

Rin nods. "I tried all different styles to see how people would respond to them. Being realistic seems to work best. People seem to understand what's in the art more. Before, it was like a windshield in the rain. You can't see out of it very well."

"Compared to what?"

She blinks. "A windshield not in the rain? Or with wipers. Have you ever heard the sound when wipers drag on a windshield? I think that's the sound that scares me most. I don't usually wake up when I have nightmares, but if I hear that sound, I always do. Do you have a sound like that?"

I stare at her, mouth hanging open slightly, but once again, her wandering gaze snaps back to me, and with it, some of the life seems to seep out of her.

"Sorry. People seem to understand what's in the art more. Let's stop there."

I nod, understanding that much, at least. "I'm glad," I tell her. "I'm happy for you, Rin—that people are starting to understand you a little."

She shrugs again. "They understand the paintings."

What does that mean? I fail to see any distinction between the two. Rin all but told me so when she left. She wanted people to understand her through her work because it was the only language she felt she could speak competently. Yet from her words now, I'm forced to think she must have something else in mind when she paints, but I can't fathom what.

Her mindset has changed, though. That much is clear. She doesn't really look any different—despite the trappings of a woman that she wears now—but there's a lot going on beyond those deep green irises of hers. There always has been. I stare into them, trying to gain some insight.

What I see is the curling of the muscles around her eyes. Her lips turn up, ever-so-slightly, into one of her muted but distinct smiles. "You still get upset so easily, Hisao."

I chuckle a bit, feeling my worries die down. "I'm glad you remember."

"Of course I remember," she says, her gaze starting to wander again. "If I could forget, you'd be talking to a different person right now."

Whether she means that in a literal or metaphorical sense, I couldn't possibly know.

After this burst of chatter from the two of us, we settle into silence. I study Rin's recent works some more, and a few visitors stroll in to talk with her. Some of them are visibly surprised by her lack of hands, but few people directly ask about it. They ask about her preferences in brushes and media, and she answers these questions rather easily, but the ones who ask what a particular piece means, or what Rin was feeling at the time, get a rather curt answer from her.

"I'd rather not talk about that," she says.

It's not elegant, but it gets the job done.

For a while, I feel like I should leave her alone. We've talked, as bizarre as it was, and I don't know what else I have to say other than that I might like to visit now and then. But as the evening wears on, I notice more and more the tension on Rin's face. She's stayed calm and composed when dealing with so many strangers—not like the girl who was so quickly overwhelmed and broke down—but I can see it's taxing for her. Just to keep her eyes still and focused is taking all her willpower.

I touch her lightly on the shoulder, and she flinches, but when she catches my eyes, she settles down. "Why don't we go outside, huh?" I say to her. "It's pretty stuffy in here. I'm working up a sweat being under all these bright lights. I don't know how you do it."

Silently, Rin nods, and I escort her out. Only when we clear the doors to the exhibition hall and return to dimly lit hallways of the rest of the building does she say a word.

"Thank you, Hisao." Her voice is quiet and soft.

"That's what friends are for."

"Are we friends still?" she asks.

"I would like to be."

She says nothing to do that, her gaze fixed forward. I try to navigate my way back to the exit, but Rin abruptly turns down another passage. "Where are you going?" I ask.

"This way is better."

She's like a magnet, and I'm drawn to her pull. I follow, and she leads me to a back exit. It's a small square, with several buildings nestled around a walkway, flanked by overhanging trees. Rin leans against the side of the exhibition building, and I take up a position opposite her, across the doorway.

"There's a pond down the road," she says. "I like to go there sometimes. It's too far, though."

"Have you painted it?" I ask.

She nods. "The pond, the fountain, the whole park. Even when the park changes—when the landscapers trim the grass, or when the leaves fall—it doesn't really change. There are still trees and buildings and homeless people sleeping under blue tents. It's very mysterious."

I think one of these descriptions isn't nearly as picturesque as the others, but I let it pass.

I look to the sky. The light's fading, and I'm not familiar with the city at night. I'd rather head back while there's still daylight, if I'm going to be doing it alone. I'm grateful, though, that we have some degree of privacy here. Maybe that's what was on Rin's mind, too.

"So, I'm in town for a while," I say. "I guess I'm actually living here now. My place isn't far. Maybe fifteen, twenty minutes tops? So it wouldn't be any trouble to get together from time to time, if you wanted."

Rin looks up, her gaze wandering among the trees. "I'll have to think about that," she says.

Then that's how things are, and I won't push to change them. I didn't come here to resolve anything, to argue, or to open up old wounds. Rin's doing all right for herself. I can see that clearly, and that's good enough for me.

I'm happy for her.

"I should probably go inside," she says, pushing off the wall.

"Yeah, I need to get going, too. It was good to see you, Rin. Take care of yourself."

She nods, and I turn to head off. It may not have gone exactly the way I expected, but all in all, I think everything went for the best. Rin seems to have found herself here. She's pursuing her dream, and that's what counts in the end.

I turn for the nearest road, not exactly sure which way I need to go to get back to the main street, when a voice calls out to me.

"Hisao!"

With the setting sun behind her, all I can see are shadows and her silhouette. She takes a couple steps toward me but stops at a comfortable distance.

"Have you ever painted a mural?" she asks.

I can't say that I have, and as usual, I'm dumbfounded by what comes up in Rin's mind.

"You need a good base first," she says. "A plain layer to work off of, so all the colors come out even. That layer is made of paint, too."

That seems reasonable, I think.

"You still ask questions of me, Hisao."

I feel a pang of guilt at that. I know it saddens her, but I don't know what else to do, how else to understand her.

"But maybe that's okay," she adds, "because when a person tries to understand another, maybe it's like painting a mural."

I'm not real sure what to make of that, and I don't have a chance to ask before the shadow of the girl before me turns to the door.

"Good night, Hisao."

Good night, Rin. I may not be a fortune teller, but I have a feeling I'll be seeing you soon after all.
Last edited by Muphrid on Mon Dec 17, 2012 8:08 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Mon Dec 17, 2012 6:19 am

Adachi takes Rin by the hand...
Hmm.
I'm having a hard time picturing how this could possibly work...
Oh, and if Hisao really didn't understand the painting with the orange, he's probably not much closer to understanding Rin than a few years ago.
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Muphrid » Mon Dec 17, 2012 11:32 am

Mirage_GSM wrote:
Adachi takes Rin by the hand...
Hmm.
I'm having a hard time picturing how this could possibly work...
Well, that makes me feel silly. It's actually not the first time I did that, either, but I caught the other one. I know it's central to her character, but that Rin doesn't have arms seems so secondary to the obstacles she faces it feels easy to overlook. Still, my mistake. Fixed.
Oh, and if Hisao really didn't understand the painting with the orange, he's probably not much closer to understanding Rin than a few years ago.
So you think Hisao should come right out and say he thinks Rin is the orange?

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Mon Dec 17, 2012 12:18 pm

Well, he is the narrator. He should at least realize it in his own mind.
And he shouldn't assume that Rin is fine after seeing that painting. If he did realize it, he'd know she isn't.
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by nemz » Mon Dec 17, 2012 12:28 pm

The hand thing? It's not fixed yet. Now it's not even a sentence.

And I certainly wouldn't say that Rin IS the orange... that seems quite insulting, comparing her directly to a bit of inedible, wasted fruit nobody wants. Rather it's just that oranges go to waste around her because she probably still can't eat on her own. It's simple to explain, shallow even, but the depth of loneliness it implies only comes out when you know a little about her. Basically, it's a painting only Hisao or the readers have a chance at really understanding.

Then again, it's probably rather presumptuous to say she isn't fine just because of that one painting. Who knows if that's even something she's done recently, or if it was her way of getting over him? For all we know she has figured out citrus fruit, or could have sworn them off all together. Hell, she might even be married and/or a mom now. 5 years is a lot of time, afterall.

Oh, also wanted to mention that it's rather interesting he's working with carbon nano-tubes. A cutting edge bit of material science made of incredibly common material, but fascinating in that it's reactive properties with outside forces are completely different depending on it's orientation. Both an insulator and a superconductor, incredibly strong or pathetically fragile... In a way that's as telling as anything in Rin's paintings.
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Mader Levap » Mon Dec 17, 2012 8:04 pm

Muphrid wrote:I'm happy for her.takes Rin by the hand
...
That seems reasonable, I think.takes Rin by the hand
I do not think it is supposed to be like that.
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Muphrid » Mon Dec 17, 2012 8:14 pm

Mader Levap wrote:
Muphrid wrote:I'm happy for her.takes Rin by the hand
...
That seems reasonable, I think.takes Rin by the hand
I do not think it is supposed to be like that.
Thanks for quoting that. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what nemz was talking about, since the actual place that needed fixing was fine. Or something. All right, well, it should be good now. In theory.
nemz wrote: And I certainly wouldn't say that Rin IS the orange... that seems quite insulting, comparing her directly to a bit of inedible, wasted fruit nobody wants. Rather it's just that oranges go to waste around her because she probably still can't eat on her own. It's simple to explain, shallow even, but the depth of loneliness it implies only comes out when you know a little about her. Basically, it's a painting only Hisao or the readers have a chance at really understanding.
I admit this wasn't the interpretation I had in mind, but I think it's good because it points out that there are multiple ways to interpret a piece (which is exactly what Hisao should be struggling with). And indeed, I doubt I could say it's an invalid interpretation at all, so this is a very helpful comment.
nemz wrote:Oh, also wanted to mention that it's rather interesting he's working with carbon nano-tubes. A cutting edge bit of material science made of incredibly common material, but fascinating in that it's reactive properties with outside forces are completely different depending on it's orientation. Both an insulator and a superconductor, incredibly strong or pathetically fragile... In a way that's as telling as anything in Rin's paintings.
All the various forms of carbon are intensely interesting. I never worked with CNTs, but I worked with graphene for a few years. It was a common...hm, perception, I guess I would say, in the lab that all the people working on CNTs were wasting their time and graphene was where the future lay, particularly in ribbons used as conducting waveguides.
Mirage_GSM wrote:Well, he is the narrator. He should at least realize it in his own mind.
And he shouldn't assume that Rin is fine after seeing that painting. If he did realize it, he'd know she isn't.
I don't think Hisao necessarily must make his interpretation explicit in the text to have an interpretation nonetheless. And as nemz points out, there are many valid interpretations of the piece. Wouldn't trying to extrapolate that Rin is disturbed in some way be jumping the gun?

I'm interested in your response to that question--I'm not merely posing it to argue. I want to arrive at a better overall picture of Hisao's progression of thought.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Mon Dec 17, 2012 9:24 pm

Well...
Hisao knows Rin really likes oranges. So any picture containing oranges - especially if they are contrasted so obviously to the other fruit - should get him thinking.
And if the orange is in such obviously bad condition, that should ring any number of alarm bells. It is a very obvious connection and one that Hisao should have no problem to make.
If you don't want him to realize this at this point of the story, you can have him rationalize it away with some other explanation, but that will make him look dumb.
If he did realize it, it's not something you can hide from the reader if Hisao is the narrator.
I think he should at least worry about the picture and how it might signify something bad - maybe calm down a bit when he meets her and she outwardly seems to be better. Or continue worrying but not having the courage to ask her about it - that's much more like HIsao ;-)
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by YourFavAnon » Mon Dec 17, 2012 9:57 pm

This is very easily one of the most well written series I've read, and I'm certainly glad it doesn't seem too close to completion yet. Very subtle, thought provoking lines for sure. Definitely appreciate what you're doing as a writer.
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Muphrid » Tue Dec 18, 2012 1:49 am

Mirage_GSM wrote:Well...
Hisao knows Rin really likes oranges. So any picture containing oranges - especially if they are contrasted so obviously to the other fruit - should get him thinking.
And if the orange is in such obviously bad condition, that should ring any number of alarm bells. It is a very obvious connection and one that Hisao should have no problem to make.
If you don't want him to realize this at this point of the story, you can have him rationalize it away with some other explanation, but that will make him look dumb.
If he did realized it, it's not something you can hide from the reader if Hisao is the narrator.
I think he should at least worry about the picture and how it might signify something bad - maybe calm down a bit when he meets her and she outwardly seems to be better. Or continue worrying but not having the courage to ask her about it - that's much more like HIsao ;-)
Well, like I said, Hisao can realize it fine and choose to keep his realization from the audience. The narrator is no way constrained to reveal his every significant thought to the reader. He can even actively phrase things in the hopes of obfuscating the truth (hence making him unreliable).

Nevertheless, I agree that it is probably best if he does point it out at the time. I'm thinking of adding the middle paragraph here:
[...]
I nod. "I like your new paintings, too. They're…" I feel bad for saying this, but it's the truth. "They're easier for me to understand. I mean, like this one here." I go to the painting of a bowl of fruit. "I can see there's an apple and a banana and a rotten orange, and it makes me wonder why the orange is out there, all alone, you know? It makes me feel for the orange, I guess? I had a reaction to it. I think that's what I'm trying to say."

It's hard not to have a reaction to it. Oranges were one of Rin's favorite things. To see one wasted and decaying—it must speak to something inside her, some lonely or helpless feeling. I'm hoping Rin might shed some light on this piece's intent, but she doesn't go for it.

"I tried all different styles to see how people would respond to them. Being realistic seems to work best. People seem to understand what's in the art more. Before, it was like a windshield in the rain. You can't see out of it very well."
[...]
Let me know what you think. I not sure where else I can add something at this time.
This is very easily one of the most well written series I've read, and I'm certainly glad it doesn't seem too close to completion yet. Very subtle, thought provoking lines for sure. Definitely appreciate what you're doing as a writer.
Thanks very much!

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Muphrid » Tue Dec 18, 2012 2:00 am

Discovery
Chapter Two

It's been two weeks since I attended the exhibition. Things are settling down. I'm starting to find a rhythm with classes, but the workload is pretty heavy. Most of the professors give us two weeks to work through our assignments, though, so we're just winding down the first batch. I feel pretty confident about things. While there have been problems I didn't really know how to work at first, I've found most of the other students are at least as lost as I am, which is comforting. The chalkboards in the first-year student offices are awash with partial calculations and formulas, most of which don't even apply to a problem at hand. But that's just how physicists work things out. Keep trying something, even if it's wrong, until you happen on an approach that's right.

I know the hammer's going to drop soon, and we'll get another batch of assignments in short order. Sumi's still at home, working on our electromagnetism assignment, which is due in the afternoon. I've come in early, though, to meet with a professor. He's not any of our instructors. I'm hoping to work with him.

I'm sitting in a chair outside his door, waiting while he meets with an undergrad in one of the introductory physics courses. The discussion is pretty basic—about blocks sliding down inclined planes in the absence of friction—but I remind myself that basic principles are the ones people need to know best, especially if they're going into physics. Fifteen minutes and two broken sticks of chalk later, the student leaves, poring over his notes, and I knock on the professor's door.

"Excuse me," I say, "Professor Tanaka?"

The man is casually dressed to say the least, with flip-flops over his bare feet and wrinkled cuffs. His stubble is noticeable, and his eyes look red and bleary. He's partially balding, but the rest of his hair is frazzled and unkempt.

He actually reminds me a little of Rin, minus her expectant stare.

"What can I do for you?" he asks me, a bit loudly. "Are you here to learn the magic of normal forces and frictionless motion, too?"

"No, no, my name is Nakai. I emailed you about a position in your group."

"Nakai?" he echoes, puzzled. "Did I write a message to a Nakai?"

I'm not sure who he's asking. He doesn't have a secretary, and I'm pretty sure I just told him he did. He presses his lips together in confusion before hunching over a large laptop. It looks to be several years old, and while the software is modern, I can't help but notice the noise it makes as its fan spins up.

Professor Tanaka puts his eyes right up to the screen and squints, despite his glasses. He studied the information there for a moment before exclaiming,

"Nakai! Yes. Yes. I remember now. You worked on CNTs for a summer with Mayuzumi in Sapporo. That right?"

"That's right," I say. Though really, I don't feel like I did very much. Professor Mayuzumi would shoot x-rays into the carbon nanotubes, and he'd give me the data to try to ferret out what the actual structures of the tubes were. Not that I could even begin to construct that model. I just processed the data, churned out some numbers, and he plugged those numbers into a model he created. Like I said, I don't feel like I did very much, but it was tractable work and not difficult to pick up over a summer.

"Well then, you've come to the right place," says Professor Tanaka. "We do some XRD here too, but only a few times a year, when we can get time at the photon source. Most of the time, we're using instruments we've built or bought that we can store here. If you want practical experience and expertise on these devices, I can definitely get you involved. You'll be at the forefront of materials physics here, Nakai."

"It would be my honor, then, Professor," I say.

He shakes his head. "No honor just yet. There's honor when there's a paper to send out; until then, it's all work, work, and more work." He checks his watch. "How much time do you have?"

"Three hours before my next class."

"You'll probably want lunch before that. Still, that's plenty of time to show you the ropes."

"Right now?"

"Science waits for no man, Nakai, not even me or you. We'll start you off small. Come on."

He rolls out of his chair, slips off his flip-flops, and puts on a pair of closed-toed (but equally shabby) brown shoes. He locks his office door behind him and leads me down the hall to his lab. The room is bright and white but with black lacquered tables for working. Like his office, the place is objectively a mess, with boxes of latex gloves scattered about. Still, the other students don't seem to mind. Most of them go about their business, oblivious to our entrance. One student is in a separate room, visible through a doorway. He records notes in a log book and adjusts various controls and dials for a noisy apparatus through a computer. Another looks through a microscope at some kind of sample, but I can't see what it is.

"Here we are," says Professor Tanaka, leading me to a black apparatus. "We can start with the AFM."

The AFM—whatever it is—is slightly bigger than a sewing machine. It has a stage like a microscope for an object to be placed upon, and as I guessed, Professor Tanaka is already preparing a slide.

"This is an atomic force microscope," he says. "Where a conventional, optical microscope allows you to examine an object via visible light, this machine here will drag a sharp-tipped probe over the surface of an object and report the height at various points based on the force the object pushes back with."

"Isn't that damaging to the surface?" I ask. "Or the probe?"

"If you're not careful, yes, but most of the time, we just let the tip oscillate up and down until it encouters the slightest electrostatic repulsion. That's noncontact mode, and if we're going to pop your cherry on this thing, that's the best place to start. Now then, let's see here…."

He fumbles around the lab for a bit, coming back with a small, square, plastic case no bigger than my thumbnail. Inside is a tiny rectangular object—a wafer, I guess—with a small notch in one of the corners.

"The two sides of the wafer are different. One is the carbon-terminated side, the other silicon. If this notch is on the bottom right or top left, it's the silicon face. You can't really tell the two faces apart by eye, so you need to know which is which. Now, then, get some gloves on. You're going to need to wash this slide in ethanol, let it air dry, and then place the wafer on the slide."

I diligently work my fingers into a pair of latex gloves. The ethanol is kept in a squeeze bottle with a narrow nozzle, and washing off the slide is as easy as spraying it with the small stream of liquid. It evaporates quickly, and I place the slide on a piece of fiberless paper for safe keeping.

The wafer, on the other hand, is trickier to get a hold of than it looks. With only the plastic tweezers to get at it, it slips from my grasp several times and bounces around the plastic container. I finally wrestle it down and hurriedly place it on the slide before it can get away.

"Now put the slide under the tip."

I do so.

"We can speed things up a bit," says Tanaka, taking a hold of a knob on the right side of the microscope. As he turns it, the tip lowers, and I crane my head around it to see how much clearance is left. He stops with ample room to spare, probably not wanting to smash the tip into the sample. "The computer will take care of things from here," he explains. "It will slowly lower the tip until you reach the specified height. Then, just tell it how much of an area you want to scan." He clicks a few options. "There, now it's in noncontact mode, so you should be safe. I'd start with an image about twenty microns on a side. Try to give me two or three of those. You can actually do a quick, low resolution scan at a hundred by a hundred to look for interesting features and then narrow down to a region of interest. Try to pick out two or three interesting things: faults, holes, stuff like that."

With that, Tanaka pats me on the back, and I'm on my own.

"Make sure to raise the tip before you move the sample!" he calls back as he's out the door.

This is really not what I was prepared for, I have to admit. I didn't expect to be doing anything so quickly, especially with a machine I hardly understand, but the AFM isn't difficult to use. It's not particularly fast, but it's not slow either. I do like the professor asks, starting off with regions about a hundred microns on each side. The resulting images are in false color but striking in that they alternate between high points in gold and low points in black. It's like you can see the individual atoms of the surface.

In fact, that's exactly what I'm doing.

I spot a hole in the crystalline pattern near one corner of the image and clumsily try to move the slide over to center it. Big mistake. When I scan the surface again, I can't find the hole at all. You can't trust a human being to move tiny wafer that precisely.

That's when I find the offset controls on the monitor, and from that point, it's pretty straightforward. Put in some starting coordinates and let the machine do the work. There's no electrical whirring of a motor or anything like that, but an image forms on the screen, one line at a time, as the probe scans over the surface.

This is pretty cool, but it's also time consuming, and I only find one good pattern of faults in the crystal surface before noon starts rolling around. The lab begins to empty, and I feel like I have to pack up the sample and put everything back in its place before someone locks up and leaves me in here. I print out an image and leave it in the lab notebook to catalogue later.

It's not a bad first day, but I feel like I was no better than a trained monkey in there. I don't really know what that will help us do or why, but then, I can't be expected to know the ins and outs of the whole field in one day, can I? And this printout of the surface of the wafer is pretty cool to look at, if I do say so myself.

Though, looking at the image more closely, I think it might help if I knew which way was up.

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