After the Dream—Rika/Mutou/Akira (Updated 20201109)

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Rika—Stirrings (Update 20160923)

Post by brythain » Fri Sep 23, 2016 4:58 am

WARNING: SPOILERS — probably best if read only after the three main arcs in this thread

It was during the preparation of our mutual friend’s memoirs of the Secret War that I caught Rika Katayama looking at me as if she would prefer to have other words to handle. Over the time we had come to know each other, as sisters of a sort, I had learnt to identify this look as one of indecision, insofar as Rika of Clan Katayama could ever be so undecided. So I asked her what she would want to add to her side of the existing accounts we had, many of which might never be published. It was to my surprise that she began, slowly at first, and then determinedly, to tell me a story of Hokkaido and retribution. [N., Osaka, 2077.]

Rika: Stirrings (2042)

This person, semi-adoptive ‘sister’ of Natsume Ooe through unusual circumstances, has none of that individual's gift of words, nor her journalistic perspicacity. One can only say what is to be said, and perhaps now that we are so much older, and are following paths sure to deviate—perhaps forever and afar—it may be time to say it all.

The story this person tells begins in the year 2042, and it is part of the story of the invisible sisterhood that wove its web by accident through the generation before mine. As always, one begs the indulgence of one’s readers. It is not intended that those who read should suffer the poor skill of the narrator. Accordingly, this one has requested minor editing by the aforementioned Ms Ooe, redoubtable editor of editors. It is she who has made this account fall into the first-person-voice that is so uncomfortable from this person’s perspective.


There was a squirrel. I looked upon it with dismay, because it was small and dirty-brown, and it was dead. It lay stretched out beneath an old tree, peaceful and undamaged. It had died on its back, its arms and legs open to the sky. Either someone had arranged it that way, or it had died celebrating its short life.

I did not touch it, because that is not the way of our people. I only gave thanks for its life, and commended its spirit to nature. When I looked up, my eyes were damp. Through the distortion of watery lenses, I saw a man in a long coat, and for a moment, I thought I had seen a ghost. How ironic.

I blinked, and the moment resolved. This man wore, as usual, a bright scarf with many stripes. His thick glasses would have made anyone suspect that here was a throwback to the days of spectacles, before lens-shaping became common. I knew better.

“Good day, Setou-san,” I said. There may have been a touch of warmth. I had come to know this crazy person as a friend, and also knew that he was not half as crazy as he seemed. Absent-mindedly, I gathered some of my long silver tresses in my left hand, like a sorceress about to perform some magical spell.

“Good day, Katayama-san. Maybe not so good. We will miss him. Is that a squirrel?” he said nasally, his voice echoing like a saw in a forest.

There is nothing like winter to make people remember their sadness, and feel it. I bit my lip a little and forced myself not to say anything for a while.

“Poor squirrel,” Kenji Setou whispered. I could tell he meant it. “Ah well, better to go to sleep and not wake up than run around and starve, right?”

I could tell he meant that too, and for a moment, I felt a little anger, like a dusting of seaweed flakes over cold udon. But he was right, and I, who had been the Sword of the Katayamas, understood.

In the distance, I could see the others in our little committee. The big man and his sister seemed to be playfully sparring, but in more subdued fashion than their usual way. I could hear his sister’s friend from where I stood, her voice as sharp and loud as ever.

“I suppose you are right, Kenji. Come, we have things to do, and people to meet. How is old Mrs Ibarazaki?”

“My son tells me she is broken by this final grief. Very sad.”

I nodded. I could understand. Goro Kaneshiro had been my husband’s best friend. Everyone had just called him ‘Nurse’ even when he had become a doctor, but he had been much more than that. I would miss him—I would never forget his kindness on the day that I had been in Tokyo when I should have been in Sendai.

“Will Natsume be here as well?” I asked, looking in vain for that familiar glowering stare.

“No. Best she knows little. I won’t put her in danger.”

I could sense some bitterness. Only two years had passed since a government agency and two sets of secret guardians had failed in their protective duties. I watched as Kenji Setou, Director-General of a certain secretive agency, bent to look more closely at the squirrel lying stiff upon the ground. Was that a tear in his eye?

He stood up abruptly. “Come on, Katayama-san.”

It was time to decide what to do with the tangled mess hiding in the North.


I am not completely an albino, genetically. It is easy to make that assumption because my hair is silver and my irises have been known to gleam reddish under certain lights. If I were indeed a full albino, my health would have been a lot more precarious than it was. These days, I have no problems with my health at all, with gratitude due to the Nakai Foundation’s secret history.

I can, however, be very difficult to detect visually when in stealth mode and hiding in winterscape. Venting heat through the invisibility field, I made my slow bat-winged approach to the non-descript house on the hillside. I was not surprised when the woman in black jeans spotted me and waved. From my distant vector, I could already see her light-brown hair cowled around her still-pretty face.

I touched down a few minutes later, allowing my heat to dissipate unnoticeably. As I broke my landing, rose and bowed towards her, I was struck by how delighted she seemed to be meeting me. The awkwardness I have always imagined to be there, between Michiko and me, has never actually been there at all.

She bowed in return, smiling. “Rika! You had no trouble getting here?”

“Senior lady, this one had no difficulties. It is always a pleasure.”

She laughed softly. It was pleasant, like the running of water over smooth stones. “I see that this is one of those occasions on which nobody must be allowed to know that you were ever here.”

“Ah, one is mortified to be so obvious,” I jested, although I admit I had a touch of discomfort at the dramatic circumstances of my arrival.

“I suspected you would be here to inquire into the entity we have agreed to call ‘Universal Export’. Having such suspicions, I’ve invited our legal friend to join us. She awaits us indoor, having muttered something about not enduring yet another blasted cold winter.”

My discomfort became somewhat more acute. Akira Satou was not one of the people I had ever felt comfortable with. Her cinnamon-brown eyes could flash almost blood-red in direct sunlight, and with her fair complexion, she had always reminded me of myself given ‘real’ colour. I had once seen a photograph of her with flowing blonde hair, when she had been a young lady, and it had produced a shiver of uncanny dread within me.

I mustered a laugh of my own, one of the polite but fairly enthusiastic type. “It will be an event worth remembering, to meet Akira once more.”

Michiko gave me an oddly amused look. “It will always be an event worth remembering when the three of us are gathered in one place.”

I nodded uncertainly, then stopped to gather up my gear and repack it neatly. My upbringing had always been one involving exact and appropriate behaviour.

I stood under a familiar tree some days later. The guardians of the place had been scrupulous about clearing dead leaves and flowers, but they had left one thing alone. I looked down at the cleaned-out remains of my dead squirrel. Its bones had been polished by beetles, I suspected. Rain had washed everything over the weeks I had been away. I had no idea why I had returned to this place, except that perhaps I wanted to find out how the squirrel was doing.

“This is what has passed,” I found myself saying. “Slowly, the old bones are all that is left, and then soon that too will be gone. Murakami was a Japanese writer, but he was not a writer of Japanese. That is what time and distance do to people.”

The trenchcoated figure nearby finally deigned to show attention. He straightened and unfolded himself to his full height, not taller than I except for his hat. “Ha, I was thinking of a girl who used to say things like that. You’re not her.”

“No,” I said, with appropriate sadness, “This one is not anything like Naomi Inoue-san.”

“No,” he replied, after a moment’s silence. “You’re not. But thanks for remembering. How was Hokkaido?”

“This person thinks she will, within the next few years, have to make a trip to Edinburgh. It has been said that it is a lot like Sapporo, but shrunken and wizened.”

“Aha, aha. Perhaps I should pay a visit to Edinburgh too. It is good to keep in touch with old classmates and to pay respects to those to whom respect is due, yes?”

I am not a person inclined to appreciate humour so much, but his raw and self-mocking tone, over the years, had taught me to keep a sense of amusement in reserve. I smiled at him. “And what gifts will Kenji Director-san bring to Edinburgh?”

“Oho. I think Rika Director-san and I can put together a gift worthy of our half-foreign friend. Or, at least, offer it even if she does not accept it.”

I thought for a moment and realized what he meant. “Kenji,” I said firmly, “Director-san’s augmentation is a scaling-up from non-zero baseline; one cannot scale up from zero, because anything multiplying zero still gives zero. Or, in a qualitative sense, it gives something that may possibly be dangerously different.”

“Do you know that you have excellent facial bone-structure?”

His tone was so casual that I did not quite understand him at first. And then I did. “What augmentation version?” I asked.

“That would be telling, although it’s still a prototype. Uses an in-house trick based on the work of the Foundation. Converts an ultrasound imaging into a direct optic visualization. Very cool.” He grinned, as if inordinately pleased with himself.

“Is Kenji turning into a bat-man, then?” I asked sweetly, but with a tinge of acid.

“No, no… Kenji is turning into a better watcher of things, so that…” his voice trailed off, filled with unvoiced emotion.

I looked sharply at him. “So that… what?”

“Nobody will be lost again if I can help it, I suppose. Haha, it’s a good idea, right?”

His thick lenses did not fool me. Although Kenji Setou might have been legally blind for many years, he was illegally sighted, if you were to look at it a different way. But what I saw in his blank gaze was a profound sadness, and my response, although I did not know it then, would have profound consequences.

“Clan Katayama will support your endeavours, I suspect. We might not always… see eye to eye, but we do what we must.”

He nodded, displaying gratitude. I looked down, watched the busy beetles for a while, making the clean squirrel bones cleaner. When I looked up, he was gone. It would be more than two decades before I could sit down and count the cost.

index | end
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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Rika—Strains (Update 20190704)

Post by brythain » Thu Jul 04, 2019 3:12 am

The following post was written in response to Stiles Long's writing contest. Each participant was given a list of KS character pairings and a list of locations. One of each was chosen for this fic. There were a limited set of options available to participants in the contest and it may be that this fic resembles others. Any such resemblance is coincidental.
I had forgotten this, a simple write-up of a journey that my husband and I took in 2028. The reason I had forgotten it was that it took place a long time ago, and had no real conclusion to it. In a sense, it was not a journey, but the aborted beginnings of one. Another reason might have been that people tend to suppress some kinds of memories. [R., Osaka, 2075.]

Strains (2028)

Marriage is more uncomfortable than singlehood, but also much more comfortable. I am not used to paradox, and I would have said that the man I used to call Mutou-sensei should not have been either. But he was altogether too happy to work with paradox, and speak in paradox, and do many other things in a maddeningly ambiguous way.

This meant that in 2028, when I had resumed work after an unfortunate incident, we were booked on a sudden train journey all the way up into Hokkaido. Some wonderful engineers were already testing the last leg of the Shinkansen from Hakodate to Sapporo, scheduled to open in 2030, but, as usual, opening earlier than expected.

It seemed only a short while before that I had found Mutou’s violin and asked him about it. It had been a difficult moment for him, but true to his nature, he had endured my questioning. One thing had led to another in his mind, and here we were, planning to take the long journey from Tokyo to the North.

“Why Tokyo?” I had asked him. “It makes more sense, husband, to board the train at Sendai.”

He had always the knack for thinking in unusual ways. With his usual wry smile and irritating side-glance, he replied, “We’ll have a longer time on the train together. Otherwise, you would be alone all the way to Sendai.”

It made sense. I had always not been one to consider such things. It felt warm in my heart, that someone else would think of such things for me. At the same time, I was not entirely reassured.

“Mutou’s wife is certain that the same things were said to all the other girls,” I said. Too late, I realized that this was likely a mistake, and one he did not deserve.

A pained expression twisted his smile into a grimace. “Ah. No.”

I was going to apologize, but he added, “Well, not to all of them.”

I punched him, but gently and not murderously. Other things happened, and the day ended happily.


The day before we left Tokyo, I asked him, “Why that part of Hokkaido?”

“Do you not know? There’s a house there that is probably by now an infamous love-nest.”

“Oho, was this one’s beloved husband known as ‘Akio the Pervert’ in high school?”

“I will explain more as we get there.”

“Is that what the long and mysterious train ride is for?”

“Ha, Rika, you are playing with your long braid again!”

I scowled at him. I hated showing signs of agitation, but I hated even more not knowing things that I could know. “It will be a very unpleasant nest, if the explanation is not satisfactory.”

He looked a bit wary, but there was a curious little grin developing on his lips. “Yes, there’s a risk in such enterprises. But you asked me about my violin, and about the one I used to play it for, and I have prepared some answers to some of your questions. I’m prepared to die at your hands, of course.”

“Of course. Whose house is it?”

“Ah, that would be telling.”

“It is Mutou-san’s infamous love-nest!”

“Oh no, it’s hers.”


Mutou was a man with many silences. I had learnt to read some of them. He would not be bullied out of this one, even if I showed displeasure. Inwardly, I sighed and prepared to be crafty.


Tokyo Central was not much different from my usual stop near the Noda facility. The only difference was that Mutou was with me, and that he was whistling tunelessly. The latter fact was unaccountably irritating, but he seemed not to notice. We had spent some time settling small matters of business in the city, and buying some small items.

The silver and blue train purred punctually into the station, radiant in the afternoon sun. Its name blazed darkly—Hayabusa, the peregrine falcon—on its flank. Despite its sharply modern edges, it was pretending to be a cheerful machine who loved nothing more than to serve humans.

I found my long silver braid in my hand again. It barely registered that I had been thinking of it as a weapon for a while.

Mutou had packed a small overnight bag. I took pleasure in noting that mine was smaller and more compact. We looked just like any other travellers, except that he was wearing his ridiculous trenchcoat and I had stashed something warmer for Hokkaido. Even in June, a Hokkaido evening would be chilly.

“My beautiful and intelligent wife,” he whispered, “please, go ahead.”

My lips twitched just a little, and I gave him the smallest of nods. The inside of the train was in the usual 2+1 formation for our class of seats, and I moved quickly to our pair of seats. I had booked seats that would give us good visibility as well as mobility. I had no intention of sitting with many others behind us, and I took the corner next to the window.

Mutou had draped his folded brown coat over his arm. He looked down at me, then nestled comfortably in, somehow folding his lanky self into the seat without visible discomfort. “Five hours with you. I am a fortunate man.”

“It will take only five hours to get there?”

“Well, it might take a bit longer. Things might have changed somewhat. It’s less than that to the station, of course.”

I decided to push my luck. It was my right to ask, and if he was answering, I might as well carry on. “Is it like a hotel, for which one should make a booking?”

“No, you just need to notify the owner. Sometimes the house is in use, but the owner is mostly away these days.”

“How is ingress managed, then?”

“I have a... key.”

“And who is this mysterious owner?”

“My wife…” he began, then sighed. He gave me another one of his slightly twisty smiles. “All will be revealed.”

Despite my misgivings, Mutou without his whistling was always pleasant company. I felt the disproportionate heat of his lean mass against my side, and wished I were a little less skinny myself.

“Perhaps, an earlier revelation would result in a less chilly evening?”

He turned to look at me, his long face visibly perturbed. “How can any evening with you be chilly?”

“Ah, husband, the answer to that must clearly be a matter of absence or presence. One presumes that there are several different bedrooms in this house?”

“At least four,” he replied, his forehead wrinkling slightly. “We’ll leave the other three alone.”

“It depends on how many are used, no doubt.”

“The owner might be in residence.”

“And there is the point one awaits clarification on: the owner.”

Up in what you might call the ‘Grand Class’ of seating, the sound of the train was nearly inaudible. There were other passengers, but as customary, none of them made much noise at all. As I waited for his answer, I grew more conscious of the silence, and indeed wondered what was happening in the depths of his curious mind.

“It will be clarified,” he said firmly.

I looked at him, and knew I would have to wait a while.


The food trolleys had come and gone. Tea had been some kind of soft-serve green tea ice cream with a tiramisu made from sweet potatoes and black sugar. I was reviewing some research papers my students had drafted. He was looking out into green space.

“It is a Satou property,” my husband said, somewhat unexpectedly. “The Satous own a distillery in Hokkaido and other properties. This house is where the regional manager of the family business resides.”

“A regional manager’s residence? That sounds rather intrusive.”

His pained grimace returned. “I used to be married to this regional manager.”

Inwardly, I berated myself. I had never made the connection, even though the evidence had been before me all along. How illogical! I had no excuse for not figuring this out. Perhaps, my mind had been resisting this confrontation.

“This is her house?”

“Yes, it is where Michiko lives when she is in this part of Japan. When our nieces were in Sendai, they would sometimes go up there on vacation.”

“It is the location of the Hisao-Lilly scandal!”

Both of us looked mortified at this outburst. He recovered first. “Ah, it was the source of much rumour that year. How did you hear about it?”

“From the Student Council grapevine, of course.”


“This person would never betray a confidence, even if two decades have passed.”


I gazed smugly at him. But my mind was churning. Everyone knew that Mutou was related to Shizune. Clearly, then, he was also related to Lilly. That would mean that his ex-wife must have been their aunt. It was simple reasoning, and something that I had somehow neglected to make explicit for twenty years. I had most definitely spent too much time in scientific research, and not enough time thinking about people.

It hit me. A sharp pain in the chest, where my new heart pulsed. “Will that person be there, Mutou? The other wife?”

It was intolerably rude of me to use such language, but I felt as if I had lost control. I was trapped somewhere beyond Sendai, in a comfortably aerodynamic cigar-shaped coffin, with someone who was either my lover or a total stranger.

He peered gravely at me. “She sent us blessings on our wedding, you know.”

“Mutou-san has not seen fit to tell this person everything about his past life. That is fine; his current wife has no right to demand such a thing, and has not done so in the past.”

My braid felt like concertina-wire in my hand. He looked alarmed.

“I’ve told you whatever you have asked of me. Or will tell you,” he corrected himself.

“A woman does not want to feel as if she is begging. This is the post-modern era.”

“She said the house would be ready for us. But that is all she said.”

“This person might not even have been Mutou’s second wife, but his third wife, or even his fourth. A very uxorious man, this Mutou-san, to be in love with and to be loved by so many.”

“Rika, I do not want you angry with me. It’s a difficult thing, but I felt that it might be a good thing to do.”

“Sometimes, one needs a toilet break,” I said, getting up and walking away. In the background, I heard the purring of engines, the occasionally bump and grind of stones and gravel, the whispers of other passengers, some of whom might even have genuinely been in love with each other.


In the privacy of the tiny aluminium amenities-pod, I stripped completely and looked at myself. Pale, albino Rika. Scrawny, with decently vanished surgical scars and cords of muscle that looked as if her long braid had worked itself under her skin and wrapped around her body between sets of joints. Bony Rika. Sharp-faced Rika who had been called ‘hatchet-face’ behind her back before.

Of all Mutou’s women, I was certainly the least pleasant in appearance. And yet, he persisted in calling me ‘beautiful’. How could a person trust such words? I had tried to continue trusting, and I had tried not to feel bitterness whenever his past ambushed me.

He called me ‘intelligent’ too. That much I knew to be true. Maybe I was smarter and more academically accomplished than all the rest. Maybe he loved me for my mind. From my limited observation of Japanese males, when they said such things, they were just trying to take advantage of studious girls. I had known professors like that.

I was being ungenerous. Or uncharitable. I did not know if it was either, or if I was just being honest, accurate, precise, true. I began to wash myself. Large nipples on small breasts. Well-defined deltoids, no buttocks to speak of. I could feel my ribs, and there were a few I could see. I wiped myself down, remembering my field training. Minimum water, minimum fuss. Leave the site clean for others.

I did not stare into my reflected eyes. Freaky Rika with her vampire eyes. Ha, if so, why then the image in the mirror? Here I was, nearing forty, and still behaving like an outcast schoolgirl. Before I could command myself, there were tears occluding my vision.

We had been married for only about three years. He’d had a full decade with his Satou woman. He could not possibly have told me all about those years, and I sensed that while he would fully reveal those parts if I asked, they would bring great sadness to him. One of those, I knew, was the matter of the grave on the hill behind the school.

It had been my choice, then, to leave some of him for a later date. If there was any more of him, anyway. I smiled humourlessly at my reflection, trying not to catch my own eyes. Dear Rika, I addressed myself, old Mutou is lucky to have you, and you too are fortunate to have him.

Some days, this was easier to believe, than on others. Cleansed, I dressed and walked back out. I was no longer angry. I was anticipatory.


“Please refresh this person’s memory as to your relationships with the Satou clan,” I said demurely. We were in an autonomous shuttlepod, coasting up a fairly new tarmac road into the hills. “After all, sensei has thirty minutes to execute such a lesson.”

He gave me one of those not-sure-if-you-are-joking looks, then allowed his lips to smile. “Well, Lilly’s father is the eldest of five children. The rest are daughters. Their Family is a major contributor to Yamaku, which is why so many Satou-related people can be found in it. My ex-wife was the youngest Satou child. Her eldest sister married Hakamichi, but left him to go to Scotland.”


“Satou girls are all wonderful people, but they don’t guarantee a wonderful life,” he said softly. “Anyway, with the Satou business between Hokkaido and Scotland booming, many of the Satous relocated to Europe. Some shuttle back and forth, like Akira, who brings me whisky.”

I had encountered Akira, Lilly’s elder sister, several times in passing. Perhaps the only reason she might know my name was that I had married her uncle. I did not think she had any fondness for me.

“What is the nature of the Satou business?” I asked. Of course, my own Family database had already given me the facts, which I had in front of me on my optical display. I wanted my husband to use his own words—I was often fascinated by how he saw things.

“Hokkaido is to Honshu as Scotland is to England. The southerners think the northerners are barbarians, and the northerners think the southerners are a decadent and foolish lot. An Okinawan like myself is like a Welshman there—long colonized and subjugated but wanting to be free.”

He continued, “The Satou business is mainly food import and export. Both Japanese and Europeans have a taste for foreign fish and foreign booze. Both sides see it as exotic, and money is to be made in that perception.”

I had got him in lecture mode. Mutou was always well-informed about current affairs, because it allowed him to invest his hard-earned salary wisely. We kept separate accounts, for our mutual peace of mind.

I smiled and kept him talking. If we were to encounter his ex-wife, best that we both be equally unprepared.


Our destination was what looked, from the outside, like a modest farmhouse set in the foothills. Stone, wood, some glass. At this time of year, the sun had not quite set even though it was after 7 pm. The sunset light streaked the frame of the house with honey and violets.

Mutou looked around, a greying hawk, slightly slumped around the shoulders. “Hmm, there’ve been changes,” he murmured.

“What do you mean?”

“I think the owner has stripped out some of the internal walls. There’s more light, you can see into the building further than before. Also, modern furniture.”

He moved purposefully towards the polished wood door, and I followed. The air was calm and cool. I felt colder currents near my ankles, but the ground was still warm.

A modern sensor array had been built into the house frame. My optical display showed that I was being pinged. Mutou, steadfastly refusing such augmentations, had probably already been scanned without knowing it.

As he placed his hand on a dark grey plate next to the door, tiny LED spots activated in the far corners of the eaves. I heard a faint hum.

The door clicked gently. Something had changed in the field around it. Raising an eyebrow, my husband gave me a sidelong glance as he grasped the long vertical bar that served as a door handle. It lit up with a faint blue glow.

“Welcome, Akio,” said a low female voice. “Please enter. You may access further instructions and messages from the internal network once you are inside.”

“Is that her voice?” I asked.

“Not quite. It seems to be an AI approximation, differentiated on purpose so that people can’t use it as a proxy for her voiceprint.”

He swept me in. The temperature had fallen swiftly in the last few minutes as the sun had disappeared behind the hills, and I was glad to be inside.

“Where is she?”

“I don’t…” he began.

“I’m currently away in Luxembourg,” said the voice. “You have the house all to yourselves. Everything is stocked up for about a week, after which you can run down to town for further provisions or call one of the local stores. Regular deliveries have been suspended. You have one unheard voice message. Would you like to hear it?”

“Yes,” I said.

Nothing happened.

Mutou frowned. “Yes?” he ventured.

A slightly different voice spoke. “This is Michiko. It would have been nice to meet both of you, but perhaps the timing, as it sometimes happens, is wrong. Apologies. It seems as if we’re not meant to meet. You can contact me through the usual channels, or leave a message at Edinburgh Station. Rika, every part of the house is yours, Akio is bad at keeping things tidy. I’ll be back in August, but by then you will probably have left. Have a good time, you two!”

The lights came on.

I looked around the room. A glass chess set on one low table next to black leather sofas, a neatly arranged row of books, modern furniture in what looked like steel and polymer mesh. No coffee table. The house was perfectly clean. I heard a hum and turned to look down. A little robot the size of my cellphone had just darted behind us, and was clearing up the dirt we had trekked in. It disappeared into the wall as I stared.

“She was always one for neatness and cleanliness. Very orderly.”

“Very unlike my husband,” I manage. “A pleasant house: the white marble and dark parquet around the central area, elegant. Both cool and warm. Harmonious.”

Very unlike myself, said the voice in my head. I have always been a proponent of the art of chaos. My research materials act as strange attractors, each pile attracting to itself more material until a solution space is outlined by the convergence. This house was the product of an administrator, not a researcher. Perhaps I was being unkind, but I was tired.

“The old sofa set is gone. Probably the old bedroom furniture too. Modern electronics have replaced the old stuff, and…” he ducked around the corner and came back, “… the kitchen has been updated. It’s not the haphazard breakfast-only kind of place it was when Akira used to live here.”

“So nice of that person to leave everything in such good condition for us.”

He looked at me, a slight crease between his brows. “She means well, even if there’s nothing left between us. You’re my wife now, singly, now and forever. She knows that.”

Something cracked in me. I realized that I had been preparing for some kind of confrontation, only to be betrayed by kindness. Mutou stared at me, his expression readably tender. He gathered me up in him, and I let him. Why would I not?

index | end
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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Rika—A Whiter Shade of Pale

Post by brythain » Sun Nov 08, 2020 10:02 pm

The following post was written in response to Stiles Long's writing contest. Each participant was given a list of KS character pairings and a list of locations. One of each was chosen for this fic.

There were a limited set of options available to participants in the contest and it may be that this fic resembles others. Any such resemblance is coincidental.

A Whiter Shade of Pale

Although Mutou kept many records of great import to this retired journalist, some of the accounts he kept were simply stories of other people’s lives. Many of them were told to him by the many students who had confided in him, most of which were left anonymous in his transcriptions, diaries, and notes. A notable tranche, however, came from an unequivocal source: his second wife’s stories were painstakingly transcribed, sometimes with doodles and illustrations. These are the work of a man who loved what he was doing, in the service of one he loved. A sample (unillustrated) follows, with Mutou’s own annotations in angle-brackets thus: < Comment >. [N., Osaka, late 2030.]


It’s strange to just sit and talk informally like this, although it has now been many months since I… we… you know. And you ask me so many questions! I was much of a loner when in school, dear Mutou. In my communications, I adopted the formal style my family used when walking amongst enemies, which is why you probably have heard accounts of the excessively strained syntax your former student used when at Yamaku.

<Yes, indeed I had. I had always wondered. She was of course Rika of the Katayama Clan; everyone knew her antecedents—the main question was why she never bothered to disguise her origins, but sought to accentuate her strangeness.>

Anyway, you already know my rich history with Shizune Hakamichi. I also believe you had spoken to her about me, even from before our coming-together. How you, of all people, ever became unofficial teacher-advisor to the Student Council, I had no idea. Until, of course, you told me.

My husband, I shall answer one of your questions. And to do that, I will tell you the story of how I first encountered Shizune’s cousin, Lilly Satou.


There are far fewer awkward situations than to be on the shuttle bus from Yamaku to downtown Sendai, stuck in traffic with someone who is a complete stranger, and yet for some unfathomable reason, desirous of making conversation with one’s humble and deliberately silent self. This was the situation that arose one fine summer afternoon, with the sunlight dancing across the river and the stench of tired high school students yearning to be unleashed across the city after a long week with their studies.

As usual, I was being my polite and unassuming self, squeezing into a seat by the window and pretending to be some sort of wallflower, a white one with many leaves and few blooms, not very pretty nor exciting, and certainly not engaging at all. But the bus driver, Ito-san that day, had decided to wait until the shuttle was reasonably full before leaving. And so, it was with some resignation, although not really resentment, that I watched the stranger approach.

She was a tall, pale girl. There were few taller than I, perhaps a tenth of the school population, and none paler. And yet, we were by some statistical freak of destiny doomed to form an eye-catching splotch of extreme pallor. I tried to not catch her eye, the empty seat next to me shrieking its presence nevertheless. Then I saw her cane, and realised that Fate had decided even if I could not catch her eye, I would catch her company.

The cane tapped its way towards me, some sense of spatial cognition transmitting from its body. She paused, and I heard the dreaded words, “Excuse me, is this seat taken?”

“Please, you are most welcome,” I responded automatically. Then came an instance of the Satou sorcery I later came to appreciate more.

“Thank you, Katayama,” she said, gracefully lowering herself into the seat and folding her cane in a single seamless motion.

How she had identified me by voice alone, I had no idea. I hoped fervently it was not my odour. Perhaps it was the precision of my enunciation. I did not ask. All I knew was that this was a senior girl I did not know by name, and yet she knew mine.

And there we were, two of the palest people in Yamaku. Side by side. Not that it would have troubled her, I thought. I wondered if she understood the concept of pale.

What troubled her were the comments emanating from about six rows behind us. I recognized them, of course; they were male seniors of mine known for their bullying ways. Being seniors, it was not my place to confront them, although the temptation to exact Katayama-style vengeance was always at the back of my mind. They had been making suggestive remarks in my direction for more than a year.

“So white,” I heard. “Do you think she’s a vampire?”

“Do vampires have that kind of eye colour? And hair colour?”

“I bet it’s dyed. Do you think she’s that colour down below?”

“Ha-ha, I think she’d be all red down below.”

“That’s gross. Come on, even you wouldn’t go that far.”

“She’s so tall, you would have to go very far!”

“Ha ha ha!”

They went on in that vein for quite a while. I noticed my neighbour’s creamy complexion was beginning to develop a hint of deeper colour.

Very tactfully (I thought), I asked her, “Is it too warm here, senior lady? There are vacant seats nearer the air-conditioning vent two rows forward. We can go together.”

“Not at all,” she replied, tilting her head in my direction and seemingly peering beyond me at the hillside landscape. Her eyes were a beautiful shade of blue. “You can just call me Lilly, by the way. I believe in formality, but not too much of it.”

I smiled involuntarily. I was unnerved when she smiled back. With a soft little sigh, she continued.

“Katayama, don’t be bothered by them. I’m used to having them mock me as I walk past their classroom, which is next to mine. They’re my best friend’s classmates. I can’t see my own skin, nor my own eyes, so when people tease me, it just makes no sense. Those three boys at the back, they’re not my type at all, anyway.”

She said all this while maintaining perfect posture. Our spines were parallel, I realised. How had she learnt to maintain posture… I slapped myself mentally. I had learnt to maintain balance by training, walking across squeaky bamboo floors in the dark; surely she had learnt it by a more natural process.

But her words were more significant. She thought they were talking about her, not me. I fell into more colloquial speech, in keeping with her ‘not too much’.

“Please call me Rika. May I say that you have a very fine appearance, nothing that can be mocked?”

She giggled slightly. With her, it was low-pitched and rather pleasant, not irritating as it was with some others I knew. “That’s a great compliment, Rika.”

“May I know how you recognized me?”

There was a pause, and I wondered if I had offended my new acquaintance.

“It’s hard to explain. People say, ‘Oh, that’s Kenji!’ or ‘Oh, that’s Natsume!’ for example, and after a while, I learn to associate those names with sounds and scents and other things that happen when the named individuals are around.”

She paused. “I hope I’m not being rude?”

I wondered why she was asking. Perhaps it was the mention of ‘scent’. I am squeamish about smelling like a wild animal, having been scolded by my father once for coming to dinner without bathing first.

<One never asks questions about such matters. I had always wondered why she used to spend so much time in the shower before each meal. The things one learns when one is not actively seeking for answers!>

“No… Lilly, not at all?”

“Then I must tell you that my sister twice mentioned that you resembled her in some way. So I took note of you.”

“Your sister?”

“Yes, but she did not say exactly what way, or ways, those were. She just told me your name, and I put two and two together. You’re one of the most—please don’t take this as rudeness—formal-sounding people I’ve ever heard.”

“How did your sister identify me?”

“She just said, ‘That’s the Katayama girl, I think.’ Then she muttered something about having something in common with you. When I asked her about it some months later, she’d completely forgotten, which I thought was odd.”

We had arrived at the stop next to the convenience store where there was also a LAN-gaming place. The rowdy seniors got up. One of them, a tall fellow with flappy hands, sneered at me. He whispered, “Vampire chick, cold blooded. Needs warming up!”

The rest of them laughed and followed him off the bus.

I saw Lilly wince, the corners of her eyes narrowing slightly. After the door closed behind them, she said, “I’m sorry you had to hear all that. Boys that age are such a pain, sometimes. I prefer them older and more mature.”

I nodded, before remembering that she couldn’t see me. “Yes, I suppose they are. I will remember your advice about ‘older and more mature’.”

She smiled slightly, then continued as her smile turned into a little frown. “I’ve never been called a ‘vampire chick’ before, though. Surely I’m not as undead-looking or weird-looking as all that?”

I knew they’d been talking about me all along, but I had no tactful way to say that. It might have come across as trying to take credit, or being false in the hope of protecting her. That is the kind of thing that can offend people, and I did not want to offend someone who might one day be a friend.

“I think they’re just not thinking straight. Or maybe they have been playing a certain kind of video games too much?”

She laughed. “Perhaps!”

I had to get off the bus two stops later, and she graciously made way for me after saying that she was going shopping with her sister and cousin further downtown.

We parted on good terms, I think. However, I never really got to know her, and never guessed how much impact she would later have on my life. Nor did I ever learn in exactly what ways I resembled her sister.


Does that satisfy you, husband? I keep telling you all these stories about people of our mutual acquaintance, and all you do is give me that enigmatic smile!

<She has always satisfied me. It is fascinating to see things through her eyes, especially when I am able to triangulate them with what I already know.>

index | end
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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