After the Dream—Rika/Mutou/Akira (Updated 20190704)

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AtD—Rika's Arc (Part 4 up 20140427)

Post by brythain » Sat Apr 26, 2014 1:24 pm

This is the fourth part of Rika's arc in 'After the Dream', my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic.
Originally, Rika was supposed to be a minor character, a guest star, so to speak. But she's agreed to be less minor.



Rika 4: Sword of the Mountain (T -8)

There are always painful episodes in one’s life, sharp little segments that one ignores at one’s peril, that come back to haunt one in the darkest moments of the night of the soul. For me, the nigh-mythical Rika Katayama, there are two low moments in my early career that always keep me humble. The first taught me that honour is more important than love; the second that love is more important than honour. It was not till much later that I learnt to balance the two.

So here then is the first. If it seems unbelievable to you, so be it.

It is 2016, the year of Japan’s great performance in the Paralympics, led by Emi Ibarazaki’s multi-coloured medal haul. You can see the replays on video screens in department stores and cafés, and even in the common room of the otherwise quiet laboratory complex where I am mouldering away at work which I hope will one day make a difference.

Those long days that gutter into nights have created the seeds of a legend. I know the names that they call me now: I think ‘The Ghost of Noda’ is a good one, because I flit in and out of the Research Institute for Biological Sciences north of Tokyo fairly often, and mostly at dawn and dusk. But to my fellow researchers in the Takeda Frontier Building in Todai, I am just ‘White Lady’, Rika the demon princess, who haunts the Centre for NanoBio Integration. Sometimes, it gets a little too much for me, and I have to take a break.

Thus it is that I wander off one day in my little black and red Yaris-H, and find myself in a little pub somewhere near Saitama. This is not really a random trip, but one in which I am following the scent of a particular person in the Family’s database, whose geotag is the nearest to mine at the moment. When one is bored, tired and lonely, one loses one’s sense of judgement. Or at least, that is how I think of it now, distancing myself from my own mistakes.

There he is. Unruly brown hair, all alone at the bar, his tie loose and his shirt rumpled. He looks a lot like Mutou-sensei from a certain angle. I hesitate for a moment, and then walk deeper into the place.

I sense that unpleasantness which is many eyes staring at my back while others avoid my gaze. These days, I still dress conservatively, often in black, but my Family training has given me a severe posture; I look even taller than I should. My long silver braid looks like a whip. The contact lenses do not help. UV filters only make them look more chilling under certain lighting conditions.

“Hello, Nakai-san,” I say softly. Unfortunately, long disuse makes my throat produce a deeper, much more sultry flavour than I intended.

He starts and looks up from his solitary drink. I think it is a 12-year Macallan scotch, chilled but neat, from the faint aroma tickling my senses. An interesting choice.

“Katayama-san! What brings you here?”

“I might ask you the same thing, greatly superior senior. My last rumour of your name placed you as a top graduate of Gakudai, posted to our alma mater on Mount Aoba. But that is not an accusation of any kind; I am just happy to see you taking a break from your educational labours!”

“That’s kind of you. However, my friend, this is no break; I’m merely resting after a grueling session with my lawyer.”

Ah. Something to file for the database. I wonder why he needs a lawyer. But now is not the time to ask, so I tip a finger at the barkeep and signal that I shall be having my own serving of Macallan. He blanches faintly but nods acquiescence.

“But what would Nakai-sensei need with a member of the august legal fraternity?” I ask, mustering a playful tone. It comes out a little ragged, for I have not had anyone to really be playful with for some years.

“Katayama-san! A man’s private business should remain that way, where young ladies are concerned,” he says with mock seriousness. I have missed the banter, I realize. We have done this for almost a decade, longer than some people have had a relationship.

And here we are, two people almost thirty, with a few fingers of scotch between us. I sigh with simple pleasure and a little wistfulness. When did we get to be so old?

“Nakai-san, we have known each other for so long! What secrets can you hide from a friend of such standing? You may call me Rika again.”

“And you may call me Hisao, friend of long standing. So, why does my elegant crane descend from her nests in various interesting centres of higher learning?”

I have also missed his wry little jokes. He must have learnt some of them from listening to Mutou-sensei. I cannot stop myself from essaying a tiny grin.

“Hello, Hisao. I think I have missed my senior colleague of the Yamaku Broken Hearts Club a fair amount. It has made me wander around like a crane hoping for a frog. Are you well? How are things with you?”

“Ah, I’m down to eight kinds of drugs. Other things? Things are… the way they are,” he says vaguely, gesturing at a wall. I wonder why, until I catch a glimpse of the screen in a mirror. Yes, his lady, taking home a bronze. She has already a silver and a gold, so that is a full set, I think. Maybe one more to go. My poor friend has probably not seen her for months except on the sports news.

I do not quite know what to say, so we sip our scotch silently for a while. The taste is like smoke and vanilla on the tongue, a bittersweet chain that always remains, as the song goes. For some reason, the phrase ‘wherever you go, I will find you’ goes through my mind. I wonder where my watchers are.

*****

It must be a couple of hours later. My posture is still reasonably upright, and I notice with some surprise that Hisao is still apparently stone-cold sober. There is something important I want to tell him, but I am not sure if I should. My failure would mean I have given false hope, not only to myself, but to a dear friend.

“Hisao, I have been working on something you might find interesting.”

There, I have said it. In a short while, what is hidden may show itself.

He looks at me seriously. I have always liked that look, because it is not fear, nor lust, nor whimsy. It is an honest look, friend to friend.

“Go ahead, Rika-chan.”

I can only say that, on the verge of spilling a matter best hidden, I found a way not to do so. The taste of my solution was bitter. To this day, I still think of what I felt: smoke, vanilla, and the sinking sensation of a bridge burning to the ground.

I am about to tell him about Project Ricardo, and what it might mean for us, and for people like us. I am going to tell him because I am lonely, and I have nobody to share this with. And he is my honest friend. But I cannot break professional confidences.

So I kiss him. His lips part just as I have imagined them, and my hand on his shoulder, my hand on his jaw, the taste of the air between us and the warmth of his breath, they all mix in one moment I will not forget.

“No, Rika-chan, not this. Please.”

My wrists. They are bound in his hands. I have never noticed exactly how long and strong his fingers are. I stop myself from breaking his grip. I am aflame, giddy, shamed. It is not the rejection, but the whole mistake, the hidden passion covering for the secret I am really keeping. I cannot bear it.

I gasp an apology which I do not now remember. I pull away from him, and he lets me go. Like a demon princess from another folklore, I rise and flee on shaky legs from the scene of love exposed. That, however, is a worse mistake. I know this the moment I feel the awful, draining fatigue and the floating sensation, the darkening world around me. It is like a sword twisting gently into my body.

Two of my minders are in the room now. I can feel their proximity auras. My bracelet is beeping. Tanaka-san will be so upset, what an irrelevant thought, so many irrelevant thoughts, poor Hisao, what a way to go, remorse from a bad confession! And Rika is gone.

*****

It is to Hisao’s credit that he stays for days in the hospital making sure I am fine. He goes to a friend’s house in Saitama to shower and change, but he is always nearby even though I am too weak to talk for a while. He talks for both of us.

“Rika-chan, I’m so sorry. I thought you knew, Emi Ibarazaki and I, we’re together. Some time it’s been, now. But Rika, we’re still friends. Always have been. It was the drink, maybe, it does funny things, especially since you’re not a large person.”

I would laugh if it were not so tragic and if I were not so feeble. He is trying so hard. I try to smile, to let him know things are all right between us. I do not think it is very helpful to his peace of mind to have a Family minder in the room, filing her fingernails in a corner. Presumably there is another one outside.

My father, the Hand of the Mountain, has not come to visit. Tanaka-san has already delivered the words of his displeasure verbatim to me, one day when Hisao was off in Saitama.

I am a fool. Rika Katayama does not deserve what she has been given. I have wasted years of Family conditioning with one ill-considered moment. And though my secrets are kept, I hope it has not cost me one of my very few real friendships. At least, we still both have some honour left—Hisao much more than I.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon May 15, 2017 12:49 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: After the Dream—Other Material (Rika4 upd 20140427)

Post by dewelar » Sat Apr 26, 2014 2:50 pm

While I really like your Rika as a character, I find this particular series somewhat out of place among the others. Hisao doesn't feel like Hisao, although one always can put that down to him being something of a metamorph. I also don't care much for the whole Yakuza bit, but that's more of a personal preference.

Actually, I'm tempted to call the entire thing something that Rika's invented in her head, which...could be a bit of Fridge Brilliance if it was done for...certain reasons :) .
Rin is orthogonal to everything.
Stuff I've written: Developments, a continuation of Lilly's (bad? neutral?) ending - COMPLETE!

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Re: After the Dream—Other Material (Rika4 upd 20140427)

Post by brythain » Sat Apr 26, 2014 2:55 pm

dewelar wrote:While I really like your Rika as a character, I find this particular series somewhat out of place among the others. Hisao doesn't feel like Hisao, although one always can put that down to him being something of a metamorph. I also don't care much for the whole Yakuza bit, but that's more of a personal preference.

Actually, I'm tempted to call the entire thing something that Rika's invented in her head, which...could be a bit of Fridge Brilliance if it was done for...certain reasons :) .
Maybe it's actually something that Shizune's invented in her head. :)

And yes, Rika's a peripheral character. Her arc takes her out of the main body pretty soon.

And lastly, where do you think all those lovely nanotech toys nearer the end of the century are coming from? The Families, of course, who—big disclaimer—aren't meant to represent the noble knights commonly known as the Yakuza… :D

Okay, it's late over here. I think these really are 'other material'; they fit the continuity, but let the reader beware. And I apologise for the Rin April Fool's joke one more time, at this appropriate point...
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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AtD—Other Material (Rika5 upd 20140428)

Post by brythain » Mon Apr 28, 2014 11:22 am

This is the fifth part of Rika's arc in 'After the Dream', my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic.
It takes place around the time of this part of Misha's arc, but continues the story from Part 4 of Rika's own arc.



Rika 5: Heartache (T -0)

I am kneeling alone in a dark room deep in the heart of a building known to relatively few people. I am on my knees because this marks the ending of the second memorable low point of my life, I am ashamed, and I have not had the good fortune to receive the due punishment for my shame this time.

The wall screen in front of me provides the only light, the distant light of a beautiful August day. It is the eighth day of the eighth month, and in Sendai, it marks the end of the Tanabata festival. There is a funeral in progress, and although I should have been there, I am not there in person. It would be wrong.

My editor assures me that it can only get easier as I draft these selective recollections for the Archive. It certainly does not seem easier. If anything, remembrance brings not only the memory of pain. It also brings the sorrow of not having been able, not being able, never going to be able, to do anything about it. That kind of awkward textual construction just about sums it up.

This melancholy episode begins about eight years before the funeral, just after the first low point of my life, in 2016. You might recall that prior episode; a drinking-house in Saitama, an ill-advised method of keeping confidences, and a private hospital suite. Let us pick up the thread shortly thereafter.

*****

Eventually, my father deigns to speak directly to his only child. I am brought into his presence by Tanaka-san, like a common supplicant. While our family is not nobility, nor one of those chivalrous orders which the public refer to as Yakuza, we are a Family and traditions run strong.

“Rika, Katayama of my blood. Let me summarise the situation. You were seen kissing a former schoolmate, who just happens to be in a relationship with the late ‘Thorn’ Ibarazaki’s daughter, a young lady whose data you requested access to some years ago. You are currently engaged in work for the Families of a secret nature. Said former schoolmate stands to benefit from outcomes of that work. Our Family is displeased at such apparent impropriety. Punishment is due.”

All that, in one smoothly measured breath, with delicate pauses. My father has had a lifetime of the Family’s training. Well, I have had some too.

“I take full responsibility for those errors of judgement. My cumulative weaknesses led me to such a situation and also to the eventual outcomes. I will accept any punishment meted out by the Family.”

“That you will. You are to be disengaged from the Network, the Matrix and the Archive. You will retain your physical possessions and such entitlements and legacies as you are legally allowed. You will retain the family name, but you no longer have a title nor any future titles to aspire to. You are also free to work for any other Family in the Nanotech Group, and you may marry within such a family and adopt their name as your married name. Good day.”

I know that this is not only my punishment, but also his, and it must be extremely damaging to him. I am as much a Katayama as he, and so my tears will not flow. With my whiteness alienly reflected at me from many cleanly-polished surfaces, I stare at my father as if from a Noh mask — impassive, tilted up slightly in question, firmness of purpose, or acceptance. Then I bow deeply, the bow of a dismissed servant.

When I leave, however, I retain the posture I have been taught to hold. I am upright, humbled but unbroken. I was to have been a Sword of the Mountain, now I am essentially a sword for hire. It is no loss if there is nothing to lose. I tell myself I have nothing to lose. I do not know if this can be true.

*****

Indeed, now that I have nothing of the Family to live for, I am able to throw myself whole-heartedly into work. And so it is that I find myself drawn, by circumstance and coincidence, towards my nemesis.

But first, an interlude.

My editor points out that surely the moment of my first kiss must have had greater significance than only being the cause of my downfall. Yes, it was my first kiss. And yes, it was a kiss given to someone towards whom I had long had an adolescent affection. However, I must say here that at the time of delivery, that affection had peaked and then remained at the level of ‘friend of my youth’. I did enjoy Hisao’s company, but I was not looking for more than that.

In fact, the first thing I do, now that I am disenfranchised and disconnected from the political machinations of the Katayamas, is to send Hisao a brief note of gratitude for his concern and most gentlemanly behaviour, and to assure him that my own behaviour would not be repeated again. I am genuinely contrite; I know Ibarazaki’s reputation for possessiveness and do not want to have caused difficulties between them.

Hisao’s reply is expected, but warm nevertheless: [Dear Rika, don’t worry about the plums. I’m glad you have recovered and I assure you that things will be fine. Spend time on your very promising work. If nothing else, you’ll always know that you have one dedicated reader of your research publications here. Yours, Hisao.]

The actual phrase he is thinking of is 瓜田李下. I suppose this translates to ‘in a melon field under the plum trees’—not only a terrible pun on my name in Japanese, but alluding to the spectacle of a person who looks as if she is about to steal plums, and hence up to no good in general. I am glad for the humour.

With that additional encouragement, I get back to my catalysts and substrates, and their practical applications in biology. One thing I do know is that precious little credit in the matter will accrue to me. In Japan, one’s patronage and one’s place in the hierarchy tend to influence the way such credit is distributed. I am still the Katayama representative in the Nanotech Group, but everyone knows I am now at the bottom of the heap.

I do not, on the other hand, mope around. I maintain what physical conditioning I can, and I keep in touch with Mutou-sensei, who is at least a ‘safe’ person to communicate with about technical ideas without breaking confidentiality. He can guess, but he does not have to know. That is how things continue, with minor interruptions, for a long time.

*****

One such interruption is significant, although I do not recognize it as such at the time. It is about two years after my disgrace. I am making my lonely way from my lab at Todai to the Sanshiro Pond, where I spend quiet moments not thinking about the past. I am so used to light surveillance that the nature of that surveillance is not often an issue. But then I realize that I have a stalker.

When one is relatively frail, one makes do with what one has. I do my crowd-blending thing and observe what happens. Immediately my stalker emerges. He is a relatively solid foot-soldier type, but young; he looks like an ambitious junior Family member. On second glance, his face looks familiar, although I cannot quite place it.

He walks over to me, smiling bashfully. That disconcerts me somewhat.

“Katayama-san? This humble person’s family name is Hakamichi. He has a simple private matter to resolve, and as such does not speak for the Family of that name. May he proceed?”

He is being unnecessarily formal. I wonder what this matter might be. It might be faster if we stop bowing and nodding as we are right now. I take a small gamble, based on something that belatedly comes to mind.

“Hakamichi-san? For this conversation, let us be a little less formal. I think I know your sister, who was a year my senior in school.”

“Ah. My redoubtable sister, who does not need to know of this conversation. I am speaking on behalf of the estate of Hisao Nakai, which has retained me in legal capacity.”

The estate? Surely Hisao has not… A very cold feeling creeps into my body. I feel like a dry bone waiting to be snapped in two. My lips part, but there seems to be little air available for words.

“Please. Proceed.”

He must see something in my too-white face. A look of sympathy flickers on his own, before being replaced by something else. Relief? Amusement? I cannot tell.

“No, it is not like that, Katayama-san. Nakai-san is still very much alive, and he sends his greetings. Also, this, which I shall pass to you after verifying two things: firstly, your legal status in the Nanotech Group, and secondly, that your research proceeds well.”

He is holding a hefty cream-coloured envelope with a pleasing texture. I wonder what it might be, and why the need for verification. Surely Hisao knows my status and what I am doing, more or less.

“I can confirm that I still represent my Family in the Group. My research proceeds well enough to have met the requirements for continued funding into the next three financial years.”

“Excellent! Please accept this as if it is from Nakai-san’s hand. He regrets that his situation does not permit meeting with you personally at this time. For myself, it is a great pleasure to have met you, senior lady!”

He bows deeply, a strange twinkle in his eye. I return the bow, still feeling slightly suspicious. I feel the weight of the envelope and smile politely at the young lawyer.

At the Pond, my mood returns. Ha, if I were to make a play for Shizune Hakamichi’s brother, the excrement would be rotationally scattered across much of Japan. Perish the thought, I tell myself. I absent-mindedly slit the envelope open with my cutting nail.

I am being invited to the wedding of Hisao Nakai and Emi Ibarazaki on the eighth day of August later this year. It would be polite to reply, of course, but only to send my heartfelt regrets. It is probably better to not make my association with Hisao too widely known. I suddenly feel very much alone.

*****

For a time, nothing else disturbs my work. The years pass. It is good work, and about once a month, I have tea with Mutou-sensei, my unofficial mentor and the closest thing I have to a professional friend. Everyone in my research group is a professional, but not much of a friend. It is a situation I accept as a consequence of past error.

He tells me occasionally of Hisao, of the birth of a daughter, of his hard work at the school. The year that Hisao’s daughter is born is also the year that Mutou steps down as head of the Science Department; Hisao takes his place. I sense relief when my mentor talks about spending more time in the classroom and less on paperwork; I sense pride when he talks about Hisao’s achievements. I wonder if he will ever speak of my work with such appreciation—assuming that the work ever becomes public knowledge and that my humble name makes it to the footnotes.

Hisao himself communicates only desultorily with me. He is clearly a busy man now, and although I still have fond memories of our friendship, they are fading. It is only after Hisao’s second child is born that my life is once again turned upside-down.

*****

I wake in my Spartan bedroom to a relatively unfamiliar sound. It is the Family alert tone, and it has not been used to contact me for years. I had all but forgotten about such things.

[Subject: RK11. Code: Silver. Class: Priority. Statement: RK11 reinstated provisionally with immediate effect. End.]

I look at the dusty display of the long-discarded bracelet on my desk in disbelief. Reinstatement is unheard-of, at least in the recent history of the family. Reinstatement to original status is just unheard-of, provisional or not.

There is an incoming call, however, and this one is as peculiar as the first communication, if I read my display aright. Frowning, I activate the vidphone.

It is indeed Shizune Hakamichi, or her iconic avatar. Words appear on the screen: [Katayama-san, the Nanotech Group has kindly loaned your services to Hakamichi Industries with immediate effect. Please make your way to my office at the Yamaku Academy in Sendai, if possible by 1300 today. Reply with ETA. Thank you.]

It is all too much. What could possibly be triggering all this activity? On a hunch, I decide to call my mentor.

“Hello, Rika?”

“Hello, Mutou-sensei. This humble student wonders if anything is happening of significance in the community at Yamaku. Certain events have occurred.”

“Ah! Yes, this is true. Keep watching. Have a nice day, Rika!”

I look at my display in disbelief. What is going on?

The icon in the lower left corner flashes. One secure communication. Automatically I accept it.

[It has to do with Hisao. I hope that your work has progressed to the level at which I guessed it might be. See you soon. Warm regards, Mutou.]

*****

The drive up to Yamaku is relatively quick. Roads around the Fukushima region are still quite empty, a decade or so after the radiation disaster. It takes me just under five hours in my new-model Y-Hybrid, still sporting Katayama colours and thus somewhat immune to certain difficulties.

On arrival at this old, strangely familiar place, which now seems so much smaller and more precious, I am ushered to the Principal’s office. Yes, it seems that Hakamichi has indeed achieved her ambition to run the lives of every student in the school, albeit in a most unexpected way.

“This way, Katayama-sama,” says the young lady who escorts me inward. Apparently, there is to be a meeting at the boardroom. I am bewildered. What on earth does the school have to do with my work? Is Hisao running a special science project on campus?

As the door shuts behind me, I am confused to see only two people in the room, conspiring at one end of the long black table. One is Mutou. The other…

“Rika! It has been a very long time! Are you still breaking the hearts of many otherwise eligible young men? You’re looking very good for someone your age!”

It is Kaneshiro, the man I used to call ‘Nurse’. The situation has just become even more surreal. I walk automatically towards them. Mutou interrupts his friend’s continued jesting with a gentle cough.

“Hello, Rika. I have asked for you to be here because we have to consider certain options. Currently, our old friend Hisao is at Miyagi General being operated on for the second time. His heart is giving way. You have a promising experiment in nanobiotech. Shizune has cut a deal for the opportunity to test it out.”

It is only at this point that the full gravity of the day’s events descends on me. I let myself fall into the nearest seat.

Nurse grins. “Welcome to the committee for the extension of Hisao Nakai’s life.”

*****

Two years later, we have failed. My experiment has failed. Not only have I not managed to extend Hisao’s life significantly, my ruthenium-based implant might well have killed him. As I step regretfully away from my equipment-encased friend, I hold back a weighty burden of sorrow. Is this all my life has been about? Failure after failure?

He grins faintly at me, his eyes tightly shut. I can barely hear him. “Ah, Rika-chan… your little machine. It’s kept me alive for two extra years. I… saw little Akira learn how to walk. Now fix yourself… don’t follow me… then disband the Broken Hearts Club…”

He sounds better than he is. I know how poisoned he is, how the implant has corrupted his tissues and created unfamiliar territories in his head. I bow formally to someone I will likely not see in this life again, and I wish him as much life as he can have for as long as he can have it.

Shizune is so silent that I have almost forgotten she stands next to me.

“Yes, I’ll do that, H-Hisao…”

I am choking on my words. I cannot say any more.

Blindly, I turn to the door and Shizune, once my enemy, now my friend, opens the door. Her hand briefly clasps my shoulder before I walk into the corridor outside. She presses something papery into my hand, and I slip it into my pocket, unseen.

The bright lights dazzle me for a moment. Emi and Misha are outside. I bow formally to them without meeting their eyes and walk away. I must not show them my grief. I do not belong here among those who love Hisao.

*****

And so it is, that on the day of the funeral a few months later, despite dear old Mutou and Kaneshiro telling me to attend, I am watching by remote, all alone. The room around me is dark and cold and still, although the screen shows a bright autumnal light.

The only warmth comes from three things. Shizune’s crumpled note told me this: [I retain all responsibility. You are free of all guilt; I will bear what I can.] There is also the fact that I am alive, and that I have promises to keep.

For I am still Rika Katayama, failures and all.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon May 15, 2017 12:49 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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AtD—Other Material (Rika6 upd 20140429)

Post by brythain » Mon Apr 28, 2014 11:02 pm

This is the sixth part of Rika's arc in 'After the Dream', my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic.


Rika 6: Ghost Clockwork (T +0)

My editor is no stranger to you, nor to me. Assiduously picking at my work, firm red pen alternating with blue—you have seen the result. My editor is fallible, as are we all. But the attempt to improve is always being made. The year that Hisao died, some weeks after the funeral, it is I who am the work being worked on.

“Rika, your Family has put you back on hold. You’re essentially a Hakamichi possession now. It frees you. Madam Principal is the dark wing over you.”

I laugh sourly. Madam Principal, my friend and boss, indeed owns me. My honour is in her hands, my work is funded now by this new legal entity, the Nakai Foundation. If I were able to see the future, I’d know where this goes. But I cannot yet see the future.

“This humble person begs indulgence. I did not know my work to be so worthy of attention.”

A sharp retort, delivered in mild tones: “I didn’t know that worthiness could be so easily thrown away. I have not encouraged you all these years, Katayama-san, to watch you decide to lose everything. The day after the funeral, you came to me and told me your plans. We have grieved together, shared a lot.”

That much is true. Twenty years is a long time to have known anyone. But thirty years of thinking about dying? That is longer still.

“I will likely be dead in ten years. You know this. Statistics.”

“I can be dead in fifteen. You know this too. Pointless comparisons.”

My editor is exasperating. The work is done well, but always reminds me that I can do better. Is a lifetime of friendly exasperation enough?

“If I reach forty without dying, we shall celebrate.”

“Your research is the key. It might not have worked for our dear friend. It can still work for you. I can’t have read so much of your writing without having learnt some things.”

I sigh. I look my editor straight in the eye.

“I cannot help but think that you are pursuing a hidden agenda.”

“I am. So… maybe it should not be hidden any more, eh, my friend?”

“Tell me then. I have always learnt much from my seniors… what is that?”

“It’s a calcium aluminium silicate, like most of these things are. Chromium and strontium give it its colour. The mineral is commonly named ‘tanzanite’ and it exhibits a high degree of trichroism.”

“No, but…”

“Ah, yes. Sorry. Will you marry me?”

It is a joke. It must be. You can never tell, with this deadpan sense of humour. But jokes do not often gleam with the shifting light of a well-cut gemstone set in a ring. This one has been a long time coming, now that I think back over the last few years.

I have so little to lose. I have so little, of anything. I grew up like a princess. I have learnt to accept that I am so much less. Who would want lanky, pale, stringy Rika Katayama? Who would want someone who always stinks of solvents and blinks half-blinded under the honest light of day? Someone who knows she is dying?

There is of course compensation. I am not only that. I can be much more. Or so Akio Mutou has often told me. And now, he is gambling his limited resources on the basis of this belief.

I look at him as directly as I can.

“Mutou-san, how romantic. A proposal in the teachers’ section of the Yamaku cafeteria? How can I resist?”

He has that faint ghost of a smile, the one which hopes that a student has found the right answer, is almost certain of it, but not quite. I smile back, for the first time in years.

“I accept.”

*****

We bow to Shizune Hakamichi as her secretary closes the door behind us. She still uses the battered old desk of her predecessors. There are neat stacks of paper on it, and she is putting aside a small pile of folders with paper tags sticking out of them. It has always surprised me that so much paper still remains decades after the paperless revolution.

Madam Principal looks very tired. Term has just begun again after the summer break, but this is not why there are rings around her eyes. Despite that, she is formal and courteous as always, offering ritual before acting on her curiosity.

[Mutou-sensei? Katayama-san? May I offer you some tea?]

We accept. Over the years, the three of us have fallen comfortably into the use of sign whenever required. Indeed, the meetings of the Hisao committee were entirely conducted in that medium, for Goro Kaneshiro and Shiina Mikado were also proficient, and audio-based spyware would not have captured anything.

Shizune starts her water-pot heating. I can tell that she is trying to relax, but her shoulders look strained and her motions are stiff. It has not been easy for her. I know that Hisao meant more to her than most people know.

Mutou, as usual, has slumped into his chair as if born there. He can relax anywhere. He has apparently fallen asleep at meetings, only for us to realize he has been watching intently from half-lidded eyes when his fingers deliberately address a particular point. He always looks scruffy. Now, he looks meditative.

Shizune finishes preparing the tea. She pours three precise servings from an old teapot of unusual but somehow classical design. She sets the enameled tray before us, bows and finds her own seat. The formal part is now over, I think.

[Akio, you always know you are welcome to come and visit me. What is this all about?]

Is that a teasing look I see on Shizune’s face? Not for the first time, I wonder about Mutou’s relationships with his students. Then I blush at the irony.

[Shizune. This is both work and not-work. I have a request to make.]

[It is one of those quantum entanglement things?]

Both of them are smiling as we sip our tea. I realize that while I might have seen Mutou as often as twice a week over the last few years, Shizune has been working with him almost every working day for more than seven years. And if I recall correctly, she was also his class representative a long time ago.

[It is a fairly large quantum, quite entangled. I need Rika to be reasonably available from December to April next year. We have a little project to work on.]

[Oh? What project is that? Are you misusing school resources again, Akio?]

Mutou’s face grows grave. Moments later, Shizune realizes where his thoughts are going, but he is already signing.

[No, boss. I will cover some of Emi’s duties until the end of the year. Then I hope she can resume her full workload. But I have to ask your blessings in this separate matter because Rika and I need to plan our wedding.]

This last part makes me blush more, but I am used to feeling embarrassed. It is partly ameliorated by the expression on Shizune’s face.

[Oh. That is a… welcome surprise. Of course, you both have my blessings.]

She stares back and forth and both of us, each in turn. There is something almost sad in her expression, but whatever it is, she is keeping it pent up behind her eyes.

[I hope that you are both very happy together.]

[Thanks, boss.]

[Thank you, Shizune.]

She reaches across the table and clasps my hands for a while, then releases them. She produces an impish smile, something rare even when she was a student.

[I can certainly spare Rika for a while. But Akio, you cannot have all the time of the Director of Hakamichi’s Nanotech Division.]

The what? I confess I am utterly taken by surprise.

[Who?]

[Rika, is there any better way to show that there is no blame attached to you? Even if you don’t believe it, I do.]

Mutou takes a slow, deep breath and releases it. He sips his tea. Shizune sips hers. I do not know how best to respond, but I sign what I feel.

[I am extremely grateful for your kindness!]

[Not at all, not at all. You deserve it. And you can then provide Mutou with many new things to play with, since I am attaching him to you as my Yamaku special projects officer.]

Mutou puts his teacup down very, very carefully.

[I too am extremely grateful, boss.]

Shizune nods at him. Then she snaps her fingers. I am startled into alertness. She seems to have come to a decision.

[Akio, you know that it is I who owe you much. With your permission, may I explain to Rika why that is so?]

[Ah. Shizune. You can also explain to me why that is so.]

They are smiling again. What is it between them?

[Once upon a time, there was a small angry girl who felt betrayed by her family and persecuted by her classmates…]

As she tells me of the kindness of Mutou the teacher (I suppose I must learn to call him Akio, now), and how he befriended and supported that ‘small angry girl’, I feel much moved. He has always been a man who believed in investing his life in others, in growing their potential.

And now, he has decided to invest the rest of it in me, for as long as we have a life together.

*****

Editor’s note:

My Rika-chan had a heart attack three years after this piece was written. She was 37 years old at the time. We did everything we could, including an attempt to completely replace her heart.

=====
prev | end


Hold on.

*****

Rika’s last note:

My Aki-kun has a terrible sense of humour, some of which has rubbed off on me, I am glad to say. Nothing can replace him in my heart, especially this new one, which has a solid-state memory and a rated lifespan far longer than that of my body. It runs like clockwork, with perfectly regular beats and several speeds. It would be highly inappropriate to mention what we were doing when I had that heart attack. It is, however, highly appropriate for me to end the story of Rika Katayama's life here. Thank you, dear reader, for bearing with me. And him.
Last edited by brythain on Mon May 15, 2017 12:50 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: After the Dream—Other Material (Rika completed 20140429)

Post by Yukarin » Tue Apr 29, 2014 4:29 am

That was a pleasant surprise! Rika and Mutoe getting together!

However I am left confused as to the state of Rika. Is she still alive (via that last note of rika's) or is she actually dead. Either way that was a great piece.

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Re: After the Dream—Other Material (Rika completed 20140429)

Post by brythain » Tue Apr 29, 2014 5:33 am

Yukarin wrote:That was a pleasant surprise! Rika and Mutoe getting together!

However I am left confused as to the state of Rika. Is she still alive (via that last note of rika's) or is she actually dead. Either way that was a great piece.
Rika's very much alive in 2027, which is when this piece ends. But her heart's been augmented with an upgraded version of the ruthenium-based device that could only keep Hisao alive for two years after his own heart failed. This version will last a lot longer. :)

I might write one last Rika story, but since the 'real' last story is normally when a character dies, maybe I won't... :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: AtD—Other Material (Rika6 upd 20140429)

Post by bhtooefr » Tue Apr 29, 2014 7:15 am

brythain wrote:“Ah, yes. Sorry. Will you marry me?”
wat.
brythain wrote:“I accept.”
waaaaaaaaat.
bhtooefr's one-shot and drabble thread
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Re: After the Dream—Other Material (Rika completed 20140429)

Post by Blasphemy » Tue Apr 29, 2014 7:28 am

Yeh, that's gotta be a good 25 years difference at least, right? Or maybe Mutou just looks older than he actually is in the VN.

Nice read again and I'm glad this ended on a fairly upbeat note. I seriously have to commend your ability to write so much melancholic stuff in a relatively short time frame. It's already hard just reading that without feeling a bit depressed, actually writing that must be exhausting.

Also that Hisao of yours sure was a wonderful man... yet so many broken hearts. Kinda unfortunate.

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Re: After the Dream—Other Material (Rika completed 20140429)

Post by brythain » Tue Apr 29, 2014 8:01 am

Blasphemy wrote:Yeh, that's gotta be a good 25 years difference at least, right? Or maybe Mutou just looks older than he actually is in the VN.

Nice read again and I'm glad this ended on a fairly upbeat note. I seriously have to commend your ability to write so much melancholic stuff in a relatively short time frame. It's already hard just reading that without feeling a bit depressed, actually writing that must be exhausting.

Also that Hisao of yours sure was a wonderful man... yet so many broken hearts. Kinda unfortunate.
Heh, Mutou and I have a lot in common; when I started teaching, I was only a few years older than my students. However, I've seen gaps of 15 years (as in this case), covered up by love. One of my friends married a student of mine 11 years younger.

Yes, it was exhausting in an emotional sense, now that you mention it. Thanks very much! I really appreciate that comment! :)

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

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Re: AtD—Other Material (Rika6 upd 20140429)

Post by brythain » Tue Apr 29, 2014 8:41 am

bhtooefr wrote:
brythain wrote:“Ah, yes. Sorry. Will you marry me?”
wat.
brythain wrote:“I accept.”
waaaaaaaaat.
I love this comment. :)
Actually, it's been coming at you from the very first part of Rika's story… :D
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
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Re: After the Dream—Other Material (Rika completed 20140429)

Post by Oscar Wildecat » Tue Apr 29, 2014 9:36 am

I was hoping for a Mutou x Rika outcome ever since "Rika 3". I'm glad they found each other. (The age difference doesn't bother me at all. I know at least two couples who are farther apart in ages whose marriages have stood the test of time.)
I like all the girls in KS, but empathize with Hanako the most.
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Re: After the Dream—Other Material (Rika completed 20140429)

Post by brythain » Tue Apr 29, 2014 9:51 am

Oscar Wildecat wrote:I was hoping for a Mutou x Rika outcome ever since "Rika 3". I'm glad they found each other. (The age difference doesn't bother me at all. I know at least two couples who are farther apart in ages whose marriages have stood the test of time.)
I'm glad too. I had visualised this scene where Shizune goes to visit Mutou and finds that he has died all alone in a little apartment in downtown Sendai. Needless to say, that did not make me feel very happy at all.
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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AtD—Mutou (20140501)

Post by brythain » Thu May 01, 2014 2:27 pm

This is the start of Akio Mutou's arc from my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic, 'After the Dream'.

Mutou's arc contains the following:

'Duties of Care' is a Mutou vignette that takes place in 2009, the year after Hisao graduates from Yamaku.
(Included in this post, below.)
Three years later, Mutou returns in 'Choices of Life'.
In 2015, Mutou expounds his 'Theories of Humanity'.
He then attends a wedding in 2018, in 'Dreams of Happiness'.
A long-anticipated break in his routine occurs in 2021, with 'Points of Transition'.
This is followed by 'Hopes of Redemption' in 2024.
Mutou's arc concludes with 'Moments of Despair', set in 2027.

There is also a one-shot: 'Pavane'.
This seems to describe the outline of his long friendship with Rei Miyagi, a colleague and later his boss, from 2006-2016.



Mutou 1: Duties of Care (T -15)

They sit where they usually do, the corner table at the Shanghai after office hours, the place where nobody looks and where they can see everyone. They have that in common—not only the burning need to know things, but the duty to know enough. And sometimes, that is not enough.

Akio Mutou knows his friend well, well enough to know that Goro Kaneshiro is being eaten up from within. And he waits, because the older man will joke a bit, and then there will be a little bitterness, and then a different kind of joke, and then maybe truth.

*****

“Gods, Akio, stop looking like that. It’s like being prodded with a sonic screwdriver.”

“Can’t help it, Nurse. We grew up watching badly-dubbed Doctor Who reruns, after all.”

I sip my Tsingtao. I think, not for the first time, of Harrison Ford in ‘Blade Runner’. So also does Goro, and also not for the first time. Except he thinks of ‘Blade Runner’ first, and then perhaps Harrison Ford. He puts his Sapporo down for a while.

“You persist in drinking that Chinese rice-waste, you’ll turn Korean. Or you’ll become Deckard. Or walk into a Victorian police-box and disappear.”

I laugh. We’ve been friends a few years now, and this part of the routine crops up pretty often. Before Nurse came along, nobody really laughed at my humour, and I tried not to inflict it on my students. And after my divorce, well, there wasn’t much humour anyway.

“Racist. We have students of all nationalities, you know. And some who are Japanese but not quite, or Japanese but behave otherwise. Also, your Emi’s good friend from Tsushima. How is Emi, anyway?”

“Heh. She’s doing fine at Ochanomizu. Meiko’s got a little place nearer to Tokyo, that’s good for them both. I guess.”

“Ah, and not so good for you, eh?”

“Been a hard year, this one. Ha ha ha.”

That’s Goro. His whole life, he treats it like a joke. That’s what made him decide to become a nurse—he claims that when he started looking for work, he just took the first syllables of his names and juggled them around. Bad pun, ‘kan-go’ is ‘nurse’ in Japanese. It can also mean ‘watcher’ if you tweak it a bit.

“You know what they say: in one year, out another. What do you think of last year’s graduates, though?”

For a moment, I think I’ve overdone it. It’s not so much Emi he’s thinking about now, nor Emi’s charming mother. We’ve already spent many sessions laughing about Hisao Nakai’s miraculous charms, and in a way saying prayers for some of the after-effects of those charms. But Goro’s got that melancholy gaze he gets after our third round of beer.

“The usual suspects are doing fine. Great crop, three in your class alone went to Todai, right?”

“Yes. I was pleased with Ikezawa; losing Satou was an amazing bit of good fortune in a rather awkward way. Another good friend of Nakai, there.”

“Heh. Awkward that Nakai’s got two very good friends with him at Todai then, he’ll never see his way clear. Want to bet on the outcome?”

“Oh no. I think that game has got many more rounds to go. If you like I’ll put 5000 yen on the outside.”

“Deal! I was going to back Ikezawa against your favourite Hakamichi, pretty close fight though. And it’s a wash if Nakai…”

Goro pauses for some quick calculation.

I smile. Nurse treats all our students a bit like breeding stock. He knows all the possible difficulties so that he can offer counselling, and in some cases advise against certain activities. I’ve known him to actively encourage friendships that don’t have biological ramifications.

“… doesn’t end up with anyone by 2019?”

My smile disappears. I know what that last clause can mean. There are a few students who are carrying an internal expiry date, which only the gods might know. Some will not live beyond 30, and the burden of being a school nursing officer is to know that this is a possibility—and perhaps, even to know what the probability of it might be.

“Of course.”

Goro looks a lot more serious now. Talking about such things, it does get to us.

“There were four from your class, though. You know.”

I do know. And there it is, the moment of truth.

“She’s back in Osaka, Goro. Not much more to do, for either of us.”

“If I’d stayed on in medical school, perhaps I wouldn’t have been just a critical care nurse.”

“You’re a good one, and we have 200 kids who need you.”

“How can there be diseases with no cure?”

It’s the fourth round that’s doing it. Still sober-ish, but open for discussion. I know we’re both in danger of going sadways. Ah, heck with it.

“She tried very hard, that last term. Hence the scholarship to Todai. Extra lessons, believe it or not. And that bastard wasn’t around to discourage her, as he used to do before he started hanging out at his favourite art gallery again.”

“Gods, Akio. She told me she’d decided to completely give up on giving up. She’d go out like a star or not at all.”

“She was good at hiding the bad days. But yes, the last few months, it looked genuine to me. I used to smile at her whenever I thought it would help. She’d nod back.”

“It’s getting pretty quick now, Akio. She can hardly email me any more.”

“How much longer?”

“I don’t know. But I swear to all the gods that I’ll…”

“You’ll what, Goro? Go back to medical school?”

He puts my beer down. There’s a look on his face that I’ve seen before. It’s his serious no-kidding do-or-die face.

“I’m going to find ways to work miracles, Akio. Yes, I’ll go back to school. And if I don’t do that, I’ll give up rice wine in her honour.”

“What will Meiko say?”

“Meiko will probably cheer! She likes me smart, not stupid.”

*****

Many years later, I still remember. We’ve flown down to Osaka around the time Rika’s batch is graduating. The young lady says to us, mustering her iron will, trying hard to smile, “D-don’t be s-sad. We… all do what… we c-can, with w-what we have.”

Saki Enomoto never makes it through cherry blossom season. Her grave is littered with the blooms, despite her request for none to be given. The gods have spoken, and when they speak, we all obey.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon May 15, 2017 12:41 pm, edited 5 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: After the Dream—Others (Rika complete, Mutou 20140501)

Post by forgetmenot » Thu May 01, 2014 4:07 pm

Ahh, so Mutou's voice has now been added to your already impressive chorus. It'll be interesting to see how his observations will fit into this tapestry you've spun. A man of science's opinion is always revealing, to say the least.

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