Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6 complete 20190527)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 5-4 up 20151112)

Post by brythain » Sun Nov 29, 2015 7:01 am

azumeow wrote:Beautiful as always. Beautiful as always...
LiveAtTheBarbeque wrote:Well, shit. Didn't see that last part coming.

Quality work as always. Good job.
Thank you, dear readers. Actually, I didn't see it coming either, because Kenji refused to tell me what happened, and Natsume similarly refused. I had to piece things together by talking to Suzu, of all people.

By the way, here is a picture of someone who looks a lot like Chiaki Hasegawa. I don't know who the artist is, but I'd be happy to attribute it correctly.

Image
Last edited by brythain on Tue Dec 08, 2015 11:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 5-5 up 20151201)

Post by brythain » Tue Dec 01, 2015 5:17 am

This is the fifth section of ‘Book Five’ of the records of Kenji Setou. In the time I spent with him, we became friends again, but the closeness was gone, and in the end, the record remained incomplete.

—N; Osaka, Japan; 2084



Kenji 5: The Taste of Dust and Ashes
(2041-2042)


Introduction

There’s nothing behind the wall. Is all empty. Like when you go for the last slice of pizza and there’s only cardboard. Sad attempt at old Kenji humour, not fooling anyone. It’s like the cherry blossom season comes, you go outside—but the trees are all dead.

My birthday: 21 days after she died. When I finished my business and came home, Natsume had already buried her. There was nothing but a stone marker, quite neat and beautiful, like she was, my Naomi. I wanted to dig it up and hold the ashes in my arms.

Fuck Natsume. I wanted to, I didn’t want to, I wanted to kill myself, I wanted to kill Nat. But those were evil and vulgar thoughts. They were just me being angry at me being useless. I remembered every feeling, but I couldn’t keep every thought. They poured out of me like sweat. Tezuka would’ve said butterflies. Fuck the butterflies too.

Natsume apologised. Then she cried. And she took back her apology. We forgave each other, we screamed and fought. Yuuko went to stay with her family. I took leave. Chiaki Hasegawa got promoted. And I wrote many things.

*****

2041

“Dark city, dark friend.” This is what Naomi Inoue once wrote, when she edited my words. I can’t write like her, but I will try. It hurts, Mother, it hurts. Nobody’s home, in January, except the cold and damp. The fire has gone out.

I walk the streets, the dirt and stone under my feet like the only real thing in the world. I’m damaged. Maybe it’s so deep I can’t even reach it to fix it. Why so stupid, Kenji, baka, fool, idiot? You thought you could save the world? Who did you think you were? Some lousy backup son to a retired general, crippled, obsessed? Yeah.

It’s January, and freezing. I’m fifty-two years old. Once I thought I would live forever, once I imagined living in a little home in Kyoto, and then everything went away. You couldn’t protect anyone, Kenji, I tell myself. You couldn’t look after anything. Maybe you could be excused for Sachiko, because you didn’t have skill or power. But now Naomi’s gone, and Miki’s dying, and you’re a fucking director-general. In the old days, you’d just have killed yourself, honourably, with your guts spilling out neatly as you bled to death.

Now? Only my acquaintance Rika Katayama knows how to be kaishakunin. She would be very exact, no error, my head would hang sad and remorseful by a thin piece of skin from my neck the moment I shoved my blade into my stomach. But she wouldn’t do that for me, because she doesn’t think I’m samurai enough.

Oh God. Thinking of such things is enough to push my soul to the edge of hell. But you know what, God? I don’t care. Wherever I go, just put me where Mother and Brother and Sister and Naomi are. No, I can’t write like Naomi. And without the whisky, I can’t hear Mother’s voice at all.

Ashes, ashes. There’s a woman sobbing. Typical feminist trick. They’ll lure you to a deserted place and gut you, but not cleanly. They’ll poke holes in your heart and suck you dry. God, why did you take them all away? What kind of bastard asshole God are you? God, summon a lightning bolt, go ahead! God, God. God, why did you leave me behind?

I’m sitting on a roof, I think. This one’s a nice roof. You can see the canal from here, and also the cemetery. There’s a simple grey stone there. And under the stone, ashes in a pot. Inside this bottle I’m holding, the golden fire is all gone.

*****

Let’s start again. I don’t know how many days have passed. I can find out, but then I’d have to kill you. Haha, old intelligence service joke. I’m still Kenji, that’s all I know, but which Kenji? That I sometimes can’t tell.

Yuuko’s home. One quiet evening, she’s back, and even though our children don’t live with us anymore, they’re with us too. My wife throws away my friends, all the clean, empty bottles. This time, she doesn’t scold me, and that cuts me more painfully than I could have thought. I owe her more than I want to say, and that is agony too.

It’s Masako who does it to me though. My daughter is a wild girl. She wants to move to South America to be with her un-Japanese Japanese boyfriend. They’ll get married traditionally, but only because it will be interesting. So strange, the world we live in now. But that’s not the point.

This is what happens. Masako says, in a voice that is warm and sad, “Aunty Naomi is gone, Dad. She’s gone. You’ve always held on to the ghosts too long, even when they would want you to be happy. They want you to look after whoever’s left behind.”

Her voice is like a ghost too, like the memory of the taste of honey. In my heart, in my head, I remember bringing Masako to do the graves—Mother and Elder Brother, Sachiko-Younger-Sister. She makes big eyes, the little girl; she wants to know all about who died and what they were like. She remembers them, makes friends with them, she is not scared at all of the dead. She respects the ghosts. And now, she’s telling me that I should respect them too.

I’ll never forget you, Naomi. I loved you once. I will remember your life, and not mourn over your grave. All this goes through my head, like water in the mountains. They’re lousy words. Even my feelings don’t use language well.

I look at Masako and I know she won’t forget her ‘Aunty Naomi’ either. So I smile, not the crazy happy smile but the one that shows understanding. My little girl is not so little now. She hugs me, and for a moment, I know that this hug is from Naomi too.

My family stays with me for a few days. Koji is gloomier than usual, and unlike his usual self—now, he hardly speaks to his sister. He loves his sister, and when they’re both at home, they chatter a lot together. Not this time.

One day, he just disappears. He disarms the trackers and kills his comms. He knows I can find him if I really want to, but he also knows I won’t do that to him unless it’s about life and death. Damn it.

“Wife? Why is Koji like that these days?”

Yuuko sighs. She sounds distracted. Her hair is normally very neat, tied back, but a long wisp of it is falling over her cheek. She shoves it back, plays with her hair a bit until it is tidy again. “You don’t remember your birthday?”

I don’t. “What birthday?” I joke, but I can hear myself: it sounds half-hearted.

“Koji brought Akiko Nakai home.”

“I missed that? Wife, that’s a very important event! So why’s he so sad? He confessed, she accepted, happiness for Koji!”

“She had some sake. Then she confessed she loved Masako. Everyone was upset. You yelled at her. Masako defended her, said it was the alcohol. Akiko said it wasn’t. Koji tried to say something, but you shouted at him too. I think maybe you had a bit too much as well. Then Akiko began to cry, and she grabbed her bag and ran out of the house. She can run very fast.”

“Oh. Oh, my God.” I’m beginning to remember it now. There was a lot of anger. People were disturbed, upset. It had been three weeks after Naomi’s death, and I wasn’t in good state. I said too much, too loudly.

“Everyone was behaving so badly, husband. I didn’t know where to hide my face. Koji said you weren’t a good father and he went to look for her, but he didn’t find her. I think that’s why he’s still not talking to you.”

“He’s gone off-grid! What if something happens to him?”

“Then it’s your fault,” my wife says seriously.

*****

God, me, we have a bad relationship. I’m Catholic, like Mother was, and most of her sisters, and maybe her brother. I sit in the white church that is now in its own security bubble which they don’t know about, and I’m not crying because it doesn’t work for me. I’m a bad Catholic.

But you know what? It isn’t important why men try to do good, as long as it’s really good that they’re trying to do. It’s silly for a Catholic to go to the cemetery to talk to his ghosts. I do it anyway. It’s the right thing to do. Today, it’s St David’s Day, Friday 1st March.

Who the hell is St David? He’s a saint of sheep, a Wales-man. But he once said, “Do all the little things in life.” He also said, “Be joyful and keep the faith.” But most of all, he looked after the people. That’s the thing that makes the day important to me: he tried his best to do that.

Tonight, my baby daughter is flying off to South America. She might never come back. I never spent enough time with her. I’m a bad father too, and Koji said it right. The country may be getting better, but the people? Some of them have been sacrificed along the way.

“Dad?”

Young people these days. I’m just dozing off; they must think I’m an old tramp who needs moving along. I look up into the face of the young priest—so rude, he is—and I see my son. He’s not Catholic. What is he doing here? I realize I haven’t seen him for months, that maybe I wasn’t sure he’d want to see me again.

“Koji?” I whisper.

“You’re not a bad father. I just said you weren’t a good one, not always,” he says softly.

He looks as sad as ever. Wait. How does he know about the bad father bit? Have I been speaking out loud? That’s very embarrassing. “Why are you here?”

“I’ve finished teacher training, Dad. A month from now, I’m starting work at Yamaku. I’ll be teaching history.”

It doesn’t explain why he’s here in my church in Saitama. I keep staring at him. Sometimes the suspect breaks down and confesses, from what I’ve seen.

“Mother told me to get you home to spend time with your family. Everyone’s at home. And Aunty Natsume will be there too, to say farewell to Masako.”

“She will?” There’s an awkward silence. Koji doesn’t know what to say. After a while, I realize I don’t either. So I just add, “I’ll be there. Thanks for coming to get me, son.”

*****

It’s more than eight months since Naomi died. I’ve slowly crept back into my office, like a hermit crab looking for an old shell. The acting D-G, Kazuhiro Sonoda, slinks back into his warren, apparently only too glad to be out of the limelight. Chiaki Hasegawa gets shoved sideways, God knows how, and becomes Director, Operations. That’s the only thing that makes me happy.

In September, I’m summoned to see the Prime Minister. He’s an ally, but like all political cover, those bastards can steal your blanket overnight and leave your backside cold and exposed. This one, however, carries a lot of protective blanket. He helped negotiate the economic agreements that saved Japan.

“Director-General!” he greets me, and we exchange bows. He’s older than I am by about six years, but still slim and fit. I know a lot about him, and he knows a lot about me. We have to watch him as a matter of security, though.

“Prime Minister, sir. What can this humble servant do for you?”

“Ah, Setou-san, no need to be so humble. You’re very shrewd, or very crazy, and you’re the man we need. Let me tell you a joke: an Indian, a Singaporean, a Vietnamese and a Japanese walk into a bar.”

He grins expectantly, as if the punchline has already come. I stare back, wondering what the hell he’s trying to do to me. He’s crafty and eloquent, like his father who was also PM, and he’s always being clever.

“Ha ha, Prime Minister, sir.”

He bunches his eyebrows a little, as if to indicate disappointment. “You don’t get the joke? Well, now you will: you’re the Japanese, and the Singaporean asked for you. Sometimes, your best friends are not the ones you find at home, Setou.”

It takes me some time to figure it all out. I’m so tired. I only ever wanted to serve my country and save lives. I’m no good at it. What the PM is trying to say is that he won’t be around forever to support my ‘working group’, so he’s ensuring I have friends who will watch my enemies, even if they’re not the kind who will guard my naked backside.

This time, Chiaki covers my duties for a week as I meet people in foreign lands. I ask her, “Why not take over? It’s about time you feminists win everything, isn’t it?”

She laughs. “Boss, don’t ever stop being funny. How’s Koji doing?”

Not so well, I think to myself. “He’s fine,” I tell Chiaki, “But he could be happier. It takes time, all these things.”

“Well, if he needs fierce and terrible Aunty Chiaki to offer him some stiff advice, let me know.”

I’m not so far gone that I would say it, but I wouldn’t mind some of that advice myself. People are being murdered out there, and we can’t control it.

*****

2042

Three months ago, when I told you people were being murdered, what did you think? Maybe you had stupid Western pictures in your head of ninjas and giant robots? I don’t know.

People are being murdered. A death, two deaths, an accidental death, a suicide. I’m not the police, how the hell should I know if it’s real or not? But I know the Families. This is how they used to do business, and it’s all coming back again.

I’m on a balcony, it’s freezing and I’m looking out over the city. Done it many times before, this time it’s Nagasaki. Sometimes it’s Tokyo, once Osaka, once Sapporo. Any sniper would have a clear shot. Go ahead, take your best shot, Director-General Kenji Setou of the Committee, he’s not afraid of you.

Don’t die uselessly, Kenji! says the ghost with the honey-coloured hair. It isn’t worth it. Die for something, someone, that’s worth dying for!

Like you did? I ask the ghost. I can hear myself, it’s all bitter, cynical. So clichéd, this idea that you should die for the one you love. It’s not fair to the people you leave behind. Wait, said that already. I take my own best shot. It’s Laphroaig, it’s like medicine after the horse has eaten it and passed it out.

But I’m still sharp. I see it before I know it. It’s the way the invisible net feels to my augmented senses. Shit. I send a narrowcast. [Iron Ship, this is Time Traveler. What the hell are you doing in Base Two?]

[Time Traveler, this is Iron Ship. Codeword: Legacy.]

[What colour?]

[Jet and gold.]

[Damn. Why can’t you people find another island to work on?]

[Too little variety, Time Traveler.]

In the early part of 2042, I celebrate Yuuko’s birthday as if it’s the last one I will ever see. I don’t tell her that, of course, but she is amused by how seriously I take her 54th birthday. We are growing old, but to me, she’s that much more my wife, my partner and friend for many years. It hurts me that I have hurt her before. It hurts me that I could hurt her again. One day, I might have to go, and not return.

Kei and Nobu know that. It’s part of their very dangerous lives. Maybe this is why they always stress that their agency plays the more active role. I don’t mind. I’m not the kind to fight for more space, as if I have no better work to do and so much time to do it. What I envy them for is that they share the danger. I worry about my wife because she doesn’t know exactly what the risk is. It’s not fair to her.

In January, three weeks after New Year’s Day, I call a meeting. It’s a simple meeting. We have a very good reason for that meeting, and I don’t call it myself. I call Shizune, because whether she is still my friend or not, we have had a lot of cheesecake between us. I get her to make it official.

“You and Misha, Hideaki, Rika. It’s only right.”

I know her augments translate perfectly, and the gleam in her eyes tells me she has upgraded recently. Her reply is quick. [Yes. Will you be at the funeral?]

“As much as I can be. Always respected him. He was clever and rude and kind to everybody.”

I think back to my paranoid days. He was Chief Nurse then, Doctor Kaneshiro later. He scared the shit out of me, because he seemed to know everything in my head. And he was always laughing, smiling, sinister. He was like the bright loud counter to Mutou-sensei’s serious dark gaze. And he had just fallen asleep, aged 77 years and 12 days, and not woken up again.

In the mourning time, the five of us meet. It’s natural. Everyone else does the usual things, and poor old Mrs Ibarazaki, who misses the doctor so much, is slipping away. Hisao’s children have to look after her these days. I see Koji from a distance, and it’s clear he doesn’t know whether he should be there for Akiko or not. Tough choice. I wouldn’t know what to do myself.

The five of us meet because there are secrets under the Nakai Foundation. We put them there, and the old doctor did clever things so that nobody except us would know what was there. But some of those clever things might have killed him. A natural death, these days, is not so natural sometimes.

There is so much I can’t say, even if decades were to pass. Shizune’s stern face wouldn’t let me. I look at the losses my life has seen, and I know that one day, if Shizune goes, no matter what kind of fights we had, I will miss her too. That’s all I’ll say.

Whoever reads this, you’ll know more about 2042 than I’ve said. Think about the horrible things that happened, imagine I was there doing my best. That’s my legacy. Think what you want. I’m going to finish this year by talking about fathers and sons, because my son is precious to me.

*****

“Koji, do you love her?”

My son sighs. He is thin, lanky, scholarly. He is a bloody historian, like his mother. He is clever, and unfortunate in love, unlike his father.

“There’s no point in it, Dad.”

“You should tell her. Before it’s too late.”

Koji looks at me, then at the bottle between us. The night-breeze is cool but not cold, here up on the roof. “Is that the whisky speaking?”

I laugh. It sounds harsh, almost like sobbing.

“Nah. Not whisky. It’s something somebody else said, and hell, it’s likely to be something people will keep saying and other people will keep ignoring.”

“Whom should I tell?”

My eyes focus on him, gripping his image like an owl grabbing a mouse. “Akiko, of course. Unless you want to become my brother-in-law and not ever my son again.”

He winces. Kaori is a good friend of his, and she’s helped him a lot. But she’s Yuuko’s half-sister, and these things don’t work out well. Especially since I don’t know what the Black Dragon gave him, and what that crazy uncle of mine gave her. Or whether he gave either of them anything at all.

But at his age, he’s not just my son, he’s maybe one of the last friends I’ll ever have. So I sigh back at him, a nice warm relaxed sigh. “Koji, you don’t have to do it. But I have the feeling Akiko needs you. She doesn’t want you, but I think you might be a good friend to her at least.”

He looks so very, very unhappy, I realize suddenly. My eyebrow twitches, and he notices. He turns away for a while, and I hold my breath. All I can hear is the gentle sound of his tumbler being drunk from, the clink of an ice-cube.

“Dad,” he says, “I’ve always been her friend. She knows I’ll always be her friend. Akiko Nakai and Koji Setou? We share a father, in a way. Like brother and sister. So there’s no chance, is there? Or as much chance as Koji Setou and Kaori Shirakawa.”

He turns towards me, the faint few lights of the dark city reflected in his eyes. “Dad, I’ve never been fond of anyone but those two. There aren’t any others. And the way it goes, I’ll never oblige you with grandchildren. So I’m a failure, I’ll just have to live with that.”

There are so many thoughts in my head now: no, my son is not a failure; no, I’m proud of him; no, this can’t be true; no, no, no. He’s serious. I can tell. What do I say? What can I say?

I croak, “Son, I’ll always be proud of you. You make the choice you want, or not any choice. But who knows, someone else might come along? Don’t say ‘never’.”

Those words sound feeble to me. They sound like an old man’s words. There’s a strange half-smile on Koji’s lips, as if he’s thinking of throwing the last bit of his whisky in my face. Go on, I say in my head, do it, I guess I deserve it.

But he doesn’t. What he does is, he gets up slowly, making sure he doesn’t fall. Then he squats next to me. “Dad, if someone like Mother comes along, I’ll let you know. If I run away with Kaori, you’ll know anyway. And if I bring Akiko home once more, it’ll be a miracle. Then you can go celebrate a special Mass for us.”

I lean back against the tiles. One old tired man, one young weary one. A bottle of whisky and two tumblers. A flask of ice, which is Koji’s thing. It’s as if the circle of the world has shrunk to a small roof in Saitama, and nothing else exists.

I don’t know if my religion allows it, but I say a little prayer to Hisao and Emi. You two up there, I hope you’re happy. And if you are, share some of it with your daughter and your godson, please.

2042 slowly fades away around us. There are no more crazy deaths tonight.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Sun Dec 06, 2015 6:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 5-6 up 20151206)

Post by brythain » Sun Dec 06, 2015 6:06 am

This is the sixth section of the infamous ‘Book Five’ of the records of Kenji Setou. I have always been proud of my country, even when there was little in which to have pride. Director-General Setou of the Extraordinary Committee gave me hope, but his position and effectiveness also meant he and I could not really be the friends we might have been. Childhood had ended a long time ago; the beginning of old age was setting in, and yet, we were only in our fifties.

—N; Osaka, Japan; 2084



Kenji 5: The Taste of Dust and Ashes
(2043)


Introduction

People say a generation’s thirty years. That’s how I woke up one painful morning and I was an old man. The pretty girl in my bed was suddenly a mother of two; one of our two children had just got married, and the other one had told me he’d never get married. One whole generation had passed.

I also woke up with tears in my eyes. My father, the old general, had passed on a few days before. I had not been there for his funeral, just as I had not been there for Naomi’s. People I cared about were passing by, disappearing, and I had no strength to stop them. So I started writing. I wrote in real ink, ink the colour of blood, with a real pen. I began to write what you now call ‘Book Five’. It has so much death in it because it’s my tribute to life—other people’s lives.

The hardest parts to write were when the pain was fresh and hot. This part and the next were the worst. And then I went back and rewrote the rest. Maybe that’s why it sometimes doesn’t make sense. Maybe my memories play tricks. Wouldn’t be the first time.

But there’s one line I remember Natsume speaking thirty years ago, and it feels hard and real to me. If it’s not true, then nothing is. She said, “Kenji, we’re not really friends, are we? But let’s pretend we are, because I think we should be.” And that was how we first became friends.

*****

2043

“Boss, Big Sister is here to see you. Again.”

Six-fifteen in the shit-cold morning. Who starts work so early? At least three people, I guess: Natsume Ooe, boss of ASN; Chiaki Hasegawa, the brilliant Director/Ops who keeps pretending she’s my secretary; and me, the chairman of a committee that nobody believes exists.

“She’s here to meet you, Chiaki. You and DG/PSI. And the other one, from DEFIANT.”

“Boss, aren’t you chairing today? What else is a chairman for?”

“Hasegawa-san, stop it. The feminists won, you won. You’re smarter than I am, you do the work.”

“Heh. No, I’m making the tea and taking the notes, General. I’m honorary secretary for these meetings, you know. And also smarter than you, yes.”

“Does your husband know what you really do for a living?”

The tone of her voice changes. “I hate that. It’s funny once or twice, but it sounds like a threat when you say it early in the morning, in that kind of voice.”

I relent at once. I’ve been rude, because if Chiaki’s husband knew the details, we’d have to kill him. And that’s not exactly a joke; I can’t tell Yuuko much either. Stupid Kenji is still part of me.

“I’m sorry. Please forget I said it. Thanks for the briefing notes, Hasegawa-san.”

“It’s okay. Let’s not be awkward in front of the outsiders, boss. I know you didn’t mean it. I’ll look after Miss Ooe until the meeting starts at seven. And DG/PSI sends regrets that she can’t make it.”

“You’re not my secretary, I’ll say again.”

“Nobody else is good enough and has the necessary clearance level, boss. Besides, you hired me years ago because I could do all these things. So let me do them.”

“I will. Thanks, Chiaki.”

*****

Looking back at 2043, it was the year we decided that whether we were friends or not, we had to become friends. There’s a long list, and not everyone survived the next two decades. I’d start with Shizune and Hideaki, of course, for the Hakamichis; Akira Setou, Hideaki’s first mentor; Rika Katayama, who was unwilling until she had no choice; Nobu and Kei, my first friends in the Service; Natsume Ooe, to whom I owed much, and who owed me much in return.

I’m talking about all these people, but there were many more. I won’t break the suspense you want from me—all these people survived, still alive in 2064. Then again, others not on that list also survived, and there were some who switched sides.


*****

“Immigration is still rising,” says the man whom Kei’s sent from PSI, which is Public Security Intel—we don’t really have psychic spies. “People are accepting it, as long as it’s permanent residency and not citizenship. But we’ve had to stop extremist terror plots several times now. Data upload here.”

I scan the usual stuff. Twenty years since we started the changes, and I’m tired. This guy must be new. He thinks his report is special. Every damn month it’s like that. There are always terrorists. Why? Why do we like doing mad dramatic murderous things?

“But we think it’s just for fun. It’s designed to conceal some other pattern of activity and keep us busy.”

That’s new. My augments pick up Chiaki’s tension even as she outwardly displays no change from her usual professional demeanour. There’s elevated tension in the woman from DEFIANT too, the national defence-tech rep. “Any idea what that might be?” I ask softly. It’s the question Chiaki would ask, if I weren’t here.

“We traced it to the Nakamura-Samsung constellation. Could be incidental, maybe from the old Sony remnant.”

“See whether it’s legacy or whether it’s live. Huawei might know about it. In the last two decades, we’ve had too many untraceable business connections with too many hidden plans.” I have no idea if the defence-tech people are on our side or on their own side, so I don’t say everything.

Kei’s man nods. You can see he’s got new implants, the way he twitches when he changes data networks and feeds. I’m impatient. I’m not happy. Why isn’t Kei here? Or Nobu? I don’t even know this guy’s name.

It’s like that now. I’m old. I just want to retire. If it weren’t for the damn PM, I’d retire. But the damn PM will probably get assassinated one day and somebody has to keep the secrets safe. I think I’ve given up on protecting anyone. Now I only protect information, I only protect things. Damn it!

*****

On the way out, Natsume passes by my office. I don’t know what she sees. An old guy, slowly changing from pleasantly ugly to just plain ugly, maybe. I nod at her, and she nods back. The wound of Naomi’s passing is no longer so hot and new and painful between us.

“Eh-heh,” I begin, clearing my throat awkwardly. I have some affection for Natsume in the way that you like your favourite chair or you’re used to your miserable dog. It’s about familiarity. “A drink before you fly back to Osaka?”

“If it’s tea, perhaps. None of your hard stuff.”

You won’t believe it, but this is the first time in years that she’s agreed. Many months ago, we tried—but the table wasn’t big enough for three of us because Naomi’s invisible self filled the room.

I adjust my jaw, which has dropped a bit, or at least stayed open too long. My mouth is dry. “In the cafeteria?”

Her differently-coloured eyes blink, as if surprised or curious. “Thank you.”

The cafeteria is now three floors above my meeting room. There are many ways to get from my office to sunlight, and I use a different way everyday. We pass through sunlight on the way there, but it is glassed sunlight, sunlight that is safe from eyes, bullets and beams. The cafeteria itself is a spacious container that is dangling within the building on a frame of metal and plastic and air. It just seems solid, like so many things around us.

Like our friendship, for example. Sometimes, it’s real and precious. Sometimes, you wonder. Natsume is in a light-coloured brown-grey jacket. Her trademark cotton blouse is simple, it’s not the officewear of a high-status official. Her skirt is matching, but that’s because she likes things that match, unlike her eyes, which never match.

I get coffee, and tea for her. For half an hour, we talk about everything except the hole in our hearts. That hole will be there for a long time, even when only the scar is left. But who else is left to share this pain with? I am thankful for her, even when we are discussing work.

“War?” she asks, without saying so.

“War?” I repeat, pretending she has made a joke.

“Will you be at Yamaku some day soon?”

“Not this year, maybe. Except when I need to pick up my wife. These days, someone else does that.” I’m talking about Koji, but Nat doesn’t need to know that. She’ll probably guess, anyway.

“Well, Kin is there, and he makes sure we…” she pauses here, so briefly that I almost miss it, then continues, “… visit Yamaku for things like festivals. Maybe you could join us one day. Surprise Yuuko.”

Kinnosuke is about sixteen, maybe? He’s Naomi’s son. That was a horrible story, but it had a good ending. Nat is his mother now. I don’t trust myself to say the right things, so I just nod.

“I have to get on my flight soon. Thanks for the tea and the company,” she says stiffly. There’s clearly a lot on her mind.

I know she’s not really flying back to Osaka. She’s probably got a company booking linked to the hardened station beneath us. It used to be a silly idea, making underground tunnels between cities. We’ve learnt a lot since then. We now have lines connecting all the way from Tokyo Metro to Osaka Metro. Some are not available to the general public.

“Thank you for your time, Ooe-san,” I say. I make a smile so she knows I’m trying to be friendly. Her words from the past come back to my mind: Let’s pretend we are, because I think we should be. Maybe it’s not so ‘pretend’ after all.

“Have a safe ride home,” I say, trying to be gentle.

She grins at me. Her grins can be savage things, worse than Shizune’s. But this one is half-sad. “No, really. I’m on my way to Nagasaki.”

These are bad years. And that statement reminds me of someone who once made me happy, and I know that things can get even worse.

*****

It’s May now, and I’m normally happier in May. March is about remembering, and April is about more remembering, but May comes and you can stop remembering things. There are so many things to remember, and so many things to forget. Which means I have two people to talk to, maybe three, besides those in the crazy world of my job.

*****

#1: Midori S., date of birth 26 May 1971, formerly resident of Saitama. Father was a retired soldier, mother was a seamstress. We have humble origins, on all sides. She has too many siblings to keep track of, but we manage.

Aunt Midori is entering a convent. Who does that these days? I don’t know. ‘Midori’ is a springtime kind of name. It’s supposed to be happy.

“My aunt?” I begin, greeting her politely. “Thank you for meeting me.”

“It’s always a pleasure, Kenji. I have few people I want to talk to, and fewer who want to talk to me.”

She is in her seventies now, and doesn’t look it. Her skin is clear and smooth. The tiny creases at the corners of her eyes come from looking after my sad, irascible, insane father during the last years of his life. ‘Irascible’ is a word she taught me—having a tendency to wrath, which is one of our seven deadly sins.

“Can you tell me about your life, before you lock yourself away?”

She gives me her half-smile, the one that always reminds me how long she has walked on the narrow path between penance and regret. “Where should I begin? Maybe I should begin with why I am your father’s wife but not your mother?”

It’s an old thing. Once, I was angry, and crazy. My mother had died, and my elder brother. My little sister and I, we acted as if Mother were still alive. But things break, and sometimes, you can’t fix them. Looking back, now that I’m older, I can see how Aunt Midori tried.

“You missed Mother, didn’t you?” I’m sad it took me almost forty years to see it.

“I did. She was my favourite sister, Sister Number Two. Eldest and youngest, they were quickly gone. Third Sister died young. I was Number Four. When your mother… went away from this world, I had nobody left.”

“Why?”

“I liked your father a lot. He was very direct. I had a crush on him, but your mother got there first, and that was that. I never thought of marrying him, even after she was gone. And I had few friends of my own. Too sharp a tongue, they said. But I was a shy girl.” Again, the half-smile.

“What changed?” Asking the questions is hard. I don’t know if I want to know, or if she wants to tell. But it’s like friendship—sometimes you have to do it.

“Your grandmother told me I should. She said your father would never recover, and I’d remain unmarried anyway. But there were children, and they needed a mother…” her voice trails away as she looks at me, her expression hard to read. “But I failed at that too. I lost you even before I could start. Then I lost Sachiko. And now I’ve lost your father.”

“Father lost me. It wasn’t your fault. I lost Sachiko. That wasn’t you either.” Answering the questions is worse, now that you know what the questions really mean.

“Direct. I like that, in a man.” She smiles, this time more than halfway.

“So why are you off to Inari?”

“Peace and quiet. Your children are grown up. Koji is a sensitive young man, such a Shirakawa type. Masako is away, maybe not coming back. Their step-grandmother should retire. I will spend the rest of my life holding my tongue and repenting quietly.”

“You helped Yuuko and me bring them up well. That doesn’t change.” I don’t quite know why I’m feeling so sad.

“And I thank you for the opportunity, Kenji. But I don’t think I had much input. Masako’s headstrong, forthright, like your father and father-in-law. Koji’s a historian like his mother, a musician like Yuuko’s stepmother.”

“I used to call you Midori-the-Tigress.” I say it without thinking. It’s an old memory, surfacing too quickly to hold back.

She laughs, this time. “I heard you call me ‘that feminist bitch’ once. I think I bit people because I was scared, not because I was fierce or hungry. This tigress, she hasn’t any fangs left.”

“Why Inari?”

“It’s not in Honshu. It’s also a beautiful city, with ceramics and other traditional crafts. I have friends there, the one or two I still have left. Maybe I will see them before I disappear forever. Also, I want to visit the memorial to the martyrs of Nagasaki, on Nishizaka Hill.”

“I never thought you were so religious. But over the years, I realized you might be. Always wondered why.”

“That’s the fault of my big brother’s wife. She converted all of us.”

“Doesn’t explain all of it.”

“Kenji,” she says, locking my eyes with her gaze. She can indeed resemble a human tiger, sometimes. “There is so much pain and suffering that I couldn’t do anything about. You do what you can. Religion is one of those things. It’s not very useful, some people say. But it helps when your heart is shrinking inside and you wonder if you ever helped anybody anyway. Besides, Our Lady of Inari allows people to try it out for a few months before they commit themselves.”

I sigh. She’s right, at least where Kenji is concerned. Then I grasp at a very thin thread. “Nagasaki, eh? Maybe you can meet a friend of mine there before you plant yourself in the convent.”

You never know what happens when you plant anything. You just hope for the best, and hope it’s not the worst.

*****

#2: Hideaki H., date of birth 18 October 1995, nominally resident of Saitama. My friend Shizune’s brother. Father was a businessman, mother was a businesswoman. Hideaki is as un-businesslike as they come. That’s strange.

Young Hideaki’s not so young anymore. He’s almost fifty, which is hard to imagine. I remember him when he was a girly kind of kid, but somehow he got big and tough and has tattoos, I think. Must be because he married a toilet ghost, I always joke. That’s how crazy life is.

We meet in July. It’s warmer than usual, even though nobody worries about global warming any more. Of all places, we meet at the Sanshiro Pond in the middle of the great university of Tokyo. My security is having a field day. Haha, get the joke? Field day. Never mind.

“Elder brother!” he says, and claps a five-ton hand on my back. Uff. I always wonder how his bones got so big. I’m sure he needs bones to carry all that muscle. Maybe they’re Hakamichi implants, I ponder sourly.

“Hey, man. Sit down. Need to talk.”

“Yeah, I told my security detail to have coffee with your security detail. Poor guys. What does my respected and feared friend want to talk about?”

“Well, first things first. Why the Sanshiro Pond? Getting a bit old for mysterious gestures. Also, it’s traditionally a rooftop. With something to drink.”

“My glorious wife is teaching a class a few blocks away, and I like being with my wife whenever I can.”

“I’m sure you do,” I leer suggestively, which is overkill. But we’re old friends.

“Hate being blindsided by the ‘you were in Tokyo but you didn’t come to my lecture’ kind of thing. She gets like that sometimes. Moments of self-doubt.”

I stare at him. Our wives have that in common, being very capable but not believing that they are. But something just tickled my brain.

“Hideaki, why did you dye your hair some sort of green, many years ago?”

His air of good cheer vanishes so quickly that I fear he had bad fish for lunch. It’s very extreme, and the way he looks at me is very odd.

“Sachiko dared me. Elder brother, do not tell me you got me to meet you just for that!”

Damn. These things come back to bite you. You ask the question, then you get the answer that makes you realize why it was a good question and a bad one all at the same time.

“No. It’s just that I’ve been thinking about greenery a lot recently. And I’ve said goodbye to my stepmother.”

“Aunt Midori? That’s a funny thing. For some reason, my most excellent wife wants us to pay a visit to Inari in December.”

Huh. That’s a peculiar thing indeed, although irrelevant. I sigh, the sigh of a man who is surrounded by irrelevant things when he needs focus. “Hideaki, are you good friends with Rika Katayama?”

“You know I’ve had the pleasure.” He looks a little upset and confused, and I don’t blame him.

“How strong is the Katayama-Hakamichi alliance?”

“Shizune and I have enough votes to hold it. And Rika has more than enough. Why?”

“This isn’t a conspiracy theory anymore, Hideaki. War’s coming. You need control. Who’s running the Nakai Foundation these days?”

“My sister’s the boss. But the person I think should really be running the show is the woman in there giving the lecture.”

“That’s what I thought. I bet you she doesn’t want it.”

I look out across the Pond. If you image it from above, for example using a microdrone, it looks a bit like the character for ‘heart’. The Pond is named after a story by the famous novelist Natsume Sōseki, who reformed the Asahi Shimbun in 1907-8. All these stories, they go round and round, they join together.

I turn back to my younger friend. “Eh, you tell Madam Ikezawa that we have to be friends. Give her Kenji’s best regards. We haven’t always been on good terms.”

He looks at me unhappily. He knows some people just don’t get along, but he wants everyone to do so. That’s Hideaki, always an idealist about people. Old Kenji would have said he would be easy prey for the feminists and secret societies, but me, I know he’s tougher than that.

“I’ll do that. She doesn’t really mind you, you know.”

“Ha. She just won’t say it. She thinks I’m bad for you.”

“You’d be surprised, General. Very surprised. But don’t worry, she’ll be there in the end, whatever your end-game turns out to be.”

*****

#3: Shizune H., date of birth 06 May 1989, nominally resident of Saitama. My friend Hideaki’s sister. Father was the Master Juggler for the Hakamichi Family, mother was one of those Satous. Shizune and I have a complicated relationship.

It’s August, when we meet. There is one day of the year I know she’ll be alone, and one specific place she can be found. It’s also the time of the Sendai Tanabata Festival. Memories, again.

[Thank you for the cake] is the first thing she signs to me. It is the kind of joke two old friends make to show they’re not enemies. I’m not sure, because she hadn’t thanked me personally for three months. She thanked Yuuko, but that’s not quite the same. We Japanese do things in funny ways, but courtesies are important. [A sweet red-bean birthday cheesecake with burnt sugar and orange topping is weird but nice. Much appreciated.]

“How’s your…”

She taps her left cheek gently. Oh. Augments off. [Sign. Harder to read if we use old codes.]

I look out from the little gazebo in Mount Aoba Park where we once had a confrontation, and which has so many memories for her. I think my own security drones should have blanketed the zone by now, but what the hell. I nod.

[How’s your status in the Family?]

[I’m Principal of the Academy.]

[Is that all?]

She dimples charmingly, a glimpse of the old Shizune I knew, in the years when we were younger. [What else would I want to be?]

[Holdings?]

[More than enough. My cousin Akira and my brother handle the legal matters.]

[Your uncles?]

[All out of it. My father was a very junior sibling.] Almost flippantly, she signs: [Dead men have no shares.]

Some people think Shizune has a very cold-blooded sense of humour. I’ve learnt to understand her, though. [Who holds those shares?]

[I have cousins. But somehow my father ended up holding a lot, and we inherited those.]

[Somehow.] It’s not a question.

[Somehow.] She dimples again. She doesn’t look as old as she should. I’m about to reply when she adds: [You should look after your wife, General-san. She worries a lot. I can see it at work, but I can’t really talk to her about it.]

Yuuko’s been Shizune’s head office administrator for a long while now. My wife has often been a bridge between us, especially in difficult years when we were quarrelling and in danger of forgetting our friendship.

I nod once more. Sometimes, when you talk to Shizune, you wind up nodding a lot. She just keeps telling the truth, or winning points. She likes winning points. It’s her style. [Okay], I sign simply.

[Will you come to our Sports Day? Natsume will be there.]

I’m not sure if this is an invitation to a secret meeting or an act of friendship. Can’t say ‘no’ either way. I look at her. If she dimples once more, I’ll surrender without a fight. Damn, I might as well surrender anyway. She can keep her dimpling.

[Send me the details. I’ve never liked Sports Day.]

She laughs. It sounds like the yapping of a cute dog with very sharp teeth. To me, it’s a pleasant sound, because it means we’re still friends. [Will do. See you, General-san.]

[See you, Principal-san.]

*****

In the end, I’m not there for Yamaku’s Sports Day in October. I’m too busy preparing to fight. I don’t know if I should. I don’t know what side I’m on, and sometimes I don’t even know who’s on my side. Some of the pieces fall off the board. Some of the pieces are cloaked and hidden, still there but pretending not to be.

The old saying is that flowers fall and weeds flourish. But you can cut and burn the weeds, and preserve the flowers. It just takes time—and maybe some kind of madness that will drive you to the edge of the sword.

It takes me a year before I find out why everyone needs me and Natsume to work together again. By then, it’s almost too late.

*****

Editor's Note: On further re-reading of the text, realisation has struck. All the accounts of events for the years 2030-2044 suffered heavy redaction at the request or due to the direct action of Director-General Setou. This is why this humble editor begs the forgiveness of readers who may find ominous foreshadowing leading to no clear outcome—because the outcomes were redacted. Why was it almost too late? Kenji could not have known at that time.

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Last edited by brythain on Tue Dec 08, 2015 6:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 5 Complete 20151208)

Post by brythain » Tue Dec 08, 2015 6:16 am

This is the seventh and last section of Kenji Setou’s long-suppressed ‘Book Five’. He never wanted it published, but in later years, when we had painfully clawed our way back to a kind of true friendship, he began to change his mind. In places, it is a very personal chronicle, much like those of his youth.

—N; Osaka, Japan; 2084



Kenji 5: The Taste of Dust and Ashes
(2044)


• January Is Winter With Two Faces •

It’s New Year’s Day. Rin Tezuka is not here this cold morning, which makes it easier for me. It is never easy when friends get in the way. After all these years, I find it hard to display public emotion. But I am still soft and weak in that way, and now, as I stand next to my other friend’s bed, I can feel my tears lying in ambush.

I doubt I will be Miki Miura’s last visitor before the end. That’s not my first thought. My first thought is that I regret so much, that I hurt so much, and so does she. But we regret different things, I think—and we have been hurt in so many different ways.

I look down just as she opens her eyes. It is somehow her, and not her at all. The lovely hair, the expressive eyebrows, they’re gone and she’s so pale and I am standing here crying. It’s stupid and painful and I’m angry that I never spent enough time with her because sometimes you look after the cherry blossoms and the birds eat the plums. It’s all coming out, isn’t it?

“Shit, Kenji, stop dripping on me and give me a hug,” she whispers.

“I can’t stop dripping. Do you mind?” My voice sounds nasal even to me. I have an ugly voice.

“No.” Weakly, she reaches up. In my mind, I can only remember that the last time we embraced was more than a quarter-century ago. Now, she is too enfeebled to give me one of the bone-crushing hugs of our past.

I put myself into it, as much as I can. I remember yellow silk fluttering on a hill in Nagasaki, not so far away, and a beautiful girl who was my friend and not my lover, and the Kenji that I was thirty years ago thinking to himself, “How is one so fortunate?” and the Kenji I am is weeping as he feels the frail bones and the wasted flesh.

This Kenji from a distance notices that they’ve taken her hand away. Her left arm is in a protective cocoon of some sort, much as it was when we were in school. I cannot think of this well without distancing myself, so I’m writing this as if I am not there. I’m writing this as if Naomi Inoue is sitting next to me and telling me how to write better.

She has cold skin, but a warm heart. I feel her heartbeat and I want to scream, Why is it that my lousy heart continues beating and hers is coming to an end? You know what it is? It’s not that she was mine, but that she was lovely and full of life, and soon there will be nothing of that left.

“You’re my f-friend, Miki,” is all I can say. “You’re m-my friend.”

There are more things that I murmur into her ears, things I cannot trust myself to say aloud without cracking. We have had a long friendship, even with the breadth of Japan between us. I am reassuring her, from what little faith I have. I am reassuring myself, that good things can still happen.

“You’ve been a good friend too, Kenji. Look after the fucking cherry blossoms, willya?”

“Yes, I will.”

“And Rin?”

“Yes.”

She tries to smile. Watching her almost breaks me completely.

When she cannot stay awake any more, I stop abusing my privileges as a senior civil servant and let the nursing staff escort me towards the night.

A week later, she is dead. When she is laid to rest on Tsushima, I am there. I watch the tiny funeral from a distance, as usual, since I should not appear in public. I feel part of my soul is gone, part of my life. My youth is gone and I am a pathetic middle-aged man who would give all his power just for one day that disappeared too long ago.

Rin looks up. Even with my cloak, I know she sees me. I have made myself visible in the narrow band that she prefers. I have come in person because my microdrones have no souls. Her face refuses to understand what is happening. Her expression asks me a question I can’t answer, so with great sorrow, I turn away and I’m gone.

*****

• It Was A Long March •

I remember the March weather because it was beautiful. I remember March because it had Yuuko’s birthday in it, and I felt guilty and fortunate that I’d ended up with the one woman in my life who hadn’t died before her time. I felt guilty that I hadn’t mourned for Naomi enough, hadn’t had time for the Fist before she unclenched her fingers and let go of her life. All that damn guilt.

And then there was Koji, my son, and he wanted to speak to me. What right did I have to be his father?

*****

Our conversation is a confused mess. I am a bad father, and he is a son who is like his mother. He is a good man, and I don’t even know what that is. But March is coming to an end, and Koji has a story I didn’t want to hear before.

“Kaori? You? And her? At the Shanghai?” My questions are sharp, upset, unbelieving, amazed. What was my son thinking when he decided to have a date with his mother’s half-sister in Sendai, of all places?

“Yes, and Akiko was not happy, although she concealed it very well. But it was unpleasant.”

“You? And Kaori Shirakawa? Your aunt!?”

“Mother’s half-sister, who is younger than I am,” he replies mulishly.

“You idiot! There are good reasons why you should stay away from Kaori.”

He opens his mouth, as if he wants to be punched in it. Suddenly, I feel ashamed, because which man knows why his son opens his mouth? Surely, not so he can put his fist in it. My thoughts are flying around like wasps.

“Kaori is my friend. And so was Akiko.”

“Was? Akiko? Are you two never going to get together?”

“Father, I only want to talk to you. I was not having a date. I was asking for advice.”

“From Kaori? That girl’s had a crush on you for ages.”

Appalled, he looks at me. I’m also appalled. I’ve said something that shouldn’t ever have been said.

“No, Father. I don’t think so.”

“Whatever. Sorry.”

“Akiko and I, it will never work out.”

“Whatever. Anyway, I have something to do.”

“This one apologizes for inconveniencing his father. However, one…”

“Accepted.”

Without further words, he leaves the room. After the door is shut, I let my forehead sink to my desk. I’m so stupid. I’ve become my own father. Maybe not so bad, but almost. I want to call Koji back, but I’m a coward. It’s not the first time. I’m feeling like a piece of shit. That’s not a first for me either.

*****

• April Is For Fools •

“So that is what you said to our son, my husband?” says Yuuko to me.

I nod, feeling bad.

“So our son now has nobody to talk to, perhaps?”

“He can always talk to you!” I blurt out. “He always has!”

“Not always, husband. Some things, boys talk to their fathers about. Normal boys, not ones whose fathers are directors-general of some big government institution.”

“Well, he’s not talking to me now.”

“It’s not a surprise. He talks to my sister a lot more now. Who else has he got left? Yet he knows that I can’t let him be with my own sister, no matter if she’s only a half-sister and younger than he is. And you know there are other reasons, although some of them I’m not allowed to know myself.”

Suddenly it hits me. It’s unfamiliar, this feeling. Damn it. Yuuko is actually angry with me. She is not only angry, she is bloody furious. It’s just that I’ve not been paying attention.

What Koji wanted to really talk to me about was the death of Meiko Ibarazaki, Akiko’s maternal grandmother. In my own thinking about death, Mrs Ibarazaki’s passing had been nothing to me. What a bastard you are, Kenji, I tell myself. You never gave your son a chance.

It had been a mysterious death, even though it hadn’t been unexpected. The police had investigated and found it to have been a natural death. At least, that is what the coroner and the AI suite had agreed upon. It was the flag on Tezuka that caught my attention. Nobody really saw anything, but with Rin, who could tell?

“Well, husband, young Akiko is off on Olympic training, and then to San Francisco, and she’ll be back in August. By then, I don’t know what our son will be like. Knowing him, he’ll just work himself to death for Shizune. He respects her a lot. But he tries to respect you too, and you won’t let him.”

“I don’t deserve it.”

“I never correct my husband unnecessarily.”

“I’m sorry, wife.”

“So am I.”

*****

• June Is The Turning Point Of The Year •

The weeks have passed. I look at the invitation before me. It glows and a little sim of Shizune Hakamichi rises from it. There’s something creepy about how her synthetic speech sounds so much like distant memories of my late mother’s own voice. There’s an obvious reason for that, but I don’t know if it’s the right one.

“Director-General Setou, this message is from Principal Hakamichi of the Sendai-Aoba Mountain District Academy. We would like to invite the Director to grace our Sports Day as Guest-of-Honour on 10th October 2044. As an alumnus of Yamaku who has risen to high rank and yet has kept in touch with us, we would be most honoured by your attendance. The school would benefit much from even a few of your casual observations or, if you would be so kind, a brief speech. We thank you for your most generous attention despite your busy schedule.”

I wonder who generated this script. It certainly doesn’t sound like my friend Shizune. But it is typical of corporate culture, even when trying to sound friendly.

“Replying, personal, Hakamichi, Shizune. Dear friend, you know I cannot make so public an appearance. However, I will be there. I trust young Koji is giving you satisfaction in the performance of his duties, and am greatly honoured by your long friendship and thoughts of me. Signing, personal, Setou, Kenji. Send.”

The little sim bows and vanishes, leaving me to look morosely at my grey little office, windowless and secret. With Akiko Nakai away on Olympics duty, surely my son is performing his duties without distraction? Director-General Setou, me. What do I direct, generally? The people lack direction, the worst are filled with passionate intensity.

I remember who first read that poem to me, and I tap my fingers sharply and painfully on the old table. The sudden loss of Naomi Inoue a few years back, and then Miki Miura’s passing—these have affected me a lot. Corporate powers have now turned Japan against itself. We have become like other powers of the not-too-distant past, forgetting to serve the interests of the people and serving the mindless growth of wealth instead. You can be wealthy and raise the less fortunate, of course. This is known to be a fact. But you can be wealthy and deliberately keep the less fortunate as slaves to your system. This is also a fact.

Some day, I think grimly to myself, one of those corporate assassins who demean us all will get to Natsume Ooe and the unthinkable will happen. If not some day soon, some day not so soon. Does she know everything about her upbringing? How much does she know about Shizune’s late father? I am sure she knows it all, and more.

My mind chases itself. I think of the children. I always think of the children, especially my own—poor Koji, cast aside once, cautiously finding love again; Masako, doing what she can on the other side of the globe; my friends’ children, in their twenties and thirties, who will inherit whatever Japan will become.

How has the damned Westphalian system survived? It has survived because we have all conspired for centuries to balance power against power. We do not know where it will all end. I have sleepless nights talking to my dear wife about such things, for she is a student of the past, and neither of us can see the future.

Crazy old Kenji would not have lasted long in this world, although he could certainly see it better than many of his peers. Now I am indeed an old Kenji, though not Old Kenji, and I am crazy like a fox. I stand up, stretch my creaky limbs, trigger a couple of minor implants, and walk out of my vault. There are people I need to activate, old friends whose actions will have real effects in this world—and perhaps, in other worlds.

*****

• August Is Not For Lovers •

You know how it is when you try to be your best and you lose it anyway? You become your bad self, you try so hard not to be but you can’t control it?

I am a bad father again. Maybe not as bad as in March, but quite bad. I want to be a good one, but it all goes to hell when this time it’s Koji who’s wrong, not me. He says he can only ever be friends with Akiko. That’s all it’s ever going to be. So what, then? He says he’s thought about it. He says he should have realized he could only be happy with Kaori. They’ve discussed it.

At that moment, Yuuko steps into the room with her half-sister. She’s just heard the last few lines. I’m upset, and everyone is stunned.

I’m already thinking: Oh my God, my God, my God! No! I’m only just able to hold onto my shit. But what takes me by surprise is this: Yuuko, my pleasant and soft-spoken wife, she erupts at Koji. She explodes. Koji is so shaken that he turns paler than pale.

Then she turns on her sister. Calls her a slut. Kaori is already fair to begin with. Any more, and she’ll go transparent and colourless. I don’t need implants to know that everyone here is going to have a heart attack or a bleed or something.

“My son is not going to marry my sister!” says Yuuko. I use ‘says’ because Yuuko sounds like an enraged goat, and I don’t have a word for that.

I am having a migraine. I’m so tired. Kenji’s so tired. Kenji was so much happier alone on a roof, in the old days. I’m Kenji, heck, I’m more than one Kenji. I can do this. I have to do this, whoever I am.

“Sit down!” I shout. And because I seldom shout these days, people sit down. Damn, I almost sit down myself. Also, I almost shit myself, really. “Nobody’s marrying anybody! You’re all crazy people!”

The irony hits me a second later. We’re all crazy people, laughs Old Kenji from his little nest inside my head. Some of us just hide it better than others.

Old Kenji pushes apart the bushes in my mind, and peeks out through my augmented eyes. He shakes his head disapprovingly, then begins to talk. I’m suddenly thirty years younger, like I was when I was him.

“It’s very simple. Koji is a romantic idiot, runs in the family. He can’t marry Kaori, I’m going to explain to him exactly why not. Kaori also never said ‘yes’ anyway, most excellent wife will talk to her about why not to ever say ‘yes’. Koji, come with Father now. Women, stay here. Best listen. Old Kenji knows everything.”

I’m locked up behind my eyeballs, listening to myself talk. Myselves. I have a few. I haven’t been myselves for a long time. I’m having a conceptual breakthrough, as they say. Or maybe a conceptual breakdown. I don’t know. Old Kenji would know.

He’s talking again. “Oh don’t you think of it, Kaori Shirakawa, sister of my wife. You’re too soft. You don’t understand. But you will. After I talk to my son and Wife talks to you, I’m talking to you too. Hate talking to people, but I’ll talk to you. Tell you about tea with the Black Dragon, also other stories. Haha, will be fun.”

Old Kenji’s never really gone away, I realize. He’s always been part of me, ever since my Mother died, or maybe even before. I’m terrified of him, even though I’m in charge most of the time.

Everyone is quiet now, and then everyone begins to move, slowly and twitchily at first, like the puppets I used to manipulate when I was Old Mad Kenji back in Yamaku. I put a hard but trembling hand between Koji’s shoulder-blades and guide him out. Somewhere distant, but in my own head, I feel the crisis pass.

*****

• September Is When The Leaves Begin To Fall •

Sometimes, it is not as bad as it seems. Sometimes, my life goes round in circles. Akiko has returned, an Olympic medalist for our country, in the heptathlon. I accept my own fate: it is time for me to meet my old friend’s daughter again. I realize that it will be hard. The last time we met, I chased her out of my house. This time, it’s even more difficult. Akiko doesn’t get along well with the woman I have to speak to next.

[Good morning, Madam Principal Boss Lady!]

Most people don’t understand that Shizune has a good smile. When she smiles, she puts everything into it; when she half-smiles, she puts exactly half. Today, I’m getting a full smile.

[Good morning, Director-General! Curious to have illustrious friend unexpectedly on comms today, and also using this band.]

“Personal matters, my friend.”

She laughs. Of course, on a working day, her augments are on. [Why? Also, you’re not forgiven for standing me and Natsume up last year at Sports Day.]

“Surely the Chicago package was an acceptable token of my undying regret, you evil feminist warlord?” I don’t reveal that I attended this year’s summer sports meet at least, and I’ve already met with Natsume.

“Hey, you can’t call Shi’chan an evil feminist like that, General-san!~ Even if the cheesecake~ was a good one!”

“Oops. Hi, pinko.”

Misha’s face squeezes into the transmission zone, slightly distorted. She sticks out her very pink tongue at me and then makes a pouty face. “If it’s personal~ matters, I’m allowed to listen~, right, Shi’chan?”

She’s playing with me. Misha’s as old as we are, and her hair is more brown than pink these days, with a dash of grey. We’re too old for such games.

[Yes, it was a good cake. But you’re beginning to repeat yourself! I think you ordered one for me when I was in Chicago years ago.]

Her mock sternness suddenly softens. I think she knows that it’s not an accident I sent her a souvenir of a time very long past.

[I’m glad you agreed to visit this year. Also, I understand why you don’t want to be Guest of Honour. So, why are you calling me?]

“I think I need you to talk to Koji. After all, you’re his boss. Also, I need to talk to Akiko, so it’s good that Akiko’s other half-mother is also here.”

Misha gasps, and I think it’s not acting this time. Shizune’s lips thin slightly. I can tell she is having unhappy thoughts because her eyebrows are a tiny bit closer together. [We can give you permission to talk to Akiko, but you’ll have to arrange it yourself. You don’t actually need permission. You probably need a security detail.]

“Shi’chan, that’s very rude! Akiko wouldn’t hurt~ anybody!”

Shizune grins. [Well, she is bigger than General-san. She might accidentally crush him, and then where would Japan’s security be?]

Damn feminists. I wait for them to stop laughing, then continue. “What’s the best way to do this?”

“General-san, best~ is to ask her Uncle Hideaki. See, Misha knows that you and Hide-chan and poor old Hi’chan were good friends. Akiko won’t mind if Hide-chan arranges the meeting. Now you can thank Misha, please?~”

Shizune nods, and I smile at both of them. It’s a good plan.

And that’s how, on one cold evening in September, Shizune is having a chat with my poor son, and I’m having a quiet talk with Hisao’s daughter. If I had to say, I would hope for good weather ahead.

*****

• October Is Not Always Grim •

Sports Day is always in October. That’s why Yamaku has two sports meets every year—one in summer or early autumn, and one during the nationally designated period. I met Natsume in August, and we exchanged words. We watched the children run, and it was at that time that I decided I would not let them down.

Today, I’m sitting with an old acquaintance in the VIP seats. The air is cooler than it was in August, so the security dome is open. The invisible net around me is not.

“How has it been, Director-General?”

I look at her. It’s just not her. “Madam Ikezawa, I’ll never get used to it.”

“W-what?” She looks confused.

“You had a beautiful body even when you were a toilet ghost. Now you’ve got too beautiful a face. How can you keep getting more and more beautiful?”

She blushes, a perfectly natural blush. The nano-restructured skin is flawless on the right side of her face, so good that the nanotech had to be applied on both sides to keep things even.

“That was just vanity. My dear husband complimented me in a more elegant way, but he was completely unsettled for weeks.”

“Well, I will be unsettled for life. How are the children?”

“Good. Kitsune is down there, with the first years. Shiina is at school back in Saitama.”

“Good, good. And the god-children?”

Hanako Ikezawa Hakamichi, Deputy Chairman of the Nakai Foundation and lethal opinion-piece writer, turns towards me. “Ah, so that’s why we’re talking again, most gallant and p-powerful Director-General.”

She still wears her hair long on the right side, I notice absent-mindedly. But she’s not the skinny and frightened girl I once knew. It’s not that I ever think she is, I haven’t thought that for many years now. But she is actually quietly frightening, like a very clean knife found lying alone on your bedspread one morning. I pity the fools who try to stop her.

“No, not that.” I pause, because I don’t know if I want to know. Then I realize that I do. “It’s just that I haven’t heard from Koji for some months now. The last time that happened, we had… disagreements.”

She smiles grimly. “I can tell you that my god-daughter seems happier these days. Also, that I don’t live in Sendai much. If you can understand what I have just told you, then you’ll know what Koji’s been doing.”

Happier? Living in Sendai? I have no idea what this is all about, but my brain likes a conspiracy. Also, I think I know which piece of my army this old acquaintance of mine will be.

*****

• December Is Sometimes Happy •

It’s a grey kind of day. I’ve been looking at my network for a while without really processing anything. Damn. Then there’s a knock on the door. So futuristic we are, half-way through the twenty-first century, and still people knock on doors, I muse irritably to myself. It can’t be Chiaki, who no longer knocks.

“Dad?”

It’s been a hard day, a hard year. It takes me some time before I realize I’m not hearing voices. Actually, I am, but this time, for real.

“Koji?”

I have not seen my son for months now. Even though Hideaki’s wife gave me what she pretended were clues, I’ve not had the time to unravel them. I’ve been busy, but my only success is that nobody has died so far, except some people who really deserved it.

“Happy birthday in advance, my father.”

“How the fuck did you get in here?”

He looks a little hurt. When I’m surprised, my language can be impolite. I was badly brought up, I guess.

“Director Hasegawa brought me in through the old 29-3 entrance. We had tea together.”

“When did you stop calling her ‘Aunty Chiaki’?”

“I haven’t. I just don’t feel comfortable calling her that in this place.”

“Oh.”

He nods stiffly. Can’t blame him. Could never really blame him. He’s my son, and a better man than I ever was.

“Akiko and I got you something. I left it at the house with Mother, because Aunty… I mean, Director Hasegawa said that bringing it here would be corruption.”

“What? But you’re my son. Also, how come Mother’s at home? And what’s with ‘Akiko and I’?”

“Your security detail probably doesn’t know I’m your son. It’s Christmas Eve, Dad. What are you doing here still?”

“Defending the country,” I say ironically. Then I realize he’s not answered the question that suddenly is more important to me than all the rest.

“Akiko and you, you said?”

“Ah, yes.”

I lurch out from behind my desk, like a drunken fighter trying to land a last telling blow. “Congratulations, son!”

“Errr, long story.”

“What?” I feel as if I’m a boxer who’s missed his target and is staggering around in the middle of the ring.

“We’re not getting married.”

“No?” My heart sinks.

“We’ve just decided to live together forever. At either her flat or mine. It doesn’t matter. But we take vows very seriously, and both of us promised we’d never get married.”

I’m confused. I’m so confused that it takes time for all this to make sense. I realize I’ve been sad for so long that I don’t know how to accept good news. It is good news, isn’t it?

I retreat and sit down in my chair, feeling strange. My heart, even though stabilized by technology and drugs, feels oddly heavy in my chest. A little sensorium alert begins to blink, pink and orange in the corner of my eye.

“Hnnnggggghhhh,” I hear someone say. Of course, it’s me. It sounds quite far away.

“Dad?”

The light goes green again. Then orange. So pretty. Superior Japanese technology, a stray thought reminds me.

“Owwwww.”

Koji comes towards my desk and I have to wave him away. He isn’t proximity-cleared. It would be dumb if the security beams cut my son to pieces for being a good son.

Damn, he’s still coming. Stop, damn you, I want to say. But I can’t, and I have to watch, horrified, as he moves to me in something like slow motion. The blue flashes indicating encroachment begin to appear as the collimated X-rays prepare to blast their target to ashes. Dust and ashes, I hear Old Kenji say bitterly from the depths of my skull.

Green, orange, pink, orange, green. Then nothing. I’m fine. I can’t feel anything, but that’s good. The nanotech is doing its job.

“No, don’t…” I whisper as loudly as I can, but my son, my tall skinny romantic idiot of a son, he keeps moving and his arm reaches out for my shoulder.

I flinch as he makes contact.

“Koji, how come…”

“Are you all right, Dad?”

He’s still alive. The blue flashes indicate an appropriate clearance level before they fade away. Of course. Chiaki had to clear him before getting him down here, and she probably cleared him all the way.

“Thank your Aunty Chiaki,” I gasp. I feel tense all over, but it’s beginning to loosen up. Superior Japanese technology, indeed.

“What?”

I shake my head. “Never mind. You were saying that you and Akiko… are happy?”

“Very,” he says. He sounds more than happy. He sounds joyful.

For the first time today, I smile. “Come on, son. Let’s go home, see Mother, and celebrate. If Akiko is lurking around outside at some café where you people left her, let’s pick her up too.”

“How did you know?”

“I know everything, son.”

“Really, Dad?” he replies, giving me the skeptical look of a qualified historian, before returning my smile.

It’s not all bad, life. I remember my horrible January and all the other months since then. They seem so long ago now.

My network twitches. [Boss, don’t leave too quickly. It’s Christmas Eve.]

[What?] I signal back to Director Hasegawa, ushering Koji out through my office doorway.

[Surprise!]

The corridor is lined with officers who ought to be defending the country. Or who ought to be home with their families. A familiar figure is waiting right outside my door, her long night-black hair and penetrating gaze somehow reassuring me that things are under control.

“Hi boss, have a good holiday. We just wanted to wish you happy birthday, and goodbye.”

“Goodbye? Okay, see you next year, then.”

There’s a sad look in her eyes that wasn’t there before. My heart lurches. I’ve lost so many people, so many. “What now?”

“You don’t know?” she asks, noticing my discomfort.

“What?” I growl desperately.

“The Prime Minister’s internal memo. Congratulations, boss! Next April you’re getting your Rising Sun, Second Rank.”

Everyone’s clapping now, so loudly in the narrow corridor that I almost miss what she says next.

“But with effect 2 January, you’re also Cabinet Intelligence Director. You’ll be Japan Central, now. So it’s goodbye, boss, and very many thanks.”

She’s holding out a box of something. A gift? Are those tears in her purple eyes? Surely not. In my mind, I hear the slamming of doors. How long have I worked with Chiaki Hasegawa? How long since Shizune smuggled her into my department? It’s been twenty years.

Wordlessly, I bow and accept my present. “Thanks, Chiaki. Thank you, everyone.”

*****

My name is Kenji Setou. I was the second son, the less-promising offspring of the late General Nobuaki Setou (JSDF, retired). I will soon be the most endangered bureaucrat in the country. I think these thoughts as I sniff at the most excellent whisky that my son and his forever-girlfriend, my best friend’s daughter, have brought me.

I look across the table at my lovely wife, who is a bit rounder than when I married her, but every bit as wonderful as she’s ever been. It’s a pity my daughter and her strange husband are not physically here. But it’s Christmas Eve in the middle of this century, and so they have telepresence even though they’re in Brazil.

From the lousy memories I have of growing up, I remember one image. If you take gold and burn away all the dust and ashes, what remains is pure. We might be on the eve of a long war, but here is all the gold I have left. As if she can read my thoughts, Akiko Nakai blinks.

I think of her late father, and of rooftops. I smile at her, at everyone, and lift my tumbler. “Drink up,” I say. “Drink up.”

*****

Editor's Note: This seventh part of the General's 'Book Five' was aggressively redacted and its original manuscript was also damaged. There is a lot of missing material. The next two decades were very hard on everyone. Nevertheless, some perspectives on this patchy conclusion may be found in Rin Tezuka's account [here] and of course, the last part of Akiko Nakai's account [here]. This humble editor need not point out that there are other fragments to be found elsewhere, but here Book Five must end. Thank you for reading thus far.

=====
prev | end of Book Five | Book Six
Last edited by brythain on Mon May 28, 2018 1:17 am, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 5 Complete 20151208)

Post by azumeow » Tue Dec 08, 2015 6:38 pm

I'm glad Akiko and Koji got something akin to happiness.

Hang in there, General-san. It never gets easier, never. You just learn to be stronger, or something like that.
"I don’t want to be here anymore, I know there’s nothing left worth staying for.
Your paradise is something I’ve endured
See I don’t think I can fight this anymore, I’m listening with one foot out the door
And something has to die to be reborn-I don’t want to be here anymore"

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brythain
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 5 Complete 20151208)

Post by brythain » Mon Dec 14, 2015 12:47 am

azumeow wrote:I'm glad Akiko and Koji got something akin to happiness.

Hang in there, General-san. It never gets easier, never. You just learn to be stronger, or something like that.
Sometimes, the road to happiness is long and arduous. In Kenji's world, it's a very difficult route indeed. But it all works out, somehow. Glad you liked it!

According to the General, there are two books left. He keeps dropping hints, but I don't know what he wants to put in Books Six and Seven, and he keeps giving me peculiar working titles for them. His latest: Book Six—A Mean Breakdown Of Time, and Book Seven—Redevelopments. I'm quite sure he's bluffing, though.
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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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6 begins 20160122)

Post by brythain » Fri Jan 22, 2016 3:38 am

Editor's Note: Here begins Book Six of the records of Kenji Setou, the eccentric officer who became known as 'Japan Central'. At the time I write this, Book Five has not yet been found, except for a few very scattered and distorted fragments. I trust that the gap between the 2020s and this account will not prove an obstacle to your understanding of that unusual person.

Dear reader, I must confess that I never thought I would be involved with anything of his. From my other writings, you may have gathered that I never liked him, nor trusted him. That's not true! Although he called me names at times, he always treated me fairly. My husband and he became very good friends, and I suppose I must confess that while I avoided him at times, I was eventually pleased to help Natsume Ooe in her endeavours.

As for Ms Ooe, we too have had our past differences. My advice to younger people is that such differences do not matter in the end, because by the time you realise all your friends have fallen away one by one, it will be too late for meaningful regret.


—H; Principat d'Andorra; 2074



Kenji 6: Broken Pieces of a Silent War
(2045)


It begins with little things, it always does. I was too busy to see the little things, too happy to ponder big things. So much was destroyed, so much was lost. Whoever reads these documents will be looking back many years, and my losses and griefs will seem nothing to them. I don’t care. I’ll write this shit anyway.

Like droppings, they’ll be a trail, breadcrumbs that tell a story in the forest of the night. You want to know what happened? I guess nobody really knows. I can only say what I know, and even then, maybe I’m not telling the truth. You see, in two decades of a long war, one’s memories can no longer be trusted.

But I have learnt that you must at least trust some of your friends. I’ll tell you this, and I don’t care what other people you tell it to: besides my long-suffering wife, I trusted many others. The one thing you can’t insist on is that they are alive for you, because people die. That, I’ve known since I was young.

*****

Co-Author’s Note:

My name is Koji Setou. When this book begins in our 2045th Year of Grace, I am twenty-eight; by 2065, when this book ends, I am forty-eight. This is meant to be my father’s narrative, but in the twenty years of his ‘silent war’, he had little time for his beloved journals, and even those were often redacted beyond the resurrection of their texts. So it is that I, with the help of some illustrious seniors, and the comforting assistance of my beloved partner Akiko, have reconstructed some material that attempts to fill in the many lacunae of what my father has left behind of those years. Please do not fault him for my dry and ponderous style. I am a Japanese academic, and we tend to be that way.


*****

Early 2045

Dark city, dark country, the mother of my life and the death of my hope. This is not Saitama, it is not Sendai. It is not the heart-wrenching beauty that is Kyoto. It is the heart of our darkness, the place called Tokyo. This heart has its own centre, and that is the underground world we call ‘Tokyo Station’. Who are ‘we’? We are the forgotten and unloved.

I enter like a ghost, my privileges higher than anyone else in the country. The thought makes me shiver. I deliberately flag myself, so that the watchers in the alley will know I am here and tell Chiaki Hasegawa that ‘Japan Central’ has arrived in what is now her domain. I’m Kenji Setou, and I’m—through no fault of my own—the Old Man of the nation’s intelligence services.

It’s 0530 Tokyo time. Nobody normal should be awake. It is an hour for the genuinely hardworking, the services that order our world before we wake, the police and the perverts, the crazy and the stupid. But here I am, and possibly I’m all of the above.

In my head is a song from my long-ago youth. In my language it’s <<窓から見える>> which you can think of as ‘taking a look out of the window’. It’s about more than that, though—it’s about the seasons, about life and death. To me, it’s about how young Kenji was old mad Kenji, and now I’m old Kenji, I can’t afford to be mad and I’m not young anymore.

And neither is the new Director-General. It’s funny how I think of Chiaki as a young girl, just out of university. She’s 40-something now. She’s my son’s ‘Aunty Chiaki’, who was cool once, and now is merely to be respected. And she is the person who succeeded me when I was broken middle-aged Director-General Setou of Tokyo Station.

It’s 0537 when the shit begins to drift gently towards the fan.

“Boss?”

“Director-General Hasegawa,” I reply, my voice stern. She doesn’t need to call me ‘boss’, but she’s doing it anyway. Maybe she’s doing it to remind us of our former professional relationship, our long friendship.

She looks at me, something shifting behind her eyes. “Secretary Setou, thank you for coming over for this briefing.”

It’s a crazy country where a secretary outranks a general, but as they say, secrets are more important than the general. Other countries can be crazy that way too. I nod at her, hoping we are still friends, but not showing it because that’s not appropriate right now.

“What have you got?”

“Threat into red. Explosive device to be used somewhere in Tohoku region, likely Miyagi prefecture.”

“Sendai? What kind?” It’s always Sendai that gives me nightmares. Both Chiaki and I spent our high-school days there.

“Sendai highest probability. We have assets in place conducting systematic search. The explosive device is experimental, what they call plane-polarised high-energy delivery. It delivers a blast in the form of a flat ring.”

“Where from?” I hear myself asking, and hoping it’s not one of our allies. Worse, it might be from a neutral, or an unexpected player.

“Nagoya. A research facility linked to Meidai.”

“What?” I’m surprised. Nagoya was always flagged neutral in our simulations.

“We have assets there too. The facility was scrubbed. Nobody knows anything and there’s no digital cover, no data.”

“It was planned in great detail, then. How is it we had no warning?”

Both of us notice I still use ‘we’, as if I’m still working for Tokyo Station. Her face becomes a very tiny bit less grim.

“We weren’t looking in that direction, boss. Until somebody tipped us off.”

“People tip us off? We’re not the police, nobody’s supposed to know about what we really do, anyway.” I’m genuinely surprised. We’re in the 2040s, and this is starting to sound like the 1940s.

“Man named Uchida. He succeeded your friend Miura-san at Nagasaki Base.”

“What did he tell you?”

“He was tracking the activity of a lawyer and self-taught nanobiotech expert, guy named Hayashi. He sounded familiar.”

And then, it comes back to me. It started with Shizune’s brother telling me about one of our many Yamaku alumni. That’s 2024. 2025? Then that guy has a public disagreement with Natsume about biotechnology and its applications. In the 2030s, Miki tells me more. Chiaki actually interviews the guy. Akio Hayashi. Shit.

“Guy had brittle bones or something?”

“Yes, that’s the one. It hit him in adolescence, so he wasn’t too crippled. Then he spent the rest of his life trying to get fixed. I interviewed him once, after the first time he bad-mouthed Chairman Ooe.”

“So what about him? Not one for explosives, I think.”

“He went off-grid a month before the high-energy chemistry facility went off-grid. He and his wife, they’ve disappeared. And both of them were working with Meidai. Uchida was concerned because his former boss had told him to keep track of the two of them, and they’d already tried ‘borrowing’ technology from Nagasaki.”

“A month?!” This is shaping up to be yet another intelligence failure. But the pieces just don’t fit together. I don’t understand anything. I hate that.

“Yes, Secretary Setou. And there is no trail now linking him or his wife to any target in Sendai. Past records show he had some communications with Miyagi General, but those ceased years ago.”

I’m thinking furiously about MGH, where we temporarily fixed Hisao’s heart and permanently replaced Rika Katayama’s, so many years ago. It’s also where we’re running a lot of innovative technology programmes. It would be a target only to the truly villainous. Nobody should target hospitals.

“What else, who else are you tracking?”

“People? Okinawan infiltrators, suspected bioterrorists supposedly gone rogue from the Russian Federation, and remnant Pyongyang renegade splinter cells. Pharmacological weapons. Memetic assault programmes. All kinds of nonsense, as usual.”

“Anything from PSION?”

“Public Security is helping us track the people. There’s a honeymoon couple we’re looking at, but they don’t have any dangerous tech with them.”

I laugh. Ludicrous, the kind of bullshit that PSION does sometimes. However, they do have people who handle other people, and they are professional. The Director-General there is an old acquaintance of mine too. I should look her up.

There’s a lot of shit flying around now, but none of it has actually gummed up the metaphorical fan. It’s 0712 when I step out of the shielded meeting room and disappear from Tokyo Station. I try to convey to Madam Hasegawa that she and I are still friends. I don’t know if I’m successful.

It takes us less than a week to learn that we’re collectively a bunch of idiots. I have seldom been burnt so badly by stupidity.

*****

Late 2045

Carefully, I lift my wife up. She doesn’t really need my help, she never has. But it comforts me to do this, and she allows me that comfort. Of all the women I could have married, Yuuko Shirakawa is the one I could never have deserved.

I look down at her knees, her ankles. I can’t tell from mere inspection that they aren’t the ones she’d grown up with, that she aged gracefully with. They look real. In a sense, they are. But they’re new, because stupid, foolish Kenji Setou and all the powers of the Rising Sun failed to realize that crazy people would blow up a large chunk of a school.

Bastards. I feel the hot rage filling my head with fuck. A man who should’ve known better managed to stop a woman who knew much better than he did. He was the bad guy, supposedly. And I can’t blame the agents who tried to stop it, because we gave them information too late. It’s all a mess, any way you look.

Dead? Not so many. It is hard to kill people these days, because you can bring them back to life. But some will try harder, use more powerful, more deadly, more subtle tools. We were lucky it was merely a new kind of explosive.

Everything below her smooth, physiotherapy-treated thighs is new. The pain was intense, and the bones are half-titanium, some ceramic honeycomb. We know so much now, and we still don’t know how to deal with evil.

“Um… I can walk, husband,” says my greying redhead. So vain, she is, still dyeing her hair. She smiles, and I can’t say anything. I just smooth her dark purple calf-length skirt down, let go, and watch her fit her new ankles and newer feet into the footwear she still needs to adjust her leg-morphology templates. All that vocabulary, and still ‘evil’ is a word.

There are other people in the room. People unharmed. My face fills with shame when I realize my first thought was, “What are you looking at? You weren’t hurt.”

Of course they were, in a way. My son Koji is here with his ‘partner’, my best friend’s daughter Akiko. Akiko’s parents are both long gone, and I don’t know what they would’ve thought, that their daughter lives with my son and the two won’t get married. Akiko’s adoptive ‘half-mother’ is here too, my friend Shizune.

Shizune looks quizzical. She has learnt to interrogate without words. I see that her speech-device is off, so I sign: [Thanks for coming.]

[You don’t look happy that I’m here.]

[No, no. I…] I let my hands fall to my sides. It takes a lot of manliness to be a man. [It was my fault. Every death and injury, it’s on me.]

Yuuko catches this. I can tell. Her mouth shuts firmly. She’s given up telling me not to blame myself. Akiko looks uneasy. She’s tall, beautiful, like one of those athletic models I used to dream of when I was a teenager. But she’s awkward, and it makes her look human. My son looks mortified. He’s loyal. He doesn’t want people to think I’m a bad father, even though he himself once did so.

[No] signs Shizune Hakamichi. [Not your fault. I’m principal. Security was lax.]

That is also true. It is why I am angry with her, and I am angry at myself that I am angry with her. This kind of thing can go on forever. But it will only go on until we Japanese have allocated the entire fault: the failings, things that weren’t done. Then we go on to allocating blame: the blemishes, the things done badly. Then when we are happy to be all unhappy, we get to work.

The bomb was aimed at Akiko’s biotechnology laboratory in the basement. All she did was develop new kinds of food. She made food grow well in colder climates that would once have grown well only in Okinawa and further south. Some people were upset.

*****

But all that is only a distraction. At this time we just don’t know that. In fact, this has been the first skirmish of a long war. By the time it ends, twenty years later, many people have become dust, and others, footnotes.

=====
book 5 | prev | next
Last edited by brythain on Sun Feb 14, 2016 11:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6-1a up 20160202)

Post by brythain » Mon Feb 01, 2016 11:42 pm

Editor's Note: Dear readers, when assembling this account of the years 2045-2064, I was sincerely puzzled as to how I might get these pieces to fit together. My rather taciturn god-daughter gave little conceptual advice, as she has always been of a more practical bent. She busied herself in prying material out of the mind of Koji Setou, leaving me to worry about the arrangement of said material. But I have always kept my word, inconvenient as it might be to do so. Here then is the result—I have decided to interweave both the accounts of the elder Setou and younger Setou. I trust that you will find the outcome pleasing.

—H; Principat d'Andorra; 2074



Kenji 6: Silent Pieces of a Broken War
(2045a—Koji)


This is Koji Setou. I am running. I often tell my students, “Don’t run, you might hit someone and they might die. Almost happened!” It’s one of those things you have to learn in the school where I teach, where some students may either be waiting for treatment, or have conditions that can’t (yet) be treated. There’s a lot of dramatic irony there, because my lady, Akiko Nakai, runs dangerously all the time, just like her mother did.

There’s been an alert. Apparently, a bomb. We have less than ten minutes to clear the main block. I am proud that my students move in an orderly manner, but someone has to run around. I wish I were fitter. I know someone who could do this better. But while I’m running and panting and gasping, at the back of my mind, I am thinking, “Where are you?” because I don’t know where she is.

I am frightened. Maybe you’re not so used to your heroes being frightened. I’m not a hero. I’ve only written myself in as the protagonist, because I was present the day it all began, and this is therefore a badly-crafted eyewitness report. Fortunately, it is corroborated by many other reports. The official report was also written by me, and I think it’s much less readable.

The students are clear. But there was panic in my boss’s synthetic voice when she hailed me on a private frequency. [Koji, where is Akiko? Last location was basement—Biotechnology Lab 3a.]

That is her favourite lab, and also the one in which she is most likely to have illegally turned off communications so she can work in peace. The fear grips me, the way it doesn’t grip a hero. I run faster. The irony is the only thing that doesn’t escape me.

Ahead, the lab. The red light is on. What is she doing? Red means not to enter. Where is the bomb? What kind is it? How much time left? I have no idea.

I get to the door. I look into the reinforced monitor screen that is the link between the lab and me. My mind screams that I used to have access once, but I can’t remember if I still have it, and whether it can override a red light.

I hit the palmset, and it reads my palm in a fraction of the blink of an eye. [Setou, Koji. Clear. Lab in lockdown. Please wait] the security AI says in a calm female voice.

I slap at the communication panel with my other hand. “Akiko!” I yell. “There’s a bomb!” It’s stupid, clichéd, like a bad movie. When I panic, I become a lot like my father. When I’m calm, I’m like when my mother is on meds. I’m a bit of both now, because my implants have kicked in. I think.

Of course she can’t hear me. She’d have heard the warnings. She must be doing something that can’t be interrupted. This lab is supposedly bomb-proof. However, I’m in a corridor that isn’t. Any bomb that could crack the lab would destroy the corridor as well. What a fool I am!

[Your message has been recorded for relay in approximately thirty minutes] says the calm-voiced AI. It sounds nothing like my mother, on meds or not, I think irreverently and irrelevantly.

The lab next door is equally bomb-proof, and I have access, or so I hope, and most importantly, there is no red light. I’m thinking very quickly now, and I’m in Biotechnology Lab 3b before I think too much more. I’m also wondering if the café in the Food Technology part of this floor will survive whatever comes next.

That’s the last thought I have before the ceiling and the floor boom and shiver. The world turns to jelly for a brief moment. Then everything else happens.

*****

In the days after the tumult and the shouting dies, the police and the firemen depart; the school lies emptied, as if sleeping, a giant with a contrite heart. Akiko’s safe, as I hoped she’d be. The bomb had been prematurely detonated, above ground level; the damage would have been even greater if it had gone off in the basement. As it is, nothing serious touched our temporary tombs.

Unfortunately, my mother’s being operated on. She shouldn’t be alive. But this is the 2040s, not the 1990s. She’s got a good chance, despite losing both her legs. Irony, irony—the world is full of it. My Akiko’s own mother lost both her legs; she didn’t let it stop her.

Here, I’m trying to show you how scattered my thoughts are. I should be dispassionately looking back on events, on causes and effects. I should be behaving like a professional historian, except that I am too close to the epicenter, and merely human. This piece I’m writing? It’s an introduction to me. How embarrassing that is! But here I am.

I’m sitting in what would someday come to be known as a famous café. It’s the small, otherwise undistinguished eatery in one of the blocks of Miyagi General Hospital. Opposite me is the fascinating woman I’ve always called ‘Aunty Chiaki’.

She looks guilty, which is what fascinates me today. Her eyes are haunted. She’s my father’s successor, or so I’ve come to guess, at his former workplace. She keeps asking me if I’m all right, keeps telling me I could have died. I don’t know why she’s doing it.

I am a historian, I keep telling myself. But the events in my head, in my pen, they’re events that make me feel more like a pulp-manga writer from the old days. For strange reasons known only to himself, my father is proud of that. He says I get the sensation from him and the sensibility from Mother.

“Hasegawa-san? Apologies for this interruption?”

We both look up. My Akiko is physically intimidating, beautiful and dramatic in appearance. She hates to be seen that way. What I see is a quiet girl with a stubborn determination to get me out of this conversation and back into life. What Chiaki Hasegawa sees is a competitor, I suspect. I don’t think they like each other much.

“Look after yourself, Koji,” says the new Director-General, my father’s successor. She stands to return my lady’s bow perfunctorily. “Apologies for keeping you apart, Nakai-san.”

Her leaving is like watching the rain drift out to sea, into the distance where it is lost until the next storm. I sense it more than I see it, because I’ve also risen from my armchair, and I want Akiko in my arms.

*****

On Wednesday 1st March 2045, our nation enters its highest ever state of terrorism alert. Some are blaming the Chinese, or the resurgent Koreans. Some are more correct in blaming rogue Okinawans. But very few suspect what I’ve garnered from systematically listening to Father and anyone else I suspect is a colleague of his: it’s a war between Japanese, the same kind we’ve always had—a war for the future of our country, whether it will be inward-looking or outward-reaching; a clash between those who are backward-looking in conservative tradition and desire to keep what has made us Japanese, and those who are forward-looking in their desire to make us a different kind of Japan.

I’m a historian, and we think in those ways. In the next few months, I spend a lot of time with Mother, who is still the school’s Chief Administrative Officer. Characteristically, she’s worried about how the school will get on without her. Boss, whom I once called ‘Aunty Shizune’ until it became unprofessional to do so, reassures her that things are fine.

In between, we talk about the Families. The ones who are closer to Father, perhaps allies—the Katayamas and the Hakamichis who are almost family friends, for example—and the ones who are not. These were the groups that were diminished after the Second World War, and then broken. Later they reformed, as different groups of businesses and industries, with different ideas about the future of our country.

“You should read the little book written by Aunty Natsume’s friend, Kawana-san. It’s full of stories with… um… hidden meanings. You can get it as electronic download, but I like the paper book that you can buy from Osaka.”

“What’s it called, Mother?”

She wrinkles her forehead in a way that is uniquely her own. “I think it’s titled ‘The Left Eye of the Darkness’ or something like that.”

I file it away for future reference. It sounds interesting, like a science-fiction book I once read, but strangely different. “Thanks. How are your legs feeling today?”

There’s no delicate way to really talk about it, so we’ve resorted to pragmatism. It’s like saying ‘Good morning!’ or ‘Excuse me’ these days.

She gives me a surprisingly warm grin and flexes her new legs. They look a little stiff, which isn’t surprising because they’re mostly carbon fibre and titanium. “They feel good. The nerves, neural linkages, they feel funny but more natural now. Father had a strange look on his face when I told him I would, um, start wearing thigh-high stockings.”

Mother is nearly sixty, but doesn’t look it. Many Asian women, I’ve found, age very slowly and then seem to stop for a while. The shock of losing her legs sent her hair white for a while; remarkably, she’s gone back to brown. Knowing her, she’ll just get up and go back to work while I’m not looking.

“Good, good.” I mean it. My father was furious when he found out what had happened. He went totally insane. I had never seen him so crazy in my life, and I’d seen him crazy many times. How such a crazy person ever decided to become a civil servant—and how he rose up to such a lofty position—is a mystery I should one day investigate.

“You should go to work, Koji. Shizune is very understanding in her own way, but she tends to get irritated when work hasn’t been done, whether or not she knows why.”

I don’t know why I ask this, but I do. “Mother, what was Boss like when she was a student?”

My mother lets out a strangely unladylike snort. “Shizune Hakamichi was a strange young lady. She’d borrow out all the books for the year in the first few weeks of term, read them all, and then return them. She was impatient to know stuff in advance, so that she wouldn’t have to study it so hard later.”

“Was she very bright?”

“Such a question to ask about your boss!” my mother says, looking at me with the deceptively mild, alarmed look that she grew up with, and which she still puts on as a matter of habit. Behind that mask I have learnt there is a shrewd procedural mind—the mind of a librarian-turned-administrator, which is a terrifying thing.

“Your son apologises,” I say, trying to sound apologetic.

“My son should know that his boss is indeed very clever, but sometimes sees too far ahead and fails to notice what is under her nose. She leaves that for lesser mortals.”

“Oh!” I exclaim, forgetting myself. “Like me, you mean?”

Mother laughs. “Um… not really, but yes? If you know what I mean?”

“I think she entrusts me with responsibility, then.”

Mother’s laughter modulates into a gentle smile. “Yes, she does. Now go back to work! Your aged mother will be fine.”

*****

The other major conversation I have in 2045 has a significance that I don’t immediately see. History is like that: you accumulate evidence—documents, interviews, artifacts, observations, and suchlike—and then you try to make sense of it. Sometimes you can’t make any sense of it, or you make the wrong sense.

I am marking papers at home, in my little staff apartment on the side of the hill that is Mount Aoba. My lady Akiko is visiting, having stopped by on her way home from a run. We’ve somehow survived to the middle of the 2045-46 academic year, and it is relaxing to plough through stacks of term examination papers in the search for meaning—at least, for me.

Akiko is firing something in my kiln on the balcony. When she’s finished setting up, she walks back in with a pensive look on her face.

“Koji, why is it so difficult to love Shizune Hakamichi?”

Without thinking, my mind shifts to that of my junior and friend, Akiko’s younger brother Akira*. “Your brother finds it easy.”

My lady’s eyes seem to catch fire, like those of a tigress in the night. “He was only two years old when my father died. He was eight when we were… adopted.”

Her tone warns me of possible trouble ahead. I may be dense when it comes to human emotions, but I’m also cautious. Yet the historian in me wants truth, so here I go, plunging ahead towards disaster. “I thought it was Principal Hakamichi’s cousin you disliked.”

Now my lady’s tones switch to a mixture of ice and venom. “Father loved that woman, but she ran away to Scotland. Father never recovered. It is not so with my adoptive half-mother.”

I think I know a bit about that—when my own father has had a bit more whisky than is good or proper, he can be a rich source of oral documentation. Perhaps this is not the time. But I’m Koji Setou, and I’m not known for a great sense of self-preservation. So I continue, “I think the difference is that Principal Hakamichi loved your father, but he could never bring himself to respond.”

Very stiffly, Akiko Nakai turns her body to face me. “One believes that this discussion should come to an end. Perhaps such topics can be avoided in future.”

I nod, chastened. She is clearly furious. This is her way of saying so. However, something at the back of my mind nags at me. A voice whispers in my head, “Ah, but will the future allow you to avoid such things?”

I wonder whose voice it is.

=====
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*the account of how young Akira got his name can be found here.
Last edited by brythain on Mon May 28, 2018 1:18 am, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6-1b up 20160214)

Post by brythain » Sun Feb 14, 2016 11:23 am

Editor's Note: Dear readers, as I have hinted earlier, it was not originally the case that my god-daughter's words were ever to have seen the light of day. Grief has filled her for a long time, and joy is sparse within her. Yet, she offered her thoughts freely, with bits of crumpled paper and worn notebooks that had never seen digital life. You and I are indebted to her for a more complete picture of many of the actors in our little drama.

—H; Principat d'Andorra; 2074



Kenji 6: A War in Pieces
(2045b—Akiko)



To my wonderful mother,
Emi Ibarazaki, who took the family name Nakai;

From your loving daughter,
Akiko Nakai, who failed to take another family’s name.


Dearest Mother,

Your daughter believes that you know what has been happening in these last twenty years. Families have risen against families, and those who were your friends are now far fewer in number. I sincerely apologise that many of the letters I intended to write to you were lost, and that even now, twenty years after the Silent War began, it is so difficult to put them back together again.

Now it is 2064, my mother, and I need to put my thoughts together, and write to you, and to Father, as if you were here. I am falling apart, and there are so few people I can turn to—perhaps none at all.

I should tell you what happened during these long years, and let you judge. And then I will turn these letters over to the godmother you chose for me, who is kind and good and agreed to edit my poor writing; and to the one who did not want to be my godmother, but whom I also fondly respect. They can decide what to do.

With all my love,
in this time of beauty and despair,
Akiko


*****

It was during the Sendai Tanabata festival of 2044 that Koji Setou and I came to an understanding. I made a passkey for him, a duplicate of the one that my godmother, Hanako Ikezawa, had given me to her small studio apartment in Sendai. Then, feeling guilty, I told Godma about what I had done. She laughed softly and told me that there was no need, for my parents had always had a spare key to that apartment anyway. But she thanked me for informing her, and I felt a lot better.

Koji too made a spare key for me. In his case, it was different; it was against regulations to code spare keys for Yamaku staff apartments and transfer them to non-residents. So, being the law-abiding young man that he was, he had approached our boss, Principal Hakamichi who was also my adoptive half-mother, for permission. I was told that she had glared at him, then grinned. He said that her reply was this: [One can always make exceptions for staff. Or else what would be the point of being Principal?]

As he had begun to thank her, she had continued: [So when is the wedding?] She had not been particularly happy to hear that there would not be one. I had already told Koji that I would never marry him, although I had come to love him.

2045, however, brought very different things. It was the year I turned twenty-five. It was also the year that I began to realize that Hanako Godma and Rin not-Godma would become not-friends. It is hard to explain this, because in my family, and also in the circles of those I know, “Who knows, with Rin Tezuka?” is a bit of a memetic trope.

I do not want to dwell on the deeds of the Setous. Koji, I loved; I had once loved his sister; I feared his father; I trusted his mother. I was uncomfortable with all of them, at one time or another. Yet, I write this account to shed light on what they did, and who they were; Akiko Nakai has always been a creature of duty, and I think that this writing is one of my responsibilities.

So in the year of the beginning of the War, I was told by the woman who had adopted me that I should visit Dr Katayama at her fortified laboratory north of Tokyo. Unusual arrangements were made. I was not to use my little red speedster; instead, I was to use an armoured Hakamichi drone car, a deliberately undistinguished and likely indistinguishable blue-and-silver vehicle.

For the first twenty-five years of my life, I had been a naïve and hard-working person. The naivety left me soon after, when I was told about the real work of the Nakai Foundation.

*****

The last leg of my journey to the legendary Rika Katayama’s domain is by autonomous capsule. It is fortunate I am not a claustrophobe; as I recline at a 45° angle in this coffin-like tubule, my only sensory input is from AV devices and the occasional vibrations of the journey.

Arrival is heralded by a luminosity transition designed to acclimatize the eyes. My faintly yellow lighting begins to dissolve into a slightly whiter hue as I am released and the delivery capsule spreads its wingdoors. It is low to the ground, and my legs are long enough that I can stretch them over the edge and plant them on the ground.

Apart from a couple of distant security hoverdrones, there is only one person here, and she has neatly coiffed, but clearly very long, silver-white hair. This is my host. I believe I have met her before, several times, but not enough for familiarity.

“Director Dr Katayama?” I ask, producing my best formal bow.

“Ah, it is Dr Nakai? Yes, this one is honoured to be Director at this tiny facility,” she says, before I can introduce myself properly. Her return bow is so exact that they should record her for etiquette videos.

The tone is precise and formal, but not unfriendly. I try to keep up.

“Apologies, Katayama-san. This one has not yet attained that academic status.”

“That is surely only a matter of time. How is your principal at Yamaku?”

I know that Rika (did I ever call her ‘Aunty Rika’? — these things are important) was my adoptive half-mother’s immediate successor as president of Yamaku’s student council. They knew each other fairly well, but the extent of that relationship has eluded me.

“Madam Principal Hakamichi is well. As Director Katayama knows, this junior staff member has been sent here to be educated as to the goals and mechanisms of the Nakai Foundation.”

That has come out far more quickly than is strictly polite. I am not very good at this. I have the form, but not the patience.

Director Katayama smiles faintly. “We can be less formal, Miss Nakai. This one was a friend of your father, and had the privilege of meeting you when you were much younger. I regret that I have not spent more time with my old friend’s children.”

Somehow, she has managed the transition fairly smoothly. Maybe she is rusty too. Koji once told me that the woman standing here used to teach kenjutsu as an elective module at Yamaku, for a short time. I cannot prevent such random thoughts from visiting me as I look at her.

Rika Katayama must be in her fifties now. Yet she is as pale and elegant, youthful and poised, tall and graceful, as one of the imperial ladies of the past. No wonder she is a legend. They say she has a heart of titanium alloy and will live forever. I can believe it.

I take a risk. It will make things easier. I am probably breaking all the rules, as usual.

“Please, Director, you could refer to me as Akiko. Imagine that I am your daughter, come to you for education.”

The smile on her face broadens somewhat. “I will call you Akiko then, Miss Nakai. I have no children of my own, but Hisao Nakai’s daughter is certainly acceptable as a substitute. My late husband would have laughed.”

Akiko, I tell myself, you have put your ugly big feet in your ugly big mouth again. She seems to sense my dismay and makes a gesture as if to dismiss negative vibrations. She is still smiling, so that must be a good sign.

“I once held your father’s heart in my hand. I owe your family a debt that my lifetime is unlikely to repay. So Akiko you are, and when we enter the laboratory complex, you can call me ‘Rika’ to the consternation of the stuffier denizens. ‘Aunty Rika’ would be a step too far.”

“Thank you, Director,” I manage, bowing. I wonder at the nature of that debt. Rika Katayama has a dry but very disruptive sense of humour, I suspect.

*****

The night has crept up on us when my tabphone buzzes, a tiny flash of blue in the corner of my eye. We are sitting side by side, in the window seat of the Director’s office. What she has told me is baffling, a story of the wider world beyond my simple dreams. And now I have to choose sides.

But first, I blink twice and send a message to Koji, my lover and friend, apologizing for my lateness and lack of responsible communication. The time has passed too quickly. The Director’s warm but tired eyes look away; as usual, she is being tactful as I blunder my way through her life. At least, I have learnt to call her Rika, even though she is old enough to be my mother.

“Director, I must go soon. I cannot thank you enough for telling me about the situation. You have been very honest, even though, as I have said, I think differently about these matters.”

She smiles courteously. “Man augmented by machine and nanotech, or man augmented by biochemistry and genetic engineering alone? A hard choice, Akiko. I suspect in the end we will come to an understanding. But meanwhile, there will always be those who will seek power and glory by manipulating us.”

She sighs, then. I have a good idea of what—no, whom—she is thinking about. The late Mutou-sensei has been gone for more than a decade now. “My dear,” she begins, noting my surprise but not pausing, “I trust machines less than you think. But biology is messy, difficult to reproduce. Let us agree to disagree, and remain friends, if we cannot be allies. Please give my regards to your principal.”

I nod, and say some words I cannot remember, and leave the presence of Rika of House Katayama. People who one day read these words will probably laugh at me. But that will probably be because they do not know of all the many threads that tie us two together.

I now know who it was who kept my father alive long enough for me to have known him. If she had been better then, he would have lived longer. I do not know how I feel about that. I am afraid I might cry. Instead, I find my capsule-coffin, and hurtle home through the night to the arms of my father’s godson.

=====
prev | next
Last edited by brythain on Mon May 28, 2018 1:18 am, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6-2 up 20160505)

Post by brythain » Thu May 05, 2016 8:22 am

Kenji 6: Broken Pieces of a Silent War
(2048)


“Do you want to live forever?”

Nobody said that to me. It’s just an old song in my head. What else is in my head? I’m Kenji Setou, who guards the safety of the cherry blossoms, and isn’t doing so well at that. I’m like an angry dog snarling, “Do you want to fight me?” while the crows steal the cherries by flying over and around him.

I’m almost sixty years old now. But this damned dog is going to learn new tricks.

*****

Early 2048

In 2048, I take a snapshot of my life. I live on the Sendai-Tokyo corridor, which extends northward to Sapporo and southward to Osaka. This is the axis of Kenji Setou’s life, with branches that go westwards now and then. My wife drops me off at the station most mornings, and the steel lightning that then carries me to work is just another everyday miracle. It is to me also a miracle that Yuuko has legs at all, let alone such beautiful ones.

Me? I have a scowl, but that’s not new. I have a scarf or two; the one I wear these days is one that an old friend gave me in the days when I was a lovesick young man. My friend’s gone now, and this is one of the few things I can remember her by. I can’t even remember her face properly now, but she was pretty, and then she was not.

I also have a heavy face, tired and old. There are wrinkles, and my cheeks sag a bit. Yuuko says I am still handsome, that I have dreamy eyes. I don’t know. Some days, I tell her that it’s the state of always being in a daze; some days, I tell her that technology does wonders. In fact, the tech we have does everything except bring certain people back from the dead, and I wish we’d cracked that mystery earlier.

Yuuko asks me, every morning, “So, our son?”

My reply: “Still not getting married. And your boss?”

“Still looking guilty.”

Then we laugh. But behind that daily exchange are two facts: Koji Setou and Akiko Nakai will never marry; and Shizune Hakamichi still blames herself for allowing an act of terrorism that took my wife’s original legs away. These are central facts of our lives, and Yuuko and I try very hard to keep all these people close to us, because we know how friendships can suddenly turn to ash and dust.

I try not to think too much about all that. The loaded bullet that brings me into Tokyo, and the biometric array that brings me deep into the hidden bowels of the city—these things work so quickly that I never have to think too much. But once I am in the place that some people call ‘Japan Central’, the place where I am the ruling power and the holy priest, I am forced to think.

Some days, my brain is full of fuck, as they used to say. It doesn’t pay to be angry; in fact, I will pay for it later. For a few years now, Japan has been a house secretly divided: winning little victories against the rest of the world, coming back from the brink of disaster, and yet split into factions that all nurse grudges against each other. I don’t want to take sides, but my heart tells me that soon, I must.

I make my face like stone. I tell my crazy self, the old Kenji, “Stay with me a while. I might need you.” He laughs, and belches the memory of garlic at me.

*****

“How the fucking hell do they always know what we’re doing before we fucking do it???”

I am growling because I’m beyond anger. I’m supposed to know. But both my enemies and allies are keeping intel from me—which is not my fucking problem—and worse, feeding me false intel that my stupid subordinates and me their stupid boss somehow cannot penetrate. What the hell?

Antoku looks at me, his sharp face stonier than mine. Elegantly dressed in a dark grey silk suit, he looks everything like the boss of the Second Department that he should be. Ha, but he’s not: he’s the recently ascended Economic Intelligence boss. I think he is still upset that Kei and Nobu outflanked him years ago, left him working with banks and other criminal organisations instead of living the secret agent lifestyle of his fantasies. He looks like a devil, but he’s our devil.

I look around, clockwise from him. Blank-faced, the intelligence directors of all the kinds of intelligence in my country sit, like a belt of cartridges about to be fed into a machine-gun. Their faces are so blank that if you fired them, you’d know they weren’t alive. The only one remotely alive is Chiaki Hasegawa, my most reliable ally, and she looks—fuck, is that amusement on her face?

“Hasegawa! Do you have anything to fucking report?”

I cross myself mentally and force my mouth to shut like a trap. Forgive me, for I have sinned in thought and word and deed. Something like that. I’m Kenji, Kenji’s a good Catholic boy, Kenji shouldn’t be mouthing off like a sailor. Dammit!

There’s no amusement on her face now. Maybe there was never any. She looks very slightly hurt. Maybe it’s the first time I, her long-time mentor, have ever shouted at her so crudely. I am sorry. But I have no time to apologise.

Very clearly and precisely, with not a single trace of emotion, Director-General Chiaki Hasegawa of the newly-designated Directorate of Technological Security and Intelligence says, “Negative.”

For some reason, I remember an old friend of mine, her hair blowing in the coastal Nagasaki winds. In my memory, she’s saying, “Kenji, I can say ‘fuck you’ and get away with it because I’m a lady. But the day you say it to me, you lose face.” She was right, and now she’s dead, but I have no time for tears either. No time for any of that soft shit.

But I miss her. I have so few friends left. I look at Chiaki and nod very slightly, using that peculiar Japanese angle that means you are really apologizing but since you’re of higher status in a public space, you can’t bow as low as the other person deserves.

In reply, her lips tighten an almost invisible fraction, in the way that says she notes my apology and she is being very gracious in doing so. I blink at her. The expression on her face tells me that she’s about to make a serious decision, and I have no idea what it will be.

“General-san,” she says, slowly and reluctantly, “This one suspects that we have a mole at a relatively senior level. In a recent joint operation, despite details being known only to a handful of high-level commanders and administrators, several families with opposed objectives were able to intervene and reduce the payoff from the mission portfolio.”

They’re too well-trained to make any noise, but I sense the movements in the air, the sudden excess of Japanese restraint. A ghost of a frown sits gently upon Antoku’s forehead. Across the table from him, Sociocultural Intel—I can’t remember the young man’s name—nurses a countering spectre in the form of an eyebrow barely raised. It’s like watching a game.

Slim, tiny Kei looks up. Her gaze, black and brooding, directed entirely and intensely at Chiaki, is shrewdly inquiring, thoughtful and about to offer something. My old friend from Tokyo days is now handling the sharpest edge of our combined intelligence system, Department Zero.

“Kurosawa-san?”

“General. I was about to say that this too was on my mind. I have reason to suspect that if the leak is high up, it might be as high up as this room.”

Bloody hell, and all the traditional tortures our mythology assigns to those in it. This thought is one I don’t want to think about, but I realize I have been thinking it for weeks now. Who would it be, who could it be, if it were true?

“Wonderful. Well, we all know what to do about such things, and since we all know, nobody including myself can be above suspicion. At some point, the Empire protocol will be activated. It’s probably right for none of you to trust me, because I’m crazy, and therefore this meeting will be adjourned now and for the forseeable future. Good evening.”

There’s shock on their faces that I’m so blunt. But I’m used to being crazy, thinking I’m crazy, having people think I’m crazy. I’m used to all flavours of crazy. Here, I’m crazy like a fox-spirit is crazy. You trip them all up, then steal their minds.

*****

Hideaki, young Akira, and the Ghost are all waiting for me in the secret place to the north of Tokyo, as usual. My logic might be madness, but it is based on reality. If the intelligence services are corrupt, then there’s no point relying on them for certain things. The only person I can trust to not be a traitor there is me. I would trust Chiaki and Kei, because I have known them so long, but on principle I shouldn’t.

“Report,” I request, not wasting time. I look at them. All three look dispirited. You’ve not seen three such unhappy faces before, I’d gamble. Then again, I’m gambling too much.

As always, Hideaki Hakamichi speaks first and with greater reluctance. “Everyone’s hiding assets from each other. Okinawa is being run like Taiwan these days. Your old friend is supposed to be back in the wet market, and rumours about the Black Dragon continue to circulate.”

“He would be almost eighty years old now,” says the Ghost, her hand restlessly coiling and uncoiling her single long silver braid, “and instantly recognizable. Hence this one concludes that if he is still viable, he has changed all his biometric signatures, with or without using his own formidable armamentarium.”

I don’t know how to feel about that. I had always been fond of my uncle, and then with an uneasy fondness only, from the time he began to propose the use of molecular anatomy and other biological tools on my children. His last documented experiment had been on poor, sweet Naomi Inoue—and she was no longer with us. If he were still alive, it would be my duty to bring him in.

“Akira?”

Akira Nakai is twenty-six now, a young and fresh-faced graduate who has spent too much time in America. He looks so innocent, and behaves in such a charming way, that it is hard to suspect him of anything. His disreputable godmother, who for some weird reason has the same first name, is easily suspected of anything and everything, but she is not in Japan at this time. It’s a pity, because she is very useful in her own way.

“I think he went to the Mongolians, if he went anywhere. But the most dangerous group right now is the underground research network headed by the Blue Team. That’s my feeling, Uncle.”

I wish he would stop calling me that. He seems to think that since I was his late father’s good friend, I should have that familial title. Idiot.

“Anyone know anything about leakage in Joint Intel?”

They look at each other silently. It’s probably Hideaki’s turn to open his mouth. These people are too damn polite. I wait for a few seconds.

Hideaki sighs. But it’s the Ghost of Noda who speaks: “If there is a double-agent, that one is very clever. There is no pattern from below, which means either an agent of high rank or a very loose grouping. It could be Setou-san, and his friends here would be none the wiser.”

I should be angry, but that’s all gone. I’m just very tired, a half-blind old man who sees well only because of the little machines in his head. Rather the little machines than the magic potions, of course. I breathe deeply for a while, and bow my head.

“That’s maybe true. But I trust that you aren’t so stupid as to be taken in by me.”

What else can I say? And looking at the three of them, they believe it.

*****

I’m weary when I get back to Sendai. I’m hallucinating. I see Hisao come up to me at the station with a huge yellowtail pizza. I reach out my hand, but he smiles and there’s nothing there.

But it’s not nothing. It’s Koji, scholarly and pale, not carrying a pizza, nor even whisky, nothing like Hisao at all. My heart stops, almost. It’s dread. Why would my son meet me at the station? Has something happened to his mother, my wife?

“Son?”

“Dad! I thought I would come and meet you today, instead of you just podding home. Mother has given me permission.”

“You’re thirty-one years old. You don’t need permission.”

“Well, she wanted to bring you home herself,” he says sheepishly, yet with a bright streak of excitement. I’m suspicious. Is this a surprise birthday party? It would be a month too early to celebrate Yuuko’s grand 60th. It’s Wednesday, 19th February, and… on this day I would have celebrated someone else’s birthday, but she too is gone.

It’s very cold tonight. I have no strength for all these games. I use my last energy to put a smile on my face. After all, this is my son.

“So what’s the occasion?”

“Dad, she’s expecting.”

For a moment, I find myself thinking, “What the hell do two old people do with a new kid?” And then I realize who ‘she’ is, and it changes to, “Wow, two old people, we’re going to be grandparents soon.”

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon Jun 20, 2016 1:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6-2b up 20160620)

Post by brythain » Mon Jun 20, 2016 1:34 am

Editor's Note: As I read my god-daughter's notes, I am struck by her style. It is uniquely her own, and while I detect perhaps some small traces of myself in it, she is, and has always been, her own person.

—H; Principat d'Andorra; 2074



Kenji 6: A War in Pieces
(2048b—Akiko)



As I write this, it is late 2064 and I am living for the time being with old Aunty Misha, who is visiting from her new home in Osaka. I thank the gods for Shiina Kobayashi, once Mikado, once Hakamichi, who has never asked to be my mother, and who is always glad to be my ‘aunt’. Peace has come to Mount Aoba, although it has come far too late for many. “Akiko,” she is calling, “Let’s go out for ice-cream!”

She is always cheerful, even in times of grief. I have come to understand that even when it is false to be that way, it can be important—it can be the sign that one is not prepared to give up, that one will fight to the end because to give up is to die. So I will finish this part, telling my Koji what I have written, and then I will go down for ice-cream, just as I have every now and then over the last few decades.


*****

I am not a young woman now, I remember thinking. In 2048 I was twenty-eight years old and sitting carefully in my little quiet room up in Ikezawa-san’s loft. Hanako-godma had thoughtfully left me with a mound of old cloth squares and the curious tools for patchwork quilt-making. I found it oddly soothing to do pattern after pattern, making a little blanket or two for the life that lived inside me.

For many years, the loft had been a second home, maybe a sanctuary to me. My godmother had sheltered me here, taught me how to read, how to understand Koji, how to look after little children—my foster cousins Kitsune and Shiina. I had learnt about love and light and literature. I had become less awkward as I watched my godmother deal with her own insecurities.

No, I had never thought of her as insecure in any way when I was young, until the awkward realization that she too was vulnerable. This had happened four years earlier, in 2044, when I had found her pale and tired by my parents’ grave. She had encountered someone from the deep past, the very person who had sent my father on the way to his strange second life at Yamaku. At that time, I was not to know. It was Koji who tracked that person down, and my godmother’s husband who had made it possible.

What does one do with one’s life? This one had been called ‘amazon’, and once was an athlete. This one was Akiko Nakai, daughter of Emi Ibarazaki, medal winner and golden girl. Now, this person, this Akiko, was writing. Koji had encouraged her to do that, and her godmother had helped her find a style.

She, as I was then, was not very good. In fact, I was a terrible writer.

*****

His unhappy face seemed to melt and then turn strong and bright. Could I imagine that it was because of me?

“Good evening, my dear. How has this day been for you?”

It is hard to capture the endearing awkwardness of the man. I have many memories of him. Let me share one with you.

In this frame, he is standing at the entrance of my little apartment. His trousers are tan in colour, of practical and unfashionable material. His shirt is white. My Koji has unruly dark brown hair, but he tries to keep it under control. He looks like a sweeter version of his falcon-like and irascible father, the feared General Setou. He is more like his mother, Yamaku’s Head of Administration, Yuuko Shirakawa, in the way he responds emotionally to people; but he is more settled and even-tempered than either of his parents.

Koji is not particularly tall or muscular. When we go out, I can tell that others wonder about him. It is not my nature to do so, but I get angry, and sometimes act a bit more affectionately to him in public, to show others that I love him, and that he deserves it. He is embarrassed by it, but I do not care. I too am embarrassed, but I know my mother would have laughed, so I hide that.

What I really like about him is that he cares about everything that happens to me, and he seems to love everything that is a part of Akiko Nakai. He has never lost that. He once said that if he lost his sense of wonder at how beautiful I can be, he would deserve to die. I felt very uncomfortable about that.

In the moment in which I am thinking about all this, he has walked to the stairs and has lifted his hand up towards me. I feel guilty, because I have not replied to his question, and he is not asking it by custom, but because he wants to know.

“I’ve missed you,” I blurt out. It feels like a mistake to say this. Maybe he will think I am accusing him of not being around when I need him. It is not that. I have not really needed him to be around. I have only felt that it would be better with him around.

He looks alarmed. “I have really missed you too, dear.”

It is not exactly how he speaks. I cannot quite convey that. But he is shy, like a man on his first date, and yet we are as good as being a married couple. I find myself warm behind the eyes. I do not like feeling emotional, but I am about to cry.

“I feel alone,” I say. I mean ‘lonely’ but to say it would start the tears. Godmother has taken her two young ladies shopping. They are teenagers now, so Hanako-godma has likely dropped them off at the huge mall near the line station and is sitting by herself in some café having an Earl Grey tea and editing her next article. I should be there with her, except that I told her I would stay at home.

Koji bounds clumsily up the stairs, like a lean and ungainly dog. As he embraces me, I do not care whether he reminds me of a dog or not. Instead I remember my mother, sitting by the door in her suddenly-dimmed middle age, talking to herself: “Hisao, you said you’d never leave me, but you’re gone.”

I hate feeling weak. They say that when you are pregnant, you may get emotional. Maybe this is what it is. I cannot help it. I hold him tightly, and I let go.

That is what I remember of him, from that day at the end of that year, when I was all alone, and suddenly no longer alone.

*****

He had been in Tokyo. He had been meeting with his father, and my godmother’s husband, and my younger brother, and the Ghost of Noda. I would have enjoyed the company, even though the General was prone to have outbursts of strangeness, and the Ghost was who she was.

He could not tell me what his meeting had been about. Even to tell me that he had had such a meeting, he said, was a breach of national security. I cursed him, and then shocked and appalled at myself, I cursed his father instead. But I understood why he had said that, so when the fire in me was less hot, I kept quiet and went back to stitching my patchwork quilt.

They had been having a lot of meetings, perhaps one every month for a few months, sometimes one every week. I did not want to know what they were about. All I wanted to know was that they were safe.

How was I supposed to know what would happen? I was, and am, only Akiko Nakai, who was never any good at this kind of thing.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon May 28, 2018 1:18 am, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6-2a up 20160705)

Post by brythain » Tue Jul 05, 2016 2:12 am

Editor's Note: I found this fragment while helping Natsume Ooe and Kenji Setou prepare this account. Akiko of course was reluctant to let me release it, but in time, she relented. As far as I can tell, it actually comes before her 2048 note, so I have numbered it accordingly. However, my god-daughter insisted it should be read after hers. It is one of several fragments which I shall label 'a'.

—H; Principat d'Andorra; 2074



Kenji 6: Silent Pieces of a Broken War
(2048a—Koji)


Begin upload.

This is Koji Setou. I am running. I am always running, which is ironic because it is my beautiful lady who is the runner, and I who am the unfit young male teacher who ends up gasping for breath.

Now, I am running because I am late, maybe it is too late, maybe I am hallucinating, and maybe because I have no choice. I turn the corner, I am sure I have evaded the people I thought were following me on foot. I have a Cloak of Anonymity that is supposed to make me statistically insignificant to surveillance, but who knows? My father can see through it. Possibly, others can too.

It’s a small café. Of course it would be. It’s called ‘Scorpion Black’ and has a wicked silhouette of such a creature, poised to do something heinous like enjoy a double espresso. I compose myself, pat myself down so I look a little presentable, and enter.

Oh. There are two ladies here, is my first thought. It’s not that way. I do not have random romantic inclinations, now that I think I have won my young lady of autumn fire. Besides, one of them is the woman I call ‘Aunty Chiaki’. She is not really my aunt, but as is customary, I refer to her that way because I respect her and she is a senior family friend. Also, she is a little bit like my boss, Dr Hakamichi, in some ways.

Who’s the other one, though? I approach, bowing, taking the opportunity to look.

She’s older than Aunty Chiaki. I force myself to examine her, like a proper historian should. Dyed grey-green hair, almost blue, like old prints of the sea. She’s lean, almost undernourished in her appearance, but still with good muscle tone. She would have been pretty when young. Although she has a sleepy look,that might be something just to undermine an opponent’s approach.

“I am sorry for being late, Hasegawa-san,” I say to Chiaki Hasegawa, Director of the Agency and not the old family friend. I am very much more polite than usual because there is a stranger present. “I took the train down as quickly as I could.”

The other woman smiles lazily. It is a smile that irritates me. Her voice is firm and slow. “So this is the son of the man no-one knows, whose wife is step-child to the grey-iron rose.”

I look at those words now that I have written them and I realize that they rhyme both in Japanese and in English. Back in the café, I am not conscious of this; I am only provoked. I want to know who she is, and why she is here, when I should be having a quiet tea session, just two people looking at the world from a distance.

“You’re forgiven, Koji. I would always forgive you because you always make up for it,” Aunty Chiaki says. “This is S. She is here for a professional reason. She thinks someone is out to kill your father.”

I hate this. I hate the world of spies and violence. I prefer books, museums, libraries, and the clean warm beauty of Akiko Nakai. I am my father’s son, and I have no choice about that. But I am also my mother’s son. I can be sharp when it comes to conspiracies and hidden knowledge.

I nod stiffly again, in the direction of the woman named S. “How may I be of assistance to you, Suzuki-san?”

She smiles again, her crowsfeet folding and unfolding like tiny origami animals. She is quite pretty, despite being nearly as old as my father. But I dislike her on principle, as well as by the sound of her voice and the look of her smile.

Aunty Chiaki looks at us quietly. You cannot see the machine running in her head, but she sees patterns and information the way people listen to popular music. It flows for her. It is flowing for her now.

The woman who cheated my mother speaks. “I just need to ask you a few questions in an awkward way. This is not so very pleasant and I hate to spoil your day.”

“Please, carry on. The quicker it is, the better my evening will be.”

*****

It is much later. I have been carefully questioned. The lady with the cyan-tinted hair looked more and more like an agent of Death as the evening passed on. She remained polite, and I too. But I am an historian. I find ways through the questions asked and not asked, the answers and their responses, to think about what has really happened.

In thinking is always some kind of unfortunate and unwelcome truth. People do not like history, as opposed to historical narratives. The former is like blood and bone, it is what happened and what came before, what lies underneath the beautiful skin and smooth muscles. The latter is just what you see, packaged nicely so that randomness and stupidity have meaning.

I am sitting in Aunty Chiaki’s stealth vehicle. It is buffered, I think, to give the signature of a segment of busy road, like a gentle circle of confusion in the intelligence grids monitoring traffic throughout the city. Nothing sees her, and everything forgets her. She will one day be the nightmare of historians.

Right now, she is my old friend, my respected and trusted adviser. Her narrative is full of holes and I have always accepted that. She is like my father in that way. I wish it were not so.

“Aunty Chiaki,” I say deliberately, as if I am a young boy again, “I once had adolescent affection for you. You were always my cool Aunty Chiaki.”

Her lips crease slightly, in a grimace or a smile. She doesn’t use full autopilot when driving. She uses something more complicated, something that is always cycling through encryption, if I am right. Her eyes are not locked on the road, but they are ceaselessly looking at tiny indicators real and virtual, outside and inside, visible and invisible.

“You had a crush on me, Koji?”

“Are you not a beautiful and powerful woman, Aunt? Yet my mother always trusted you, because you cared for all of us.”

“That’s not always a good thing, Koji.”

“Why?”

“It’s good to know that people don’t trust you, because you worry about their safety if they trust everyone.”

She sounds sad. I watch her, and she catches me watching her, and winks. Even her wink is sad, like a little star that flares and dies in the middle of the night.

“I don’t understand.” Actually, I do because she sounds like Father. I just want to keep her talking. I have come to realize that I am fond of the sound of her voice. She once used to tell me stories before bedtime, and stories about Yamaku as it was before. This became less frequent, as we all grew older. I cannot remember the last time I just sat and listened to her.

“Whatever happens, if anything happens, you have to remember that you and your father, and all your family, they’ve been like my family too.”

The waves of her night-black hair are glossy enough to reflect specks of colour around us. It is like looking into a galaxy as she navigates her pod under the bridge and takes the express tunnel to Sendai.

“Aunt, you have always been family to me. Akiko and I would like you to be godmother to our child, if you would honour us in that way.”

She glances up. “It is a great honour for me, to be asked such a thing.”

For a moment, I see the ghost of her old smile, the smile from when she was nothing more than Aunty Chiaki, and what she did in the service of the country was irrelevant. But now that ghost is fading, covered by other, unhappier spirits.

On impulse, I say what I think I should say. “Aunt, be happy. I have always wanted you to be happy.”

She turns away. “Oh. Did you think I one day just chose not to be happy?”

“Why are you sad?”

“Your father gave me his trust and a responsibility to this country. But sometimes such things are more than one can bear. Koji, some day soon you will know what it is to be a father; in time, perhaps you will be a leader of other people. Then you may discover that you do not always know what is right, and what is not. Even I cannot teach you how to handle that.”

I understand, in that moment, that my childhood mentor and my childhood are both long gone. Now Aunty Chiaki and I are just two human beings who can no longer tell each other everything.

When she lets me out in Sendai, I bow and wave. She nods. There is a terrible, aching look of unhappiness on her face. It is what I feel in my heart, that you wish things were as they were many years past, but there is no going back to that. I nod back, and she vanishes into the night.

I turn away from that darkness, and climb the steps up to Akiko’s bright, warm little nest.

End upload.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon May 28, 2018 1:18 am, edited 3 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6-3 up 20160719)

Post by brythain » Tue Jul 19, 2016 11:13 pm

Kenji 6: Broken Pieces of a Silent War
(2052)


Running, running. I hate running. I like sitting on rooftops, drinking shit. That is who I am, that’s me, the useless second son. That’s the thought in my head. Is funny, that. I look at my old tumbler and lift the brown fire in it to my old friend who is not around to take care of his own shit.

Damn, Hisao, I say to myself, let me tell you what’s been happening since you went away. How many years has it been, old friend? Damn again, it’s almost thirty years!

He laughs. And I start talking to him.

*****

Four years ago, Hisao, your baby son grew up enough to marry someone. His ‘Uncle’ Hideaki wasn’t pleased, but Kid Akira had his godmother on his side, and ‘Aunty’ Hanako too. It was no contest. Besides, little Akira’s wife is a beauty.

They haven’t had kids of their own yet, but that’s not what I’m up on this roof talking to you about, my friend. Your son’s working for me now, and he’s also trying to work with other people. Some of those other people want me dead, and possibly some of them want him dead too.

I told you I’d look after your kids. Well, I’ve delegated my son to look after your daughter, but your son is my responsibility. Wherever you are, you can tell hell-on-no-legs Ibarazaki that I’m taking my responsibility very seriously.

Chances are, though, we’ll both end up violently dead before our time. What I promise is that if I can, I’ll make sure that my life goes before anyone else’s. I’ll stop a bomb for your son. Main problem is that some kinds of death aren’t easy to stop. Shit, man. I’m old now. At least you died young.

I stop and drink a bit. It’s good whisky. It’s like smoked raisins served on a classic stone plate in a Hokkaido hot spring. The ‘evil’ Satou, who happens to be young Akira’s godmother, and so has to be my partner in crime, gets it from a Japanese distillery in Scotland. Or maybe it’s a Scottish distillery in Japan. Suntory these days is still very good, but it has specialist versions which are even better. Thank you, Akira Katharine whatever-whatever Satou.

Yeah. That was a genius idea you had, Hisao, setting up a Foundation and all. Shizune and Mutou-sensei put you up to it, I bet. They always had a handle on you, somehow. In the old days, I used to dream of conspiracies. Now, I know they’re real.

Your Foundation, it’s split. The Director and Deputy Director are old friends who were your friends, but they don’t see each other clearly. Neither of them trusts the new machines; one of them, however, thinks they are better than the alternative—while the other thinks they can be used to make a better alternative. I would suspect there is a second Foundation, except that it would sound too much like science fiction.

Yet, while they fight, there are other forces beyond.

One is a ghost from my past, a century of clever planning and brains. I don’t know if it’s him, my uncle, the Black Dragon. We all thought he was dead. Maybe he is. But the genetech that’s coming out of the south, that’s made our enemies so nervous, that’s got his signature all over it. The Chinese and the Americans have used his stuff. But his stuff has all kinds of mysteries hidden in it—some of them are time-bombs.

One is a ghost from my present, the Ghost of Noda. Whose side are the Katayamas really on, Hisao? She was Mutou-sensei’s wife, so many years ago. She has her own intelligence service, and she talks to Hokkaido a lot. Why? You know what, old friend, you should’ve married Lilly Satou and we wouldn’t have had all these problems. You idiot, you should have ignored to my conspiracy theories and married the right girl! Then again, maybe you ignored them and married the wrong girl anyway.

One is a ghost from my future. Somewhere out there is someone who really wants to kill me. Maybe that unknown person will succeed soon. Let me tell you what happened.

In May, I sent a pineapple-coconut cheesecake to Yamaku. Of course, Misha tasted it first, but Madam President Director Dictator Chairman Principal of Everything enjoyed it, and we talked, two people who somehow are still friendly after knowing each other for almost half a century. We took a walk in the Mount Aoba Park, the one she likes so much.

We got hit by an electromagnetic pulse, and a lot of our tech went down. I tried to protect Shizune, but I don’t think she was the target. Most of my microdrones dropped from the sky, but the Watcher Above was able to target two snipers and eliminate them. They didn’t have faces, Hisao. They didn’t have any fucking way to identify them. I got tissue samples, and they were all mixed up, like what your daughter calls ‘chimeras’.

But I’ve seen their kind of equipment before. Years ago, an older version was used to kill Naomi Inoue. I couldn’t help myself. I just fell on my knees and was sick. My security detail never made it. They still haven’t reported in, so either they all went rogue or they all went dead, or some mixture of the two.

That’s my life, Hisao. Old Kenji laughs, wonders why a man who is old and stupid keeps getting shot at. I’m almost at retirement age. I’ve got nothing much to live for. But someone is out to get me because I’m against black magic and green magic—and red and white and blue—and all kinds of stuff you can’t easily explain, all kinds of random stuff.

We have superheroes now, you know. Hakamichi Industries makes control-circuit exoskeletons for stealth and for defence. It’s like that Iron Man movie that came out the year we left Yamaku. The Americans called them ‘Steel Samurai’ and now everyone has a few.

I’m Kenji, man. Even though I’m in my sixties now, I still wear a colourful scarf and sit on the roof and talk to imaginary people who might be real except that they only come out when I’ve had enough good whisky. I’m still Kenji, right?

Why do I keep calling you by your name, Hisao? Hisao, Hisao, Hisao. Hisao Nakai.

I think it’s because I need to remember that you were a real person once, you were my friend, you were optimistic most of the time. I need to remember that good things can continue a long time after people have died. I need to remember that friendship can last a lifetime, how ever long life can be.

He doesn’t reply to any of this, and I can’t say I blame him. It must be great, being dead and not having any responsibilities. People don’t expect you to do anything when you’re dead. I sigh and look at my bottle. It’s almost all gone. This all seems like a waste of good whisky.

*****

Then I look up, and I see the boy. At first I think it really is Hisao. Then I realize it’s probably young Akira. Then I see the bad posture from too many books and I know it’s my son. All these moments, they hit me one by one. Then. Then. Then.

He notices I’m looking his way. He bows, still seated on the ledge behind me, and greets me. “Dad,” is all he says.

“Son,” I reply. It’s the least we can give each other. “How’s Akiko?”

“She’s fine, Dad.” He sighs. “You can’t keep evading your security detail. Someone out there has been trying for almost five years to kill you.”

“They can’t,” I laugh, “because of the Law of Conservation of ghosts.”

“What?!” he exclaims, confusion all over his innocent scholarly face.

“If you already have ghosts all around you in a circle, you can’t be dead too, unless all those ghosts come back to life when you become a ghost.”

“That doesn’t make sense, Dad.”

“No, it doesn’t,” I say sadly. He’s vanished. I feel a moment of confusion, and then I know I’ve been replaying a conversation from some months ago. My son is in Sendai tonight, and I’m in Kyoto.

They call it the White Castle, and it’s a relatively safe place for a man to live when people want to kill him. I’m not a coward. I’m here because I have work to do. I turn back to Hisao.

Nakai-san, I address him formally with a bow, let me tell you a story. It may or may not have happened yet, it may or may not be true. Let me tell you.

My old friend smiles at me through the beautiful brown lens of my whisky tumbler. I almost cry, and then I realize it isn’t the time for that yet.


*****

So maybe, Hisao, I found my uncle still alive, almost a hundred years old, like those people who live in the mountains and on the islands and eat nothing but rice and vegetables, or maybe sushi. What would I do with him? What would he do with me?

It’s possible he just looks at me, and I look at him, and then I move my hand, and there is the discharge of weapons, and then he doesn’t get to be a hundred years old. But why would I do that?

Maybe—mind you, Hisao, I’m not saying it’s true—he decided to make friends with some people who love our country very much, the way it was a hundred and twenty years ago. They weren’t alive then, but they have the stories that we were a great power. Before that, we beat the Russians at Tsushima in 1905. But you know all of that: we had the same history textbooks.

This century though, it’s different. We are Japan, but we don’t want to be guns, we want to be flowers. Not all the time, because the guns must protect the cherry blossoms, but most of the time. My rank insignia, which I didn’t want to wear, are sakura to remind me of that. These days I don’t have any insignia.

So he looks at me, and he calls me his nephew, the Second Dragon. I don’t know how I feel about that. We talk. And then he looks at me and tells me that my duty is to give him an honourable death. Can you imagine that, Hisao?

My people have secured the area. Some of them are dead, in this story I’m telling you that may or may not be true. I don’t like it when people die. I don’t want more people to die for no reason. Besides, I think you get cursed if you kill your own relatives. I’m Catholic, remember, Hisao? It’s a mortal sin to kill anyone.

He’s sitting there, kneeling ceremonially on the mat, almost as if we’re having tea, and this is his house, and any moment now Naomi Inoue will walk in and he’ll tell me that Naomi is beautiful. Because, she was.

I did tell you about Naomi’s death, right, old friend? She died when someone with very advanced technology broke our security cordon and tried to kill Natsume Ooe. The man in front of me had nothing to do with that attempt. But he gave Naomi the power to kill herself.

What am I saying? This man has been dead a long time. His lab was blown up and nothing was left. It’s only a story, Hisao.

In the story, I tell him I can’t kill him. I thank him for all the good he has done. I ask him why he decided to become an enemy of the state. My duty is to bring him home.

He tells me he is home. He is home in an island nearer to Okinawa than to Japan. His is far from his native Saitama. He was happy, and now it is over. He tells me that the only honourable way is to end him.

Behind me, I sense my people covering the entrance, closing the net, reducing resistance and packaging the product. The only people who’ve died are those who tried to do things. Some of those things involved biological weapons.

It’s the last thought I have, before my imaginary uncle pulls the purple vial from his robes and looks behind me with a smile on his face. He opens his mouth, but I don’t know what he might have said, because at that moment, I hear the brief, soft, sharp whistle and smell the scent of fresh ions in the air. I turn to look behind me, then I turn back to him.

Someone—maybe it’s Chiaki Hasegawa—has shot him through the heart. Those rounds are designed to stop a person from doing anything before they die. Anything at all. His smile is still on his face. That’s how I will remember—no, imagine—the Black Dragon. I don’t remember anything else.

Hisao, some day I should write this whole story out. It’s a great story, but perhaps it’s not true.

*****

On the roof, I sip the last bit of my whisky. Old raisins and the funny memory of salted caramel drip down my throat. Hisao is smiling. I look out from the White Castle, into the darkness of Kyoto under curfew. The Castle’s usual resident is not in, and that’s a good thing.

Such stories, they’re not for everybody. Only dead people should listen to them.


=====
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Last edited by brythain on Tue Dec 26, 2017 6:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

flag_hippo
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Location: West Sussex, UK

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6-3 up 20160719)

Post by flag_hippo » Tue Jul 26, 2016 10:07 pm

This is quite a world you've built with AI intelligence services, terrorists striking medical facilities in an effort to stop advances they don't like.
I'm curious though, is this future just made for this world or is it partially how you think our real world will end up like?

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brythain
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6-3 up 20160719)

Post by brythain » Tue Jul 26, 2016 11:14 pm

flag_hippo wrote:This is quite a world you've built with AI intelligence services, terrorists striking medical facilities in an effort to stop advances they don't like.
I'm curious though, is this future just made for this world or is it partially how you think our real world will end up like?
Hmm. I think that part of our real world is already like this; it's just that it's covered up with the thousand other kinds of discouraging events that we get on the mass media. A lot of what you've read is extrapolated from personal experience, let's just say. I hope the ride so far has been worth it for you, though. :)
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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