Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6 complete 20190527)

WORDS WORDS WORDS
User avatar
brythain
Posts: 3465
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
Contact:

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3 Complete 20141226)

Post by brythain » Mon Dec 29, 2014 4:26 am

I'm glad you enjoyed yourself! :)
Gamma wrote:A couple of things that peaked my interest and enjoyment:
Hisao wrote:“Kenji, you sound like someone from a manga.”

“I do?” It takes me a while before I realize he might not mean it as a compliment.
That made me laugh for a while. Kenji's social awkwardness and bluntness is always so endearing.
Oho, imagine having to go through all that social awkwardness and bluntness for about 110k words so far: now I'm starting to think and sound like him sometimes in real life!
Gamma wrote:... got me curious at what a Yuuko perspective would be like. It's probably not necessary considering how tightly woven Kenji and Yuuko's stories are. Then again, I didn't think a Kenji story would be necessary and so far it's been one of my favourites.
I've asked Yuuko, and each time she gives me a sharp, shrewd look before pretending to be just confused and innocent. Then she says, "I can only remember my days working at Yamaku. Everything else... um... is a blur!"
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)

User avatar
Serviam
Posts: 110
Joined: Fri May 30, 2014 4:50 am
Location: Urbs Manilensis, Res Publica Philippinae
Contact:

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3 Complete 20141226)

Post by Serviam » Tue Dec 30, 2014 1:14 am

[Fire Chief. Southern Light. White Tiger. Broken Blade.]

That's not code for Naomi's death in a fire-related incident, is it?
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

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

User avatar
brythain
Posts: 3465
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
Contact:

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3 Complete 20141226)

Post by brythain » Tue Dec 30, 2014 1:55 am

Serviam wrote:[Fire Chief. Southern Light. White Tiger. Broken Blade.]
That's not code for Naomi's death in a fire-related incident, is it?
Oh no. They're codes which you might find in other contexts.
Naomi's fine (read Natsume's arc for more info) at this time. :)
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)

User avatar
brythain
Posts: 3465
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
Contact:

Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4 Begins 20150116)

Post by brythain » Fri Jan 16, 2015 1:48 am

This begins the fourth part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which Kenji wonders about consequences for action and inaction.

He became increasingly busy from this point in his life, and his account therefore contained larger gaps.
Yet there is still much of interest in the scraps that history has tossed to us.
Spare a thought for those of us who helped assemble those scraps. (Eds.)



Kenji 4: The World Turned Upside-Down
(March 2020-September 2020)


Dark city, dark friend, my heart is full of the romance of the air and the scent of the hunt. I’ve been waiting too long for this, the metal fragrance of the chain-link fence, the lonely smell of damp moss and crumbling concrete.

I board the train two hundred metres from the portal to my house of secrets. I’ve calculated that distance, my life has been measured out with coffee spoons and the machine pace of my heartbeat, the way my shoes are wearing out. On the ride home, nobody sees me, and I hope to see nobody.

I exit from one light to another, through sweat and musk and the other traces of humanity. I pass from the world of the shadows to the honest world of night. Slowly, with every step, I shed my disguise; I toss the working grime and political crap into the waste heap of history.

I have to write about my life as if it’s not mine, because these were the years in which everything turned upside-down: the years from 2020 to 2025. Before that time, I thought I knew who I was. After that? I knew nothing.

*****

March to April 2020

“Colonel’s home,” she says, as I step into the house, our little space of civilization, where calm light holds back the weight of the darkness.

“Father,” says the little one, and “Baba!” echoes the tiny one.

“Sorry, late, dear ones,” I murmur, as I hold my wife and hug her firmly before turning my affection upon the children.

Into a careful corner I place my very dangerous briefcase, and into the opposite corner I place my somewhat less dangerous overcoat and scarf. The evening is cold and polluted, and nobody can be too safe outside.

These are my worlds. We don’t carry stars on our epaulettes. We carry cherry blossoms in our hearts; they flower and die, fragile in times of peace, doomed in times of war. When did I grow so old?

I think my life began on the Ides of April, 2010. But before that, I was mad. I shut down part of my brain, and I try to remember whom I used to be.

*

Look at him, he is insane, he thinks that the whole world is in flames and it is the fault of women, their enticing loins, their breasts and lips, the things that suck the vigour out of men and make them hole. Not whole. Knothole. Wooden in the head and silly in the brain, that is what they make men, and if you cannot eat pizza and drink whisky with the best, it means you have already lost.

He takes the exams and he aces what he can and loses the rest. History, it is a woman’s game, a specific woman’s game or the game of amusement, the muse named Clio if he remembers aright. But those can be sacrificed because the problem really is that his neighbour, the man who shares personal conveniences with him, is either the greatest agent of humanity ever known or he’s very cunning, a spy for the women or the most powerful weapon against them ever known. And if he can find out which, he is golden, golden, he says.

So, whisky, the water of life, the wellspring of truth. If he can get his neighbour up to the roof, he will know the truth, and the truth sets him free. But that is six months before he takes the exams, and Nakai never got to the roof, and he, the last man of his generation, he is all done. It is all over, and all he can do is revere the ancestors and ask forgiveness that elder brother is dead and all they have is him, in his warm scarf, with his thick glasses.

What he says is never what he thinks. His words, they are crude, they are badly put together in a language not made to be used so poorly. Why is his mind so broken? Is it because, because, the women?

And the small girl he loves, loved, loves is dead. She went to the roof, and the roof got to her. The blinding flash of light as he looks at the unreasonably small coffin, the pain, the pain, oh God, why, now only he is left, the last of the generation, man or not, the person who must defend…

She was not evil. The logic decrees that the rest were not either, and that the Families are not a curse. For are we not, am I not also Family? And I, he, I am he who howls at the sun, because now he knows how much time he has wasted and now it is time to be sane again, and seize the legacy of his forefathers, for both his siblings are gone. Oh, oh poor woman in the library, she knew me too well.


*

15th April 2010. Ten years ago. That is why tonight I have been drinking, which is foolish and brings out old Kenji and all his ghosts.

On the paper before me is all I can think of, on this anniversary of Sachiko’s passing. I look down at what I’ve written. Some of it is Naomi, her words passing through my head. Some of it is Suzu, a few years gone but not forgotten. Some ghosts never leave you, especially if they are still alive.

Some day, somebody will read all this. Reader, please remember that I almost tore it up and threw it away, because it isn’t really Kenji. But I will fold it up and keep it, because Kenji keeps words. They are precious because Kenji isn’t good at words, and if he ever is, it’s because they are other people’s words.

I look around me, in our little room where my beloved wife and children are sleeping peacefully. The world has changed. A huge earthquake, a tsunami, Hisao’s parents gone and never seen again. A new discovery, a technology that will make people new? The influence of global trade? Since when did we Japanese sell ourselves so freely? The one who works in the company, that is the one who owns the company, not the one who buys a share and doesn’t work.

My children will one day own Hakamichi shares because their parents shared a stake in that Family, because we have friends and because we owe a duty to them, to help their work. We are a people who don’t always believe the same things, and sometimes don’t believe in much at all. But we believe in the imaginary thing that is Japan. There are indeed cherry blossoms, and they must indeed be protected.

Not all Japanese think that way. But many do.

I walk out into the hallway, careful not to wake anyone. I call an old friend, someone with whom I have fought, with whom I have had angry words.

“Fuck,” she says, using a word she often uses as a greeting. “It’s two in the morning, Kenji. Not in the mood.”

“Miki, I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? My cat is gone. You don’t think much of cats. I get that. Good night.”

“May I?”

“Shit. What else are friends for, I guess. You want five seconds?”

She is more sad than angry. I sense it in her voice, so maybe Kenji isn’t such a dead loss after all.

“It’s April now, that’s all. It reminded me of things. So I’m sorry that I didn’t share my sadness with you. I kept mine and made you keep yours.”

There’s silence for a while. I can hear her breathing. We blind people learn to hear. Even now that I see better, I can still hear well. I don’t know if I said what I wanted to say. I just feel a bit low.

“Her name was Sachiko, right?” Miki whispers.

“Right.”

“Ten years?”

“Right.”

But that is not really the painful part. Ten years is a long time, the pain doesn’t go away, it’s like the tide receding, coming forward, going back, slowly going away but not quite. The really painful part is what happened a few weeks ago, in March. Do I tell? Some grief must be private. Is that right? I don’t know. I take a risk in the dark silence.

“Yuuko and I, we were supposed to have a third child. It… didn’t work. There won’t be any more.”

Oh God, Kenji, one of me tells myself, you’re a moron. If you can’t say things right, better you don’t say anything at all.

There’s a long pause, and a thin sigh that isn’t very Miki-like. “That’s sad, Kenji. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

This whole conversation is about not knowing because of not telling. It’s like my whole God-damned life. But a man must do manly things. It’s by things you do that you become what you are.

“It’s my fault. I did not tell, even though you are a very old friend.”

“And getting older every day,” she says after another pause. “It’s okay. It’s good to be straight with people. You didn’t have to, though. So, yeah. I’m getting married, did I tell you? He’s the son of a family friend. But I need some sleep. Catch up later?”

“Sure. Thanks, Miki.”

“No problem. Night.”

I too need some sleep—a few more hours. I rub my eyes, but my vision feels clearer already.

*****

May 2020

This is a celebration, but it doesn’t feel like one. Hisao has been promoted to Head of Sciences at Yamaku, apparently with old Mutou’s recommendation, but other things are on his mind, and on mine. I have only just managed to catch up with the latest news from the school.

“Again, my condolences,” I say to my good friend of the rooftops. Except that we’re now not allowed on rooftops, according to our wives.

“Think nothing of it. They’re gone, it was just one of those things.”

I look at him. Hisao is a much more robust person these days, but losing one’s parents must be a difficult thing.

He looks back, notices the wrinkling of my eyebrows and attempts to give me a Mutou-style half-grin, or something like it. It is quite a failure, but at least he tries.

“What is there to say,” he continues, “when everything is already said? Emi and I, we walk around the school, you can still see traces of 2011. The road we used to walk down from Yamaku to town? You can see the marks of the repairs. When you look at the people of Tohoku, you can see the marks that cannot be repaired. So many small towns just disappeared, so many people will never be remembered.”

He’s clearly been thinking a lot about it. Between us is the memory of the thin thread of tragedy; the sudden tsunami had struck deep into Yokohama Bay. In 2010, the authorities thought no wave there would exceed five metres; in 2011 after Tohoku, they revised their estimates up to 15 metres. The freak wave earlier this year made us revise the figures much, much higher. The excuse that it had never happened before? That is no excuse at all.

It’s been two months, and they’re still dredging the bay. I think of Yuuko’s family, all safe; I think of Hisao’s friends and mine, in Yokohama. So few casualties, relatively. It might have been worse. I remember when I was young and foolish, and got married in the storm drains under Tokyo.

I sigh, tired and insensitive. “They’ll find your parents.”

It seems to be the right strategy. “Right, I suppose. But that will be worse, perhaps. I will have to go and identify the bodies, and I don’t want to have to remember them that way. It’s more romantic, Father and Mother in the sunset, and then gone into the dying light forever.”

I nod, silently. I can’t say much to him. I’m sure he’s got better friends for that.

“Well, let’s talk about other things. Let’s not waste good… tea,” he says, looking down at his little earthenware cup. I know what he’s thinking, but I’ve promised Yuuko that there won’t be liquor.

“A toast to your parents,” I say firmly. “They had good lives. They loved each other. And it was like that until the end.”

He looks at me, then gingerly clinks his teacup against mine. “True. So, Kenji, let’s hope we will be as fortunate, eh?”

*****

June 2020

“That low? Unthinkable!” I say, thinking about it.

“That’s what they did.”

I’m in Sendai again, and we’ve just left Hisao’s little staff apartment. Emi is amazingly big when she’s pregnant, and also very cheerful. She’s waved us off and told us to have a good time, but not to climb any roofs. Damn roofs, why do our wives have such a thing against me and Hisao on a roof?

So far the conversation has been a bit strange. I’ve asked Hisao about his job, he’s told me about how old Mutou’s helped him get used to being a head of department, then how Mutou helped him get his wedding rings made a couple of years ago, and… now we’re talking about Rika Katayama.

I sigh. “Must’ve been internal politics. Why humiliate such a promising researcher? I wouldn’t even guess what an ‘Assistant Research Technologist’ is supposed to do, except maybe clean the glassware.”

“The thing is, she wrote a good paper. More than one, actually. Mutou and I read them all. Although much of all that is Rika’s work, she is seldom first author, if named at all in the first five. She’s been doing good work, and she’s still at that lowly rank. All I can think is that maybe it’s my fault.”

“Your fault?” If he’s told me anything about this, I must have forgotten it. Surely he is not referring to the incident in the bar. That was long ago.

“I think she fell out of favour with her family. Or maybe it’s her Family.”

I can hear the difference in the way he says it. However, for the Katayamas, the two terms are very close in significance. I have been keeping eyes on them for a while now. I know a lot about them. It is complicated. But how much does Hisao know? I decide to make a joke of it.

“Aha, Hisao, how do you know so much, eh? Are you such a close acquaintance of our white-haired friend?”

He gives me a look of the ‘come on, you must be joking’ type. Certainly, I am; but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the answer. So, I remove my smile and stare at him grimly.

After a moment, he laughs. “Back in school, Rika and I used to be scheduled for review on the same day. Nurse said he preferred to get all the broken hearts together. So we formed something called the ‘Yamaku Broken Hearts Club’, informally of course.”

“What, and you did not invite me to join?” This is amusing, but a tiny part of me is a bit sore anyway.

“It was only for fun!” he exclaims defensively. “Besides, getting a proper club going…”

I grin sympathetically. We are both fond of Shizune, but she was a terrible stickler for rules in those days, especially when it came to things like school clubs. The paperwork would have killed anyone. As I think such thoughts, suddenly everything comes together like a flash of lightning across my forehead. I am a fool, because I have seen everything and yet not seen anything.

“Nakai…” I say slowly, “Is our friend Dr Katayama working on the kind of human life extension I think she is?”

Now it’s his turn to look grimly at me. “What do you think?”

“I believe she was recently in Singapore, at this place called the Biopolis. Rumour has it that they were set up around 2005 to study human life extension as their Number One priority. How much do you know?”

He relaxes a tiny bit. “I don’t know much. Since we were at Todai together, Rika’s always kept very quiet; if she talks to anyone, it’s really Mutou-sensei. He’s been very encouraging to her. The rest of her life has been pretty discouraging, I guess. I haven’t spoken to her for a while.”

He has that hangdog, depressed and slightly melancholic expression on his face. If our lives were like those manga caricatures, we’d each have one true girl and not worry about the rest. Or we would both die young and people would cry about us. Yet here we are, in our early thirties, married and trying to make things work while the world goes mad around us.

“You liked her, Hisao!” I tease; it might even be true.

He looks wounded, “No! She’s a friend, that’s all!”

Before we can get into our troublesome adolescence and things like that, I drag him into a little restaurant and call for some sake. By that time, we are both cheerful enough to trade insults in a harmonious way.

*****

July 2020

“Why don’t you go, husband? Um… it’s a good thing for you to see an old friend get married.”

It’s also on a Friday afternoon in Nagasaki in July, on the other side of my world. It will be hot, humid, and I will see Miki getting hitched to a stranger. No thanks. And I’m wondering if Yuuko really means that. She’s a subtle person, my wife, sometimes without deliberately trying to be. Maybe she just wants me to have closure.

I look sideways at her. She has a few stretch marks, some pretty freckles on her face, her back, even at the base of her spine. Her skin looks a bit tired in places, but to me she is still my beautiful lover. I don’t want to forget that again.

She turns to one side of our mattress and puts on her glasses, as if to see me better. It’s weird. That is the only thing she’s wearing. No, I’m not going to Nagasaki. Besides, I’ve already sent my apologies and arranged for a nice gift to be delivered.

“Nah, it wouldn’t be nice for me to say ‘yes’ and then get stuck at the office again. Missing Hisao’s wedding was bad enough, Miki would never let me hear the end of it!”

I reach for her nearer hip. She wriggles a bit, then stares short-sightedly at me while she adjusts her glasses. Then she laughs and takes them off again, and everything is fine.

*****

August 2020

It was in this month that Nakai Hisao and Ibarazaki Emi had their first child. She was named Akiko, and of the many characters that can be read that way, most of them contain the strokes that mean ‘sun’, ‘radiance’ or ‘fire’. To the Nakais, she is the child of autumn, and her godmother is Hanako of the flowers. I set my pen aside and look at what I have written. Damn, I am a far better writer than I thought I was.

In mid-August, after the Sendai Tanabata Festival, we go to the Nakais as a family. I present apologies for not visiting earlier, but Hisao and Emi are only too happy to have visitors, and we are made welcome in their cosy staff apartment.

Yuuko takes immediately to the tiny brown thing in the cot. Little Koji, his three-year-old eyes as big as sauce-dishes, says in awe, “She is very pretty. Can we borrow her?”

I shush my son, because this is not a matter for discussion now, but I think about his words. I don’t know what makes a wrinkly little human being pretty or not—they all look a bit deformed to me—but this is indeed a cute specimen. You can see the beginnings of a competitive Emi look and that messy brown hair with the tuft sticking up at the back is certainly Hisao’s legacy.

An echo from the past stirs in my brain. I look at Hisao and deadpan, ask, “A girl? A cute one?”

The proud father looks at me in disbelief and everyone else looks at me in confusion—except Koji, who says, “Yes!”

Then Hisao remembers. Schooling his long face into a more deadpan expression, to match mine, he replies, “There are many cute girls here. A strangely disproportionate amount… I believe that’s one of the dark secrets of this school.”

We crack up at this now-humorous memory of adolescence and I catch Emi and Yuuko exchanging womanly glances of the ‘men are like that’ kind. Hisao sees it too, and as is his nature, begins to explain. “It’s something Kenji said to me many years ago.”

Emi glares at him, but I can tell she’s joking. I think. “It’s not a secret! We are very cute, or you wouldn’t have married us! Right, Hisao?”

“Errm, of course…” we both reply, provoking a discreet covered-mouth giggle from Yuuko and a mischievous eye-crinkling chuckle from Emi.

*****

September 2020

I am only an Acting Director at my agency, and this man is a Director-General, at a much higher rank, and many levels more powerful. We are sitting and sipping tea at a little table in the cafeteria, which is an unusual thing. I try not to look at him, because my guts are trembling.

“So, Director Setou, how is it that you seemed to know so much about our neighbours? You predict their responses before they can predict their own?”

I have no way to answer that. I am quite sure that with all the resources we have, somebody must be coming up with enough right answers.

“Ah, Director-General, sir,” I begin, hoping to get enough air flowing through my lips to produce words. “It is a little idea I had when I was last here, of asking other friends in the island nations. We are like… ah… shrimp fleeing from a whale. But we can be like poisonous shrimp. Or maybe like… ah…” Words are failing me, or have already failed me.

“It’s a good idea. But why did they cooperate with us? We have a long bad history between us.”

“Maybe we all didn’t want to get eaten by the whale.”

“True. So the light on the blade revealed the danger in the night?”

It is almost like poetry, the way he speaks of what we know. He looks very comfortable, his fingers playing a little with his cup of hot green tea.

“Yes.”

“Did you know that in the 1950s, the lion of the sea placed gods of fire armed with swords of flame on a particular island?”

I quickly translate in my head and make some guesses. “I had heard. When the papers were declassified, an enterprising officer made archive copies for the agency library.”

“It was a dangerous game, for dangerous times. Now information allows us to play safer games. But that means the information must flow well. It must be measured out. As if by coffee-spoons.”

I twitch at that. He looks me in the eye, about a twentieth part of a smile showing on his stony face. He continues, measuring out his words, “A wise man once said that whatever acts cannot be destroyed. How long do you think you should remain in your temporary position? Perhaps a permanent position might be a good thing for a man with children.”

“Such a thing would be overwhelming generosity,” I say, trying to get my words into proper arrangement.

“Think nothing of such things. Whatever happens is what it is. You may have to act an unusual part before this scene comes to a temporary ending.”

I have no clear idea as to what he is talking about. At the same time, I have a feeling that my life is about to become less comfortable and more complicated. And once again, I think of the children. But I do not let my thoughts escape.

On the evening of Friday, 11th September, we have a little celebration for our little Masako’s 5th birthday. There is a present flown in from Osaka, from Masako’s unfortunately absent godmother: a light Black Forest cream cake shaped like a sakura. We eat it by candlelight, as Yuuko and I choose to remember events nearly two decades past.

We even have a short family holiday in Saitama over the long weekend that starts on the 18th of the month. It is pleasant, and it is family, and babies and children and men and women who are taking a break before such things become only a memory.

And in the service of such memories and remembrances, I find myself flying into a strange city far to the south one morning. This is Monday, the 28th day of the month of September in the year 2020, and I will never forget what follows.

=====
part 3 | prev | next
Last edited by brythain on Tue Jul 14, 2015 11:42 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

inthewind
Posts: 53
Joined: Fri May 31, 2013 11:08 am

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4 Started 20150116)

Post by inthewind » Fri Jan 16, 2015 10:46 pm

I've lost count of all the T.S. Eliot references in your works by now.

User avatar
brythain
Posts: 3465
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
Contact:

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4 Started 20150116)

Post by brythain » Fri Jan 16, 2015 10:50 pm

inthewind wrote:I've lost count of all the T.S. Eliot references in your works by now.
It's the centenary of 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock', did you know? :)

Edit: also, apparently, the centenary of the word 'bullshit' as a literary term. [LINK]
Last edited by brythain on Fri Jan 16, 2015 10:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

inthewind
Posts: 53
Joined: Fri May 31, 2013 11:08 am

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4 Started 20150116)

Post by inthewind » Fri Jan 16, 2015 10:51 pm

I did not! I suppose some coffee is in order to properly reflect.

User avatar
brythain
Posts: 3465
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
Contact:

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4 Started 20150116)

Post by brythain » Fri Jan 16, 2015 11:01 pm

inthewind wrote:I did not! I suppose some coffee is in order to properly reflect.
I can't help the Eliot references. Brought up that way. It is why, for Kenji, April is indeed the cruellest month. :)
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)

User avatar
Serviam
Posts: 110
Joined: Fri May 30, 2014 4:50 am
Location: Urbs Manilensis, Res Publica Philippinae
Contact:

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4 started 20150116)

Post by Serviam » Sat Jan 24, 2015 11:53 am

Lion of the sea, gods of fire, swords of flame.

Nuclear testing in Australia?
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

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

User avatar
brythain
Posts: 3465
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
Contact:

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4 started 20150116)

Post by brythain » Sat Jan 24, 2015 12:23 pm

Serviam wrote:Lion of the sea, gods of fire, swords of flame.

Nuclear testing in Australia?
Heh, the Lion of the Sea has been the emblem of seaports for centuries. Venice was one, and so was Manila. But neither of them was Kenji's new posting.
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)

User avatar
brythain
Posts: 3465
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
Contact:

Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-1b up 20150216)

Post by brythain » Sun Feb 15, 2015 11:51 pm

This is the second section of the fourth part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which Kenji tries and fails to be an international superspy (just kidding) and reflects on growing old.



Kenji 4: The World Turned Upside-Down
(October 2020-June 2021)


I was in Southern Light for three months. It is a place like my own country, but without the style and with a different idea of social order.

While I was there, I encountered people from my own country, bearing themselves differently. My people had legitimate business interests there; despite our liberation of the little island in the 1940s, which spawned severe backlash because of our sometimes brutal methods, we have had good relationships for a few decades now.

I was in that place for three months. And then I was back home. By that time, the order of my world had already begun to overturn. Here is an outline of the year.

*****

October to December 2020

“Ryu? What the hell are you doing here, man?”

“Heh, Kenji. My first attachment was to Takeuchi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, back in 2008. I think he remembered me.”

I desperately ransack my mind, but my eyeball display finds it first. I had no idea this place warranted such an interesting diplomatic staff; this is Ambassador Takeuchi’s second tour of duty in the region, and he was once the Director-General of one of the more informative branches of the Ministry. Could he have recruited Nobu and Keiko? I would not have put that beyond him.

“So what are we doing in this… place?” I wave a hand around, indicating the somewhat raucous crowd of tavernistas. The country must have been seriously over-colonized by the British before we got to it—in the distance, Ryu tells me, is a statue of some English adventurer who founded the modern port, and the place we’re drinking in is named after some other adventurer. The bridges around here are all named after Scotsmen. It’s a strange place.

“I’m briefing you. But not really.”

“Really?”

“No. By the way, your uncle with the ridiculous nickname says hello. You’ll be seeing him for lunch next week.”

“What?”

I get three months of this. By the end of October, I am homesick. I talk to Yuuko and the children everyday, from my nice little apartment in the River Valley area. There are Japanese restaurants everywhere, but it is not the same. It is cleaner, and dirtier, and noisier but quieter. It is just different, and I miss my home.

I finish my business by the end of November. Ryu eventually gets transferred to Chile at the end of the year, but that is possibly the best place for him while I clear up his mess. But in between are many diplomatic functions. It is at one of these, where they are serving that lousy champagne stuff, that Ryu taps me on the shoulder.

“Heh, hot chick. Like from one of those…” He has a slightly lewd tone to his voice, which makes me commit the unforgiveable diplomatic sin of turning away from someone I think is a trade representative from a large Eastern European state. What is she, what is she doing here, my mind screams. There’s nothing for it, I have to walk out.

“Excuse me, Madam… ah, please meet my colleague Ryu, he specializes in such matters.” I know he doesn’t, but I feel unreasonable, and I need him to get out of my face. Returning to our old ways, eh, questions the old voice in the back of my head.

I step out onto the balcony to clear my head. It is all full of words, and talk. My time here has told me that other people see us as a country of money and insanity. They are too polite to talk about either one directly. I flick champagne out over the grounds, and watch the fireflies of light, each drop worth God knows how many yen. What is she doing here?

If you pray, things will happen, my mother used to say. And you will not always get what you want, but it might be the right thing. One day I prayed she would come home safely, and she never came home except in a little box. How could that be right? Or was it only the opportunity to make things right? To me, it was all screwed up. But here I am.

I sense her long before she joins me. She is wearing a simple black cocktail dress. I have seen many of them on this tour of duty. She is carrying two little glasses with something pink in them. I am filled with melancholy, but if you asked me why, I would not be able to tell you.

“Hello, Naomi,” I say softly. “It is an unexpected meeting, this.”

“Surprising for me also, Kenji,” she replies, nodding daintily and passing me a glass, and a small spoon. “You’re looking very serious. Is there something on your mind?”

“Ah,” I reply, trying not to sound so serious, “What is this pink thing?” I put my empty champagne glass down on the palisade and accept her offering. Her fingers are cold and I find myself wishing they were warmer.

“It’s Mrs Takeuchi’s famous strawberry bavarois. She makes it for Japanese visitors. Surely you recognize it?”

“No. I avoid these things, mostly. Best not to have many people see me.” And I hate dressing up in suits. One day I will wear my favourite scarf with a suit to such a function and they will never invite me again.

“Then it is good fortune that I’m seeing you. I wasn’t intending to be here, because I only flew in this afternoon. But the staff are always so efficient!”

I laugh a bit. It seems true that some Japanese officials when posted overseas try to be even more efficient to compensate for the inefficiencies of others. “So what fragrant wind blows you in here, Naomi Inoue? Did Nat come with you?”

Her smile is like the bright memory of a time very long ago. “No, no, Nat’s busy back home. She’s got a lot of research to do.”

My heart sinks a bit. I hope that she’s not digging into the matter she spoke with me about earlier in the year. It is related to the reasons I am on this island. How to find out? I try a gambit. “Hm, would it be to do with medical technology?”

“Now how would you guess that, Setou-san?” She does not look shocked at all. “It must be your famous professional talent.”

“I hope not, Inoue-san. I don’t want to be famous!” I mean it, and I take a small scoop of the creamy stuff in my glass. It isn’t bad.

Although she is smiling, there’s a trace of sadness in her eyes, I realize. “Well, Kenji, you might say that you are the reason that Nat isn’t here.”

“I don’t understand.” Actually, I am worried that I do understand. Natsume is a very good researcher, and I might have underestimated her by accident.

“Then it is not my place to ask further, dear friend.”

“Will you be here long?” It’s an impulsive question. I don’t know if I want the answer to be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This is post-Cold War Russian roulette. You keep pulling the trigger and wishing you were dead, but there are no bullets.

“Not long. I am only here to talk to some people. But from January, I will be helping His Excellency handle media communications.”

“Natsume?” This is a long overseas posting. Why would Naomi do this?

“Oh, she’s always busy. I thought I would try something different.” She says this lightly, but it is a fragile lightness, like a cherry blossom falling from a tree. “Anyway, there’s your uncle, and Nat asked me to talk to him about something. Be good, Kenji. I’ve… missed you.”

I don’t know why I do it, but I take the half-empty glass of pink stuff from her hands. I put in on the palisade with the others. It is like a picture to be framed: three glasses against the darkness and strong cool breeze of the evening. When I turn back, she is still standing there, her hair shining ash-blonde in the light, some of it looking very pale against her black dress. She is wearing some familiar pearls, double-stranded now like a choker. It’s odd that I hadn’t noticed before.

She sees me looking and looks back. “Please greet your family for me. And also give my respects to your sister. Memories are forever.”

“So they are, Naomi.” We move awkwardly towards each other in the same moment. But we are older now, and our embrace is carefully measured, although genuine. Our cheeks touch. It feels like such a strange thing to do, but yet appropriate for our current situation.

“See you back home, Kenji!” I nod, and she disappears back into the ambassador’s official residence. She was once all our life, says a voice in my head. Once, I reply.

*****

January to April 2021

The more you learn, the heavier it gets. I’m heading back to Japan by January and I settle down to work. I have a lot of analysis to do and summary reports to write for all kinds of people. How the hell did Southern Light ever became a key research centre for explosives high energy materials, biotech and nanotech? When I cautiously ask my peers in other ministries, some actually know. I have picked Ambassador Takeuchi’s brains too. They tell me amazing stories, and I have amazing stories of my own to add. But as I head back home, I am tracing a new story that is also an old story.

“Colonel’s home,” my lovely wife says. I have no idea when she decided to stick with this joke. The kids don’t think it’s a joke. I have this moment when I wonder if someone will ask them what their father’s given name is and they will reply, “Colonel.”

The children are now five-half (Masako) and four (Koji) respectively. They greet me by bowing quickly but seriously and calling me ‘Father’. For some silly reason, I much preferred the childish ‘Baba’. It’s as if they have grown up while I was away, as if my other life took them away from me.

The house is warmer than the street. In no time at all, I have hot tea before me. They let me eat, although I notice our children are eyeing my travel bags. I grin at them, appreciating that they are not so rude that they will ask for gifts before I finish eating. Yuuko’s eyes are twinkling as she dishes out warm tofu in a little bowl. Dried thin shavings of fish curl in the heat. I am very hungry.

“Baba?” says Koji suddenly, lapsing into his younger self. “Is it perhaps that your bag is very heavy and we can help you unload things from it?”

I laugh, almost doing an uncivilized ejection of food from my mouth. His sister shushes him, although clearly she would like to know what’s in my bag as well. Yuuko’s laugh is modestly hidden behind her hand, but she’s trembling probably with a mixture of ‘that naughty boy’ and ‘that clever boy’ in her mind.

I wipe steam from my glasses. “Perhaps. But only little things, no hurry.”

I look up, and realize that everyone looks disappointed or is pretending to be. I hope I’m not ruining their day. “Hold on, please! Really, there are good things in there,” I say defensively, and watch them look a little less disappointed.

There are certainly things. Later, Yuuko is most pleased with the unusual South Asian silk cloth, maroon with gold embroidery. “So lovely!” she keeps saying, and adds that it will be nice for a festival if it’s made into formal wear. Masako is enchanted by the orchid-growing kit, and Koji wonders why his lion has the tail of a fish.

He looks at me, his eyes big and round with surprise. “Baba, is that a sealion?” I say, “Not quite…” but before I can continue, he says, “It’s nice! I’m sorry I ate your cake.”

“Cake?”

“Aunty Shizune sent a cake, remember? Mama told you. It was very nice. We kept some for you. Big sister called her and asked if we could eat it because you were not around and it might go bad. She laughed and said that cakes are like children and should not be allowed to go bad. Then she said something about you not telling her and you deserved not to get any cake. But we kept some for you anyway because you might be sad. It was a very good cake. Besides, it was only a few days before my birthday.”

Oh, damn. That cake. The honey-macadamia-vanilla ice cream cake. Terrifying Madam Principal had even tracked me down through the embassy and left a personal message at Nassim Road, even before Yuuko had told me. One of my colleagues had remarked that I had a ‘Hakamichi fax’, which worried me because nobody uses a fax machine unless they’re up to no good. I think this one was just to give me physical evidence that she had found me. It’s all a game with her, generally but I think she was not happy: [Setou K., you made me look like a fool sending a birthday cake to your home and then your wife telling me that you were not there. She was very apologetic and thanked me profusely, but that’s not the point! Happy birthday anyway. Hakamichi S.]

I laugh, although it’s a bit weak, and tell him, “It’s okay, besides I owe you a cake, it’s your birthday tomorrow. We can go choose one specially for you.”

Solemnly, he replies, “Not fair, because then I get two cakes and you only get to share mine, so you must eat a bigger slice of mine and then it’s fair!”

I can’t work out that logic, but I get the general idea. And when Masako joins in with, “That’s right, Father!” and nods vigorously, I realize I am a happy man.

However, it’s what I find in my study that alarms me. There are documents here. They are on the tables and all over the floor, neatly stacked in piles. “Errm, Yuuko?” I mutter dazedly. “Dearest wife, what is this?”

“It’s the research for the Yamaku 50th anniversary book! Um, part of it, anyway. But I found something interesting that I wanted to tell you and I got all tied up in it and now my research will be late but I had to tell you…”

Suddenly she looks like she’s about to cry. I can’t understand women, really. But I do understand that if I understood, I would probably cry too. I’m just not good at understanding what has to be understood. And trying to think those thoughts just reminds me of my old friend Tezuka, so I stop there.

“Ah, please tell me. It looks interesting.” I add this last part because it is true, and because I know that Yuuko is happy when she gets to explain stuff that people find interesting.

“These are admissions records, Kenji! Ninety per cent of the students at Yamaku were sponsored by the Families, yes?”

“Um, yes.” Now I’m starting to sound like my wife.

“From 1988, they started keeping DNA records for all students. The national DNA database started in 1986, and the school decided to contribute to it. It’s in the fine print of the… ah, entrance agreement that the parents and guardians sign.” She waves her Exhibit A at me.

“Hmmm. I didn’t know that.” And I should have known, because now Kenji is quite certain that some things man was not meant to know are about to come out.

“You didn’t tell me you had so many cousins!”

“I do? No, wait, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know and I don’t want you to say it.”

My wife looks at me silently as if I have kicked a puppy. Her mouth is open and her eyes tell me that she’s feeling hurt. Oh, damn. Kenji is such an idiot.

“No, no… I am sorry. It’s just that I was brought up not to know. But nowadays, you can’t escape the DNA, I suppose.”

“But… but what I wanted to say is that maybe the therapy that your uncle gave Masako, um, maybe it is useful for your relatives too.”

Now it’s my mouth that’s open. I keep forgetting that I have a very intelligent wife. It’s just that she doesn’t like showing it, and Kenji is a moron because he sometimes forgets what he doesn’t see.

For the next two months, I check the data. And when I am certain about what could possibly happen, I go to my boss and tell him a story about genetic bioweapons and defence strategies. I also tell him where we can find friends in this matter. When I get to the part about bloodlines, he laughs at me and says, “You know, when I was young, I played those RPGs too.”

I glare at him. It is not easy to do that through thick glasses. But I have learnt how to do it. Just imagine your glasses are your eyes. They will feel it, even if they cannot see it.

“Setou, don’t point your glasses at me like that. I believe you. Our friends agreed to send you overseas exactly for that reason. But why do you keep talking about your senior high days?”

“How many such schools are run by the Family foundations?”

“Ah. Well, a handful. There’s even one in Switzerland or somewhere, I think.”

“How many graduates a year?”

“Fewer than 100 per school, I would say.”

“That’s still a lot. Do you know where they are these days?”

“We don’t actively track such things.” He is frowning now, and I think he gets it.

For a few weeks after that, I am very busy indeed. April comes too soon, and forces me most cruelly to take a break. It is cruel because I must visit the family graves, and family is what this is all about.

Everyone knows that the Japanese people have a special day to visit the deceased. But Kenji was raised Catholic and that feels different. So on the day of the Spring equinox, we celebrate Yuuko’s birthday instead, since that is indeed her birthday. It’s on the 15th day of April that we visit Mother and Masaru, my elder brother; and when we have cleaned the graves and stayed with them awhile, we go to the other end of the cemetery and visit my sister.

This year, after the first part of the visit, my old friend meets us just as she did two years before. She is dressed in a formal black dress and a white lace shawl, and as always, wears Sachi’s pearls. It’s different now because Masako is old enough to understand that Sachi is a dead person, and they are different from us living ones.

“Aunty Naomi!” she says, her delight muted by her will. She knows this isn’t a time for shouting. “Are you here to visit Father’s sister too?”

One might think that sadness has an end, that there are no surprises when it comes to grief. But one would be wrong. Naomi gasps a little, for she remembers Sachiko alive, and also not. “Hello, Ma-chan!” she replies, performing a bow that reminds my daughter to be polite as well. I hear the pearls click softly against each other.

It remains unsaid that Aunty Natsume is clearly not around today. Poor Masako has got used to not seeing her godmother, and doesn’t ask. Perhaps she’s substituted Naomi for Nat. I wonder what Sachi would’ve thought of all this. I also wonder what Natsume Ooe is up to.

*****

May to June 2021

[I’m putting together a birthday party] is what I see on my tabphone. Today is the first of May, the beginning of Golden Week, and Yuuko and I are about to bring the kids for a long drive with stops. There’s this old VN that Yuuko and I like, about two people who are dying—they hijack a car and they go on a road trip around Japan. We’ve always wanted to do that, although we’re not dying.

I read on. [It’s on the night of 5th May and since I don’t have many friends, it’s a small party. Can you come?] I raise an eyebrow at my wife. She shows me her phone. There’s a similar message there, which is unconventional because the sender is her boss. Yuuko nods firmly, and I reply: [Yes, of course. Both of us.]

The road trip is fun, but the kids are exhausted. They are quite happy to be left for the next few days with ‘Gramma Mari’, of whom Masako has asked the embarrassing question, “Why does she look so much younger than Grandfather?” The children are already used to the strange idea that Gramma and Grandfather have a daughter who is about their age. “Younger!” says Masako, who is very conscious of her rank as eldest child in the group.

We go back to Sendai for a bit of rest. Yuuko fusses about buying a present. She’s got a lot of energy. Somehow, I don’t. I’m getting older faster. I think she drove more than half the time, this trip. The most tiring thing is the messages. In the corner of my left eyefield, [Deal With The Press.] What am I supposed to do? What ‘Press’? What ‘Deal’? I sigh and squeeze my eyes tightly shut for three seconds, which turns my messages off.

Shizune’s 32nd birthday party turns out to be a light-hearted affair, mostly. It’s at her staff apartment, which is relatively large, obviously built to accommodate a principal with a large family. The guest list is odd, and my eyeballs are busy. Mutou, the old science teacher, is very animated, chatting in a corner with Hisao and Rika Katayama. What is she doing here? I wonder. Emi is sitting with them, nursing her little Akiko, so after we greet our hostess, we move towards her.

I don’t quite know what’s happened, because I’m not good at these things. But before we can rescue Emi from the science-geek group, Shizune somehow pries Yuuko away from me and they disappear in one direction. At the same time, I hear an unexpected voice from my other side.

“Director-san? What a surprise.”

“Naomi?” I turn so quickly I think I have whiplash. If anyone is monitoring my eyeballs, they’re probably dizzy by now.

“You remember me!” she says playfully.

“But aren’t you supposed to be a lot further south?” I say guardedly. Perhaps nobody is supposed to know. “Is Nat here as well?”

“I’m here as Nat’s replacement. She’s too busy to come, and I was back for Golden Week.” She says it bitterly, and I feel like I’ve been knifed by a knife not meant for me. “Maybe it was a mistake. I feel as if I don’t know anyone here. Except you.”

She’s dressed simply, something with a white panel, a rose panel, and a dark grey panel, cinched at the waist with a narrow dark blue rope or something, with a tassel. No pearls today, I notice.

She sees me noticing. “I only wear them on special occasions, you know.”

“This is not a special occasion?”

“Not special enough, although that sounds very rude, sorry. I know Hisao, and Mutou-sensei was our form teacher, of course. It’s a strange group. I’ve not seen Emi Ibarazaki for years. Maybe I should go talk to her and make little noises at her baby. See you later.”

This is a different Naomi. Is this how she is with other people these days?

I feel someone jabbing me in the upper arm and turn. Naomi is already making the appropriate meeting-the-new-baby noises over in the corner. Shizune is back, and somehow Yuuko has joined the science gang.

[Thank you for your thoughtful gift. No cake?]

[Yuuko bought the present. I’m sorry there’s no cake.]

[No, no. I like those things too, very much. I was just joking.]

[It’s unusual to have a 32nd birthday party] I sign, gently fishing.

[Felt a bit old and lonely, I guess.] She smiles, dimpling a little.

[Misha not here?]

My friend the Madam Dictator of the World suddenly looks rather sad. [No. Working in Europe. Also, my little brother and Hanako Ikezawa were supposed to be here, but he suddenly cancelled on me and her flight was delayed.]

I feel a little melancholy. We grow up, and work gets in the way, and people are too busy for each other. Am I becoming like that too?

In June, Naomi also turns 32. When I try to send her a birthday greeting, I get the message, “Thanks, Kenji. Don’t worry, the pearls are safe. Today is not a special enough day for anything.” She doesn’t reply to further messages, and I worry. But if you’re 32 years old, I guess you should be old enough to take care of yourself.

Then again, it is sometimes better when people take care of each other, I reflect, looking at my sleeping wife.

=====
prev | next
Last edited by brythain on Wed Mar 04, 2015 10:07 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

User avatar
Serviam
Posts: 110
Joined: Fri May 30, 2014 4:50 am
Location: Urbs Manilensis, Res Publica Philippinae
Contact:

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-1b up 20150216)

Post by Serviam » Mon Feb 16, 2015 1:08 pm

Since Southern Light is not Manila...

Singapore? Bangkok? Hanoi?
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

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

User avatar
brythain
Posts: 3465
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
Contact:

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-1b up 20150216)

Post by brythain » Mon Feb 16, 2015 2:00 pm

Serviam wrote:Since Southern Light is not Manila...
Singapore? Bangkok? Hanoi?
Try Googling this: "Light of the South" :)
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)

User avatar
Serviam
Posts: 110
Joined: Fri May 30, 2014 4:50 am
Location: Urbs Manilensis, Res Publica Philippinae
Contact:

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-1b up 20150216)

Post by Serviam » Mon Feb 16, 2015 8:38 pm

brythain wrote:
Serviam wrote:Since Southern Light is not Manila...
Singapore? Bangkok? Hanoi?
Try Googling this: "Light of the South" :)
First guess wins.
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

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

User avatar
brythain
Posts: 3465
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
Contact:

Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-2a up 20150303)

Post by brythain » Tue Mar 03, 2015 7:19 am

This is the third section of the fourth part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which Kenji makes promises to Hisao and tries to figure out things about soy sauce.



Kenji 4: The World Turned Upside-Down
(July-December 2021)


The year 2021 had pieces of sadness in it, but work was fine and there were a lot of happy moments. I became older, but that happens every day. I did many things which I cannot write down here, and possibly will never be able to mention. I read an old comic book series called ‘Planetary’ by some guy named Ellis. I laughed, and then I cried. We had done so many of those things, although without the fancy psychic powers and stuff like that.

2022 was when I knew the world was somehow broken. But that came later, and these events came first.

*****

July to August 2021

“Hello. This is Natsume. Kenji?” Familiar voice, something tells me—but my head, it’s not joining the dots. Oh, it’s Nat, my old friend Nat.

“What’s up?” I say sleepily. There’s more mumbling, urgency, I don’t know. My ears don’t work well in the morning when I’ve just woken up after a few days without sleeping, and I’m not so sure I’m awake.

Then I hear it: “Naomi’s in hospital. Just to let you know. In case you care.”

Why wouldn’t I care? Suddenly, I’m alert. “What? Of course. Why?”

“She said you might want to know. Also, she told me you abandoned her at Shizune’s little party a couple of months ago.”

“No, did not! Where is she?”

“In Osaka. She went off her meds again.”

Nat sounds very upset. There’s a lot of strain in her voice. Damn! What is it with people? I’m angry. But also, I’m afraid. “How bad is it?”

“She’ll recover. Had a fall off a bridge, but people nearby were alert.”

“Were you not with her?” Too late, I hear myself. It sounds like I’m accusing her of something.

“No. Was working.” In my mind, I hear Naomi saying, Nat’s busy… always busy… too busy to come. Shit. It’s not my fault. It’s Nat’s, surely. But she sounds like she’s already accusing herself.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“I just thought you would want to know.” She sounds like she might cry, but won’t.

“Yes. Is she with you now?”

“Hold on. Then I’ll leave the room and you can talk to her.”

There’s a pause. It’s a terrifying moment. I’m sitting up in bed and Yuuko is making breakfast and the kids are going to school and I have to talk to someone who, maybe, I have let down. Somehow. I don’t know how.

“Kenji?” She’s alive, but she sounds weak.

“Naomi? What happened?”

“Nothing. Forgot my meds.” She says it without any change in tone at all.

“How long?”

“Five weeks.”

“That’s bad. Used the reminder app?”

“I’ve not used it since I upgraded my tabphone. So, I forgot. That’s all. And I was sleepy, and tired, and it didn’t seem worth it.”

“What’s not worth it?” I am afraid to hear the answer.

“Everything. I went home. I stayed home. There wasn’t anyone. And I found a little model of the Milky Way you gave me once, a long time ago. Do you remember what’s on the base?”

I remember. Oh. “I think so.”

“Kyoto. Thirteen years ago. We used to go up on the roof, the astronomy building. Can you say the words?”

Of course I can: “Wherever you are is the centre of the stars,” I quote.

“No more, right? I’m not anybody’s centre, not that I wanted to be, but it would’ve been nice. Thanks for talking, Kenji. Bye.”

I want to tell her to hang on, to not go away yet. But the phone dies in my hands, that’s what it feels like. I can’t remember the Kenji of thirteen years ago very well, but the sadness in that Kenji tastes bitter in me.

A couple of weeks later, Naomi leaves a message to say she has fully recovered and gone back to work, but she does not answer my return calls. In a way, that is a relief. I cannot live my life thinking about someone I used to love when I love someone else now. My mind cannot take that kind of shit. But my heart is sad, because some bits of old love, they don’t go away.

Yuuko seems to understand when I tell her all this. Maybe it is foolish to tell people all these things, but it is also necessary, I think. And so she is kind enough to let me hang out with Hisao once in a while, and that brings us to a rooftop in Sendai one night.

“What’s up?” I ask my friend. This is our custom now, because we have had meetings like this for fourteen years.

“Heh. Maybe, a second child.” He looks genuinely pleased. It is very different from what he felt before.

“Congratulations! You are making a good legacy for the future.”

“I always wonder if I will be there to see them grow up.” A sudden turn to melancholy. It is not unusual for my friend, but my instincts come alive.

“Any news on your heart condition?”

“Not really. But I think you know about what’s happening.”

“Seems as if a lot of us are involved, somehow. In a lot of things.”

“All I wanted was a quiet life with someone I loved,” he says softly. “And maybe, to give back to society the second chance of life I also was given.”

“That is what we all dream of, Nakai-san.”

“That is what I thought I had, Setou-san.”

There’s a bit of whisky, a Nikka Taketsuru, old and wonderful. Our wives have given us permission. The stars are out, and while we are happy to be free, we are also sad. Our lives, they aren’t really our own, no matter how much we do with what we have. We share them a lot, we Yamaku alumni, because we don’t think other people will understand; in fact, we know that other people, especially in Japan, are unlikely to understand us.

“How were the Yamaku-50 celebrations?”

“Good. We’ve had two big events, because the actual anniversary was 1st March, and we could combine that with graduation. I think the parents and the graduates were quite impressed and felt it was unforgettable. Shizune wants a bigger auditorium though. She kept saying it was too small.”

I grin at him. “She would, wouldn’t she?” This gets a smile from him.

“The other one was our school festival, and that’s just over. Tiring for everyone, but I always feel nostalgic. There are probably students like you, hiding in their rooms and slinking around; students like me, confused and trying to get a life. I look at them and I wish them all the best.”

“If they end up like us, that’s almost as good as it gets, huh?”

He smiles again, and for a while, we’re two kids on a roof again. Then his face ages a little, and I realize that mine has too. We’re both responsible adults now, who would’ve thought it?

“I hear you’ve been promoted.”

“How did you find out?” He pauses, then smacks himself lightly on the forehead. “Of course, Yuuko. She takes the minutes at meetings.”

“Yes. Congratulations, Mr Acting Vice-Principal. How does it feel to be Shizune Hakamichi’s vice?”

“That sounds a lot worse in English, you know.” He grins for a moment, then his cheeks collapse a bit. “It’s hard work. It’s like being in the old Student Council again, except that more people tell you what to do, and there’s only two of you and some people who are supposed to be there but too busy to help out for real.”

“Getting old and tired, Nakai-san?”

“Just tired, Setou-san. This is good whisky.”

I take a sip, he takes a sip. Whatever he says, we’re like two old geezers, two old crows up on the roof. It’s funny, but it’s also sad.

“How’s Emi taking it?”

“Happy, but she feels I spend too much time in school and not enough time with Akiko.”

“Ah. It’s the mother-daughter thing.”

He takes a sip, I take a sip. Then he looks at me with the corner of his eye, before looking up into the sky.

“If anything happens, will you watch over them?”

“I? I’m not in a position to…”

“Kenji, I’m not the dumbass kid you knew in high school.” He takes a small sip, looks at me with tired eyes. “I’m a graduate of the grandest and most ridiculous university in Japan, and I teach science for a living. I can construct hypotheses and test them. I can gather data and see how the pieces fit.”

I look at him. All this is true. We aren’t the dumbass kids we used to be.

“So, I know you can do it. Emi has no objections. Her father was a cop. But she doesn’t really like you, sorry. And she hates the idea of being protected. So there’s no need to be obvious. Obvious things I’m leaving to more obvious people. That’s settled too.”

I’m uneasy. “Hisao, my friend, nothing’s going to happen to you. If God wills, you will have a long life.”

“I’m not sure about God, or gods, or spirits. But things do happen. And you’re my friend. Even if you didn’t turn up at the wedding, you were watching.”

“What do you mean?” How the hell does he know?

“These days, the first-year students build drone detectors as school projects. They scan and detect RF, some of them do optical heterodyne systems too. Mutou and I facilitate, we supervise. It’s a new world. It’s beyond our time. I don’t know what exactly your job is about, but you have one foot in a different world, and you see things. And if you can see, you can watch. It’s rude of me to be asking, I know. But who will protect them when I’m gone?”

He’s not angry with me, I think. He’s anxious. He’s being a father, and I know the feeling. I feel ashamed that he feels he has to ask, and I also feel the burden of my work.

“Of course I will watch, if it comes to that. But I will not be a heavy hand on them.”

“I’m very grateful,” he says, bowing his head a little. “I don’t think I’d want that, but a finger of assistance once in a while, perhaps that’s something they would be grateful for in the years ahead.”

“I will look after your children as if they’re my own, friend.”

I take a sip. He takes a sip. I offer him a hand, and he shakes it firmly. We’ve found out long ago that shaking hands is easier than bowing when up on a roof. We’ve been friends a very long time now, it seems.

*****

September to October 2021

Masako is six years old in September. She’ll be in primary school next year, and I wonder where all the time has gone. Also, she is even more independent-minded, always questioning us. Her godmother, who has come to visit for their combined birthday party, encourages this.

“I want to be like Natsume Godma. I want to be a journalist and interview people and go around the world and get to stay up late and stay out and have parties all the time!”

Nat looks embarrassed as I walk in on this proclamation. “It’s not always like that,” she mumbles.

“Colonel’s home!” says Yuuko, grinning. “Greet your papa.”

Koji hits me in the legs first, his little body all hot and sweaty. Masako twirls, then runs up to me with a little electronic pad. “Hi papa, see, this is what Natsume Godma gave me! It’s really cool!” And really expensive, for a six-year-old girl.

“Hi little champion, big champion. Very cool, very cool. Wife, Nat. Happy birthday, Nat! So happy to see you! Ah, where is Naomi?”

To tell the truth, I’ve been looking forward to seeing her. I am still a bit worried about her health.

“She says she’s busy, Kenji. Sends you her warmest apologies. My brother’s working part time as a resident computer person at her consultancy firm, and they’re both at some IT meeting.”

Natsume sounds tired, and Naomi’s reason sounds more like an excuse. I hope they are both all right, because something is nagging at the back of my head. But, hey, this is a happy birthday party, and it’s not to be spoilt.

A month later, I’m at a place I haven’t been to for a long, long time. I look around furtively, feeling guilty even though I have no reason to be. This is where my wife used to work in her spare time, to earn money for her education. I asked her why, and she said that her father always staked the kids fifty per cent and made them earn the rest. After thinking a bit, I decided it was a good idea.

In a while, there appears a thin, tired guy who is greeted at the door by the new staff (or maybe not so new, but I wouldn’t know). He drops heavily into the seat opposite me. “Hey, Kenji!” says Mr Vice-Principal.

“What’s up, Hisao?” I say, but I already know what’s up and I wish I’d known earlier. “How are the stealthy mineral investments doing?”

“It’s not for me,” he says heavily, not pretending that he doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

“But, dude, it’s CHINA,” I hiss, adopting the secret-agent-conspirator tones of our youth. “How are you so into THEM?”

I’ve been looking at his investment positions, all part of due diligence. I mean, if you’re going to protect the children, you need to know what the hell you’re protecting. And I asked Hisao, and he talked about the Yamaku Foundation, and all I saw was all his stuff going to the Foundation. What’s left for the kids? So that’s why we’re here. I need to bully him a bit.

“Yeah, I know. But rare earths, that kind of thing, they’re golden forever.”

“The Americans are digging up a lot of it, these days.”

“It’s okay, man. If you’ve been poking around, you know what I did.”

“Nakai, you sold the stuff back to us! At a big profit!”

He looks uncomfortable. “Wasn’t me, actually.”

“Confirm it, bro. It was Madam Dictator who networked you through Hakamichi Industries, right?”

“I’m not a criminal! What’s with the ‘bro’ stuff, anyway?”

I sigh. “Hisao, whenever I need to force your stubborn side to talk, I just pretend I’m old mad Kenji. Now, do you want me to curse and swear loudly inside the Shanghai and let people know that Yamaku’s vice-principal is under investigation?”

“What? I am?”

“No, you’re not. But…”

“Gah.” Silence. Then he talks about how Akira Satou, sister of his old flame, has been helping him with certain things. That, I admit, is a big surprise. But it all fits together with what I know, and that’s good. I hate not knowing stuff.

Strangely, our conversation moves on to the topic of women. They’ve always worried me, on some level. We let them rule our lives, in exchange for letting us play with the rest of the world. But when they turn bad, or sad, or mad, it’s trouble of a different kind. Eventually, we end up talking about our kids.

“Yeah,” I laugh, “Koji’s about Akiko’s age, and he already likes her a lot. Since he saw her as a baby.”

“Don’t tell Emi that. She’s very sensitive about letting girls make their own choices.”

“Hey, joking!”

“Sometimes, Emi has no sense of humour,” he says morosely. “Especially when she’s expecting. Cheerful, but touchy.”

“Ha! So what you told me last time was true! A second on the way!”

“Kenji, I thought you believed me when I told you! Due in May!”

I need to change the subject before we end up like some poetry jam. Also, there was once I hinted to Hisao that Yuuko and I had another one coming, and that didn’t work out. The truth became a lie. It’s like what Tezuka once told me, “If you make comments on works in progress, it’s bad luck.”

“Well, congratulations again. What do you think about the food quality here nowadays?”

“As an adult, I think it’s terrible. But I think it’s better than when we were students—so, not so bad.”

“That’s life, Hisao.”

He looks down at his ramen, half-finished but still warm in its bowl. “One day, come over to the school. I’ll get the molecular gastronomy class to whip up something for you. It’s a cool project that Emi and I have in the basement of the laboratory block.”

It sounds wonderful. “Ah, but you know I can’t be seen on the campus officially, these days.”

“We’ll make it unofficial then, we won’t tell Shizune. One of the days that you pick Yuuko up after work, come a bit earlier and we can have tea in the café we set up outside the MG lab. It’s better than this, you know.”

“Isn’t that an abuse of privilege?” I needle him.

With a completely deadpan expression, he cracks me up by saying, “Madam Principal Hakamichi Shizune would never consider it so.”

*****

November to December 2021

I’m busy towards the end of the year. Monitoring the activities of one Rika Katayama has given me a headache. So one day in late November, when it’s getting cool, I pull Tsukuda off surveillance and give him a day off. I am quite sure he’s been targeted by the Katayamas anyway, so I tell him to get clean while I rotate someone else in. He seems very thankful. I wonder how he’ll feel if he knows his boss is going to take over for a couple of days. That’s why I’m borrowing my Aunt Midori’s little German car for a drive up to Noda, a place I am quite fond of for a funny reason.

Let me tell you a story, in case you are a foreigner. Once upon a time, maybe four hundred years ago, there were a couple of families who decided to pool their resources in their small town, and become a bigger ‘gang’. They made soy sauce, from wheat, and soybeans, and salt. Then they add some kind of fungus called ‘koji’. No, I didn’t name my son after a fungus! But it always cracks me up when people think that; after all, when you have it in sounds but not the characters themselves, it’s exactly the same. This mixture is called ‘shoyu koji’ which I guess you can call ‘fungus bean sauce’. It is world-famous, and I bet you know the brand I’m talking about.

The small town is quite big now. It even has one of those American ‘Toys ‘R’ Us’ stores. But I like the little soy sauce museum in their science-fiction style headquarters building in Noda. It was their place of origin, and they maintain it well, they have tours even, through the factory. They serve soy sauce flavoured ice-cream, and one day I might consider sending a friend a soy sauce cheesecake or a soy sauce pizza. It all tastes good.

What I’m interested in, though, is behind the reconstructed traditional fermentation centre. It’s even behind the enormous steel vats that are the real thing. It’s a little research facility that is linked to Noda Campus, only 20 minutes away. They weren’t supposed to have one. I flash my pass at the security guards, who scan it diligently and then look very confused, but bow and let me in. I drive past them and park neatly in a visitor’s lot. Better not to antagonize your hosts if you need information the quiet way.

As I guessed they might, my hosts attempt to act like a tortoise and pull their legs in when I start asking. I smile and ask gently, “Do you want to live for 10,000 years?” I think they are unnerved by my colourful scarf, because they don’t think that a civil servant like me should wear such colours with my suit.

“No, Director Setou,” some of them chorus. Some say, “Yes, Director Setou,” and the count is about even. These are small turtles in the soy sauce pond. I smile more, and somebody gets the hint, and soon I get to see someone more senior.

“Good morning, Ueta-san!” I say, the moment I see him enter. He has a very appropriate name for a big head in a big company. The moment he sees me, he smiles without humour and says, “Good morning, Setou-san!” in reply. It is as if we are great friends.

But he suspects the jig is up, as they say. I have come to steal melons in broad daylight, and he is going to tell me where they are. We pause for tea, which we do patiently, not talking about the secret research facility. An hour later, we smile and exchange goodbyes, and I am off down the road to visit the ‘Ghost of Noda’.

What? I blink in a certain pattern again. My eyeball’s data feed is saying something strange. Very strange. What is Dr Katayama doing heading to Sendai today? Kenji, you’re a failure! You spent so much time acting the scary man at the sauce factory that you let the fish slip out of the net!

Frustrated, I decide that this is the day I visit Yamaku for some molecular gastronomy. It’s not a short drive, but it’s relaxing in a way. As I approach Sendai, my target ring and my destination ring begin to overlap. As I park below the window of Shizune Hakamichi’s office, they are almost one hundred per cent in alignment.

I’m already talking to my good friend the Vice-Principal, and he has earlier informed the Principal that Director Setou of a certain government agency is visiting. It is 3.30 pm. Yuuko finishes work at 6 pm most days, so I still have time.

“Hisao, would you happen to know if your good friend and surprise love interest Rika Katayama is on campus today?”

I swear I can hear him blush over the phone. “What? No! I mean, I don’t know. Ow! I don’t know what he means by that, Emi! Really! Yes, later! No, I mean yes. No!”

This is amusing, but tiresome. “Tell Emi I was joking. I’m just visiting your molecular gastronomy lab on impulse. Sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. Was supposed to meet Rika earlier today and found out she was headed in this direction.”

It’s mostly true. But there’s too much coincidence about the whole thing. From out of nowhere, a voice in my head says, “See? It’s the damn feminists again! They got to Nakai and now they’ll get to you!” I slap myself to make it shut up, and feel a lot better.

“She doesn’t come here to meet me,” he says. “She has a research project she discusses with Mutou-sensei.”

Damn, I had forgotten about him. His life is a mystery, that guy. He’s off our radars because he’s only a science teacher, but somehow he has connections. He is flagged as being on three different Family registers, and I don’t even think he knows what a Family is, which makes me a fool.

“Ah! I remember him. Where can we find him?”

“It’s after lunch, so I don’t know. I can check his timetable, though. Hold on.”

“Holding.” I wonder if we have a tracker on Akio Mutou. It is unlikely, but it never hurts to try. Hmmm. “Hisao, do you think you might find Mutou-sensei training in the dojo?”

“The dojo? What? I know he does a bit of stick fighting, hanbojutsu mainly. He studies his kata three times a week, mostly Monday-Wednesday-Friday. Maybe he does some weekends too. But I’ve never watched him. How did you know? Why do you ask?”

“He always seemed like the Sherlock Holmes adventurer type, back in the old days.” I can’t tell my friend that the satellites are telling me that both Rika and her mentor are in the dojo right now, or very close to it. The security cameras could probably tell me what they’re doing.

I’ve reached the main office, so I say, “Bye for now, see you at your office soon,” and knock on the door politely before walking in.

“Welcome to Yamaku!” says the lady at the front counter.

“Ah, good afternoon, Setou-san?” says my wife, who is standing right behind her and lifting her eyebrows so high that I start looking for little pulleys on the top of her head.

I nod to the junior officer and say, “Hello, Shirakawa-san! I have a little meeting with Vice-Principal Nakai, so sorry if I have surprised you because it was very last-minute!”

I can see Hisao already stepping out of his office, so I feel relieved that I do not have to explain things too much. “Pick you up at 6 pm?” I whisper to Yuuko, who seems a bit flustered.

“Umm, okay, husband,” she replies, a very tiny trace of a frown appearing before Hisao joins us. “See you later,” she says a little grimly just in the brief moment before Hisao and I greet each other. She hates surprises, that one.

Some distance down the corridor between the admin block and the sports centre, Hisao turns to me with a suspicious frown. “So, how do you know they’re in the dojo?”

“It’s a guess, that’s all.”

“Have you hacked our security cameras?”

“No, no, never!” I am thankful that I hadn’t done it before he asked. I hate lying to friends, so I always avoid that by not saying anything. Or by saying something else.

“Well, we’ll head for the sports centre, say hello to Mutou-sensei, and then join Emi back at the MG lab. She’s just gone there to set things up for tea.”

“Great!” I say brightly. “So nice of you!”

“Kenji, I know when you’re hiding something or being devious. But I won’t ask you more, because it’s your job. The log says that Mutou has only booked the dojo till 4.30 pm. Yamasuge takes the Aikido Club from 5 pm onwards.”

We don’t talk much as we make our way to the dojo. However, we begin to hear interesting sounds as the entrance comes into our view. Quiet conversation, with very, very short bursts of activity.

“I think we wait outside?”

“Of course,” says Hisao.

It’s the polite thing to do if we’re not actually training. But clearly he’s uncomfortable with not knowing why I’m here. Me, I’m uncomfortable because I myself don’t know why I’m here. I just need to know what Rika Katayama is doing, and that she seems to be meeting with… oh, shit. That explains why Mutou-sensei is on the Katayama register as well. For some reason, he’s either a retainer or a very close Family associate.

It’s a very uncomfortable wait. Fortunately, it’s now acceptable to do your email while waiting, and that’s what Hisao’s doing, I think. Me, I’m pretending to do mine while running through Rika’s dossier. It makes me unhappy to know there are things Kenji doesn’t know!

At 4.15 sharp, we hear sounds of practice coming to an end. It’s not true we Japanese are all martial artists, but one is familiar with typical training sounds. Today’s training was a style that didn’t sound familiar at all.

Eventually, the curtain draws back, and Rika appears, her long neat silver ponytail swaying behind her. I am impressed. I can tell even Hisao is impressed, although he stubbornly refuses to show it. She is carrying a compact black-and-red bag about the right size for a kendo armour set, and a matching sword case perhaps with a bokken in it. Katayama arms, but the impact isn’t from what she’s carrying, but how she carries herself. She has perfect posture, and she isn’t sweating at all.

“Oh? Greetings, senior gentlemen! It is a great and pleasant surprise to find you here.”

My eyeballs, on the other hand, suddenly fade to black. “Damn it!” I say, unable to stop myself.

“Kenji!” says Hisao, sounding scandalized.

“Has this junior lady caused offence?” asks Rika, very politely and demurely.

“Ah, hello? Oh, Nakai-san, Setou-san, what can this old teacher do for you today?” says someone who can only be Mutou-sensei.

I blink, attempting to reset my augments. Who’s using countermeasures against me? The augments put themselves offline and my eyeballs go normal, but without commentary. “Ah, sorry, Sensei, Dr Katayama,” I say politely, “Good day to you, I was just about to have tea with Hisao and was wondering if you would like to join us.”

It is the dumbest excuse I can give. Why would I go all the way to the dojo to invite people to tea? But there it is. What surprises me is that they accept, Mutou sticking in the comment that it is Rika who is sensei in the dojo and not he. Soon we are sitting down in a little traditional-looking café that has been set up outside the shiny steel doors of Hisao and Emi’s molecular gastronomy laboratory.

At the end of our little encounter, I’ve classified everyone there as a friend. I also have some guesses about what is happening, some ideas about the future of animal tissue culture, and first-hand knowledge about how good food can taste in specially-prepared small amounts. ‘Foam of clam extract on julienne of flash-frozen fugu ’ sounds terrible, but it is excellent, and it is only one of the several tiny portions I get to taste.

But at the back of my mind, old Kenji is yelling, “Hey, don’t let the damn feminists con you, one of them is handling the Mutou guy you used to respect so much, and the other one is controlling your best friend!”

I’m sure this is not true. After I take my meds, things will be better, and my birthday is coming soon!

=====
prev | next
Last edited by brythain on Sat Mar 21, 2015 9:51 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)

Post Reply