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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (39—'Reflecting') (20150917)

Posted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 11:52 am
by Sharp-O
Well that was a trip. Really dug it though :D

Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (39—'Reflecting') (20150917)

Posted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 12:19 pm
by brythain
Hesmiyu wrote:Reading the bit before the story made me think of when neo saw the deja vu cat in The Matrix. Didn't expect Emi to be an animagus. What the cats back paws be like?
What cat? :D (I'd guess white stockings, but you never know.)
Sharp-O wrote:Well that was a trip. Really dug it though :D
That's what switching from coffee to camomile tea for a day will do to you! :D

Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (39—'Reflecting') (20150917)

Posted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 12:26 pm
by Skeeve
brythain wrote:What cat? :D (I'd guess white stockings, but you never know.)
My personal headcanon says 'robocop legs'.

Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (39—'Reflecting') (20150917)

Posted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 12:31 pm
by Alpacalypse
brythain wrote:That's what switching from coffee to camomile tea for a day will do to you!
You should do that more often. It's entertaining. :lol:
I can attest to the fact that cats are the world's biggest trolls

Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (39—'Reflecting') (20150917)

Posted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 12:56 pm
by bhtooefr
brythain wrote:Left behind, right behind. Rin wondered at those words. They sounded kind of half-assed to her.
Meow look what you've done. I cat believe you.

Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (39—'Reflecting') (20150917)

Posted: Fri Sep 18, 2015 12:02 am
by brythain
Skeeve wrote:
brythain wrote:What cat? :D (I'd guess white stockings, but you never know.)
My personal headcanon says 'robocop legs'.
That would've been too obvious! :D
Alpacalypse wrote:
brythain wrote:That's what switching from coffee to camomile tea for a day will do to you!
You should do that more often. It's entertaining. :lol:
I can attest to the fact that cats are the world's biggest trolls.
My vet actually has a cat named Emi. She's very friendly (the cat, but also the vet).
bhtooefr wrote:
brythain wrote:Left behind, right behind. Rin wondered at those words. They sounded kind of half-assed to her.
Meow look what you've done. I cat believe you.
:lol: It's the half-assed theory of leadership: either you get right behind, or you get left behind.

Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (39—'Reflecting') (20150917)

Posted: Fri Sep 18, 2015 8:25 am
by Skeeve
brythain wrote:
Skeeve wrote:My personal headcanon says 'robocop legs'.
That would've been too obvious! :D
Well, yeah, I suppose so, but can you picture a cat walking with that incessant 'whirr-thump' sound?

Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (39—'Reflecting') (20150917)

Posted: Fri Sep 18, 2015 9:52 pm
by brythain
Skeeve wrote:
brythain wrote:
Skeeve wrote:My personal headcanon says 'robocop legs'.
That would've been too obvious! :D
Well, yeah, I suppose so, but can you picture a cat walking with that incessant 'whirr-thump' sound?
The gentle whine of servomotors, and the priming of instruments of mass disruption...

Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (40—'Vineyard') (20150922)

Posted: Tue Sep 22, 2015 11:53 am
by brythain
This is the third in the little series beginning with 'Lanyard' and 'Courtyard'. It's also the fortieth of my one-shot short pieces. When I began, I told myself I'd aim for 30 pieces in a year, so this is an extra ten, and I hope you've enjoyed this run. Thanks for reading!

Vineyard: Postlude

Hisao was running late, yet again. After he’d forgotten and completely missed the first “official” date, he’d sworn that he wouldn’t forget this one. To Hisao’s credit, he hadn’t. The question was more whether his date would actually believe the real reason: that he’d been waylaid most unexpectedly.

Yes, waylaid. Not once, but twice!

First, by Shizune, without Misha. The Student Council president had passed him a very long written note. He’d read through it and extracted three main points: [Your mother called me. Then my cousin called me. What’s this about a restaurant?]

He’d let out a sigh of exasperation and signed back: [I have no idea.]

Shizune had smiled: a thin, fleeting smile. Then she’d signed: [I think you’re in trouble. If you need help, let me know.] He’d nodded in appreciation, with minimal but necessary courtesy, and run off.

Weirder still, the second waylaying had been by Misha, without Shizune. He’d groaned so loudly that Principal Yamamoto must’ve heard it in his faraway office. “Hicchan!~ I have to warn you, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!”

“What are you sorry about, Misha?” he’d asked, still moving. Misha had broken into a jog to catch up.

“I’m sorry I had to tell her about your hot date, Hicchan!”

“Tell whom?” he’d replied, panting. Any more of that, and he’d have sworn that the dreaded flashes of red lightning in his vision would have appeared, signaling the onset of a deadly arrhythmic episode.

Misha’d chosen that very moment to fall behind, just as he’d put on one last spurt to get to the bus stop as his bus appeared, punctual to the last second. It was one bus too late, he knew, but effort had to count for something, surely.

There was still time for a quiet dinner, perhaps a walk around town after some wine, a light supper and a return to their secretly-shared room. What a harrowing day he’d had! But he knew it’d be worth it.

He made it to the classy restaurant just before the fifteen-minute grace period was to expire and heaved a sigh of relief. Hisao was about to ask the maître d’ to point him to the table reserved for ‘Nakai, party of two’ when he spotted his date out of the corner of his eye.

Hanako was wearing a beautiful figure-hugging purple long-sleeved dress, and the string of small cultured pearls that his interfering mother had given her. She looked absolutely beautiful, even with half her face still hidden behind an immaculately groomed curtain of dark hair.

However, the look on her face was gloomy, and even the smile she cast at him across the room was apprehensive. He felt a sharp stab of pain in his chest. No, it was only the stitches from all that running around, surely?

He was vaguely conscious of the maître d’ standing politely but firmly in his way. “Sir,” he was saying, “If you would care to wait, we can prepare a table for you in about five minutes.”

“But that’s my t-table,” he gasped.

“Nakai, party of two?”


“I’m sorry; you may be mistaken.”

“What? That’s m-my girlfriend over there!”

“Ah. I’m afraid she’s with another party. Sir, may I seat you elsewhere?”

The blinding streaks of lightning began to crash through his vision just as his mother emerged from the corridor leading to the washrooms.

“Hicchan!~” he heard faintly as his world went dark. “I didn’t know you were coming! I thought, oh, how kind of Miss Satou and my very dear son to give me an evening to chat with Miss Ikezawa!”

His vision had narrowed to a single point of agony. “Hnnnnnngggg…”

“Hicchan? Hicchan! Someone get a doctor!”

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (40—'Vineyard') (20150922)

Posted: Tue Sep 22, 2015 4:39 pm
by Skeeve
I'm not sure if I feel worse for Hisao or Hanako.

Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (40—'Vineyard') (20150922)

Posted: Tue Sep 22, 2015 10:23 pm
by brythain
Skeeve wrote:I'm not sure if I feel worse for Hisao or Hanako.
This tiny trilogy is my homage to the ever-not-so-present Mrs Nakai senior. I think that in my writing I've only really put her in 'In Our Hands' (which is Hisao x Shizune) and one episode in the Miki arc from 'After The Dream'. :)

Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (41—'Sketch') (20151013)

Posted: Tue Oct 13, 2015 11:04 pm
by brythain
I keep returning to these themes, because I've never been entirely sure why Kenji has all the best lines in KS. Also, because it seems to me that Nurse and Mutou are good friends who hang out at a pub, but I don't know why I should feel that way.

A Sketch of Things to Come

Somewhere on the fringes of a city in the Tohoku region is a pub. It’s called ‘The Seven Maidens’, and some say it’s a tribute to the Pleiades, those daughters of Atlas who appear in almost every myth and story. We Japanese love foreign mythologies. They are as ridiculous as our own, and so we retell them in our own way.

In the pub are two men who work in a local school by day, and come here most evenings to chill out. It’s a rather special school, and these are rather special men. They don’t think so, though.

“Do you believe it, old trenchcoat?” says the foxy-faced man to his hangdog companion. “If biology isn’t enough, they have to muck around with the nature of the universe.”

“You still read newspapers?”

“Is that all you can think about, Mutou Teacher-san?” replies his friend, glaring meaningfully at him through a messy fringe. He thumps the table with his rolled-up paper, apparently more in sorrow than in ire.

“Heh,” says the poorly-shaven gentleman with the whisky. “Well, Kaneshiro Nurse-san, it’s been a hobby of mine for years now.”

“Hobby? Mucking around with the universe? Haven’t we enough work on our hands with our own young people?”

As Goro Kaneshiro downs his third bottle of good Japanese beer, Akio Mutou comes to a decision. In fact, he comes to a decision point. [Tell] and [Don’t Tell] both flash through his mind, and he irritably swats them away in the darkness of his head.

“Let’s get back to school.”


“Why are we sneaking around the library, Mutou?”

“Shh. We need to make sure Shirakawa isn’t working late.”

“I bet you tell your students to give direct answers.”

“I know you tell your patients to follow orders.”

“You have me there, sensei.”

“Shut up.”

The two figures are somehow much more stealthy than you’d expect of a science teacher and a head nurse. Clearly, they’ve been on many such incursions and excursions together.

“There.” The single word is breathed out from Mutou’s lips so softly that only the faintest wetness of tongue against teeth betrays the fact that anything was said.

Kaneshiro looks carefully into the half-darkness. Is that the masked light of a computer being used under a hood? Eyes still narrowed, he looks back at Mutou. “What?” he mouths.

“Schrödinger’s canary,” Mutou mouths back. For a moment, his friend looks uncertain, and then appalled.

“No!” The exclamation is silent, but pointed.

“Yes.” The sibilant is silent, but echoes.

Kaneshiro narrows his eyes further. It is typical of him that he looks most dangerous when he appears to see the least. Mutou has seen this look before, but looks alarmed nevertheless.

“Come with me,” Goro Kaneshiro says softly. “Now.”

It is the voice of medical authority, which in some situations can indeed trump that of academic authority. Akio Mutou follows him quietly out. The two of them, one slightly shadowing the other, now in reverse order from that of their prior entrance to the library, make their way to the staff apartments.

The nurse waits as the teacher digs his keys out from the disreputable trenchcoat of indefinite colour. The moment the locks are disengaged, the two men bustle into the quiet apartment. In the darkness, it seems a lot larger than it ought to be, but when the lights automatically come up, it’s just a bachelor’s small home after all.

“Wait. Drink first,” says Mutou.

Kaneshiro looks suspiciously at him, then nods and sits down at the dining table. Neat piles of magazines and research papers, many filed meticulously, lie stacked flat and shelved upright in cheap but functional furniture. Nurse Kaneshiro has been here many times before. He wonders why of all the photos Mutou could have left on display, he’s kept the one of the long-forgotten ski trip.

The practiced clink of ice-cubes sounds from the kitchen. He looks up, lets his gaze sweep around the familiar room. Most people, he thinks, would imagine Mutou’s home to be a messy den of cigarette stubs and blurry whisky tumblers never washed. The reality is different. His old friend appears to reserve messiness for school. He keeps wondering. It’s part of friendship.

Mutou sweeps out of the kitchen, balancing two tumblers and a strange silver-chased bottle. “From Michiko,” he says, delivering his bolt deadpan.

“Your ex-wife? She gives you whisky?”

“It must be to show how wonderful her life is compared to mine.”

Kaneshiro focuses his gaze. Mutou’s face is absolutely emotionless. Suddenly, he finds himself teetering on the brink of understanding, of knowing how loss can strip away part of humanity. He steps back, afraid of the void, and changes the subject.

“That computer, in the library. Was that Setou?”

“Yes. He’s been working on description theory. He thinks he’s found a way to encode Yamaku as numbers in a multi-dimensional space.”

“I’m a doctor, not an engineer.”

“I’m an alchemist, not a physician.”

They look at each other, old friends with old jokes. By mutual and unspoken agreement, they sip whisky. It’s very good. There’s an aftertaste of raisins under the peat.

Kaneshiro holds his tumbler up to the light. “What is this, a product of Hokkaido?”

“Close. It’s from a Satou distillery in the Highlands. The one near Glenfarclas. My ex-wife rides over with her sister to inspect it once in a while.”

“Those names, they’re hard to pronounce.”

“True. I don’t think I’m pronouncing it right.”

“So. Kenji Setou?”

“Yes. He started with mapping his idea of the social world, using strings and puppets and an architectural plan of the school.”

“Where did he get that?”

“He found it in the Library. Along with many other things previous administrations had seen fit to store in the corners of that area. Then he thought he’d found a secret code that predicted groups of possible outcomes—alternate universes.”

“Mutou, you’re having me on. You’re feeding me good scotch just to get me susceptible to your fairy-tales.”

“But you believe me?”

“Well, I am an empiricist. I believe in what we’ve experienced before, and tested to be true. I won’t say you’re lying. And with Setou, anything’s possible.”

“Yes. So he started experimenting with cryptography, and of course went a bit mad. Shirakawa got very upset when he began muttering arcane formulae into her ear and ‘making grunting sounds like a non-human’. She came to see me. He found out because she foolishly told him, and ended their relationship.”

“Oh, sad,” says the nurse, his narrow eyes turning down at the corners.

“Very sad,” agrees the teacher, melancholy personified.

They each take another sip. The ornate bottle is still half-full. Mutou’s been saving it up over the years, in its comfortable bed in a cool, dark place in the kitchen. It’s not every ex-wife that will give a man a vessel of some of the finest firewater known to the Highlands.

“Well, recently, Setou came to me and proposed that I start a Science Club.”

Kaneshiro’s eyebrows rise and then hover, waiting for a continuation. That Kenji Setou would propose such a thing is rare; that he would propose such a normal thing is even rarer.

“He said I would need it so that I would read the right books and recruit the right student if I had to do so.”

“The right students?”

“No, the right student, singular.”

The eyes of the Medical Centre’s boss are seldom visible. Mostly, people see his toothy grin. Tonight, not only are those eyes wide open, but the pupils are unusually dilated. And of course, the eyebrows have risen a little more.

“It’s a black swan situation, Akio?”

“That it is. It’s a boy, family name of Nakai. Or it will be, anyway. Next year.”

“Is he special in any way? Has a disability like synaesthetic dyschronia?”

“No. Apparently I have to make sure he’ll be Setou’s neighbour so that he can be influenced appropriately. Setou even said that at the moment he has no active disability.”

“Active disability, old trenchcoat?”

“Yes. I asked, of course.”


Akio Mutou looks suddenly haggard, his unshaven chin jutting out more prominently against the light. He sips some of the life-giving elixir his ex-wife has sent to him from the glens of a very distant North, before responding slowly.

“Well. Apparently he’s going to hear a girl’s confession of sorts, and that will destabilize his heart, which has a congenital defect he doesn’t know about yet.”

The nurse’s eyebrows disappear under his fringe as he stares at the science teacher. “Another Rika Katayama?”

“Not really. That one’s had her problems since birth, yes?”

“Yes. Survived everything so far, though.”


There’s a long pause. Both men know that survival is all you can hope for, for some of the students under their charge. Mutou sighs softly, just as his friend looks at him and speaks.

“I had a dream recently. I dreamt I was dating Ibarazaki’s mother, and the girl was dating a young man with some sort of cardiac arrhythmia.”

“Time to start being charming again, then,” says Mutou lugubriously. His hangdog look has become a permanent mask.

Kaneshiro finishes his drink. “We’ve already gone out once or twice. It feels funny though. You can tell she wants to let go but she can’t. There’s a dead man in our relationship.”

Mutou says nothing. He can’t help but think of the little stone marker up near the Sorrowful Tree. There’s always a death, he muses. Always.

The soft blue beep of the digital clock on the desk announces the hour. The long day is coming to an end.

“I’ll be going, then,” says the nurse, many things on his mind. One of the big things is that he wishes his friend were happier. He has no idea how to make that happen.

“See you in the morning, old fox.”

“G’night, trenchcoat.”


In a faraway city, a nervous young lady who would never ever admit to nerves has begun to draft a note. There’s only one way to do this, Iwanako says to herself. I’ll have to meet Hisao tomorrow after school and tell him.


Back in the Yamaku library, a hooded figure in a scarf and thick glasses pumps his fist and turns off his computer. In total darkness, he finds his way out, and then heads back to his dorm, avoiding the night guards and the stares of his schoolmates.

All round them, the paths open up. Route after route after route, whispers Kenji to himself. And only I can see them all.

On the way back to his room, he remembers something. He fishes out a crumpled administrative form from the deep pockets of his coat. A jelly baby seems to be stuck to it. He pops the sweet into his mouth and finds the stub of a pencil. Quickly, he fills in the request for room transfer in the coming academic year. He thinks for a moment. The room opposite 119? That’s 118. It’ll have to do.

He folds the slip carefully and pushes it into the slot in the wall of the main office building. Cautiously, he negotiates the shadowy spaces and disappears into the night.


Somewhere else, Iwanako folds her note just as carefully, after blowing on it to dry the ink. She dithers a while, then puts it in her bag. Everything’s set now. No turning back. Then she turns off the light and goes to sleep.

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (42—'Legwork') (20151016)

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2015 5:27 am
by brythain
This is one of the few Hisao x Emi stories I worked out while I was wondering how AtD ought to go. It didn't quite go that way, though.


Hisao slipped on his cleats carefully before standing up and testing the fit. A little tight, perhaps, but nothing a little bit of soccer wouldn’t fix. Ever since he’d started working out with Emi, a desire to pick the game up again had grown in him. At Yamaku, they played with mixed teams, and that suited him just fine.

As he readied himself, he saw Emi adjusting a set of prosthetic legs that looked almost like a clubs strapped onto thin metal sticks. Hisao chuckled at the sight before walking over to help her.

“What are you laughing at?” the love of his life said. There was an alarming edge to her voice, but love can make you both blind as well as deaf to such dangers. At Yamaku, the first rule was that all communications should be as clear as possible. The problem was that humans continued to be humans.

“Err, what do you mean, Emi?” his mouth said, as his brain tried desperately to catch up.

“It’s not easy to switch modules from sprinting to soccer. You need different legs, dumbass. So stop smirking, and if you can’t hold spare parts for me, stay away until I’m done.”

Hisao looked desperately around for help, but the guys were already sniggering at him, and Miki Miura was making exaggerated face-covering, head-banging motions that had begun to elicit snorts and howls of laughter. He shook his head and spread his hands in what he hoped was a clear sign of apology.

“Sorry, Emi.”

“Can’t hear you. You’ll have to speak up.” Emi grinned evilly at him.

Hisao shook his head. It was going to be a long afternoon.


Meanwhile, back in the dorms…

Kenji rifled through the underwear drawer with alarming efficiency. With hands moving like a blur, he tossed pairs of colorful lacy underwear over his shoulder until he found what he was looking for: a diary. Kenji paused. Should I really be reading Hisao’s girlfriend’s diary? He looked back at the door whose lock he’d picked not two minutes ago before remembering: the mission always comes first. He sat on the neatly made bed and quickly began to pry apart the pages before him.

It was a hefty volume, one of those five-year diaries that look like a good deal until you have to lift it. She’d been using it for about three years. He began at the beginning, and found himself looking at large, shaky handwriting.

Damn feminists, always out to get you with their tricks. This kind of script, it was meant to make you think the operative was an innocent, frightened little girl. But surely, there was code hidden in it.

[My father is gone. I found out today.]

Yeah, certainly. That line marked the day her controller had been transferred, for sure.

[I won’t be able to run with him ever again.]

Until you got your prosthetics, of course. But this line, it probably meant that he’d been transferred to another arena.

[What’s the point of life? I’d rather die.]

Melodrama! What theatre! Strangely, Kenji felt gripped by the unfolding narrative, coded or not.

A lot of time passed. The frown on his face deepened and settled, barely concealed by the thick bridge of his spectacles and the untidy mess of his fringe. His scarf began to unwind as he sat on the bed and kept reading.


Five-nil?? Unheard of. 3-3 was losing to 3-4 by a rather unhappy margin. Hisao, playing as a defender, had conceded a few fouls for shoulder charging. It was the only way he could think of stopping Emi, 3-4’s surprise attacking midfielder. Her field prosthetics appeared stable enough to allow her to change direction at will, or even spring in unexpected directions. And where the hell had she learnt to kick like that?

His other surprise was to see Rin Tezuka on the field. She was supremely adapted for a game requiring avoidance of handball. Hisao had thought she’d been there to make up the numbers. One goal from a pinpoint header and another from a deft footwiggle had disabused him of that notion.

His defensive partner glanced at him. “Damn, Nakai, can’t you stop your girlfriend? I’d rather not have to get her stretchered off. I can take Uchida any day, or even Tezuka, but I don’t want to mess with your girl.”

“Well, Miura,” began Hisao through gritted teeth. “Appreciate that. But what is it between you and her anyway?”

“Not as much as between you two, obviously. Can’t you trip her or something?”

He looked back, appalled. Miki’s grin was feral. “If I did it myself, Nakai, people might think I had a grudge.”


The sun was descending. Even though Yamaku was on high ground, it was clearly heading for evening. Kenji sat up with a start. Shit! The game must be over, Hisao and his girlfriend must be on the way back now. Factor in time for that fembot to change gears, well, gear… Damn! Time to leave. But what a story!

Hastily, he shoved Emi’s belongings back into their places, with the methodical ease of skilled experience. Despite his speed, everything went back in the right order. He’d learnt such things from long hours in the library.

Besides, if he got caught, he could always say he’d been looking for his friend Tezuka. He had nothing but admiration for the way that man had infiltrated the ladies’ wing and even got the authorities to give him a room there.

Could he be wrong about Ibarazaki? Was she really such a sad, broken person inside? He’d tried to check for encryption, even steganographic code in the little cartoons on each page of the diary. Nothing. Yet, her story had even made him tear up a bit. Damn feminist trick, he sniffled into his scarf as he made to leave the room.

He stopped, deciding to do one last thing. It’s only right. Then he ducked out of the room swiftly. Not a moment too late, it seemed. He heard voices, and ghosted into the pantry, behind the refrigerator.

“Ha, Hisao! You should’ve seen your face when I converted that free-kick.”

“It was a freak kick! Those prosthetics should be banned! Where did you learn to use them like that?”

“There’s this game called ‘pelota’ or something. You use a curved scoop to whip the ball around. And Rin taught me to put power into a kick.”

“Well, you completely bamboozled poor Tokage.”

“Lizard? Who’s that?”

“Our goalkeeper, who’s nursing the bruise he got when he tried to block your shot and crashed into the upright instead.”

“Haha! The look on Miura’s face was great too, when I slipped between you two and got away. She looked like she was going to beat you up!”

“Like an egg?”

“Rin! You’ve been with us all this time. I thought you were just walking along in the same direction and not listening.”

“I can’t not listen. But I can decide not to talk,” came the low and mournful tones of the person Kenji thought of as ‘Double Agent 001’.

“Ha. All right, Hisao, Rin and I can take it from here. You should head back before Her Imperial Majesty catches you here again. Thanks for the game!”

Kenji heard Hisao say his farewells and head back towards the lift. A while more, he mused, and I’ll tail him back to the dorm to make sure nobody follows him.

Somewhere further down the corridor, he heard a gasp and a squeal. “Hey, Rin! Do you have one too? Housekeeping must’ve done it.”

“Done what?”

“There’s this lovely plastic flower on my dresser.”

“It’s very nice. I don’t have one.”

A satisfied look on his face, Kenji Setou paused, then stealthily made his way out of the feminist domain and back to safety. At least he’d done the right thing. Even fembots deserve kudos if they can write such sad stories. Damn. These eyes have seen things men were not meant to see.

The dying sunlight gleamed brightly off his lenses.

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (43—'Ethicality') (20151030)

Posted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 5:26 am
by brythain
It's coming up on Halloween. I guess it's time to dig up old AtD draft files and publish what-might-have-been. :D


You move, but only after you know. That which moves cannot be destroyed, as an old hero of mine once said. Knowledge is a divine power, as another hero of mine also said. You know, and then you move. But you are never a god.

In my line of work, there have to be fair outcomes. No doubt, we are paid to ensure specific outcomes. But we are in some sense an ethical organization, this Yamaku Foundation of ours. We have been known to heal the sick, to look after widows and orphans, to provide for those who cannot help themselves. We have never been able to raise the dead, but what would be the point of that?

It takes me a while to get to Human Resources. It’s only a short while, but every second counts. My request isn’t unknown, but it is unusual, as the database informs me before I find the right code and send it in.

The ROUTING sign comes up before I am really moving. However, it’s only after I’m changed and sipping tea in a Nagoya café that the ACQUIRED sign blinks on. I sigh. This will cost me up to 20% of my fee, but ethicality is an expensive taste.


It takes a while before Goro Kaneshiro and I become friends. He is actually a little older than I am, a fact that surprises anyone who sees us together. My line of work ages me. The daily drudge of delivery, the banal burden of badness, these are alliterative in Anglo-Saxon, my acquired acrolect. In Japanese, these things are normal, but still I look prematurely aged.

It takes a bit longer before I can ask, “How are you and the mother getting along, man?”

He grins at me, a carefree fox-spirit’s grin. “Not so bad. We go bowling together. And dinner, once in a while.”

“Does the daughter mind?”

“Not really, but I can sense reservations. It took her months to accept me as a family friend and not just her critical care nursing officer. When I turned up at the Sendai-Aoba Mountain District Academy, she was horrified. “Are you stalking me?” was her first question. Much later, it was, “You like Mom, don’t you?”

“Do you?” I say this just to stretch the conversation out and ease the tightness in my ethical mind.

“Oh yes. We didn’t get along at first, but Meiko loves her daughter, and she was grateful enough to be nice to me as a healthcare professional trying to do his best. But I never wanted that to be the reason for the whole thing, old trenchcoat, so I held back. Still holding back, somewhat.”

Holding back? I sigh inwardly. He should just let things progress. Every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, given a perfect universe. Holding things back requires energy from somewhere else.

“How long have you been going out?”

“Come on, my melancholy friend, it’s only been a couple of years. You have to give these things time to develop. It wouldn’t be ethical nor honourable to take advantage of a grieving widow and her daughter!”

“Very true,” I nod. He has a point there. I am curious, though. I am a year to retirement, so I should ask the question after that. But I ask it early anyway. “What made you leave the hospital and come here?”

“Well, apparently the Yamaku board were looking for a Chief Nurse, and their database turned me up. It was an interesting career change, from more nursing and less administration, to more administration and less nursing.”

“Ah. Rude of me, I know, but how many years of experience did you have when they contacted you?”

“Started fresh out of university in physiotherapy, then six years as a paramedic, six years as a critical care nurse, specialist surgical ICU training… you know, until they contacted me, I hadn’t even bothered to count it up. You know how it is, you work and try to do your best, and then suddenly, it’s curtains.”

I wince at his expression. Our career tracks are certainly parallel in some ways.

His grin shifts a little bit as he looks over his glass at me. Ugh. Beer, he’s drinking. I’m a whisky man myself, sometimes sake.

“You ever going to marry her?”

“Ha! That’s an interesting question.” He suddenly looks stone-cold sober. I look down at my stone-cold soba and wonder why I can’t avoid making translingual jokes. “It’s hard, you know, competing with a city hero.”


“Yeah. Miss Ibarazaki’s father was this guy named ‘Thorn’ Ibarazaki. He was a police detective notorious for being sharp and inflexible. Also, hell of a national athlete at one time.”

“Ah. I think I’ve heard this story before.” I sip my Suntory.

“While we’re on interesting topics, there’s one thing I’d been meaning to ask you. You’re senior to me on the staff, after all.”

“Only by a few years. I’m sure you know more than I do about some of these things!”

He laughs, nodding. “But there’s this one strange thing. I can understand why so many of our students have Family involvement. After all, that’s where the financing comes from, right?”

“Never thought of it that way, but it sounds probable.”

“But there are so many whose parents are on the other side!”

“You mean, they are dead?”

“Well, yes, statistically above average. That can be accounted for by hereditary disease, stress, stuff like that. But what I meant, old trenchcoat, that they’re from the law enforcement and other government agencies.”

“Well, you know what the government is like. They take with one hand what they give with another.”

“A lot of those missing parents are cops, my friend.”

“It sounds like an urban legend! Are you saying the Families keep their friends close and their enemies even closer?”

“No, I wasn’t going to say that. But maybe they have a balance sheet, the kind that has favours owed against negatives bestowed.”

“I wouldn’t put that in your annual Medical Affairs report, nurse-san.”

“Yeah. I should just have some of that Suntory of yours, teacher-san.”


Eventually, Emi Ibarazaki finds herself a nice boy, one of my better students, and they have a surprisingly fruitful relationship. They get married, and have kids. A few years later, my friend Goro marries Emi’s mother, and everyone is happy.

Everyone. It’s always best to retire with no more red in one’s ledger. Heck, until the balance sheet matched up, they wouldn’t let me go. I strip and assemble my long little friend for one last time, admiring the lines. Then I place every part into its own little compartment, before I turn in my gear.

No more unexplained absences for science teacher Mutou! I smile a genuine smile for the first time in thirty years, then stretch my legs. Knowledge is power. Movement is survival. Moving on always feels good.

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (44—'Wingbeats') (20151231)

Posted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 1:18 am
by brythain
It's been two months since my previous post, a rather busy two months.
During that time, I sat down with Kenji Setou and discussed alternate timelines and universes.
Here's one of many possible sequels to Alt Dreams 08 — Wingmen.


Today he’d be damned if he acted like another nondescript Japanese businessman taking advantage of cheap post-Christmas tourism offers. Three years since he’d resolved to make it work. And maybe, if his confused perceptions of human behaviour had finally got it right, he’d seen the same light flash in her eyes the year before.

They weren’t young anymore. He looked into the familiar mirror of the familiar hotel room, saw the dryness, the slow leathery aging that said so. He’d returned every December, so regularly that he was recognized by all the hotel staff who’d stayed around long enough. He was sure it would be the same for her too, except that changes in hairstyle and clothing tended to throw people off a bit.

Today wouldn’t be high tea at the Rose Verandah, as always before. This afternoon, they were breaking with tradition. It would be the Waterfall Café, this time. He flipped his battered leather wallet open, looked at the dog-eared photo he kept there as a physical memory: a remembrance of two happy people, now a decade gone from the world, and their best friends.

He snapped the thin wallet shut and blinked. Five minutes left. He stuffed the wallet into the pocket of his beige jacket, dithered for a couple of seconds, then hardened his resolve. What the heck. Not just another nondescript Japanese salary-man or senior executive—that was old shit already.

He reached into his small case and pulled the tattered scarf out. She’d recognize that. Maybe he’d even get a smile out of her. Smiles used to be something she’d give away for free, generously. He’d not appreciated them then, and he wondered if it were too late now.

Carefully, trying to recapture carelessness, he flung the bright colours in two loops around his neck. December in Singapore was cool, and there was air-conditioning at the café. He grinned, adjusted his spectacles, and left the room to its own devices.


He sat at the corner table, where he could see the artificial waterfall on his right and everything else spread out before him in front and to the left. In the middle distance some crazy Caucasians were gamboling in the pool despite the light drizzle. She was late, by five minutes already. It wasn’t unusual.

Idly, he wondered what would happen if, one day, either of them just gave up and decided not to make their annual meeting. He felt sad for a moment, then reassured himself that it was unlikely. And besides, there she was, pausing to exchange words with the hostess at the entrance.

He waited for a moment, then stood up. His eyesight had never been good, so he’d had to find other ways of reading a person. Her posture, her movement, the scent she was wearing—all positive signs so far.

“Hello, Misha,” he said.

“Hi! Sorry I’m late, Kenji!~ So nice to see you!~”

Her hair, he noticed, was purplish. She’d sworn off pink for a long while, reverting to her original brown. Today was clearly different; not totally cheerful, slightly ambivalent, but trying hard. Or at least, that was his analysis. Reading people had never been his forte.

She came up to him, close enough to his face for him to see the markings on her irises, then gave him a hug. Awkwardly, he hugged back, politely but firmly. He wasn’t sure how much hug-warmth he had in him, and was afraid to use it all up. She didn’t seem to mind. Her hair had the fragrance of apple-blossoms.

By way of making conversation, he told her, “Today they’ve got a gelato parfait special. It seems to be your kind of thing.”

She laughed. It wasn’t quite the lunatic ‘wa-ha-ha’ of her youth, but it still had bubbles in it. “Kenji, I’ll try to control myself~ Misha’s getting fat and has to go on diet!~ And lots of exercise!”

“Fat?” He looked carefully. A simple white blouse and a dark navy wrap-around skirt of some sort, a bright orange cardigan. Somehow, it worked. And he couldn’t see any fat; the skirt seemed pretty snug and wasn’t the type that could be used to conceal it. In fact, she seemed skinnier—less fat on her knees, he thought. It would be useful to her if he pointed it out.

“Really?” she replied. “Heh, that’s very kind of you, Ken-chan!~ Misha doesn’t think she’s gone skinny, but it’s good of you to say so.”

Not for the first time, he felt warm inside. He had said something right, anyway. It felt pleasant. Yet, it might still end up as it had every year, with empty half-promises and a long flight home by different routes.

They sat, Misha squirming around a little to get comfortable. She was wearing one of those odd fitness bracelets that tracked everything your body did. Maybe she was serious about that diet after all.


Somehow, between the crème brulee and the second cappuccino, they’d found themselves in a rather difficult conversation. At first it had been Misha saying, “Oh you’re not really blind, Kenji! You seem to see me pretty well, except you think I’m thin, so that’s probably astig… asthma… something!~”

And that had led to legal disability and other things, before Kenji committed the unforgiveable crime of asking her what her disability was. He bit his tongue at that.

“Ouch!” he grimaced, tasting blood with his cream.

“Are you all right?”

“No. Yes. Sorry, shouldn’t have asked.”


Her gaze slid sideways from his and swept out towards the waterfall. She put down her parfait spoon. Embarrassed, he looked down at his near-empty dish.

When he looked up, her eyes were locked on his. “Kenji, do you want to hear a story?”

“What? Er, sure.”

He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. She swallowed too. He wondered if her mouth was as dry as his. Maybe they could conserve wetness if they shared lips for a while, a naughty voice in his head whispered. Alarmed at this subversion of his own mind, by his own mind, he shook his head once, sharply.

“Are you sure?” Misha whispered, her voice very small. “It’s okay if you don’t want to hear it.”

He wasn’t sure what he wanted, but their relationship had always been a strange one anyway. He seized his cappuccino cup and took a swig as if it were whisky. “Um, maybe… would you like to come up to the room first?”


It hadn’t been the first time they’d shared a room. It had been two single beds at first, a way of saving money for impecunious young people. For the last three years, it had been a single king-sized bed, shared by two people, guilt and sadness. Sometimes, they’d comforted each other. Sometimes, the bed had seemed cold and forbidding.

Today, they sat at the brown-glass coffee table, on the balcony overlooking the frangipani trees and the manicured grass. He’d made some aromatic black coffee, glad for the new machines installed in every room.

They’d made small talk at first, as she unpacked her small purple travel bag and he figured out the coffee machine. Then she’d disappeared into the bathroom while he sat and waited, trying not to think too much.

Across the table, he saw her open her mouth to speak. Panic rose inside him, but he grimly held on to it until he had leashed it.


“Ah, yes, you said you had a story…”

“Yes.” Her teeth, fine and white, teased her lower lip.

“Tell, tell,” he said softly, in a clumsy attempt to encourage her.

“Don’t hate me for it, please?”

The trills had vanished from her voice, he realized. This wasn’t chirpy Misha or even trying-to-be-chirpy Misha; this was uncertain Misha, and maybe sad Misha. And in the late afternoon sun, she was rather pretty. He could see the purple in her hair more clearly now, and at some angles, it shaded to maroon and redwood.

“Hate?” he said, bewildered. “Why? No, won’t hate you, nothing to hate.”

She sighed. “I don’t know. Kenji, maybe after this we’re not friends any more, so before I tell you, please promise you’ll remember the times we had together? They weren’t all bad times, right?”

He found himself about to frown at the table, then stopped. “Ye-ess, good times. But why… ?”

She’d cut him off with an emphatic gesture. Her hands still had that ability to convey meaning even if you didn’t quite get what they were trying to say, he noticed. His gaze rose to meet hers.

What a funny look she had in her eyes, he thought. Then he understood. She was frightened about something, or anxious, or very nervous. He forced himself to smile a bit. She smiled back, as if they were apprehensive virgins about to lose that status.


“Yes, of course!”

“I wasn’t always a girl.”


Later, still in their room, she sat down on the edge of the king-sized bed and looked away from him, out into the well-manicured gardens with the frangipani trees. He still didn’t know what he could say or not say, so he looked at her out of the corner of his eye.

She was pretty. She’d never been beautiful, never a stunner. But she had always tried to be positive, tried to bring light into a room. Boys had found that simultaneously irritating and cheery. Most of them hadn’t appreciated the noise.

Kenji looked at her calves, still firm and yet round, since he didn’t know where to look otherwise. That, despite having seen her unclothed before.

“I suppose you hate me,” she said softly and drearily. She sounded resigned, as if rain would inevitably come and spoil a sunny day.

“No,” he replied. He thought he meant it. “No, I don’t know,” he added, keeping the expletives in his head behind a chain-link fence. Sadness and regret, there’s too much of it, he told himself, forcing a smile to the surface.

“Listen to yourself, Kenji.”

He did. After a long silence, he replied, “I’m telling myself that I’m still your friend.”

“And that’s all?” She laughed, but the sound was dry and lacked all cheer. It ricocheted around the small room and landed tiredly in the space between them. “Well, I’m used to that. Friends are always good to have.”

He let his lips open, about to say something along the lines of, “I’ll always be your friend, Misha!” — but realized that this would make the exact opposite happen. People friendzoned each other by accident, sometimes, although most times it was deliberate. Misha deserved more than that. He said nothing instead.

“Nothing to say, Kenji?”

The silence grew. Both of them were remembering moments of desperate loneliness, when only the other person had been a refuge from the overpowering desire to bring an end to all things. Both of them were thinking of the years after their friends had gone away, leaving only the two of them behind.

Almost conversationally, as if she were saying, “This tea is cold,” Misha’s voice cut through the blanket of quiet around them.

“I’ve thought of killing myself many times. Both before and after. Shi’chan, she wouldn’t let me think such thoughts. But I thought them anyway, when she wasn’t around.”

“You mustn’t,” he said automatically. “You’re too good to leave so soon.”

“Like our friends?”

Somehow, she knew how to kill a conversation swiftly, like a sharp spike in the head. Kenji tried to understand what she was making him feel. There was hurt and confusion. Yet… yet, they were still talking.

“I’ve wanted to off myself too,” he confessed.

“We could do it together. I wonder how long it would take for anyone to find out. And it’s not as if anyone would care.”

There was, of course, almost no answer to that.


Somehow, nobody died. Kenji found himself pacing furiously at Narita. Where was she? There were things to talk about. He could hardly remember everything himself, and his mind was full of shit. And whisky. He’d almost been dropped off in Bangkok because of that—and because having a manly picnic on the roof of an Airbus wasn’t considered a rational request.

Was that her flight? Landed, the sign said. He paced around some more. He would at least say one last thing to her. Even if it killed him. The answer he hadn’t been able to give just a few days ago in the Garden Wing of the Shangri-La Hotel.

“Do you love anyone, Kenji?” she’d asked him.

“…” he’d replied, when he should have told her so, told her he loved her without reservations.

Now it might be too late. Panic seized him. At least it was a manly panic, he thought inanely. He looked up. Twenty minutes, thirty minutes had passed. More. She’d done it, hadn’t she? Removed herself from the board.

He felt his tears fogging up his thick glasses. Now, there’d be nothing left for him either. Time to go, just as others had gone before.

Then he heard the voice, as if very far away. “Sorry I’m late, Ken-chan!~ Was at the duty-free getting some good whisky!~”

She was right next to him, smelling of airplane cabin and wild apples. Blindly, he reached out to her. “Thanks for the whisky!”

“Is that all, Ken-chan?~” she said playfully. He knew better. He could hear the disappointment in her voice.

It was not what he’d meant to say. He tried again, and this time, he got it right.


Shiina ‘Misha’ Mikado and Kenji ‘Deadeye’ Setou were married in June 2024, in a private ceremony in Saitama. After the wedding, they visited their old friends Shizune Hakamichi and Hisao Nakai. After they’d washed the marble slabs and lit the candles, they could almost imagine Shizune and Hisao laughing and saying, “What took you guys so long?” — or at least in Shizune’s case, [Why so long? Wasting time!]

Before they left, Kenji fumbled around in his wallet and produced a photographic print. It was in bad condition, worn and faded, but had been laminated and sealed to protect it from further deterioration. It showed the four of them, in happier days.

Misha laughed and replaced hers in her handbag. “Kenji, we’ll put mine up at home. You can leave yours~ here.”

He grinned at her, and then gave in to the tiny internal voice that said, “Well, maybe if you share lip-space right now, it would feel good all round.”

Apparently, she agreed.

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