Direction (post Rin neutral ending)(complete)

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Muphrid
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutal ending)

Post by Muphrid » Sun Dec 30, 2012 1:37 pm

Professor Adachi locks up her studio, and I follow her back to her office. Though I have a good bit of time before my next class, it does take fifteen minutes to get back to Toudai, and I'm mindful of that.

But to my relief, Rin is here. With a bag strung around her shoulder and neck, she fumbles with a foot-activated lock on her studio's door. I trot over to give a hand, holding the door open for her.

"Hisao?" she says, a touch of surprise in her voice. "I should have food," she realizes, frowning. "Why don't I have food? Did I get the food and lose it, or did I never get food at all?"

"Probably the latter," I guess. "If you got food, it'd be hard to lose. Unless you ate your portion and mine all by yourself. You wouldn't do that."

Professor Adachi chuckles, coming up behind us. "Why wouldn't she, Nakai? Rin could afford to put some meat on her bones."

Rin shrugs, contorting her body to get the bag of paint over her head and free. "I don't have as many bones as other people. Doesn't that mean I need less meat?"

"Even by proportion, the same principles hold. Isn't that right, Nakai? You're a scientist, aren't you? Tell her about healthy body weight."

"I'm not that kind of scientist," I protest.

"But you're a scientist and a young man. Haven't you studied the female body in detail? Or do you prefer to hit from the other side of the plate?"

Rin raises an eyebrow. "I didn't know you played baseball. Isn't that stressful for someone in your condition?"

I'm not continuing this conversation. It's like the worst combination of sex talk from someone who could be your grandmother and inapt baseball metaphors. It's like I'm getting double-teamed by her and Mitsuru, and the kid isn't even here.

My stomach growls, eliciting another chuckle from Adachi and a stare from Rin.

"We should eat," says Rin.

"Go to the pond," says Adachi. "There are always street vendors trawling for customers around there. You might even find something fit to feed the birds with."

I don't know if this is supposed to encourage me, but Rin seems amenable to the idea. She slips back into the hallway through the studio door and locks up, looking at me like I'm Moses, meant to lead the Israelites to the promised land.

If you replace Israelites by Rin and promised land by food.

We go in silence. Rin leads since I don't actually know the way to this pond, but it seems to be largely back the way I came. The park around Rin's school is scenic in some places and full of culture in others. Trees and grasses mix together with museums and schools, a real juxtaposition of natural and urban environments. It's a mixture, a contradiction, that seems fitting of Rin. I see why she likes this place so much.

As we walk, I find myself watching her, trying to find some hint of her feelings right now, but her face is as impassive as ever. I chide myself silently for even thinking about it. Rin's hard to read most of the time anyway; that much hasn't changed, and more likely than not, she has something else on her mind right now, like how she could've forgotten to get food for the two of us or maybe what paints to mix to replicate the red metallic color of a bicycle that passes us by.

The route by the pond is shaded by trees and lies across a minor road. There's some kind of museum on a narrow stretch over the water. Rin and I walk along the road until we happen upon a yakisoba cart. Cheap, sweet, fried noodles were a staple of my undergrad experience, and they're no healthier for me here in Tokyo, but they do taste good. We settle down on a bench in the shade of a line of trees, with the flat, open space of the pond in front of us and city skyline in the distance. Rin eats a yakisoba sandwich with her feet, and I marvel at how she's able to keep the noodles in the bread even with her only her toes to keep them in place. I doubt I could do that with my hands.

Rin notices I'm staring and stops with the sandwich just a few inches from her mouth. "You look like you found out you're pregnant," she says.

"Say what?"

"What?"

"I mean, why do I look like I'm pregnant?"

She shrugs. "I wanted to say you look like you've never seen a girl eat a sandwich with her feet before, but I've never really noticed anyone staring at me because of that. I have seen someone find out she was pregnant, though, and you looked similar."

"I don't know how I looked, but I can't even imagine how I'd react if I were pregnant, considering the biological impossibility of it for me."

Rin's eyes move to my stomach, then back to my face. "Doesn't seem too hard to imagine."

Well, yes, I should know never to get in a competition to imagine things against you. I'm pretty sure I'd lose that in a heartbeat. I decide it's time I turned the conversation toward what I want to address. "You know, I was talking with Professor Adachi earlier."

"I do know that. I saw you with her. I didn't forget."

"I'm not saying I thought you'd forget. It's a segue, Rin."

She raises both eyebrows, like I've just introduced her to a new intellectual curiosity. "I like that word. Segue. Se-gue." She forms her lips around the consonants and vowels like a small child learning to speak. Once she can say it to satisfaction, she seems pleased with herself, and I continue.

"She told me you had some trouble when you got here," I explain.

That sobers her. Tension rises in her eyes and face—it's that look when she's struggling with herself. "I don't like talking about that time," she says flatly. "We shouldn't talk about that time."

"That's all right. I don't want to talk about that, either. It's just I felt like I gave you the wrong impression, that I just went to college and didn't have any problems. I told you I dated a few girls. It's not nearly as cool as that. I met one girl in a class and lunch with her a few times. Once a week, on Fridays. I was going to ask her out, but she had to bail on me at the end of term, so I didn't. Another girl I did ask out, but we really had nothing in common. I liked her sense of humor, but that was all, and she said no. I did really date someone in undergrad. It lasted for a few weeks, and I thought it was good—good enough that I told her about my heart, just in case, if we went further…but after that we weren't the same."

Rin frowns. "So you lied."

The words stab at me. Even without a harsh tone, Rin's blunt remark goes right through me.

"Yeah," I admit. "I didn't want to sound pathetic."

I trail off, watching her gaze. Though I can't claim to be able to read her fully, I take solace from seeing the hardness ebb away from her eyes. Is it sympathy she's displaying now? Forgiveness? I'm not sure, but since she says nothing, I continue.

"The summer after…you know, after all that—that was the worst. I spent that whole vacation in a blur. I didn't do much. I went home, saw my family. I read books and promptly forgot them as soon as I finished them. I didn't go outside much, and with my heart condition, I had the perfect excuse not to. I floated through those days not really paying attention to anything. I was a zombie."

"A zombie?" she asks. "Does that mean you ate brains?"

"Brains?"

"They're the only way zombies can survive. Or were you a new type of zombie?"

I chuckle a bit. If she's able to think about that, then I can be sure she's not dwelling on darker thoughts right now. That's all I could hope for. "Imaginary brains," I clarify. "Imaginary zombie."

"Oh." She nods in exaggerated understanding, and I go on.

"I was still pretty down about how things turned out when school started up again. Emi and I hung out now and then, sometimes at lunch, other times in town to get tea, but once we got tired of joking around with each other, there was very little left to say, so we stopped doing that. Did she ever try to contact you?"

Rin shakes her head. "She wouldn't understand. I think she knew that."

I nod. Emi had nearly said as much. She was angry at first, angry with Rin for leaving, for being so heartless and pessimistic, but I convinced her that chasing after Rin so soon would do more harm than good. Rin had to figure out her own way through life, on her terms. That was my opinion, and ultimately, Emi accepted it. She gave me a sunny smile—blissfully fake and strained—but a smile nonetheless. It told me that, while she still hurt over what'd happened, she would do her best to put it behind her, and she did.

"Anyway," I say, "I stayed in that funk for the better part of the fall. I got good enough grades that most of the teachers didn't worry about me, but my homeroom teacher, Mutou, did. He took me aside one afternoon, during his science class, and said to me,

" 'Nakai, what are your intentions here? To coast through the rest of the school year and then what? We may not be a typical high school, but like others, we have hopes, aims, and aspirations for our students, and from he who has much talent and aptitude, much is expected. You have that talent, Nakai. You have that aptitude. Perhaps you think, because of your condition, the rest of the world is moving forward while you must inevitably stand aside? That isn't so. Do you know that the biggest and brightest stars in our universe burn themselves out the fastest? It's true. If you really think you're going to die, I urge you to think instead that you have the luxury of not rationing yourself. Unlike the smaller, fainter stars around you, you can burn brightly and make your presence known. You have the stuff within you to do that, Nakai. You're doing well in my class despite going through my lectures glassy-eyed and doodling. It makes me hopeful to see what you could do with your full faculties about you, but only you can make that choice. Every one of your classmates is making choices about their futures every day. What do you want to do with your life? Does it really matter how long you think you'll live?' "

"Wow," says Rin. "You remember all that? Do you know 136th digit of pi also? You must have a really good memory."

I force myself to laugh, for if I didn't, it make come out like I'm exasperated with her. I mean, I almost am because Rin makes it difficult to have a serious conversation, but I know she's not doing this on purpose. She can't be.

"I might've switched some sentences around or changed some words, but that's more or less what he said," I answer her. "And I only know thirty digits of pi."

Rin narrows her eyes. "How boring. I've looked through at least seventy for inspiration at times."

"Sorry to disappoint," I say coolly. "Now, where was I? Oh yeah, Mutou. Well, he didn't really understand what had me down, but his intentions were good, and he was right about a lot of things. Other people were applying to colleges, and I hadn't even thought about it. I didn't have a lot going for me. With Mutou's help, though, we started a science club at Yamaku. It was small—maybe only three or four people by the end of the year—but I got to say I was president of a club for a while. That and good exam marks got me to Kyoto, but I wouldn't have found strength to do that without Mutou's speech to give me a kick in the ass, or without you."

"Me?" asks Rin. "Did I give you a kick in the ass, too? Because I don't remember that."

"Figuratively, yes. You'd gone to go pursue your future, knowing it scared you, that you might change, where I was languishing without any idea what I would do at all. What convinced me to get back on my feet wasn't just a talking-to from a science teacher with permanent stubble. It was you, Rin. You went ahead with something because you thought it was for the best, and it hurt. I know it hurt. I was hurting, too, in my own way. I won't pretend it was the same as what you went through, but that's what I really wanted to tell you today, Rin. I've felt lost and confused and uncertain, too. If that helps you feel a little less alone, even for just a minute—"

My voice suddenly fails me, and I have to close my eyes for a moment just to keep it all in. I didn't want to get emotional about this. I wanted to be hopeful for her and upbeat, but I really was pathetic after she left. I let it get to me. I let her get to me. And all that after I'd resolved not to have my condition get me down anymore. Ironically, it didn't. She did so much to help me forget about it, even by her departure. I want to thank her for that, too, but how can I put that into words? How can I put anything else into words without my voice cracking, without breaking down in front of her? This girl shows so little, and I'm afraid to show any more.

I wanted to be like her, at one time. I thought she just shrugged everything off, that she was immune to angst and despair, but that wasn't true. We were more alike than I'd realized, and I only understood that too late. She doesn't show it, but there's so much going on behind her eyes. It's the one thing that makes me feel connected to her.

And I want to be connected to her. It frightens me. It scares me, and I'm more than a little afraid that this friendship we've rekindled is fragile, that it may be extinguished by a sudden gust of bitterness and sorrow before I've even had a chance to bask in its warmth.

Poke.

I nearly jump out of my seat, but it's just Rin's big toe poking my ankle.

"Sorry," she says. "I didn't mean to surprise you."

"It's okay," I squeak out, and I clear my throat once to compose myself. "I started thinking too many thoughts at once. I didn't know what to do, what to say anymore."

She looks at me for a long second, appearing surprised, before she turns toward the water, staring with an unreadable expression again.

"Then maybe," she says quietly, as if she's afraid to say it any louder, "just maybe, you do know how I feel."

Only then does she allow herself a small, cautious smile. It's not a happy smile, though there is some joy in it. It's one of commiseration, of relief and realized longing. It convinces me of something, of a feeling that now seems unavoidable.

I think I'm in love with this girl. I've fallen for her all over again.
Last edited by Muphrid on Mon Dec 31, 2012 3:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by griffon8 » Mon Dec 31, 2012 12:46 am

I'm enjoying this. I've seen another post Rin neutral—oh hey, I just noticed you misspelled 'neutral' in your thread title :oops: —ending around here; yours is quite different. More the merrier as far as I'm concerned.
Muphrid wrote:"How did they taste?" she asks.

"Excuse me?"

"The brains. They're the only way zombies can survive. Or were you a new type of zombie?"

I chuckle a bit. If she's able to think about that, then I can be sure she's not dwelling on darker thoughts right now. That's all I could hope for. "Imaginary brains," I clarify. "Imaginary zombie."

"Oh." She nods in exaggerated understanding, and I go on.
I think you dropped a line before this. There isn't any other reference to zombies.
Last edited by griffon8 on Mon Dec 31, 2012 4:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I found out about Katawa Shoujo through the forums of Misfile. There, I am the editor of Misfiled Dreams.

Completed: 100%, including bonus picture. Shizune>Emi>Lilly>Hanako>Rin

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Muphrid
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Muphrid » Mon Dec 31, 2012 3:15 am

Joy, spelling errors in the title; that's embarrassing.

I did end up accidentally overwriting the first zombie reference that would've made Rin's remark make sense. Should be fixed now.

Thanks!

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Andere » Mon Dec 31, 2012 5:14 am

Randomly opened this today for no reason I can remember; I'm not really a big fan of Rin, so I wasn't expecting to enjoy it much. I did, though! Quite a bit. Read it through without a break. (And the opening set of qualifiers is an attempt at a compliment. I feel I should clarify that, because it's currently not the best compliment I've ever written.) The last scene was particularly great. I also liked the scene where Adachi says that she must have seen him at her cardiologist and he thinks he hasn't visited one yet, particularly how you refrained from writing anything more on it. Leaving simple implications up to the readers is always a good sign, writing-wise.

In a line you don't often use, I'm kind of glad that the relationship between Sumi and Ryou is a little rocky right now. She was pinging as "dissatisfied with Ryou, reaching out to Hisao for comfort" and combined with the glancing at her legs I was a little worried about an awkward "attempted adultery" subplot. I'm glad that's not where it's going. That's a little inconsiderate to the characters, but they don't exist, so the consequences are decidedly minimal.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Muphrid » Mon Dec 31, 2012 12:25 pm

Glad you're enjoying it so far; I know Rin can be an acquired taste, so I'm very glad the story so far has that appeal.

As far as the storyline with Sumi and Ryou, there was something there that I had strongly considered...until it came time to write it. I was going to have Hisao try to talk to Ryou, but Ryou would be too volatile to talk to and would actually punch Hisao in the chest. Punching someone with a heart condition in the chest would've been unforgivable, and Sumi would've thrown Ryou out. Then, in that moment of having his life flash before his eyes along with other problems, Hisao would've turned to Sumi for comfort (and to comfort her), but She almost certainly would've refused. (Had this been a VN, the player would've had the choice to go to her and press things or leave them be, perhaps.)

But when push came to shove, I couldn't write that. It made Ryou into just this menacing, unsympathetic character. And to this point, he's hardly been developed at all. I realized he was a lot more like Hisao had been, in terms of being in a situation and environment he wasn't prepared to handle.

So all that isn't going to happen. Hisao checking out Sumi partly meant to lead up to that, but I feel it can stay in. I mean, there's no crime in checking someone out. What matters is what you do (or don't do) about it.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by YourFavAnon » Mon Dec 31, 2012 5:20 pm

Rin notices I'm staring and stops with the sandwich just a few inches from her mouth. "You look like you found out you're pregnant," she says.

"Say what?"

"What?"

"I mean, why do I look like I'm pregnant?"
Had me laughing here.

Not going to lie though, got a bit towards the end of that part. I've tried in the past to fix relationships where misunderstanding went down a two-way street, and it truly is a blunt, painful and stressful task to even mend a pixel-sized part. Can sort of relate in that sense.
I write things occasionally.

Dumps of my 35+ fics can be found here and here (including some non-KS stuff).

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Muphrid » Sat Jan 05, 2013 1:11 pm

Distress
Chapter Three

"So, when do I get to meet your girlfriend?"

I look up from a diagram of a conducting plate and a point charge. Sumi's brow is creased as she stares at her own notebooks, but that's only because she thinks looking away from me will help her keep a straight face.

It doesn't work, by the way. I can see the dimple on her left cheek as plain as day. At last, she relents, but she isn't done giving me grief.

"Why, Hisao," she says, looking at me with a sly grin, "have I rendered you speechless?"

I try to maintain my cool, huffing like the question is beneath me. "I just didn't hear anything I had to answer."

"So that means I'm inviting her to dinner next Tuesday and introducing her to Ryou and Mitchan as your girlfriend."

"You wouldn't!"

"I totally would."

Damn it all, I've lost. Rule number one of dealing with Sumi: don't let her teasing get to you. I failed as soon as I took her outrageous suggestion seriously. Still, the commotion has the effect she desired. If this were a private conversation, I doubt she would be so keen on toying with me.

But as it is, we're in her office space, with plenty of our classmates ready and willing to serve as an audience.

"What's this?" Jirou turns from his desk and rolls over in his chair. "Hisao has a girlfriend? You must be a smooth operator. Give me some tips. Man, talk of chasing girls makes me feel like I'm ten years younger. All I need to complete the illusion are pimples and greasy skin."

I shrug. "Sumi's got those parts covered."

She punches me in the arm lightly, gasping in mock horror. "Just remember, Hisao, I cook your dinner."

"And I cook your breakfast."

"A girl can skip breakfast. It maintains my figure."

"What figure?"

That elicits a glare, and Jirou can't help but snicker. "Hisao, you've got to stop. You're halfway to Africa and just digging deeper every second."

"I'm not her husband; I'm not obligated to say she's attractive."

"Honestly!" says Sumi, folding her arms. "You're actually going to make me put on make up, do my hair, wear lipstick, and put on leggings, aren't you? I will come here dressed to kill only to get chalk on my clothes and papercuts on my fingers. Is that what you want to see?"

Michel the Frenchman turns from his desk behind me, nodding in appreciation. "If Hisao doesn't say so, I would, but you don't need to do all that to be attractive, Sumi."

"Thanks, Michel. At least someone here can appreciate that."

I catch Michel's eye. "Should you really be saying that? You're married, and so is she."

He shrugs. "Saying that doesn't mean I don't love my wife. And I do. She isn't often in the mood for it, but when she gets into the lace…" A reserved, yet giddy smile comes over him, but he quickly recomposes himself. "Well, I don't really need to go into those details, do I?"

I hope not. I think most of us can imagine what comes next.

"Why all the interest in Hisao's supposed girlfriend?" Michel asks Sumi.

"Because she sounds really cool. She goes to the art school and paints with her feet."

"She does what?" asks Jirou. "I want to see that. I'd pay to see that. Why does she paint with her feet?"

"Because she—" Sumi stops herself, glancing at me. "Ah, Hisao, is that okay to say?"

I nod. "She was born without arms. That's why."

Jirou makes a face. "Then I'll close my wallet because otherwise, I would look intensely patronizing." He nods a couple times to convince himself. "Still, that's really amazing. How did you meet her?"

"We're actually old friends from high school," I explain. "We, uh, had a falling out at the time, but now we're okay. I think we're okay."

"See, Hisao won't say so, but I think it's a great story," says Sumi. "It's really incredibly sweet. It's not every day you get a chance to rebuild an old friendship."

I snort. "I thought you said she was my girlfriend."

"You know I'm just teasing. But I would definitely like to meet her."

I won't say no to that. Still, hearing about Rin and meeting her are two entirely different experiences. I suspect Sumi would be surprised with Rin and her behavior, her way of thinking. That said, Sumi is an accepting person. It might be fun, and it would be a good opportunity to spend more time with Rin.

I don't want to make things move too fast, though. I do have feelings for Rin—strong feelings, at that. But I don't want to make the same mistakes I've made before. I was impatient back then. I thought Rin was toying with me. Now, I realize she may not even be capable of such behavior. What she says can be bewildering, but her every action is sincere. I doubt Rin sees the point in deceiving people, or maybe she doubts she's adept enough with words pull anything like that off.

Either way, I'm left to ponder the possibilities of a dinner with Rin and Sumi's family while Sumi and the others go back to toiling over image charges. Their work and my daydreaming are interrupted, though, by a sudden knock on the office door.

"Excuse me," says a familiar voice. "I'm looking for a student here. Hisao Nakai?"

I slide my chair around the edge of the divider, showing my face to the door. As I thought, an old woman in stained overalls is standing there, looking more weary and taxed than I'd ever seen her.

"There you are," says Professor Adachi. "I went to your office, but you weren't around."

"Ah, yeah," I say. "This one is, uh, more lively."

Adachi looks miffed with my lame explanation, but she lets it pass. "Are you busy, young man? I had no other way to contact you."

At that, my heart sinks. "Did something happen with Rin?"

"Come along," she says. "I'll explain on the way."



Being a university professor has its perks. You can park at a nearby college just by flashing come credentials, and if a graduate student goes with you, no one will bat an eye. You can leave and abandon any classes you might have to teach for the sake of one of your students, and you have a great deal of leeway to do so.

All I know is this: Rin is not well.

"It's not the first time," Adachi says, shaking her head. "I've seen her carried out of that building more than once, grasping for paintbrushes with her toes as medics laid her out on a stretcher. It's been two days since she came out of her studio. Every time I have to use my key to get in with her inside, I have to make a note of it. Artists are known to be eccentric, but the school will put up with only so much. I'd rather keep this quiet, for Rin's sake, and I hoped you could persuade her to come out."

But I've only known her this time around for a few weeks. What could I say that her advisor of over four years can't? "I'll try my best," I tell her, "but if you can't convince her to come out, I don't know if I can."

"Nonsense, Nakai. You're very important to Rin. You always have been."

I look across the car, studying her expression, but she seems intent on watching the traffic around us. "So you know," I say.

She nods once, solemnly, grimly. "She's told me very little about her life before coming here, but I knew some things about you—your name, your face, and how special you are to her—before ever I spotted you outside the exhibition door. And like a meddling old grandmother, I thought rekindling an old connection would be good for Rin. For too long, I've felt like she's been drifting—going through the motions with only the vaguest sense of purpose. You helped her find something she cared about again, but I should've known better than to get involved in something I didn't fully understand. Nakai, you and she—the two of you didn't part on good terms, did you?"

"Her choice to come here was a choice to go away from me."

She bangs a hand on the steering wheel in disgust, hissing. "Oh, what an old fool I've been," she admonishes herself.

We pull up to the studio building, and Professor Adachi hurries inside. I follow her past her office and to the paint-stained double doors of Rin's private workspace. The door is locked, and even the foot release won't respond. Professor Adachi glances down the hall, checking to see if anyone might be listening, and bangs on the door with her closed fist. "Rin!" she calls out. "Someone is here to see you. Won't you please open up?"

No answer. The cold, rusty doors are almost as good at staring back blankly as Rin is.

"Rin, it's me," I say, trying to sound cool and collected…and probably failing miserably. "Professor Adachi is really worried about you, and so am I."

I hear a soft sound inside—maybe it's a paintbrush being put down? The lock mechanism in the door clicks, and with a push of her foot, Rin opens the door. She looks at me with a dazed expression, hardly concealing the bags under her eyes. Her overalls are vivid with fresh paint stains, and some strands of her hair are nearly standing on end. I want to look around her to see what she's been painting, but something about the situation already has me unsettled.

Rin's gaze is fixed right on me, and she's smiling.

"Hello, Hisao," she says, her inflection as neutral as ever.

"Hi. So, uh, what have you been up to?"

She glances down, at her stained overalls, and back at me. "Painting. Isn't that obvious?"

"It is, but I mean, what have you been painting?"

"Myself," she says, her smile broadening. "I'm painting myself again."

She steps aside enough for us to enter, and Adachi and I trade puzzled glances. For someone supposedly in a desperate, isolated state, Rin is unusually perky today, and that's a word I never thought I'd use with her.

Well, unless she'd found some codeine again. Maybe I should check to see if there's some around here. If there is, though, I doubt I'd be able to find it. Nearly every half the floor space is occupied by a paintings on frames, all in various states of drying. One looks like a large calendar, amazing in the precision of the lines and dates, except the symbols for the numbers of the days make no sense. They don't look like any set of numerals I know of. Unless they're ancient Babylonian (which I wouldn't put past Rin), they seem like nonsense.

"What do you think of it?" Rin quickly asks, weaving through the mess adeptly. She's surprisingly agile, even in this state of sleep-deprivation.

"Ahh…is it something to do with how time is incomprehensible?" I offer.

Rin stares in response, and her enthusiasm fades slightly. She doesn't say anything, but she doesn't have to. I know I haven't hit the mark.

Professor Adachi clears her throat. "Rin, do you know how long you've been in here? You need to eat. You need to sleep. We've talked about this before. Don't you remember?"

"I forget things." She looks at me quickly. "Not all the things, but lots of things." She looks back at Adachi. "There's too much inside of me right now. It's like a pot of gold. You can only put so much inside a pot of gold before it overflows. I can't eat. That would put more gold inside of me. I can't sleep. Then it would all stay there. I'm close though. Really very close. Each time I think about it, I feel like I'm halfway closer than I was before, so it won't take long. There's a leprechaun coming soon."

Combining Zeno's paradoxes with Rin seems like a recipe for great headaches. I try to push the thought out of my mind, realizing I've rather hemmed myself into the studio, having stepped over paintings on the floor, only to end up on an island with nowhere safe to go.

Rin pays my plight no mind, though. She hops adeptly around the drying canvasses and points out one painting with her big toe. "What about this one?" she asks.

It's a human heart—and not idealized or symbolic like most hearts in artistic work are. It's very realistic in terms of the shape of the heart and the structures of the arteries and veins that connect with it, but there's more. For the lungs, the painting slices through, showing a cut-away of bronchi, except where the bubbly alveoli should be, the branches of bronchial tubes end in yellow flowers—a series of dandelions.

"Well, it's a heart," I say. "Is it my heart?"

Rin nods, but I get the feeling there's more.

"I mean, I don't really follow the rest of it. I don't have dandelions in my lungs."

She frowns at that, and her stare breaks off from me as she considers that remark. Frankly, I'm a bit shaken just thinking that Rin would paint me or something about me. It makes me feel exposed. Here it's not so bad; no one would be able to tell whose heart that is on the canvass, but it still puts the thought in my mind.

Back by the doorway, Professor Adachi navigates the drying paintings to reach Rin. She takes the weary girl by the shoulders and leans over to meet Rin's eyes. "Remember, Rin? We talked about this before. You can't keep doing this. If you do, you might not be able to be an artist anymore."

"I'm not sure I am an artist," says Rin. "I've tried to be. Are artists okay with their work being misunderstood?"

"It's a risk we accept. Isn't it better to reach out and make an idea or a feeling known than to hold it in?"

Rin cranes her neck, glancing at the ceiling. "I haven't decided yet. It's like talking over a bad radio. There's always static. The words and thoughts are heard, but only garbled. I thought if I kept things simple, that would make it easier, but I don't know if I like that. Simple isn't enough anymore." She looks over her shoulder, at me. "But Hisao tries. Even though he said it was futile, he tries. People don't always say what they mean. That's why I'm not like people, but Hisao tries to understand me anyway. He knew what I felt once. He can do it again."

That's what this is. Rin isn't isolating herself because she's throwing herself into her work. It's like Adachi said—Rin kept herself bottled up, pessimistic that anyone would understand her if she let he feelings out. Now, with what I said when we went to the pond, she's willing let all that out of her. She wants me to look at these paintings and tell her I feel what she felt.

And I don't know if I can do that. The only reason I knew what she felt was from Adachi's explanation, her reasoning about Rin's behaviors. She's had four years to figure Rin out. I've only had a few weeks.

"Rin," I say, "I can't promise you I'll look at any of these works of yours and know what you felt or what was inside you. There's no way I could promise anything like that."

She stares at me, puzzled and surprised. "Why do you say that? Why are you saying that again?"

"Because it's true," I tell her. "That doesn't mean I won't try. There just aren't any guarantees."

That seems to take some of the energy out of her. She slumps a bit, looking down at her feet and wiggling her toes. I try to step over some more paintings, but something on the floor catches my eye. In the years since she left, Rin has managed to master photo-realism, and I wonder if she really keeps all the details of a place in her head as vividly as when she first saw them. What catches my eye here is the group of three brick buildings in the background, connected to one another to form a shared living space.

That, and Rin and I are in it. It's the day she left me. The cloudy skies, the street light dripping with rainwater—the whole scene chills me.

What's worse is that the scene isn't the way I remembered it. The Rin in this painting is crying. I know for a fact, I remember too well, she didn't shed a tear. Even at her most despondent, when her words could freeze my blood, the most she expressed was muted disappointment and longing. She said she had to force herself to emote—to smile or to laugh. They didn't come naturally to her, but all along she was trying to fit in, to look normal in how she acted.

I doubt she could force herself to cry with open eyes.

But there are other paintings here, too—all variations on the same scene. In another, I chase after her. In another still we kiss. In a third, her limp sleeve makes contact with my cheek. It's the closest she could ever come to slapping a person, I expect.

And I have no idea what any of this means. I really don't. Are these things she wanted to do but couldn't? Did she imagine that last meeting playing out differently, wondering what she could've done to get a better result? What would've been better for her? If I'd told her I could've understood her after all—I don't know if I can do that. I don't. I want to so badly, but I don't want to make an empty promise to her, either.

There is a middle ground, right? That I may not be able to understand her completely, but over time, I could pick up bits and pieces? Bah. That middle ground seems awfully narrow right now. I look at these paintings, and I couldn't say with any certainty what they mean. There's a significance here only Rin can appreciate. Only Rin knows what she intended here, and I try to choose my words as carefully as I can to probe at that meaning without putting her in a situation that she can't explain.

I hold up one of the frames. "What is this?"

Professor Adachi winces, but she doesn't look surprised. I see. That's how you know me, Professor, isn't it? You've known from the moment we met how Rin and I parted. I could never tell someone all the details of that day. I could say matter-of-factly Rin departed for Tokyo and that was it, but Rin's attention to the scene, to the complex emotions on our faces—it's unsettling. It makes me anxious. Rin can put her own soul in her paintings, but here, she's put a big part of mine in one, too. How could she do this? How could she leave these out for anyone to see?

"Rin," I say again, getting her attention. "Can you answer me or not?"

"It's a painting," she says. "You didn't develop an eye problem while in college, did you?"

"No, I didn't develop an eye problem. I didn't go blabbing to everyone I met how the first friend I made at Yamaku ran away from me, either."

Her lips part at that, and she looks at me, agape. A chill goes through me. This isn't right. This isn't what I want to be saying. The bitter edge in my voice is threatening to rip us apart. So I take a second to breathe, to let my irregular heartbeat settle down, and I try to be as reasonable as I can be.

"I look at this painting and the others, and I don't understand yet. I'm trying to, and I'm having a hard time. Is there something you can tell me, something that get me started in the right direction?"

She stares intently at me and the painting, and the silence between Rin, Professor Adachi, and me is tense and terrifying. I just hope that whatever she says, it's something I can make heads or tails of.

"Nothing," Rin finally says.

"Nothing?" I echo.

"It doesn't mean anything."

What?

How does that make any sense?

"You can't be serious," I say. "Rin, you tore my heart out and left it beating on the goddamn street that day! And you say it means nothing to you?"

She turns away, planting her foot conclusively when she's done. "You don't understand. I can't explain it to you, and you don't understand. I told you it would be easier if you hated me."

You're right; I don't understand. That moment must have some meaning to her. She wouldn't care about my anguish otherwise. But to say it meant nothing…!

No, no, I need to fight this. I need to fight this rising adrenaline in my veins. Rin wouldn't have said that unless she meant it, unless it somehow made sense to her in her mind. There's only one person who doesn't understand that here, and that's me. And if I stress out about trying to understand that right now, in this moment, I may say even more that I'd always regret.

"Rin, Professor, please excuse me," I say, stepping over the last few paintings between me and the door. "I think it's best if I take my leave now. I don't think I'm of much help here. Sorry for disappointing you."

Professor Adachi looks ill at the remark, but she nods in acknowledgment. Rin watches me all the way out, and only when I look back at her and meet her gaze does she let her eyes wander. After all the time we spent rebuilding our friendship, I realize I still don't really know how she feels. I may never know. Does that mean pursuing a friendship with her is inevitably fruitless? Or can something good still come of it?

I don't know how to answer that, either.

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nemz
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by nemz » Sat Jan 05, 2013 5:12 pm

Damn I hate it when Hisao shows how dense he can be. She was positively giddy and he pissed all over it.

You've definately captured the frustration of her route perfectly.
Rin > Shizune > Emi > Hanako > Lilly

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JTC545
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by JTC545 » Sun Jan 06, 2013 1:41 am

I've seen few writers write near perfect Rin/Hisao conversations and you sir are one of them :D
Rin>Emi>Shizune=Hanako>Lilly

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Muphrid » Sun Jan 06, 2013 2:12 am

nemz wrote:Damn I hate it when Hisao shows how dense he can be. She was positively giddy and he pissed all over it.

You've definately captured the frustration of her route perfectly.
Frustration for us and frustration for Hisao, too.

I'm rather curious what people think Hisao should've done differently here, if anything. I have an idea, but like Rin, I sometimes prefer to keep my ideas to myself and let people interpret as they will. What Hisao does here I'm not entirely happy with. I thought he would have a strong, visceral reaction, more based in emotion than in reason. I'm not sure if what's here is too strong or not strong enough.
JTC545 wrote:I've seen few writers write near perfect Rin/Hisao conversations and you sir are one of them :D
Thank you both for saying so. Sometimes in writing Rin I feel like she makes too much sense. Maybe that's because from the writer's perspective, it's easy to start with something that makes sense and then scramble it.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by nemz » Sun Jan 06, 2013 4:24 am

Muphrid wrote:I'm rather curious what people think Hisao should've done differently here, if anything. I have an idea, but like Rin, I sometimes prefer to keep my ideas to myself and let people interpret as they will. What Hisao does here I'm not entirely happy with. I thought he would have a strong, visceral reaction, more based in emotion than in reason. I'm not sure if what's here is too strong or not strong enough.
For starters I have no idea why he's upset that she told her teacher about their history, and that moment of bitterness was not at all helpful. For another, he should never have put a negative light on everything by trying to couch it all in that "don't get your hopes up" bit. After that, just shut up and stop thinking... look at what's in front of himself and let the subconcious make connections as it will rather than trying to force it to make sense. Above all else, don't ask questions; he should know damn well she hates that. Guess wrong a thousand times but don't ask her to explain it.

And really, he couldn't figgure out the dandilions? Has he completely forgotten the field she showed him on the hilltop? Not that I think the painting is really about that, but rather the feeling she had then when she decided to take his advice and push herself for her art... the trust she had in him then and that he was so close to restoring.
Rin > Shizune > Emi > Hanako > Lilly

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Muphrid » Tue Jan 08, 2013 2:16 am

Ever since my heart attack, I've used books to take me places, to pass the time, to find a diversion from the stresses of life. Books may be the only way to go to the stars faster than the speed of light, at least in our lifetime, so I'm very fond of them. Since meeting Rin, I've taken to drawing some of the scenes from my reading, to give them the form I see them in. I've sketched monoliths in the margins of my notebooks; I've discarded entire pages trying to sketch a gigantic, four-armed creature that roams impales its victims on a metal tree of thorns. The ideas may be disturbing, but still, there's a level of insulation from the real world. What happens in the pages doesn't creep back into everyday life.

Not like Rin's paintings. Everything troubling and disturbing in them seems too connected to real life.

I don't know what to think about any of that. I don't want to think about any of that. Rin had hopes that I could see into her soul after all, and I let her down. There's this impassible chasm between us, and if I try to leap across, I may end up falling instead.

Give it time. That's what I tell myself. Give it time. Don't push things. Let them develop the way they will and be happy with the results. It all sounds so easy. These thoughts may be further divorced from reality than the Time Tombs of Hyperion.

I'm not venturing into the world of aliens and androids today. My destination is a bit more worldly, though no less interesting. It's the time of Emperor Meiji's reign, and it seems appropriate that the unnamed narrator of this piece is in university, just like I am. He's made friends with an older man, whom he calls Teacher and who lives in seclusion with his wife. Teacher is a distant, aloof man, and he has secrets.

The book feels a bit otherworldly, as the narrator feels increasingly distanced from his family under Teacher's influence, and while the story could happen at any time—love triangles are eternal, after all—the backdrop of the end of the Meiji era puts it in the context of great impending change. The transformation of this country from an isolated, agrarian society to a modern, industrial one took place over the course of the emperor's life, and his death is symbolic of the death of the old ways and old lines of thinking.

I like my reading to take me away from my problems. Everyone needs time to think about things, but the more I read, the more I realize I'm delving deeper and deeper into something I'd put off. The only reason I have this book is because Sumi was reading it, because I offered to do something that we could share in together outside of schoolwork. The only reason she had it is because her husband gave it to her.

I leave my desk and glance down the hall to the apartment door. Just across the way is Sumi's door, and behind that, Ryou is probably inside, playing video games. He hardly leaves Sumi's apartment, even on weekends. He conducts his job applications from home—if he does them at all. He doesn't get dressed for our dinners, and he says little. He's physically present and near us, but he feels far away, as far as the narrator in this book and his Teacher from the rest of humanity.

I think Sumi fears that, too. That's why the book is a touchy subject with her.

I promised her I would try to talk to him, but at the time I didn't know what to say. I think I do now, though, and I'm going to do it. I'm not letting another friend down.

I tuck the book under my arm and go across the hall, knocking on the door. The echoes of my knuckles on the door die down, and only after a minute of silence do I hear footsteps inside. Ryou yawns and scratches at the back of his neck, puzzled.

"What's going on?" he asks. "Sumi isn't home."

"Yeah, I know. I had to leave early because of…something. I wanted to talk to you."

He frowns at that, looking even more confused. "You want to do what?"

"It's…ah…"

His stare is hard and piercing. I can't just talk to this guy. I need a reason. If I say, "Hey, Sumi and I think you're falling off the deep end and need help," I don't think he'll take it very well.

"Mitsuru isn't around," I say, "nor Sumi. If I have an issue with my heart, I'd be in some trouble."

"I'm trained in basic care," he says, but his gaze darkens. "Or I was. I'd do what I can to keep you kicking until an ambulance gets here. Don't worry about that."

"Oh. Okay. Good. It just makes me nervous sometimes. Ever since I had my heart attack, it makes me feel on edge sometimes. I'm not really like everyone else. I have a vulnerability most people wouldn't think about, wouldn't understand."

He scoffs at that. I'm not sure what he finds funny, but it loosens him up. He wanders from the door, and I walk in. There's a game on the television, stuck on pause, and he sits down by the controller, but he doesn't go back to playing. He just holds the controller for a moment, lost in thought, and I sit down across from him.

"I had my heart attack when a girl told me she liked me," I say.

"Seriously?"

I nod. "Guess I couldn't handle it."

"That had to suck."

"It did. I was stuck in the hospital, and as the weeks went by, I realized that I wasn't just going to heal from this. It was permanent. It wouldn't change. That really stuck with me. All the days started running together. In the hospital, weekends and weekdays were the same. Get up, run tests, read a book to pass the time, run more tests, have a meal brought to you. Nothing ever changed, except when I had visitors. My parents visited sometimes. My friends, too. Even the girl—she actually came by quite a bit, but we never talked about what'd happened. But eventually, they stopped coming."

"It happens in SDF, too," says Ryou, shaking his head. "A guy gets injured, and people come visit for a while, but if it lasts too long, they go back to their lives. They can't keep caring about it anymore, so they just stop, but if you're the one injured, you don't have that option, so you're left behind."

"That's exactly how I felt. I was abandoned; I was left in that hospital while other people went on like I wasn't even there. Even the girl stopped coming, though she was the last to stop. I got shunted off to a new school, a school for people with needs, like I different from normal people. I felt like I was sent off to be swept under the rug. Even my parents didn't say goodbye, really. They set up my things there and left before I even arrived."

Ryou puts down the controller, pensive. "So what did you do?"

"I went along with it. I didn't see that I had a choice. It was the only option. That didn't mean I was happy about it. I wasn't. But I met a girl at that school, a girl who was born with no arms but could paint and eat and dress with her feet. To me, she seemed entirely unconcerned with her condition, and all the problems associated with it just bounced off her. I thought that made her unique and strong, but that was desperate part of me looking at her, the part that didn't think I had that in me, you know?

"She saw how sad I was. That I didn't smile, that I just coasted through each day in a trance, trying to get by. And when she told me what she saw, I realized everyone else could see it, too. My classmates could. My friends back home had. One by one they'd left because they couldn't do anything for me, or because they saw me falling and felt responsible for it, or helpless to stop it. When you feel like you're going to drown, trust me—everyone else can see it. And unless they're uncanny about it, they're not going to know what to do any more than you do. But it's going to weigh on them all the same."

Ryou doesn't say anything through my little improvised speech. He mutes the television at one point, but that's a pointless gesture—it's already almost silent anyway. He seems to think about what I've said pretty hard, his brow creasing, his hands folded in his lap.

"I'm not drowning," he mutters. "They taught us that. Ocean or fresh water, they taught us how to swim. Even with our ankles and wrists bound, they taught us how to survive that." He scowls, rubbing his temple. "They didn't teach us how to get through this, though." He tosses the game controller aside and looks to the door. "You know, Sumi thinks it's easy. Fill out an app, and someone, she thinks, will accept me. It's not that simple. I've looked at dozens of jobs—as a policeman, a firefighter—but they all take time and qualifications. I don't have either, and even if I did, they'd feel…I don't know. I'm useless here. You know Sumi. She's an amazing girl, isn't she? Smart, funny, playful. There's no one else like her. She's doing physics. She's going to make discoveries. She's the kind of person that could change the world, and I believe that. I thought in joining the service I could change the world, too." He holds out his hands helplessly and gestures toward the screen. "Now, I can't even beat this level with the damn Jackal snipers. She's out learning how to win the Nobel Prize, and I can do nothing but wait for my future to materialize, whatever it's supposed to be."

"You're not used to waiting," I observe.

"Waiting for orders, maybe. But even then, most days had a clear structure. You had duties to perform, and you performed them."

"Now you have to choose for yourself what you do."

He nods slowly, taking a lot more meaning in the words than I think even I intended.

The lock in the door grinds against its mechanism, and Sumi adeptly steps inside, looking relieved. "That was awful," she announces, rubbing her eyes behind her glasses. "There had to be at least six of us all working on one problem, and no one—not even the professor when we ask him—has any fucking idea what's going on. Whoever thought putting a step function on a conductive plate needs to die."

She opens her eyes and blinks, looking between the two of us.

"Oh," she says. "Hey, Hisao. How's your friend?"

"Not as bad as I thought she might be," I answer, "but she's still troubled. I guess that's the right word for it."

"I'm sorry to hear that." She puts her purse on the counter, steeling herself. "So, you guys have been talking?"

"Not really," says Ryou. "Nakai was just telling me about some stuff."

His body language is different. Stiff, guarded. It makes him look stronger, more formidable. He wasn't this way at all just a few minutes ago. He was relaxed and contemplative, talking freely. But this is actually more like I'm used to seeing him—gruff and stony. Something's changed here.

Something's changed because Sumi walked in the door.

"I said a few things about some trouble I had in high school," I clarify. "Difficulty adjusting."

"I see," says Sumi. "Was that of any help to you, Ryou?"

He shrugs, taking up the video game controller and hitting a button to leave the pause menu. "Dunno what I would need help with."

Sumi stares at him. "Finding something new to do," she says, her voice betraying a slight edge, but she maintains a composed facade. "Adjusting to things."

"Maybe what I want to do," says Ryou, "is go back and reenlist in SDF."

At that, Sumi's steady face breaks into a thousand pieces. "You want to do what?"

"There's a window for me to reenlist and be expedited back into the Force. What if that's what I want to do? What if I want to make that my career, maybe even go to school to become an officer?"

Sumi narrows her eyes. "We talked about this. There aren't any SDF bases within an hour of here. Do you feel like you've really tried to look for anything else? Even if you had to go to fire science college before you could be a firefighter, what's wrong with that?"

"I could take a whole bunch of classes and end up with nothing to show for it?"

I need to interject here; there has to be some way to defuse this situation. "Let's calm down here. You guys can find a solution you're both in favor of. Ryou, you can be a little patient, right?"

"You think so?" he asks. "You think I should wait around and languish, becoming pathetic the way you did, Nakai?"

"Don't insult Hisao for trying to help out," says Sumi, her voice measured but stern.

He pauses the game, glaring at me, and then at Sumi. "This isn't his business. The only reason he's here is because of you, right? Or because you asked him come? You did, didn't you?"

"You needed a kick in the pants," says Sumi. "I felt Hisao could do that, in his own way."

BANG! Ryou slams his fist on the table, and it rattles with a sickly, awful sound. "I don't need a kick to anything or anywhere! I'm doing just fine. And you, Nakai—I don't want to see you for a while."

"Ryou!"

"I don't need people butting into our family business," he insists, going back to the game. A deadly bright laser beam zips by on the screen, and the faint, high-pitched buzzing is all that breaks the silence.

Sumi looks at me apologetically, her expression pained. She mouths I'm sorry but does nothing more. It saddens me to look at her—angry, helpless, and bewildered, but I give her a weak smile like I understand and step out.

I don't know what will happen now. I saw something in Ryou; he opened up to me, but as soon as Sumi walked in, he shut down. If they can't communicate with each other, as much in love as I think they must be, then something has to give. Either the wall between them will come down, or…

Even two people who are in love, who are very close, can find the distance between them hard to shrink. And there's no avoiding that cold truth.

When I get to my room, I put the paperback in my drawer and don't look at it for the rest of the evening.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Muphrid » Fri Jan 11, 2013 7:01 pm

I don't sleep well that night; Sumi makes it known through Mitsuru that we should get takeout again, to avoid a stressful situation. Breakfast the next morning is similarly divided, so it's just Mitsuru and me hanging out in our room. I feel like a zombie going through the motions as I prepare the rice. I just hope I don't burn something or set a stray rag on fire or anything else.

"Have I ever told you about Rick Ankiel?" asks Mitsuru.

No, Mitsuru, I have no idea who he is, but I'm betting he's a baseball player.

"He was a pitcher," Mitsuru goes on, wiping a bit of egg from his lip. "A pretty good pitcher, actually. The Cardinals took him to the playoffs and had him start their first game. At first, he was okay, but in the third inning, he walked four guys and threw five wild pitches."

"Wild pitches?" I ask.

"The ball goes past the catcher—you know, the guy who's supposed to catch it behind home plate—in a way he couldn't possibly have caught it. It's not that unusual to have one happen in a game, but more than one is pretty weird. Five in the same inning? Unheard of. It's like he suddenly lost the ability to throw the ball where he wanted, not even in the same, well, ballpark."

How depressing. You didn't even emphasize his meteoric rise to greatness, Mitsuru.

"He kept trying to pitch, but he couldn't really do it anymore. Even after his elbow was rebuilt, he could almost throw well, but not well enough, not for pitching, so he decided to stop."

"Then what did he do?" I ask, humoring him.

"He went back to the minor leagues and converted himself to an outfielder. He may not have been able to throw straight to home, but he could throw it far, hard, and accurate over long distances. The man has a cannon for an arm, and he runs well. He changed himself; he found something he could do even when everything fell apart."

"And he's still around?" I ask.

"Yeah. He plays for Washington now."

How about that. "Did it take you long to make sure he didn't suddenly leave baseball or something?"

He laughs. "Maybe forty-five minutes. I tend not to remember these things until the spur of the moment."

I reach across the table and pat the kid on the head; he tries to swat my arm away, but only weakly. He's a good kid, and he means well. I can definitely appreciate that. Between what happened with Rin and now Sumi, I really needed the cheering up.

But I don't have much time to linger. I have to hurry in to Professor Tanaka's lab; the world waits for no man, and the world of science is even more impatient. Over the past few weeks, I've learned a bit more about Professor Tanaka's goal. Right now, we use these wafers as a substrate to grow various films on, and what we want to do is find the best process for growing these films. That means there are several simple factors involved: which face of the wafer do we use, do we etch the wafer with hydrogen before depositing the film, how hot do we get the RF furnace to deposit the film, and so on.

So far, I've seen a little bit of everything. I've done some hydrogen etching. I've examined wafers under AFM. Today, I'm using another instrument called LEED—low-energy electron diffraction. It's basically a big vacuum chamber, about the size of a…of a…

A low-energy electron diffraction instrument?

It's hard to describe, but it's steel-walled, riveted, and has a couple windows to the inside to see where the sample is, as well as a screen that the electrons light up and that we use to create an image. The glowing green patterns of light and dark tell us something about the ordering of the wafer's surface.

At least, in theory. To me, they're just pretty pictures. I'm not far enough yet to make sense of them. I don't know when that will happen.

That's really what this research has been like. I do one thing; then I do another. I move from one aspect of the work to the next as needed, and it's good to be needed. Don't get me wrong. I tell myself this is problem-solving, in a way. This is science. What I'm doing here is learning what to look for in these wafers and what we'd like to avoid, so we can make the best films possible. Only then can we get to applications—quantum electronics, waveguides, and so on.

Still, there's a lot of necessary work that has to be done. Professor Tanaka drops by with a huge mug of coffee in hand and slides a wafer case across the lab table. "Run it through Auger first; let's just get a look at the profile before we run LEED."

Auger is another kind of analysis we do; it's all the same really. We just examine the surface with all the ways we have available. That means putting on gloves, putting on goggles, opening up the instrument, inserting the wafer…

And waiting. In this case, waiting for the first pump to get the pressure differential down, so that we can open the main chamber without making something explode. The roughing pump is a loud and obnoxious device. You can hardly hear yourself think while it's going, and I guess that's a blessing. As it is, I can't help but wonder what Rin's doing. Is she painting in her studio, disappointed that I couldn't understand her? I don't know what she wants from me right now. I've never asked. Friends probably shouldn't need to, but I wonder all the same. Was I wrong to tell her she wasn't alone? I thought it was the truth, at least in that one narrow instance. She's the one who took it too far. But that's in her nature too, I guess. Rin was never one for much restraint, either.

And if that were the only problem in my life, I think I could handle it, but now with Sumi and her husband at odds, I can't even go home to find a break. Ryou was right. I got involved because Sumi asked me to. Maybe it was still a good thing to do, a good thing to try, but that didn't mean I was in a position to fix anything.

Even if someone had given the same speech to me while I was in the hospital, I don't know if I'd have listened, either.

I sigh. There's nothing I can really do about all that now. I've got an instrument in front of me, with a monitor and an array of gauges to tell me what's going on inside. The pressure in the insertion chamber is good, so I go to the valve and let the wafer into the main chamber. The tweezer arm in the shaft is a bit tricky to operate, but I get the wafer into position without a problem. It's nothing I haven't done at least a dozen times before. There's a lot I've had to do with this apparatus. I've cut out insulation and built thermal blankets to keep the interior walled off from the outside. Eventually they want to use it as an oven and do analysis of the film growth on the fly. I can't say cutting out holes in rubber and filling sheets with fiberglass insulation was what I imagined when I got into school, though.

That's just what you have to do sometimes. Not all the work is glamorous or exciting.

I look at the gauges once more, but the tick marks by the pressure needles merge together in a blur. I blink a couple times, yet the stinging sensation doesn't abate. Let's get this over with. I'm tired, and I'm just sitting here, too exhausted mentally to think, too weary to do work while I wait.

I go to the high-speed pump and switch it on. There's a reason the high-speed wasn't on in the first place. It doesn't work that well at high pressures. That's what the roughing pump is for. Once you get the pressure low enough, the light and delicate blades of the high-speed can do their work without risk of inefficiency or—

SCREECH!

Or damage.

The sudden sound jerks me wide awake, and my eyes are able to focus. I check the pressure gauges again, my heart sinking in my chest. They confirm my fears. The pressure inside the chamber is at least fifty times higher than what it should be to be using the high-speed at all.

"The hell was that?" asks Professor Tanaka, poking his head into the lab. "Sounded like the death wail of my great aunt from Nagoya."

He catches me frantically trying to switch off the smoking high-speed pump. It's must be pretty obvious what happened.

"Ah, you fried it, didn't you?" he remarks, grimacing. "Well damn. It'll probably take us a week to get another one. Got sleepy, right? Don't worry. I did that a few times when I was in grad school. That's what this line of work is a lot of the time, Nakai. Things take time. They always have. When I was in school, I'd be spending the same amount of time as you for an image that was maybe a tenth as good, if that. Technology progresses, but the time we're willing to spend waiting stays about the same. Funny how that works."

Overall, he doesn't even seem fazed by this development, and paradoxically, that makes me feel worse. How much did that pump cost? A lot, I bet. Enough to buy tickets to a dozen games at the Tokyo Dome, no doubt. Yeah, accidents happen, but this one happened not because I didn't know what could result. It happened because I was careless. I wasn't paying attention, and yeah, the early time of day had something to do with it, but not everything.

"Nothing really to be done right now," says Tanaka. "Come back in a few days; we'll see what we can figure out."

I wander out in a daze. I don't really know what I'm supposed to do or where I should go. I don't have plans. Sumi isn't in yet, I'm sure. I could go to my office, but most of the time, no one's there, and hanging out by Sumi's desk would be weird without her around. I could go home, but that would just put me squarely back into that situation with Sumi and her husband, the situation I want to avoid.

And seeing Rin is right out. Our last conversation was frustrating, and that was when I didn't have problems of my own to worry about.

There's nowhere for me to go, so I do the next best thing: I hop on a city bus and ride. I don't care where it takes me. I'm just going somewhere, for the sake of going somewhere. I'm pretty good at this, at aimless wanderings. The girl in the front row with her headphones so loud everyone can hear her music has somewhere she wants to go. Maybe the smelly old man in the back has a place in mind, too. We're all equal travelers on this bus, and as the city rolls by around us, I have all the time in the world to think and reflect.

I've fallen in love with a girl again, only to find the wall between us just as insurmountable as before.

I promised a friend I would try to help her, but I just made things blow up instead.

And I'm doing research that doesn't keep me engaged or interested in at all, that I screw up because I'm not paying attention to it.

So what am I doing here?

I'm letting the city rush by. There are dozens of people walking the streets, oblivious to my distress. They all have their own lives and problems, and they're coping just fine.

Me, I need to sleep. I'm tired, and my head is swimming. I need to get some rest.



In retrospect, it's not really a good idea to fall asleep on a public bus. I'm lucky I didn't have some of my stuff taken, but I emerge from my slumber more or less intact.

Bzzz!

And with something incessantly vibrating in my pocket.

I take a look around. The other passengers don't seem to pay me any mind, and I don't recognize the buildings outside the bus windows. I wonder how long I've been out. I could've racked up a pretty hefty transit charge by now.

Bzzz!

But the phone comes first. I wipe dust from my eyes and answer with a groan. "Hello?"

"I know that sound," says the man on the other end. "It's the same sound you made when you woke up in my class."

It's Mutou. Damn, I haven't spoken to him in at least a year? A year and a half? He sends me emails with interesting articles every now and then, but this is the first time I've heard his voice in a long time. "How did you get this number?" I ask.

"A friend of yours called the school. I think Aoki was her name. She was fairly persistent, urging me to get in touch with you."

Sumi? She must've gone looking for me when I didn't show up for class. Well, that's a relief. There's someone looking out for me after all.

"So, Nakai, I heard you blew something up. Congratulations. You're a real scientist now."

I chuckle sardonically. "It doesn't make me feel like a scientist."

"Why not? Science isn't science without the possibility of failure, of mistakes. We're human beings, you know. We make mistakes and errors. The purpose of science is to examine phenomena and theory rigorously, more than enough times to verify that we haven't made any mistakes. We know they do happen."

I shake my head. "I'm not enjoying the mistakes I'm making right now. They're hurting people."

"Ah, that bad, huh? Well, it's an occupational hazard."

"Of being a physicist?"

"Of being a person, Nakai. You think you can get through life without causing a few scrapes now and then? We're not so lucky or perfect. In the end, regardless of the consequences, you should treat a mistake like any other. If you test a hypothesis and it turns out wrong, what can you do?"

"Come up with a new hypothesis and test it."

"Dead on. You are a scientist after all. You solve problems. That is what you do. That's what I've seen since the first day you walked into my class. Now, that's not to say it will always come naturally. Some problems are so big and intertwined that it's impossible to see the solution right away. If I asked you what would happen if I tied two balls together with a spring and threw it into the air, how would you attack that problem?"

"I'd look at the energy of the spring, the energy of the center of mass with respect to the earth, the kinetic energies of the two balls with respect to—"

"You'd break it down," says Mutou, interrupting. "One problem at a time. Manageable pieces. That's what scientists do. We take complex problems and reduce them to building blocks that, individually, we understand. Even the most formidable system in the world can be reduced in its complexity one layer at a time, until what is left is merely tedious to work through, rather than unfathomable. We make things boring, Nakai, one step at a time."

I don't think I'd ever advertise that scientists make the interesting boring, but the statement seems entirely like Mutou. It's actually a bit comforting.

"What if there's a problem that you can't break down?" I ask him. "Something that resists all attempts to be understood, no matter how much you try?"

"There is no such thing; there are only things we can't understand quickly," he says. "The process may take months or years or more. There is still a lot we don't know about—regarding the origin of the universe and its future—but every day, people are working to unravel those mysteries, to make concrete what was previously just conjecture and speculation. It may be there is such a thing as an incomprehensible phenomenon, but I don't believe that. I think if such a thing existed, it would defeat the point of all science. There would be no reason to be a scientist anymore. There would be no reason to investigate the world. I can't ascribe to such a view of the world. I will always encourage young men and women to investigate the world around them, to make sense of that which resists explanation. That, to me, is the essence of what science is. I think the question, then, that you face is this: are you a scientist, Nakai? Or aren't you?"

Is he really asking me this question? I spent four years getting my bachelor's degree!

"It's a serious question," he says. "One only you can answer. I think you are, but in the end, it's your choice. Once that choice is made, your path is clear. Either you attack the problems in front of you, breaking them down one at a time, or you let them be. Will you be satisfied leaving things as they are?"

A distant voice comes on the other end, and Mutou is muffled on the other end, saying something.

"I'm sorry, Nakai, class is starting soon. I'll have to go."

"I understand. Thanks for the advice, Teacher."

"Anytime. I wish you the best. A man's path, his direction in life, is the most important decision he'll ever make. You're an earnest man, Nakai. I know you'll make the right choice for yourself."

There's a series of beeps on the line; Mutou is gone, and I take a deep breath, trying to let his words sink in.

It would be easy to write Rin off as completely incomprehensible, to say that there is no good relationship we could have without total understanding.

It would be easy to say that Ryou's situation is too different from what mine was, and I could never hope to reach him and help Sumi.

It would be easy to keep going with the career path I'm on, saying that my disinterest is natural, inevitable.

Those are all easy things to do, and because of that, I refuse to consider them. I did not become a scientist, a physicist, just to solve easy problems. One step at a time, I will make the difficult tractable. That is the direction I choose for myself.

When the bus pulls up to the next stop, I swipe my card at the front and step off. I don't know where I am or how I'll get back to Toudai, but it's a street like any other, in the city I now call home. Thanks to Mutou, I know how to attack this problem. I look for the nearest street sign or address, and I go from there, trusting that I'll find my way.

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Mirage_GSM
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Jan 11, 2013 8:33 pm

Very interesting chapter. Except for this passage:
"A friend of yours called the school. I think Aoki was her name. She was fairly persistent, urging me to get in touch with you."

Sumi? She must've gone looking for me when I didn't show up for class. Well, that's a relief. There's someone looking out for me after all.

"So, Nakai, I heard you blew something up. Congratulations. You're a real scientist now."
So did Mutou get calls from both Sumi and Hisao' professor?
And why did Sumi not call Hisao directly if she wanted to get in touch with him? Mutou got his cell phone number from her in the first place...
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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andros414
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Joined: Wed Feb 22, 2012 11:58 pm

Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by andros414 » Fri Jan 11, 2013 8:59 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:Very interesting chapter. Except for this passage:
"A friend of yours called the school. I think Aoki was her name. She was fairly persistent, urging me to get in touch with you."

Sumi? She must've gone looking for me when I didn't show up for class. Well, that's a relief. There's someone looking out for me after all.

"So, Nakai, I heard you blew something up. Congratulations. You're a real scientist now."
So did Mutou get calls from both Sumi and Hisao' professor?
And why did Sumi not call Hisao directly if she wanted to get in touch with him? Mutou got his cell phone number from her in the first place...
It's more likely that Sumi found out about the machine from Tanaka or one of the other people that work in there and she brought it up when talking with Mutou. Also, since Hisao apparently slept for a while on the bus, he could have missed Sumi's attempts at calling him.
Shizune > Emi = Hanako > Lilly > Rin

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