Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6 complete 20190527)

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brythain
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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-2b up 20150321)

Post by brythain » Sat Mar 21, 2015 9:51 am

This is the fourth section of the fourth part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which Kenji enjoys life, learns about death, and finds a brother.


Editor's note: it is instructive if a comparison is drawn between the end of this section and the end of this other piece. N.


Kenji 4: The World Turned Upside-Down
(January-May 2022)


If the world turns, there must be some point around which it turns. There are always turning points. When I look back, I realize that some things you don’t think are important somehow turn out to be very important, and things you think are important in one way can be important in a completely different way.

I’m going to tell you this: as you grow older, you lose friends. You can get new ones, but those aren’t the friends of your youth. To lose friends is to lose yourself. So damn philosophical, Kenji? No, it’s age, and sometimes whisky. People always confuse these things.

*****

January 2022

It’s a cold damn winter, but term doesn’t start till 11th January at Yamaku, so Yuuko and I and the kids find ourselves on a little holiday up north. Not as far as Hokkaido, of course, but up to the Axeblade. It’s like a pilgrimage, because first Naomi told me about it years ago, and then Natsume recommended it months later, and then Miki said, “Hey, a friend of mine set up this place…” — and I kept telling my friends I would go there.

The last straw was when even Hisao recommended it to us: “It’s a great place. You’ll love it because there are few people, and the food is good. An old classmate of mine—well, he didn’t really like me when I was in school, but we’re fine now—he and his wife set up a little sushi joint along the west coast of Shimokita. It’s really hard to find, but it’s worth it.”

Now we’re on the way there but he himself isn’t, because he’d rather be with Emi as she begins the last one-third of her second motherhood. Route 338 is a very empty highway of some sort that goes along the coast. The land is empty and the hillsides are reinforced to prevent landslides that would block the road.

Eventually, the screenmap tells us there’s a crude parking lot just off the highway, very near where we want to go, so we leave the empty coastal road lined with winter trees and stark hills and get out. The kids are tired. It’s a very long drive from the town of Mutsu, and the stops along the way are not very interesting, unless you want to detour to the entrance to Hell, which we Japanese say is in the middle of the Axeblade.

The whole sky is white, broken only by a few taller trees and electrical wires on poles. A cold breeze is ruffling the dry branches as we walk up a gentle slope to our destination. The place is strange to us. It’s very rural, at the outskirts of a fishing town. Snow-monkeys are everywhere, but the white-bearded gentlemen appear well-behaved so far.

One young fellow approaches us, and seems to want us to follow. Yuuko laughs and looks at me. She’s happy, and even the kids look less tired. So we follow the monkey to what looks like a shack. But as you get closer, the shack gets bigger. It’s a complex of weathered wood buildings, almost in the old handcrafted style. Maybe they’re made from polished driftwood.

And then there we are, at the ‘Secret Sushi Shack’. Or at least, that is what Hisao and Shizune called it. The chef himself is waiting for us, Taro Arai, looking just as he was described—a big man, stocky and muscular, except for a strangely wasted-looking right arm. And he’s a sushi chef? It must be difficult for him.

“Irrashaimase!” is the word of welcome you hear in Japanese restaurants. The way Arai says it is a bit different. I don’t know if that’s the way they say it here or if his voice is naturally like that. But he looks very cheerful. He looks as if he can’t wait to feed us something, and that’s nice to see. We exchange bows.

“Good day, Arai-san,” I say politely. “This person is Kenji Setou, who has the honour of being also a former Yamaku student. We hear that you are the best at what you do, according to the alumni network. Please allow me to introduce my family.”

“Aha!” he says. “You are the famous Colonel Setou, and I recognize your beautiful wife, she was our library officer a long time ago, when she was Shirakawa-san! Principal Hakamichi was my classmate, and she had many pleasant things to say about you when she asked me to open my little food counter today.”

Famous? Beautiful? Does he mean it is not always open? Am I causing him inconvenience? I’m about to apologize to him when a small woman in a wheelchair comes shooting out of a side door.

“Miss Shirakawa!” she shrieks, in the way that only Japanese women-friends can demonstrate when meeting each other. “How are you, so nice to see you, your children are so good-looking!”

Yuuko is already blushing from the ‘beautiful wife’ comment. It’s true, but I suppose she doesn’t hear it from other people besides me. She is all excited, it’s really a scene from one of those anime reunions.

“Kuranaga! What are you doing here? So nice…” I do not get to hear what else my wife says because the wheelchair parallel-parks next to her and she is embraced by what seems to be a little ball of powerful affection. I wonder if the children are overwhelmed by all this, but when I turn to look, I see them surrounded by snow-monkeys, and one is even holding Koji’s hand.

Later, the food is very good. There are thin slices of some big shellfish that looks like a dead bird, there’s black-skinned cod and some small tasty silver fish. There are many other little dishes, with rice and sake. I feel a bit sad that I don’t know all the names of the things I’m eating. Fortunately my ancestors were not fishermen, so I am probably not dishonoring them.

On the way home, the children are sleeping in the back. Yuuko is driving, and humming a cheerful song to herself. I look at her sideways. Sometimes, a man has to say something; it’s not healthy to keep strong emotions inside.

“Wife, maybe we should just give up everything and retire to Aomori. Look at the Akai family, they are so happy. Even the monkeys help them run the eatery. And that old man, who comes every day to eat? They all look peaceful and they don’t have to take other people’s incompetent shit.”

“Hmmm? That’s an idea… maybe for you. I’m quite happy where I am, and the children need to go to school somewhere, umm, not so rural?”

I sigh. She’s right. But as we leave the Axeblade and wander back home, it’s like leaving a fantasy world and coming back to something that feels sad and gloomy, grey and stinky.

*****

February to March 2022

“Happy birthday, Miura-san!” I say, sounding cheerful but hiding my heavy heart. This is a voice call, for now, because I am nervous and this woman knows me enough to tell just by looking.

“Hey, Kenji! How the fuck are you?”

Still the same, my old friend Miki. It must be because she grew up on the docks.

“Good, good. How have you been?”

“Thinking of what the hell it will feel like to be a mother, I guess.”

“What?” Now, that’s a surprise to me. I don’t know why I feel sad about that, though. “Congratulations! When?”

“September, I think.” She sounds very uncertain, as if tasting the sound of the words for the first time.

“Wonderful news! Oh, by the way, I brought the family to the Arai sushi place. It’s fantastic, everyone had a good time!”

“It’s great, right? We used to get Taro to cook for 3-3 in the old days, but we never thought he’d get so good. He doesn’t want to be famous, he just wants to cook. He’s amazing!”

Yes, he is, Miki. But it’s time to see if I can get something from you.

“Hey, while we’re talking, can I ask about your work? I’m very sorry to do this, but I was thinking about something.” And that something is why I have a heavy heart. I think Hakamichi Industries is hiding something from the government, and it’s my duty to find out.

“Sure! You’re terrible, you get a girl’s hopes up and then you betray me like that! What an asshole!” She sounds cheerful, but I can’t help wincing when she says ‘betray’, because that’s what I feel I’m doing.

“Your research team, ah, this ‘Professor Kyu’? They work mainly on human body enhancement, right?”

“Is that all? Yeah, mostly. It’s tech that helps disabled people. But you know that already, you’ve got those…”

“Shh, don’t say it, Miki!”

“Haha! Are you superstitious, Kenji?”

“No, but I wanted to know about your progress in nervous system integration, all that neuromechanical stuff.” Actually, the terms are more complicated than that. But I’m not supposed to know so much.

“I’m not one of the clever people, but I think they’re doing fine. Seems quite straightforward from the little I know,” she says cautiously.

I’m sure she knows more than she says. It makes me sad, because we’re friends. But now it’s as if we are watching each other from opposite sides of a wall.

“How are they doing with interfacing that stuff, whatever it is, to the brain?”

There’s a moment of silence. “I don’t know if that’s what they’re doing,” she says at last. “The brain’s terribly complicated compared to the rest of the nervous system, right?”

“How’s your arm, Miki?”

“It’s fine… why?”

“Your new arm.”

“Oh. It’s pretty cool. It does what I tell it to, more or less.”

I’m sure it does. I hope it does. My sources tell me that the thing that she has on her left stump is very advanced, and very strong. In the old days, I had dreams of superheroes. I watched this old American TV show called ‘Six-Million-Dollar-Man’, and what Hakamichi Industries does is a lot like that. Except that these things have brains of their own.

“What you tell it to…?”

“Yeah. Anyway, gotta go! Husband’s taking me out for dinner!”

“Goodbye, Miki.”

“Seeya, Kenji.”

I’ve known Miki Miura a long time. She avoids things when she feels guilty. I wonder what her new limb really does, what it really is. I shiver a bit. What if it tells her what to do while she’s telling it what to do? I used to think all that was science fiction crap.

I spend a month or so talking to other people: Rika Katayama, my old friend Nat, my uncle, my aunt, the list goes on. I can’t really ask questions; that’s not how you do it. I have to get pieces from everyone and put them together in my small office. And some nights, I wonder, Kenji, what if there’s no puzzle to solve? What if everything is okay? But I also tell myself, Kenji, what if you’re wrong and the flowers fall?

That’s what’s on my mind when we go out to celebrate Yuuko’s 34th birthday. That, and the old familiar thought: how did we grow to be so old?

*****

April 2022

This April is different. I can feel it. My sister Sachiko would have been 27 years old this year, but of course she is now forever fifteen. It is twelve years since, and according to our Japanese tradition, that is one cycle of life; it was the Year of the Golden Tiger when she passed on, and now it is the Year of the Water Tiger. It is a subtle beast now, not the noisy monster it was then.

It’s a Friday morning, in fact it is Good Friday. That’s not a holiday here, but Yuuko and I have taken a day of leave. We wake up early to clean the graves of my mother and brother, and then my sister. So much of my family is gone. I think of my father, who was here a month ago on the proper day for such things. I also think of Aunt Midori, who would have been with him to pay her respects to her sister, whom she has displaced. Or replaced. But I have made peace with them, so that’s that.

It’s very misty today, for whatever reason. My wife and kids mustn’t be bumping into old grave markers, so quietly I activate my implants. A grid appears, and my infrared sensors kick in. I guide everyone through the maze of the dead. “Wow,” says little Koji, five years old this year and full of wonder, “Father sees everything!”

No, I don’t see everything. Part of me is still crazy Kenji, who saw things that didn’t exist, and second Kenji, who hoped to see what he never saw. It doesn’t distract me so much today, which is why I see the heat-signature long before anyone else can see anything. There’s someone already at Sachi’s grave, a big man giving off a lot of heat even in the wet mist.

I motion to my family to walk softly. I choose a path over wet stone, avoiding leaves. And I listen very carefully. It has been my career for years now, and I can be good at it. There’s the low rumbling of a man’s voice.

Damn, I say to myself as we get closer. Who the hell is this? He’s reciting poetry or something.

“… though my heart seeks another, a part of it is yours forever. The sun sets, and it also rises—but I am always here.”

I can’t handle this anymore. Sachi is mine, and this man is destroying her precious memory. The elder brother must defend the younger sister’s honour. No flower falls in vain. I raise my voice, ready to use it in the way my father, the General, once used it.

“Hey! What’s this?” I ask loudly. “Good morning, what are you doing here?”

The figure twitches slightly, as if he’s startled. He should be. He has no business being here. When he stands up, I’m also startled. He is one hell of a big guy, with neatly tied-up long hair and a fucking beard that is neatly trimmed to make him look more handsome. I am upset, and my thoughts have gone a bit rough.

But the bastard bows politely. This type always does. So we are polite in return. I bow first, and Yuuko follows, a strange expression on her face. Our children show good upbringing and bow a second later.

“Ah. I have come to pay annual respects to an old friend,” he says. I sense a lot of power in his voice, but he is keeping it respectful. That’s good. I wonder who he is, but before I can link my augments to the database, my wife speaks up.

“Hakamichi-san? Good morning! What strange fortune to find you here! Husband, this is the brother of Principal Hakamichi. His name is Hideaki.”

Now I remember. This is the boy who was the closest friend of my sister. Suddenly I feel young and sad again. My sorrow rises, but I keep it down and put some words together.

“I suppose that’s why he’s got the right to give her flowers,” I say, waving a finger at the bouquet, quite a pretty one, that is already in the flower holder. There’s even a tea-set to one side, I notice. “He used to be best friends with her in school, if I remember correctly. Sachi-chan mentioned him a few times.”

“Really? Oh! What a coincidence!” Really? I can’t remember if I have mentioned this to Yuuko before, actually. She’s trying to be sociable. I can’t do it. I feel angry, and sad, and everything is taking my breath away. My heart feels so very heavy.

I am going to tell him to fuck off anyway. But I can’t. He was Sachi’s friend. Maybe he was more than a friend. I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I have to know. I open my mouth. But he shoots first, and I have to listen.

“Setou-san, this debt is perhaps overdue. This one offers deep regrets on your loss. He is very unworthy of respect, not having offered these regrets in person for a full twelve years. There is personal grief, and also the sense that one has performed very poorly with regard to one’s best friend.”

He looks down at my feet, although he is so much taller. He is big, but he is a very sad man indeed, I can tell. The urge comes to me that I should whack him on the back and ask him out for a beer. Maybe he can tell me about my sister, tell me the things that are lost forever. But I can’t do that kind of thing. I don’t know if Kenji is the kind who can. Yet, words come out from my lips.

“No, no. It was a damn long time ago. There isn’t a debt between us, unless you’re a conspiracy theorist, haha!”

“Husband!”

The kids look at me, worried. I feel as confused as they. There are so many words to say, and I can’t choose the right words, so I just keep talking.

“Seeing as you were her best friend… Well, when Sachi passed on, it shook me up. I realized I’d been crazy for a long time. I’d like to think she kicked me one last time in the butt. You don’t know how much you love some people until they’re gone. It changed me. People you love that much can’t be evil. So I thought, maybe I was wrong about everything, that sort of shit. It’s all over, now.”

The sun is up. I notice that those flowers have been there a long time. He must have come really early. What a friend he must have been! I sigh and loosen my scarf a bit, push up my glasses. And suddenly, I feel free of my burden. This is Sachi’s friend. Maybe they might have been married, if things had been better. He should be my friend too.

“Where are my manners? I’m still so rude after all these years! I am Kenji Setou, Sachiko’s second older brother. Perhaps you would like to have a meal with us after this?”

I introduce him to my family in detail, and as we share the silence and the ceremony after that, I feel as if I have found another brother. This year, however, Naomi is not here. Perhaps that is the way of life: sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t.

*****

May 2022

And sometimes, you lose everything.

It’s on 4th May 2022 that Hisao’s son Akira is born. It’s Wednesday, just about, because the sky is deeper than black and the streets are wet and lonely. Natsume calls me, looking tired and grim in the frame of my tabphone.

“Kenji, the red signal went up. They’re going to try it.”

If you are reading this, many years after it all happened, you wouldn’t understand that. But I did. In my years of investigating all the technology that we needed to use or needed to hide, I had learnt many things. ‘Red’ meant the beginning of a dangerous experiment; ‘black’ in this context would have been the end, a game with no chance of winning. I have no time to wonder how Nat would know that I would know this. It’s enough that she trusts me.

“Ricardo?” I whisper, trying not to wake Yuuko.

“Yes. Hisao, just after midnight.”

Damn. I hit the office before 0200h, but it’s fine. The night squad recognize me and buzz me in. They buzz me out a while later, and I’m off to Sendai. We Japanese, we’re crazy people. And Kenji, I say to myself, you’re the craziest of the lot.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Wed Apr 01, 2015 2:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

azumeow
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-2b up 20150321)

Post by azumeow » Sat Mar 21, 2015 7:38 pm

I knew what was happening when they mentioned Emi was in her third trimester, but....

reading it hurt a lot. I've been dreading this part of the saga. Keep it up, bryths...keep tearing our hearts to shreds you glorious bastard!
"I don’t want to be here anymore, I know there’s nothing left worth staying for.
Your paradise is something I’ve endured
See I don’t think I can fight this anymore, I’m listening with one foot out the door
And something has to die to be reborn-I don’t want to be here anymore"

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brythain
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-2b up 20150321)

Post by brythain » Sat Mar 21, 2015 11:42 pm

azumeow wrote:I knew what was happening when they mentioned Emi was in her third trimester, but....

reading it hurt a lot. I've been dreading this part of the saga. Keep it up, bryths...keep tearing our hearts to shreds you glorious bastard!
Hey! That's not my intention! Really! :)

But of course, all this has consequences, 'unto the third and fourth generation' as they say...
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Solistor
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-2b up 20150321)

Post by Solistor » Sun Mar 22, 2015 5:22 am

Man I simultaneously like and dislike following a work in progress. Like because I can be with the writer as they continue to write, and dislike because it means I have to wait for the new piece of delicious fanfic pie. Still enjoying this work, still waiting until way too late in the night to read. Thanks for the bedtime story :P
~Links to recommended fics
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All girls best girl; every girl loved equally.

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brythain
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-2b up 20150321)

Post by brythain » Mon Mar 23, 2015 11:36 pm

Solistor wrote:Man I simultaneously like and dislike following a work in progress. Like because I can be with the writer as they continue to write, and dislike because it means I have to wait for the new piece of delicious fanfic pie. Still enjoying this work, still waiting until way too late in the night to read. Thanks for the bedtime story :P
You're very welcome! :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-2b up 20150321)

Post by transient wonders » Tue Mar 24, 2015 12:38 am

Aw, now I feel guilty that I haven't read more of After the Dream... I'll definitely read through everything at some point. I've always loved Kenji and it's great to read about his future, especially with such great writing. Keep up the amazing work!
Hanako/Emi/Rin > Lilly > Shizune
Nothing wrong with Lilly or Shizune but they can't beat best girl...s. I really need to be much more decisive...
I'd like to thank Sakura Trick for getting me addicted to yuri. Or maybe I should be cursing it.

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-2b up 20150321)

Post by brythain » Tue Mar 24, 2015 11:18 am

transient wonders wrote:Aw, now I feel guilty that I haven't read more of After the Dream... I'll definitely read through everything at some point. I've always loved Kenji and it's great to read about his future, especially with such great writing. Keep up the amazing work!
Kenji is a great character to write about. I always remember in my heart to thank 4LS for creating that 'extra route'. Thanks! :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-3a up 20150401)

Post by brythain » Wed Apr 01, 2015 2:10 pm

This is the fifth section of the fourth part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which Kenji handles affairs of the heart, professionally.



Kenji 4: The World Turned Upside-Down
(May-August 2022)


I’ve lived a long time. Maybe I thought I would die young, so I didn’t mind that I was crazy once. Everything was rubbish, I’d be dead soon, so why bother? My family was the best thing, and it was broken. School used to be great, until it wasn’t—and who had time for things like love?

The funny thing was that there was this other guy. He was my neighbour in the dorms for a short while, and he thought he’d die before I did. After a while, my shit looked better than his. We became friends. We kept on being friends even when my life still looked bad and his looked better.

Over the years, he was my friend of the rooftop, as my wife used to say. We talked a lot. I didn’t realize how important all that was. These writings I’ve made, they’re the records of that time, they show how everything changed. The years 2020 to 2025—I remember them well. Also, I remember them badly.

*****

May 2022

In Miyagi General Hospital at Sendai tonight, I know there are many different groups of people who shouldn’t even be in one place at the same time. Somehow, it seems stupid to say such things, and if it’s not stupid, it’s like a wild story written by some perverted Japanese guy with too much time on his hands.

There are Family people, interested in protecting an investment, protecting their children, protecting all kinds of secrets; the hospital was paid for by the Families after the Great Tohoku Earthquake in 2011. There are Government people, sometimes hiding their own secrets from each other and doing it badly; these people don’t know what’s going on, unless they’re me—or former colleagues of mine. There are Science people, only interested in seeing if an experiment works; they know what’s happening, but only in terms of what’s happening in the operating theatre right now. And there are all kinds of normal people who just want to see a friend, a husband, a father or colleague get well.

I laugh sadly to myself as I park in the shadow of the waste processing unit, because some of us fall into more than one group, and don’t know what the hell to do. None of us thought that one of us would be the focus of so much attention. It’s like a bad dream, the kind from which you wake up and then find out you’re in a worse one. If my best friend dies tonight, many people’s dreams end badly.

It’s not cold, but I pull my coat around myself and tuck my black and purple ‘night walk’ scarf firmly into the collar. I tap my too-thick glasses and blink a few times so that I can see better. Then, I go for a stroll around the hospital car parks, to see who is here at 3 am in the morning.

I make the Katayama watchers before they see me; they must be distracted, a security detail protecting someone who doesn’t want them around. There are Hakamichi cars present, but if they’re in surveillance mode, they’re better than I am. I don’t see Nat’s little car around, of course. She would be in the air by now, and I wonder if Naomi is with her. The odds are against it.

Something catches my eye. It’s a pale blue-green glow, a line of very small dots in the wet night. Nobody should see such a thing, but I have filters that tell me that I have just missed stepping into an intelligence grid. The colour of the dots tells me that it’s government-issue, from one of three possible sources. I back away, wondering who else is interested and why I wasn’t told.

I’m not stepping into that building tonight, then. Or at least, that’s the official story. I need to find another way in. Down into the rabbit-hole, Kenji goes. No, stop that, it was a very long time ago.

I see an ambulance crew, some men moving liquid oxygen gingerly on blue cylinder trolleys, a security guard making notes on a checklist. At 3 am, even a hospital is not very lively. Ten minutes later, I’m in a service elevator. Then I find a data port in a quiet room. The map opens up, I see where everyone is, one by one. I tag those who aren’t already being traced and sit back, every security camera in the hospital at my disposal.

Ricardo. The dream of being able to turn your own life on and off at will? It sits badly in my mind. I feel the urge to climb up to the roof, my lifetime habit. I can smell the whisky, feel the burning flavours curl down my throat. I shake my head and wait. I want the experiment to be successful. I am afraid of any outcome.

There are departures and arrivals. Hideaki Hakamichi departs in his Hakamichi hatchback. Signal traffic tells me he has gone to collect my old friend Natsume from the airport. This surprises me, but I’ve had many surprises tonight already, so I’m almost immune. The whole clan is in town; even the Satous are represented by Lilly’s sister Akira, her eyes as red as ever.

Then I sit up so suddenly I almost knock my tabphone off the console. What the hell is she doing here, Kenji? I realize I must be very tired. Dumb Kenji, not seeing things because they’re there. You tagged everything else, I say to myself, but you idiot, you didn’t read all the automatic tags!

The Mermaid is here. I wonder if her hair is still that strange seawater colour. I don’t want to meet her. I now have something very urgent to figure out, there’s no time for taking detailed notes.

*****

June to July 2022

“Hey.”

I don’t reply. I just wheel him out and down to the sliding steel doors at the end of his corridor in the staff apartments. It’s only a month after his surgery, but he really doesn’t need a chair. It’s convenient for me, though. Pro-tip: when you need to make someone go with you in a hurry, get a wheelchair.

I get him up to the roof. There’s a small bottle in one of my coat pockets too. It’s traditional. Then I turn to him.

“Hisao, you bloody fool. Good try, though. Glad you made it.” I have rehearsed my words for weeks. What comes out of my mouth is nothing I rehearsed. Story of my life.

He gives me a lop-sided grin. “All Rika’s work. I’m now a cyborg. Remember all those manga we used to talk about in the old days?”

Ricardo was one of ours, really. We thought that the technology would be used for the Defence Forces. But clearly, first test subject is sitting in front of me looking smug. It’s not that I haven’t looked that way myself. It’s just so irritating on his face.

“If you think the wrong thoughts, you’ll kill yourself, you know.”

“I only think good thoughts, very intelligent Colonel Setou.”

Such damned smugness. But you know, I’m at the bottom just very happy that he’s alive anyway.

“I’m going to try to kill you, very scientific Department Head Nakai. Here, have some.” I bring out the bottle and two tumblers, give him a healthy portion (but not an unhealthy one).

He accepts gratefully. I notice he doesn’t look at the bottle. Bad sign.

“Thanks, man.”

“No problem. So, how did you do it?”

Hisao adopts that half-confused look he puts on when he’s thinking of being cunning. Ha! I say to myself, there’s a story he’s cooking up right now.

“Ah, well, I don’t know what Shizune told you…”

She hasn’t told me anything that she hadn’t already told me before. She might be Hakamichi, but she’s not (yet) Hakamichi Industries. I have my suspicions, though, what with Akira Satou and Hideaki Hakamichi being my friend’s legal team. Hisao’s hoping I’m going to cook up my own story, and he’ll agree with it, and I will deceive myself. That’s a bit sad.

“She told me you would be the recipient of a Hakamichi experimental implant,” I say, keeping my voice flat. Actually, Shizune told Natsume, and Nat told me—but it’s also more complicated than that. Multiple sources, multiple routes.

“There were two prototypes. One’s inside me, with my consent.”

And the other one is government property, and I know what’s going to happen with it. “Go on.”

“Well, alive, that’s the whole story.”

“I can see that. I’m happy for you; at least your child has a father. Remember the time we were on the roof and you worried about that?”

Hisao’s face goes gloomy and happy at the same time. “Yeah. My son is very cute. They named him Akira while I was in surgery, so he now has the same name as my lawyer. Ha.”

“How many years do you think you’ll have?”

“It’s all borrowed time now, Kenji, old friend.” He sips his whisky and looks out into the far distance, into the infinity of air. He has the look I had when I used to sit on a mountain and look at the sea and dream of falling forever.

I nod and sip my own. At least he knows the truth. My team estimates a maximum of three years, maybe four if very fortunate. It’s most likely two. Everyone is hoping that Dr Katayama will find an upgrade before then. Our fates can sometimes hang from a very, very thin strand.

Downstairs, the children are playing. His daughter, my son who is his godson. Little Akiko isn’t even old enough to say Koji’s name properly. At the age of two, she probably will not remember these days, the time her father died and came back from the dead.

When we’re done, I wheel him back to the elevator and then home, away from the temptation of the sky. In the next few weeks, I take up residence in a hotel room in Hamamatsu. The city is hot and damp. I spend time with my uncle, the Black Dragon. He brings me around to several interesting laboratories, and the headquarters of several very useful companies. He says he doesn’t mind working with the White Ghost. I make the introductions, feeling helpless. You can’t save everyone, but you have to try.

*****

August 2022

Akiko Nakai is two years old this month, and there’s a little party in the staff apartments at Sendai. Old friends are present, also absent. I am surprised, but not a lot, to see Natsume here. Shizune is also here, and Hisao is interpreting for her because she hates using her augments in a crowd. Emi is beaming, the baby in her arms clearly the focus of her attention. I remember with a small barb of fondness how it was when Yuuko was like that with Koji.

I leave the wives to talk about babies, together with others who also need to talk about how cute they are—Mutou, Emi’s mother, Dr Kaneshiro and Dr Katayama are among them. I walk over to Shizune, who is leaning back with her elbows on the balcony railing, the breeze ruffling her hair gently. It has grown a little long. I nod at Hisao and bow slightly to Madam Principal Hakamichi.

Her eyes pierce me brightly as she gives a wicked smile and snaps her fingers. Hisao turns lazily to look at her and takes the glass from her other hand, placing it gently on a side-table, next to his.

[You completely forgot my birthday this year, Colonel. How can we be friends any more?]

“She says you forgot her birthday, Kenji, and says it isn’t a friendly thing to do.”

I laugh, signing as I speak. “Hisao, you’re always so bad at translating without diplomacy. Have you forgotten that I know sign?”

Has he indeed forgotten? That’s not good! More soberly, I add, [I am really very sorry, Shizune. But you know we were all occupied by other matters in May.]

Her downcast look contrasts with her earlier smile. [I know. Just a small joke.]

[Hey, I’m fine, don’t talk about me as if I’m not around any more!] Hisao signs emphatically. His eyes crease in good humour, but I can tell he’s breathless, tired. He looks to one side just as he completes his gestures, and I turn to follow his gaze.

It’s Nat. Her mismatched eyes gleam in the indirect yellow lighting. Her hair is as unruly as ever, barely tamed as it cascades over her shoulders. Her blue linen dress has some kind of woven belt and elasticated sleeves, I think.

[This is a private party in the party. Can one join in?] she signs.

[Of course] signs Hisao. I take a moment to appreciate the strangeness of it all. These signed conversations were common in Yamaku. In my world, I seldom encounter such events. It reminds me of the memories I’ve buried, so many of them over the last fifteen years.

Shizune tosses her head slightly, getting wind-blown hair out of her face. [Kenji, you know Natsume quite well. Nat is the journalist covering Hisao’s operation and his recovery. It’s a Hakamichi contract with the Shimbun.]

Worse and worse. I rub my eyes tiredly. [Do you know what you’re allowed to say and not say, Nat?] I sign.

Hisao laughs, although I’m not sure what he’s laughing at. Shizune snorts, begins to sign, then folds her hands across her stomach.

Nat glares at me, something I find oddly comforting. “Well, these people have told me many times. No doubt, government information suppression expert Colonel Setou, you will tell me more things I cannot say.” She remembers just in time to sign for Shizune’s benefit, starting from my name.

[No, no. That’s not what I do.] Actually, maybe it is. I sigh. [Just be careful? You could let me read it before you publish it?]

I purposely make these questions, not demands. Natsume can be very prickly when she feels like it. But she’s my friend, and I am actually quite fond of her. Despite the fact that somehow she took your girlfriend away from you, you loser stupid idiot fool, an old and malicious part of me whispers.

I hammer the old devil flat with a punch to the head. Of course, I don’t do that in real life. People think I’m crazy enough as it is.

Nat sighs back. [Agreed. But if you’re cutting anything, I will say your office did it.]

[Don’t I get any say?] Hisao signs plaintively, but also in a way that makes it clear he’s joking.

[I’m your boss] Shizune points out, but she’s grinning as she does.

[It’s my heart] Hisao replies, smirking.

[Don’t I get any say?] comes his boss’s lightning-fast reply.

Hisao’s mouth opens, and for a moment, I realize that perhaps Shizune has gone too far, even though she was joking. I look at her, and I can tell that she has felt it too.

[I’m sorry] she signs.

Hisao sighs, fatigue in his soft breathing. [We should go back in.]

[A few moments more, Hisao?]

I wonder at that. Shizune’s expression pleads for understanding. For a second, Hisao gazes at her. He seems to understand whatever it is she is trying to convey, although I don’t.

[Yes. Sorry I forgot. I’ll just get the rest out here.]

There’s so much going on, so much that is unsaid. But even slow-witted Kenji soon picks up on what’s happening. It’s kind of glorious to see the fireworks go off in the darkness, like chrysanthemums and roses made of tiny stars. I find Yuuko pressed against me as the Tanabata display unfolds, and it’s with great happiness that I put my arm around her and our children.

I catch Nat winking at me. Sounds of appreciation surround us. And we all watch cherry blossoms flower into the sky, disappearing as they seed white fire over the city.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon Apr 13, 2015 2:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-3b up 20150413)

Post by brythain » Mon Apr 13, 2015 2:17 pm

This is the sixth section of the fourth part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which some of Kenji's old friendships are stressed to the breaking point.



Kenji 4: The World Turned Upside-Down
(September-December 2022)


People in some parts of the world don’t know how powerful alumni associations can be. Most do, but they think these associations are for the big universities only. Some high schools have them, though, especially if they are special places. The Sendai-Aoba Mountain District Academy, the school people know as ‘Yamaku High’ from that old VN, is a special place.

Since the school was founded in 1971, both cripples like me and normal people have studied there and graduated. Mostly cripples though: people with diseases that will kill them, problems with missing limbs or senses. But we learn to live better lives, that’s Yamaku’s promise. It works for many of us, and while it’s working, we make friendships that can last a long while.

It was Shizune Hakamichi, who’ll be remembered as Student Council President (Class of 2008) as well as one of the school’s principals, who took it to the next level. That’s what almost broke our friendship, and those friendships, they’re hard to break. But in 2022, we were still quite young.

*****

September-October 2022

In autumn, things are peaceful and quite beautiful as the leaves begin to turn red and fall. On the 11th of September, Yuuko and I invite Natsume, as Masako’s godmother, over for a double birthday celebration. Naomi comes along. Somehow, nobody is unhappy. Things are happier, in fact. Some parts of the past have faded, even though they won’t ever be gone.

But a few weeks into the season, I have to make a return journey to the Axeblade. This time, it’s not for good food, or a holiday. It’s because my department people solve a puzzle, find stuff, and end up giving me more puzzles with what they find. I have to visit Taro Arai, because maybe he’s seen too much.

I decide to take a long drive up. What’s on my mind is that the big idiot waited months before deciding to tell me about what had happened! My other mind has second thoughts, tells me I can’t be so uncharitable about Taro. I think of him as a friend, after all.

So we sit, and Arai-san—master chef of the best restaurant that nobody except Yamaku alumni and the locals know about—serves me his best snacks as a penance for his sins. He starts with a sweet icy thing that he tells me is sakura sherbet, and I give him a funny look. But you don’t funny-look the chef even if he owes you something, so I stop and enjoy it.

Then there’s a Kagoshima-style roast pork belly roll with flying-fish roe and something else I can’t describe. And tiny baby sardines with thin-sliced vegetables, tempura style. There’s more, and more, and even more. I guess he feels he owes me a lot. Dessert is like a sculpture: two little sakura mochi, with frozen strawberries and cherry ice-cream that has flaky bits in it, presented in a beautiful piece of pottery. For some reason, I think of Shizune’s friend Misha.

It’s an odd meal, because it’s a spring season meal, not autumn. But I can’t complain. I just wonder what message is hidden, and I think hard about my food.

When we are done, I rise and thank him, and bow to his pretty wife in the Hakamichi Industries all-terrain wheelchair. I see his father lurking around and bow to him too, and to his mother who is pretending to polish a tray of glasses at the counter. I even bow to the monkeys who are always sitting around scratching their asses. And finally, I bow to Taro Arai’s godfather, the old man who seems as if he is only minding his business, meditating on classical poetry in the corner.

I sit down again, and I say, “Okay, that’s really, really good. I tell you again, because it’s better than anything I can find in Tokyo. But please, tell me the whole goddamn story that you kept from me for six months.”

He sits down too. He clears his throat and a couple of the white-bearded monkeys look up, then return to their grooming and ass-scratching. The family seems to have come closer, and I can’t begrudge them that, because they already know what he saw anyway. So I smile, the smile of a satisfied guest who is trying very hard not to be rude in any way.

“Colonel Setou, this was at the end of winter.”

“Nah, please, no colonel this and colonel that. We’re friends, fellow cripples. Call me Kenji?”

“Sure.” He straightens up. “I’m always Taro around here.”

“So, please continue.”

“The macaques always let me know when something is happening. I’ve played with them since I was a kid, and my godfather taught me how to communicate with them.”

Good to know, I think to myself. The intelligence community could do with some smart monkeys. I nod, wishing he’d get to the point.

“It’s late February, but they change my routine a bit and I follow them to the north beach. There’s a bunch of them waiting, and they look excited, a bit fearful. I get closer, and I see a pile of something black, at first I think it’s driftwood and seaweed, but it’s probably not that, because the monkeys don’t call me for simple things.”

My breath speeds up a little. My left cheek twitches.

“It’s a person, I realize. So I start to run. And there’s a bit of blood on the sand, and the person’s not moving, so dead. I don’t mind saying, I was scared. So I go slowly towards the body, maybe I shouldn’t be disturbing the sand or something. I take out my phone and take pictures before I take each step. I remember learning that in a trip that Mutou-sensei brought us on, some police lecture. I’m shaking, but I take a lot of pictures. I can pass them to you.”

Shit. He took pictures. I hope he didn’t have one of those automatic cloud upload things. I might need to find a forensic computer specialist, and those aren’t cheap.

“What did you see?” I know who it was, since he’s already told me. But I need to see his response.

“There’s a girl, and her hair, it’s dyed some mermaid colour. Straightaway, I tell myself, ‘Taro, you’ve seen that colour before, what the hell!’ I look closely. She’s in a wetsuit and it’s kind of torn up a bit, and she had a hood or something, but that’s torn too. And she’s got blood at the corner of her mouth, but it’s still running a bit, and there’s bubbles in it. So I know she’s still alive.”

“What did you do?” He saved her, of course. I feel his fear. Taking someone else’s blood into your mouth is not a nice thing.

“I did all the things I could remember, turn her a bit, check for things in her mouth, try to make her breathe. There’s a lot of water.”

“So you recognized her.” He did.

“Yes, it was an old classmate of mine.” And I know which one.

“Was she injured, that you could see?”

“I told one of the macaques to go back and get Godfather. Then when she coughed I made her comfy and checked her body. There was blood in the sand, right? A lot of blood. Then I found the hole. She had this really big slash, like opening up a fish, in her belly, above her left hip. I almost lost it. I thought she wasn’t going to make it, I could see her guts through the muscle and fat.”

Damn. I can feel my pulse rate spiking. My hands on the table are trembling even though I’m trying to hold it together.

“She survived.”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“Godfather brought stuff. We got her to the house. She said not to bring her to a hospital. I told her she was an idiot. She agreed. My godfather decided he’d treat her even though I think he only treats macaques most of the time. He keeps a lot of interesting things in his home.”

Damn. Damn. Damn.

“What made you call me?”

“She gets a fever one night, and she says your name. Like, ‘Bloody Kenji, need to tell. No, best not to. What the hell.’ Something like that.”

“Then why didn’t you call me back then?!” I can’t control myself.

“Because she said not to. When she got better. She recognized Misa, from the Literature Club or something, back in school,” he says, waving a hand in his wife’s direction. She looks back, unusually solemn.

“What happened next?’

“After she left, these two people come by a few days later. One’s a big guy, and his friend is a slim girl. They told me they’d… they’d…”

“They’d what?”

“They’d keep an eye on the macaques, just in case I talked and some of them disappeared.”

The old man whom Taro calls ‘Godfather’ is sitting right next to me, his creased and ancient face looking round my arm. I shift uneasily. I have not sensed a thing, and yet there he is. He seems to be staring into my soul.

“That was a threat, yes? Why are you talking to me, then?”

“Because other people came round, a few weeks ago, and they said if I didn’t tell them, maybe some of the macaques would disappear anyway. Then they…”

He stops, unable to continue. He points, and I look. What am I seeing? Then I know. There’s a little grave, with a small white stone marker. Sitting next to it is a medium-sized monkey, looking very sad and thin.

My heart sinks. Whatever is happening is complicated, and although I think I would like to protect the monkeys, that’s not my job. Those damn monkeys, though, they’re all looking at me now, as if they can read my mind. They and Taro’s godfather, it’s really creepy.

There and then, I make a decision. Actually, Colonel Setou, my professional self—he makes the decision. I just watch and listen. And I pray it’s going to be right, for everyone, and even the monkeys.

*****

November 2022

It’s the fourth of November when I get the call at the office. A slightly breathy voice, with a familiar beat: “Happy birthday to me, I was born in the sea, with the catfish and dogfish, happy birthday to me.”

“That makes no sense at all,” I say sternly. Only Kenji is allowed to talk nonsense, and even he doesn’t do that. Heck, even Tezuka wouldn’t do this. “Why are you calling me?”

“Kenji went up to the Axeblade to see what he could see…”

It’s spooking me. She doesn’t do this deliberately, but I’ve seen what happens when she takes certain medications.

“S, what have you been doing for Nobu and Keiko?” I ask. I have a good idea, but I don’t know for sure.

“Daywatch, Kenji. Just felt like telling you. Bye.”

A conversation too brief to trace, given her usual precautions. Sea-blue hair, and old memories. I have to put those away, I’ve made promises. But I’ve heard of something called Daywatch, and it has to do with our bearish friends. I hope bears don’t eat monkeys. I feel sick.

This has nothing to do with Hisao, I think to myself hopefully. But there’s a group of people I might need to talk to, now. I shove a stack of papers angrily across my beat-up old office desk and reach for the black secure tabphone, autodialling. To my surprise, it goes to voice first.

“Hello!~ You’ve reached the office of Principal Hakamichi at the Sendai-Aoba Mountain District Academy, also known as…”

“Hey! Misha!”

“Oh, hiiiiiii!~ Kenji! Did you call me to wish me a happy birthday?~ Three days ago, but only a little late~ …”

Against my will, I’m a bit distracted. Shizune’s best friend has always had that effect on me. The video comes on, and I’m treated to a view of a cheerful lady with strawberry blonde (we’re talking the pink kind of strawberry, I think) hair. Part of me is happy that she looks so much better than four years ago. Part of me is feeling impatient.

“Did Shizune hijack your cake again? Is she around?”

“Awww, you’re so mean, you blame Shicchan for everything! But maybe that’s why I only found a third of a cake in the fridge… hmmm… yes, hold on, she’s in the general office working out her schedule with your wife! Knowing them, it’ll be half an hour more!~”

That has always been a problem. Everyone knows everyone. It’s hard to keep stuff secret, or to assume it stays that way.

“I’ll call back later, Misha. Err… how are things with you?”

“Wait, so you did send me a birthday cake but Shicchan ate most of it and…”

I can see her mind working through the problem. Misha can be very bright when it comes to dealing with some things. She’s a very good translator/interpreter when she’s focused. But time and space defeat her too easily.

“Actually, Yuuko delivered it to the office. She’s better at remembering such things.”

“Kenji, that’s no good~ because Shicchan always intercepts the good stuff!” Misha leans back, looking comfortable in the black leather chair that isn’t hers. “It was a nice cake though, I liked the little chewy pineapple bits!”

I’m glad she liked it: Yuuko picked it herself. The main thing I need to do, though, is to find a time to meet Shizune’s committee.

*****

December 2022

This is going to hurt. I’m sad, and I can’t do it. But I know someone who can. And so I stop taking my meds for a few days before I meet the people who call themselves the Committee for Life Extension. Whose life? My friend Hisao’s life, of course. It makes me sick, not because of what they’ve done, but because I would want them to do it if I were not what I am.

Who am I? Colonel Kenji Setou of the Blue Room. What am I? I am augmented-human, using technology only the government is supposed to know about. What must I do? I must stop people from using certain government property. But they used it on my friend already. So I have failed. Sanctions will follow.

Who am I? Setou. I loved someone. She went away, she went away, she went away… I have memories of Kyoto, with her face erased from them. She was sweet, like honey and caramel and the scent of the sakura in spring. And now she is only a friend, only a friend, only a friend…

Who? Kenji Setou. Bloody feminists no I’m not going to let you tease me and break me down I am tougher than that, tougher than your cyborgs with your optical targeting sensors and death on mechanical legs, go to hell all of you, my last stand is on the roof, and if I am the last sane man so be it!

Who? No, no… mother, why? Mother, don’t go, don’t leave me, no you’ve never left me, I can see you in the whisky tumbler, in the ice under the bridge…


I wake up one morning and I look at my journal. It is full of what you have just read. And I know I am ready. Old Kenji in my head, he grins, showing his teeth and closing his eyes and wrapping his colourful scarf tightly around his neck. He has seen things he should not have, he has seen things nobody else will see.

It’s time. I summon the people of the Committee to my office. I am Old Kenji today, and also the Colonel, and many more besides.

One by one, they enter my office. Shizune Hakamichi, the one who has always been Madam Dictator of the Glorious Feminist Revolution. And her pinko henchperson, Shiina Mikado, who even dares to use a Russian name in the open. Rika Katayama, who acts so innocent and can gut a man at five paces before he can blink.

I shake my head. Men. Three of them, all traitors. Akio Mutou, senior science teacher. Goro Kaneshiro, chief medical officer. Hideaki Hakamichi, who could have been my brother, and is now only a lawyer. I keep standing. They cannot see what hides behind my eyes.

Maybe one of them can though. He was Nurse once, and his foxy eyes can see almost through my glasses and into my brain. I polarize my irises. He will not defeat me.

“You’re criminals,” I tell them. I can see the shock on their faces. How could they expect me to know? I’m only stupid blind Kenji who is a joke to them, right?


I shake my head. No, that’s not what I’ve said, not what I’m supposed to say. I greet them politely as they sit around the stained wood of the old conference room table.

“I’m sorry,” I say softly. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a secure room and we have things to discuss.”

What is discussed is private. Maybe one day somebody will talk about it. But maybe it is so full of shame and regret that nobody will. At the end of the meeting, we have an agreement. They won’t mention me, and I won’t mention them. They will do certain things, and I will see that no further action is taken. I won’t pursue the case of the illegal third device, which I now know is being kept in reserve, being worked on by the Katayama group. I’m doing my job, but I don’t insult them by telling them so. They know.

Then they are leaving. I look at my friend Shizune. Deep in her eyes, there’s hurt, and maybe a sense of betrayal. We have been friends a long time, but she left me out of her Committee because I was a servant of our country. If I had been in the group, I could have saved everyone a lot of trouble. I am hurt too. Old Kenji cackles in my head, telling me that I have become vulnerable to feminist wiles. New Kenji says that this is what friendship is all about.

Deliberately, she pushes her spectacles higher up on her nose and deactivates her implants. The special link between us dies. Before she can turn away, I begin to sign. I say: [We are still friends.]

She replies: [I am Hisao’s friend. Hisao is your friend. There is no transitive rule for that, Colonel.]

I am hardened to pain, but not to the death of friendships. Yet, Colonel Setou is now tough enough to show nothing, even though he wishes he could. [I will always be your friend, Shizune Hakamichi.]

[That is your choice, Kenji Setou.]

Hours later, I look out onto the street. There is nothing there, no trace of anything but winter’s vanguard of chill, dead leaves. I file my case report under hard encrypt, that it might never see the light of day. Tiredly, I put on my overcoat and walk out into the concrete maze.

At the end of the month, I get an odd little text message that makes me smile sadly. [Misha got a cake, but Shicchan was very unhappy, so no cake this year for you. Misha is sad. Happy birthday!] There is of course nothing from Shizune.

It’s as if my cold little world has shrunk in on itself. Nothing remains except the tiny warm circle of my wife and two children. One day the cherry blossoms will fall, and nobody will be there to save them all.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Thu Apr 30, 2015 11:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Solistor
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-3b up 20150413)

Post by Solistor » Tue Apr 14, 2015 7:22 am

Damn.

I may not always know what's going on in this fic, but that last part made me sad.
~Links to recommended fics
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-3b up 20150413)

Post by brythain » Wed Apr 15, 2015 2:38 am

Solistor wrote:Damn.

I may not always know what's going on in this fic, but that last part made me sad.
It's sad from Shizune's perspective too. She doesn't have many friends she can trust. :(
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-3b up 20150413)

Post by YutoTheOrc » Mon Apr 20, 2015 10:36 am

Ou, damn, that last part really was a punch to the heart. For both Shizune and Kenji! :cry:

I finally caught up, so that's always a plus! Is it bad if I'm half expectign Kenji to go off the deep end and jump into the sea or something? Regardless, once again excellent work my friend! :D

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-3b up 20150413)

Post by brythain » Mon Apr 20, 2015 10:24 pm

YutoTheOrc wrote:Ou, damn, that last part really was a punch to the heart. For both Shizune and Kenji! :cry:

I finally caught up, so that's always a plus! Is it bad if I'm half expectign Kenji to go off the deep end and jump into the sea or something? Regardless, once again excellent work my friend! :D
Thank you! Hmmm... the sea, it always comes back. We'll... see.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-3c up 20150430)

Post by brythain » Thu Apr 30, 2015 10:51 pm

This is the seventh section of the fourth part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which Kenji thinks about what it means to be bankrupt.



Kenji 4: The World Turned Upside-Down
(January-April 2023)


You know, even when the world was turning upside down, there were times I was happy—happy like the guy on the beach before the tsunami hits. It sucks first, then it blows, and then the waves pound everything till nothing’s left.

Maybe you wonder what strange parallel universe this guy lives in—he writes as if so many things that happened didn’t happen at all. But you see, I have to erase so many things, change so many things, that sometimes I wonder what strange parallel universe I live in too. Parallel to myself, and sometimes my heart beats and there is no echo, no response. I can’t say everything. There’s too much to say, and some has to be kept silent, hidden away because of respect or danger.

Before I continue, let me tell you this, whoever you are: I stay awake at night sometimes, just to hear the gentle breathing of the lady who is still with me after all these years and all that pain. I don’t stay awake for much else.

*****

January 2023

The figures come in at last. It takes more than two years for people to get their shit together. Yes, I’m angry. Sometimes you watch the plums and assholes grab your melons. Or something like that.

Oh stupid, stupid Kenji. Defence of the country, protection of the citizens. I wish I’d listened to Miki, happy Miki who told me the secret and didn’t know what it was that she told me. I wish I had Shizune with me, old friend with sharp fingers telling hard truths.

But they all hate me, or they have their own thing, and I am stuck with the report from the idiot kids across the city who have just told the clever intelligence people—ha, what a joke we are!—that the country is bankrupt as hell. Damn, damn, even hell is richer the way we send so much stuff down there.

How did the money run out? We had such a good Olympics in 2020, right? Everyone likes Japanese stuff, right? All true, all not relevant. It was my father’s generation that screwed us all.

And now the bill is due. I look at the fat stinking report again. Now I know what the Families were doing. The lifeboats were getting ready to launch. The mother ship is sinking, the iceberg of debt has made too big a hole. We’re fucked.

I toss back another shot of that honey-raisin-fire liquid. It’s good, so good that I’ve forgotten its name. I raise a glass in my office. I’ve been raising a glass for everyone I’ve lost. You aren’t supposed to drink at work. But nobody wants to fire me, so I’m firing myself, like clay, or whisky, or whisky in a clay pot. That sounds like a Hisao joke. Wonder where he is. He’s still alive. He shouldn’t be.

I want to retire to the Axeblade and be a fisherman. It isn’t the first time I’ve thought this thought. I toss the bottle into the compactor shaft, stand up and stretch. The time is… what it is, which is after dinner. I’ll be late home again. I’ll be home late again, something like that. What kind of husband, what kind of father am I? Bad, just bad.

I head for my usual exit. I can feel the cold air cutting into the empty building. Only the nightshift analysts are here, and nobody wants to look at the mirror lenses of the mad officer. My heart lurches a bit, turning over in its sleep like a weary dog. I’m back on my meds. Meds are good.

I clear the security gauntlet. I step out into the concrete-wood smell of new building. This is the dark city. Every time you look, it is old being replaced by new, fake replaced by faker. I’m just another middle aged guy in a dirty overcoat and a colourful scarf, also another fake, and not very new.

The pavement is slightly damp. Every light and lamp is crowned with a halo, because the air is wet. It’s drizzling a bit. High above the normal hearing range, the cheerful beep of my briefcase’s defence system tells me my secrets are safe. We transact in paper, because paper burns easily.

It’s a long walk because the data I collect is valuable. Who comes within fifty metres of me, what businesses are still making profits at this time, whose car is driven by whom—electronics are everywhere, like a cloud. The analysts will only know that this dataset is collected by device X with code number Y. I don’t think they know that the sensor crown is in my head. I am sure they don’t know what it would mean if this dataset one day just stops coming in.

Then I’m in the train, not so packed at this late hour, full of tired faces and thin lips. There’s the smell of winter, people hiding their fear and stress and anxiety behind layers of air and cloth. Sometimes they have tabphones. Or compads. Or whatever the fruit flavour is this month. And they don’t know we have no money, that we are one of the poorest countries on earth.

Dark city, dark friend. I close my ears and nose to the noise and smell of the people I serve. But I keep my eyes open, because you always keep your eyes open. Especially if you’ve got eyes like mine.

I get home safely this time, not a scratch. Being paranoid, it’s a good thing. By the time I’m home, I’m more sober than the best magistrate of old Edo. I take off my shoes, half-disarm my defences, walk out of the shadows and into the light.

“Colonel’s home, children,” says Yuuko. Her smile is one of relief. I am glad I am safe, because it makes her happy. When Koji and Masako come to greet me, the day is made perfect. There is nothing more precious in my heart, these days. I am so sorry I am late, that I made them hungry, I tell them. They forgive me anyway.

*****

February 2023

Here. Is Kenji. Lying down, looking up. Life is very unfair, I think. I’m supposed to be a Catholic. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. That’s the stuff. Here I am, this is Kenji. Thought, word, deed. I get up and begin to write all this down. It’s just a way of not thinking too hard. But if I don’t write it down, I’ll be in my own hell.

So I am thinking all this, and then Yuuko walks in. There are some things you tell the priest. But the rest, you tell your wife. My meds are working fine, and I have not touched alcohol for many days. So this is what I think, and that is what I do.

“Mother?”

By now, Yuuko is used to this. She calls me ‘Colonel’ in front of the children, although sometimes ‘Father’. I call her something like ‘Landlady’, or ‘Mother’. After a while, it’s as if we have no names of our own, even when the children are not around.

“Husband?” she smiles.

“A few minutes, perhaps?” I feel so awkward. I can sense she knows I am depressed, that something is wrong.

“Of course. What is, ah, troubling you?” She looks at me, all concerned. A long lock of reddish hair falls from behind her ear, and without thinking, she lifts a hand and pushes it back. Little things like this, they remind me that I love her, and it’s a feeling that’s strong even when I’m so sad.

“I just spoke to Miki. It’s her birthday today. I called her as usual.”

“Yes, I’m sorry I forgot to remind you. Did you, um, send her good wishes from me as well? How is she?”

Yuuko took over my diary years ago, and she reminds me to call our friends now and then. I swallow at the last question, move over, and sit heavily down on our bed.

She joins me, her body leaning into mine. She’s warm and comforting, firm and tender, all clad in a pale orange robe that is tied shut with a dark blue sash. “What is it?” she asks, a gentle note of worry in her voice.

“Do you remember when we… when we found out we were… not having any more children?”

“How could I… forget?” she replies sharply, frowning as if I have been foolish.

I just have to say everything. So I close my eyes and talk.

“Last year Miki said she was expecting. She said September and I forgot and she didn’t say anything. Then I remembered so I asked her. The baby would be about six months old, maybe, so we could send a gift or something.”

“Oh, yes!” my wife says, but I can tell she is beginning to understand, because when I look at her, her eyes are sad.

“She told me that it didn’t happen. And then she was very quiet, the way she is when she doesn’t want to cry. Then she said very slowly that maybe it was better that way.”

“That’s awful, very… very bad. She must be so… she must be in pain. Does she have any friends she can talk to?”

“I don’t know. We were friends once, and we’re still friends, but… well… maybe Natsume? I… don’t know.”

We sit there, holding each other in the night. The children are asleep, and eventually, we are too.

*****

March 2023

“Feeling old, Hisao?”

There are no more rooftops for us. We’re old men now, in our thirties. Hisao’s out of his wheelchair. It was only a precaution anyway, something to keep him from running around. He’s got a new ticker, a strange thing in his chest. We don’t talk about it.

“Yeah, a little bit. It’s like when I first got hospitalized.”

“The first time?”

“I can’t remember telling you about it.”

I keep quiet. If Hisao wants to talk, let him talk. We’ve known each other for fifteen years now. I just nod, wondering what he’ll say. He has a distant look on his face when he starts to speak.

“I was scared of dying. Then I was scared of not dying, and just staying in bed for the rest of my life. But they got me up and walking in days! And then I had an infection, and it was back to bed. And my heart, I think it was damaged, scar tissue. It didn’t heal well. So I was scared of being half-dead. It was fear and fear, and more fear.”

I’ve been somewhere close to that place before, but not quite that place. I look at him. I think I know what he feels, but I don’t know if it’s really that.

“I had something like a heart attack in Hokkaido, with… Lilly. At that time, I wanted to live, I was afraid not to live. Then she left, and there didn’t seem much point. That’s all.”

“That’s all?” I ask. “Really?”

He gives me a sharp look, wondering if I’m being funny. I don’t know if I am.

“Well, I got better. And here we are. It’s Emi’s birthday next week, she’ll be 35, I guess. Two children. We bought a little house, half and half with her mother and some of it from my inheritance. Meiko lives there now. One day we’ll live there too. I’m not afraid to die, but I’m sad I won’t live to see the kids grow up.”

I make the no-that-isn’t-true gesture, and begin to say something like that. But I’m not sure that’s the case. The chances are that he’s right.

“So what do you want to do, old friend?”

“Some time ago, you said you’d look after my children in a certain way. You promised me that.”

I feel a bit insulted that he has to remind me. But maybe he’s just saying it. And then he surprises me by standing up and pacing around the little private room in the bistro where we’re having lunch.

“I wish I could go and say my farewells to people I lost along the way. I can’t say that to my parents. There’s only an empty grave with a marker, nothing inside. I could talk to the sea, but it doesn’t reply. I wanted to talk to Saki Enomoto once, because if she hadn’t… hadn’t left 3-3, I would never have got that seat by the window. I never got that chance.”

That’s very sad. I remember the girl, so long ago, who told me her name as if it was the most miserable thing on earth. A pretty girl, wistful look on her face.

“I wish I could see Miki. She always tried to be positive. Now, it’s hard to feel that we’re friends because somehow we never really kept in touch.”

“Hey, your wife wouldn’t be happy if you did.” The words just come out. I’m sorry I said them, but Emi is not like Yuuko, and Hisao knows it.

“Yeah. That’s true,” he says, a little melancholy creeping into his voice.

“Anyone else?” I ask. I don’t know if Hisao knows about what’s happened with Miki, so it’s time to move on.

“Shin, Mai, the old gang. School friendships can be broken, but I grew up in that part of the city, and I’d known them for years! Remember when I showed up at their house?”

He’s talking about my in-laws. Shin is Yuuko’s younger brother. Mai is my skinny sister-in-law Azami. They were his classmates, together with Iwanako, who confessed her love for him and triggered his first heart attack.

“We said we’d keep in touch, but somehow, it never quite happened.”

On impulse, I say, “We can make it happen. Come on. I’ll talk to Yuuko and we can do the long weekend. We leave Friday 17th after work and we go all the way to Tuesday 21st afternoon. How’s that?”

He looks at me as if my hair has turned to twigs. Then he grins. “Aww, what the hell, I don’t got that long a lifespan anyway.”

It’s a cheesy line from a movie we once watched together, a long time ago. I nod at him, and raise my tea. No alcohol for either of us, now. Old men, getting older. But one thought sneaks into my head: What about Iwanako, Hisao?

*****

April 2023

It’s another lunchtime, more than a month later. Today we have a different guest, and the children seem to like him. We’ve just come as a group from paying respects at my sister’s grave, and lunch is at my father’s house in Saitama. For odd and different reasons, we do this in April and not in March. This year is special, because it’s the thirteenth anniversary of Sachiko’s passing.

The solemn occasion begins to fade under the bright daylight. Aunt Midori is a perfect hostess, and we have all given up teaching Masako and Koji to not call her ‘Grandma’, so we are all comfortable together as a family. The one who’s not so comfortable is our guest, Hideaki Hakamichi. He’s here because he was the closest thing Sachiko had to a boyfriend, and I think he’s a good guy.

He and I thus have three people in common, and the one we’ve just visited is not a topic for lunchtime talk. So I try to get him talking because it’s polite, and I talk about the other persons. “Hey, Hideaki, how’s your sister?”

He gives me a shifty look, but he’s the guest, so he has to be polite too. “My most excellent elder sister is doing well. Sadly, she is exceedingly busy as term has begun at Yamaku, and so less than communicative.”

“The rest of your family?”

“My greatly respected father is… father. He has just updated his biography, but told me yesterday that the last chapter should be about his grandchildren. Then he went on to express his thoughts on how my sister should have grasped a great opportunity in hand and produced some of those. After which, he began to inquire about my personal relationships.”

He has a wry smile on his face as he says this. I wince in sympathy. I can imagine the scene. But which opportunity was Jigoro Hakamichi talking about?

“Ah, parents are all the same,” I say wisely. My father grunts and looks sharply at me. I pretend not to see that.

“General-san?” Hideaki looks completely innocent as he drags my father into the conversation.

“Ah, nothing, boy. Good to hear your father is still alive. At least he is a traditionalist who believes in our country. We need more of those, even if some of them are mildly insane.”

Yuuko and Aunt Midori both look as if they’ve munched on bitter lemons. Surely that is an insult to our guest? I laugh in my heart. This guy, he’s tougher than you think, and has a good spirit.

“That is a great sentiment, general-san. It is men like you who have made our country as prosperous as it is today.”

I can tell my father is touched. But I know we’re bankrupt, and I suspect Hideaki knows too. I should defend the General, but I don’t feel like spoiling the mood. I realize I have no ill-will towards my sister’s best friend. He has that way about him of being irritating at times, but never dislikable. Why do I like that so much?

The rest of the lunch conversation becomes one about Japan and the future of our country. What future? I ask myself. I smile and keep eating, but I think of the spot of light far to the south and wonder if we should have swallowed our pride and listened to what they told us.

You cannot protect the cherry blossoms if the trees are barren at the root.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Fri May 15, 2015 3:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 4-3c up 20150430)

Post by Serviam » Tue May 05, 2015 3:15 am

And so, the bubbles of old have all burst.
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

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

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