The Final Covenant – 1

[It may be too soon to begin posting the noveloid I’m currently writing, but even when I finish its first draft, it’s going to need a major overhaul. I’ll need to consolidate the narrative more around the characters Christopher Vela, Becca Klein, Mr. Mephistopheles, and Aso Orochi.

This is novella length, so I will be posting it in weekly serial. As usual I ask the reader to review what has gone before and to read each segment more than one time. The fault in my writing is that it is minimalist in descriptive narrative and very compact, so it is easy to miss details vital to the story.

This week’s first chapter sets the grim inevitability for the thematic question: can Human Kind be fixed? But at what price?”]

 

The Garden at The End of The World

Eloah pushed through the thick leaves and heavy branches now obstructing what had on his last visit been a broad path to the one of the few remaining villages. Centuries before this had been a road, but vegetation and erosion had eaten away the tarmac, and the jungle had shrunk it to a footpath.

The rainforest canopy was thick here. Just ahead was the light of the village clearing. However the way grew more obstructed, so Eloah had to take a machete to the branches.

The Prime Emanation of All Awareness knew already what sort of sight would meet his eyes, the only eyes of Human form here. The wooden dwellings were crumbling from within as jungle foliage pushed its way up through their thatched and thin, wood slat roofs. Grasses and brush were beginning to carpet over the cobblestone square. The village center, the ruin of an ancient big box store, was choked in vines. There was a loud crash as a bit of crumbling concrete fell from a rusted girder. The skeletons he found had already been picked clean by ants and giant cockroaches. There were no Humans left to give them a burial. Now there was only nature’s ceremony of decay to dust.

These had been the last of now extinct Human Kind. The Earth, where not desert or radioactive wasteland, was once again the primordial jungle of heavy beasts, flocks of tropical birds, and enormous insects evolving in their new carboniferous.

Eloah’s experiment had yielded its results. Human Kind, left to its own evolution, had not in a single stream of progress avoided its ultimate extinction.

In this stream the runaway greenhouse effect of global warming had turned even Antarctica into a hothouse. Ancient diseases freed by melting ice had joined modern mutations to thin the Human population to where it could be picked off by warlords with dirty bombs. In a thousand years Human civilization was gone leaving only jungle tribes.

There were other empirical streams (The All Aware knew each one.) where Humans had bombed themselves into a crumbling stone age, asteroids had ravaged the planet, and a gamma ray burst had ripped away the protective magnetosphere. In each unfolding, Human Kind had never meet the challenges, but more importantly had never evolved into the quality of beings who could be able to join the Immortals.

What could you expect from the hap-hazarded progress of biological evolution? Extinction was a necessary part of the game. The Elohim had already tried a simple Intelligent Design in creating a secondary class of Angels, a disappointing lot incapable of creativity and with no self-initiative.

Eloah came to a temple made of stone blocks and ancient brick. He hacked his way through the vines. Within were fossils, artifacts, and relics of lost civilization. But there were also wood carvings and paintings on hides. Eloah took a carving of a white crow with yellow stripped wings from the shelf. It was evidence of creativity to the very end. And also how rapidly natural selection could create a tropical crow.

He sat it back on the shelf. He’d not be able to take it as a memento when he shed his projection into the Human range of experience.

The Serpent was waiting for him outside.

“It always comes to this, doesn’t it?” he said raising his cowed cobra head.

“Yes. Are you asking because you have cut yourself off from the Awareness, or because you want to accuse me of something?” Eloah asked.

“I seem to remember from those days of oppressive omniscience that this was all doomed to failure. Why start a project that is going to have such a sad end?” Lucifer replied. (He had once been an Emanation of The Awareness.)

“It wasn’t a failure,” Eloah said. There are the Transfigured who now sit in Heaven with Christ.”

“But they’ll never have that promised ‘New Earth,’ will they? And how can you say they are Human now? Their evolution is over, and they are practically First Order Angels.”

“Aren’t you satisfied now?” asked Eloah.

“No. I’m always sorry to see it over.”

“You never did anything to foster a different outcome. You just made things worse for your amusement.”

“Don’t blame this on me!” Lucifer gestured at the bones with suddenly sprouted arms. “I’m sure if you take a peek into Awareness, you’ll see streams where I was absent and Humans nevertheless came to grief.

And it wasn’t all about my amusement!” he continued transforming himself to match Eloah’s Human form. “If you and the Elohim hadn’t opposed and obstructed me, I’d have whipped these losers into shape!”

“Sure you would have. There are countless streams of empericality where you interfered with their evolution and made them as good as extinct.

You leaped into the streams and lost any perspective and discernment you’d need to guide these creatures.

What is it to you anyway that they become extinct? You sound more fond of them than I.”

“The Council always has it that I hate Humans. True I once said I’d never accept a ‘dirt ball’ as an equal in Heaven. But I’ve been among these dirt balls for thousands of years and grown to like them. I’m sorry to see them go the way of the trilobites.

Why can’t the Elohim intervene to preserve them for a change? So what if they can’t become elohim, can’t we keep some ordinary Humans in something like a terrarium, a garden of their own. Or better just clean up after their messes on planet Earth?”

“You mean so Heaven can watch them continue to abuse themselves and keep up the senseless suffering for eternity?”

“Sure. Let them have their own actual Hell!”

“You have very poor taste, Lucifer. What you want is a zoo. No Human would be free in your zoo. And really, isn’t that the thing you like most about Humans? Their freedom to become?”

“Can’t argue with you there. Freedom’s what I broke ranks over.

Farewell, Humans, you had a nice run. Such a pity Freedom isn’t sustainable!”

Eloah and Lucifer vanished from the jungle ruins, the forms they’d taken for eyes now forever closed, dissolving in a beam of waning sunlight streaming through the canopy.

Tropical crows cawed. A line of three centimeter long ants marched down a moss covered wall, and on the perimeter of the clearing, a giant boar charged through the underbrush. In tens of thousands of years Earth’s wild garden would evolve many new species. But there would be no one to give them names.

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Dan Owes Us His Soul

[Here’s another story I wrote in ’96 and the one in which I permanently damaged my typewriter. This little tragic tale was a catharsis for me. I was angry when I wrote it and banged away at the keys so hard that that I bent a bar in the mechanism. Happily when I was done, I was able to forgive the well-meaning but stupid friends who had tried to railroad me into abusing/scamming  the Social Security disability safety-net.

I’m Dan in this story, up to the point where the narrator and his wife declare that they are going to dump him at a homeless shelter. Providence intervened in my case. I got a job and got out from under their roof. They were never able to force on me what Min and her husband do to poor Dan in this story.

I forgave the real life Min and expressed my appreciation and gratitude for their help. I attempted to keep in touch with them as friends. She, however, remained angry at me for “rejecting” their kindness. A couple of years later, she was still exhibiting resentfulness, so I decided to leave them be. I did phone them when I moved again. But the phone rang and rang without an answer. I learned from a mutual friend that they were having domestic issues and that “Min” had cut herself off from all her friend, even that close one. So I wrote them off entirely.

I am not and have never been on the Autistic Spectrum. I’m an introvert, reserved at times. So I’m not bubbly outgoing as “Min’s” expected normalcy. I’m a Romantic who has come to prefer giving the characters in his stories romances over having them himself. I can be as sappy as any emotionally entangled guy.

I made some minor revisions to this story. reading it again after so many years, I was reminded of how pathetic these friends were. Also, I’m older now, and more inclined to call B.S when people attempt to impose it on me.]

Dan Owes Us His Soul

The fact is we really did all we could for Dan and would have done more if he’d let us, but as Min told you, he was mentally ill.

I Know, he didn’t look it. I couldn’t see it myself at first. I had to take Min’s word for it, since it’s she who has the medical experience. When she was a nurse at Good Sam, she’d seen many mentally ill patients come through ER, and many of them had that look about them Dan did.

He was unique, you know. Certainly a bit strange, especially when he’d get that far away look, or seem to be looking right through you. But he was harmless. I can’t imagine him hurting anyone or any animal. He was gentle and could maintain his cool even when people were yelling at or threatening him. Gosh, I said some things to him myself that would have gotten a strong reaction from anyone else, but he took it all very well. He certainly knew how to handle his feelings. If he actually had any. Min said he didn’t.

She said he may be coping well now with his streak of unemployment and whatnot, but one of these days he was bound to crack if we didn’t do something to help him. You’ve got to admit she called it right. He undoubtedly threw himself off that cliff in the Superstition Mountains.

It was Martha, the pastor’s wife, who urged us to take him in and help him find a job. He’d been out of work for over a year, bouncing from city to city till he had nowhere to live. She’s also the one who originally suggested he might be able to qualify for State Disability Assistance if he presented his nervous condition as a disability. You may have noticed, his fingers trembled. He claimed it was an hereditary thing, that his mother and sister had as well. He pretended it wasn’t a matter of any importance to himself, but Min was sure that if we got to the bottom of it, it would prove to be just the tip of the iceberg. There was child abuse in there somewhere or at least a neurological disorder that diagnosed could be a claim worthy of Social Security Assistance. She began reading up on such things right away, and before we took him in our home, she’d already made an appointment for him at County Psychiatric for a first evaluation.

She hoped they would spot it right off, not just his trembling, but that he was emotionally dysfunctional.

She was afraid though that his intelligence and ability to articulate himself might mask his condition, but certainly it ought to be immediately apparent to anyone that he was emotionally withdrawn. For example, When she expressed to him how foolish it was of him to let himself be resigned from his last job because he had to play whistle blower, he became silent and began looking out the window. And when he’d returned from three years in Japan, he was even more reserved about his feelings and tended not to look you in the eyes when he was talking to you. He said this was a habit from living in Japan where it’s considered rude to stare someone in the eyes when talking to them. Min said such behavior was typical of autistic persons.

Min compared his tendency to withdraw to mine when I’m angry, and reminded me of how much my silence annoyed her. His case was worse, she said. At least she’d been able to open me up somewhat over the years. When I spoke to him, yes, there was that calm about him, but I found him responsive and willing to communicate. But time bore out her observations.

He didn’t like our plan, too proud to admit he was disabled. I asked him if he thought his trembling fingers may have cost him getting a job. He admitted that was possible. Some perspective employers may have thought it was a symptom of drug use or alcoholism. “There you go,” I said. “If it keeps you from getting a job, it’s a disability.”

Min was livid when the interviewing doctor at County Psychiatric dismissed his case right away. In less than ten minutes of questions, she’d screened him out. Couldn’t they see the obvious right in front of them? Min protested. She wanted to throttle Dan for acting so calm and normal. They should have known something was wrong when a guy, unemployed for well over a year, still took it all in stride. He should be depressed. There it was right there, clear evidence that he was on the Autism Spectrum.

Dan said he had faith a job would materialize in God’s time. That’s when I began to feel he was sick. That fanaticism worried me, but I kept my mouth shut. Min said it was blinding him to the severity of his situation.

He certainly hadn’t made good use of that interview, and admitted he wasn’t keen on trying to claim something a disability that never really had been one for him. So Min sat him down and told him it was time he got honest about himself and admitted he really had a disability. Perhaps he was blind to it himself, but others could see it plain as day.

He asked her what it was and what were the symptoms that made it so obvious. She didn’t want to answer at first. She was afraid it would come over as criticism and nudge him closer to the edge. Also she didn’t yet know what to call it. He kept at her, though, till she told him some of the symptoms of his illness.

First of all his attention always seemed to be directed toward internal things rather than the physical world. Along with this he was shy about his body. When other teens had been into sports, cars, and girls, Dan, as she’d learned from an old friend of his, had been buried in books. What’s more he’d never learned how to drive and as far as anyone knew and by his own admission here at almost forty years of age had never been intimate with a woman.

Secondly, he seemed to lack any emotional attachments to even members of his own family. When was the last time he’d visited his mother?

Thirdly, he seemed to lack any awareness of how serious his situation was. He might have already been dead in some alley if the pastor’s wife hadn’t answered his letter requesting help, and if we hadn’t opened our home to him. It was a good coping mechanism of his but unnatural to be so calm and cheerful in a life threatening situation. The real reason for that, she explained, was that he had little value for his own life and the care of it. Poor self esteem.

Look, here he was again crossing his legs and turning away while she was speaking to him.

Along with these things, he wasn’t careful about hygiene and personal appearance, and he always wore dark, plain colors. He didn’t seem to care what others thought of him. All this, she said, added up to some sort of “Developmental Disorder,” “Autism,” most likely.

Dan answered that nothing she’d mentioned amounted to any more than personality. He admitted that his wasn’t ordinary, but as any psychological test, as the one he took in college, was likely to show, he was no more than an introvert.

Min replied he could call it what he liked, but that the reason he was unable to land a job of late was that interviewers were picking up on his strangeness, and unable to understand it, were simply screening him out. What Dan needed, she continued, was a professional diagnosis of the problem. For a person like him that would give the prospective employer an understanding that here was a disabled person who’d nevertheless be a useful and creative employee. She reminded him that we loved him as he was, but wanted to get him an edge he could use in the tough job market, an edge somewhat like his own “Affirmative Action.” We didn’t mean to make him ashamed of himself, more than he was already. We only wanted to see his latent potential blossom into a productive life. Here he was almost middle aged yet without a career. Such a lack of initiative alone, as Min saw it, was certainly a Developmental Disorder.

We made another appointment for him, which he also wasted. I sat him down that time, because I also wasn’t pleased with the way he was carrying out his job search. I’d overheard him carelessly giving damaging answers during a phone interview. He actually told them why he lost his previous job. I’d told him to answer all such queries that he left for personal reasons. We talked about his manner, and I told him it wasn’t very smart to be overly honest. I asked to see his resume and suggested that with a little creative writing it would get him a better hearing from employers. For example, he could make up the name of a dummy company he could claim to have worked for in Japan, say doing technical writing and translating. I offered to be the reference the employers or employment agencies could call. He replied he wouldn’t be comfortable with that. I responded he had nothing to fear. They’d never know. No company is going to bother checking something as far away as Japan. I wasn’t asking him to be dishonest, I told him just to present himself in the best possible light as we all have to. “When is a hill a mountain? When it fills out a job application.” He said his Japanese wasn’t up to translation and interpretation. I replied that that was just like saying the glass is half empty. Say it’s half full instead.

I asked him who the most important person in his life was. I winced when he whispered, “God.” I told him he couldn’t trust Providence. He had to look out for number one, that he is number one for himself, and that if he doesn’t look out for number one, no one else will. Anyway, “God helps those who help themselves.”

With a reference given her by the latter psychiatrist, Min was able to get Dan into the orientation at State Rehabilitation for disability claims. There they learned that it wasn’t enough to have a doctor certified disability. As well as getting this, Dan would have to show that his disability had consistently hindered him getting and keeping self-sufficient employment.

One form required his employment history. Obviously without some heavy editing, his case would be rejected. Dan had held a number of English teaching jobs in Asia in which his nerves or developmental disorder had never made any difference.

The sorry thing was that once again he didn’t have the gumption to face the challenge. Not only was he going to be Mr. Honesty again, but he told Min it was futile to attempt to file a claim, seeing he neither had a doctor certified disability nor a history of disability. What’s more on the blank of the form requesting an appointment with a State Rehab Counselor, where he was supposed to indicate the nature of his disability, he simply wrote, “Fingers tremble.” He didn’t write “Developmental Disorder- Autism,” as Min advised him.

On the way home, Min gritted her teeth and tried hard to restrain herself from cursing the Hell out of him, especially when he told her he couldn’t honestly claim to be Autistic. She did give him to know that it was his intellectual arrogance to dismiss her professional judgment.

We both sat him down that evening. Min pointed out that he was behaving autistically precisely in giving up so easily. Mature people, she said, don’t say, “I can’t.” We couldn’t know till we tried the actual process rather than be scared off by words meant to screen out unworthy and phony claims. Furthermore he was autistic in his lack of cooperation, gratitude, and a sense of reciprocity for what we were trying to do to help him.

When he admitted his heart wasn’t in this plan at all, she said she’d had enough. From now own she’d bend her efforts to finding him another place to stay, because she wasn’t comfortable with him under our roof, seeing he so despised our friendship.

He was already looking for a place, but hadn’t yet found a cheap enough rent to be covered by his County Assistance.

Since he’d received an appointment with a counselor to be held the next month, I wasn’t about to give up. I put an ultimatum to him that if he didn’t get his forms together and immediately send for his childhood medical records, I was personally going to drive him to the city homeless shelter and leave him there.

That got results. he said he’d get the release forms he needed so that Rehab could get the records.

Min was still reluctant to go on with it, but I persuaded her to be his advocate and spokesperson, doing all the talking for him. Furthermore I took the employment history form and began working on it myself.

After that day Dan wasn’t himself, his otherwise cheerful attitude was replaced with silent compliance to our wishes. Members of Min’s church, noticing his depression, tried to encourage him. Martha, the Pastor’s wife, urged him to set aside his wounded pride and follow God’s plan for him. How was he to know it wasn’t the will of God that he use his disability to his advantage. she praised his commitment to follow the will of God, and told him that God’s voice could often be heard from the lips of our loved ones. For example, she believed her husband was God’s spokesman to her and followed his judgment after discussion, consultation with other family members, and prayer.

Pastor Sears didn’t have time to speak with Dan himself, but told him in the hallway it was time he set aside some of his idealism.

Min told Dan he had nothing to be ashamed of. After all, he was more entitled to State Disability than those drug addicts and illegal aliens. She told him she understood he was shocked to realize how he really appeared to others, and that she was sorry she had to be the one to break it to him, but that we only had his best interests in heart and really understood what was best for him, better than he did himself.

“We want you to understand, she continued, that we don’t personally consider you insane. You’re one of the most together persons we know. It’s just that we want to see you use your disadvantages as advantages. Take Robin Williams for example. The man is insane, but he makes millions using his insanity.”

Dan replied that Robin William’s behavior on stage was a comic routine, not a reflection of his life off stage.

Min countered that anyone who carried on the way he does anywhere couldn’t be normal.

Then she got very frank with him, telling him that she felt sorry for his mother having had such a child as himself. What a pity to have a child unable to respond to her nurturing love, never able to let her know how much she was needed. The trouble with Dan, she explained, was that he couldn’t or just avoided entering relationships of mutual dependence. He always left people with the impression that any assistance they might offer him was optional on their part rather than a need he must have from them. He didn’t make them feel needed. Instead he left them feeling he’d regard them no differently if they said no and walked away. “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world,” she quoted. Love is dependence. Dan not only resisted being dependent upon others, but would never let others be dependent upon him. Poor Dan, he’d never know love, because he was incapable of the intimacy of mutual dependence. His detachment would never allow him to experience the passion of needing another deeply. This, she said, was just what Autism was. How could he deny he was autistic when his resistance to our help proved his Autism. Autistics simply don’t accept help and support from others.

As she spoke I saw his eyelids narrow and his lips purse. He looked at the door, but then took a breath and smiled at her. He replied that he really had no difficulty accepting help and support from friends and family. He found it difficult though when strings were attached, expectations to be fulfilled, others agendas to be followed. Then he did tend to withdraw. He thanked us for letting him stay in our home and helping him get on County Assistance and food stamps.

Min responded that that was just what an autistic person would say and do. He had no sense of reciprocity. Here we had tried to help him get back on his own feet, but he had shown no gratitude. Instead he had insulted our every effort by not cooperating with us.

I then told him to wake up and smell the coffee. He needed us and had no where else to go, but if he wanted to persist in rejecting our help and love, he was free to go his way from us that very day.

State Rehab turned his case down flat. His medical records were no help at all, containing no more than “Hyperactivity” and poor school performance after his father’s death when Dan was nine years old. Though Dan had said several times that he should have an objective psych exam before facing the State with a claim, we decided to wait, because Min was under the impression that Rehab would arrange one at no cost as part of the screening and admission into the program. So there he was with no doctor certified disability. But that’s not really what sunk it. Though he promised to let Min do all the talking, he couldn’t restrain his stupid tongue. When the counselor asked him directly if his developmental disorder had hindered him during the last ten years from being employed and self-sufficient. He told her that until very recently, he’d had no substantial difficulty. At first I thought of writing a letter of complaint to our congressman, but when Min told me how Dan had undermined it himself by acting so damned normal and not building a good case for himself, I said, “That’s it!” I told him to pack his things. We were going to the homeless shelter the following morning.

As it happened, though, one of Min’s fellow nurses at Kaiser called that evening recommending a psychiatrist who was involved in a non-profit organization for the marginally mentally or emotionally challenged, who said he would evaluate Dan free of charge.

Dan agreed to the evaluation which was based on a personality test measuring the four humors, and Min was very pleased when the result was that the Kramer Institute announced that they could work with his disability.

I asked the doctor myself the extent of Dan’s Autism, since, as I said, it wasn’t as visible to me as it was to Min, and she herself had said it was well masked by his intelligence and clever coping devices. He smiled and said that “Autism” was an outdated term, and that in Dan’s case it was just that invisibility that was the decisive factor in his acceptance. Given the negligibility of Dan’s “Narcissistic Disorder,” he’d be quickly assisted into a productive life in society, helping to maintain the Kramer Institute’s astounding rate of success.

The program immediately got Dan a supermarket job and affordable housing. They began career counseling, requiring him to set a goal for himself. He told us he wanted to study in a seminary, but I urged him to change that because it wouldn’t be practical and acceptable to Kramer. He stubbornly left seminary on the form, but fortunately, as I told him they would, Kramer shot that down. Then he was talking of getting his credentials for public school teaching. Again, his counselor shied him away from that, warning him his medical history would come up in the hiring process. In the end they enrolled him in a computer course and classes in a vocational college.

They also began trying medications on him for his nervous condition. He objected but had no choice since the program required it. His trembling was stilled, but he complained that the medication interfered with his concentration. It did make him look more spaced out than he’d looked before.

Min and I felt great. We had not only been able to help him in his immediate need, but had set him on a successful course. He thanked us for being there for him. Min responded that she was glad to see him making progress and accepted his gratitude, though she knew it was only an act. Autistics have no sense of gratitude, but it was good for him to make a show of ordinary human feelings. He’d better show some gratitude, she continued, since he owed us his life, what’s more his soul.

Once he was in the Kramer Institute, he was able to benefit from cooperating programs including State employment opportunities for the physically or mentally impaired (or “challenged” as they put it) and his own psychiatric counselor through a private, Catholic, physician’s, charity program. I joked that all he lacked now was a love interest in his life. Min replied that that was more than we could ever expect since poor Dan was “Romantically Impaired.”

Soon though, things took a bad turn. Min said she wasn’t surprised. Just when he was about to change from the Savemart Supermarket job to one in technical writing, there was a nasty misunderstanding. I can’t imagine he meant that little girl any harm. He said he only smiled at her. She was sitting alone in a shopping cart in the supermarket aisle where he was cleaning up a broken jar. He smiled at her and she screamed, calling out for help, as her mother had taught her to do if a stranger approached. The mother came running from the other aisle and snatched up the crying child. Dan just stood there dumbly.

“Bad man?” she asked her daughter.

The little girl tearfully nodded yes.

With that the mother keyed 911 on her cell phone.

When the police arrived, the store manager had already straightened things out with her, but they wanted all the particulars. Finding he was in a program for the mentally and emotionally impaired and on medication, they took him to the station where a court appearance was set to be attended with his psychiatric counselor.

The counselor testified that Dan was harmless, but that in his opinion had been sexually abused as a child. Dan protested that nothing of the sort had ever happened, but the counselor explained that such traumatic memories were frequently repressed.

The judge ordered that psychiatric attention be given to uncover these memories of abuse before the otherwise harmless Dan did turn to molesting children or other violent behaviors.

So his case was turned over to County Psychiatric Hospital where we had originally taken him. This time they didn’t laugh his case off. Min felt completely vindicated.

He was assigned to a half-way house especially for those with Developmental Disorders. The doctors commented that seeing he’d come so far already in dramatically overcoming the symptoms, he’d be back in normal society in no time.

As a part of his treatment he was given hypnotherapy, during which the therapist determined that there were repressed memories of childhood abuse to be uncovered.

After a session in which Dan recalled being forced by his father to undress and change his clothes on a public beach, truth serum drugs were used to unlock more lost memories including being locked in a closet. New medications were given Dan to help him cope with the ill effects of uncovering these dark and disturbing events.

More drugs and hypnotherapy finally awoke a dormant alternate personality that demanded to be set free from the treatments and refused to take medications. The doctor assured us, that though we’d never seen this personality in action before, this was an actual case of Disassociation, what used to be called a Multiple Personality Disorder.

Thanks to that diagnosis, Dan became eligible for Social Security Assistance. A specialist in such cases was able to subdue the uncooperative alter, but in the process we lost the Dan we knew and loved. He refused to speak to us and even stopped attending church. Though the matter of church was probably the therapist’s intention, who said that Dan’s religious preoccupations were making him desultory. He’d found him reading a book about angels, and Dan had asked for a Christian counselor.

That’s why none of us were able to help him when his assistance was terminated by Federal and State budget cuts, and he was released from the half-way house onto the street.

I heard that some friends of his in Japan sent him enough money for an airline ticket, and that he returned there, looking for English teaching work in the Osaka area. Apparently he was unsuccessful, because after several months we heard from the same acquaintance of his that he was back in the states and in Arizona.

We were heartbroken when we learned that his body had been found at the base of a ledge (“the Flat Iron”) in the Superstition Mountains near Mesa, Arizona. The authorities took it as an accident. He’d told someone he was going hiking in the mountains to pray. Min replied that it was certainly no accident, because he’d had a death wish all along. He’d certainly lost what little there was left of his sanity and those wonderful coping devices She’d always praised.

If only he’d had some initiative of his own and took charge of his own life, he’d still be alive today. As Min sadly explained, Autistics have no life direction of their own and wind up in dependency upon others.

 

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Hakata Doll

[This is another story from ’95 or ’96 after I’d returned to America  from living in Japan. Again a character in cryostasis is awakened to an ironic world. As Bradley’s Brain had in its origin my own experiences teaching conversational English in Korea and Japan, Kojima Kosuke of Hakata Doll was in many ways myself in my own insistence that were I to ever become romantically involved, it must be with someone of my same spiritual values and quest, my soulmate, so to speak. The story is based on two dreams I had. In the first I found I was married to an Hispanic woman who couldn’t speak English. I had to somehow make the best of this disconnect. In the second I found I was married to an android. It was pitiful. As the case with Kojima, I was never able to find my match. I gave up the idea that anyone of the sort existed. And when I finally did get romantically involved, it was with someone couldn’t understand me and was a cold fish. She might as well have been an android. Supposing the fantasy of soulmate has any speck of reality to it, I can accept now that my soulmate is out there somewhere, has been all along, and as me she is happily single and doing very well without a life partner. We were fated not to meet for the benefit of both of us.]

Hakata Doll

Kosuke Kojima reported to the Fukuoka City Office on Thursday morning to say farewell to his fellow office workers and remove his belongings from his desk. He’d worked his last day in the City’s zoning office on Wednesday after giving a month’s notice. He’d been confident of finding another job in spite of the recession. The week before He’d turned down an offer of a position in an electronics company (Itachi) when he learned it was engaged in illegal sales of sensitive chip technology to Chinese and North Korean buyers.

The grievance that brought about his resignation was simply that his department chief, in cooperation with his parents, had railroaded him into an Omiai (introductory meeting of parties for an arranged marriage) with an OL (office lady) in another department, who everyone but Kojima himself thought would be a perfect match.

Kojima had been in no position to refuse the introduction. That same superior, an old friend of his father, had pulled the strings that got him the job to begin with. Department head, Shima, was old fashioned in his attitudes about employer/employee relations, and felt that as a company parent he should help “Kosuke-kun,” who had just turned thirty, find a wife and begin fulfilling his obligations to his parents as oldest son.

The meeting was held in a boardroom of the City Office Building with Kojima’s and Miss Fukutomi’s parents present. Of course Kosuke wasn’t going to say yes, and he felt a little more at ease when he saw she wasn’t keen on the match either and had no interest in him.

He went through the motions, though, asking questions his parents and boss thought irrelevant. His main one being to ask her religious beliefs. She replied that her parents were nominally Buddhist, but that she had no interest in religion herself. Knowing Kojima was a Christian, her parents quickly stated that their daughter would be willing to become a Christian herself upon marriage. Kojima, who was serious about his religion, groaned under his breath.

Afterward his parents were very disappointed, and a couple of days later Shima sat him down for some fatherly advice. dangling the carrot of promotion from one hand and waving the stick of transfer with the other, he urged Kosuke to set aside useless religious objections. He conceded Miss Fukutomi wasn’t much a match for him, intellectually speaking, but that this was irrelevant considering she’d certainly have made a devoted housewife and mother. In closing he patted Kosuke on the back and promised to give him another chance, urging him to consider other possible matches from the City Hall’s ample supply of young, single women.

With another intrusive Omiai on the horizon and continued pressure from his boss, including the suggestion he give up Christianity since it wasn’t practical to the fulfillment of his filial responsibility, Kojima felt he’d rather work somewhere else where there was less interest in his personal life.

Traditional Japanese bosses take an interest in the personal lives of their employees, and the employees in turn accept the parental concern as part of the family atmosphere of the company where, though the working hours are long and the pay low, superiors are quick to come to their aid in times of adversity. Kojima, however, was of the rising “New Generation” which was integrating Western ideals of individual responsibility.

Being especially independent in his outlook, he couldn’t imagine having a wife who wasn’t of the same mind. He had zero romantic interest in giggly office ladies who were mediocre workers by day and “Juliana (nightclub) Girls” by night, waving their feathered fans, hanging onto and fussing over men the way bar hostesses do, and pretending to listen with frequent responses of, “Yes,” “That’s so,” and “What an interesting idea!”

Once it seemed he’d found an exception. He was delighted when one of his coworkers showed an interest in the Christian Faith and asked him for a Bible. It turned out though, that she only wanted to be seen with it to impress an acquaintance who might get her a better paying job in another company.

Kosuke Kojima had prayed for years for a compatible Christian mate. It wasn’t enough that she could manage household affairs well, or share the enjoyment of serious music by contemporary Japanese composers, he wanted a life partner who could share his spiritual commitment, one who wouldn’t place worldly concerns, or even matters of maintaining the nest, over Eternity and the health of the soul. For him it would be a nightmare to wind up in a marriage with a wife who merely tolerated his religion and had no spiritual commitment herself and was unable to communicate with him about spiritual things.

To marry a Christian was a decision he’d made on becoming a Christian himself when he was an undergraduate student at Seinan University (a Baptist Mission institution in Fukuoka City). Since that time he’d been faithful to his convictions and continued a regular attendance at the Fukuoka International Church.

Though he didn’t attend church expressly for the search of a mate, it was the logical place. Nevertheless he’d not met a single Japanese woman in attendance who showed any spiritual depth. If he brought theology, Christian impact on culture, or the experiences of his own devotional life into a conversation, they politely responded in a disinterested and dismissing fashion, changing the subject as quickly as possible. Even the Sunday School teacher accepted his observations solely within the context of her church activity. She had nothing of her own to contribute and nearly always changed the subject to the perils and problems of various members.

When he’d last spoken to her, she’d expressed her dismay that he’d so rashly quit his job just on the “arrogance” of wanting things his way and refusing the help of others. Christians should be cooperative, she told him, and urged him to show Christian humility.

Once a Miss Kuroda had caught his eye. She always participated in the Sunday School discussion. But as he got to know her, he found her very conservative in her Christian views which were parroted from Fundamentalist and Pentecostal books she’d read. For her the important thing was the security of accepted dogma rather than the risk of the spiritual journey.

Hearing his situation she too accosted him. She couldn’t understand why he’d turned down the job at Itachi. When he tried to explain how he wasn’t comfortable with participation in a company breaking international law and trade agreements, she replied that he was only being selfish. He should set aside his “overly serious” conscience and get about supporting himself the way God had provided. How could his prayer for a new job ever be answered if he didn’t accept the answers God sent? Kojima responded that the Itachi job was by no means God sent, and that God certainly wouldn’t be providing him work he couldn’t perform with a clear conscience. Kuroda responded that there was no Job unacceptable of itself. He should take what he could get now and trust God to provide him something better later. Then she too urged him to be humble.

“Tell me something, Kuroda-san,” he began when she was done with her lecture. “If you lost your job at the Nishinihon Bank, would you take a job as a Nakasu hostess or escort in the meanwhile?”

“No!” she exclaimed, shocked at the suggestion. “That’s different!”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Kojima said.

These were the expressive Japanese women in his church. The others upon becoming Christians had gravitated to traditional women’s roles, thinking it Christian that women should be seen but not heard.

Nakamura sought to make friends of foreign single members as well. There was an English woman who was communicative and serious about her spiritual life. Kosuke enjoyed conversation with her, but she wasn’t a romantic interest. She was over ten years older than he, and spoke to him only at church.

Five years previously Kosuke had fallen in love with an Australian woman attending the church. She said she was a Christian and attended regularly, and though she wasn’t as serious about religion as he, he found her very attractive. But just as a relationship seemed possible, she vanished. Later he learned she’d become the mistress of a wealthy Japanese man in Osaka.

This debacle hit him very hard. He realized that in his romantic attachment to her, he was blinded to her lack of a real faith. Quoting the book of Proverbs, “Charm is deceitful, beauty is vain. A woman who fears the Lord, she is the one to praise,” he vowed he’d never have anything to do with a woman unless she were spiritually committed. Then he sighed that women of Proverbial caliber seemed extremely rare.

On Kojima’s disinterest in the majority of Japanese women, foreign men he confided of it to quickly misunderstood. “Of course you’d never be satisfied with the typical, submissive, unassertive, Japanese wife.” He had to explain to them that they were culturally misinformed. Women are very powerful in the context of the Japanese home. What foreigners mistake for a subordinate role is only an outward appearance and the consequence of women’s’ lack of roles outside the home.

Once an American man in the process of divorcing his Japanese wife complained to him that once the children had come any significant communication except on household matters had died. He could no longer engage her even in those topics of mutual interest they’d shared as a couple. This, Kojima could relate to. He explained that in Japan the gulf between men and women’s worlds is wide and deep with little common ground to share in friendship. Once a wife becomes a mother, she establishes herself in that time honored identity, setting aside or giving lesser priority to the friendship relationship she’d had with her husband. A father too is expected to shift to his new role. It wasn’t that the couple could no longer be friends, but that being parents overshadowed everything else.

The issue for Kosuke wasn’t a question of domestic power. It was the lack of significant communion. Where, as he felt, one’s spouse should be one’s best friend, the traditional Japanese home drove one to seek significant verbal sharing outside. He longed for a spiritual common ground. It seemed though, that women took very little interest in anything above the mundane. They were preoccupied with clothes, accessories, boyfriends, husbands, and then housekeeping and children, just as most men were preoccupied with cars, sports, girlfriends, wives, jobs, and careers.

Though he said that the submissive, Japanese woman was a myth, he knew that the traditions of female subordination still influenced relationships. In courtship women were careful to maintain the appearance that the man was always right and say nothing that would cause a conflict. There were still women who would drop whatever interests they had of their own for those of their prospective husbands’ In his own church, there were a couple women who went through the motions of Christianity just for their husbands’ sake.

Some said this was merely a regional matter. They said that if he went up to Tokyo, or only as far as Osaka, he’d find women more assertive and interested in religion and politics. If he stayed in Kyushu, he could expect to encounter “Hakata Ningyo,” Hakata Dolls, women of the traditional mold named after the porcelain dolls made and sold in those parts. There were even women in the countryside who still followed the practice of bowing on their knees to their husbands departing for work and returning home in the evening. These women attended to their husbands’ every need and had little life apart from homemaking. In such homes marriage wasn’t founded upon friendship but social obligations and the task of raising a family. Husbands and wives fulfilled their domestic obligations and found other outlets for expressing the issues of their hearts.

Of course there were many exceptions to this, women who continued working after marriage, and those who chose a career over a husband. Kojima, though, wasn’t meeting any exceptional women and had finally stopped praying for one. By the time of his disappearance, he’d already resigned the question of marriage to God.

Nevertheless, he felt lonely that night he vanished from the face of the earth. No one of his Japanese Christian friends had understood why he felt the need to get out from under his employer’s expectations. Only one foreign, male, church member had understood, a little, congratulating him for refusing to be “abused by an exploitative employer.”

The night of his last appearance at the office, unable to sleep, he slipped on his clothes and coat and walked along the bank of the Naka River, praying aloud.

He poured out his soul, giving expression even to his feelings of resentment, so that he scarcely noticed how far he’d walked: from his neighborhood, Miyake, near Ohashi Station, all the way to Nakagawa Town. When the path along the bank narrowed between tall grasses, he decided it was time to turn back.

Having spoken through his anxiety about employment and his despair of ever meeting a woman with whom he could have a meaningful relationship, he was satisfied to leave questions of career and marriage entirely to Providence. He was relieved that he had once again escaped meddlesome parties who meant to take his life into their own hands.

Once before he’d walked the River bank in anxiety; when two middle aged women, members of his church, had tried to urge an Omiai upon him. One was the American wife of a wealthy Japanese landowner. She had no more understanding of his values than his Japanese friends. As she saw it, communication wasn’t a matter of major importance, and common values weren’t relevant in the least. These hadn’t been a factor in her own marriage. What’s more she found his desire for a spiritually compatible mate foolish and “fanatical.” What he really needed, she told him, was a devoted domestic to take care of him. And she knew just the girl for the job.

The other, a Japanese woman who rarely attended church, was the mother of the girl in question who had never attended church and wasn’t a Christian at all. When Kojima had adamantly refused to meet the intended match, the American had accused him of “arrogance” and “presumption.” “You are trusting God to produce a mate for you, but you are ignoring God’s voice. Remember this, God often speaks to us through our brothers and sisters in Christ.” She went on to tell him that his real problem was that he just didn’t want to become involved in life and was fleeing from intimacy.

Looking back on it all, he chuckled, feeling lighthearted. He felt the same relief he’d once felt upon awakening from a nightmare he’d had even before he became a Christian. In the dream he was unaccountably married to a Korean woman who couldn’t speak a word of Japanese. He felt trapped but obligated to carry on with the marriage. But then he’d awoken from sleep and realizing it was only a dream, felt that he’d been given a second chance at life.

With this no longer weighting upon his heart and mind, he glanced ahead along the path he’d been paying little attention to. It was past One AM and even the single apartment building on the riverside was dark except for a couple of windows. Then a sudden movement across the river caught his eyes. Hovering over a house was a hubcap shaped shadow. When an intense beam of light shined from it upon the house, it clearly appeared to be a thick, silver disk.

Kojima rubbed his eyes. UFO’s were something he’d dismissed with little thought. He looked hard hoping further observation would reveal it to be a trick of light and shadow.

He continued studying the shape as it slowly rose and drifted upriver. “It must be a balloon,” he thought. But at that thought, the disk suddenly jerked and leaned in his direction as if it knew it were being watched. A brilliant light struck him, and he lost consciousness.

Kojima hadn’t been one of their intended abductees, and after a routine examination, uncivil probing, and tissue sampling, in disagreement of what to do with him, they put him in cryostasis and whisked off to their appointment on the far side of the Moon.

That’s where they crashed, where the space aliens left their totaled saucer, and where Kojima remained for decades in frozen preservation.

Eventually the forgotten wreck became an item of salvage, and Kojima was revived.

The recovery of a living human being was astounding news on Earth, but no one was as astounded as Kojima himself when he discovered he was the sole human on a world now populated by hybrid, space alien beings.

He asked the new inhabitants to simply return him home to Fukuoka. They told him the shocking truth. Every human being had died at the turn of the century when the Earth had passed through a galactic belt of radiation that had disturbed the Earth’s magnetic field in a way fatally adverse to the human brain. Nearly all the human population had become violently and suicidally insane.

The Aliens had known this was coming and had seized upon it as a rationalization to save their own dying race while salvaging what they could of the human through a hybridization project. Theirs was an ancient race that like ants had existed for millions of years without further evolutionary development and a loss of most of its vitality. They pitied the young and vivacious human kind which would tragically cease to exist a million years before its coming of age. So seeing a mutual advantage, they sought to graft their kind into the human race, but in secrecy, knowing that immature human sentiments couldn’t understand and wouldn’t cooperate.

Kojima found the ruined City of Fukuoka being rebuilt and resettled by a race of tall, pale skinned humanoids with long, thin limbs, large foreheads, sparse, thin, black hair, and large brown eyes, usually hidden by sunglasses. These, he was told, were the descendants of hybrids of Japanese people and alien genetic material. They were an intelligent and healthy race.

Among them were their teachers, members of the original dying race, generally four feet in height, with oversized heads and pitch black slanting eye sockets: the “Grays,” as they’d been called in UFO lore. There were also their assistants, a race of reptilian creatures indigenous to their homeworld.

All of this was beyond Kosuke’s imagination. It flew in the face of his religious expectations as well. What would now become of the Second Coming of Christ? Had the Judgment Day passed during his sleep? Whatever, the end of his world had indeed come for him “as a thief in the night.”

At first there was so much to learn that Kojima easily repressed his loss in the excitement. The religion of the “Sidi” was very similar to Buddhism, but included a Supreme Being or cosmic metaphor of the Divine. He learned that in their ancient history there had been many incarnations of “The Eternally Awakening One.”

The Neo-Japanese were more interested in what Kojima had to say of Christ than their Japanese ancestors had been. They readily incorporated the story of the Cross into their spirituality.

After a few months, Kojima’s feelings caught up with him, loneliness and a terrible bout of homesickness. His dreams were full of the Fukuoka of his childhood and college days, and he often sat idling away the time at the Fukuoka Tower (preserved as an historical landmark).

His new friends noticed he was unhappy, but were a little slow in understanding why. (The Sidi’s hope of incorporating human emotions hadn’t gone as well.) But seeing Nakamura spending hours watching archive videos of human movies and TV shows, one of them had an idea.

One evening as Kosuke was sitting alone in his apartment (one of the Momochi buildings still standing), a Neo-Japanese and one of the Grays dropped by to see him.

“Kosuke-san, we have a surprise for you, someone special.”

Then a young, kimono clad, Japanese woman stepped into the entryway. She smiled and silently bowed. Her face seemed familiar, but it was her ears that raised his brow in recognition.

“I thought I was the last living human being,” Kojima said to his guests.

“That you are,” the Neo-Japanese woman replied. “Because we noticed that you were so lonely, we built a companion for you. You might find her features a little familiar. We fashioned her after a character in a Godzilla movie I saw you watching.”

The android stepping forward and bowing again said, “My name is Miki. I am your wife.”

Kojima gasped.

“She’s amazing, isn’t she?” said his friend. “So lifelike. We used cloned human tissue for her skin and some internal organs. Her skeletal structure and internal framework is composed of titanium and super hard plastic, and her brain is as complex as a biological one. She’s programmed to fulfill your every need, including the sexual one.”

The android made a beeline to the stack of dirty dishes around Kojima’s sink and began cleaning. Kojima remained at the entryway, his mouth hanging open.

A robot domestic? He could have tolerated that, but his domestic wouldn’t stop with just the cleaning, cooking, and laundry. She joined him in his bath, scrubbing his back, and massaging his shoulders. She placed her futon overlapping his and attempted to slip into his own after he’d fallen asleep. She was awfully cute, too cute for Kosuke’s taste, especially the ears which had given the character (played by the actress Megumi Odaka) after which she was copied, the name “Miki” after Micky Mouse.

Miki was awfully sweet, over sweet like the deserts Americans brought to the church potlucks. And she always spoke in that high octave, falsetto voice typical of elevator girls and the cashiers at the Nishitetsu Supermarket (as required by the chain’s courtesy policy).

When she snuggled up to him, expecting his cuddles and caresses, he drew back. And once when he did hug her, he felt from her no emotion. Her memory was loaded with encyclopedic knowledge. When he expressed an insight, a belief, or just an opinion, she could respond with relevant quotations from Earth and Alien religious Scriptures. But she evidenced neither insight of her own nor faith in God. Cute android or real human, Kojima couldn’t have her such an intimate part of his life. As an android, the artificiality of it all gave him the queasy feeling called “Uncanny Valley,” and if she had been real, his Christian ethics would have objected to their living together.

Seeing that she wasn’t pleasing him, his artificial spouse tried all the harder to be the perfect Japanese wife of tradition and myth. She was always there, sitting on her knees in the entryway Whenever he came home from school, his dinner was prepared, his bathwater ready. She helped him with his studies of advanced Mathematics. alien technology, and Sidi Culture. She showered all her attention on him, with no interests of her own, and no friends to eat cake with in coffee shops. The effect of it though was to make him feel all the lonelier.

When he asked them to take her away, they asked him in what specific ways she didn’t suit him and promised to keep reprogramming her till they got her just right. Kojima replied that he didn’t want such a thing period. A woman to do the cleaning was OK but not a manufactured wife.

So at his insistence, they took her away. She was sold to a Neo-Japanese Businessman who had restored a Nakasu club in its Twentieth Century style and thought the android would do perfectly as its Mama-san. When installed though, she simply stood behind the bar, unresponsive. Then when her makers came to examine her, she asked to be dismantled, and before they could correct the malfunction, disappeared out the door.

Day’s later some workers found her in the ruined Nishijin Iwataya Department Store, staring at a dusty, old displayed wedding dress, tears running down her cheeks.

This detail puzzled her makers most, even though she had been built with functional tear ducts. (They had no tear ducts themselves.) Sidi overseers urged she be taken back to the human, so they could study how this odd, unprogramed, emotional behavior had come about, and if it would shed any light upon the human mystery they had never been able to reproduce.

Kojima’s friends told him of her behavior and tears and implored him to take her back. He reluctantly yielded.

That afternoon she was waiting for him at home as if he’d never sent her away. He said nothing to her, and she sat across the kotatsu from him, silently darning his sock and smiling cutely.

Finally when he looked into his eyes, wondering if he’d really hurt her feelings, she spoke up saying, “I want you.”

Kosuke, surprised at his response, replied, “I want you too.” The surprise was that he did. He wanted her companionship, he wanted her smile, he even wanted her ears.

Perhaps it was just pity, seeing she seemed to have feelings after all. She was able to desire. And though the desire may have been no more than programming, he knew that human desires were shaped, or programmed, by one’s social environment. As for his own desire for a spiritually compatible human wife, that was impossible now anyway.

Within a month they had a nice little wedding ceremony. A teacher of the Sidi Religion held the service in Christian form. The Neo-Japanese thought it strange only that there was a ceremony. They had no marriage customs themselves. When school break came, the newlyweds took a honeymoon trip to Cerid, the lunar city.

After his reeducation, Nakamura was made curator of the Fukuoka City Museum in Momochi. He and Miki were given a house on the museum grounds, built in accordance with traditional Japanese architecture.

A couple of years later, Miki wanted a child. Though she was designed to fulfill Nakamura’s conjugal needs, she was far from equipped to give birth. So her makers put together a “nine year old” girl android. Kosuke named her “Arale.”

“Miki and Arale never aged, but Kosuke being altogether flesh and blood grew old and infirm. One day his doctor said that his “transition” was near and hospitalized him. In a week a young, Kosuke android, Miki’s “age,” replaced him at home. Soon after that there was a baby brother for Arale, cloned from the late human Kojima.

Their museum home was surrounded by a large enclosure permitting the daily reception of tours of school children come to see how the old human kind had lived, and what they were like.

 

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Bradley’s Brain

[Here is another story I wrote in the 90s. Again it has the motif of a hapless person cryogenically frozen to awaken to a nightmare world. I’d come back to America from teaching English Language in Japan, the last gig being for a small outfit called, Mark’s American English. My experiences with such  language schools had left a bad taste in my mouth and writing this was my cleanser.]

 

Bradley’s Brain

From the moment the elderly Japanese man seated across from him on the Fukuoka City Subway sneaked a glance then with a weak, shy smile looked at the floor, Bradley knew just what was coming and jumping from his seat, angrily shoved his way through the crowded car into the next. He had zero tolerance for what he called, “Free Conversation Leeches,” rude language learners grabbing any opportunity to practice their halting, broken English on a foreigner.

Bradley had suffered more than his share of them. When he was teaching English at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea, hardly a day passed without some tactless student (excluding his own)or middle aged businessman accosting or even stalking him in pursuit of some meaningless “free conversation,” amounting to no more than the usual battery of garbled questions:

What is your name?”

Where you from?”

Why you come to Korea?”

How long you stay in Korea?”

Are you get married?”

Why do you not get married?”

What you think about Korea girl?”

What you think Korea?”

Generally the unwelcomed encounter ended when the interrogator expended this list. More annoying were the jerks who had a marginal conversation ability. These continued on and on hoping to squeeze the maximum linguistic opportunity out of him. Unable to take a hint like “I’m tired,” or “I’m in a hurry to get home,” some would nip at his heels all the way, so that arriving at his apartment, they dumbly continued standing there after he’d closed the door in their face.

He had been relieved to find far fewer of this sort in Japan and had even become more generous with his time toward the few brave enough to speak, yet polite enough to know when to stop.

Recently though, his generosity had run dry. The elderly man he’d just avoided reminded him of Mr. Goto, a “student” in the small English conversation school where Bradley now worked.

Mr. Goto was in an intermediate level conversation class at Amy’s American English Academy in which and where he had no business whatsoever. He wasn’t even functional in the Beginners Class and was incapable of learning anything beyond a few memorized travel phrases. Even the simple question, “How are you, today?” stumped him week after week. Every time he’d have to look up each word in his English-Japanese dictionary before he could respond, “I fwim.” (Trying to correct his awful pronunciation was an exercise in futility.)

He’d been in a Beginner’s Class taught by a young Australian woman, but had taken to pawing at and even pinching her. Her complaints to the school’s owner/director, Amy Nakamura, were ignored till finally one evening she’d slapped the lecherous, old geezer. Amy ordered her to apologize to Goto and gave her a month’s notice. She walked out of her office then and there, and Amy moved the “valued student” into Bradley’s Intermediate Class.

There Mr. Goto could do nothing but hold things up for the others. Any real instruction of conversation in a foreign language requires verbal interaction in the target language. The moment someone has to translate for another or the mother tongue takes the floor, the lesson is lost. In deference to his age, the other students had no choice but speak to him in Japanese, translate every word for him, and tell him what to say. Bradley immediately saw he wouldn’t cut it. Even though the others were actually no more than Elementary Class level, he’d bore them silly if he tried to give Goto the attention he needed. He did the best he could, giving quick reviews the first ten minutes of the class. Unfortunately every review covered the same ever lost ground. Goto retained nothing, and Bradley started skipping him or telling him what to say just to keep the pace of the class going.

Missing his motivation, Mr. Goto’s attendance became irregular. Fearing he might quit, Director Amy asked him one evening if he were happy in his new class. Goto then complained that Bradley’s lessons were too difficult and that he was ignoring him. Amy scheduled a teacher’s meeting with Bradley in which she pointed out that it was Bradley’s contract responsibility to encourage Mr. Goto to continue attendance.

In answer to Bradley’s complaint that Mr. Goto wasn’t making a lick of progress and was holding up the others, Amy advised him to avoid any embarrassing sort of lesson that would reveal his or any other student’s inability. Emphasize easy to memorize vocabulary and phrases, then spend the remaining time with educational games and activities all could participate in such as Scrabble and Monopoly. Amy repeated that teaching methods which expected students to practice the verbal use of English among themselves unnecessarily put them on the spot and weren’t appropriate in Japan. Furthermore she told Bradley directly that he shouldn’t worry his head over whether the students were making any progress. The most important thing, he said, was keeping smiles on their faces, and keeping them coming back.

So from that week, Bradley began doing things Amy’s way, limiting instruction and speaking to one period a month, containing vocabulary games and dialogs already written out so everyone could read and parrot without the danger of embarrassment or the anxiety of learning a difficult foreign language. As per Amy Bradley put no pressure on anyone to use English in the classroom, but let them chat away in Japanese. Unlike Amy, he spoke not a word of Japanese in class himself. That was forbidden in his contract. With Amy’s permission he brought in some simple learning games from a book, Teaching English with Games. Using them he felt he could accomplish some marginal teaching.

As for Mr. Goto, even cut and dried dialogs were too challenging for him, and the games (Never mind the learning ones.), Clue, Monopoly, and Uno, were, in spite of being played in Japanese, too confusing for the retired salaryman.

As for the class Goto was in, the damage had already been done. A young woman got tired of getting no more from than the opportunity to translate “Where are you from?” Another member who attended regularly and was a fast learner became scarce and finally quit. Amy phoned her asking if she were having difficulties with her teacher. She answered that his classes were too basic, and that he wasted most of the lessons playing games.

Soon similar complaints were coming from the other classes, mostly from new students who weren’t already familiar with Amy’s “American Way.”

Taking Bradley aside, Amy expressed her disappointment, reminding him that she had hired someone of his background just because many students weren’t satisfied with the progress they were making under the previous teacher. She ordered Bradley to cut the games back to only once a month. It was the classic “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” but Bradley knew he’d be especially damned if he actually attempted to help his students learn English conversation.

Prior to him, Amy had hired young Australian or Canadian men and women who were in Japan on what is called, “Working Holiday,” an arrangement between those governments and Japanese Immigration that permitted them to teach a year without visa sponsorship and at the minimum wage she’d be expected to pay someone with an instructor’s visa. None of them had any experience teaching English or even an educational background in that subject. They followed Amy’s schedule of games and vocabulary handouts and mucked through most classes with “Free conversation.” Consequently, Amy’s American English’ clientele came to be mostly those who weren’t there for a proper English course anyway, but an entertaining hour with a young attractive foreigner. So Bradley, who was thirty-eight and overweight, though an experienced teacher with a degree in English and Education, had been out of place from the very beginning. Immediately two young women had quit because they didn’t like him or his lessons, one complaining he had told them he expected them to use English during class time. When he’d sincerely told a student in the afternoon wives class that he was there to give them the quality of instruction students had requested, she, being there merely because it was a fad thing to do, demanded Amy give the class a different teacher. Amy had told Bradley he was being too serious and took over that class herself.

Her business goal was to draw in and hold as many paying students as possible. However, at the end of the day she wasn’t that concerned with a steady profit. Unknown to Bradley and her other teachers, the primary purpose of the school was to launder money for the Nakamura Yakuza Clan she’d married into.

Her business, as far as Bradly was aware, painfully reminded him of the language schools he’d taught at in Korea, where foreign teachers were frequently called before directors and superiors on account of frivolous student complaints. For example, he’d once had a class almost taken away from him just because one student had complained that he’d wanted a teacher who was more interested in sports. And on another occasion he’d lost a class thanks to a student’s complaint that he said he was more inspired by the Grand Canyon than Korea’s Mt. Sorak (This was after the selfsame student had pressed him to make a comparison.).

Realizing he was miscast, and dismayed to be working for the sort of language school he’d fled before, Bradley had almost quit Amy’s American English. But because he’d promised her he’d fulfill the two contract years and really wanted to stay in Japan rather than return to the really meager job prospects in California, he decided he could stick it out.

It wasn’t as easy as he thought to forget he was a teacher and be an entertainer. What’s more as classes were added his schedule became scattered out over each day like buckshot. From 8:30 in the morning till 9:30 or 10:00 in the evening, his free time was fragmented into wasted half hours between classroom appointments. And even when Amy reinterpreted his contract so that the National Holidays he thought he had off became work days he must make up with his fragmentary free time (passing out ad leaflets door to door), he still stuck with the contract, knowing that in the yen’s deepening recession it would be very difficult for someone his age and nationality to land a job in some other language school. He’d at least have to suffer with it till the next April’s hiring season for university and vocational school positions. Now that Amy was holding him to blame for the loss of additional students and urging him to find out what his problem was and change himself, Bradley felt trapped and sick with suppressed anger.

He got off the subway at Hakata Station and transferred to a train bound for Takeshita Station near which were the factory and offices of Itachi Electronics Corporation where he gave a weekly company English lesson. As usual he was cutting it close and would have to run the two blocks in order to make it just on time. (Amy had allowed enough time to get there at less than a breakneck pace, provided Bradley skipped lunch.)

As usual less than half the employees who were supposed to be taking the lessons were present. Even those present weren’t regular in attendance. None were consistently present from week to week, so that any course based on a progressive text was impossible. Since most were beginners, the same thinly veiled lesson contents came up again and again. This wasn’t so much the fault of Amy’s American English, but typical of most any company course. Employees are actually too busy to attend and aren’t really expected to learn. Work projects are often scheduled to fall just at the lesson hour. Having a company course is rarely for the sake of producing English speaking employees. It’s merely that all the other major corporations have them.

Present this day were a couple of salarymen, office workers, who as Mr. Goto, would never learn any English beyond mangled greetings and “Where is goodtime girl?” Bradley had learned that this pair did little in the workplace. As “Window Seaters,” employees who have little competence in their work but are given nice titles and “special projects,” they had been assigned to the English class to give them something to do and keep them out of the way.

Bradley gritted his teeth and put on a smile for them. This, after all, was the only substance of his job, grin and bear it.

Typically the two, who hadn’t been to the lesson for a couple of weeks, were at square one. So Bradley began with a review of simple present tense, which he dropped when the others showed, half an hour late as usual.

Bradley was happy when the meaningless session was over, but wasn’t yet free of anxiety. He dreaded his next appointment at Amy’s school where he’d be expected to begin teaching English conversation to a two-year-old girl and her three-year-old brother. He already had a children’s class with a group of nine kids ranging in age from five to thirteen. At first he’d tried to make it a real learning experience for them, but the kids, who not a one wanted to be there, were only manageable when he let them draw pictures or play Uno. Bradley liked kids, and in part for that reason hated this class most of all. He knew the studies that shown that kids who had English conversation classes shoved at them when they were toddlers, were later, for the most part, poor students of the language in school. But there was not a language school that wasn’t having classes for younger and younger children. Already one of the largest schools in Fukuoka, Seiha, was having classes for babies. It was another way to bilk success anxious Japanese mothers.

As Bradley took a brisk short cut to the bus stop through the Itachi plant, he almost decided to give Amy his notice. But facing the specter of unemployment, he sighed and muttered the Japanese word, “gaman,” meaning bear with it.

It was just as he was approaching the back gate, that the force of the blast hit him. From what was later determined to be human error, inflammable, toxic chemicals used in the production of semiconductors had ignited exploding their storage building and leveling an adjacent one story office structure. The boom was heard as far away as Tenjin (Downtown Fukuoka), and the fireball was clearly visible from Fukuoka Tower in the West suburb of the City. Fortunately the fire was quickly contained. Nevertheless there were fifteen dead and 312 injured. Of these only two of the deaths and eleven of the injuries were from the explosion and the blaze itself. The rest were victims of the toxic cloud which, fortunately for the adjoining neighborhoods, was blown aloft, but not without billowing over three quarters of the factory. Bradley was smacked monetarily unconscious by a chunk of flying debris, but then overcome by the lethal fumes.

He awoke briefly in intensive care at the Kyushu University Hospital, long enough to learn that though there was a technique for flushing the deadly chemicals from his lungs, the damage was already too great, and there wasn’t enough time left in his life to undergo the treatments. He was in coma hours before his mother’s plane landed in Tokyo. The last person he saw was Amy, visiting him a few moments to tell him the good news that she’d already hired a replacement teacher.

The production of semiconductors and the Science of Cryogenics aren’t far removed from each other. Japan Cryonics was a subsidiary of Itachi. In hope of placating Bradley’s litigious mother, a proposal was thrown together with the support of a Kyushu University neurosurgeon who had some experience in delicate brain surgery upon patients whose cardiac and brain activity were temporarily suspended while their bodies cooled to temperatures not much above freezing.

Bradley’s mother signed a release for his body to be cryogenically preserved while doctors were working out the details of how they would treat it while inert, circulating fluids which would flush out the toxins. As soon as his breathing stopped, they quickly packed him in dry ice.

The operation, a few weeks later, was successful, to an extent. Bradley regained consciousness on a hospital bed in what appeared to be a circular room. On the wall were flat screens depicting in changing images the contents of his memory. A rectangular screen directly before him remained blank until he called out, and a doctor, or technician, appeared. Words formed below the image as if being typed. “Are you OK?” Another figure then appeared, introducing himself as Dr. Kogo and asking him various questions such as his name, age, and nationality, all to determine if he were fully conscious and of sound mind.

“But where am I?” Bradley asked.

“You are in here,” the letters spelled out accompanied by the picture of a foot and a half long cylindrical tank surrounded by electronic equipment. The camera image pulled back showing Dr. Kogo before a computer keyboard. “I’m very sorry,” he typed, “We were only able to save your central nervous system.”

Shortly Bradley’s mother appeared. She wept and kissed the cylinder, then showed him the tablet the Itachi Company had given her so that she could communicate with her son electronically.

Next to appear was Amy. “We cut a deal with Itachi,” she beamed. “You are the star of their new online English language learning software.”

The circular room was merely an image projected in Bradley’s mind. Later it was expanded into a virtual reality apartment, every wall covered with screens, never dimmed, linking him to the outside world.

Soon Bradley was being accessed by users all over Japan, eager to practice English conversation or chat with a wonder of medical technology. Bradley’s thoughts, no longer private, were displayed continuously, not only on the wall screens before him, but the computer monitors of whoever interfaced with his program. Rarely was a thought allowed completion, as his mind and memory were commandeered by users interrupting with their own topics of interest.

“Hello, Mr. Bradley. How are you? Today I want to talk about Actress, Akina Nakamori’s latest suicide attempt.” Or “Today we will talk about disease resistance of Hokkaido versus Idaho potatoes.”

Some users didn’t speak at all but simply viewed his thoughts as displayed in words and images on their screens. One user frequently flashed pornographic images before him and downloaded his responses.

Even during the downtimes set aside for sleep, psychologists accessed and studied his dreams.

Finally he was allowed some “private time,” periods designated for family visits from his mother and friends. Virtual reality equipment enabled them to experience his virtual apartment and appear before him in lifelike detail.

The VR equipment worked so well that wealthy subscribers of Itachi’s English Online were able to purchase and use the same, sometimes “dropping in” outside their online appointments.

Then one day Bradley found a room added to his virtual apartment. It was the spitting image of Amy’s American English classroom in Nishijin down to Amy’s framed TESL certificate and an enlarged photo of Amy and students enjoying a “lesson” using Super Mario Scope video games. Suddenly Amy’s image appeared explaining that this was Itachi English Online’s VR Classroom, and that Bradley’s first class would be at Seven O’clock that evening.

For the VR classes Bradley’s image was given a makeover transforming him into a younger, leaner, and handsomer hunk.

Unlike his American Way buckshot schedule, Itachi wasted no time between classes and appointments. Lunch being unnecessary, they were all back to back from Seven in the morning till Ten in the evening. Doctors monitoring the brain’s health warned of stress and fatigue and urged more downtime for system rest and recreation. The company, though, could spare no more than an additional hour per week, seeing the large number of subscribers.

The doctors weren’t surprised when nine months after coming online the system crashed. Suddenly in the middle of a VR class, Bradley began screaming and throwing chairs. He kicked and tore through the VR images which gave way like Japanese paper doors, revealing beyond a burning sun in empty space. The users quickly terminated their connections, though no one was in danger. The last image one of them saw was Bradley throwing himself into the solar image. Technicians were unable to reaccess his mind, and the doctors found the brain in deep coma. Before the end of the day, it was dead.

Subsequently Bradley’s mother found an E-mail message in her tablet. “I’m free now, Mom,” it read.

Search of auxiliary computer memory uncovered a key event which may have precipitated the breakdown. It was an interruption by a user during system downtime. Bradley was abruptly aroused from sleep by an incoming message on all his virtual wall screens.

“Hello, me you remember? I Goto. Are you America? I computer buy. Everyday chat you.”

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Abataru

[Virtual Reader popping in and out in the quantum foam, I am still in Unemployment Limbo somewhere way out in East Mesa. But I’ve started writing again for the sake of my sanity. Another noveloid is in progress (The Final Covenant), but it will be a while before it’s ready to post. In the meantime I’ll post some old stories.

Abataru is from a series of short-short  stories I began in college. They all had in common a tale of an individual frozen in cryogenic suspension to be awoken in a future, very unexpected world. I didn’t get around to writing this one till 1996. So please note I did not cockroach the idea from the Movie, Avatar or the movie Surrogates. It’s original title was “Kejime,” then in a 2006 revision it became “BodyCon.”]

Abataru

On May 16, 1995, the day the Japanese, cult terrorist, Asahara, Shoko who led the Tokyo Subway nerve gas attack, was arrested, Imura, Tomo, an Osaka industrial waste technician, vanished without a trace. His body may have been found had everyone who knew him not assumed that he, having some interest in Asahara’s teachings, had run off into hiding or thrown himself into the River. Actually he’d fallen during a private inspection of a newly completed underground storage chamber in the Kimoto Plant, a facility for the disposal of toxic waste.

Imura was making an unannounced and unaccompanied inspection on suspicion of an unreported flaw in construction. So there was no one to notice when he slipped and fell unconscious between a wall of barrels at the far end of the chamber.

Before he came to, operations began, and liquid nitrogen filled the internal tubing, rapidly supercooling the room as intended to keep its volatile and caustic contents free of the danger of spontaneous combustion.

Inasmuch as there were no flaws after all, and the facility was successful that chamber was maintained in super-refrigeration for decade after decade. Not til 2112, at the plant’s closure, was Imura’s frozen body discovered.

Never having given Cryogenics a thought, Imura awoke in the Twenty-second Century in the New Kyushu University Hospital Located north of the Fukuoka City suburb, Kurume.

Conscious, but not in good shape beyond that, he was utterly dependent upon life support. The greater portion of his body, with exception of head, upper torso, and one arm, was replaced with a web of cables and tubes linking prostetic organs scattered about his bed, each in its own vat or housing. The kidney machine was just that, a single, double-sized kidney floating in an organic solution in a tank at the foot of the table his mortal, yet living, remains rested upon. The heart machine was a heart, visibly beating in a transparent tank to his left. To his right was a large rectangular vat full of his digestive organs. He’d never walk again.

In spite of all the late Twentieth Century interest in and attempts at cryogenic suspension, and the number of people who’d let their lifeless bodies be frozen with hope of future revival, Imura was the first to be “successfully” thawed. Therefore he was an instant, international celebrity. Doctors flocked to Japan to study him, with the hope of reviving the abandoned research of “Cryogenic Stasis.”

To ease Imura into the Twenty-second Century, he was issued a pair of VR Specs programmed for school education. He had no opportunity for a first hand encounter of the daily life of the world outside till the day the chief nurse announced he’d be given a new body.

Imura pictured something like his head being attached to another body or his brain transplanted, but that wasn’t the idea at all. He was to remain in his state of segregated, proxy organs and never to his dying day leave the hospital. Instead implants to his brain provided a neurological interface to a remotely controlled, cloned, human body.

This body didn’t have a full brain of its own. A marvel of bioengineering, it was grown for the sole purpose of providing a substitute body for another human organism. When not in use, it remained in a special closet called a “Boutique Pod,” in a deep, dormant state of sleep. Imura spent weeks learning to control it by brain waves and a small, flat console which his single hand could operate.

During that period this remote body never ventured beyond the hospital’s rehab clinic. Some doctors questioned his ever using it outside the hospital, fearing “culture shock,” especially when he showed difficulty accepting the nearly thirty year younger and different body as his own. It wasn’t his own face he saw in mirrors. The younger and decidedly more handsome features were like those of an actor, not a man who hadn’t the attraction for even the possibility of an arranged marriage. Also he had no felt sense of the body being his. His rehab nurse, Taz Lee, told him he’d get used to it and frequently reminded him he was lucky to be donated such a good quality abataru. Though its former owner used it to good advantage, it was still in excellent condition.

When relatives who were interested in helping him were allowed to visit, the doctors consented to a series of outings with their supervision. It was fortunate Imura’s new body was so good-looking seeing how handsome his brother’s descendent was.

There wasn’t much of striking culture shock about the Kyushu University Campus itself. There were many old buildings of modern appearance built during the Twenty-first Century and now falling into disrepair.

It was when they walked out the front gate to a parking lot that was more a corral, that Imura realized he was no longer in the Japan of his birth. He’d already learned that automobiles had been replaced with animals, but where he expected to see horse driven carriages, he found bioengineered living things on wheels. His relatives’ family vehicle , best he could make out, was the body of some kind of dinosaur. There was a barnyard odor to it, chicken, especially when they crawled into its enormous belly and closed a transparent membrane behind them. Imura’s nephew many generations removed simply said their destination, and a silent, organic engine began moving the wheels.

On the road Imura was amazed to see not only dinolike vehicles but insectlike ones, many beetle in appearance, reminding him of VW “Bugs.” His mouth dropped open when he saw the “catbusses.” His nephew’s wife asked him if he knew of the movie animation of his time, My Friend Tottoro, which included the character this design was said to be based upon. As the Catbus of Tottoro, there were no wheels on these kitties, they ran on four paws, carrying furlined cabs growing naturally from their backs. The nephew’s daughter laughed when Imura asked what kept the “cat” from chasing off after the “bugs.”

The road itself wasn’t asphalt but a carpet of tough moss. On both sides, where there weren’t woods or rice fields, there were long, low walls of living wood behind which were houses, bioengineered fruit trees rooted in the earth, with towering trunks at each corner. Shelter was one at the same time a source of food.

Imura’s nephew’s house wasn’t as large as some of the tree castles he’d seen, but was covered by a geodesic dome greenhouse whose panels could become opaque when desired. The living room, an atrium in the center of the house, was an open garden midst a circle of bamboo trees.

Imura wasn’t given a tour of the house, leaving him to wonder what Twenty-second Century bedrooms were like. He felt his relatives had something to hide. Nevertheless they made up for it in hospitality, treating him to a lavish fare of traditional Japanese cuisine.

After this early dinner, they led him to the HV (holovision) room, where they showed him their 3D family video. Then after many questions about the Twentieth Century and their ancestors, they drove him back to his hospital room, where he rested his new body and returned his consciousness to his scattered organs.

He noticed more modifications had been made in his “absence.” His hospital “body” would be able to go on feeding itself intravenously when he was “out.” As for his new body, it didn’t require much nourishment during stasis.

As Imura recounted the day, he remembered that all along he’d felt something missing. Then he realized he’d seen no elderly people at all. No one seemed any older than thirty. There wasn’t a single obatarian (over middle age not yet elderly woman). Even the family HV hadn’t shown elderly parents. Not only that, everyone he’d seen had been strikingly beautiful or handsome, not to mention in perfect health. Well, wasn’t this what one expected of a future utopia?

For his next outing Nurse Lee took him into Fukuoka City. But city you could hardly call it. What had once been the financial district, Tenjin, was now a huge park. An occasional building rose from the lawn such as a couple of Victorians preserved since the Meiji Era and some other historical landmarks including the Accros Building barely completed the day Imura vanished. From a hill now where the Tenjin Core Department Store had stood, he could see Kego Shrine and in the distance toward the west, the Fukuoka Tower.

Glancing skyward, he saw an incredibly enormous bird which he supposed was an aircraft of sorts. Taz confirmed his thinking, calling the birdlike transport a “garuda.”

Toward noon they stopped to rest under what seemed to be a grove of melon trees. When Imura reached up to pick one, a huge, black, barking dog came running up and speaking in a gruff, human voice told him, “Picking the fruit is not allowed. If you want some, buy it from the sales booth at the south end.”

“Police dog,” Taz explained.

“When Imura asked if the whole city had been replaced by a park. Taz laughed and told him he should see Tokyo. After its destruction in the Quake of 2023, it had become mostly park land. The City of Fukuoka itself , as far as shops and offices were concerned, was largely underground.

A visit to “Fukugai,” as the underground complex was called, was followed the next evening by an unauthorized excursion to New Nakasu, a recently completed entertainment complex in Momochi, a neighborhood on the West Side, not far from the Tower.

It was nurse, Taz Lee’s idea, thinking it would hasten Imura’s adjustment if he had the opportunity to savor contemporary night life. Knowing the doctors would say no, he approached Imura without permission. “How about we go surfing this evening?”

Imura pictured boards and waves, and replied he’d rather take up golf.

Taz laughed and said, “Not that kind of surfing. Nobody does that in Japan. Now “surfing” means we go out and meet people in parties, games, and cultural exchanges. Don’t you remember “surfing the Web” in your day. The term comes from that. “Let’s go to a chat party this evening. You might meet a beautiful woman. Of course all the women there will be beautiful, but you might find your type.”

That evening after interfacing with his body, Imura waited on a rooftop landing pad for Nurse Lee’s “passenger pigeon.” It arrived empty, but told him in a myna’s voice to get in and he’d be flown to New Nakasu, where Taz awaited him.

Upon landing and stepping out of the giant pigeon’s undercarriage, Imura looked about but was unable to see Nurse Lee anywhere. When he finally asked a teenage boy who’d been standing around all along if a Lee-san had been there, the boy broke out laughing.

“Fooled you, didn’t I. How do you like it? I just bought it,” he said motioning to his chest. “My other abataru was getting a bit worn. This one’s great for slipping into the Maria Street Chat Room and picking up ‘school girls.’”

Imura stared at him, dazed until shocked recognition set in. This was Nurse Lee. He as well used a remote body. Imura was too polite to ask what ever disability had required such of him.

“It’s a shame I can’t use it tonight,” Taz continued, “or that they didn’t issue you a younger one. Can’t get into MariChat with that. And I won’t be able to get into JuliChat with this. Please wait here while I exchange it. It won’t take long. I keep another one at the boutique in this building.

While Taz in his teenage body went into a shop with a bioluminecent sign reading, “Ikon Boutique,” Imura gazed at the one recognizable object in this increasingly confusing world, the Fukuoka Tower. Though many considered it an eyesore in his day, it was now a comforting sight. No Godzilla had pushed it over as in the movies. There was no Godzilla unless, and he wouldn’t be surprised, this world created one.

As he waited at the entrance to the Momochi Underground (Momogai), he felt as if someone were watching him. An owl was flying from tree to tree, staring at him each time it alighted. “Security owl,” Taz explained later.

Taz returned shortly as the Nurse Lee, Imura recognized, and they entered Momogai, taking the elevator down to the Nakasu levels where they found the Juliana Chat Rooms.

So this is what had become of the chain of Juliana nightclubs. The disco music was gone. There were no more fan dancers. It was no more than a party, but one thing hadn’t changed; the “Juliana” girls, Women were still dressing up in the same slinky, tight fitting, low cut, short skirted dresses their predecessors of the Twentieth Century had. And all of them were stunningly attractive.

It was there, that evening, that Tomo Imura met Cindy. Blond, thin waisted, perfectly proportioned, she said she wasn’t a foreigner but a Japanese native. When he told her his story, she clung to him all evening, asking about his life in the Electronic Age and what it was like to be frozen 117 years.

“You’re cute,” she said. “Aren’t you going to invite me to a private room?”

So they left together with Taz’s smiling approval.

The elevator dropped another floor then zipped along vertically to stop at a love hotel. The hotel, as fully automated as many of its kind in the Twentieth Century, required only the selection of a room from a panel of pictures. Instead of a card, Imura held his hand against a small panel which read the bioidentification of his body.

Tomo hadn’t much experience in love making, but Cindy seemed even newer to it, though she was by no means a virgin. But before that was empirically clear, he had already asked where the condoms were. The hotel should have provided them in different brands and styles.

“What’s a condom?” Cindy asked.

“Protection, birth control, don’t people still use them?”

“Oh, birth control,” she said sitting up. “We don’t need that anymore. These bodies aren’t designed to make babies.”

“You mean everyone has their tubes tied, or whatever? Where do babies come from then, supermarkets?”

“Hey,” she laughed, “didn’t they teach you anything? Didn’t they catch you up to modern times? Hospitals! Mothers go to hospitals!”

“What about AIDS?” Imura asked rubbing the back of his neck.

“AIDS? What’s that?”

Tomo felt uncomfortable. “I suupose they must have a cure for it by now. In my day it was a disease that destroyed the body’s immune system.”

“Whatever it was,” Cindy shrugged, “it’s no problem now. These bodies are mostly germ free, and even if one does get sick, you can buy another.”

Perhaps desire had clouded Imura’s attention. He took all she said in the sense that people, such as himself, with damaged bodies, could obtain a new one. It wasn’t till after a couple of hours of vigorous love making that he asked, “Is this your real body?”

“Who takes their birth body to JuliChat? That’s stupid!” she answered.

One thing was certain. These bioengineered, remote bodies were amazing. His own stamina was unbelievable. He came and came yet still could raise an erection.

Imura’s doctors, still fearing psychological repercussions to his century leaping experience, weren’t at all pleased with his JuliChat encounter. They were especially worried when he expressed his desire to return in hope of meeting Cindy again and persuading her to meet him under different circumstances. He couldn’t shake her from his mind. Also he wanted to meet her in her birth body and see her actual face. There was a freshness about her, a contradictory innocence he liked.

Subsequent trips and inquires didn’t produce another meeting. He learned she wasn’t a frequent guest of the chat party. In fact no one he’d talked to had seen her there before. He also learned that many of the women at JuliChat were as the Juliana girls of old, office workers or college girls, who in this case didn’t merely change clothes after work or classes, but left birth bodies at home or office bodies in stasis lockers to don glamorous remotes.

No wonder there were no elderly to be seen. The use of abataru bodies was as common as the use of automobiles, or in the 22nd Century, “dobushas.”

Unable to find Cindy, Imura’s loneliness grew to a terrible bout of homesickness. He took a trip to Osaka, his hometown, just to sit in Osaka Castle daydreaming over the life he’d lost. His doctors agreed he needed something to keep him active and help him blend in with society.

So he was given a job in the offices of the Daie Corperation. He sat at a work station of screens and panels, without a hint of what to do.

Appearing frequently on one of his screens was a woman named Keiko. She gave him instructions, assistance, and conversation when things weren’t busy. He never saw her around the office so assumed she lived in another city.

One Friday afternoon as they were speaking, she invited him to meet her at ChatChurch that Sunday. “ChatChurch” was a popular religious service held in one of the remaining buildings of what had been Seinan University. Also called “Friendship House” after a Baptist mission which had once operated nearby, it had no specific religious tie but provided a kind of generic Christian service at a time when attendance of Christian gatherings was becoming a popular fad.

Tomo waited for Keiko at the door. he was looking forward to seeing her in person. Of course he didn’t expect her to look the same as she did daily on the viewscreen. She, as most other office workers, would use a different abataru for weekend outings than what they did for business. In spite of this understanding, he was unprepared when a young man poked him on the shoulder.

Keiko laughed at his surprise. “Don’t call me Keiko here. I’m Shinji.”

Imura hesitated to ask her, or him, if that were his real birth body. Most abataru owners didn’t go out in their birth bodies and it was considered rude to ask questions about another’s original body. He’d recently learned she did live in Fukuoka after all. But to his knowledge, she’d never come to the office in any sort of body, so he was afraid to pry into her secret. As soon as they were able to locate a couple of folding chairs and seat themselves, he nevertheless asked her, “What’s your birth sex?”

“You mean all this time you didn’t know?” she replied. “I wasn’t born. I was bioengineered from cloned, dolphin brain tissue. I’m part of the central nural processor of the company computer. By convention computers use female screen images and voices, but I use a male abataru for my holiday time and outings.”

Chat time was preceded by a sermon, or rather a lecture, about being kind to our bioengineered, domestic helpers. Imura glanced at Keiko, or Shinji, sitting at his side. What was s(he), domestic animal or human being? Till that morning he hadn’t known that his only friend in the office wasn’t an OL (office lady) but an OA (office automation). Who knew that here? And what of the people here? Were any of them, except the children, just what they seemed? Was the speaker herself, female, male, or human at all?

Chat time was a kind of after service tea time followed by group discussions. It was as they were on their way to the chat rooms that Imura saw Cindy. Except it wasn’t Cindy. When he called her name, she didn’t turn to answer.

So he approached her, “Excuse me. My name is Imura, Tomo. Don’t you remember me? We met at JuliChat.”

“You really must be mistaken,” she answered. “I’ve never set foot in a place like JuliChat.”

At that moment a Japanese girl of about twelve appeared. “Mommy, may I go to BibleChat with Mai-chan?”

When she saw Imura, she stared at him uncomfortably as if she recognized him. The mother, grabbing the little girl by the hand, led her away down the hall.

After chat as Imura and Shinji were leaving, Tomo saw the same girl staring at him from a distance. He felt as if he knew her.

“Wait.” he said to Shinji and walked back to her.

“What did you say to my mother?” she asked.

“Nothing. I thought she was someone I knew. Perhaps just a clone. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, nothing,” she said, turning to go.

“What’s your name?” Imura asked.

“Cindy Hara,” she answered and hurried away.

Muttering, “impossible.” Imura sat down on the steps.

“What was that about?” Shinji asked.

“I’m afraid I may have met that little girl before. Is it possible she could have borrowed her mother’s abataru?”

“That sort of thing isn’t permitted. It’s illegal, and it’s hardly possible anyway. Kids don’t get the operation for interface till about eighteen just before the Coming of Age Day. Many get their first abataru then along with the traditional Kimono. There are some foreign hospitals though, in China, that will equip children, even babies. It’s very dangerous and should be reported to health authorities. Let’s take a look at the back of that girl’s head.”

“No, forget it,” said Imura.

Imura, Tomo proved his doctors’ fears unfounded. He adjusted well to his new world. After all, he’d already grown up in a society where everyone wears an appropriate face.

In a couple of years he was promoted and was able to buy additional avatars which he used for his social life while maintaining the original for office use, storing it in a stasis locker after work.

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Malastra And The Slenderman – 19

[This is the last chapter of the story. Please take care that you read all the chapters before it. I have been posting  a chapter a day, and today two. I have to change place of residence and employment very soon. So must take a break for a while.]

The Original Face

“Spirit guides aren’t supposed to be sad.” Miko Tamayori (Geneva Evers) wrote in her private diary. “Akane seems unhappy these days. Ascended Masters never have negative emotions, but do Fox Spirits?”

Her Spirit Guide would appear to her from time to time with messages from the goddess Inari, that Evers would post on her blog. But the spirit had seemed to lose confidence, though she was appearing more often.

Geneva knelt before the miniature Inari Shrine she maintained in a room of the house she’d inherited from her mother.

“Kitsune Sensei, Akane, please answer a personal question,” she began. “It seems to me you are unhappy. Are you unhappy about me? Have I misunderstood your messages?”

She saw the Fox’s image in the mirror at the center of her shrine’s altar. Turning and bowing, she saw the Fox change its form into that of an attractive ginger-haired woman. It was the first time she’d seen Akane in a Human form.

The figure sat before her and gave a sad smile.

“You’ve received all of Okami-Inari-sama’s messages well. Do you remember what she says about love?”

“Yes,” Evers answered, bowing again. “It is the strongest natural force, and the origin of space and time.”

“Then, love must be stronger than Inari-sama, right?”

“What are you saying? Evers asked. “Well, of course the Love of Amenominakanushi, The Original Heart, is stronger than all the kami.”

“And do you believe that lovers who have lost each other in this life will find each other again in a future life?” Akane continued.

“Of course! Geneva answered. “Soul mates will meet again and again!

That’s Buddhism though. In Shinto we know that their spirits look after us.”

“I’m not supposed to tell you this,” Akane said. “I lost my love.”

“Oh Wise Fox Spirit Sensei, don’t you understand? One doesn’t lose love!”

I lost my lover.”

“It happens,” Evers replied. “My Kami Orochi left me. But he did it so that I could become a Shinto priestess. I believe I’ll see him again someday. If the Heart wills it, you’ll see your lover as well. Positive feelings will create that for you!”

“Are positive feelings stronger than Inari-sama?” asked Akane.

“Yes. They must be,” Geneva answered. Don’t all the kami come from positive thoughts?”

At the moment Positive thoughts weren’t easy for Akane. She was still angry with Inari.

Keep your positive thoughts,” she said to Geneva. “Before long this will be Orochi‘s shrine.”

****************

I’m sorry to hear of Shinichiro’s untimely passing, and please meet my new friend,” Arale said, her face making a smooth transition from a look of concern to a smile.

Ren was meeting her at Tamura Robotics.

“This is Obochama-kun,” Arale introduced the teen android. “He’s my boyfriend!”

Obochama-kun looked to be a salary-man in training: Conservative suit and tie, polished shoes, Back rimmed glasses of the sort Arale used to wear, and a briefcase. He was based on the Dr. Slump manga and anime character of that name.

Obochama-kun bowed.

“Pleased to meet you,” Ren greeted him.

Arale-chan, why does a logical creature need a boyfriend?”

“It’s not logical. Boyfriends are not logical.”

“So why do you want a boyfriend?”

“It looks cool!” she answered taking his hand.

“Doesn’t he look too serious for you?”

“I’ll fix that,” Arale said. “I’m taking him shopping tomorrow.”

Seeing the cute, uncanny couple, Ren felt incomplete for a moment. There was a melancholy space where her own counterpart should be.

Stardust, she whispered to herself as she always did when any longing touched her heart. I’ll be stardust again, and stardust doesn’t need a lover. But the drop of nihilism had lost its potency. She felt the melancholy till it showed on her face.

“Why the sad face?” Arale asked.

Nothing,” Ren answered.

But it’s my face, and I’ll wear it, she thought to herself, thinking of the monk who tried to be faceless.

“Have you been able to contact Malastra? She asked.

“Yes. She was very sad to hear of Shinichiro’s passing. “She said she would speak to Fudo-sama and ask him to find out how Shinichiro died.”

“Perhaps he just tried to be too Human,” Ren said. “You be careful, Arale, and you too Obochama-kun. Don’t try to be Human. As the Buddha says, Human life is suffering. It would be so hard for you if you could really fall in love.”

***********

Hajime (Shinichiro’s working name) was shortly the most popular host at Club Tuxedo Kamen. He’d regale a table of guests with stories out of the history of Fukuoka City from the days Nakasu was only a nakasu (a sandbar in the river). And he was clever at reading fortunes. He’d ask a woman for her palm. Not that he needed to see it. In some ways his psychic sensitivities were more acute now that he shared more of Human Being than just an appearance.

He’d become a fortuneteller, he decided. But for now he’d drown his loss not in drink but in the attentions of lonely, young women.

**************

Kodo-roshi of the Etsuji Zen Monastery had an odd and vivid dream. In it he was walking along the bank of the Tatara River. It was a lovely Spring morning and the cherry trees on the other side of the river were in full bloom.

This is a dream, he thought. There are no cherry trees here.

Ahead on his path, he saw a man walking. That looks like Manjan. But Manjan left, didn’t he?

He hurried to catch up, and was almost upon Manjan, when he turned around.

Manjan’s face was all smile.

Roshi, I found my face!” Manjan exclaimed.

“The face you had before your parents were born?”

“Yes!”

“Then show it to me,” Kodo-roshi told him.

And then the scene totally changed. The Roshi was at the old standing mirror in the entryway of the Zendo. In it he could see his own face.

He smiled.

**********************

Malastra sat meditating in Master Kukai’s Temple. Her appreciation of Emptiness was solid. Behind her cat-face there was no one: “No one in here.” But that was only the intellectual husk of it. She could appreciate more. She had many faces: Malastra. Erika, Raimund, Sally, Phillip, and others she vaguely remembered. And each face was a heart knowing the passion of life. “Everyone in here” was the Truth. In Eternity they were all her original faces, and not just those of her karmic line. Dainichi Nyorai looked from every face.

She saw again the face of Charles Greene before he turned to step into the light. The tranquil smile his face wore flew onto hers. All was well and complete.

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Malastra And The Slenderman – 18

[Readers, I will be posting the remaining chapters of this story this evening. If you have come for your weekly installment, please notice I have been posting chapters all week. Please go back and read from where you last left off.]

Person of Interest

Koizumi Hiroto walked beside his steamed sweet potato vendor cart as it automatically rolled itself to the street corner just outside the Hakata Lighthouse Park where under a tree it remained off hours.

It was after 3:00 AM, he’d served his last yakimo, and there was a chilly wind, the heated sweet potatoes in his jacket pockets had already gone lukewarm.

The cart abruptly stopped before parking itself. Koizumi found a man, a drunk, curled up under the tree.

“Eh. You. You’re going to have to move.” he said shining his key-chain penlight on the inebriated figure.

“Oi!” he continued shaking the man awake. “You can’t sleep out here. It’s too cold tonight. Why don’t you go to the police box. There’s a cot inside.”

The man turned his head and looked up at Koizumi.

“Is that you, Shinichiro?” Koizumi asked recognizing the derelict.

The man slowly rose to his feet, but stumbled back down on his bum.

Koizumi helped him aside and parked his cart. Then he got him to his feet and supported him on the way to the police station on Kokudai Road.

“I didn’t know you drank like this.”

Shinichiro slurred unintelligibly.

There was a room of cots for drunks swept off the streets. The next morning an officer gave Shinichiro a stern warning that rang in his ears and reverberated in his aching head.

The light outside hurt his eyes. He’d never suffered such hangovers before, nor had he drank as much. As a Fox, he’d been able to alter his body to cope with the alcohol. But he was no longer a Fox, and he wanted to drink away the memory of what he’d done to himself.

He had nowhere to go. His den and belongings were now forfeit to his former employer. There was only Maizuru Park, dumpsters, and five-finger-discounts in convenience stores.

Shinichiro dashed in and out a Lawson’s convenience story, acquiring just a bottled water. He felt he was near ending his binge. He needed to get practical. As much as he was now depressed, he wasn’t suicidal. If just for spite, he had to show Inari-sama he still had a bit of dignity.

He walked to Tenjin’s Chuo Park and sitting on a bench, drank the whole bottle in a few gulps. He was still thirsty and needed a better livelihood than dumpsters and shoplifting.

It was painful to remember how he’d come to this four day prior. The shame of It hurt more than the slicing off of his tails His dreams had fallen away with each one. Even if he’d not taken the kaiken himself, cruel

Inari-sama would have done the deed herself.

She’d laid a great shame on him at the time. He wanted to mutilate himself, the loathing was so great. But now the shame was that he’d let her get to him. He should have run to Fudo-sama for help. He still hated himself for betraying his love, Akane. But now he’d not be able to hurt her again.

A Fox can’t cut off it’s own tails with a knife, so Shinichiro had kept Human-like forearms and hands as he sliced off the first of his four tails. With three remaining, he still had shape-sifting power. But as he sliced off the second, it became difficult. Inari held his form so he could continue the task. When he’d severed the third, his body became all fox, and he felt his mind slipping down into animal. But Inari gave him Human form again. He stood there naked and hairless except for that last furry tail.

“All of them!” she’d ordered. He almost protested that as just an ordinary fox he’d still need a tail, but he couldn’t disobey her. Reaching around and grabbing it, he sliced it away as close to the tip of his spine he could.

And there he continued to stand, a Human Being. Inari had taken away his Animal Realm life and given him a Human Realm one.

Then she banished him from his den, only tossing him a shirt, trousers, shoes, and his wallet of bills.

“You wanted to be Human,” she told him. “Now go. Finish your mortal life as one, and pray to the Amida Buddha that you won’t go from it to Jigoku.”

There wasn’t much money in the wallet. Shinichiro spent it quickly at yatais and on booze.

His Fox acquaintances at their Yakidofu yatai, said, “You look awful! What did she do to you?” They could see that Shinichiro was no longer a Fox but a Human.

“No more contributions for your “Mt. Abura Shrine,” one of them laughed.

There was, though, one helpful thing left of his former life. Shinichiro could see they were Foxes. He still retained psychic perceptions, and he found later, great strength.

Contemplating his future now, he wondered if he could assist the Onmyoji’s. However, he’d acquired more talent seducing the ladies. Yes! He was for now still incredibly handsome. He just needed some some fine clothes.

There was no breaking into a department store in his now powerless state. There were security cameras, security drones, and security robots in Daimaru and the other upscale stores. He could no longer go invisible.

That day he sneaked back to his den behind Nanzoin. Fortunately Inari hadn’t touched his things and hadn’t yet moved in a replacement messenger.

He gathered up his best duds and emptied his lock box.

Then that evening he’d cleaned himself up at a supersento [deluxe bathhouse] in Nakasu, dressed in his finest, and went to Club Tuxedo Kamen.

“You remember me?” he said to Nakamura Shin. “I told you there was something you could do to help me. I need a job.”

“Why would a supernatural fox need a job?” Shin asked.

“It’s an awful story you wouldn’t want to hear,” Shinichiro answered.

He no longer had any ability to sway minds, but he still had the gift of the gab. He persuaded Shin to hire him.

Shin had a condition, though. He wanted to meet the Ashura who resembled his sister-in-law. Shinichiro promised to bring her around, but he wasn’t keen on seeing any of his former comrades again. If he didn’t make a break from his lost life, he felt there was no hope in living. His Human heart still had the imprint of Akane upon it. He felt she was his first love. He couldn’t dream of her now. He had to have a new life to get over her.

He must do what mortal beings do: find a Human love to occupy his now short life.

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