Revelation, Death and a Slice of Pie
"It looks exactly like the old one," said the girl, staring up at the imposing building in front of her.
"That's because it's the same building," replied the man. "I had it relocated here to keep it out of harm's way."
"The whole building? How is that even possible?"
"I got the same contractors the Cataclysm Division use to rebuild. They seemed very pleased to be able to take a building apart by themselves and not have to collect pieces scattered randomly over a dozen blocks. They gave me a good price and did the whole job in a night."
"Impressive," said the girl. "But didn't people miss it? I mean, a whole building. It's not like it was some boring office block."
The man sighed a little. "I know. I kind of wish someone had noticed. But they're young. They don't really care about the past. Young people live in the present, then they waste all of their youth on fighting to preserve their own personal present. Only old people care about the past. For them, the past is the present they lost the battle of preserving. But things have a habit of changing in spite of all the fighting to keep it the same."
"Still the philosopher, I see," she smirked.
"Some things don't change, Itsue." He grinned back at her.
Staring again at the building she asked, "How did you hide it? Surely someone would notice and tell someone who cared."
"I changed the name on the sign." He pointed to the huge letters engraved in marble over the front door.
"You changed one letter. ONE letter. You have a K instead of a G." She wasn't offended but sometimes the blindness of stupidity was a little annoying. How could such a half-hearted attempt at disguise work so well?
"I painted it pink, too," replied the man, as if trying to mollify her. "To match the name. See? Temple of..."
"I get it, I get it. The irony is not lost on me," she replied a little dryly.
He pointed out a brass plaque affixed to one of the columns flanking the broad steps that led from street level up to the huge double doors. The inscription said:
Look you to the colour of salvation for it is pink. And in this we see that life is joyous and happy and even a little girly at times, and this is not wrong. No, for it shows that we must embrace difference in all its forms. Her hair flows like the river of life and it is full of beauty even when cut short by accident or illness or high energy weaponry. Neither can the state of low battery nor lack of data modules take from us nor prevent us attaining the bliss of Pie.
"I remember that," she said wistfully. "They were good days back then. Do you think that means I'm getting old? Because sometimes I long for the past?"
He laughed. "No, a bit of nostalgia is fine. And you seen to be coping quite well with this present you've found yourself in."
"It's a little quiet," she replied. "But I'm not one to complain."
I drifted through the hallways in the wake of his destruction and her fruitless search. Being invisible was easy for me. I was unremarkable and I worked hard at it in my own way. People don't notice the everyday, the usual, the things they expect to be there.
Being different gets you noticed. Like the girl with the blue-green hair, or her friend the class president desperately trying not to be different. Fighting to be the same as everyone is not the same as being part of the crowd. That struggle for conformity stands out.
Fitting in is an artform, one that I had seemingly perfected before my seventeenth birthday. And before you ask, yes, that does seem a little depressing at times. I try not to dwell on it.
Of course, there is another path to invisibility. If you become too much different to everyone else, to the point that you shock people with every action, it's as if a natural defence mechanism kicks in with the regular people. They stop believing you exist at all.
Oh, they still see you and act shocked or frightened or disapproving. At least, when you're right there in their face they do. But memory fades. Your differences are buried in normality so quickly. You could rock their world one day and be completely forgotten the next. Like you overloaded their capacity for belief so their mind erases you to maintain its equilibrium.
So it was only me that remembered. Me, so normal, so unremarkable, so forgetable out of sheer dullness. I remembered the strange ones.
If the robot girl had asked me, I would have told her yes, I remember Tohya, your friend. I remember her collapse and her absenses and her thumb-rings and her impossible ribbons. I too have counted the days and wondered.
But she didn't ask me. She didn't even see me. Hidden in plain sight, all I could do was observe. I looked on and wondered at my inability to act. Why couldn't I approach her? I felt like I wanted to but something held me back.
Perhaps it wasn't my story to in which to interfere. Perhaps I was only the audience.
"So you're back now?" she asked as they wandered the deserted building.
"No, I don't think so. I doubt very much that the authorities want me around, even now." He looked at the floor sadly. "Somehow, I always seemed to upset someone. The more passion you inspire in people, the more hatred you get from others. Equal and opposite reaction and all that.
"I've just been flying under the radar up to this point. Keeping my head down, staying out of trouble."
"Didn't anyone recognize you?" she asked.
"Just once. He walked right in here and said he knew who I was. Named me to my face and everything. I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. The guy seemed a little deflated by it. I felt bad about that for a long time. He was hardly a likeable sort, but I really hate to take away people's dreams. I'm much more comfortable inspiring new dreams, even if they're a bit wild and subversive."
He woke up, the room was bare
He didnt see her anywhere.
He told himself he didn't care, pushed the window open wide,
Felt an emptiness inside to which he just could not relate ...
He was glad she was gone, out of his life again, hopefully for good this time. He kept telling himself this. He was better off without her. She only ever made trouble, did the things he knew were wrong. She was a cheat and worse. Who knows what else she got up to in her real life.
If only Ping would stop asking about her. What was he supposed to tell her? And now Nanasawa would ask too.
Did he have any answers?
... Brought on by a simple twist of fate.
"What happens now? Do you just fade away?"
"Oh, I certainly hope not. But on the other hand, I don't really want to be run out of town either."
"Then why not just keep going like you are. You've done all right so far."
"I guess I miss the notoriety. I feel like a caged animal. I know what I could be doing and I've watched the world go on its merry way. But I know the strength of the bars too. I can break them any time. It's only self-restraint that's kept me in this long. It was only a matter of time before my own nature forced me to do something."
"Perhaps noone will notice, like before."
"People have a habit of being attentive when you least want them to be." He trailed off. "Hungry? I have pie in the kitchen. Maybe some tea."
I could tell you so many stories if you asked. I'd seen them all weave their tales. Drama, comedy, tragedy. All taking place in front of me, little by little. A plot point here, character development there. Taking years to edge along to the next crucial scene.
They never noticed me there, looking on. I was just part of the scenery. An extra in their play.
So many stories that needed telling. Is a story really all that much if it doesn't have an audience? Does the observer change the observed, make the mundane into epic?
So is it the old question about a tree falling in a forest and if nobody's there to hear it, does it make a sound?
No, actually. I would contend that if nobody's there to hear it, the tree doesn't fall at all.
They came for Largo in the small hours of the morning. There was no crashing through the door, no shouting, no SWAT teams. Just a polite knock that woke me from a confused dream.
I watched from my makeshift bed on the floor as Largo rose slowly from his chair and lurched to the door. He carried the whisky bottle he'd been nursing but he didn't seem as drunk as usual.
Inspector Sonoda was waiting patiently on the balcony flanked by two large men in ski masks and bullet-proof vests with "police" written on them in Japanese letters.
"Let's go, Largo," said the Inspector quietly.
"I've been waiting for you to come and get me," replied Largo. His voice was calm and serious, most unusual for Largo.
Largo had been quiet all evening. He'd come in about ten and hadn't said a word, just sat in the chair sipping occasionally from the whiskey bottle. I'd put it down to one of his regular surly moods and wondered if he'd had a fight with Erika again.
Ping stirred inside her cardboard box fort.
"What's going on?" she mumbled sleepily, gradually coming out of standby mode.
"Sorry to disturb you, Miss," said the Inspector as he stood aside to let Largo pass out the door. He softly closed the door behind them and I heard Largo's heavy tread on the steel stairs outside.
"Where do you think they're going?" I asked nobody in particular.
"Something's wrong," said Ping, wide awake now. I'd forgotten about her. Again.
"Check the news, Ping," I told her. "They'll be off to whatever disaster is wreaking havoc in Tokyo tonight. At least, that's what Largo will tell me when he gets back."
Ping's eyes got that glazed look she had whenever she was searching the internet. It was weird for a girl to have a wireless network connection in her head. And there I went thinking of her as a real girl again. Sometimes it helped not to.
"Oh no!" exclaimed Ping. "This can't be right! I'll check other sources." A pause and then, "No! Oh, no! Please no…" Tears sprang to her eyes suddenly.
"Why is that young man standing in the next room and looking at us?" Itsue asked quietly through a mouthful of pie.
"Shh, don't mention him," replied her host. "He's the observer. Try not to let him affect you."
"It's complicated. Something about Heisenberg and nothing about cats."
"I see," said Itsue. She didn't, but the pie was excellent and it was a waste not to concentrate on it completely.
A tree fell but nobody was there, so it didn't.
"What is it, Ping? Tell me what it says."
Her voice dropped suddenly to a monotone that indicated she was reading directly from a website somewhere.
"Former popular idol singer and voice actress, Hayasake Erika, was found murdered tonight in her apartment in Takaido. Police say it appeared Hayasake had surprised a burglar. Reports from the scene suggest a struggle had taken place and put the time of her death at around 9pm. Neighbors informed our reporter that they were used to hearing occasional loud noises from the apartment and noticed nothing out of the ordinary…" Ping's voice choked off at that point and her eyes shifted back into focus.
The words barely meant anything to me. Their importance skated over my suddenly shocked consciousness. Erika… murdered… How was that even possible?
Suddenly Ping was in my arms, sobbing uncontrollably on my shoulder. I didn't know how to respond, I could hardly think at all. A sound of breaking glass from outside caught my attention and I grasped at the excuse to do something. Trying not to push her away, I removed myself from Ping's hold and went to the door to look out.
Nothing. Just some drunk sleeping it off in the alley. He must have dropped his bottle as he slumped against the wall.
"Maybe... maybe it's some kind of mistake. Or a publicity stunt, they're always doing those. Or another crazy rumor the news services have picked up. Ping, can't you access the police database, see what's really going on."
Ping froze, tears trailing down her cheeks as she again searched the net. This time she was looking deeper. It hardly occurred to me that I'd just asked her to commit a crime by hacking police computers. If I'd realized, I don't think I would have cared anyway.
"I have something, Piro-san," Again her voice slipped into her reading mode.
"Embargoed until 7am Tuesday. The body of an American tourist was discovered in Yoyogi this morning. He has not been identified but a police spokesman said he appeared to be the victim of a mugging gone wrong. The American embassy has been informed and will be making all necessary arrangements. Tokyo police wish to make it clear to the public that serious crime is not on the rise in the city but warns citizens to avoid walking alone late at night."
Strangely, I remember feeling like I was looking at myself from the other side of the room, wondering when I'd work it out. I could see the expressions playing across my own face as visible manifestations of the gears turning around in my mind.
American tourist... Yoyogi... the police... Largo. Ping's wail dragged me back into my body.
"Piro-san! Piro-san... What's wrong with me? Why does it hurt so much?"
This time I didn't worry about the right response. I needed Ping to hold me up just as much as she needed my support. We sobbed in each others arms until the grief numbed us.
The regular police came for Largo's body at six-thirty. The officer at our door must have taken my stunned expression as the usual gaijin inability to understand Japanese properly. He hardly bothered to ask any questions, said something about a tip-off and left. They all left.
I was alone with the robot girl.
Meanwhile, cause and effect ran off together to get a divorce.
Mami watched Asako skip along the road towards her, grinning and waving. How could that girl be so impossibly cheerful every day. It was endearing and annoying at the same time, obvious ingredients for a friendship.
"Mami-chan! Did you have a good weekend?"
"Take a guess, Asako. I spent most of it with you." Mami wasn't really annoyed but she pretended anyway. Asako's cheerfulness worked better if you resisted it just a little.
"Where's Yuki-chan this morning?" Asako asked, oblivious.
"Oh, you know... since Little Miss Perfect has been classified and Entity of Variable Attendance she's taken every chance to bounce off and save the world. Today it was something about giant robots, or invaders from Uranus, or a murder mystery, or possibly all three."
"I hope she's done by this afternoon," said Asako. "She can tell us all about it and buy us sodas."
"Asako, doesn't it ever bother you that Yuki is doing all these dangerous, exciting things, and we're just off to school again like nothing is going on?"
"No, why should it?" replied an unconcerned Asako.
"It's probably nothing," said Mami as they reached the school gates.
"Is that it? Is that the end of the story?" Itsue had finished her pie now. Without the distraction of its magnificent flavors she was starting to mull things over. Worry was beginning to creep into her mind. "It feels like there could be more to it."
She tried not to, but her attention was drawn to the young man in the next room. She wasn't sure but it looked like he was worried too.
"I don't think stories ever really have an end," replied her companion. "I mean, things just keep going on in one form or another. Maybe what we think of as an end is just a transition from one present to the next.
"Um, you probably shouldn't do that," he continued, changing the subject. Itsue was now looking openly at the young man in the next room.
"Why not?" Itsue stared.
"Because it's..." He was cut off by the young man.
"Can you see me?" asked the young man.