Title: "The Diary of a Flying Fish"
Series: The Herder of Penguins
Summary: Island song, ride the wind, with the birds, cross the sea… Sometimes dreams and reality meet. A little magic happens. [Loose sequel to Jumon]
Dedication: For Nox yet again.
A/N: Say thanks to Okinawa, penguins and Richard Brautigan. They are all eating my brain.
THE DIARY OF A FLYING FISH
He often happens to see Osaka in his dreams. The castle with its white walls and a curved roof, perched on the coarse, Burdock piling, walls overlooking the moat. Sunbeams dancing on the water, light ripples running over the reflection of the monumental main tower. Choppy seas of green all around. He had been too busy to pay attention at all that; seeing it in his dreams now seems somewhat improper.
In his dreams, Osaka morphs into some fantasy city, familiar yet utterly unknown. The sun the colour of a ripe plum sets swiftly over the panorama of the city bristling with towers of concrete and glass, and everything is ablaze with neon lights that flutter over the dark waters of rivers and canals and settle down in multi-coloured sprinkles. The giant mechanic crab of Doutonbori starts moving its arms and eyestalks. The young painted faces flicker like miniscule torchlights through every narrow lane of Ame-mura. Somewhere deep in that city there is a local branch of the Agency. K had spent a total of five years there, first as a trainee, then as a researcher. In his dreams, he cannot even remember how to get there.
If he were into mysticism of any kind, he would suggest the city missed him and had a way of showing it by manifesting in his dreams in this peculiar way.
The Question of Faith
The calendar tells him it's Tuesday. He pulls himself out of the bed and decidedly skips breakfast, making up an extra excuse to disappear from the classroom during the big break. His head hurts, whereas he knows full well he didn't drink last night. He touches his forehead briskly and thinks he might be having a fever. Spring in this city is always a bit of a nightmare.
He picks a shirt without looking, grabs the briefcase which he unpacks seldom, if ever, and feels about the desk for his car keys. They turn up between the folds of the morning newspaper. It's not the first time when he thinks that his mornings are very… normal. Those few acquaintances he still has outside of the Agency, as well as his relatives, believe he is a university teacher. Waking up in the morning, he believes that too.
The Encoders' Department is brimming with energy. He isn't sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing. He makes it to his own classroom and finds it open and alight and filled with the trainees that comprise the division he is heading. K halts briefly at the door, listening to the sound of their voices.
"…could be a major religion, too." V's voice. "K-ism."
"K-anity," comes an alternative.
"Or that. He just has this special aura, you know? Being around him is like being inside a temple."
"That just came out totally heretic!"
K chooses this moment to make an entrance. The conversations die down. A few trainees that were perched on their desks slip back down on their seats. The silence that follows is almost absolute. K snickers inwardly, 'I am a temple.'
"Religions are prone to start wars," he comments seemingly out of the blue as he opens his briefcase and produces the laptop out of it. "If I were you, I'd keep that in mind."
The silence ripples and bursts at the explosion of their laughter. V bites his lip.
"So," K drawls, cutting them all off. "Homework, shall we?"
A fine beginning of a regular Tuesday.
The 808 Bridges of Naniwa
In the official cryptography adopted by the Glyph Code Department the number '808' reads as 'infinity'. This is one of the notions adapted from the Japanese culture where this number symbolizes the concept 'uncountable'.
K shoots a brief glance at his watch. The lesson is almost over. The rustling of pens against the paper fills the classroom. He has never wondered if he makes a good teacher. He probably does because ultimately, he has always been good at everything he did. But he is still a bit curious.
"There is another disambiguation for '808'," he adds. "There have been experiments in the past that dealt with creating a multi-functional governmental glyph code that would be exceptionally hard to crack. As well as to write, actually, since the code consisted of such a large number of strokes it was promptly dubbed '808'. The code proved ineffective because it was too conspicuous, whereas the basic principle of encoding valuable information is–."
The pause he has made is filled in instantly by V.
"Simplicity and unobtrusiveness."
K nods. "As a result, 808 has come to signify all obsolete codes. To go 808 for a code means to be suspended from regular use and go down into the Archives."
"Is it the same as 'fairytale' then?" a question follows.
"Not exactly. A 'fairytale' is a bogus code that is used to mask a real one. While we're at it, tell me what a 'ghost' is."
For the next few minutes the classroom is perfectly still as the trainees strain their memory. It is so quite you could hear a pin falling. 'I can hear you thinking,' K chuckles to himself. He is too vain to admit that he used to be just like that. His memories of himself at their age are carefully fabricated and tell him that he was perfect.
"Do you believe in that?" T asks all of a sudden. "Fairytales."
He can barely see her face, which is obscured by the curtain of dark-red hair. It falls down in waves; there are days when it curls more, and he knows that it doesn't depend on her at all.
"It depends," he says cautiously and catches a ghost of a smile upon her lips.
Later, when the lesson ends (and they still haven't given an answer to his question), he calls after her as she walks towards the door.
"Do you?" She swings around to face him, and her hair takes off into a dazzling flight, piercing rays in the white light of the lamps. "Believe in fairytales?"
"I believe in imagination," T says.
Tonight his dreams may be fever-induced but he is not seeing Osaka. Far from it. He heads south, to the Okinawa Prefecture, and soars with the wind over the isles scattered all over the turquoise waves. He takes a dive and wags his tail and flaps his fins in the air, flitting in and out of the clouds. He is a fish. His body is long and covered with rainbow-coloured scales. He is probably not supposed to fly, but he does. He doesn't care why this is happening; the wind feels nice and he can breathe out of the water all right, so he might as well enjoy the flight while it lasts.
The amazing flying fish passes over the red tile roofs of the traditional Okinawan houses. A shisa snarls at him. He waves at it with his fin and flies past, but its hoarse yapping, both warning and encouraging, follows him until he crosses the island and hears the rolling of the waves again.
Shoals of tiny, bright fish ride the waves. They glance up and register the movement overhead. Perhaps they even recognize him as one of their own and they think, 'Whoa, buddy, that's one high leap!'
When he wakes up, he feels exhausted. His fever has risen. He squints at the alarm clock on the nightstand – five-oh-seven, bloody hell! – and drops his head back on the pillow. That's what you get for flying in your dreams.
The alarm clock begins to buzz. He doesn't remember falling asleep and he doesn't want to wake up. But there are a few things that will not let him skip the class today, such as having to call in sick (which he hates), lying in bed all day (which he hates twice) and his own inner pivot (which drives him to get up, get dressed and set foot outside the front door). He doesn't take the temperature, acting on some childish belief that if you don't do anything, then it doesn't exist.
It takes him a few minutes to switch on the ignition. The key refuses to fit. Irritation rises like champagne bubbles and fills him up. He glances at the mirror. His eyes look ill.
Just Like Magic
It must be one hell of a flu. He is hungry, but he feels that if he eats, he will throw up. His throat is sore like he has eaten a burdock plant, and right now he honestly hates his job. How come he never fell ill when he worked for Special Ops?
The trainees keep joking as usual. K pays little attention to them. His goal number one is to survive this day, go home and sleep-sleep-sleep as much as possible, preferably without any hippie devilry in his dreams. He drones on about fairytale codes in a sleepy, weary voice that hurts his chords, and the goddamn class refuses to draw to a close.
"Homework," he says before he forgets completely. "I want you to take any script code, English, French, whatever, and write a fairytale code to masquerade it. The keyword is 'magic'. You know how to write magic, right?"
K shoots a glance at the speaker. It is T, looking up at him with a fusion of curiosity and caution. She flicks a pen between her fingers; every time its tip touches the surface of the desk, a quiet knock follows.
K raises his hand and sketches the glyph in the air with his fingers.
"Simplified?" V specifies.
"Heh. Simplified is all you can manage?"
"Meh… Could you write it on the blackboard?"
"I will, later. It's your turn to write now."
In front of him, T narrows her eyes.
"How soon is later? You'll forget."
K's cold eyes entrain into hers. Determined, hard. He wonders if she provokes him on purpose – if so, what purpose would that be?
"I won't forget," he says in his sick, restrained voice.
He clears his throat and continues the lecture, spitting every word out like it's his personal enemy. The atmosphere is suddenly cold, sharp like a needle-point. The glyph he is supposed to write floats in his mind, and his only concern now it to get it out of there.
He wraps the class up earlier, feeling that if he utters another word, his throat will explode. He needs tea, buckets of really hot tea, and a bed. Now. He grabs a piece of chalk and writes the goddamn 'magic' on the blackboard, and the piece of chalk almost crumbles in his fingers. He leaves without looking at T who mutters: "Thank you…", and there is something close to astonishment in her voice.
It is only in the car that he realizes that he has made a mistake in the first half of the glyph.
She will notice. She will not say anything, she might even forget, but he won't.
The Glico Man Says Bonjour!
The Glico man was running along his usual blue race track, smiling triumphantly over Doutonbori, when the track suddenly heaved upwards and threw the racer out into the sky abyss. The sky had the same shade of blue as his track, so the Glico man continued running, unfazed by the change. The track shot through the clouds and spread forth toward the other isles. It went above the fishing boats jumping up on the waves, like a clear arc of light leaving barely visible stitches in the tapestry of the sky. The Glico man liked racing with bird flocks – and outrunning them.
When passing over Okinawa, the Glico man came abreast with an amazing creature. It was a fish with rainbow-coloured scales that glistened in the sun. The fish was flying as if it were a bird. The Glico man greeted it with a curt, friendly nod and thundered in a chipper manner:
He had no idea why he chose to greet the amazing flying fish in French; but the fish understood him apparently because it waved its fin leniently and continued on its way. The Glico man decided to keep close and even offered the fish one of his famous caramel sweets. The fish accepted the present graciously.
"It is a fine weather today, is it not?" the Glico man said.
The fish nodded. It could fly, but could not speak, which the Glico man found rather odd. They raced together for quite some time; the fish proved to be an excellent competitor even though it had neither legs nor wings. When they finally parted and the blue race track turned back to Osaka, the Glico man heard the fish hum softly behind his back. It was a plain song about isles.
'What a peculiar fish!' the Glico man thought. 'It can sing but it cannot talk.'
K versus Time. One–Zero
His head hurts. Five-thirty-eight. He squeezes his eyes shut hard and lies quietly in the faltering dark of his bedroom until the wailing of the alarm-clock resounds through it. Then he knocks the blasted clock over, pushes his head underneath the pillow and gets a few more hours of feverish sleep.
He is off duty today.
The girls talk. K stops just around the corner and listens, unnoticed by them.
"What do you think his room looks like?"
"Probably like a disaster site."
Someone sniggers. "Shut up! He's a typical dry-as-dust pedant."
K arches his eyebrows. 'Indeed?'
"Just imagine this: files scattered everywhere, dirty socks, top secret codes oozing out on the bathroom mirror when it gets misted over…"
"Ugh, very manly!"
"No, seriously, a guy and a secret agent on top of all, you seriously believe he does his lau–?"
She is yanked forth by her companion who has noticed K stepping out; the monologue is cut short. The girl, B, blushes fiercely. K smiles innocently.
"Second floor, if you please."
The girls follow him solemnly towards the stairs. 'Like penguins,' he thinks all of a sudden. He doesn't know where the comparison comes from, but it seems strangely applicable, and he barely refrains from laughing out loud.
"How are you feeling?" one of the trainees asks as they assume their seats.
It has been a few days; his fever subsided, but his throat still aches. If they hoped to get rid of him for a week, they would be disappointed.
The Prince With Two Crowns
They are talking about this funny programme where you can process a photograph and add various cartoon-like patterns to it. Silly, colourful and very-very Japanese.
"Did you use it?" a trainee asks.
"Sure," K says.
"What did you draw?"
"Uh… hearts, flowers… stuff."
They burst out laughing.
"A crown!" R quips.
His lips twist into a smirk.
"Why would I need another crown?"
He squares his shoulders, looking positively majestic. Random snickers float around the classroom. T looks at him appraisingly. He tries to continue the lecture, but the trainees don't listen. He coughs in warning and draws out, mysteriously:
"Hark to me."
The entire class blows up with laughter. It is almost visible, flowing in rainbow-coloured streaks in the chilled air.
Later that day, he sits down to check his e-mail and finds a letter from T. The letter carries an attached drawing of him with a crown on his head and the words 'Hark to me' flowing down the side like a glyph code string.
Another picture, huh? He looks more like himself in this one. A little younger, perhaps, but then, he doesn't look his age in reality either.
He presses the reply button. He doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know how to talk to her.
He writes: 'Are you flirting with me?' Maybe she is. Maybe it's her unique way of flirting. He chuckles, but erases the phrase and writes something dry and civil. And then he thinks that if he could draw, he would draw her too, if only to see her façade crack. He is damn curious about what she really thinks.
There is something heartwarming in the strict symmetry of the white halls of the Agency when K walks them like this: feeling light and cheerful. The stupid flu is gone without a trace. Last night he dreamt about the thicket of deigo flowers.
He spies T standing beneath the stairs. The floor is crowded with trainees of other Divisions; the Script Codes Department undergoes revision today. Crazy.
The girl turns her head, as if searching for something. The sea from his dreams splashes all around her, and the white sands creaks beneath the rough bottoms of fishing boats that are being pushed out on the shore, and the birds screech overhead, and the smell of noodles and waterplants cloys the air. Japan is hiding beneath the stairs in the form of a girl.
K walks up to her.
The rippled illusion shivers all around her as she turns to face him.
"I got your new picture. Looks more like me every time."
She chuckles quietly. "Training."
He spins round and treads the crunching sand, laughing at the top of his voice. The invisible sun spills its light on him through the ceiling of the Agency building.
The amazing flying fish loves the feeling of wind caressing its scales. It flits away into the scarlet sunset, the crown on its head slightly askew, and the amazing flying tape recorder that rides the cloud next to it belches out a song:
'Shima uta yo kaze ni nori tori to tomo ni umi wo watare…'
April 22–24, 2009