Reality is infinite. Life is finite. I've always wondered which is more frightening, the infinite or the finite—the overwhelming amount of things there are to experience, or the fact that you cannot experience them all during your lifetime. Both are horrifying notions once you truly begin to open your mind to them. They are inescapable traps of truth.
However, a logic can be used to soothe the existential pains. If reality is infinite and life is finite, simply live your life without boundaries and take in as much as you can. Never fall into the safety net of the redundant, the mundane, the predictable. Mankind has done this for thousands of years, and have grown stagnant and pale as a result—with no boundaries left to push, they have given up the joy of exploration.
A polite man I met once taught me this, and even if his philosophies did not wholly match mine, I believe in the ideal of life inside reality, reality inside life. It is a teaching that led me away from my stagnant clan's roots, into my new beloved family, and ultimately will lead me to my end. Which is just and proper, in the way of things.
death is as meaningless as
the spark of life,
and both are things of great import.
neither can be taken lightly
and both are as intangible as the air.
he has instructed me thus.
my quest is a fool's errand
which will end poorly.
but it must be done, if his life was to have any meaning.
Fresh air snapped into existence the moment the Engine soft-booted.
Kisei took in a deep lungful of that air... and regretted it immediately. Even if the Engine was no longer in Suspend mode, the air had slowly grown stagnant and horrid over the years. Hadn't the dolls maintained cleaning duties, as she programmed them to? Perhaps they had broken down? On top of everything else, she did not need that hassle... but it was minor in comparison.
Pushing open the wooden gates to the compound, she walked onto the soft grasses she hadn't tread upon in years. The feel of them beneath her soft boots was familiar to the point of sweeping her focus away with nostalgia. Nostalgia was irrelevant, of course, but she allowed herself one moment of reflection...
Home. The secluded, privately owned reality of Tachibana.
Nipponese in style, if not actually attached to the reality of Nippon. The compound, which was all this reality consisted of, was surrounded by a high wooden wall; not that intruders would be repelled by it, not that any world really existed beyond the wall, but such things were traditional. Stepping stones formed a zigzag pattern, also traditional to ward off demons who could only move in straight lines... twisted paths to buildings of the compound, to the koi pond, the fountain. The familiar tock of the wooden fountain filling, emptying against a rock with a clack, filling again...
She was not here to appreciate the scenery. She had an long-standing errand to complete. Doing her best to filter out all the things that called to her, she followed the stones left-right-left, and entered the main building.
The day I came to my realization (infinite reality, finite life) was a day like any other. Which goes a great distance towards explaining how the realization formed... a day like any other. Every day the same. Every mission the same, every victory a repeat, every failure falling flat onto ground covered many times before.
Our clan had operated for thousands of years, since the ancient days lost in the mists of time. And why not lose them, when the years slid by with little to no change? The clan's mission was always the same; maintain the family, serve our clients with secrecy and skill, achieve the goals set before us. Every task, every kill, every service rendered supported the clan's solidity as the finest ninja clan that ever lived.
I say "ninja" even if the meaning of the term has fallen by the wayside. It is an ancient word, and one which has many conflicting meanings; the clan was simply the clan, as things had boiled down to the simplest, easiest formula possible. We move in darkness, we exist in secret, we kill with supreme efficiency. To do otherwise is to bring shame on the clan.
But I digress. Which is not a bad thing, as digressions allow one to explore life, but I would not want to stray too far from my original point.
I was on a mission (same as any other) which took me to a back alley of Nippon. My target had fallen to a dart with ease, and perhaps I was overconfident as I removed my mask in order to enjoy the cool rain of the evening upon my face. As I tossed a tab of genetic erasure chemical onto the body to burn it away, I looked about the alley... and saw that I had been spotted.
Witnesses, of course, are not allowed. Such a failure is to bring shame on the clan, as has been dictated in the rules handed down from generation to generation and so on. The boy would have to die.
Perhaps it was the cool rain which had put me in such a wondrous mood, or the oddly innocent look of the boy... he was a bystander, simply on his way from one place to another when he looked at the wrong thing at the wrong time. The rules said he had to die. The rules said a great many things... but why? I pondered that, as he stared. It wasn't so much a moral compunction against killing him; that sort of ethical crisis would have impaired me on many missions previous if I felt that way. It simply didn't seem fair to rob the young man of his chance to enjoy life.
"Hello there," I called to him in his native language, without malice. "A lovely evening, yes? Hmm. You're wondering what the pile of chemical components behind me was, aren't you?"
"N-No," he said, realizing he was caught seeing something he shouldn't. Children are trained to understand adult displeasure, even when masked (which I was doing).
What I was about to do was against the rules, established for thousands of years, nailing us down to a pattern of life which had worked time and time again. There was no reason to stray from the path... except to truly stray. Which I felt perhaps it was time to do.
"My name is Tachi, and I'm an assassin," I told him. "What's your name, young man?"
"M-My name is Ryo," he replied. "Ryo Noyori."
And that is how I met the one who would help me found my new clan.
There was resistance, of course.
"It's your prerogative to not tell me why," Meiko had spoke, through on her finest business voice. "As per your contract, no questions will be officially asked..."
"I appreciate your professionalism in this manner," Kisei had replied.
"...but unofficially, I really want to know why, Kisei. This is so sudden, I mean... why do you want to leave? I know it's not exactly the most exciting work in the world for someone with your training, but I didn't think you were unhappy with it. Or is it something else? I can shuffle your duties to something you like more, if that's what you need..."
"I am appreciative of the work, and satisfied by it. However, I'm afraid I am not at liberty to discuss the matter. As my contract stated, as we agreed to the day you hired me, I have the right to terminate services with twenty-four hours' notice, no questions asked. Please take no offense to my silence on the matter; it would be best if you are unaware of my reasons for this action."
"That's pretty damn ominous, Kisei."
"I apologize for the dramatic overtones, but that is the truth of the matter."
In order to pass the twenty-four hours without further questioning, she retired to her room, locked all six (previously seven) locks and meditated in silence. As good a way to pass the time as any, and free of irrelevant distractions.
There was knocking on the door, of course.
First Lorelei, who was mildly upset upon hearing the news. Kisei had suspected for a long time that Lorelei had a respect for her, perhaps even a friendly level of respect—an attachment Kisei did not need or want, as it was distracting, but one she tolerated... and perhaps encouraged, from time to time, when her discipline slackened.
Next to knock on her door was Mallory, with the dinner she had not eaten. She turned him away with her silence, and thankfully he did not break down her door as he had done twice previous. His voice had tones of worry which she forced herself to ignore.
Once the time period was up, she slipped out under cover of darkness, leaving all her material things behind... all of them, even her book. They didn't matter now. An anonymous taxi (not Mellow Fellow's) delivered her from the House, to Tachibana. To her original home.
Her original home was in a hideous state of disrepair.
Even in the sealed environment of personal reality, even with the Reality Engine in a Suspend mode, the dust had settled thick on every surface. Wooden floors were nearly slippery with it. The grass outside was still green, but a dark and sickly green. The plumbing had gone; she would not be able to shower, which was fine, as she did not need to clean herself for the errand.
This wasn't in her plans. She was hoping that the dolls would have been able to keep the place in decent repair; such shabby surroundings were distasteful. They would suffice, however, which was all that mattered. The presentation of her family home was not important.
sakura in full bloom, spring's
rise to power.
a picnic on the open grass, as is traditional.
a pick-and-choose approach
that is his way, which is not always mine.
My realization was thus:
The traditions I had followed all my life were stale. They were established in an age long past, a age that never ended and continued to this day. Such an age was a shabby thing, when you saw the infinite possibility that reality brought to us. I had to break away from the cycle and begin to establish myself. To establish my own reality.
Quite literally, too. I left my clan silently and with misleading traces, using all the skills they had taught me. I faked my own death with great care to prevent anyone following me as I left the nest. That was step one.
Step two was to purchase a Reality Engine. RealWare is quite understanding when it comes to discreet reality purchases; small-scale, customizable Reality Engines complete with unlogged repair services were available for the right price. I had taken my life savings with me (money which had no use in my old life, and gathered like dust does in an old house) and it was more than enough to establish Tachibana, designed to my own sensibilities.
The third step would be trickier. I wanted to establish my own clan, but a clan of one was simply silly. I would need others, but hiring muscle was unthinkable. I needed ones who could maintain my ideals, who shared my vision for independence, beauty, and truth in reality... or at least could work without any conflicts with those ideals.
It was Ryo who solved the puzzle for me. I had kept in touch with the boy—formally in order to ensure his silence on the matter of the witnessed act, but by this point we both understood how our friendship worked. The threat of violence was hollow and fake, a simple tool to explain why we continued to communicate with each other... but I digress again.
He was still a young boy, with only the simple education an orphanage could provide to guide him, but he was ambitious. He shared my ideal—he had plans to strike out on his own one day, to establish science that would benefit mankind. And one of his initial ideas proved to be just what I needed.
"The Knowledge Base would be designed by you," he explained, during the meeting I had arranged one quiet summer night. "They would have the capacity needed to run missions, do housework, take care of any routine need you have. They won't be sentient, though; even Love and Hate hasn't gotten that far yet, and other systems like Oscar are pretty primitive. But they'll do what you need them to do, and they'll do until we think of something better!"
He was still iffy on the morality of my work, of course. He made this very clear to me. However, I think he learned to accept my chosen profession because I had splintered away from the mindless sort of death that dominated my early days. I would establish my own code of conduct, my own integrity bred from the best of the Hagakure, from my old clan's patterns, and from new and wild philosophies I had yet to dream of. And through that, I could become more than a simple force of death...
Even if my initial tools were little more than simple dolls of death.
Kisei opened an access panel on the back of the doll's neck, and flicked the off switch. It ceased its mindless dusting, which had already stripped the hallway wall down to the bare brick.
These faceless dolls had gotten stuck somewhere along the way. She had programmed them to run basic housekeeping routines, but the AI had locked into a loop at one point or another... causing the robots to perform the same tasks over and over while neglecting the rest of the program. The end result? A poorly kept home.
The dolls were almost ready to fall apart, as well. The kimonos they wore on their flawlessly white near-parody human forms were ragged and torn. The black wigs, complete with tight buns behind the head, had gotten lopsided and frayed. "Limb dropsie" as they had affectionately termed it struck hard; the old metal joints, well worn after countless missions in the field, had given way and left a few stray arms lying around the house...
Kisei moved from room to room, deactivating any dolls she found. They had done their best, and for that she was appreciative, but perhaps it was time to give them their final rest as well.
they move with a pure mathematical
the motions of the tea ceremony performed in precision.
but eventually the chaos
of life sets in,
and one trips over a discarded teacup.
it flails a bit on the ground, tea powder settling on its frame like green snow.
my first smile arose from such antics.
And so, my 'independent contractor' status was firmly established, my 'ninja clan member' status left in the shadows of the past. The dolls killed with great efficiency, and if ever one was lost in the field, it would self-destruct—erasing all traces of its existence. A digital form of seppuku, I suppose, a death with little real meaning given how easy it was to create a new doll. All I required was the basic shell—and I had dozens of empty dolls available—and the Knowledge Base that my friend Ryo had developed. Plug one into the other, and you have a unit suitable for combat...
However, I knew that this would not do in the long run. To have such meaningless weapons was to fall into the patterns of my previous clan. Disposable things... lives and deaths with no consequence, no purpose. I understood that when I asked for Ryo's aid, I knew this would be a stop-gap measure. My final concept was of far more import... but would take time to research, time to perfect...
For this, Ryo could not aid me—he was aiming towards the steel-structured electronic lands of reality engineering, robotics, machines. The dolls. I wanted the only thing truly suitable for the task of taking a life—a living human being.
Thus, I created a daughter.
On the day of her activation (which I declared to be her birth date) she was twelve years in appearance, healthy and strong. In her mind was an organic flash copy of the Knowledge Base that powered the dolls, through a process I developed myself using modified techniques from Ryo's original procedures. When her eyes first opened, she understood the many techniques of taking life and preserving one's own life.
Her first words were, much like the dolls, "State unit designation."
This I had put much thought to.
"Your name is Kisei," I informed her.
"Unit designation input type: numerical only," she replied, her voice a flat monotone. The only tone she knew at the time.
"Yes, well, this is where you separate yourself from the mechanical dolls," I explained. "You will find that if you try to store your designation, despite being non-numerical, it will fit nicely. In fact, you should be able to make your own decisions beyond a pure reactionary level in combat... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Your kimono is over there; clothe, and let's begin. There's so much to do..."
"Define designation," she requested.
Much to my surprise. "Define?" I asked her, delighted that she had taken such action without prompting. Already proving her life force above and beyond the dolls...
"The word 'Kisei' has multiple definitions," she informed, in response to the lilting tone of my words, the questioning tone. "Similar phonics and spellings with variations of meaning. It can mean a vow, an oath or pledge. It can mean a homecoming. It can be something which is rare, or uncommon. It can mean a master player in the game of shogi. It can be the realization of an objective. Or it can mean 'Death'."
"I see, I see. Yes, it is a very ambiguous word; many spellings, many meanings," I said, smiling all the while. "Which definition do you think I intend for you? Guess."
It was a test, of course. A free association test. Which would she favor...?
It took her a half minute to decide.
"I am death," she decided.
"Hmmm, yes, as you said, that's one meaning," I spoke, folding my hands into the sleeves of my kimono. "If you choose to see yourself that way, it's your right. I myself would say... you are represented by all the things you listed."
"I will redefine meaning to map to all meanings," she replied automatically.
"No no, that's not a direct order. You think of yourself however you wish to. It's your right as a living person, Kisei... but, I suppose these are things you'll have to adjust to in time. And we do have time. We have all our lives, until our deaths, to enjoy what life has to offer. Come along. There's much to do."
She didn't have to be here, doing this. The presentation of the house was unimportant. Old duties called to her to straighten out... straighten out her affairs. It was only proper, even if it made no sense to the soldier inside her.
This particular part of her task was the least pleasant. His room had been untouched for longer than any other room in the house, and going back in... should not hurt, not technically. Such things were only illusions. Still, her hand stayed on the slider handle for some time, before moving the paper and wood panel aside...
His room. Spartan, of course, but Spartan with elegance. Unlike her room back at the House, it was decorated. There were flowers (long since dead) in vases, a few statues and other objects of art... and on the back wall, three scrolls which held words of wisdom. These were not the only words he followed, but certainly important ones to him...
To the left, the very core of the Hagakure.
Elegant brushstrokes, hand-made ink and paper. Ancient, but not yellowed or fading, simply proud and strong as it hung on the wall.
In the middle, a saying from his former clan.
His clan had many such sayings. He felt that this was the simplest of them, with the least melodrama attached. It was machine-printed on recycled paper, not bothering to maintain the classic look of brushed strokes.
To the right, a vertical banner advertisement peeled off a building in Nippon, but printed in poorly spelled foreign words.
'With' what always posed a mystery to Kisei, as the ad pitch had been torn off at that point. He told her it didn't matter what it was 'with,' or rather, one should embrace and ingest joy 'with' everything and nothing in general.
These banners weren't what stayed her hand on the door.
The journal was. It was his journal, with his thoughts and feelings poured out on paper in neat handwriting—but that wasn't the problem. She had left a bookmark in it, a bookmark she swore she would read again on the day of her homecoming. Again, this was an illusory thing which was secondary to her errand... but a promise was a promise. And it would remind her of why she had returned.
She bowed once as a sign of respect to the room in general, much as she would the family dojo, then silently padded over to the work table. The dolls at least had kept it dusted, the book free from rot which would have eaten at the paper...
Perhaps to delay the inevitable, opened it to a random page near her bookmark, and began to read. The bookmark itself would come in time.
I was expecting an uphill battle with Kisei, and she did not disappoint.
I spent one month testing and refining her combat skills. 'Out of the box' she was skilled in various techniques of killing, stealth, combat tactics, target evaluation, and so on. The Knowledge Base saw to that; initially she was little more than one of my dolls which happened to be made of flesh... and capable of more structured speech and comprehension than the limited input/output voices of the dolls.
One day, I decided to present her with the greatest challenge she had yet to face. She stared at my gift with the dull look of incomprehension the dolls would have when presented with data outside their boundaries.
"What do you see in your hands, Kisei?" I asked her.
"It is a book," she described. "The cover is pink. It has a rudimentary latching mechanism which provides an inadequate level of security. The pages inside the book are blank, and made of recycled paper."
"Correct in all respects. I give this book to you with the express desire that you fill its pages."
"What do you wish for me to write inside this book, Father?"
(Getting her to refer to me as 'father' was a trivial task, as her mind simply mapped the word onto my image. Getting her to understand the concept of 'father' and all the emotional implications would have to come later.)
"Poetry. I want you to write poetry in your new book," I explained to her. "You can study the various poetry books and scrolls I have in the library if you want to understand the basic structures, but this exercise will refine your creativity. Write poetry about anything you feel—your happiness, your sadness. Write about what you see around you—poetry of beauty, poetry of horror, and perhaps the most delicate balance the art can reach for... poetry of war."
"Yes?" I asked, knowing what the question would be.
"This activity is irrelevant. Why have you assigned the task to me, when time can be more efficiently spent training and developing new combat techniques?"
"Hmmm. You know, I had been waiting for this query, but I hadn't settled on a single answer to give you. I shall improvise. Kisei, what is death?"
"The cessation of biological life processes."
"True, but there is a great deal of philosophy behind it as well. Meaning, Kisei. Death has meaning, despite being meaningless. It's an issue wrought with paradoxes and confusion, and that's quite normal and suitable. I'd like you to read my philosophy books as well; you have plenty of time to do this alongside your normal training. And alongside the new training we'll be undertaking... training in painting and song, as well as physical activities like dancing and games. Have I told you about Ping Pong yet?"
Kisei still didn't quite understand, looking from her new book to me and back and forth. "Are these things relevant, Father?"
"If you are going to take life, you have to understand every aspect of the act, including ones that will seem irrelevant at first," I explained. "Now, come along. We have so much to do... an infinite amount of things, to be honest..."
"Achieving an infinite amount of goals is impossible."
"Ah," I said. "Now we're getting somewhere."
see my first poem.
it is in haiku style.
father will approve.
It is the end of the year, and I am evaluating Kisei's progress.
As predicted, it was an uphill battle, and one which is still not complete. It took a great deal of exposure to art, culture and philosophy before she started making evaluations based on aesthetics and opinion. These are things humans are capable of, and as she was not a simple robotic doll, she simply had to 'discover' the capability within her.
She did not awake to true sentience on a single day. There was not a single moment of realization, at least, none I am aware of; instead, I simply observed her gradual change. Usually when she actively disagreed with me on something. Perhaps she was simply trying to hide her new feelings, to avoid appearing strange to her father?
A good example came when we were having a picnic during the first day of spring. The Sakura blossoms planted throughout Tachibana had emerged, with pink petals swirling in the air... a breathtakingly beautiful sight, one I had designed to be thus.
Perhaps the atmosphere of quiet contemplation is what made her speak up, speak out of turn. She had been crafting a poem—she was writing one a day at that point, simple things, but gradually growing more complex and beautiful as the days went by—when she looked up, at the trees, then at me.
"Why are your views so fractured, Father?" she asked.
It threw me a moment—the pleasure at such a strange question, that is. "Oh? Why do you say they are fractured?"
"You do not adhere to one particular way," Kisei spoke. "The Hagakure teaches: It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the way of the samurai. It is the same for anything else which is called 'a way'. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways, and be more and more in accord with his own."
"I see. And how do you interpret that?"
"It is a simple statement: there is nothing outside of the way of the samurai, the teachings of the Hagakure," she explained. "Therefore other philosophes are not required. All that is required is the way—indivisible and whole. But you pick and choose from many philosophies, including the way, to craft your own way..."
"And that's why it works, Kisei. It is a way. It is simply... my way, I suppose," I replied. "I have inspected other ways, including the Hagakure. The way of my old clan, as well. I swirled them all into my way, which makes my way whole and unique, and I require nothing outside it. And besides... have you ever considered that the Hagakure could be incorrect?"
"Incorrect?" she asked, allowing some of her newly formed emotion to creep into the word—disgust. "It is the way, yes?"
"I hate to use a cliché, but... if the way told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?"
"If honor demanded I take my life, yes."
I sighed, shaking my head. "Kisei... you have to make your own decisions. You must be true to your own sense of integrity, not blindly adhering to the words printed thousands of years ago. Sometimes they are not applicable to here, not applicable to now. Not applicable to you. And it is up to you to decide when they do apply—you could agree with them, yes, but it the agreement must be a decision, not a default. Do you understand?"
Kisei took some time to think through the puzzles I had presented her with, which was well and good. They were paradoxes that one could grapple with for a lifetime.
"I understand," she said at last, even if the words were not 100% firm.
"This also means I might decide your way is not applicable to me," she warned, much to my surprise... and joy.
"Ah," I said. "Now we are getting somewhere."
She wrote a poem on the spot. I read it over her shoulder, and approved very much.
To willingly question her maker... that was all the proof I needed. She was now truly alive, truly my daughter. I had achieved the final realization of my dream. My lovely, wonderful dream... Kisei.
There were two kinds of pain. One involved a trauma to the flesh of a person, and would heal given the proper conditions and precautions.
The other kind, the kind Kisei felt so very rarely, did not heal so easily. And reading a journal entry like that simply pulled open old wounds...
The bookmark. No distractions. No irrelevancies. Get on with it.
She flipped past a number of pages... to a simple white page, torn from her own pink poetry book and stuck between Tachi's pages at a right angle. The page did not have poetry on it. In the spirit of his writings, it was simply... what happened, and how she felt about it. The only time she ever wrote in that style, words that hurt too much to press against her beautiful poems, words she had to tear out and leave behind, just like she left her poems behind at the Mirai home, casting them off, so she could...
READ, her mind blared at her, trying to work around the swirling thoughts that distracted her. And she read.
It is my fault.
It was a week in which we had no assignments. I was painting a portrait of some flowers. I was focusing on my art, as he wanted me to try to express how the flowers made me feel without using accurate colors. It was a training exercise, he said, because he knows I feel better when it is a training exercise instead of wasted time.
But I was not seeing it as wasted time. I had begun to enjoy the sideline activities that he suggested I do. I was beginning to do them unbidden. It started with writing my poems and then moved on to writing song, creating paintings, and crafting models. Each time it made him smile and
I was painting flowers and thinking of what other things I would do that day and not thinking of
He entered the room and I turned to greet him using the smile I had been practicing and he smiled at me and IT IS MY FAULT
The dart struck perfectly, embedding its tip into a major artery on his neck. Based on my previous experience using similar techniques I can state with firm belief that he was dead before he hit the floor.
The assassin had been hiding in the family art studio for approximately two hours and I had never seen her, as I was thinking more about the painting than I was about proper compound defenses and my alertness to potential dangers.
I immediately attacked the hidden assassin, drawing her out of the shadows of the room and incapacitating her using my paintbrush. I demanded to know why she had done this and who had hired her.
She bit down on a capsule in her mouth and died with foam pouring out of her lips and onto my hands before I could locate an antidote and administer it, taking the information with her to the grave.
I believe that the reason I sat still in the room without taking action after that point was due to a form of emotional shock which I am ashamed I was afflicted with. I also was afflicted with a great deal of crying. When it passed my mind was working properly and could assess the situation in proper detail.
I could not blame the assassin. If I had been keeping alert and ready for combat this wouldn't have happened; that is where blame lies. The assassin was simply a tool of death. She was a tool much like I was a tool, a professional, hired by a client. Her methods were sound and flawless, right up to claiming her own life rather than reveal her client's name, rather than dishonor herself.
I could not help but admire her dedication. The sheer elegance of that death was a level I could only hope to achieve. And because I did not achieve it, he was dead.
With the help of the dolls, I buried Tachi and the assassin in back to back graves behind the compound. It felt proper.
Then I instructed them to dig one for myself off to the side, for later use.
I will become Ronin. I will track down the client who ordered my father's death. I will take revenge. I will then return home, and reclaim my honor after today's horrible failure with my life. I insert this page as the final page in his journal to be a reminder of my errand, my task, my final important duty.
She closed the book of his life, much as her own would close soon.
The journey had taken far longer than she ever had anticipated. The investigation into who purchased death for Tachi was an endless series of red herrings, dead ends, false leads. She had lived in Antiparadisia for a year and a half, fighting for her own life and taking odd jobs through her father's supplier, Duke of Duke's Munitions... all while investigating. The investigation to nowhere.
His old clan was not responsible. They had a myriad of their own problems to deal with, and were not imaginative enough to wait as long as they did to give him some happiness before ending it all. They would not have hired outside help, either; the assassin had no identifying styles or characteristics that fit their teachings, and Tachi often noted that their teachings hadn't changed in centuries.
Ryo Noyori was not responsible. Kisei had investigated him thoroughly upon reading about the witness-incident in Tachi's journal. He was under a death threat, and never fully approved of her father's work, but nothing in his character suggested he would do this—especially after contributing to the dolls and Kisei's own creation.
No new leads turned up. All previous leads closed off. The errand was looking hopeless, and the fight to survive day to day had become her primary mission. When a classified ad appeared seeking a tactical expert for live-in Transient-style consulting, she took the ad immediately. In her contract, she stated she must be able to leave with twenty-four hours' notice, no questions asked. That way, if her continuing investigation—now given a Reality Engine's legs—turned up the culprit, she could leave immediately to take her final revenge...
And throughout her tenure with Mirai Consulting, nothing turned up. Nothing at all.
A routine thing, taking Mellow Fellow's taxi to Arboria. She had to resupply her MRE ration stocks. While Mallory Heisenberg's cooking was more than adequate (and had she not turned her back on her childhood foolishness, she would say it was highly enjoyable) she wanted the ability to eat in her room and meditate without the awkwardness of interacting with others...
"I don't want to get your hopes up," Duke began while ringing up the sale. "But I think I found the guy who had Tachi whacked."
Having experienced exactly 739 false leads to date, Kisei did not get her hopes up, nor would she have shown hope. She simply asked what proof he had. And he had proof.
There, in a video file taken from the hidden camera that recorded all customers who came and left, was a RealWare business executive picking up some mainstream military otaku magazines. And bragging about a new hovertank he had bought after his stock split. Bragging about how he got to a job that pays fifty times more than Duke would ever see in his lifetime by 'Alternative Means'.
Like hiring assassins.
"Really?" Duke had asked, keeping the conversation going. "Ever meet an indie worker from Tachibana? Some great services from that place before they shut down..."
"Tell me about it. Tachi and his robots did the best work I'd ever seen. Shame I had to shut them down the hard way, but hey, business is business," the executive added, with an irritatingly smug look. "Keep that in mind if you ever think of letting these words out of this room."
He was the one.
Kisei's mind pulled back to the present. To the piece of paper in her father's book... and the piece of paper in her hands. The home address of Tachi's true killer.
Enough reading. Enough housekeeping. The errand was now all.
Kisei gave the room a final bow, and then marched down the hall to the weapons cache. It was sealed with a custom reality envelope, coded to a key only she knew—her birthday.
Inside were knives. Guns. Rifles. Ammo. Bombs. Even large vehicles of war...
But she picked a knife, and only a knife. Perhaps her traditional sniper rifle would be a more appropriate weapon—clean and perfect, like the dart that began her duty. But a knife would be more poetic, and she could allow herself the shame of inefficient, emotion-fuelled killing this one last time.
blood from the neck, via
a left to right stroke
has an intense power behind it. the heartbeat of life.
the heart desperately wishes
to keep beating,
and thus forces the blood out of the body,
producing an opposing result than intended.
in this way, we are all sad
there is a negative form of beauty in that truth.
In order to travel from reality to reality, one needs an engine-equipped building. A taxi hut, public bus, a small house, a mobile hotel room, an office block... whatever is most appropriate to your pocketbook and your needs. Then there are issues of passport processing, docking, clearance, ongoing dock fees, various inter-reality treaties regarding traffic and commerce, and so on, and so forth. You don't go from A to Z without hitting B through Y.
Unless you have an illegal, unlicensed stealth insertion pod with a Micro-Engine (pirated from RealWare's technology labs) that can slip undetected past even the strongest Reality Engine locking and docking mechanisms. Which Kisei did. It was parked next to the koi pond.
It took her a half hour to corroborate the address given to her with the known maps of the miscreant's home reality, and another half hour to find a good landing spot where she would not be noticed (a broom closet on the tenth floor of the apartment building). Actual travel was instantaneous.
Seventeen alarm systems were tripped by her arrival, and then immediately silenced by the jamming mechanisms inside the pod. Kisei was a bit surprised; considering she was about to break into a heavily secured housing compound deep in the heart of RealWare itself, she was predicting a minimum of twenty alarm systems.
Reality Prime was by far the toughest place to crack for someone of her profession. Given the sheer amount of enemies RealWare had drawn (usually known as 'customers') they spared no expense to keep their home reality under 25,914,192 locks-and-keys. Since RealWare was the richest corporate entity in the multiverse by at least four significant figures, that meant an exceptionally large budget for exceptionally good security...
Fortunately, Kisei was exceptionally good at slipping around exceptionally good security.
Besides, failure was not an option; a death at the hands of RealWare's private security forces would be the least honorable end she could meet. She would not fail him twice.
She wore her traditional uniform and cape, but had her hair nicely tucked away and re-colored, and a face mask of black cloth she could see through as if it were glass. Not that it mattered if anyone saw her face—other than getting away clean in order to truly finish her errand, she didn't care about long-term consequences. Still, she was not trained to be sloppy, and the mask was a matter of honor rather than prudence.
Time to go to work.
Kisei slipped from her pod, closing the hatch behind herself. She would not use the door; instead, she opened a rectangular hole in the outer wall with a handheld cutter. She took care not to cut any electrical systems; anything from a blackout to a tiny glitch would be detectable.
Pulling herself through the hole she had made exactly large enough to slip through, she began to scale the side of the building using adhesive gloves. Tools of the trade, nothing special there. Her cloak helped her blend into the side of the building; the night-time sky would help as well, with the moon (a great shining RealWare logo) on the other side of the building and casting her side in shadow. Kisei climbed six floors, careful to avoid any windows... and stopped in front of her target's home apartment.
The window glass was melted away, which was safer and quieter than cutting. Silently, Kisei slipped into the darkened apartment... then scaled a nearby wall, crawling along the ceiling. Just like the assassin who claimed Tachi did, waiting above eye level, waiting for the right moment to strike with infinite patience...
Twenty-four and a half minutes. Nothing unusual about that. She would only worry if it took him a half hour longer than the estimated arrival time.
At twenty-nine minutes and sixteen seconds, the target was acquired. In the front door, keys tossed on an end table, door closed, heading to the wet bar for a little post-overtime martini...
Kisei dropped from the ceiling like a snowflake, and tackled him to the floor with an immobilizing pin with a minimum of fuss. The blade was held to his neck immediately after, and...
For years, she argued with herself whether or not she would ask this. It was risky to take any 'extra' actions other than the bare minimum needed to get the job done. Of course, if she followed that doctrine, she'd have sniped him from a mile away and been done with it...
"Why?" she hissed, behind her dark mask. Why had this cutthroat businessman, this heartless man, her enemy, the one she had been hunting for years, the one she swore to kill, the one who had to die, the dark shadow who laughed in her nightmares and mocked her inadequacies, the—
—the one who had apparently urinated in his pants, judging from the trickling sound on the carpet and the warm feeling against Kisei's leg. And was now sweating profusely and whimpering...
The crystal drama she had built in her mind ever since that day started to gather fractal imperfections. Little cracks that got bigger...
"P-P-Please, don't...!" he whined in a surprisingly high-pitched voice. "Pleasepleaseplease—"
"WHY?" she hissed, trying to get back on track. "You ordered the assassination of the one known as Tachi, years ago. Why did you do it? Tell me! I have to know!"
She drew a tiny red line on his neck, a hint of her frustration.
"I-It was cheaper!!" he blurted out.
She had her answer, he could die now. ...except that the answer wasn't particularly satisfying. Or comprehensible.
"'Cheaper'?" she asked, egging him on.
"I, I, I hired him to kill my boss years ago...!" the man began, fear giving his voice just enough strength to continue. "But, but I couldn't pay him, and he said okay, I could pay later, but I still couldn't pay, and he kept reminding me, and I was worried he'd come for me, and I found some young girl who was just starting out, and she was cheaper to hire than it would be to pay his bill so I had her kill him so I'd be okay and that's all and that's it I swear please don't kill me! I'm just middle management and I didn't even get my boss's job like I thought I would and I feel horrible about the whole thing and it's been gnawing away at me for years and oh god I know I deserve this but please please pleasepleaseplease—"
With a howl of frustration, Kisei raised her knife, and plunged it downward...
Into the floor.
"Pathetic," she summarized, keeping him pinned. "A complete waste, an honorless dog! This is what I have been hunting?!"
"R-Right, I'm nothing!" he agreed, hoping this meant he'd live. "I'm nothing at all! It's not worth killing me! I—"
A hand clamped over his mouth, so Kisei could concentrate in peace.
It didn't matter why, she thought. He did it. He had to die. This was what she was seeking for years, and he had to pay, even if he was a weasel rather than a fox. Honor demanded it, right?
But now whatever grand dream Kisei had been harboring of taking down the monster who was responsible for her pain had fluttered away, as dreams often do upon waking. All she was left with was a scrawny waste of oxygen, wracked with guilt, and smelling like a lavatory. Killing it might be kind.
Kisei pulled her knife from the floor.
"Not tonight," she decided.
"Oh, thank you thank—"
"A Wednesday," she decided. "It will be a Wednesday. Perhaps next Wednesday, or a Wednesday twenty years from now. Perhaps me, perhaps someone I simply select to take care of things for me. I will allow you more time to reflect on the wrongs you have committed, so that your soul is prepared before your life is ended. Is that not fair?"
"And if you seek me out, hoping to avoid your fate... be careful what you seek, because I will find you first," she stated. "Have a good life."
In the span of two blinks, she was gone.
RealWare Private Security kicked the door open two blinks later.
"Clear!" men with guns shouted, as they stormed into the room, responding to the 18th alarm Kisei had not nullified. Not that it mattered now... she was gone, leaving behind only a cockroach squirming with fear over the concept of a life spent dreading one day a week...
A young man swept into the room behind the forces, glancing around. "I suppose it's too much to hope that you got a good look at the intruder?" he asked, absolutely calm.
The enemy of Tachi babbled quietly to himself. "W... Wed... weds..."
He could have probably tracked down the intruder, the head of security thought. But to do that would be to reveal his unique talents right in the middle of his home reality... which could have implications.
And really, it didn't matter to him. He had larger concerns. Multiverse-large ones.
"Good work, boys," Multi proclaimed, patting a man-with-gun on the shoulder. "I'll write up the report saying we successfully chased off the criminal before any damage was done. You'll receive a stock bonus."
darkness falls, day to night.
moonlight spills on the koi pond.
every sunbeam long since dead.
the light which emerges the
next morning is not rebirth,
it is replacement.
to believe otherwise is wishful thinking.
It would have been
It would have been
The vengeful daughter, taking the life of the one who wronged her family. A masterful battle against a mysterious foe... except that it wasn't perfect. It was flawed. She couldn't bring herself to do it, not out of weakness, but out of disgust. Just as she did not truly hate the assassin, she could not truly hate the weak man who put the wheels in motion. He had sinned, he had wronged her, but what was he? A nothing. A mistake. Meaningless to her pain. She wouldn't even seek him out on a Wednesday as promised; the threat alone would give the man a lifetime of paranoia, night terrors and suffering beyond the swift release of death...
So what was this, then? She had gone through the motions for the end of her errand. The killing was... done, as it were; now she was to take her own life in the rite of Seppuku, as bushido demanded... the ritual must be obeyed. It was the Way.
All the ritualistic components were ready. She wore a white kimono, the color of death and purity. She had prepared a wooden tray with the proper items: A cup of sake (to be downed in two mouthfuls, the proper amount to show respect and contemplation). A tanto knife, made for one purpose and one purpose only. And finally, a piece of paper, with ink and brush, to compose the traditional poem of one's own death...
And none of it felt right. Not that this would stop her. She had come too far, dedicated herself too strongly to this cause to stop now. Any wrongness she felt was likely due to the dishonor of not following through on her goals. Yes, that had to be it. The sooner she proceeded, the sooner she could have the relief of her end to quell this awkward, ill-fitting life...
She raised the cup to her lips. For her father, one swallow. For herself, another. Then the poem, then the knife. Poem first. Brush dipped in ink, paper ready. To write on. A poem. She had to write one.
It was not a good time to have writer's block.
Poetry came so easily to her in the past. See a thing, and the words rise unbidden. Why would this be so difficult? Her brush hovered over the paper, three black drops falling to it, but no words falling with them. Perhaps she should have composed ahead of... no, it had to be composed at the time of the ritual. It was to encapsulate the last moments of one's life.
Normally such poems of death came in waka style, thirty-one syllables, five lines, 5-7-5-7-7-7... but all she could think of, the only words that felt true to her at that moment in time, were
at least it is over now.
Pushing through, she let the brush drop from one hand while taking up the knife with the other. She undid the belt of her kimono, letting it hang open, and took firmer grip of the tanto's handle. Placing it where it was supposed to go. Where all the precepts and teachings from ancient books told her it was supposed to go.
Right and wrong did not matter. Only the way. Only what she had been taught. It had to be. She had to do it. Any moment now. She would do it. It would be so. She would reclaim her honor this way. That's how it was supposed to work.
NOW, her mind blared at her, as she pressed the knife in
pulled away by another pair of hands.
"Hey, HEY, whoa, WHOAWHOAHWHOA—" he babbled, trying to pull the knife from her—and succeeding, as she let go in surprise. He fell backwards, nearly impaling himself, face white as a sheet.
The ancient ways said nothing about what to do in this situation, leaving Kisei a bit... puzzled.
"You gotta be more careful than that when using knives, you know!" Mallory Heisenberg exclaimed, setting the knife back down on the tray. "Take it from a guy who nearly lopped off all his fingers making noodles... what're you doing out here, anyway, having a picnic? I called and I called from the front gate but nobody answered so I let myself in, and AHH I'm sorry I didn't know your shirt was open I saw nothing I SWEAR—"
"What... WHAT are you doing here?" Kisei asked, too shocked to really be properly angry.
"St... stuff!" Mallory exclaimed, getting back to his feet... and grabbing the cardboard box he had dropped off the ground. "Your stuff! You left a bunch of stuff behind at the house. ...and locked the door behind you, which is why we couldn't get it here sooner, we had to break in, and you didn't leave a forwarding address so we had to check with Ryo, and Meiko was kinda busy meeting with a new potential client so she sent me over here in a taxi to get you your stuff back and, um, well, here it is. In this box. Right here."
...this is still salvageable, Kisei decided, mind racing to cope with this awkwardness. "Yes. Right. Thank you, Mallory Heisenberg. You may go now."
"Right, right. So. Um. ...are you coming back?" he asked. "Everybody was kinda upset when you said you were leaving, even Lorelei—"
"You may go now," she repeated, hoping he'd take the hint.
"Rightrightright. Okay. And, uh... one other thing, um. Look, I didn't mean anything by it, but it was just lying there, and... uh... here."
From his back pocket, he produced a small pink book.
Cold dread filled Kisei's spine. "My... did you..."
"A little. Only a little! Just.. uh... most of it," Mallory admitted. "Ryo had lost your address and it took a while to find, and like I said this was just lying there open in your room, and uh... I got curious, so... I just read a little. Not a lot—"
Kisei snatched the book back fast enough to give Mallory paper cuts... then as she realized she had grabbed something she left behind on purpose, her grip weakened a bit on the cover.
"...it's not as if it matters," she said to herself.
"They are trifling things," she spoke, not knowing why she was bothering to explain to him. "Irrelevancies. Meaningless words jotted down on paper to... fill the quiet hours. Distractions from my duty. I was better off without such things..."
"But they're really good."
"I mean, um, I'm really no literary critic, but I liked them," Mallory admitted. "A lot of them were pretty morbid, but... some talked about the sun, or the seasons, and things like that. And I am a farmboy, you know, that sort of stuff is near and dear to my heart. So I could really relate to it. And life and death, and... well, it was really interesting stuff. I hadn't looked at things like that before. I hadn't thought you were a writer, either! Are you published anywhere? I heard writers make a lot of money! Or.. was it no money? I forgot..."
"...you are only the second person to read my words," Kisei informed him, holding her book closer to herself.
"Really?" Mallory asked, surprised. "Wow! Um, sorry I sorta stole a look, but... I feel kinda honored, then. The other one was your dad, right? You wrote a lot about him. He seemed like a really nice guy..."
"Yes... yes, he was. He was a really nice guy," she said, choosing to use his words. "But he is gone. I have... things to do, relating to that."
"Ohhh... oh, um, I'm sorry," he apologized. "I... think I passed his grave on the way over here. You left the House to visit him, didn't you?"
"In a way, yes..."
"I do that once a year, with my dad. For my mom, I mean. She's buried in Sleep Hill back home," he explained. "I know she can't hear us since she's dead, but... well, it feels kinda like some of your poems feel. Kinda sad, but good at the same time. ...I know you want me to go and I'm talking your ear off, I know, but I wanted to tell you that. I really liked that. I was sort of working up to it, see. ...thanks."
"The... writing moved you?" Kisei asked, confused. "Father always encouraged me to write, even if I eventually saw it as a needless distraction from my purpose..."
"It's pretty good for a needless distraction," Mallory said, with a smile.
The same sort of soft, thankful smile that her father wore upon looking at her works. Her poems, her paintings, her sculpture, sometimes even the arguments she had with him brought about that smile...
"...uh... anyway, that's all," Mallory concluded. "I'll go now, so you can have your picnic or whatever in peace..."
His knees belt slightly, as the cardboard box was pushed back into his arms.
"Carry this back to the taxi," Kisei commanded him, resuming her normal flat tones of order.
Mallory peered over the top of the box at her. "Carry...? You don't want it?"
"Take it back to the House for me," she requested. "Put it back in my room. And tell Meiko I shall return tomorrow morning. I must pay my respects to my father, then finish caretaking for the estate. After that... I shall come home."
That night, sleeping in the bed I slept in throughout my childhood, I dreamt...
"Was I wrong?" my child-voice asked.
"There was no right or wrong," he replied, so high above me. "It simply was your way. You're free to make your own choices. Reality is infinite; life is finite. As long as you live your life to the fullest, you cannot do 'wrong'. Even if the results of that life are not what you expected, it will serve its purpose. Even when we stray from the way, the way comes back to us. The question is, what will become of you now?"
"I... I will try to find my way back," I told him. "I lost my way when you left me. I tossed aside everything that you hoped I could become..."
"What you will become... will be a blend of what you were, and what you are. You will be a you that is more you. And that is all you need to be to make me proud, my beloved daughter."
In silence, we sat amongst the Sakura blossoms on a fine spring day, and reflected on this.
estate copyright 2003 stefan gagne)
[unauthorized use is strictly prohibited]
Note: there is an actual company called RealityPrime, providing consulting in VR and game technology. It is not associated with Stefan Gagne and Unreal Estate.