[Fic] Crying Man (Or, How Dr. Katsuragi Found God)

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Postby Atropos » Wed Apr 01, 2015 2:47 pm

But it works, because they are all Chuckmen in their own special way.

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Postby Literary Eagle » Thu Apr 02, 2015 12:11 am

Heh, that was an entertaining portrayal of Kyoko and Langley. They should get a bumper sticker that says “She makes mutants. I make cyborgs.” :lol:
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Postby Reichu » Thu Apr 02, 2015 8:47 pm

View Original PostLiterary Eagle wrote:Heh, that was an entertaining portrayal of Kyoko and Langley. They should get a bumper sticker that says “She makes mutants. I make cyborgs.” :lol:

Hmm, perhaps a matching set of T-shirts? :tongue:

I'm not sure when the next update will be, since I have a fair amount of preparatory work to do for the remainder of Part I (the pre-expedition part of the story). I was able to hash out a relatively solid outline today, which felt nice. For certain definitions of "nice".
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Postby Reichu » Mon Apr 06, 2015 3:19 pm

Previous post deleted. Here, have a somewhat more finished version of Chapter 4.

Chapter 4 (most of it, anyway)  SPOILER: Show
Kyoto, Japan
Sakyo-ku
The very next Monday

The summer sun rises on the Yamashiro Basin: the beginning of another hot, humid day in Sakyo-ku, Kyoto. As the streets of Jodoji stir to life, the air thickens with the buzzing of cicadas and the voices of birds.

One of the homes on Shigagoe St. has its view obscured by what at first appears to be a concrete wall, but follow its length enough and one comes to a black metal gate. The far right section of the wall is missing, knocked down by the looks of it, and replaced with a lonely stretch of white wooden fencing. Long since weathered, too — a sad relic of an abandoned home improvement project.

Enclosed by all this is a small yard. A flat stone path leads to the front door of a single-story house, framed on either side by summer blooms: purple and white patches of bellflowers, morning glory vines growing on trellises, and poppy anemones huddled under shade. The pipe of a bamboo fountain finishes filling and hits the basin with a thud, scaring off the white-eye and the brown-eared bulbul who had come to quench their thirst. There is a rack holding three bicycles altogether: one quite large and the other two a good deal smaller.

The interior of the house is bright and open. The entrance way — with closet space on one side for shoes, jackets, and bags — yields to a nearly wall-free common area: family room, kitchen, and dining space all seamlessly blended. The décor is sparse and tasteful: photographic prints showcasing Japan's natural wonders, ceramic knickknacks of stylized animals, potted plants, small flower arrangements. On the far wall separating the common area from the bedrooms is a colorful kamidana, an ofuda hanging from the shelf's edge.

Akira Katsuragi sleeps on the spare futon set up on the family room floor, wearing light summer PJs. His open suitcase is partly shoved beneath the reading table. Lying on the table are a couple of stacks of technical-looking journals, some bookmarked with loose scraps of paper, and a little pocket alarm with about an hour left until it goes off. Akira seems to be sound asleep for a change, impervious to the activity in the house.

“Misato!” A woman's voice. “Practice tonight, right? Do you have the dinner I packed for you, too?” The voice has a subdued and gentle manner.

“Yeah, Mom, right here.” A much younger and more energetic female voice. “Thanks.”

“Okay. I hope everything goes well today. Ace that history test!” She's trying to sound upbeat, but there's something kind of forced about it.

“I will! Have a good day at work. Bye!”

“Bye!”

Misato, the owner of the younger voice, departs the kitchen and starts heading for the door. She looks to be in her early teens, a thin and athletic girl with wavy, shoulder-length purple hair. She wears a typical girl's school uniform, and there's a heavy-looking school bag slung over one shoulder. Her alert brown eyes abruptly glance over toward the futon on the floor, and she makes a slight detour.

She quietly creeps up on the sleeping man, only stopping when her feet are less than a half meter away from his face. And she just stands there and stares, face empty of all emotion, her hand tight on the strap of her bag. Akira is completely oblivious to her presence, breathing quietly and, if the twitching under his eyelids is any indication, deep in dreamland. His expression is wholly peaceful.

Then, suddenly, he starts to snore. A snore that might be described as dainty, but a snore nonetheless. Misato's daze is broken and her eyes narrow. Without even thinking about it, she advances the alarm so that it unleashes a terrible buzzing sound. It takes mere seconds for her to jump into her shoes and disappear out the door. Gone… fast and elusive as a breeze on a blisteringly hot day.

After nearly a minute of unrepentant buzzing, Akira's hand springs to life and starts to grope blindly for the device. Thirty seconds more, and the sound is vanquished. He emits a low groan, his brows scrunching down with the discomfort of his rude awakening. He clutches his face and palpates the puffy flesh in his orbits. Visible between the gaps of his fingers, rheumy eyes slowly open.

He lurches to his feet and, before anything else, sluggishly rolls up the futon and replaces it into a closet. He turns an absent gaze toward the kitchen, where his wife stands at the counter busy with something. Oh so slowly, he zips his suitcase shut, and quietly he takes it with him to the hallway in the back, hunching forward as if it will help him avoid detection. Once he's out of sight, he deposits the case in the bedroom, grabs a change of clothes, and vanishes into the bathroom.

Life's simple, sensual pleasures. The voiding of the bladder. The removal of a day or so's accumulation of dead skin cells and various dermal secretions under the hot blast of the shower head. Toweling off. All very invigorating.

Shaving he enjoys quite a bit less. There is something unbecoming about dragging a sharp object over something as soft as human skin, and Akira has had his fair share of accidents over the years. But, alas, a necessary evil, as he couldn't grow anything even if he wanted to, and an unkempt-looking face seems to be frowned upon even more than somewhat unruly cranial hair. Electrolytic follicle disruption would be nice, if he didn't have his daughter's future to worry about.

Akira dresses himself in a short-sleeved green polo and khakis. He threads his belt through the loops and soberly observes that he's almost reached the innermost buckle hole. Again. He knows it's not good, but motivating himself to do something about it is… difficult. May as well try, though.

Apprehension in each footstep, he enters the kitchen and quietly takes a seat at the table.

His wife slowly looks over her shoulder at him, and timidly says, “Good morning.”

He forces himself to return her look, if only briefly. “Good morning, Sayaka,” he reciprocates. Akira's eyes soon stray away, wandering until they arrive at Sayaka's old wall clock with its carved wood border of birds and blooms. She didn't make the frame — one of her sister's friends did — but she had painted and sealed it by hand, and to Akira's eyes it had seemed very professional. Not that Sayaka would accept a compliment of that caliber. His attention turns to the clock's hands. Almost eight-thirty. He doesn't need to be up this early — did he make a mistake when he set his alarm?

Akira looks back at Sayaka. Her back is turned, and she is hard at work on her bento. For work today, he assumes. He can never remember what her schedule is; he can barely keep track of his own. His eyes become absorbed in the highlights of Sayaka's raven-black hair: pulled back into a finely woven braid that goes down, down, all the way to her hips. Akira's brown orbs linger, unfocused, and he swallows.

Wrong kind of appetite, he thinks, not expecting his body to listen.

“Akira,” she says, back still to him, “I can make you a lunch to take, too.”

He shakes his head. “No, thank you. I only ever waste it.” Then he remembers why he came here. “Sayaka, are there any leftovers I can scavenge for breakfast?”

“There's the okayu in the fridge,” Sayaka replies. “I can heat some up for you.”

Akira rises from his chair. “That's fine. I can do it.”

A minute or so later, he sits back down to a small bowl of microwaved porridge. Not long after, Sayaka silently takes a seat opposite him, letting her arms rest in her skirted lap. With large charcoal eyes, she watches him, her emotions veiled. Akira tries to focus on the difficult task of filling his stomach... But so many unspoken words hang in the air. It is only a matter of time before they reveal themselves.

The worst kind of anticipation.

At length, she says, “Akira… I didn't hear you get in last night.”

He swallows his half-spoonful and warily glances at her. “It was around 2. Both of you were asleep.”

Sayaka shifts a little in her chair. “You don't have to use the spare futon. You know that. It doesn't bother me at all if you come to bed a little late.”

Akira's mouth hangs open slightly, the words he would like to say on the tip of his tongue… but he thinks better of it and stares into his okayu instead.

“So… how did it go?” she asks.

He takes to nervously stirring his porridge. “The presentation was rushed. Same time-wasting questions afterward. Almost no one cared to understand what I'm actually doing. It was all just spectacle to them.” Akira releases a little sigh. “There were some interesting folks, but for the most part it was a disappointment. As usual.”

“So then… no backers came forward?”

The slightest hint of distress creeps over Akira's face. “...No.” A cheek twitches. “No backers… Not even one collaborator.”

“I see.” Sayaka twiddles her fingers. “So what will you do now?”

Akira sighs. “I'm expecting to hear from a contact soon about some additional grant opportunities, but beyond that…” He shakes his head. “I… I really don't know.”

He feels the situation twisting his stomach into knots. Looking into his bowl now, he sees he's only gotten about halfway through. It's clear to him that nothing else is going to happen for hours, so he declares a strategic retreat. He stretches plastic wrap over the bowl and places it back into the refrigerator, Sayaka watching with barely disguised disapproval. While he's up, he sees an opportunity to escape, and starts leaving the discomfort of that table and Sayaka's stare behind.

She calls after him. “When do you have work today?”

Lying never became Akira. “I…” He checks the clock again. “I don't have to leave for over an hour.”

“Please come back,” she says, hues of plaintive desperation in her voice. “...Please.”

Unable to think up a convincing excuse to get himself out of this, Akira reluctantly goes back to his chair. He stoops forward and brings his elbows down onto the table, folding his arms in front. A makeshift defensive ward. Without looking at her, he whispers hoarsely, “What is it?” Fearing that question might be too vague, he adds, “What's on your mind?”

Sayaka fidgets a little more, then begins. “I know how important it is to you… Advocating your research, I mean. It's important work and I understand. I really do. But, Akira...” She looks at him, so pointedly that he's forced to look back. “I miss you. When you're absorbed like this… I really miss you.”


I really wanted to finish Chapter 4 this time, but I'm currently oh-so-uncertain about how to end it. I feel like there are two equally plausible outcomes, and, since both of the choices are awkward in their own special way, I'm having a very hard time choosing.

Yamashiro Basin is the geographical area where the city of Kyoto lies. Sakyo-ku is one of Kyoto's wards (Kyoto is divided into several), occupying a large stretch of the NE portion and containing Kyoto University. Jodoji is (from what I could tell) a residential neighborhood of Sakyo-ku that's a short walk away from where Akira works. A kamidana and ofuda are... eh, just Google it.

"Sayaka" comes from the name of my Japanese professor back in community college.

The line about "additional grant opportunities" is a reference to changes that will be made to Chapter 3. I'll announce when that happens.
Last edited by Reichu on Tue Apr 07, 2015 12:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Reichu » Mon Apr 06, 2015 6:49 pm

I consulted with my boifurendo and made my decision. Citrus it is, then.

After consulting with forum staff about what kinds of "adult scenes" would be considered appropriate for posting directly to the forum, I made some attempt to keep extraneous racy details to the bare minimum. Yes, adults doing adult sort of things follows. It will not be the last time, but this will probably be the last time I issue a warning beforehand if I can help it.

Chapter 4 (THE REST)  SPOILER: Show
At length, he replies, but only after averting his gaze back down to the table. “……I know.” Not only that: he knows where this is probably going, and he feels himself being seized by a storm of both coldest dread and hottest anticipation.

He hears Sayaka rise from her chair and, in his peripheral vision, sees her approach him. With a gentle assertiveness, she says, “Akira, please look at me.” Hesitantly, he does. She makes her move, tenderly seizing his face between her hands and holding him there for a span of seconds that feels much longer than it is. Akira wishes he could be impervious to the sadness and longing in her dark eyes, but, now, it is too late to escape their gravitational pull. Sympathetically, his own eyes start to water, and a thick lump forms in his throat.

Sayaka leans in to take what's hers. Akira wants to shrink back, but something stops him. He lets his eyes close, and his lips part to receive Sayaka's kiss, intense with pent-up desire. His body can't help but begin to burst with animalistic impulse, surging through him from top to bottom, and pooling up in… the usual places.

When she breaks free, his mouth waters and his lips tingle. Their eyes meet, half-shut, pupils agape. A voice in his head still craves escape from this. Escape from all the exposure and vulnerability, everything that he is at the mercies of the situation, at the mercies of this woman whom he has known for over two decades, and yet never truly--

Recalling old wounds, he involuntarily gasps, eyes threatening to flood over. Sayaka makes a soothing sound, like a mother might comfort a child, and hugs him, strokes his hair, kisses him on the forehead. Akira feels more and more trapped in this maelstrom of emotion and sensation, helpless to whatever happens. Perhaps… it would be less trouble for both of them were he to simply surrender himself, and briefly suffer the terrible, wonderful vulnerability.

And so, Akira initiates Sayaka into a kiss, the kind he knows she likes, long and deep and sensuous. She quickly gets over her surprise and responds in a spirited manner, climbing up onto his lap and wrapping herself around him. Upper garments quickly come off, and they continue to kiss, and embrace, losing themselves in the warmth of bared skin, their dimorphic contours, the satisfaction of stroking each others' hair. Akira tries to pull out Sayaka's braid, but she playfully swats him off; there won't be enough time to redo it before work.

To make up for that, Sayaka undoes his belt and helps him squirm out of his slacks and boxer briefs, revealing Akira's rather heightened state of arousal. She kneels between his legs and starts to enjoy him, in her own way, extracting low moans from her husband. As tension builds in his hips, Akira's face cringes in acute, awkward pleasure, and soon he can no longer restrain himself.

In a wholly atypical display of strength, Akira abruptly gathers Sayaka into his arm and lifts her onto the kitchen table. She gasps at first in surprise, then in merriment; it's clear she did not expect this level of participation from him, but not a bone in her body minds it. With all due eagerness, she hikes her skirt up and discards her panties onto the floor. She checks herself, and there's no doubt she's ready. Sayaka draws her knees toward her chest and beckons Akira forward with a whisper.

Akira is completely exposed to her now, entirely nude save for his pendant. His body has become, for the moment, the dominant voice, overriding the fear gripping his heart. Soon, it will be over, he tells himself. A few familiar motions, and it will all be over. Until the next time.

He wraps his arms around her thighs and slowly leans in, following the curves of her body deeper and deeper. Both of them emit short, graceless grunts and gasps as he goes, until he has reached the comfortable limit. Akira and Sayaka share one more prolonged, yearning look, and he finally begins.

The table thuds and creaks, but holds its own against the fierce motions of a frenzied coitus. They are loud, woman and man both. Beyond noises of passion, Akira says very little, but Sayaka manages to grunt out quick instructions and curt reactions. After several minutes of this, they seem to find a sweet spot... a very sweet spot. Sayaka bids him on: do what you're doing, only do it more. Faster, harder, deeper. Their cries escalate, reach a cacophonous height, and subside into labored breathing.

Akira remains inside her, his upper torso slouched over her body, supported on quivering arms. The pendant sways in midair beneath him, and he drips with sweat, his mouth agape.

Sayaka, bearing an expression of deepest satisfaction, smiles at him and strokes his hair. “Thank you, Akira,” she whispers.

He swallows and looks meekly at her, simply nodding. Slowly, he withdraws, making a mess despite his best efforts. He frowns and, as if by reflex, murmurs, “I'm sorry.”

“Don't worry,” she replies. “I'll clean everything up.”

Akira nods again, then, with sudden realization, looks at the clock. “Still good on time, but... I should probably shower again and get on out of here.”

Sayaka rights herself and hums in agreement with his plan. Akira helps her to the floor, collects his clothes, and heads to the bathroom. She stares after him, and, already, a melancholy is once more apparent in her eyes. Something is welling up within her, but she grits her teeth and forces it back down. A detached stoicism is imposed from within.

With that, she puts her clothes back on and sets about erasing all evidence that the kitchen had not been used for its intended purpose.

The attempt to self-censor might contribute in part to what I consider an undesirable style shift. I'll either solve this within the established confines, or solve this within an uncensored version eventually posted elsewhere.

Honestly didn't expect this sort of scene to emerge so early, but after I inadvertently had Misato inadvertently create the opportunity for her parents to partake in that nasty thing that parents do, it was difficult to resist.
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Postby Literary Eagle » Tue Apr 07, 2015 6:26 am

I really like the way you write. The little details (abandoned home improvement project, Akira's worrisome weight loss, and so on) reveal the situation in a way that is sad yet interesting. There's this ongoing feeling that everything is coming apart at the seams. ;_;

Please keep up the good work!
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Postby Reichu » Wed Apr 08, 2015 9:47 pm

View Original PostLiterary Eagle wrote:I really like the way you write. The little details (abandoned home improvement project, Akira's worrisome weight loss, and so on) reveal the situation in a way that is sad yet interesting. There's this ongoing feeling that everything is coming apart at the seams. ;_;

Thanks, L.E.! This is very encouraging to hear. :D

I'm having second thoughts about the way I concluded Chapter 4. I was at work today, and it just started bugging me and bugging me. I feel like I mayyyybe revealed (...pun intended?) a bit too much too soon. I could perhaps use some second opinions before I start making surgical alterations with a hacksaw, though.

Chapter 5 is coming together. Slowly.
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Postby Reichu » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:38 pm

[s]My terrible habit of posting partial chapters continues![/s] Okay, I think it's done now...

Chapter 5  SPOILER: Show
Same Day
Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics (YTD), Kyoto University
Sakyo-ku

On the north campus of Kyoto University stands an unassuming, heavily fenestrated white building: Yukawa Hall. It is so unassuming that few would guess that the greater mysteries of the universe were being pursued within its walls. A row of locust yearlings in front stand watch over the bust of Professor Hideki Yukawa and the small amounts of human traffic milling in and out of the entrance.

North wing, first floor. Sunlight from the courtyard pours into a corridor granting access to staff offices. On one of the south-facing doors is the name plate “A.KATSURAGI”. Footsteps. A long shadow falls onto the door, which opens to the jingling of keys.

Akira walks in, executing a perfectly timed stoop to avoid hitting his head against the top of the door frame. A foot moves a rubber stopper in place to keep the door propped open, and he proceeds within. The dimensions of his office seem, on the whole, a shade too small for him, and it is perhaps for this reason that the space is kept incredibly sparse — containing nothing more than what's necessary — and fastidiously neat.

Even so, there's a fair amount of stuff here: writing desk, swiveling chair, a couple of folding chairs for visitors stacked against the wall, a two-drawer filing cabinet, waste basket, a smaller second desk shoved in the back left corner with a computer terminal, and a couple of installed wall shelves. Tellingly, both desks are elevated a substantial amount using old, thick hardcover books. The main desk, which roughly occupies the center of the space and faces the door, is bare save for a jar of writing implements and similar practicalities, a few framed photographs, and an “IN/OUT” paper tray. Certifications and accolades acquired in years long past hang on the walls.

Akira is glad to see to see that the place is just as he left it… almost. He wearily regards a couple of envelopes that were slid beneath the door in his absence, each addressed “To Akira Katsuragi-sama” in a different hand. He sets his beat-up leather handbag next to his desk, then grabs the letters and walks them down to the common area, where such useful utilities as the shredder and coffee machine can be found. Akira runs the letters through the shredder with all the ease of a well-programmed automaton.

“What was that, Katsuragi-sempai?” One of the junior staff members in Akira's department, Hiroshi Tanikoshi, is filling his coffee mug. “More fan mail?”

Akira gives his kouhai a sidewards glance. “You know about that?”

Tanikoshi shrugs. “Who doesn't?”

Akira sighs. “It would be nice if my 'fan mail' came from deep-pocketed institutions instead of misguided young women.”

“I'd be happy to get either.” Tanikoshi's hand juts up in a little wave as he departs. “I'll see you around, sempai.”

“See you, Hiroshi.”

Akira heats up some water with the electric pot and makes himself a mug of herbal tea. Afterward, he heads to the office directly to the right of his, a door with the name plate “H.YAKUMO”. There's instrumental music playing inside. Akira lightly knocks a couple of times. “Hey, Haru? You in there?”

A muffled male voice emerges from within. “Oh, Akira. Don't open that door. I am in the process of biohazard containment. A hazmat suit is required for entry.”

Akira can't stifle a grin. “Ah. Finally cleaning up, are you?”

“You've caught me red-handed! I'll be out in a couple of minutes.”

“Alright, then.” Akira turns back into his office and takes a seat at his desk. He sips from his mug — one of the many made available free to the staff, emblazoned with YTD's international logo — and starts pulling articles of mail from his handbag. A couple immediately go in the trash; the next one is opened, then goes in the trash; and the one after that actually requires attention. His focus soon wanders, though, gazing beyond what's immediately before him and latching onto the small assortment of photographs.

Four altogether, each in a miniature standing frame, they occupy the middle of the desk's south-facing edge. They're arranged by date: newest on left, oldest on right. The left three depict Akira and Sayaka at various points in their lives. In the oldest, they seem to be in their early 20s and posed together on a mountain overlook, most of Kyoto visible in the basin below. In the next, they're aged mid-to-late 20s and in the midst of their Shinto wedding ceremony. In the newest, they're both 30 or close to it, at a cherry blossom festival with a very young, very joyful-looking Misato, whom Akira carries piggy-back on his shoulders.

The photos bear out the observation that Akira physically hasn't changed much over the years. He looks very slightly younger, and at an actually healthy body weight. Beyond that, the most obvious difference is his longer hair, a flowing mass of 8cm-long dark purple filaments, which he wears rather well. But on a very fundamental level, he seems like a different person. Sayaka, as well. They not only beam with youthful exuberance, they seem… happy.

The fourth photograph figuratively stands apart from the others: an old hand-tinted portrait of a frail-looking young woman with a long, narrow face and wavy black hair. She wears formal attire, and around her neck hangs a white cross pendant that looks quite similar to Akira's. For that matter… her facial structure bears a rather close resemblance to his, as well.

Akira's eyes pass his small collection over, from newest to oldest, and latch onto the woman's portrait. He picks it up and stares into it, at first intently, then vacantly. ……Lost in thought.

“Engaged in communion with your muse, I see.” It's Haru Yakumo in the flesh, leaning against the frame of Akira's door with a “#1 Dad” mug in one hand. A man of about Akira's age, though unlike Akira so plain-looking few would give him a second glance. His thick horn-rimmed glasses are possibly the most notable thing about him.

Akira returns the photo to the precise spot it had been standing before. “I suppose she was more interesting than my mail.”

Haru sidles up to the Akira's desk. “More interesting than your tea, too. But I suppose almost anything would be.”

“Oh, knock that off,” Akira chides playfully. “If I'm never seen with a steaming mug, it's considered suspicious. But you know what caffeination does to me. I can never join the legion of the undead like the rest of you. This is the best compromise I can make.” He downs the mug's contents in a single long swig. “There, see? Good stuff.”

“Hmm. You're in a better mood than usual,” Haru observes.

Akira scratches the back of his head. “You think so?”

“My friend, I am professionally certified in observational Katsuragiology. I know so. And surely it can't be on account of how the weekend went...”

“Impeccable detective skills,” Akira jibes.

“…so… I'd say Sayaka managed to corner you recently. Probably this morning. I'm right, aren't I?” Haru winks.

Akira's normally pallid face immediately gains a touch of rose.

“I'm right.” Haru takes a self-satisfied swig.

Akira shoots a very mildly irked look at his friend. “Haru, I'm not quite sure what to think of the interest you take in… that.”

“My dear Akira-kun,” Haru says, “you know that my interest is only in your well-being. Watching you all this time, it's easy to see that the less you avoid your wife, the less miserable you are. Furthermore, if you want your sex life to be less transparent, have sex more often. Simple!”

“I'll… keep that in mind.” Akira nervously eyes the open door. “And… I think we should change the topic. This isn't terribly work-safe.”

Haru smirks. “How very convenient. Alright, then. Next awkward subject!” He casually leans against the right edge of the desk. “How was Aachen?”

Akira lifts an eyebrow. “You had to ask, didn't you?”

The other man crosses his arms and performs an exaggerated nod. “Yes. Yes, I did.”

Akira leans back in his chair and wraps his hands behind his head. “There's not much to say, really. Well, before anything else, I suppose I'm forced to admit that you were right about my presentation. All those last-minute changes I made didn't help at all. I only ended up not being able to get through all of the material on time. It was awful.”

“Back to the previous version, then?”

Akira shrugs. “I suppose so. If there's ever a next time. I know I won't be able to lecture outside the country until next year, for certain.”

Haru takes one more sip then sets the empty mug on Akira's desk. “Well, that gives you plenty of time to make revisions, at least. Though… As much as Okadome hates your guts, he will probably want you to do 'your thing' in September.”

“I forgot about that.” Akira leans forward again and rests his head on his left hand thoughtfully. “Anyway… Since there wasn't time for a Q&A, I was mobbed in the hallway. I don't think I need to tell you the rest.”

“That bad, huh?”

Akira considers his response. “Well… immediately after the lecture, yes. I suppose the rest of my stay wasn't that bad, though. I wasn't stalked down and harassed anywhere near as much as the first two times. Most of the individuals who stopped me in the halls were bright-eyed college students lugging around copies of my paper for me to sign, regaling me with tales of how I somehow inspired them to pursue the field. How weird is that?”

Haru chuckles. “So you have true-blue fans. Is it hard to accept?”

“It's… surreal.” Akira absentmindedly plays with his hair. “And I hate to say this, but… how do 'fans' help me? It's just not enough. With what I'm up against...” He suddenly drops both elbows onto the desk and seizes his head between his palms. “It doesn't really matter if the next generation is more receptive to my ideas than this one. Nothing will change in time to make any difference.” His voice becomes very quiet. “Not for me.”

Haru looks surprised — albeit not truly shocked — at the abrupt turnaround. His voice drops its air of nonchalant joviality in favor of calming repose. “Hey, hey. Akira-kun… Come on.” He gently pats the man on the back. “You can get through this. Tell me all about it later, okay? But right now, you need to pull yourself together.”

Akira sighs deeply and leans all the way back in his chair, staring up at the ceiling now. Looking up so his tears won't fall, as the song goes. After a minute or so, he has calmed enough to sit straight again, and he wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. “I'm sorry, Haru,” he says. “I guess I'm a little touchy today.”

“You need to catch up on your sleep, boy,” Haru says. “Get a good meal into yourself, too. You're running yourself ragged.”

Akira smiles weakly. “Persistent bad habit.” He spins around in his chair and turns on the power to the computer's CPU, and it starts noisily booting up. “I guess both of us should start looking industrious before Okadome comes snooping around.”

“Hey,” Haru says, retrieving his mug, “that's my line! So, see you in a couple of hours.” He waves and proceeds to exit.

“See you, Haru.” Akira scoots over to the computer, turns on the monitor, and, when prompted, logs into the campus network. First things first: e-mail. He signs into the client and watches as the new messages start flooding in… some three days' worth. He can't help but release an exasperated sigh and start kneading his scalp.

Scrolling through the list to check for priorities, one of today's messages quickly pops out. He registers little more than the front end of the sender's e-mail address, “kyokosz”, before deciding to open it.

What greets him is a quirky blend of German and Japanese, and all quite exuberant. Akira gets the distinct sense that Kyoko is enjoying the opportunity to express herself bilingually. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it's coherent enough. Kyoko doesn't get right down to business — instead, she begins by offering up some select personal “getting to know you better” tidbits, which come across as an effort to stimulate long-term correspondence. Naturally, she also can't resist the opportunity to slip some flirtatious language in there, as well. Something about it feels more frivolous than anything. That's the same sense he got from her in person, come to think of it.

When it comes down to what she promised, Kyoko pulls through in spades. Her list of organizations is quite long and meticulous: carefully divided into commercial and non-commercial entities, describing the goals and mission of each entity in detail, and providing in many cases multiple methods of contact. Sometimes specific grant opportunities are listed, as well, and these are all up-to-date. This woman does indeed seem to be quite formidable when she puts her mind to something.

Some of the names are ones that Akira has already attempted to court, but many more are either completely new to him or ones that he wouldn't have ever considered applying to. Acting on this information will keep him busy for quite some time, if it doesn't completely burn him out. He has a sinking feeling that the message he promised Kyoko tomorrow is going to look very meager in comparison.

Feeling his spirits lifted somewhat, he sets Kyoko's message aside for later when he can give it the attention it deserves. He performs a quick series of stretches to loosen up, then sits back down to start the long slog through the weekend's e-mail.

This chapter [s]is turning[/s] turned out to be quite difficult to write, mostly because once Akira and Haru start talking, it's really hard to keep them on topic. I've already had to cut out quite a bit of stuff because they just wouldn't shut the hell up and stick to the things they need to cover. I'm not really complaining so much as I find it funny.

I'm not actually sure what kind of trees are in front of Yukawa Hall. Locust was an educated guess based on the leaf shape. (I know how nerdy that must sound.) I also haven't been able to find an interior map of the YTD campus, and I suppose it doesn't really matter all that much. The physics in NGE's world don't seem to be identical to those in real life, so this version of YTD is bound to have endured a somewhat divergent history from its real life counterpart. Maybe.

Haru's name probably comes from Hal Laboratories, one of Nintendo's software developers. (Hal = Haru. "Haru" is a legitimate Japanese given name.) “Yakumo” is some WWII ship, probably. I can't remember if it was by design or accident, but his name has a cute repetition when you write it out: 八雲ハル (八 and ハ aren't identical, of course, but they look very similar). Can't ask for more than that!

“Tanikoshi” and “Okadome”… well, I'll explain them later.

Oh, yes, general announcement, to the four or so people watching the thread. I will be keeping the OP updated with a table of contents (links to all available chapters) along with a list of characters as they appear. The latter struck me as something that will be of increasing utility, given the fact that this story has to rely heavily on original characters.
Last edited by Reichu on Fri Apr 10, 2015 7:33 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby Reichu » Fri Apr 10, 2015 3:21 pm

"Now I'm here in the thread by myself, talking to myself. Th-that's chaos theory!"

Chapter 05 is now finished (I think). I excised the bit about blowing off office hours and had them be responsible adults instead. Ah, that sits much better. Now... to figure out what the hell Chapter 06 is about...

The OP has finally been given the full overhaul it needed. I've also made some revision to Chapter 3, after realizing that mentioning the UN and ISTAA so early on wouldn't work out as I hoped. Here is the bulk of what's been changed. (Any changes past this will be made to the main Ch.03 post.)

Ch.03 changes  SPOILER: Show
“I've been fairly blessed so far, myself,” Kyoko adds, “but I don't expect my current situation to last. I've been shopping around quite a bit and found a number of opportunities that could be promising. Not all of them are specifically for the biosciences, either. Who knows, Akira — some of them might be useful to you. I'd be happy to e-mail you what I know.”

Akira's face beams a little. “I probably have some leads that would be useful to you, for that matter. A swap sounds delightful.” He retrieves his handbag — a leather construction that looks quite old and weathered, but is holding up nonetheless — from under the table, unclasps it, and retrieves a copy of his card from a little pocket within to present to Kyoko. In exchange, she gives him her own, gracefully embossed with her personal information.

Langley digs into his inner jacket pocket. “That's not a bad idea.” He offers his own business card. Akira starts to fetch another copy to give Langley, but he dismisses the gesture. “No need. I can just get your info off Kyoko.” Akira nods and accepts the token of camaraderie. Langley continues, “You seem like a kindred spirit, Akira. We'd love to see more of you. Let us know if you're ever in Germany again, eh?”

“Ah, you two live here?” Akira asks. “Very nice.”

Langley shrugs. “It's decent enough. I'd rather be back in the Northeast, but… gotta follow life where it takes you.”

“He's American, if you haven't noticed,” Kyoko interjects. “Of course no country can hope to hold a torch to his own.”

“Oh, ease off, Kyo,” Langley says with a roll of the eyes. “You knew what you were getting yourself into when you married a Yankee.”

“I know.” She kisses him again.

Akira starts to feel a tad awkward again and tries to get the conversation back on track. “Well, anyway. Next time I'm in the Fatherland, I'll take you up on your offer. If you two ever find yourselves in Japan, don't be afraid to give me a call, either.”

(...)

“Hopefully sooner rather than later,” Akira says. “Hope for the best… Expect the worst.”

“With any luck, we'll be able to help each other out,” Kyoko says. “Expect an e-mail from me no later than Monday.”

Akira nods with resolve. “For mine, Tuesday.”

“Excellent,” Kyoko responds, grinning.

“Best of luck with everything,” Langley says, issuing a little wave. Kyoko provides one of her own, along with a final piercing look.

Akira doesn't return her look, but he does wave back. “And best of luck to you two, as well.”

“Give that drink the love it deserves, now!” Langley calls as he and Kyoko walk off.


For posterity's sake, this is what it looked like beforehand:

Ch.03 before revision  SPOILER: Show
“I've been fairly blessed so far, myself,” Kyoko adds, “but I don't expect my current situation to last. I've been shopping around quite a bit. One thing caught my eye especially.” Her voice becomes hushed. “Are you aware of opportunities within the United Nations, Akira?”

“Seriously, Kyoko?” Langley says. “This again?”

“Don't pay my grumpy husband any mind,” Kyoko says. “Look into it for yourself. As far as I can tell, there is some major reorganization happening in the UN right now. It's pretty hush-hush stuff, so don't expect to hear about it anywhere but back channels.”

“Alright,” Akira says. “What does this mean for me?”

“Some kind of new coalition of scientists is being formed to address the world's problems. Crazy money is being thrown into this. If you get in, you'll never have to worry about funding again. It sounds like the perfect solution for both of us, doesn't it?”

“It's too perfect,” Langley snorts. “Even if this is real, it's not going to be anywhere as nice as the rumors make it sound. Especially considering all the talk these days about corruption in the UN. It's sickening.”

Kyoko shrugs off his concerns. “We do what we have to do.” She produces a card and pen from her handbag, then writes some letters on the blank side. “Here's the best lead I have at the moment. Oh, and my personal information, if you want to stay in touch.”

Akira accepts it graciously. He silently mouths out what Kyoko wrote. 'ISTAA'. An acronym? He turns the card over and finds her gracefully embossed contact information there.

Langley digs into his inner jacket pocket. “That's not a bad idea.” He offers his own business card. “You seem like a kindred spirit, Akira. We'd love to see more of you. Let us know if you're ever in Germany again, eh?”

Akira decides to reciprocate, offering both of them his own card. “And you two, as well, should you ever find yourselves in Japan.”

(…)

“Look into that opportunity I mentioned,” Kyoko says. “I have a good feeling about it. Let us know how it goes, won't you?”

He nods. “And best of luck to you two, as well,” Akira says.

“Give that drink the love it deserves, now!” are Langley's parting words.
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Postby Literary Eagle » Sat Apr 11, 2015 10:20 am

The banter with Haru was enjoyable, and I'm curious about this "muse". Also, where can I apply to become certified in observational Katsuragiology? :D

Ooh, and did I spy a reference to "Ue o Muite Arukou"? I love that song.

Looking forward to the next chapter!
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Postby Reichu » Sun Apr 12, 2015 8:54 pm

Literary Eagle: Yes, that was indeed a reference to "Ue o muite arukou". It conjures such a poignant image. Pretty song, but so sad.

------

Chapter 06 is stalling me quite a bit...

I actually managed to find Kyoto U.'s 1999 academic calendar. It turns out that the term divisions are entirely different from what's typical here in the US, so I'm glad I looked into it. We finally have our first solid dates (besides a certain date provided in the show, of course): Akira is in Aachen from July 16-18 (Fri to Sun), the weekend that Kyoto U.'s summer break begins, and the Monday we're currently stuck in is the 19th. Summer break lasts until early September, at which point First Term resumes... only to conclude in a month's time. (Weird!)

Right now I'm needlessly obsessing over the matter of just what DO entirely theoretical physicists do when school is out of session. Next I'll be obsessing over the matter of what they do when school IS in session. Complicating this process is the fact that I am mentally challenged when it comes to any form of physics whatsoever (beyond simple things like "drop ball; it falls toward ground instead of toward sky"), and it is very difficult for me to conceptualize what Akira's work precisely involves. Why couldn't I have gotten obsessed with a biologist instead?
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Postby Mr. Tines » Mon Apr 13, 2015 1:03 am

View Original PostReichu wrote: just what DO entirely theoretical physicists do when school is out of session. Next I'll be obsessing over the matter of what they do when school IS in session.
When you're staff or grad student, rather than unergrad, then when school is in session, those annoying teaching chores get in the way of doing real work (i.e. research).
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Postby Reichu » Mon Apr 13, 2015 1:48 am

View Original PostMr. Tines wrote:When you're staff or grad student, rather than unergrad, then when school is in session, those annoying teaching chores get in the way of doing real work (i.e. research).

Huh, Tines, fancy seeing you in here! (...are you reading it?) As much sense as I can make of what you wrote above (the grammar reads odds to me), it seems consistent with what I've been able to gather from Googling around online. Well, except for one thing: what kind of research would a guy like Akira actually be able to do? He seems to be dealing in the NGE version of string theory, one way or another. I suppose in the NGE universe, string theory might actually be provable, but like I said I'm so stupid about physics I can't even begin to conceptualize how a theory that's unprovable in our world might be provable in a fictional world.

For the time being, I will probably have to settle for writing as best an estimate of the academic physicist as I can. I don't want to badly misrepresent the profession, but I also can't represent it with the sort of confidence I would like. (Not making it all the way through college when I attempted a science major doesn't help matters; experiencing more of the stages for myself would have surely taken much of the mystique out of this.)

A late-night writing session seems to have solved the problem of what will be in chapter 06. (The answer is... ducks.) Now I just need a couple of days to finish the bloody thing. If anyone is wondering WHEN DO THINGS PICK UP ALREADY?! -- don't worry, it's right around the corner.
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Postby Mr. Tines » Mon Apr 13, 2015 2:01 am

View Original PostReichu wrote:what kind of research would a guy like Akira actually be able to do? He seems to be dealing in the NGE version of string theory, one way or another. I suppose in the NGE universe, string theory might actually be provable, but like I said I'm so stupid about physics I can't even begin to conceptualize how a theory that's unprovable in our world might be provable in a fictional world.
The academic life involves a lot of administration, trying to get funding, and waiting for time on expensive experimental equipment. The actual research would involve a bunch of pencil and paper mathematics, some programming for the bits which are too complicated for that (to get an idea of what an experiment should produce), and trying to make sense out of whatever actual experimental data are available.
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Postby Reichu » Mon Apr 13, 2015 12:05 pm

[4/17/2015 EDIT: If you're only coming through the thread NOW, disregard this post and read the version of #06 that is posted here.]

Okay, well, the chapter sort of took on a life of its own (TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH, BRAIN) and seems to have concluded itself before I could write my way to the ending I planned. So... Chapter 07 will hopefully conclude this day in the life of Akira Katsuragi, and after that... :stir:

[s]I have to go to work, so this totally hasn't been proofread. I'll fix it up when I get home in several hours.[/s] OK, done.

Chapter 06 (NOT REALLY DONE AFTER ALL)  SPOILER: Show
The north wing's smoking area is a couple of benches situated in the shade of the building. Haru takes a seat on the empty bench and lights up, while Akira leans against the building's outer wall, hands snug in pockets, one leg crossed over the other. The shade provides a slight reprieve from the heat, but it can only do so much.

“Akira-kun,” Haru says, “remind me, why the hell did we decide that staying in Kyoto after graduation was a good idea?”

Akira gazes distantly at the courtyard's pond, where several species of duck have assembled. “This is a rhetorical question, isn't it?”

“Probably.” Haru takes a long drag.

Akira switches legs and eyes the cigarette. “Risa's campaign not going so well, I take it.”

“Well, could be better, could be worse. Addiction is a bitch, Akira. You were the smart one.” Haru gives his cig a light tap, then adds, “...in this particular respect, at least.”

The tall man chuckles. “Yes, well.” He idly scratches the back of one shin with a foot. “Speaking of Risa, I haven't seen her in a while.” Anticipating Haru's response, he says, “Yes, yes, I know, it's my own fault… But that aside, how is she doing?”

Haru lets the cigarette hang between his fingers. “Pretty awesome, actually. Work's been really exciting for her. Cuts into her time with me and the kids, but it's worth it, you know? It took all these years, but she finally has her dream job. She's really happy about it. So am I, for that matter.”

“I'm glad it worked out for her,” Akira says, a warm smile on his face. “Guess we really need to organize a get-together and catch up, huh? This year has just been…” — the smile fades and he casts his gaze downward — “…such a blur.”

“Don't worry about us, Akira-kun,” Haru says. “A get-together isn't crucial. It can wait until your birthday. If you have the time to spare now, you already know what to do with it.”

Akira continues to look down. He says nothing, but his face contorts in subtle ways that betray an inner turmoil. At length, something nearly escapes his lips, but he bites down and swallows the words instead.

Haru looks over his shoulder at his friend, frowning; whether it's in pity, frustration, or both is ambiguous. He turns away and exhales a thick gray cloud of smoke. “So, in your office earlier… Do you know what that was all about?”

“Hmm?” Akira asks, jerking out of a daze. “What do you mean?”

“'Nothing will change fast enough to make any difference for me',” Haru paraphrases. “Akira-kun, you're being cryptic again. Whatever you were thinking about, it got you upset in record time.”

Akira shuffles a foot against the ground. “It… doesn't take much to upset me.”

“You're evading,” Haru notes.

Prolonged silence.

At length, Haru breaks it with a sigh, then looks at the stub of his cigarette. “Well, I'm forced to admit that you've made a very salient point without saying a thing. Indulging in my own bad habits while trying to help you with yours can only result in an awkward situation for both parties.” He snuffs his cigarette out and discards it in the provided receptacle, then rises from the bench. “I won't pester you any more today. I'm sure we both have other things to do, besides.”

Akira doesn't move from his spot on the wall. “I suppose that's true,” he mumbles. The two men ritualistically tip their heads at each other, and Haru proceeds back inside. Akira remains.

It's mid-afternoon, and quite hot even in the shade, but Akira doesn't seem to mind. Extremes of temperature never bothered him much. Akira leaves the smoking area to the smokers and closes in on the pond, stopping a few meters away under a shade tree. He leans against the trunk and replacing his hands into his pockets. For a time, he simply stays there, watching the aquatic birds swim, bathe, preen, and dabble. And, gradually, his mind is released from the worries of the heart, instead possessed by the soothing empiricism of numbers. Numbers that can explain everything, on scales both infinitesimal and unimaginably grand.

Akira has given a great deal of thought to where his personal research needs to go if it is to ever graduate from theory and take actual form. Without substantial funding to pursue some rather high-level experiments, however, he is at an impasse; all he can really do is poke and prod at the vast body of equations, proofs, and simulations that he has accumulated over all these years. Fortunately, he does have those new leads to pursue, all those institutional bodies to attempt to woo with grant proposals. He wish he didn't have to look beyond YTD for the financial backing, but, ever since Dr. Amagiri retired several years before, there has been a definite emphasis upon collaborative research over quirky pet projects.

As a tenured professor and researcher, Akira does have substantial obligations to his institution. But there are so many distractions, so many things standing in the way of what he wishes to pursue. His work on S² theory was always relegated to the side — due to the lack of willing collaborators and Okadome's low regard for resource-sucking solo research — and very little time ever remained for thinking about spirals weaving Dirac Sea energy into the lower dimensions. That was the real reason it took so long to build his ideas into their ideal publishable form… wasn't it?

With the summer interlude here, now until September, the distractions won't be going anywhere. There is still too much to do. Akira needs to finish his contributions to the latest collaboration on spiral super-string behavior, as it will be sent off for publication in one month. His grad students Domyoji and Nishikado will be hard at work on their own project and requiring Akira's assistance. And there will be meetings, and keeping up with the flood of published research, and revising the curricula for his two classes accordingly, and…

Akira wonders for a moment if he should envy the life of a duck. They probably don't have the liberty of contemplating the cosmos, but they don't have to go to dull meetings, beg organizations for grant money, or deal with insufferable superiors, either. Well, strike that: they probably aren't spared from the latter, but, overall, a much less complicated life. Or perhaps if he were a duck capable of similar contemplations, he would have reason to be envying humans instead. These kinds of thoughts were never Akira's specialty.

He feels himself longing for a go at the whiteboard, but it occurs to him that bio-functions should probably take priority. Time to go dabbling, as it were.

At that very moment, two individuals approach the pond from the opposite side. Two young women, dressed in casual summer wear, wearing backpacks that look heavy with books. One of them carries a paper bag. They crouch down near the pond's edge and start pulling rolls of bread out, which they rip apart and toss to the ducks. Of all people, it's Hanako Domyoji and Suomi Nishikado.

They don't seem to notice Akira — rather unlike them… — so he projects an attention-getting “Hey!” in their direction. The two immediately respond with waves, finish up with their current rolls, and run on over.

“Katsuragi-sensei!” Suomi greets. “We weren't expecting to see you here today!”

“For some reason, we thought you'd taken the day off,” Hanako adds. “To recover from jet lag, I guess.”

Akira smiles. “The trip didn't deprive me of sleep any more than the typical day. So what are you two up to? You're not just here to feed waterfowl, I take it?”

Hanako looks at the bag, still containing several rolls, and idly shakes it. “Oh, this? We stopped at a bakery on the way here, and they had all these rolls from the previous day that they couldn't sell, so we figured we'd take them and feed the ducks.”

“Honestly, I haven't done it since I was ten or something. Brings back memories,” Suomi says.

Akira seems to have no such childhood nostalgia of his own to share, but the day-old rolls are making his body's need for food feel slightly more substantial. “So I take it you two have already had lunch?”

They glance at each other, then back at him. “Oh, we made that stop early this morning,” Hanako says. “We've actually been in the library all day.” She jostles her backpack for effect.

Akira looks impressed. “So you've been looking into those things I mentioned, eh? Everything starting to come together?”

“Well,” Suomi says, “we still have tons of stuff to dig through, but we were going to do that at my place after grabbing a late lunch. Since you're here, though, we might as well ask our questions now…”

“Questions, eh?” Akira smiles warmly. “I'm game. I was about to head down to the noodle shop in Tanaka Mozencho. We could multi-task. And that's on the way home anyway, isn't it, Nishikado-kun?” Akira is fully aware of how this would “look”, but he refuses to let such concerns get in the way of student-teacher interactions. These two graduated from their fawning fangirl phases years ago, and besides… the rumors that followed Akira here all the way from high school seem to keep people's suspicions at bay.

The two young women, ever in synch, give each other excited looks that make it clear they like Akira's plan. “That sounds lovely, Katsuragi-sensei,” Hanako replies. “Do you mind if we finish feeding the ducks first?”

He shakes his head. “No, not at all. Take your time.”

Watching them is strangely calming. While clearly adults, Hanako and Suomi are still brimming with child-like enthusiasm for all things. If they can hold onto that, it will serve them well in the years to come. Akira finds a certain sadness in the fact that, of all the female students his presence has managed to draw to Yukawa Institute — an above-average amount, to be sure — so few of them commit to the field. He has seen perhaps four women off in the fifteen or so years that he's been teaching here. Frequently he feels tempted to blame himself for failing all the others in some way, but the overall numbers suggest that something much, much greater is failing them.

His two students' gentle laughter and ability to find so much joy in something so small and mundane, along with the unspoken bond they share… It makes Akira feel deeply nostalgic in his own way. For something long lost to the past, impossibly far away. A distant sun taunting him with the warmth it could provide if only he were closer. Memories that shine so brightly, compared to the darkness he dwells in now, that simply looking at them hurts. Memories of how things once were… proof of how things could be, instead of what they have become.

Akira forces himself to look away.
Last edited by Reichu on Thu Apr 16, 2015 11:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby NemZ » Thu Apr 16, 2015 12:21 am

Okay then, finally all caught up!

I... have no idea what the hell this giant sad bastard is on about. He's mysterious in a sort of lazy way, like a puzzle that doesn't want to be solved. Very odd fellow.

That's kind of how I feel about it overall. I want to like it, but It hasn't really grabbed me yet.
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Postby Reichu » Thu Apr 16, 2015 6:22 am

View Original PostNemZ wrote:I... have no idea what the hell this giant sad bastard is on about. He's mysterious in a sort of lazy way, like a puzzle that doesn't want to be solved.

I suppose if you could give me more specifics on what comes off as "lazy", that would help. Pacing these early portions has been extremely difficult.

"Giant", eh...? I can't even remember anymore why I made him so tall, though apparently such freaks do exist.

I want to like it, but It hasn't really grabbed me yet.

Do you think this is because of something I'm doing wrong, or just because the plot hasn't started moving yet? (Or both, or neither...)
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Postby NemZ » Thu Apr 16, 2015 2:08 pm

View Original PostReichu wrote:I suppose if you could give me more specifics on what comes off as "lazy", that would help.


I was talking about the charecter, not the fic. He has a weird mix of stubborn and spineless that combine to continually avoid his problems or even acknowledge exactly what they are. Or maybe I'm just missing something, because I don't at all get this guy's deal.

Do you think this is because of something I'm doing wrong, or just because the plot hasn't started moving yet? (Or both, or neither...)


I think it boils down to Akira himself. I don't grok him, so it's hard to get invested in anything he does or doesn't do.
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Postby Reichu » Thu Apr 16, 2015 2:37 pm

NemZ: Ah, thanks for the elaboration. In that case, you don't seem to be missing anything at all. In fact, thinking about it, I probably anticipated at some point that you would react to Akira this way, since he seems to embody everything you find frustrating and inexplicable in a mental health case. :lol:

If you can put up with him a while longer, I'm curious to see what you'll think once the tedious task of establishing the status quo is finished and the fun part (razing everything to the ground! :heehee: ) begins.
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Postby Reichu » Thu Apr 16, 2015 11:49 pm

Welp, scratch whatever I said over here. Spurred on by feedback from my boyfriend, I ended up lashing Chapter 06 with the rewrites whip until it relented to my original plan of concluding 7/19/1999 without resort to an additional chapter. So here it is. Hopefully the whole thing now, for reals. (I will now force my poor boyfriend to read the chapters before I post them so that this sort of thing hopefully never happens again, but I can't promise nothin'.)

It resumes from my previous attempt starting at “Katsuragi-sensei? Are you okay?”. (Note that some omissions were made from the paragraph starting with "Questions, eh?".)

Chapter 06  SPOILER: Show
The north wing's smoking area is a couple of benches situated in the shade of the building. Haru takes a seat on the empty bench and lights up, while Akira leans against the building's outer wall, hands snug in pockets, one leg crossed over the other. The shade provides a slight reprieve from the heat, but it can only do so much.

“Akira-kun,” Haru says, “remind me, why the hell did we decide that staying in Kyoto after graduation was a good idea?”

Akira gazes distantly at the courtyard's pond, where several species of duck have assembled. “This is a rhetorical question, isn't it?”

“Probably.” Haru takes a long drag.

Akira switches legs and eyes the cigarette. “Risa's campaign not going so well, I take it.”

“Well, could be better, could be worse. Addiction is a bitch, Akira. You were the smart one.” Haru gives his cig a light tap, then adds, “...in this particular respect, at least.”

The tall man chuckles. “Yes, well.” He idly scratches the back of one shin with a foot. “Speaking of Risa, I haven't seen her in a while.” Anticipating Haru's response, he says, “Yes, yes, I know, it's my own fault… But that aside, how is she doing?”

Haru lets the cigarette hang between his fingers. “Pretty awesome, actually. Work's been really exciting for her. Cuts into her time with me and the kids, but it's worth it, you know? It took all these years, but she finally has her dream job. She's really happy about it. So am I, for that matter.”

“I'm glad it worked out for her,” Akira says, a warm smile on his face. “Guess we really need to organize a get-together and catch up, huh? This year has just been…” — the smile fades and he casts his gaze downward — “…such a blur.”

“Don't worry about us, Akira-kun,” Haru says. “A get-together isn't crucial. It can wait until your birthday. If you have the time to spare now, you already know what to do with it.”

Akira continues to look down. He says nothing, but his face contorts in subtle ways that betray an inner turmoil. At length, something nearly escapes his lips, but he bites down and swallows the words instead.

Haru looks over his shoulder at his friend, frowning; whether it's in pity, frustration, or both is ambiguous. He turns away and exhales a thick gray cloud of smoke. “So, in your office earlier… Do you know what that was all about?”

“Hmm?” Akira asks, jerking out of a daze. “What do you mean?”

“'Nothing will change fast enough to make any difference for me',” Haru paraphrases. “Akira-kun, you're being cryptic again. Whatever you were thinking about, it got you upset in record time.”

Akira shuffles a foot against the ground. “It… doesn't take much to upset me.”

“You're evading,” Haru notes.

Prolonged silence.

At length, Haru breaks it with a sigh, then looks at the stub of his cigarette. “Well, I'm forced to admit that you've made a very salient point without saying a thing. Indulging in my own bad habits while trying to help you with yours can only result in an awkward situation for both parties.” He snuffs his cigarette out and discards it in the provided receptacle, then rises from the bench. “I won't pester you any more today. I'm sure we both have other things to do, besides.”

Akira doesn't move from his spot on the wall. “I suppose that's true,” he mumbles. The two men ritualistically tip their heads at each other, and Haru proceeds back inside. Akira remains.

It's mid-afternoon, and quite hot even in the shade, but Akira doesn't seem to mind. Extremes of temperature never bothered him much. Akira leaves the smoking area to the smokers and closes in on the pond, stopping a few meters away under a shade tree. He leans against the trunk and replaces his hands into his pockets. For a time, he simply stays there, watching the aquatic birds swim, bathe, preen, and dabble. And, gradually, his mind is released from the worries of the heart, instead possessed by the soothing empiricism of numbers. Numbers that can explain everything, on scales both infinitesimal and unimaginably grand.

Akira has given a great deal of thought to where his personal research needs to go if it is to ever graduate from theory and take actual form. Without substantial funding to pursue some rather high-level experiments, however, he is at an impasse; all he can really do is poke and prod at the vast body of equations, proofs, and simulations that he has accumulated over all these years. Fortunately, he does have those new leads to pursue, all those institutional bodies to attempt to woo with grant proposals. He wish he didn't have to look beyond YTD for the financial backing, but, ever since Dr. Amagiri retired several years before, there has been a definite emphasis upon collaborative research over quirky pet projects.

As a tenured professor and researcher, Akira does have substantial obligations to his institution. But there are so many distractions, so many things standing in the way of what he wishes to pursue. His work on S² theory was always relegated to the side — due to the lack of willing collaborators and Okadome's low regard for resource-sucking solo research — and very little time ever remained for thinking about spirals weaving Dirac Sea energy into the lower dimensions. That was the real reason it took so long to build his ideas into their ideal publishable form… wasn't it?

With the summer interlude here, now until September, the distractions won't be going anywhere. There is still too much to do. Akira needs to finish his contributions to the latest collaboration on spiral super-string behavior, as it will be sent off for publication in one month. His grad students Domyoji and Nishikado will be hard at work on their own project and requiring Akira's assistance. And there will be meetings, and keeping up with the flood of published research, and revising the curricula for his two classes accordingly, and…

Akira wonders for a moment if he should envy the life of a duck. They probably don't have the liberty of contemplating the cosmos, but they don't have to go to dull meetings, beg organizations for grant money, or deal with insufferable superiors, either. Well, strike that: they probably aren't spared from the latter, but, overall, a much less complicated life. Or perhaps if he were a duck capable of similar contemplations, he would have reason to be envying humans instead. These kinds of thoughts were never Akira's specialty.

He feels himself longing for a go at the whiteboard, but it occurs to him that bio-functions should probably take priority. Time to go dabbling, as it were.

At that very moment, two individuals approach the pond from the opposite side. Two young women, dressed in casual summer wear, wearing backpacks that look heavy with books. One of them carries a paper bag. They crouch down near the pond's edge and start pulling rolls of bread out, which they rip apart and toss to the ducks. Of all people, it's Hanako Domyoji and Suomi Nishikado.

They don't seem to notice Akira — rather unlike them… — so he projects an attention-getting “Hey!” in their direction. The two immediately respond with waves, finish up with their current rolls, and run on over.

“Katsuragi-sensei!” Suomi greets. “We weren't expecting to see you here today!”

“For some reason, we thought you'd taken the day off,” Hanako adds. “To recover from jet lag, I guess.”

Akira smiles. “The trip didn't deprive me of sleep any more than the typical day. So what are you two up to? You're not just here to feed waterfowl, I take it?”

Hanako looks at the bag, still containing several rolls, and idly shakes it. “Oh, this? We stopped at a bakery on the way here, and they had all these rolls from the previous day that they couldn't sell, so we figured we'd take them and feed the ducks.”

“Honestly, I haven't done it since I was ten or something. Brings back memories,” Suomi says.

Akira seems to have no such childhood nostalgia of his own to share, but the day-old rolls are making his body's need for food feel slightly more substantial. “So I take it you two have already had lunch?”

They glance at each other, then back at him. “Oh, we made that stop early this morning,” Hanako says. “We've actually been in the library all day.” She jostles her backpack for effect.

Akira looks impressed. “So you've been looking into those things I mentioned, eh? Everything starting to come together?”

“Well,” Suomi says, “we still have tons of stuff to dig through, but we were going to do that at my place after grabbing a late lunch. Since you're here, though, we might as well ask our questions now…”

“Questions, eh?” Akira smiles warmly. “I'm game. I was about to head down to the noodle shop in Tanaka Mozencho. We could multitask. And that's on the way home anyway, isn't it, Nishikado-kun?”

The two young women, ever in synch, give each other excited looks that make it clear they like Akira's plan. “That sounds lovely, Katsuragi-sensei,” Hanako replies. “Though, would it be okay if we finish feeding the ducks first?”

He shakes his head. “No, not at all. Take your time.”

Watching them is strangely calming. While clearly adults, Hanako and Suomi are still brimming with child-like enthusiasm for all things. If they can hold onto that, it will serve them well in the years to come. Akira finds a certain sadness in the fact that, of all the female students his presence has managed to draw to Yukawa Institute — an above-average amount, to be sure — so few of them commit to the field. He has seen perhaps four women off in the fifteen or so years that he's been teaching here. Frequently he feels tempted to blame himself for failing all the others in some way, but the overall numbers suggest that something much, much greater is failing them.

His two students' gentle laughter and ability to find so much joy in something so small and mundane, along with the unspoken bond they share… It makes Akira feel deeply nostalgic in his own way. For something long lost to the past, impossibly far away. A distant sun taunting him with the warmth it could provide if only he were closer. Memories that shine so brightly, compared to the darkness he dwells in now, that simply looking at them hurts. Memories of how things once were… proof of how things could be, instead of what they have become.

“Katsuragi-sensei? Are you okay?”

Akira twitches out of his daze. His pupils returned and he didn't even notice. “Oh, forgive me, Nishikado-kun,” he tells Suomi. “I'm fine. Just lost in thought.”

“You do look terribly tired,” Hanako says with an air of concern. “We don't have to bother you today. It's not that pressing.”

“No, no,” Akira insists. “I won't squirm my way out of this one.” He certainly needs the distraction, lest he fall deeper into the mires of introspection. “Let us disembark.”

***

Lunch is a fun affair. The trio partake in savory noodle bowls as they go over the technical concepts giving one or both women difficulty, complete with live mathematical demonstrations on notebook paper in Akira's elegant hand. Afterward, they treat themselves to bubble tea at a nearby establishment and trade banter about their respective peer groups. A successful teacher-student venture, Akira would say.

With their questions addressed and minds focused, Suomi and Hanako go off to resume their studies and preparations. Akira, meanwhile, returns to a certain north wing corridor in Yukawa Hall.

Unsurprisingly, Haru has already left — ever the diligent husband and father. With the dawning of his wife Risa's dream to pursue pharmacology on a professional, full-time basis, Haru has, gradually and quite willingly, decreased his obligations at YTD in order to help shoulder the burdens of home and family. What the Yakumos are doing seems to be exceptionally rare in this country, though Akira has only ever provided his moral support. And at the same time… he deeply covets what they have.

Akira pushes in the switch to his computer's monitor and he takes a seat as it crackles back to life. Alas, the simulation he had set to run earlier, after completing that e-mail marathon, still needs more time to finish. He spins around in his chair and returns to his feet to take a gander at his whiteboard. It remains covered in multicolor dry erase marker scrawl from the previous week. Akira picks up the eraser and lets it hover precariously as he performs a quick critical assessment of his work. He pulls a memo pad out of one of his desk drawers and jot down a couple of things, then returns all to nothing.

He turns on the little fan that's been placed on a shelf for the sole purpose of dispelling those awful marker fumes, and, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, he begins weaving a dense tapestry of calculus. Although intensely focused, Akira also seems remarkably at peace. It is only here, alone with his work, that he ever seems to find serenity.

The hallway beyond his open door reddens as the sun begins its descent.

Hours later, the corridor windows are dark, and both panels of the whiteboard have been filled. Akira clicks the fan off and steps as far back as his office space will allow. After of a couple minutes' contemplation, he makes some more notes in the memo pad. Then he takes a seat again and checks on the computer. The simulation has finished running, but the results are clearly gibberish. Very disappointing. He must have made a coding mistake somewhere, but he's not in the mood to hunt it down right now.

Akira glances at the time displayed in the corner of the computer screen. 21:37. If he knew what was good for him, he would close shop and head home now. But just thinking about it fills him with dread. “Home”… It's supposed to be a safe place to drop anchor, a warm and welcoming roost, but it never worked out that way for him. In the end, home is little more than a cage of guilt, regret, and sorrow.

And already, he knows that this will be another late, lonely night.

His mind resolved, he retrieves Kyoko's e-mail and begins to scroll through the list of organizations again. The specific grant opportunities seem like the lowest-hanging fruit, so he considers those first. Kyoko helpfully put an asterisk next to one, a call for alternative energy research proposals from a non-profit called the Hajime Ikari Foundation. First time Akira ever heard of it, which strikes him as a little weird, but something is always bound to escape his radar, he supposes.

He follows the web link provided and the information checks out. Deadline for submission is pretty tight, though. Looking over the requirements, Akira determines that he can't merely cannibalize previous proposals for this one. It'll probably take about two nights to put everything together. If he can get Haru or somebody else to look it over the next day, fine; if not, he'll make do.

Akira cracks his fingers and gets to work.

***

The front door of the Katsuragi residence slowly opens. It's past midnight, and the house is dark and quiet. Akira steps through, stooping his head, and locks the door behind him. Shoes come off. He flips on a kitchen light — the one illuminating just the countertop, versus the more invasive overhead — and sets his handbag down on the floor near the table. Inspecting the fridge interior, the bowl of porridge is still there. Recalling Sayaka's unapproving half-scowl from earlier, he retrieves it and goes about emptying it of all remaining contents. It's the least he can do for her, he supposes.

He pulls a bookmarked journal out of the bag to continue reading while he eats in his overbearingly slow way. The least I can do for her, he thinks again, staring oddly at the object propped up in his right hand. And then the thought comes to him. With all the chaos this morning, Akira forgot to give Sayaka her customary post-convention present. They must still be in his suitcase. He knew he should have set them out on the reading table as soon as he got home from the airport. So stupid of him.

If he doesn't take care of it now, while it's on his mind, he knows that he'll forget again. And Sayaka won't say anything about it, but her day will be slightly worse regardless, because that one little gesture of meaningfulness her otherwise neglectful husband could manage to provide was suddenly missing. But his suitcase is in the bedroom, and Sayaka is in there waiting for him. Anything could happen if he entered. Something terrible, something wonderful, or… or… both at once.

He claws at his hair, strung between these terrible choices, and feels an overwhelmingly urge to just do nothing at all. But that never helps, either, so it's not much of an option. To shake one anxiety off his back, Akira forces himself to finish the okayu. It doesn't help — he ate too quickly, and now he just feels sick. Downing a tall glass of water helps settle the stomach, somewhat. But all he wants to do now is lay down on the spare futon and try to pass out.

Don't, he thinks. She told you not to. Just go to her, you idiot. 'The less you avoid her, the less miserable you are.' Akira wants to think Haru is right, but he's not entirely sure. In the past, it's never seemed to work out the way it should if everything Haru says is true. Of course, Haru always has some explanation for why that is… usually involving the implication that Akira thinks too much and acts too little.

Well… on that particular count, Haru probably is correct.

Akira takes a deep breath, forcefully purging all the useless thoughts from his mind, and he makes his way to the hallway in the back. He stands in front of Sayaka's, no, their bedroom door, gathering all his courage into his limbs as he prepares to slide the fusuma open and step over the threshold.

Down the left end of the hall, he hears the sounds of a flush and running water. If the light was on in the bathroom this whole time, he'd managed to not notice. Akira freezes in place like an animal hypnotized by approaching high beams. In the dim illumination of the hallway nightlight, he sees Misato emerge, donned in lavender pajamas, shuffling toward her room with a zombie-like gait.

Right as his daughter slides her own fusuma open, she finally seems to notice Akira standing there. She shoots a sharp look in his direction before disappearing into her room. It was hard to discern in the darkness, but, based on previous experience, Akira suspects a glower. What could Misato be giving him a dirty look about this time, though? Coming home late? That's too standard for her to bother. He suspects that he'll find out soon enough.

As quietly as can be, he slides the bedroom door open and steps through. By the dim light, he sees that Sayaka is fast asleep, curled up on the right side of their futon, her long silky hair loose. Seeing her tresses in their unbound condition makes him smile, and he feels a definite urge to take his place on the bed's left side, and spoon her, and bury his face in her hair… But first things first.

He changes into the same PJs from the previous night. Then, he crouches on the floor and carefully unzips his suitcase, watching Sayaka over his shoulder the whole time. Akira manages to get it open without disturbing her, as far as he can tell. In the upper shell's inner storage sleeve, he finds the four publications stowed away just where he'd left them. He takes them out and delicately places them on Sayaka's reading chair in the back left corner. This way, she can discover them tomorrow at her leisure and be spared the trouble of thanking him for something so meager.

And then, for a time, Akira simply stands there and watches her sleep. He wants to do what he ought to, what should be so simple, but something doesn't feel right. Misato doesn't give him the evil eye for absolutely no reason. Something happened; he's sure of it.

At long last, the rods of his retina register the rectangular prism lying on the floor within Sayaka's reach, along with the collection of little pale wads scattered in its proximity. He feels stupid for taking so long to figure it out. Of all the things Misato hates most, Sayaka crying on account of Akira's domestic absences probably ranks highest. And after what happened this morning, of course his staying out late would make Sayaka feel terrible. Of course it would. He knows it all, and yet…

And yet nothing ever changes.

Akira banishes himself to the spare futon once more.

NOTES:

Risa's name comes from Risa Ohki, a vocalist who did some very exquisite work for a couple of Final Fantasy arrange albums (and some other things here and there). "Suomi" is from Finland's name for itself, of all things; I thought "Suomi" sounded like a Japanese girl's name, and, lo and behold, it was. "Hanako", I dunno; it's probably just supposed to be as boring and standard a female name as I could imagine. Their surnames -- well, come on, I'm not going to give everything away. That would be no fun.

Brownie points to whoever can figure out the significance of "Hajime", as well.

NEXT TIME:

A recruiter for a mysterious new alliance of scientists within the United Nations appears at YTD's September conference and makes a proposition to Akira. Is he really as ready to take his super solenoid research to the next step as he thinks he is...? (Wait! Don't answer that.)
Last edited by Reichu on Fri Apr 17, 2015 10:59 am, edited 2 times in total.
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