Monday, July 9, 2012

Takashi Kuro

(Hurrr I wrote a thing at work at some point long ago. Here it is. Takashi is kind of the zen old man type. Also, yay inconsistency, but I hacked in some stuff in the middle that hopefully shows the characters transitioning between their thoughts? Lame draft is lame.)

"My name is Takashi Kuro. I was the first Light. I wish I were the last."

He sat on the edge of the Red Capitol's cathedral, recorder in hand. The steeple was still unfinished, as no one could quite figure out what to put on it, so he leaned back against the empty column and clicked the gadget on again. "Akakyo grows. We're still a no-human community, and right now we're at two thousand people. I remember when I could count us on ten fingers."

Down below, a few people walked here and there, and from the zipline that led up the mountain came a cheering blur that dropped off just inside the town walls. At the city gates, far to the east, a crew of Lights herded an incoming party through the huge steel doors. Takashi bundled his knees closer to his chest and wrapped his arms about them, lacing and then merging his fingers. The recorder lay trapped inside the wrapping, its microphone poking out.

"Visitors today. I think humanity has given up trying to contain the Blight, although Akakyo was originally considered a quarantine zone. I declared a few of us to be ambassadors, people who will talk to the still-normal humans and try to establish good relations." He took a deep breath and sighed, a holdover response from his human days. Need for lungs or not, it made him feel a little better; he smiled for a moment and closed his eyes. "They have good intentions, and we have a perfectly clean record of interactions with them. Not a single mistake. They're grateful for our good spirits, and we're grateful for their tolerance.

He felt the fibers in his cheeks relax and let his smile drop. Dragging his gaze back to the incoming humans, he watched as they entered one of the security buildings. There, a crew of Lights would search the visitors and confiscate any explosives, hazardous chemicals, flammables, recording devices, and cameras. Guns and knives, ironically, were not much of a threat. "But I can't manage the energy to talk to them right now. I'm getting old. I was never a robust strain, not even from the start. I'm tired."

He peered up at the mountaintop and the rich red cabling that ran up its sides. His own bared mass was dull, rusty, and washed-out by comparison, and no matter how much he tried to flush in a more lively shade, he could only get it vaguely pink. His colors had been failing for a while; the muddy brown pants and tan shirt he wore today were typical clothes for him. At least human skin was a shade of tan.

"I've been shot, burned, stabbed, drowned, and exiled. Sometimes I'd take the first four over the last."

He stood, the mountain wind rushing over his skin, stirring what little hair he bothered to create. Clicking off the recorder, he took one step, then two, and then a third that left him soaring through the air and forty feet down to the ground. He landed with a heavy, wet thud that squashed his legs, forcing him to reshape them and climb slowly to his feet. The couple of passersby in the area seemed more concerned about his landing than his fall, and one of them -- ah, yes, Vasily, the Russian lab escapee -- reached out to help him up.

Takashi paused a moment, held back a sheepish look, and took the hand in his.
Even the lightning zap of his hunter's instincts had dulled to a faint buzz as he felt foreign biomass against his own. How long would it take for him to fade out? What happened when he did? He stood there a little too long, then shook his head and forced a smile.

"Sorry. I'm a little absentminded today." He withdrew the hand, nodding even in the face of Vasily's knotted brows, and formed up his legs and rose back to his feet.


He turned.

"Wait up." Vasily jogged over on his animal legs, red and orange coursing together into lithe limbs and dainty feet. He barely made a sound as he slowed to a walk beside the Japanese man.

"Do you need something?"

"What happened?"

"It's nothing. I simply wasn't thinking." Takashi waved away the question with another smile that felt even more false than usual. He wasn't fooling Vasily, and he knew it, and the young man was eyeing him now and crossing his arms.

"Takashi, there are lots of humans around here these days. We just got another pack of them. They want to stay a couple of days, discuss a documentary about Akakyo and how we're doing over here."

"It'll be all right." He never let his expression change, but the writhing in his chest and the hand that rose to still it, betrayed his tension. "We'll discuss it...turn them away if need be."

"You're wearing a lot of brown these days. It makes you look tired. Dried up."

"Vasily." He turned and started to raise his arms, lowered them. No, he shouldn't touch the young ones casually. He should set an example, make contact only when necessary or when deliberately trusting.

Just like I kept away from you, Yuriko. He couldn't help looking down at the ground.

"Takashi, something's wrong, and I know it, and you know it. We all know it. People are talking about it. I figured I'd end up asking the question. You know, the one about -- that."

A burst of fear stirred in him, the first energy he had felt in...weeks? Months? A little bit of the old flame color bled into his chest.

"Question?" No. I'm not dying. Not yet. I have a people to lead. And what will they do without me? His fingers trembled.

"I didn't want to be the one to ask it."

"Vasily, just ask, the worst I can say is--"

"What do you want done with any remains?"

"There won't be any."

The words echoed in Takashi's mind, drifting back and forth among all the others there. Yuriko. Sakura. The researchers. Hiroshi Kaneda. Winding between their memories and the fragments of their personalities was the silent knowledge that had been forming there for months now, the one Takashi had never wanted to bring to conscious thought. Saying it now made it truth, made it real.

Vasily had stopped in the street, and Takashi turned to see him ten feet behind.

"What do you mean?" The young man was still like a statue, no breath, not even a flutter of his hair. His eyes widened just enough to let the tension seep into his face.

He forced his lips to move, and his chest felt heavy as lead. "I don't want to die."

"I...don't want to you, either. But everyone does. At least, I think even we do, someday. If not naturally, someone will blow us up."

"I can't teach a protégé in time." Takashi laced his fingers and stared down at them, then up at Vasily. "I'm losing my capability. Soon after, I'll only be good for thinking." The words flowed out faster than he could control them, and that was best, because he wasn't sure he could force himself to say it straight out. "I don't need this body to keep thinking.”

He placed his hands on Vasily's shoulders, slowly, deliberately, with meaning and intent, and the younger Light took a shuffling step back. The contact had told him everything, even if the words hadn't.

"Then--who? We're not--we can't--think of what you're doing!" He threw up his arms, knocking Takashi's away. "What good are you to us if you're just a--a drifting mind? If you're sitting in limbo? We...that's not life or death at all..."

"Whoever takes me with them, has to make good use of me."

"You're not a tool!"

"You're wrong." Takashi motioned to the city gates. "Who built these? Who constructed a city for us, so we could hide when we must? Who has been the tool that you all have used to speak to human society? Who bolted together the infrastructure of our customs? I am nothing but a tool."

"You're a man, you damn fool." Vasily stomped one clawed foot, scraping up dirt around his nails.

"I know you cared most for me of anyone here, Vasily." He offered a smile; the young man shoved it away with a sweep of his arm.

"Stop talking like it's over. Look, I'm sorry I asked. They made me ask. I didn't want to. I didn't want to think about it--"

Takashi waited for the stuttering to fade out into silence. "It isn't over, Vasily. But it will be soon, and then life will go on for all of us."

"You can't do this, you -- you silly old man! Giving up, that's when you die, you know? Don't talk crap like this. I figured we'd just find the dust when you went out fighting for us, y'know? Someday. Not today. Not tomorrow, either. You're a hero. So don't give up and blow away in the wind. That's you're going to go out."

"Then I won't." He cut off Vasily's protest with a finger. "And believe me, I do know what I'm talking about. After that death, there is life. And I don't want to die."

"You stupid -- you'll just be a shadow. That's it. Just a ghost, artificially held together in someone else's mind." Vasily's anger turned to fear as it crossed over his face. "I...don't know what we'll do without you."

"No, you don't know what you'll do." He smiled, genuinely this time, and felt his eyes crinkle and remembered that once he might have had tears. "The decision is made, then. Take me with you, Vasily, when the time is right."

The young Light skittered away. "No. I can't. And how can anyone ever know when it's time?"

"You can. If the last thing I can do in life is give someone else the strength to go on, then I will." The tension in his chest settled, the fibers all lying flat and loose, stretching out with air as he took a deep breath. "As for when? Well, I'm not sure anyone knows."

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