?

Log in

Surface
05 November 2005 @ 04:42 pm
20  
Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

All employees must wash hands.

- Jin, you’re back!
- Have you been waiting here at the door for long?
- Nah, couple minutes, tops.
- Glad to hear it. Let me get this open and make yourself at home.

After they’d walked in, Klein had moved in for a welcome hug which Jin had pulled away from unexpectedly.

- I’m sorry, I need a moment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see you but for right now, I need you to stay away from me. I’ll explain why later.
- All right.

Klein hadn’t been sure of why that’d been so important to him, but figured he must have had a good reason for it which it may have been rude to ask about. Besides, if Jin had asked not to be touched, he’d figured that he’d have had to be a fool to argue.

- I’m going to be in the shower for a few minutes now, and I’d like to have it all to myself this time around, no offence meant.
- None taken.
- Thank you for being so understanding about this.
- No problem. Hey, you’ve got your things, I’ve got my things, we’ve all got our things, you know?
- Can I ask you something that’s probably going to come off as weird, then?
- Sure.
- ... Could... Could you try to be careful to not step on the exact same spots on which I’ve stepped on my way to the washroom for now?
- Umm... Okay.
- You’re a real sweetheart, Klein. I’ll see you soon.

Klein had plopped himself down on the mattress crossing his arms behind his head as he’d stared up at the ceiling listening to the sound of the water coming down, wondering. When the washroom door had opened, he’d sat up to see Jin bent over cleaning the spots he’d stepped on after having come in, then he’d looked away when he’d noticed it’d been making him feel self-conscious about it. When he’d been done putting his rag away, he’d looked up at Klein before lowering it apologetically.

- It’s a weird thing for me to have to be doing, I know.
- Well, everyone does clean things.
- I know, I just don’t think most people do it quite the way I do, do they?
- That doesn’t make it wrong.
- It’s not something I’ve told that many people about.
- It’s just something you feel compelled to do, right?
- Kind of.
- What do you mean?
- That’s part of it, but there’s more to it than that. It’s complicated and I need you to promise you won’t tell anyone because it... it could jeopardize my job if people knew.
- How is that possible?
- Because I’m a medical professional and even though I do believe in the scientific method, if people knew this about me, it could make them doubt my ability to understand it properly.
- My lips are sealed, then.
- Good. Tell me, Klein, when you were back in your hotel room here, did it ever occur to you that other people could have sat naked on the furniture you were using?
- It didn’t at the time, but it sure is now that you’ve mentioned it.
- Is it going to be a concern to you now that it will?
- Not really personally, although I can imagine that most people would say it very well might, for what it’s worth.
- Do you think it would still bother most people even if they knew for sure that the person would have been physically clean at the time?
- I guess the connotation alone could still bother some people even then.
- Because when someone touches something, on a semi-conscious level, many people still believe that it transfers something from that person to that object, don’t they?
- In a manner of speaking.
- There have been times and places in which this has been believed openly. People called it contagious magic, and it was the reason for which it was believed that you had to put something an effigy’s model had touched in a voodoo doll for it to work.
- So you believe in magic?
- Not necessarily, but there’s definitely something in that belief that I can relate to. Let me put it this way: if you walked up to a perfect stranger and their suitcase was on the ground next to them, would you pick it up?
- Of course not. It’s theirs.
- And the fact that it’s theirs would be enough for you picking it up to bother them even if you’d put it right back down, wouldn’t it?
- That would be my guess, I have to say.
- But if you’d bought that suitcase from that man or if he’d given it to you, same suitcase, okay to touch, wouldn’t it be?
- That’s true.
- So would it be fair to define the right to touch something or not as having a lot to do with whether you own that thing or not, with whether you have the right to impress your influence on it or not?
- That’s an interesting way of putting it.
- The... reason I don’t feel comfortable in crowds is the same one I need to clean up when I retreat back into my private little sanctuary here. When other people touch me without asking me, it makes me feel like it means they own me, it makes me feel like I'm being pricked by needles myself and I... I start shaking uncontrollably and having trouble breathing, I feel like crying and the needles start popping up all over me in quickly rising and falling rows like blades of grass in gusts of wind or falling dominoes and I...

Klein’s arms had gently closed around him as he’d begun speaking faster and faster without relent.

- Is it okay for me to be doing this?
- Y... Yeah. Of course. If it hadn’t been okay, I hate to say it, but you’d be full of holes right now.
- This is different than if someone else had touched you in another context, isn’t it?
- Yeah, because I already told you it was okay for you to touch me, so unless something happened that made me tell you it’s not, it’s always going to be okay.
- Is it mostly about needing to be able to control what happens to you, then?
- Not really. It’s just that... When people touch me in a crowd, it’s because they want to be where I am, and since two people can’t be in the same place at the same time, it means they wish I wasn’t there, I’m in the way, there’s too much of me, life would be better for those people, by their own evaluation, if I didn’t exist.
- I hadn’t thought about it that way.
- I already have a lot of trouble justifying my existence to myself as it is, so to resist integrating that notion, I have to resist the crowds that are pushing it on me.
- Does that have anything to do with why you became a doctor?
- It hadn’t occurred to me, but probably, now that you mention it. It’s just a pathetic attempt to justify my existence to myself, it’s not working very well, and when you stop to think about it, it’s only a very selfish thing for me to be doing in that regard, isn’t it?
- I wouldn’t call it that. The intention and the result are both to help and that deserves pride to be taken from it in and of itself, doesn’t it?
- I guess that’s a matter of perspective. In the meantime, it’s still an influence I feel like I need to remove from me by force, to have a small place of mine in our big insane world in which it can’t reach me.
- You still haven’t told me why it’s different when I touch you.
- The difference is that when you touch me, you’re not wishing I wasn’t there for you to touch, you’re doing it because you want me to be there so that you can. In other words, when you touch me, it means that to you, it’s a good thing for me to exist.
- I think I see what you’re saying.
- I want your influence to be impressed on me, because even if you did own me, I’d trust you to use me right.
- Maybe I should have read the instruction manual before playing.
- I can usually figure out controls to games I’ve never played on my own and I have faith in your ability to do the same.
- I usually don’t know what I’m doing.
- Feel free to call my helpline if you have any troubleshooting questions.
- Is it okay for me to come in here without washing up like you?
- Always. That’s because, as my ambassador to the rest of the world, you have to have diplomatic immunity to avoid international incidents. Don’t ask.
- Heh, I’ll try to keep that in mind.
- I figure since I’m a surgeon anyway it can’t hurt my job performance for me to have clean hands, can it?
- Not unless you wash them so much that it makes you skin so dry it bleeds.
- I’m a sea-dweller, remember? I’m meant to be wet to begin with anyway.
- I guess that makes sense. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you for a moment now.
- Shoot.
- Everyone has the right to exist, Jin.
- Do you really believe that?
- Yeah. I try to have as few certainties as possible, but I try to make them count.
- Do you believe that nothing people can do can make them lose that right, no matter how horrible it can be?
- Based on what I know about you, I don’t think you could ever do anything that bad, not even if you tried.
- ... Thank you, Klein.

Jin had often asked Klein rather abruptly to hand him various implements as fast as possible whenever he’d been cleaning, and Klein had wondered privately whether that could have had anything to do with him having had to ask for medical implements to be handed to him urgently all day long or not, but he’d chosen to remain quiet on the issue to avoid coming off as rude and to simply comply with the instructions he’d been given as quickly as he’d been able to. Nevertheless, this certainly hadn’t been enough to make it the last evening he’d spent at Jin’s place during his stay in Brazil.

- So, how was work today?
- Are you just being polite, or do you really want to know?
- I’m really asking.
- I should warn you, it’s not going to be pretty.
- I figured as much before I asked.
- It was terrible, Klein. I don’t know how much more disillusioned I can get. I can’t believe how most people treat themselves knowing what I know about what can go wrong with the humanoid body. I go out on the street and I can’t help seeing health hazards everywhere I look.
- It must be very emotionally draining for you to have to be looking for something wrong with everyone and everything you see all the time.
- The whole process of detecting threats and diseases depends on that, Klein.
- I know.
- There’s just so much of the damage I have to deal with that could have been avoided if someone had cared enough to implement a few simple preventive measures. I’m sick of feeling like I’m the only one who cares. I’m tired of having to save people from themselves.
- So you really think there’s a lot that people could do on their end which could spare you from having to do more than you can on yours?
- Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I blame most individuals themselves, but there aren’t enough ways to educate people, to motivate them to take care of themselves, to give them the right tools to do it properly. Institutions keep getting paralyzed by bureaucratic regulations.
- I’ve seen that from way closer than I wish I had, yeah.
- When neither patients nor institutions are to blame, I get to see patients who received damage from other people. I have to go out on the street and try not to be scared of people knowing what they’re capable of. When none of that’s to blame, the blame falls on me, and I have to do my job with the pressure of knowing that.
- I’m sure most patients care more about the fact that you’re doing your best to help them than about pinning blame on someone.

Jin had chuckled bitterly, sounding more cynical than usual.

- Then you haven’t met enough patients. Besides, they’re right. If I could forgive myself for losing patients, I wouldn’t deserve to call myself a doctor. No matter how many times I wash my hands, I can never wash the blood of lost patients off from them. Do you know what it’s like to have to live with being responsible for someone’s death?

Given how much of a hard time Jin had seemed like he had forgiving himself, Klein hadn’t had any idea of whether he’d have been able to forgive him or not for what had happened back when he’d worked at the factory before he’d run away from home, so although he’d felt bad about not going into details, for the sake of argument, he’d decided to tell himself that a limb hadn’t been the same thing as a life and that he wouldn’t have lied by answering in the negative.

- Can I ask you something, Jin?
- You don’t have to ask me if you can ask me something. Just ask it.
- Okay. Is it true that hospitals can be breeding grounds for new diseases?
- Sometimes, unfortunately, they can be, yeah. The sterility of the environment means microscopic lifeforms don’t have as many helpful bacteria to keep them in check and mithridization can create new and extremely vaccine-resistant disease strains. That’s why you’ve got to be vigilant.
- And is it true that stress weakens the immune system?
- To a certain extent, it can, yes. What are you getting at with this?
- I think stress can be just as contagious as diseases can be, and I think that when you try to keep a physical or emotional environment completely pure, you’re making it less resistant, less adaptive, and less efficient. It’s good that you’d care enough to want to help, but you’ll help more people if you don’t worry so much that you catch something yourself and if you can keep enough professional detachment to stay focused, you know what I’m saying?
- That makes sense on paper but it’s a lot easier said than done. With all due respect, I’d like to see you try.
- I know I couldn’t do your job, not by a long shot. I’m not trying to imply it’s supposed to be easy. I admire the hell out of you for even having the courage to try. That’s exactly why I think you deserve to be more lenient with yourself.
- I would if I thought I could afford to. Look, we could argue about my job until I’m blue in the face, but when I come back home from work after having spent a whole day submerged in it, don’t take this the wrong way, but I need to be able to pull my head out of it as much as I can.
- I can see why you would.
- Part of the reason for which I wash when I get here is that I don’t want my workplace to impress its influence on the place I spend most of my time away from it in.
- I understand. This is where you keep things that help you forget about work, right?
- Heh, not really, come to think of it.
- Oh?
- Everything in here reminds me of my job somehow.
- How so?
- I sew up those plush animals on the ground to practice sewing up real people, for one thing.
- What about the gaming console?
- Studies have determined that surgeons who play video games on a regular basis obtain better operation results that surgeons who don’t because doing so helps them develop better reflexes, precision and hand-eye coordination. One reason I went to the club instead of the arcade on the night we met was that I knew the guys wouldn’t have counted the arcade as somewhere fun for me to go to because they know I take it as seriously as I take work.
- Noted. How should we find a discussion topic not related to your job, then?
- Why don’t you take a moment to tell me about yours instead?
- I hate to say it, but my studies didn’t end up leading me to as many job opportunities as I’d hoped they would, although I guess I’m at least partly to blame for that. I’m not entirely sure about what I’m going to be supposed to be doing with my life when this seminar will be over.
- Have you thought about trying to find a job in which you’d get to help other people?
- Is that something you think I should do?
- I honestly don’t know. On one hand, it’s the most important kind of work there is, and we can never have too many people doing it. On the other, I have to admit, it’s brutal. It’d have to depend on how much self-sacrifice you’re willing to put yourself true for your convictions. Have you ever given any blood, Klein?
- I used to want to, but the doctor told me I had low blood pressure so they couldn’t be sure about what effect it’d have on my health. Besides, he also asked me a few private questions about my life that I didn’t feel very comfortable answering, but to make a long story short, he told me that patients wouldn’t have wanted to receive any blood coming from me.
- I’m sorry to hear that.
- I’m sorry I brought the topic back to what it was before we tried to shift away from it.
- Don’t worry, I realize I kind of drove you to it with the question I asked. Here’s a better one: how’s that seminar of yours coming along?
- Amazingly well.
- That’s good to hear.
- Thanks.
- What’d you call what you’ve been learning in it again?
- Capoeira.
- I’d never heard of it before.
- It’s a martial art that was invented by people who’d been taken away from their homes and who’d wanted to gain freedom from the slave labor they’d been put to.
- Their enslavers must really not have wanted to do the job that had to be done themselves, huh?
- Guess not.
- What does it look like?
- Hold on, let me see if I have enough space... Yeah, here, stand back, I’ll show you some of it.

Klein had gone down on his left hand into a right sweep then on his right hand extending his left leg into a short series of turning, front and back kicks ending with a smirking, side splitting handstand.

- They sure make you touch the ground an awful lot.
- Hey, there are things you can do on the ground that you can’t do anywhere else, you know.
- I don’t doubt that.
- Don’t worry, I’ll go wash my hands.
- You don’t have to. I always keep the floor in here clean enough to eat off of, you know.
- Now why does that not surprise me?

When he’d gone to the peace march with Mano later on, Klein d talked with her about the caste system in India, and although he’d been rather sure that Jin hadn’t thought he’d been better than most people, he hadn’t been able to help but to think back on that conversation when she’d mentioned that people of higher castes had felt like they’d had to wash their hands after having touched people of lower castes than theirs. A week and a few days later had left Klein with only a few more days before the day on which the end of his trip had been scheduled to happen.

- You’re not going to leave without having told me what you think of my butterfly collection, are you?
- I... I don’t really have anything to say about it.
- Don’t worry, it’s okay if you don’t like it. I’m fine with you not having the same tastes I have about everything.
- I know.
- Just tell me the first thing about it that comes into your mind.
- I hate to say it, but to be honest I feel a little sorry for the butterflies. I mean, they spend such a long time as cocoons so they can turn from caterpillars into what they were meant to be that it seems like kind of a shame to me for them to have wasted all the effort they’ve gone to.
- Klein, everyday I stick needles in very ugly living things to help them and I never see their faces again. Isn’t it only fair that to compensate for that every once in a while I’d like to stick needles in beautiful things if it means that from then on I’m going to be able to look at them whenever I want?
- I’m not telling you not to do it or anything. I just don’t think I could personally capture something beautiful if that meant having to destroy it in the process.
- You have some nerve coming here into my house and telling me that!
- Whoa, I’m sorry!
- You know I already feel guilty a lot about not being a good enough person as it is, don’t you?
- You’re right. You do more than enough to be much more of a good person than a bad one, you can be 100% sure of that and I never meant to imply anything other than that.
- Honestly!
- I wouldn’t have said that if I’d known it was going to hurt you so much.
- I... I guess I may have overreacted a little. I did insist on you telling me after you’d resisted initially. I’m sorry, it’s just that I’ve been a bit tense lately.
- Is there anything I can do to help?
- The needles I put in people come and go, Klein.
- Yes, and...?
- They may be gone at the end, but they always leave a thread behind to keep things together until they’ve been patched up.
- It sounds like you’re asking me something, but I’m not sure exactly what you mean, would you care to elaborate on that?

Jin had smiled a casual smile, throwing a mock punch into Klein’s shoulder before pulling him toward himself to wrap his arms around him.

- Make sure you stay in touch with me, okay?
- I promise.
- I’ll miss you, you know...?
 
 
Surface
30 October 2005 @ 12:26 am
19  
Once bitten, twice shy.

- Oh, my God! Are you okay?

Klein hadn’t been able not to wince in response as his host had jumped out of bed and run around it to get a good close look at the condition he’d been in, before running to pull a small medicine bag out of his washroom cabinet.

- Don’t try to pull them out! You’ll hurt yourself. Don’t move, I know what I’m doing.

None of his needles had been showing anymore. He’d gently twisted the needles out to make sure they wouldn’t cause any more damage on their way out than they’d already caused on their way in, he’d disinfected the wounds, he’d put band-aids on them, he’d swabbed Klein’s arm and Klein had cried out when he’d poked and emptied a syringe in it.

- What the hell was that?
- Antidote. An unfortunate part of being part blowfish is that it makes those things poisonous.
- What?!
- Don’t worry, you’ll be okay, just give me a second, I’ll show you.

He’d put the first syringe back into his medicine bag and he’d pulled another one out before injecting himself with it.

- I shoot some of this crap into my bloodstream every morning of every day. As long as I’ve gotten my right dose of it, the venom my body makes only causes limited and temporary paralysis, not death. It shortens my lifespan by about half a day with every shot, but I think it’s worth it not to risk accidentally killing people all the time, don’t you?
- Where... Where do they even sell stuff like that?
- They don’t. I made it.
- Holy crap...!
- I wish they sold this stuff so I wouldn’t have to, but there just aren’t enough people out there with the kind of problems I’ve got to deal with for it to be marketable.
- You said you were part blowfish.
- Yeah, about that, I should probably have mentioned I’m part urchin too, shouldn’t have I?
- It’s not that I resent you for not having done so, I’m just wondering, why didn’t you?
- I was hoping I’d be able to hold them in for the whole time we’d be together. I was hoping you wouldn’t have to find out. I was afraid you’d have rejected me if you’d known.
- Why would have I done that?
- For one thing, some people do have a problem with hybrids, you know.
- I know. I already told you, though, the problems I’ve had with people have had nothing to do with which species they’ve been.
- Even if being around them puts you at that kind of risk?
- You didn’t choose which species you were going to be. Don’t all urchins have to deal with this?
- No.
- Huh?
- Most of us can pull them in or stick them out at will. It’s just that I... You must have noticed by now I’m a little more shy and nervous than most people you must know. When I start getting overwhelmed by stress, I panic, and I just can’t hold them in anymore. So, now that you know what kind of risk being around me puts you at, I couldn’t blame you if you said you never wanted to see me anymore.
- There’s always a risk involved in getting to know anyone. I wouldn’t have come here with you if I hadn’t been aware of that.
- R-really...?
- Can I come back here tonight?
- You mean you still want to?
- Yeah.
- Then of course! I’ll remember to set the alarm tonight, you can be sure of that. I'm usually regular like clockwork. Ever since I got this job, I... I haven’t been seeing that many people and my evenings have usually had a lot more occasions for me to set my alarm during them.
- I’ve already been a distraction enough. You’ll be late for your job.
- I am doing my job. I’m helping you get better. That’s my job. Now, you should stay in bed resting for at least an hour before getting up, preferably two. There’s cereal in the cupboard if you want some.
- Thanks.
- Sorry about everything.
- Don’t worry about it.
- I’ll just be on my way now.

Klein had watched in puzzlement as he’d put on a lab coat, rubber gloves and a face mask hanging from the coat rack.

- You’re wearing those on your way to work...?
- You can never be too careful. Contamination is everywhere, you know.

He’d grabbed his suitcase then quickly gone back for one last stop by the bedside.

- ... I forgot to ask your name, didn’t I?
- That’s okay, I also forgot to ask yours. I’m Klein, what should I call you?
- Jin.

He’d taken off the face mask to kiss Klein on the cheek before putting it back on to leave.

- Love you, Klein. Gotta run.

The door had closed behind him. Klein had been going to miss the first half of the seminar’s program for that day, but he’d decided it’d probably be better not to worry about it too much. Ivan could always help him catch up on some of what he’d missed later, it hadn’t been like there’d been going to be some kind of final exam waiting at the end of it, and since the seminar had taken place mostly during the same hours of the day during which Jin had worked, it’d been going to make it a lot easier for Klein to be able to follow the program while still leaving enough time off from it for him to be able to spend his evenings in Brazil with the guy who’d...

- Did he just say he loved me...?

He’d certainly been going to have something to think about while he’d be lying in bed waiting for the antidote to make the venom wear off, it’d seemed.
 
 
Surface
27 October 2005 @ 06:47 pm
18  
You only hurt the ones you love.

One evening, after a potluck dinner with his fellow capoeira students during his first few days on his trip, Klein had decided that since the march hadn’t been going to occur on the very next day, a nice way to keep riding the energy high he’d reached from the day’s workout all the way to proper exhaustion would have been to make the most of the unexpected opportunity he’d been given to find out what the Brazilian nightlife could be like. He’d followed his feet where they’d taken him through the winding moonlit streets and they’d led him all the way to a dance club where they’d gone and scratched their itch to cut the rug. He’d discovered that the erratic footwork and arm swings he’d been practicing all day hadn’t looked that bad under the light projector tricks and that house, techno, psytrance and synthpop could do almost as well as musical accompaniment to his spins and low kicks as the berimbau, reco-reco and pandeiro could. It hadn’t taken that long before an observer had picked him out of the crowd.

Polychromatic flickers had been pouring themselves shamelessly all over his smooth sand-colored skin, playfully ruffling the dark, chaotic mess of short, thick, pointy strands sprouting from his head. Although Klein hadn’t been able to tell which species he’d been because he’d never seen anyone who’d looked like that before, he’d been short, skinny, scruffy and cute, all of which Klein had decided had been good traits for him to have had. The music had been too loud for introductions, but losing themselves in it had been all they’d needed to find each other. They’d shifted seamlessly from far to near, moving with and against each other, bobbing and swaying, hands tracing darting patterns, all impish smirks and predatory eyes. Their movements had questioned and answered each other’s like signals, fighters or instruments. Then and there, it’d been like nothing that’d ever bothered them had been able to reach them, they’d abandoned themselves to each other and they’d danced together like men possessed. They’d greeted the very final measures nestled in each other’s arms speaking into each other’s ears.

- Tell me, are all skunks as energetic dancers as you are, or is it just you?
- I’m the most so out of every skunk I know.
- How many is that?
- Not that many.
- I couldn’t have told.
- You’re quite the flatterer.
- Just making an observation.
- I’m not sure what you are, but you weren’t half bad yourself.
- That depends, are there any species you avoid?
- I do avoid some people, but not because of what species they are.
- What made you ask, then?
- I’m a curious little bugger, that’s all.
- What would you say if I told you I was a blowfish?
- I’d say that’s got an intriguing ring to it.
- Is that good?
- That’s what I was going for, at least.
- What would you say if I offered to buy you a drink?
- I’d say I hope you weren’t expecting me to argue with that.
- Come on, let’s get out of here. You can’t hear a damn thing in here.

They’d gone out to sip their respective intoxicants of choice at a slightly quieter table on the club’s back terrace.

- Hmm, I didn’t think your pants were really purple. I thought it was a trick of the light.
- Are they okay?
- Don’t worry, they look good on you.
- Heh, thanks. This isn’t the first time you come here, is it?
- Actually, yes, it is.
- No kidding?!
- Is that so surprising?
- I guess not, but I mean, this isn’t the first time you come to a club like this, is it?
- That, too.
- Then color me impressed.
- What for?
- You seemed so at ease in there. It was like you were totally immersed in your own element. It’s just that tonight is the exception for me, not the rule.
- What do you mean?
- I usually have a lot more trouble than you at integrating myself into a crowd like that.
- I used to think that about myself a lot too, on other days, in other crowds.
- I don’t just mean fitting in, I mean... I feel awkward saying it, but I don’t usually feel comfortable when there are a lot of other people everywhere around me like that. You know.
- I respect the kind of courage it must have taken for you to come here tonight, then.
- It’s the kind of courage I wish I didn’t need to have.
- I’m just surprised to hear it because really, you seemed so at ease in there to me too.
- Are you serious?
- Of course. You looked like you were doing exactly what you wanted to be doing with nothing getting in the way of that.
- I...

He’d laughed a nervous laugh, a laugh Klein had been going to learn to know him for.

- I did, didn’t I?
- Sure seemed like it. What convinced you to give it a shot in the first place, I wonder?
- The guys from work kept saying I was letting my job take over my life and I should go out to do something fun tonight for once, so I decided to do something to finally get them to shut up about it and this was the best I could come up with. I’d have thought it would have taken me a lot longer than it did to adapt to this.
- How long have you been practicing at it?
- Tonight was my first night here too.
- Wow! The way you handled yourself back there would have been impressive on anyone’s first night, you know?

A blue blush had risen to his cheeks at those words.

- I... Thank you. To be honest, I don’t know what came over me that made me let go of myself like that.
- Were you on anything?
- No, but I did feel kind of like I imagine it must feel like to be. You must be my good luck charm or something.
- Funny you’d be saying that.
- Why is that?
- It’s just that if there’s anything life’s taught me so far, it’s got to be that luck comes and goes.
- What brings you here?
- I came here for a capoeira seminar with my storytelling teacher.
- You’re not from around here?
- I’m from the northern continent.
- Are you moving down here?
- I’m supposed to be going back there about two weeks from now, since you’re asking.
- Oh. ... I see.
- Did you move here from somewhere?
- Japan.
- What made you come all the way down here from there?
- I felt more needed here than there.
- What did you feel needed for?
- I work for an international non-profit medical relief agency. I do surgery, acupuncture, toxicology, that kind of thing.
- That’s amazing! Well, amazing work, at least, I don’t know about an amazing job.
- That makes two of us.
- What drives you to it in spite of that, then?
- I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but most people don’t seem to have any money around here. Some people seem to think that means they ought to be left to die. I think there’s something very wrong with that.
- I don’t know if you’ve got an amazing job, but you sound like an amazing person, you know that?
- Heh, thanks. It doesn’t hurt to hear that every once in a while and I don’t hear it that often.
- I can’t imagine why.
- Trust me, you’ll probably figure it out on your own if you do end up sticking around me.
- Do you want me to?
- I’m sure I do, I’m just not sure you do.
- Don’t sell yourself short. Besides, you’ve piqued my curiosity.
- If you say so. You said you’re here with a teacher of yours, right?
- Yeah.
- Have you two been splitting a hotel room so far?
- Why do you ask?
- I’m asking because you don’t have to.
- Now what kind of person would I have to be to turn down an offer like that?

The next morning, sunbeams had pried Klein’s eyes open and as he’d stretched and yawned on the futon mattress. The sunlight had shone down on the grateful cactus basking on his host’s work desk, harpoon standing guard in the corner, half-sewn plush animals and gaming consoles lying about on the floor, chakra chart, fishing net, dartboard and butterfly collection hung up on the four walls, a kanji-covered paper ward on the door and gris-gris dangling over a small octagonal mirror looking up from the windowsill. A man of eclectic tastes, that much had been for certain, he’d mused, sitting up looking down at the slowly waking form next to him. As his host’s eyes had blinked themselves open and had come down to rest upon the alarm clock next to him, it had only taken him a few seconds to wake up enough to realize what the time on it had meant.

- Oh shit, I’m late for work! AGHHHHH!!

Klein had dove out of bed on instinct, breaking his fall with a side roll, coming up with a grunt, right hand clutching his arm and left clutching his shin, eyes darting from the former to the latter to his host’s epidermis taking in one, two, ten thousand needles.
 
 
Surface
18 October 2005 @ 09:28 pm
17  
"Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies." – Seneca

- Today was the first time you’d ever seen what capoeira looked like, wasn’t it?
- Yeah.
- So, what did you walk away from it with? What stood out to you, what’d you think?
- It was impressive, but confusing.
- How so?
- Don’t get me wrong, I did like a few things about it.
- It’s okay if you didn’t like everything, but I don’t mind hearing about things about it you did like either, obviously.
- I was thinking about how Emma told me she was willing to walk into a punch if that’s what it took to win a fight. I can appreciate that you have to be willing to make sacrifices to get something back and how noble that is and all, but today I saw people getting out of kicks’ ways and kicking back at the same time. I’m sure some people would say that escaping is cowardly, but on some level, that kind of self-preservation instinct seems healthier to me.
- People say the same kind of thing about stories all the time, you know.
- Huh?
- Books, movies, television, video games, stories of every shape and form, all nothing but cowardly ways of escaping from reality, a lot of people say.
- But it’s easy to say that without thinking about what it is that makes people want to escape from reality in the first place, isn’t it?
- Exactly. Some things really do warrant being run away from.
- You’re telling me!
- Heh, I actually forgot who I was talking to for a moment there, yeah. The point is that slaves couldn’t get out of the way when their masters would beat them or their families would be killed, so when they faced each other in the circle, there was no way they were going to allow themselves to get hit any more than they absolutely had to. And in the greater scheme of things, their only reason to stay alive was the hope they’d eventually be able to escape from their masters themselves.
- That made them escape artists, so to speak.
- Basically, yes. The best defense is not being there.
- I’m glad there’d have been part of it I’d have gotten right, at least.
- I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having to ask questions to understand something either, just so you’re aware. I can’t read other people’s minds either.
- Thanks. Now that you mention it, there are still a few things that raise a few questions for me.
- Go on.
- Some of it doesn’t seem to add up to me.
- What do you mean?
- For one thing, isn’t kicking all the time a lot riskier and doesn’t it demand a lot more effort than punching does?
- The slaves who came up with it were usually shackled, Klein. They had to be prepared for the kinds of conditions they could have to spring into action in. And every chance of improving their lives they had depended on their willingness to take risks to begin with.
- Wouldn’t the ideal have been to get the shackles removed, though?
- Sometimes ideals have to make concessions to reality and you have to make the most out of whatever you have, you know?
- Isn’t assuming that they’d still have a whole bunch of energy left over after having done slave labor all day for doing so many unnecessary movements relying on ideal conditions and refusing to acknowledge reality?
- Who gets to define what’s necessary and what’s not?
- What do you mean?
- Do you read books that don’t have anything to do with work, food, school or money?
- Yeah.
- Do you need to?
- I... guess I don’t technically need to do that to stay physically alive, but I don’t think I could see myself living without it, if that’s what you mean.
- So is it necessary or not?
- Point taken.
- Slaves would spend all their days doing things they had to do, and personally, I can imagine them having been quite sick of that. There are some things that on some level you need to do just to remind yourself you can.
- Is that why they all looked so happy to be fighting each other?
- Heh, I guess you could say that, why do you ask?
- Did they really fight each other with smiles on their faces even back then, like the people I saw today?
- As far as I know, yes.
- Did they also fight their slave owners the same way?
- When they had to and got the chance to, at least.
- See, that seems odd to me.
- In what ways?
- It seems like they should have been saving their energy for fighting the slave owners, not each other, and when they were fighting the slave owners themselves, it seems to me like a ferocious expression or a serious one would have been more menacing.
- It would have also telegraphed their intentions a lot more, wouldn’t it? You wouldn’t expect someone who’s smiling to attack you at all, would you?
- Not under most circumstances, I have to admit.
- As for why they were fighting each other, my theory is that the slave owners must have been trying to keep them as divided as possible to prevent effective revolts.
- Are you sure about that?
- No, but it seems to me like it’d be the coldly logical thing to do if one was a slave owner. They must have offered rewards for betrayal to create suspicion and competition among them to that end, and a lot of pre-existing tribal tensions would have given them a fertile ground to plant their seeds of doubt in.
- Wouldn’t have fighting each other the way they did reinforced those doubts rather than diminishing them?
- Not if you’re playing with and not against each other. Anyone you think of as an enemy has some good aspects and anyone you think of as a friend has some nasty aspects, don’t they?
- I grudgingly have to recognize that most of them do, yeah.
- Enemies can become friends, friends can become enemies.
- I’ve had that happen. Well, the latter, at least, although I sure wouldn’t mind having the former happen too if the opportunity presented itself for it.
- When you go for a date, an interview, a transaction or a sparring match, you never know what to expect, so you have to be relaxed like around friends and alert like around enemies, all at the same time.
- Wouldn’t they have resented each other for being kicked to the ground by each other?
- Better brought down by an ally than an enemy. Non-lethal attacks are a show of trust that you can get out of the way, take punishment and forgive temporary adversaries, which can do a lot more to build confidence than over-protection can. There’s nothing wrong with falling if you can get back up, and that’s better learned sooner than later.
- But when they fell to the slave owners, they couldn’t get back up, so what good did their practice do them? I don’t see how kicks, sweeps and flips could have saved them from guns and knives.
- Although they still had to try to steal guns and knives themselves, their training may have helped them to use them more effectively, but that still couldn’t have saved them on its own, no.
- So what good was it?
- If there hadn’t been anything dangerous about it, it wouldn’t have been criminalized.
- Why was it? Weren’t the dance steps supposed to hide what it was?
- That had nothing to do with it, I think, although you might find people who disagree with me. Other cultural expressions were repressed just as much at the time. The point was that those tribes had to find some kind of activity they could all share that could bring them together into one unifying identity concept.
- So does that make it about treating everyone like they’re all the same and trying to water down what makes you different to fit in?
- I wouldn’t say that. It does acknowledge differences, it just doesn’t let them get in the way.
- Everyone was pressured to sing.
- No two people sing alike.
- Some people who weren’t very good at it sounded kind of embarrassed.
- It’s that embarrassment the singing is there to force them to break through, which people who’ve been told they don’t sing well a lot need more than anything. And I think the others can benefit from having to learn to listen to all different kinds of voices, even if they're not perfect. On some basic level, there’s no way anyone can afford to be ashamed to make their voice heard.
- But it sounds so happy. It doesn’t seem to me that slaves would have been making their real voices heard or expressing their real emotions by singing and dancing like that. It seems to me like they were putting on a brave face and that doesn’t make it sound like they were being fair to themselves.
- Do you think miserable conditions are enough to make people lose the ability to feel joy altogether, Klein?
- ... I don’t know.
- Think about this very carefully. If someone’s lost the ability to feel joy, what difference does it make if they’re in miserable conditions or not? You don’t have to feel sorry for them because they’re not missing out on anything. They have no motivation to escape because what’s there for them to feel elsewhere? When the enemy’s killed your ability to feel joy, then, you’ve really truly lost.
- But if they could still feel joy there, why risk losing that by leaving?
- They still felt more sorrow than joy there and knew they could feel more joy than sorrow elsewhere, and that was reason enough to take that chance. Security and liberty and whatnot. What do slaves and criminals have in common, Klein?
- The fact that the authorities generally don’t have their best interests in mind, for one thing.
- True, but, aside from that?
- I’m not sure.
- People don’t want to think about how the way their society’s built makes them suffer. It disturbs them to be reminded that people they think of as inherently reprehensible can feel happiness for some of the same reasons they can.
- They have to spend their lives hiding while other people are trying to forget them...
- The darker life gets, the stronger the urge to make it shine to make up for it can get. It’s a dirty little word in our day and age, but in some circumstances there’s nothing wrong with being an attention whore, Klein. Sometimes you just have to cartwheel and handstand and kickflip to say ‘I’m here! I'm alive! I work and play and breathe and love and die. My pain and joy are just as real and deserve to be acknowledged just as much as anybody else’s. I’m real. I exist.’

Taking in those words and thinking about how he could relate them to some of what he'd had to go through in his own life had unexpectedly brought tears to his eyes, he hadn’t held them back, and for the first time, he hadn’t felt ashamed of it. In the next few days, he’d discovered that capoeira had made his blood flow much the same way it had while he’d lived with Boko, but there hadn’t been any cognitive dissonance for him to contend with. At the peace march he’d gone to with Ivan he’d met a fascinating woman he’d tell the story of his life to in a casino about a year from then.

Hi, I’m Klein.

A wide, playfully arrogant grin had spread under his tightly shut eyes and cold wet skunk nose, all over his face.

I’m real. I exist.
 
 
Surface
18 October 2005 @ 09:28 am
16  
"Capoeira is not a suit to be put on and taken off on a whim, it is our own skin. We are snakes, cats, bats, rats, monkeys." – The Little Capoeira Book

- Have I told you which kind of trip I’m leaving on, Klein?
- Now that you mention it, I don’t think you have.
- I’m flying to Brazil to go to a capoeira seminar which should last about two weeks or so.
- Wow, that sounds like one enriching trip.
- Heh, glad to hear you’d think so.
- What do you mean?
- You’d think I’d know my daughter better than that by now given how long we’ve known each other, but somehow it still hadn’t occurred to me when I bought two tickets she might not want to come.
- I don’t remember it sounding like it’d have interested her a lot when she and I talked about it, no.
- See? You’ve only known her for a few days and even you could have figured that out.
- Was she offended?
- Actually, she was very polite when she declined, which only makes me feel worse.
- With all due respect, I don’t think that’s what she was going for, sir.
- I know.
- Weren’t you the one who was telling me I was being too hard on myself just a few days ago?
- I know, I know, I should take my own advice, and so on and so forth. The point of the matter is that now I’m basically stuck with an extra plane ticket and no one to make use of it.
- Stop me if I’m being delusional, but are you asking me if I...?
- Know anyone else who might want to go instead of her? I wouldn’t mind that, no.

The barely concealed mixture of disappointment and confusion on Klein’s face hadn’t lasted past Ivan’s chuckle and follow-up.

- Of course I meant you, why else would have I been telling you?
- I don’t know, sir.
- So, what do you say?
- I feel honored you’d even be asking me.
- Can I take that as a yes?
- A most emphatic one!
- Heh, glad to hear it.

Klein had smiled apologetically, looking down while scratching the back of his head

- I’m sorry, I’m afraid I must have sounded a little over-enthusiastic just now.
- Don’t be, there’s nothing wrong with that. Life’s too short not to leap into it with everything you’ve got, you know?
- Um, thanks, I guess.
- Have you ever done any martial arts before?
- I’ve had to go through a crash course or two in battle conditions before, but not formally, no.
- Perfect. That just means less conditioning for you to have to unlearn.
- Does that mean there’d have been something wrong if I’d said I did have experience?
- Not really.
- Then I’m confused.
- The world’s a confusing place for everyone, Klein.

Emma had hugged Klein goodbye on the morning before they’d left for the airport.

- If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think you were going to miss me.
- You know me better than that.
- Do you never miss anyone?
- Of course not. Nothing really matters to me.
- I know.

On their way out the door to Ivan’s car, Klein had addressed him about her.

- I can’t tell whether she’s kidding or serious.
- A little from column A, a little from column B.
- What do you mean?
- I mean, how much do you think you’d be willing to open yourself up to really deeply caring about others after the two people you’d cared the most deeply for of all would have been taken away from you?
- I hadn’t thought about that.
- We’ve had discussions in which I’ve tried to gently persuade her that it’s worth it and that she doesn’t have to put on a brave face, but she’s politely reminded me every time that she’s doing just fine on her own and that as far as she was concerned I shouldn’t have to worry about her regarding anything.
- Wouldn’t she have wanted not to worry you because she deeply cares about you, though?
- Don’t get me wrong, she does have a few people who she’s on relatively friendly terms with, she just can’t seem to let people in the way she used to anymore.
- I imagine you must have to be there for her a lot.
- Only when she gives me a chance to be. It’s not that I don’t want to be there for her because that wouldn’t be fair to me, it’s just that I don’t think I should have to be the only person she cares about because I don’t think that’s fair to her.
- That doesn’t sound like something as easy to get over as she seems to be trying to make it come off as.
- In the end, it’s her life and her business, so she and have pretty much had to agree to disagree on this one and move on from it together.
- Has she ever had a problem with you trying to meet someone else?
- She’d already had to develop some maturity about those issues to get used to me at first, so that’s not something I can complain about, no.
- That’s all I needed to hear.
- Why would have you needed to hear that, did you have your eye on me?

Ivan had been joking.

- Hah! No offence, sir, but no, sir, no, I didn’t.

Klein had been lying, but that still hadn’t been why he’d asked.

- It’s just that it’s your life too, you know?
- Thanks.

They’d reached the airport soon after, where Ivan had given him a short xeroxed history of capoeira as a ‘reading assignment’ to pass the time and get an idea of what he’d gotten himself into on the plane with. Klein had slept for the entire trip. He’d stayed up for a bit listening to a few stories about it before Ivan had gone to sleep in the other hotel room bed, he’d lied down on his side with a flashlight and his head on a pillow so he’d be comfortable enough to read for a while, and before he’d known it, the alarm clock had abruptly lifted his dozing face from it at the crack of dawn. He’d shaken off half-remembered dreams of bulletproof shapeshifters on his way to his first lesson cursing himself for his oversight.

- Don’t worry about it, it’s better to learn by experience anyway.
- You’re just saying any good thing you can think of about everything so I’ll be more confident, aren’t you?
- That depends, is it working?
- Now that you’ve told me what you’re doing, not very well, no.
- You have to do what you can with what you have where you are, don’t you?
- But why should I be confident if I know it’s not justified?
- The more confident you are, the better you’ll do at this, so it will be justified. Remember when I told you that if teachers treat children like idiots they shouldn’t be surprised when that’s what they grow up to be?
- Yeah.
- I believe that cuts both ways.
- I see what you’re saying, but that can’t be all it takes.
- Of course not. It’s not enough to put in effort or to receive help from others to succeed, but you’ll be getting all the help you’ll need for this here and now, and you’re likelier to put in effort if you believe you’re good enough for it to lead to something, am I wrong?
- Is that what you meant when you told me that I shouldn’t be afraid of anything?

Ivan had furrowed his brow trying to remember something.

- Did I ever tell you that, Klein? I know you’re not lying but I can’t imagine myself having said that for some reason.
- Maybe not exactly in those words.
- You’re probably right. It’s the damnedest thing, I can remember tons of song lyrics, quotes and stories but I can’t remember what I told you that time. Sometimes I feel like I spend so much time confusing others that I end up confusing even myself.
- I’m sure it’ll come back to you.
- I’ve got it on the tip of my tongue but I just can’t place it.
- Did you say that fear was always my enemy?
- Yes! That’s it.
- How is that different from telling me I shouldn’t ever be afraid of anything, though?
- Everyone’s afraid of something, Klein. That’s what makes myths and the fear they cause such powerful weapons in the first place. No one is completely immune to them, no matter how much they may say they are.
- Aren’t there real things to be legitimately afraid of, though?
- The world is filled with them.
- So what’s wrong with being afraid?
- Being afraid is nothing to be ashamed of.
- Then I’m afraid you’ve lost me.
- Let me put it this way: have you seen both horror movies and kung fu movies?
- I don’t like violence a lot so I haven’t seen many of either, but I’ve seen a few, yeah.
- Have you noticed the difference between the reactions that people have in both?
- Kind of. How do you mean?
- When you’re watching a horror movie, you know you’re watching a horror movie, and that makes every protagonist a potential victim in your mind from the very beginning. Somehow I get the impression that they know this too. When they see the monster or the killer, their reaction is to scream in terror, freeze like deer in headlights or run away clumsily, and they’re brutally slaughtered.
- Instant box office success.
- Personally I don’t think the protagonists deserve to die, but then that’s exactly what makes their loss such a damn shame to my eyes.
- I don’t think that’s a bad distinction to make, now that you mention it.
- In kung fu movies, when the monster or killer comes, the protagonist’s reaction is to fight back, shout a battle cry or find a way to run which works. Of course, protagonists die in kung fu movies too, but I still think they have more chances on their side and that their lives are better for it before they die.
- I think I see what you’re saying, yeah.
- I’ve always wanted to see someone in a horror movie refuse fear as authority and just kick those creepy masked killers in the nuts and poke their eyes out. After all, it’s just a mask with a regular person under it, isn’t it?
- So basically your advice to me is ‘be in a kung fu movie’?
- You’ll get to shoot fireballs from your hands and fly through the air!
- Metaphorically speaking.
- Yes.
- Just making sure.
- No problem.
- How do I stop being typecast as a horror movie actor and get noticed by kung fu movie directors?
- Part of that is the directors’ decisions, part of those is in the public’s eye, and part of that depends on how you market yourself. That part can be tricky, but it’s the only part you can affect directly, isn’t it?
- I guess.
- And hey, if you happen to see another part of it you can affect, you don’t need my permission for it, do you?
- You know, I guess I don’t.
- Maybe you should get an agent.
- Maybe, but I’d have to star in a lot of horror movies to be able to afford to pay one, wouldn’t I?
- I admit they’re unpleasant to star in, but you can still walk away from a movie yourself to star in another one later even after your character dies, right?
- As long as it doesn't turn out to have been a snuff film, yeah.
 
 
 
Surface
18 October 2005 @ 09:25 am
15  
I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill. – Marc Aurelius

The time has come for all good cows to rise up and come to the aid of their pasture. – Gary Larson

Klein had run from Noah’s Vault and from the forest as silently and fast as he’d been able to after Boko had fallen asleep next to him, and he’d reached the city he’d come to it from during late afternoon. He hadn’t had any more idea of where to go than when he’d run away, but the forest had been going to be out for a while, that much, he’d been sure of. He’d scanned his mind for anyone he could have turned to for advice as to how to deal with the situation he’d been in, and the only name that’d occurred to him had been Ivan, his storytelling teacher from what’d seemed like longer ago than it’d been.

He’d been the only teacher who’d given him his home address to deliver a late assignment to once, and the only person whose counsel he’d felt he could trust even only a little at the time. He’d felt bad at the thought of imposing on him, but neither of the two places he’d lived in until then had seemed like they’d have been a good idea to return to, so the only third option he’d been able to think of had won out.

- Come in. I haven’t seen you in a while, and you’ve been seeming too interested in my classes to miss them without due cause. Stop me if I’m getting delusional, mind you.
- Not at all.
- What’s been keeping you, then?
- To make a long story short, the day I dropped out of school was the same day on which I got kicked out and sent away to fend off on my own.
- Holy crap...!
- I’ve read about jobless youths without a penny to their names having been disowned before, so there’s got to be some kind of established procedure people are expected to follow in situations like this, right?
- Kind of.
- Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for your hospitality or anything, but is there a soup kitchen or homeless shelter I could go to or somewhere I could find work at that you know of anywhere near here?
- I’ll look into that. Listen, normally I’d never do something like this, but I think we know each other better than most kids and teachers usually do, and I don’t mean to come off like an alarmist, but this is a rather desperate situation you’re in, so actually, I do think it’d be okay for you to sleep on the couch here for a week or two, at least until we can find somewhere else for you to go.
- Are you serious?
- Just don’t think of this as moving in permanently.
- Of course not.
- This is a temporary fix until we find something more suitable.
- I can’t believe this, thank you so much!
- Can you help out around the house a bit while you’ll be here?
- Um... I’d love to do my share and earn my keep any way I can, but I’m not really sure based on past experience that there’s much I’m good at.
- We could pay you for it, you know.
- Please don’t, I’d really feel bad about making you waste your money on my lousy services.
- If you ever want to make a living, you’re going to have to learn to sell yourself a lot better than that, you know.
- I’m just being honest, sir. I feel bad enough about taking advantage of your generosity as it is.
- Why don’t you at least give it a shot and let me decide whether I’m wasting my money or not on my own?
- Okay, but I’m not promising anything.
- Don’t worry about it.
- If you say so. I can start right now if you want.
- You can start tomorrow. After what you must’ve been through, I think you’ve earned some rest for tonight, don’t you?
- All right.

The next day, after having struggled with his insecurity for a while, he'd finally been able to bring himself to try washing dishes, cleaning the floor and doing laundry again, which had left him several free hours for the rest of the day, and he’d looked up at Ivan incredulously when he’d handed him twenty dollars for it.

- You’re right, it’s not much for the time you’ve put in. Would thirty seem more reasonable to you?
- I actually thought twenty seemed like too much! Did you look at the actual dishes, floor and clothes after I’d been done with them?
- Yes, and?
- Weren’t they all washed all wrong? Didn’t they all still stink even after I’d been done with them?
- Of course not. What would have made you think that?
- An ex of mine always used to tell me they did, so I ended up thinking I couldn’t do any of this right by anyone’s standards.
- Then maybe you’re better off being her ex than not, wouldn’t you say?
- Probably not a bad way to look at it.
- Her loss, no use crying over spilled milk and all that.
- Thanks.
- Just because you can’t please everyone all the time, that still doesn’t mean you can’t please anyone at any time, right?
- Didn’t it take me too long?
- You took as long as it took not to do a rush job.
- I don’t think I did a perfect job.
- My students never all get 100% marks on my class, and they still pay me.
- You’re already giving me free room and board for several days, remember?
- I know. That’s why I didn’t give you more than that for your trouble.
- Um... Okay. Thanks, Ivan. Sir.
- Ivan is fine.
- Why are you doing so much for me?
- Did I ever tell you about my daughter, Klein?
- I... I didn’t even know you had one.
- Lost her father to a drunken driving car accident and her mother, who’d become my wife, to a stress-related heart attack a few years ago now.
- I’m sorry to hear that.
- Thanks. Anyway, the thought of what could have happened to her if her mother hadn’t remarried me in the meantime is something which really bothers me a lot, and I didn’t like to think of you having to go through something similar to what she’d have had to go through if that’d been how things had turned out, does that make any sense to you?
- You know, I think it does.
- She’s supposed to come over to visit tonight, actually. She’s already moved out and gotten a job as a philosophy teacher at another college, but the school year’s just ended a few days ago and she’s going to stay over so we can catch up a bit for a few days. I have a trip I’m leaving for a week and a half from now, and between that and the final exams I still have to correct, if I had household chores on top of everything, that’d significantly reduce the amount of quality time I could spend with her.
- I see what you’re saying.
- So, you don’t have to feel that guilty about staying here. You’re helping me out of a jam too.
- That’s good to hear, sir. What’s she like?
- Her name’s Emma, she’s... too complex to sum up in one sentence, really. I’ll introduce you to her when she gets here tonight so you can find out for yourself.

Ivan hadn’t lied. Emma had been unlike anyone Klein had ever met before.

- Is that a leather jacket?!
- It’s fake, but it sure drew your attention, didn’t it?
- On a minotaur, it kind of stands out. Re-appropriation with a twist?
- If you can call it that.
- Most minotaurs I’ve seen had much longer horns than yours.
- Well, a lot of women are having them done.
- You’re a philosophy teacher and a comedian?
- That depends, are you a tough room or an easy crowd?
- I’m just surprised you’d still have a sense of humor left in you considering the loss you’ve been through.
- You end up having to develop one as a coping mechanism or you go insane.
- Since you asked, I’m generally more of an easy crowd than not, but that’s just because I don’t think I’m funny enough to be entitled to be critical of other people’s jokes.
- You don’t want to over-extend and expose yourself to retaliation. I’m sure you’ll agree that having shorter horns means less chances of being taken by them.
- I suppose that’s true.
- Besides, I can't have them be so long that they scrape against the ground when I'm upside-down, can I?
- You spend a lot of time upside-down?
- Most wrestlers and gymnasts do. Sound mind in a sound body and all that.
- Aren’t you afraid that dividing your attention between that and philosophy’s going to give you worse results in both than you’d get in either if you focused on it?
- I think that’s directly related to philosophy.
- How so?
- For example, take a look at the expression ‘right-side-up’. It’s kind of implying that being upside-down must be wrong, isn’t it?
- I guess, yeah.
- But upside-down is just a different perspective to look at the same world and people from. If there’s going to be divine judgement then it’s only fair for someone to play devil’s advocate. I like using my feet as extra hands and my hands as extra feet because I think it’s healthy to find new uses for old things, to use them in ways they weren’t intended for. Conventional thinking is that hands go in the air and feet go on the ground. I think anything can go anywhere I want.
- If you’re such a non-conformist, why’d you become a teacher just like your old man, though?
- There’s nothing wrong with influence itself, Klein. You just have to look at it on a case-by-case basis.
- Do you have an answer for everything?
- Gods, I hope not! What a dreadfully boring person that would make me.

Klein hadn’t been able to hold back a chuckle at this.

- I’m sorry, it just seems weird to me because, back when I was in school, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew what I didn’t want to be, and that was the person teaching the class.
- It’s not that I think that the education system we’ve got is the best possible one we could have, just so you know.
- Really? What do you think is wrong with it?
- Too much adapting students to teaching, not enough adapting teaching to students. Too much passing on the fears of our elders, not enough helping people find work they enjoy doing. Too much separation between subjects, not enough about how they interconnect. Too much rote memorization, not enough teaching a man to fish. We could power the entire city with the energy produced by Rabelais spinning in his grave.
- Why are you teaching in school at all, then?
- I think that if anything’s ever going to improve about the world we live in, there has to be a fundamental revolution in the way we think, and philosophy teacher seems like a decent job to have to try to contribute to that.
- Fair enough.
- What do you think is wrong with school?
- Communication between students and talking back at the teacher are both discouraged, so I don’t see how they’re supposed to help people learn to socialize or to treat each other as equals. Plus it makes people think learning is for children so they become afraid of allowing themselves to learn after it’s over because they think it implies that they’re like children.
- My father calls himself a teacher who learns and a student who teaches.
- That’s got to have something to do with why he was my favorite teacher.
- What have you been studying, anyway?
- Advertising, mostly.
- Bleah, how dreadful.
- Can’t blame me for dropping out, can you?
- I suppose not. As a herbivore I’ve never been too fond of the concepts of branding, of pulling wool over eyes or of corporations treating people like property.
- I used to know a guy who treated property like people. It’s not enough to just turn something wrong the other way around to make it into something right, let me tell you that.
- Actually, that is not a bad summary of the kind of non-dualistic, non-binary thinking I hope some of my students will walk away from my class with. I think that’s what the Hindus mean by opening your third eye. You are preaching to the choir, you know.
- Sorry for not having brought anything new to the discussion like I thought I had.
- That’s okay. Sometimes I don’t mind being the choir being preached to. It’s a good reminder that maybe I’m not crazy about everything. Listen, I may be here to visit my father and all, but he does go to bed a lot earlier than I like to, and I’ve been intending on going out for a drink tonight after he’d be asleep. Wanna come?
- I’m surprised you’d still drink after your father would have died in a drunk driving car accident.
- Drinking doesn’t mean I have to get drunk and getting drunk doesn’t mean I have to get behind the wheel, right?
- I’d have thought you’d have valued your clear thinking too much for that.
- I think being drunk often means allowing yourself to look at life how you usually wouldn’t, isn’t that what a lot of philosophy is about?
- Hey, if philosophy says it’s okay for me to go out and get drunk as a skunk, who am I to argue?
- Philosophy comes in handy that way.
- I’m finding that out. Where would we be going, anyway?
- It’s called the Bolgia. You’d love it, Klein. It’s the worst place in the entire world.

So she’d taken him to the Bolgia, where, after they’d gotten a few drinks in them, she’d climbed up on the ring to show him some of what she could do, which he’d honestly seemed at least somewhat impressed by.

- So, how well do you think I handled myself up there?
- You’re very defensive, aren’t you? You stomp back on the mat with your bare hooves and make come-hither motions to provoke and prompt your opponent into attacking so you can apply counters a lot, but very little of the charging going on is coming from you. You sit back, wait, watch, analyze, and seize opportunities when they present themselves.
- Have you ever seen bull-fighting, Klein?
- I’m not drawn to it, so no.
- I’m not either, but I did see it once anyway.
- What was it like?
- It was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen, but I did learn something from it.
- What’s that?
- When the bull charges ahead without thinking as soon as he sees red, all he gets for it is skewered.
- I think the whole set-up is so unfair to begin with that it’s no wonder the bull would get angry.
- It’s unfair enough to justify the bull’s anger, that’s undeniable, but there’s a difference between doing something about what makes you angry and only doing something about being angry.
- So you think the bull just shouldn’t do anything?
- I may fight defensive, but I was still out there on the ring tonight, wasn’t I?
- I guess that’s true.
- My father ran on the road, my mother ran at her job, and it got them both killed. People say bovines are slow, but when bovines run, there’s a stampede. There’s no point in being the fastest runner if you run off a cliff.

At that point in his life, the words ‘off a cliff’ had really resonated with him.

- Life may be full of mazes, but the patience to follow the wall leads out and shortcuts lead to dead ends. Easy answers may be expedient, but I don’t think I can lay claim to intellectual integrity without the patience to search past them for as long as it can take. Or at least that’s my personal take on it. So, what do you think...?
- I guess the right answer would have to be that I’m going to need some time to think about it before getting back to you on that.
- Smart man.
- Doesn’t it get painful for you to keep getting hit while you’re waiting for your opponent to make a mistake you can capitalize on, though?
- I can take a punch if that’s what it takes for me to win a fight. I’ve put myself through some exercises to increase my pain threshold you probably don’t want to hear about, but I couldn’t recommend them for everyone, now that you mention it.
- Try me.
- I’ll start with a tame one: I sleep on a wooden board at night.
- I’ll pass.
- It helps my posture and back pain a lot, you know.
- Glad to hear it’d be working so well for you.
- There’s exercises I could try to teach you so you’d be able to cope with psycho-emotional pain better if you want too, but you couldn’t reasonably expect them to work overnight, be one-size-fits-all or solve everything either.
- So the exercises are supposed to teach me patience by taking a long time to work?

Emma hadn’t been able to hold back a laugh at this.

- If that’s how you want to put it, sure.
- Should I not mention to your father that we came here tonight?
- I already told him about it.
- What did he say?
- It doesn’t matter what he said. What matters is, I told him.
- Does he do any of this stuff?
- Depends what you mean by ‘stuff’. No wrestling or gymnastics, if that’s what you’re asking.
- So what exactly does he do?
- Capoeira.
- Have you ever tried it?
- Only a little, but still enough for me to figure out that it’s not for me.
- Why not?
- The kicks are begging for heelhold takedowns, the cartwheels for pile-drivers, the headbutts for running headlocks and the sweeps for leg locks. My father says you have to be willing to stick your neck out if you want to get results, but I have my share of doubts about that. It wastes too much energy on unnecessary movement and it looks like it’s trying too hard. I don’t like the cowbells or the goatskin beating drums. Not that I have any sacred cows or anything, but goats are such noble animals, wouldn’t you say? They’ll eat just about anything without discrimination. No wonder the discriminating would’ve linked them with demonic imagery.
- What kinds of interests and activities do you share with him, then?
- I remember once when I was a kid we went to the zoo and when no one was looking we put up a sign which said "Please do not feed your ego at the animals' expense". A bit sophomoric in retrospect, but harmless, and it must have raised a few eyebrows in its day nonetheless. We are going to go catapult plushies over a fence together at an anti-globalization protest a few days from now. It’ll mean staying home from the Bolgia on the night before, but I think it’s worth the sacrifice. Does that count?
- Can I come with you?
- Are you serious?!
- I wouldn’t have to bring any throwing rocks with me, would I?
- The only things you’d have to bring would be your sign, your feet and your voice.
- So you’re letting me come along?
- Of course. The more the merrier. You know how those things go.
- A little. I may not like advertising all that much, but I still wouldn’t mind doing some for something I actually believe in for a change.
- If I told you you’d probably need to wear a gas mask I could lend you, would that turn you off of this?
- We’re going to need gas masks?
- I’d understand if you’d rather stay home, you know.
- Bah, why the hell not? It’s not like I’ve never coughed, laughed or cried on my own before, right?
- Not that you should have to, mind you. We can’t stop the police from throwing smoke grenades at us, but if you wear a gas mask fitted on just right, you can create a space for you to breathe in that you can carry with you, a space in which the smoke can’t reach you.
- Eloquently put.
- You’re not just saying that because you’re trying to get into a relationship with me, are you?
- I can honestly tell you that I’m not.
- Am I that unattractive?
- No, are you asking me because you’re trying to get into a relationship with me?
- I can honestly tell you that I’m not.
- Am I that unattractive?
- Not really.
- Thanks.


So, what do you think...?
 
 
Surface
18 October 2005 @ 09:20 am
14  
Boards don’t fight back. – Bruce Lee

The next morning, the first thing Klein had heard after having woken up had been the sound of Boko typing at his computer terminal. When he’d noticed that Klein had finally been up, Boko, ever the type to rise with the sun, had addressed him on a topic which had sounded very dear to him.

- A sculpture’s been stolen from Basilisk Museum yesterday afternoon. I’ve been reading about it all morning. I can’t believe any museum staff would care so little about what’s in it to allow things like that to happen. This isn’t the first time I’ve wished I could be in two places at one time. There’s no telling what’s going to happen to that sculpture now.
- Do you really think that the sculpture having been stolen has to mean that the museum staff can’t have cared about it?
- Of course! Remember, when you care enough about doing something, you can do absolutely everything you have to do to get it done. They must have bought the shoddiest security system on Earth because they didn’t want to have to pay for one which would have been worth enough to keep any real threat out.
- That’s probably what happened, yeah.
- We live in a world in which people can’t be bothered to do their jobs right.
- What are you getting at?
- I’ve already had time to apply for a job as a security agent, set two phone lines to be briefly redirected here at a second’s notice and hacked into the museum’s database and camera system which should soon be loaded and broadcast right... here. I’m going to have to ask you to be quiet for a moment because I should be getting a phone call right around... now.

That morning, Klein had discovered that Boko had been masterful with impressions. One believably falsified recommendation later, and Boko had taken his tools and picked up the car parts from where they’d been hanging to go put them back together at the surface in record time. He’d gone back down to wash up and put on a clean business suit, and he’d been on his way to his new job with Klein at the wheel.

- It’s okay for you to talk to people a little, but make sure you don’t give us away, okay?
- I’ll make sure not to, yeah.
- Good. This is going to be a delicate operation and although you do show promise, you’re still new at this. This time, you can watch, but consider yourself advised not to touch.
- All right.

Boko had exchanged friendly greetings with his new co-workers, and by then Klein had begun making a semi-conscious effort to keep his own cognitive dissonance mechanisms running well enough not to have been asking himself too many questions about why they’d been there. Boko had answered those questions very clearly when he’d used his newly acquired security access codes on lunch break to break into the restricted area in which the hydra who’d been watching all seven screens hooked up to the security cameras simultaneously still hadn’t been able to see him coming before three tongue lashes and four tail whips had knocked him out in a second and a half. Even without the system blueprints he’d memorized, having been able to leap, break his falls, look around in different directions, mask his presence and scuttle on walls and ceilings had made it a piece of cake for him to get past the lasers, trapdoors and tripwires to every glass casing, his claws cutting through them like so many knives through butter. He’d left them a free car in exchange for the truck he’d stolen from the museum to haul all the packed sculptures away before lunch break had been over.

Boko had spent the afternoon dismantling the truck to bring its parts down to be thrown in a corner pile and finding the perfect spot in Noah’s Vault for each and every one of his new acquisitions.

- Considering how easy it was to get through that, I think those sculptures will be much safer here, don’t you think so, Klein?
- This place does seem like it’d be a much less likely target, yeah.
- You don’t think of us as villains, do you?
- Of course not, although if we are, then let’s try to be the best damn villains we can be.
- Well spoken, my skunk.
- Thanks, Boko, that means a lot to me coming from you.

That night Klein had put his concerns and worries aside to live in the moment as much as he’d been able to.

The next morning, Boko had woken Klein up with what he’d told him had been terrible news. He’d told him to get ready as fast as he could because there hadn’t been enough time to explain. As they’d been running at a breathless pace toward a nearby cliff, Boko had told Klein that an old abandoned building facing it had been slated for demolition at one sharp on that day.

- It’s from two whole centuries ago, Klein, it’s an integral part of our history and heritage and these people want to destroy it simply because there’s no people and no profit in it. We can’t let them get away with this.

Klein had been too sleep-deprived and out of breath to have had enough time to formulate a coherent response before they’d reached close proximity of the building near the cliff with a wrecking ball crane inching toward it.

- Come on, my skunk, do your stuff!
- What?! I thought you’d said I was too inexperienced?
- Every caterpillar has to emerge from its cocoon as a butterfly sometime, and now would be a really good time for the one you are to do that, Klein!
- What do you want me to do?
- Spray it! Kick it! Destroy it!
- I can’t do that!

Boko had shrugged, rolled his eyes, shaken his head and breathed an exasperated sigh.

- I don’t have time for this. I should have learned by now that whenever I want something done right I should do it myself.

Before Klein had been able to articulate a reply to that, Boko had already gone into a mad dash toward the wrecking ball crane. The dash had mutated halfway there into an uncoiling tail-bouncing leap all the way to its side, which Boko had slammed right into, knees bending into a crouch and feet sticking to it for seconds. Then he’d straightened his legs, uncoiling his tail sideways under him to push the wrecking ball crane off the cliff, before having landed on his feet before Klein, puzzling over what the reason for his troubled expression could possibly have been.

- I’m sorry, we seem to be having a bit of a miscommunication issue to work through right now, Klein.
- No shit, Sherlock.
- There’s no need to be vulgar.
- You’re telling me I’m doing something wrong for being vulgar? Man, you just offed a person to save a building, are you sure you’ve got your own priorities all straightened up?
- Do I have to remind you that building had dozens of irreplaceable antiques in it?
- Antiques...?
- Those wrecking ball cranes are just assembly line production, so there must be thousands like it out there, you know.
- You think cranes and antiques are more important than people’s lives?
- Klein, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from living among the populations of dozens of countries, it’s that it’s safe to assume that everyone who belongs to a particular group is similar enough to everyone else in it to make the impact of the loss of their life ultimately negligible. The more there is of something, the less it’s worth and the less there is of something, the more it’s worth, that’s how the basic law of economy functions, isn’t it?
- When you said you worshipped everything, you were making a point of saying everything instead of everyone, weren’t you?
- People are all going to die eventually anyway. Objects are the only ones who have a chance of lasting forever. That’s why they were the ones who were really granted souls. They’re innocent, Klein. They haven’t done anything wrong. The only reason for which people condemn them is because it’s convenient, because they don’t care, because they can get away with it, because objects, being still and pure, don’t fight back. If we don’t stand up to protect them from the tyranny of the animate, who will?
- So you’ve been expecting me to do this from the start?
- I’ve been expecting that as you learned more you’d naturally end up wanting to on your own. To know the world is to love it, to love it is to protect it. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.
- Go on.
- Do you remember when you asked me about my past and I ended up not telling you anything about it?
- Yeah.
- That’s because I don’t have a past, Klein. I woke up in this forest many years ago without any memory of my previous life. The world, as it conforms to how I remember it having been on that day, is all I have. I don’t know how old I am, but I’m probably much older than you think, and I’m just another pathetic mortal thing. I’m not going to live forever, and the objects I’ll have become the protector of during my lifetime will become defenceless after I’ll be dead and gone. I thought I could train you to be my successor. I thought you could take over for me.
- Before giving you my answer, can I ask you something?
- I can answer every question you’ll ever be able to ask yourself.
- Everything is just another layer of skin to peel off for you, isn’t it?
- I am a man of many faces, if that's what you mean by that.
- So when you’d been acting like me so much when we’d first met, were you only doing it because you wanted me to eventually start acting like you?
- That may have been what it was at first, but you’ve become so much more than that to me, Klein. You’re intelligent, caring, resourceful, unique. You’re nothing like the expendable rabble that litters the planet. You’re the only person I’ve ever trusted enough to reveal my true self beneath all the layers to, can you imagine that?
- Yeah. I can.

That night Klein had realized that he couldn’t stand to look at himself in Boko’s mirror, mirror on the wall anymore, and he’d decided that there’d be no point in living with someone who’d acted just like him if he hadn’t even been able to live with himself.

The next morning, Boko had found a note that Klein had left behind.

‘The world is always going to keep changing whether you want it to or not, and there’s nothing that you, I or anybody else can do about it. Change is so inherent to the world that if it was removed from it, then it’d really become unrecognizable.

You may have much better social skills than I ever will, but deep down, I think I’m still much more of a people person than you are, Boko. I do want to protect the world, but there are limits to what I can do, and people are a part of my world too.

I learned a lot from you, I’m not denying that, but I’m going to go figure out the rest of what there is to know on my own now.

Find someone else.

Your skunk,

Klein.’
 
 
Surface
18 October 2005 @ 09:19 am
13  
People are at their most authentic when they’re wearing masks. – Oscar Wilde

Soon after they’d reached the village of the tribe of the Sahuagin itself, Klein had heard Boko greeting them in their native tongue and telling him the gist of what their response had been like. Basically, he’d asked them for the right to be allowed into their village to go through a cursory observation of it under their strict surveillance and he'd promised to make it well worth their while. While they’d maintained some suspicion of him, having heard someone address them in their native tongue had softened their resistance to a point at which they’d agreed.

- This is going to be the first time you’re going to be living among them, yeah?
- Of course, why do you ask?
- You can already communicate with them?
- I only picked up a hundred words or two while eavesdropping on them two or three times before, so no, not quite yet. As a matter of fact, I didn’t tell them that, but one main reason I want to be able to sightsee for a moment is that I need to be able to listen to them talking to each other in context so I can make out the rest of it.
- Oh, I see.

On the second day, he’d already reached an intermediate level of proficiency in Ichthian, as the Sahuagin had called their dialect. On that day, Boko had explained to them that if they’d be willing to allow him and his friend to live with them for a while, he’d be willing to repair broken huts and to build new ones, to gather and to hunt for others as well as for him. He’d also told them that while he’d be there, he’d be studying their customs and social structure closely, that he’d be telling the world about them so that their best aspects could impress and benefit as many people as possible, so that they’d be more likely to have the public vote on their side whenever territorial law conflicts would erupt, and so that even if they’d eventually disappeared, their ways would have never been forgotten. He’d mentioned that he’d want to take a minimal sample of their vases, clothes, talismans, masks, tools and instruments with him when he’d go, but not enough for them to be missed, and that he’d intended to pay for them in full legal tender which would be accepted by any urbanites they’d come across, which could also give them an advantage in a tight spot.

Boko had had a real silver tongue, and he’d proven persuasive enough that the Sahuagin had eventually accepted his temporary residence among them. On his third day, he’d mastered their language well enough to be considered an advanced speaker of it, and since there’d been no existing alphabet or script for Ichthian, he’d begun to write down a compendium of their vocabulary, syntax and idiomatic expressions. Having learned how to speak and write it, he’d felt confident enough in his vocal and mnemonic abilities that, after he’d spent an evening or two around a campfire listening to them singing and telling stories to each other, in addition to privately cataloguing their songs and stories, he’d begun to sing and to retell them himself, well enough that they’d said they could have sworn he’d lived among them from the day he’d been born. After having spent a week there, he’d started working on translations of them, and when he’d interpreted what they’d said to Klein and what Klein had said to them, he’d not only spoken almost exactly at the same time but he’d made the same facial expressions, had used the same voice inflections and the same body language as the person he’d been speaking for. He’d even taken on their very skin coloration.

- Are you sure you don’t mind having to translate for me like that all the time?
- Not at all. I love translating. It’s such a fascinating concept, isn’t it? You’re taking something to turn it into something else which is ideally both exactly the same thing and also something completely different, all at the same time. It’s almost like alchemy, don’t you think so, Klein?
- I don’t know enough about it to confirm or deny that, but I will tell you one thing: one way or the other, you have got one serious way with words, Boko.
- Thank you.
- Sometimes I can’t believe just how much you’re capable of.
- When you’ll have found an overarching sense of purpose, you’ll find out that you have much fewer limits than you usually give yourself credit for, Klein.

Boko’s gift for imitative learning hadn’t been restricted to sedentary activity, either. As their second week there had just been starting, he’d been observing the native dancers at ritual processions long and attentively enough that during a nightly summer festival, while moving in circles around a bonfire, he’d been able to give an incredibly accurate rendition of every single native dance he’d seen performed until then, squatting, clapping, hopping and spinning. He’d sworn that the rain which had cut the event short slightly before it’d been supposed to end had had nothing to do with it.

While Klein still hadn’t been able to bring himself to follow Boko when he’d gone hunting along with the natives (such a natural at bird calls had been quite an asset), he’d still wanted to be able to make some kind of contribution to the general providing effort, to prove to others and to himself that he hadn’t had to be a good-for-nothing parasite. He’d decided to dedicate himself to discovering how agriculture had worked instead, and the Sahuagin had taught him how, when and where to plant, how often to water and to use fertilizer and how much, how to trim, how to clean and how to harvest tomatoes, corn, lettuce and carrots, in addition to having taught him which wild mushrooms and berries had been edible and which ones he’d have been better off avoiding. They’d taught him that the secret to happiness in life had simply been to cultivate his garden, which he’d remembered having heard somewhere before, just not where it’d been from.

They’d taught him how to carve wood and stones into various shapes which combined practicality with aesthetics. They’d taught him that the web of life and the social fabric had been inextricably interwoven. He’d learned that the Sahuagin sense of property had been totally different from what he’d grown up having had to become used to. Among them, he’d begun to treat everything he’d owned as though it’d also belonged to everyone else and to treat what everyone else had owned as though it’d also belonged to him, provided that he’d asked for it and had intended to return it.

One late afternoon, Boko had come back from the hunt alone, panting, stricken and panicked.

- What’s the matter, what happened? Are you all right...?
- Something very regrettable just happened, Klein.
- Where are the others?
- They’re all dead.

Klein had felt the shock rippling through him from head to toe, curdling his blood on its way down like an internal lightning bolt. He’d been through some less than stellar moments in his life, but he’d never been near death, never so close to it.

- The mountain lion may be more endangered than the Sahuagin, but that’s certainly not because it doesn’t know how to defend itself, let me tell you that. I tried to save them, but there was nothing I could do. I’m not sure how the others are going to feel about that, but I think it could be time for us to take our leave before we’ve overstayed our welcome. Come on, let’s head back.

And they’d left the village without a word to anyone, just like that.

After they’d spent a few hours on their hurried way back to the safety of the confines of Noah’s Vault, Boko had abruptly come to a complete stop, he’d perked up his head, had sniffed something in the breeze and it’d been the first time that Klein had seen a scowl on Boko’s face, one of intense concern mixed with subdued fury. Klein had realized that Boko’s senses of hearing and smelling must have been much more highly developed than his own.

- What’s going on?
- This is an old growth forest, Klein.
- What’s that got to do with anything?
- My eardrums are being drilled into by a cacophony of shrill, electric and mechanical sounds, and the stench of iron cleanser and burning fuel is making my poor lungs wilt. It takes trees from dozens to hundreds of years to grow to the kinds of sizes you can see around here, and it only takes a few minutes for them to come down. Something very rotten is going on, Klein, and just knowing about it is making me feel like something sharp and pointy is cutting through my very flesh and bones. I can’t take much more of this. Come with me.
- Hey, wait!

Boko had suddenly started running twice as fast as he’d been until then, and Klein, who’d been having trouble keeping up and who’d been feeling like he’d been running faster than he’d ever run, couldn’t even conceive of the fact that Boko had been holding back for his sake. What he’d been even more surprised about had been that while he’d been staring firmly at Boko in action, even though he’d have never thought himself capable of it, he’d been able to keep up with him after all. He’d begun to wonder if some of Boko’s imitative learning abilities hadn’t been beginning to rub off on him.

When they’d reached the clearing in which the logging team of beavers and woodpeckers had been active, Boko had leapt at them, a mask of demonic rage on his face and his skin looking like it’d had a million bugs swarming all over it, sliding, springing, scuttling and bouncing from one to the other as he’d tongue lashed them into unconsciousness, sunk his fangs into them, spit venom in their eyes and tail whipped their chainsaws out of their hands before snatching them away with it to crush them in its coils. Klein hadn’t been able to believe what he’d been seeing, but he hadn’t had any time to think and even less time in which to act.

No limits, no limits at all.

With an improvised battle trill, he’d leapt into the fray along with his travelling companion and despite his relative combat inexperience, he’d discovered that, when he’d been paying complete attention to what he’d been doing with the advantage of surprise and passion bouncing around inside him driving him just beyond the edge of sanity, he’d been able to dodge, kick, headbutt and spray well enough to be a terrifying adversary, enough to frighten the living hell out of someone who’d been armed even though he himself hadn’t been. That day, Klein had let out all of the accumulated resentment which had been piling up inside of him throughout everything he’d ever had to put up with, and he’d finally unleashed it on the world with everything he’d had, consequences be damned. The twisted joy he’d experienced at what he’d been able to get himself to do had made him feel as though blood had been running through his veins for the first time in his life. Villainy was so underrated.

He’d deduced from how easy it’d been for him that it mustn’t have been Boko’s first carjacking, but it’d sure made their trip back to Noah’s Vault a whole lot faster. To prevent the car from giving away their location, Boko had asked Klein to keep watch while he’d gone inside to get his tools, he’d dismantled the car so he could take its separate parts in, and he’d hung them up on the walls and ceiling like Christmas decorations. That night, Klein had decided he’d been holding his feelings in long enough, and Boko had returned them.
 
 
Surface
18 October 2005 @ 09:18 am
12  
Clothes do make the man. Naked people have almost no influence on society. – Mark Twain

Boko’s living quarters had looked like no other living quarters Klein had ever seen before in his life.

A trapdoor concealed by sticks, moss, dirt and dead leaves had led them into a relatively vast underground cubical room which Boko had explained to him could have served as a perfectly adequate anti-nuclear survivalist compound. It had stairways on all four walls and ceiling which had almost made it look like an M.C. Escher painting, except that as far as Klein had known those paintings hadn’t had masks on their walls, chandeliers on their ceilings and exotic rugs on their floors. Shelves lined the walls filled with stacks and stacks of guidebooks, dictionaries and encyclopaedias which had seemed like they’d covered just about every topic imaginable. Capes, monk robes, tuxedoes, togas, uniforms, djellabahs, business suits and loincloths hung over shoes, boots and sandals in his bead-curtained closet, which had a nice big mirror next to it you could change in front of. Boko had told him he’d called it Noah’s Vault.

- Whoa... There’s just so much stuff here, I almost can’t believe how much.
- Don’t worry, there is a method to my madness. I can always keep track of where everything is in here. As a matter of fact, would you like to get the guided tour?
- Sure.
- Now, you’ll be paying very close attention, yes?
- Of course.
- Good.

Boko had walked precipitously to the center of the room and had uncoiled his tail under himself to spring all the way up to the ceiling, turning upside-down in midair and landing on it with both hands and feet sticking to it with the claws and suction cups he had on all four. From there, he’d begun crawling and scuttling all over the ceiling, walls and floor showing Klein where every single thing had been while rattling off to him what it was called, where it was from and where it went. He’d finished his extensive series of tri-dimensional mad dashes in the center of the ceiling where he’d started it from and had let himself fall from the ceiling upside-down, turning right-side-up on the way down and landing on all four again before standing up to walk up to Klein.

- Make sure you remember where everything goes. There must be a place for everything and everything must be in its place. I need to be able to know that everything is where it’s supposed to be all the time because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to tell whether I’d lost something or not, and that’s a kind of uncertainty I don’t want to have to live with, you understand?
- I’ll make sure to put everything back exactly where I got it from after picking it up and being done with it, okay?
- Then that’ll do just fine. Other than that, feel free to get comfortable and make yourself at home. I don’t get many visitors, but I like to think it’s not because I couldn’t if I wanted to.
- I feel privileged to be here, then.
- I hope that’ll remain true with the passage of time.
- What did you mean when you said that whether you lived out here in the middle of nowhere or not depended on what my definition of it was?
- Ah, I’m not sure it’d be such a good idea for me to go into it, come to think of it. You’d probably think I’m weird for it.
- People have been telling me I’m weird for my entire life. You’d be in good company.
- If you insist. You see, I meant it when I said I worship everything. To me, every single object in here has a history, a personality, a name, a voice, a soul. I may be living by myself by what most people’s definition of living by myself would be, but when I’m in here, surrounded by all my little friends, I never really feel alone.
- I’m glad you’d have told me that.
- Why?
- Personally, I thought it was beautiful.
- Really...?
- Seriously, yeah.

Boko had turned his body red as though blushing all over in mock embarrassment at the compliment, and Klein hadn’t been able to hold back a laugh at it, which Boko had known better than to take offence at. Soon after, Klein, having spent the whole night up and about following a work day, had gone to sleep for most of the day only to wake up during mid-afternoon. That evening he’d spent telling Boko all about what his life had been like until they’d met, at Boko’s request. When Klein had asked Boko to reciprocate, he’d gone silent and a melancholic expression had painted itself on his face, which Klein had felt bad enough at the thought of having caused not to have pressed the issue.

Late the next morning, Boko had addressed Klein after having patiently waited until he’d have woken up on his own.

- Now that you’ve filled me in on what you’ve been up to so far, is there anything about how you want your future to be you wouldn’t mind sharing with me?
- Anything as long as it’s different enough from before to take my mind off it.
- Does that mean that you could be open to suggestions, then?
- Shoot.
- I’d personally been planning on going for a change of scenery not so long from now during the past week or so.
- You mean like going on a vacation?
- It’s something which would probably include too much work on my part for me to call it that, but in a manner of speaking, yes. That’s what it could be for you, if that’s all you’d want it to be.
- What else are you implying it could be?
- It could be an adventure for you, Klein.
- Consider my curiosity piqued. Where was it you were thinking of going?
- Do you remember when I told you I was a student of humanoid behavior?
- Yes, why?
- When you were telling me about your studies, you did tell me you’ve taken at least one elective anthropology class, haven’t you?
- You’re an anthropologist?!
- A participatory anthropologist by predilection, yes.
- So when you want to study a native tribe, you go live with them to experience life the way they experience it themselves?
- Is that something that you could see yourself doing?
- It sounds awesome! When were you thinking of going?
- When do you think you could be ready for?
- I travel light, so I’m ready when you are, Boko.
- Very well. Let’s be off, then.
- You mean right now?!
- Yes.

So they’d left, just like that. After having walked ceaselessly for most of the day, Klein had picked up logs, sticks and stones, Boko had put stones in a circle and rubbed sticks together to start a campfire, Klein had gathered dry leaves and moss to serve as a relatively soft surface for them to sleep on, and Boko had gone off to hunt and gather for them. As they’d eaten their fill, Klein had told Boko some of the stories his storytelling teacher had taught him, Boko had told Klein about his experiences with some of the previous tribes he’d done participatory anthropological research with, Klein had taken first watch and he’d woken up Boko to take over for him halfway through the night. Klein hadn’t felt comfortable telling Boko such a short time after they’d first met, but he’d privately thought that this had had to be the most romantic moment he’d ever spent with anyone in his entire life.

The next morning they’d walked all day again, and the following night had been spent much the same way the first night had been. When afternoon had drifted into evening on the third day of their trip, they’d finally reached the land of the Sahuagin. Boko had said that they’d probably make a better first impression if they’d showed up in the morning than late at night asking for refuge like a couple of whiny beggars, and he’d encouraged Klein to tell him as many stories as he’d wanted to before they’d both gone to sleep under the stars one final time. While he’d been in the process of waking up in the morning, Klein had seen Boko seeming like he’d been coming back from somewhere.

- Hey there, Boko, welcome back. Where’ve you been off to?
- Here. Breakfast. Most important meal of the day. Don't worry, I traced a circle of protection around you before temporarily leaving you here. We wouldn’t want to introduce you to the first native tribe you’ll ever see in the flesh on an empty stomach now, would we?
- Heh, I guess not.
- Now, listen to me carefully.
- Okay.
- You have to enter a population according to its own customs the same way a boat on a river has to advance over it following its own twists and turns, do you understand what I mean by this?
- When in Rome, do as the Romans do?
- Well put.
- It’s not from me.
- Nothing has to be from you. We’re all combinations of little pieces of everyone we’ve ever met, aren’t we?
- True.
- Make sure to make part of yourself out of little pieces of the people we’re going to meet, that’s all I ask of you.
- That seems reasonable enough to me.
- Good.
 
 
Surface
18 October 2005 @ 09:17 am
11  
All of us are looking for ourselves somewhere out there inside everyone we come across. – Carl Gustav Jung

When you pour tea into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Answer like an echo. – Bruce Lee


Klein hadn’t gone into the forest with any specific plans in mind as to what to he’d be doing in it, and he really hadn’t known what he’d been going to find in it, but it certainly hadn’t been this.

He’d been all pumped up and determined when he’d left, but after a few hours of walking, at first he’d calmed down a bit and he’d begun to show more interest for what the trees, ferns, streams and stones around him had looked like, for how they’d combined under the moonlight seeping in through the branches to create an effect he’d found more compelling than he’d found any painting he’d ever seen. He’d felt like he’d been reconnected with long-forgotten roots and he’d revelled in the privacy and freedom the foliage, solitude and darkness had granted him. The future may have been uncertain, but for once, every moment had seemed fresh and new.

Then, after having spent hours and hours of the night walking and walking, catching furtive blurs dashing out of his path accompanied by a cacophony of cawing, panting, croaking and buzzing calling to him from behind the surrounding vines, stumps and creepers, out of sight but not out of mind, he’d begun to grow uneasy. Questions as to how he’d been going to stay alive without any wilderness survival training, how he’d been going to catch prey when he’d always found hunting repugnant, whether he’d known how to start a fire or not, whether starting a fire would have meant too much risk of giving out his position or not, and what he’d do if a large carnivore had determined that he’d looked edible had begun to sneak their way into his brain. They’d seemed to have found its crevices comfortable enough not to have been easily convinced to move out of it.

In lieu of the machete he’d wished he’d brought to cut some of the vegetation in his way and to be able to defend himself from predators with, in spite of having been afraid of alerting listening ears to his whereabouts, he’d begun to slowly hum the notes of a simple, silly Spanish rhyme which had always reassured him and cheered him up, trying to use it as a psycho-emotional shield against the fear creeping up on him which he’d tried to think of as his only possible meaningful assailant.

El cameleon cambia de colores segun la ocasion...
Tu corazon cambia de colores como el cameleon...


When he’d reached a clearing, he’d believed for a moment that a cliff, a cave or a valley must have been nearby, since he’d begun to hear the same song being hummed back at him from a wide empty spot right in front of him. He’d stopped humming, on a whim, the song had gone on without him, and a chill had run down his spine.

For a moment, he’d thought he must have been having another one of the dizzy spells which had made his eyes play tricks on him when his irregular blood pressure had acted up. For a moment he’d thought that the shock of having left the only life he’d ever known behind combined with the exertion from walking without having slept all night had been making him hallucinate. For a moment he’d wondered if the exhaustion hadn’t been so much for him that he’d fallen asleep on the ground and that he’d been dreaming. For a moment he’d wondered if the stories his teacher had told him about will-o’-wisps could have really been true. After having squinted and rubbed his eyes enough times, he’d been forced to admit to himself that the pixels of light and darkness he’d been seeing coalescing before him must have been as real as anything else he’d ever treated as real.

As the humming had continued tirelessly without any sign of letting up, he’d begun to distinguish the outline of a humanoid silhouette gently swaying left and right like leaves in the breeze along with the song’s rhythm. Color, although tricky to make out at first because of the lingering dark, had faded into it like brown faded into clear hot water when a teabag was put in it, only it’d been green instead of brown. The humming had faded out and creature’s eyes had stopped spinning in different directions taking everything in to settle on him.

- That’s a nice song. I like it. Where do you know it from?
- I... I...
- Cat’s got your tongue, little skunk?
- Who are you...? What are you...?
- Humble student of humanoid behavior and collector of rare objects Boko, at your service. Well, technically my full name’s Boris Chrome, but you can call me Boko; everyone does. To whom do I owe the honor, if I may?

His parents had always told him not to talk to strangers. Then again, his parents had always told him a lot of things he’d decided he’d have been better off not having listened to by then, so he’d figured hey, what’s one more?

- The name’s Klein.
- Is that your first name or your last name?
- It’s what I prefer being called.
- Very well, then. What do you generally enjoy doing with your time, Klein?
- Most of the time? Not very much. I’ve been having to do a lot of things that I haven’t been enjoying for most of my life, which kind of brings us to why I’m here. What about you?
- I think the forest is an extraordinary place to exist in, don’t you?
- I have, at times.
- Not this time, though?
- Don’t get me wrong, it was great at first, but it gets a little scary when it gets dark enough and when you get deep enough into it.
- It’s understandable that you’d feel that way. People are all scared of things when they don’t know enough about them. That’s why I want to know everything.

Klein had chuckled at this.

- I’m glad to see you’d have finally become relaxed enough to laugh by now, but what’s there to laugh about, I wonder?

For the first time, he’d noticed that Boko had crossed his arms and tilted his head to the side while asking a question, just like he’d developed a habit of doing himself for years.

- I wasn’t making fun of you or anything.
- I wouldn’t have suspected you of that for a moment.
- I just thought you were trying to be funny.
- I find humor as healthy to indulge in as the next person does, but for the record, I really was serious, you know.
- No kidding?!

Boko had nodded his head yes with some measure of solemnity.

- Do you really believe that’s possible, though?
- Enough to have invested everything I have in that belief, at least. Oh, look! The sun is coming up!

Boko had run to the edge of the clearing, he’d ducked and coiled his tail underneath himself, he’d uncoiled it pushing his legs against the ground to bounce all the way up to a solid branch, he’d grabbed onto it, he’d snuck his feet up and behind him under the branch between his arms, he’d bent his knees to bring his shins over it and down on its other side, he’d pulled himself up to sit up on it and he’d stood up on it turning around to face the coming dawn. He’d breathed in deeply, filling his chest with fresh oxygen, arms hanging by his sides showing his palms, looking up with a smile of pure enraptured bliss on his face and his eyes closed tightly shut, drinking in the warmth and light like an unusually large detachable leaf.

Inti, Inti, muaytaya, kisisaya, suwa suwa, hi-i-inata...
Inti, Inti, muaytaya, kisisaya, suwa suwa, hi-i-inata...!


It’d seemed to Klein that every possible shade, mixture and nuance of yellow, white, orange, pink and red had coursed and flowed all over Boko’s kaleidoscopic body while he’d chanted, as though the leaf he’d been had been singing its swan song to commemorate having reached the autumn of its life. At that moment, Klein had wanted more than anything to be Boko, even if it’d been only for a short amount of time, just so he could have known what it’d felt like to him to have been there doing this at that time. When the sun had finished rising up from behind the faraway hillside, Boko had turned his body back to green, he’d leapt down from the branch and he’d broken his fall by coiling his tail under him before walking up to Klein with a refreshed, rejuvenated expression on his face.

- I love sunlight, don’t you? It makes everything around seem so much friendlier, doesn’t it?
- You know, I guess it does. That song you were singing there really puts mine to shame.
- You don’t have to be modest, but far be it for me to turn down a compliment from you.
- Do the lyrics mean anything?
- It’s an ancient Incan hymn to the glory of the sun god Inti.
- You speak ancient Incan?
- It’s one of the languages that I speak, yes.
- How many do you speak?
- Name ten.
- Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian, Greek, German, Sanskrit and Italian. Why, do you know any of those?
- All of them.
- No shit...!
- No shit.
- Wow! That’s amazing!
- Isn’t it, though?

Boko had flashed him a playfully arrogant grin after having said that. Now that he’d received his answer, Klein had remembered another question that Boko’s display had made him want to ask.

- Do you actually worship the sun?
- Among other things, yes.
- What else do you worship?
- Everything deserves to be worshipped, Klein.

Klein had taken a moment to process this. Eventually, since he’d been afraid that the silence would become awkward and since Boko had responded positively and openly to every question he’d asked until then, he’d decided he might as well ask him another one which had been on his mind.

- So you just live out here by yourself in the middle of nowhere?
- I guess that depends on what definition you’re going by.
- What do you mean by that?
- Would it make you uncomfortable if I offered to show you?
- In more ordinary circumstances, it might have, but I literally don’t have anywhere to go or anything to do with my life, so I might as well.
- You sound like you must have a very painful story to tell.
- Yeah, well, it’s something I try to avoid thinking about whenever I can.
- Then you should at least write it down.
- Why?
- It’s very, very important that you remember what happens to you, Klein. It’s possibly more important than I can ever get across to you.
- ... I’ll try to remember that.
- Thank you.

They’d walked together quietly under the shadows cast by the branches and the intermittent beams of sunlight seeping in between them all the way down to the ground on the way to wherever the hell it’d been that Boko had elected residence. Boko had briefly turned his body to a black and white skunk pattern, which Klein had found amusing enough. He'd caught himself staring right at him for several minutes in a row on their way and, by the time they’d finally reached his place, he’d realized that he’d become furiously attracted to him.