General Kenren, lately of the Eastern Army of Heaven and now on his way to his new assignment as head of the Western Army of the same, looked about his new province and was not pleased. Boring was his primary thought.
The buildings were all creamy white, with pale gold roof tiles. The occasional red bridge in the gardens surrounding them should have livened things up, but all the garden structures were so carefully placed that even the red didn't draw attention to itself. The plantings were quietly harmonious, the roads were smooth and pale. Everyone who walked by was exquisitely dressed and wore an expression of serene dignity.
Boring. This place really needs some noise and vulgarity. The Eastern Paradise had been a little more varied, with gods from India and Tibet.
Eventually, Kenren and his guide passed a garden where two exquisitely dressed goddesses were…digging in the dirt, planting flower bulbs. "Oh no," murmured Kenren's guide, a tight-assed deity called Lu Shen.
"Who are they?" asked Kenren. One of them was a motherly sort, but the other was actually quite a looker.
"Hua Shen, the lady of flowers, and Hsi Wang Mu, the goddess of the Western Paradise. They have been told that ladies of such high positions should not be getting their hands dirty, but they insist that it is their nature."
"Good for them," said Kenren. Lu Shen gave him a worried glance.
"The Western Paradise is very orderly, as befits the dwelling place of the Jade Emperor," he said. "You have come with a certain reputation, General."
"Yeah, I know. I've been told that the Dragon King of the Western Sea has his eye on me. Are these the barracks?"
Like everything else, the buildings were cream and gold, but at least the whole thing was recognizably a military installation, with a couple of black-clad guards standing at attention on each side of the gate to a training yard. They looked as out of place as crows in a flock of doves.
"Errr, yes," said Lu Shen. "Soldiers! Greet your new commander!"
"Hey, chill," said Kenren. "You're a civilian. They don't follow your orders. I'll take over from here. Thanks for steering me straight."
He dismissed the fellow with a firm nod and strode to the gate, where the guards were exchanging a "What now?" sort of look.
"Good morning, guys," he said. "I'm Kenren Taishou. Has my baggage showed up yet?"
"Er, yes, General," said the one on the left. The one on the right nodded vigorously, his jaws chomping. Kenren frowned.
"Eating on duty?" he asked.
The soldier blushed. "Bubble gum, sir," he managed, around his wad. "From the World Below,"
"Does the field marshal let you do that?"
"Don't know sir," the fellow mumbled. "He's never caught me at it."
Kenren stifled a laugh. "Can you blow bubbles with it?"
The miscreant's face brightened. "Yes, sir!"
"Let me see one."
The soldier chewed fiercely for a moment, then slowly blew a pale pink globe. It was impressively large. Kenren jabbed it with a fingertip, and it exploded all over the guy's face.
"And that's why you don't chew gum on duty," said Kenren. "You, stop smirking and summon a replacement for him. This ball of goo can show me where my stuff is and then go clean up."
The smirking guard picked up a large conch trumpet and blew a sonorous blast. Another soldier appeared in the doorway of the barracks and then, when his fellow waved a signal at him, came trotting over. Kenren introduced himself again and received a smart salute in return. "Who are you guys, anyway?" Kenren asked.
"Um. The First Unit of the Western Army?" said the new guard. Kenren rolled his eyes. "Well, yeah. I meant your names."
"Goyou, sir," said the new man.
"Yuutetsu, general," said the gum-chewer.
"Pleased to meet you, men. Rishou, Goyou, take the guard post. Yuutetsu, lead me to my stuff."
Still red-cheeked, Yuutetsu marched as smartly as he could back to the barracks. Kenren was unsurprised to find what looked to be the rest of the unit waiting for him within the doorway. "Good morning, guys," he repeated. "Where's my room?"
There was an uneasy mutter. Several of the soldiers looked at one of the tallest fellows, a handsome rogue with a shock of red-blond hair. "Begging the general's pardon," he said; "We assumed you would be staying in the Palace of Celestial Favor, as does Field Marshal Tenpou. So we have not designated a room nor moved your baggage into it. We were waiting to hear where you would be staying."
"What's your name, soldier?" asked Kenren.
"I always room with my men. That's not to say that I don't sometimes spend the night elsewhere on my time off." Here Kenren gave them a slow, suggestive wink. "But I'm a soldier, and the barracks is where I belong. So if there's a room free, lead me to it. You, Spectacles, come with us, and then you can get the others to bring my stuff along. What's your actual name?"
"Eizen, sir," said the one with the glasses. Rikuou saluted and turned to lead the way down the left-hand corridor. At the corner, he hesitated a moment, then continued on around. They ended up at the next corner, and Rikuou pushed open the door of the room in the bend.
It was a decent room, with a window looking onto an inner courtyard, a chest of drawers, a washstand, a desk, a small sofa, and a plain but sturdy-looking bed. It was not very large, but then, such rooms never were.
"I'm gonna need some more furniture," said Kenren. "Some of my stuff needs shelves." He noticed that Eizen and Rikuou were looking solemn. "Whose room was this?"
"Hiromitsu's, sir," said Rikuou. "He was killed on a mission three weeks ago."
"Oh wow," said Kenren, sitting down on the sofa and rubbing one hand through his hair. "Rough, huh? Tell you what, I was gonna have a dinner for you all, and me and the marshal, celebrating the new command, but let's make it a remembrance for Hiromitsu instead. Who's best at speeches and things like that?"
The two looked at each other. "Rihaku, sir," said Eizen after a moment. Rikuou nodded.
"Tell him to write a memorial, then. I want to know all about your former comrade. Two days should be enough time, right?"
They nodded. "OK," said Kenren. "As soon as my desk stuff shows up, I'll write an order for the dinner, and you can get the kitchen moving on it. Eizen, go have them bring the baggage." Then, when the bespectacled soldier had disappeared: "Rikuou, you the senior?"
"Not literally, sir, but I often take on that role."
"The men trust you."
Rikuou gave a little bow. "I like to think so, sir. I've come to think of my comrades as my responsibility."
"Would it make things better, or worse, if I formalized that?"
"I think we're OK the way we are, sir."
"Got you. I'll leave well enough alone. I don't like to muck with things that work. Eh, here's my stuff."
A busy hour followed. It became clear that the shelves Kenren needed for his World Below sound equipment wouldn't fit without losing some other piece of furniture. Kenren decided to get rid of the bed. The men were aghast. "But you have to have a bed, sir!" Yuutetsu protested, worry all over his clean-scrubbed face.
"Why? This sofa is plenty comfortable," said Kenren. He was sprawled on it as he spoke, one foot trailing down onto the floor, and it was obvious that he was a bit too tall for it.
The men looked at each other, and then Rikuou shrugged. "You're in charge, General," he said. "Youjun, get him some bedding. Rishou, you have the measurements for the shelves? Tell the staff not to waste time: get the shelves built to order right away if they can't find anything suitable after a few hours. What's up, Kouken?"
"There's a letter come for the general." Kouken held out a scroll, tied with white and scarlet threads and stamped with a bureaucratic seal. It seemed to contain more than one page. Kenren broke the threads and scanned the message on the first sheet. "I'm supposed to go see Field Marshal Tenpou to get this document signed and stamped. And after that, take it to—Goujun, Dragon King of the Western Sea. Guess I better get out my best uniform and clean up."
"You could go in civvies if you wanted to, sir," said Rikuou.
"Yes, truly. The marshal is not much of a stickler for that sort of show."
"OK, I'll take your advice."
"And then you can come back and change into uniform to see the Dragon King. We'll get it all spiffed up for you, sir."
In comfortable civvies, the document in hand, Kenren presented himself at the Palace of Celestial Favor. He was not surprised to find that it was close to the barracks. The bored-looking young god serving as the door attendant did a double-take at Kenren's oversized roll-neck jersey and slouchy trousers but waved him through. "It's the last suite on the left," he said.
There was no telling how old the palace was: like just about anything else in heaven, it could have been a year old or ten thousand years. He passed two doors, heavy massive wooden things, and knocked at the third.
There was only silence. "Weird," he muttered. "Guess he's not home." But in that case, wouldn't the door warden have said something? He tried the latch; it was ajar.
"I'm coming in," he announced, pushing the door open.
A stack of junk erupted out of the room beyond, hitting Kenren like a spring tide wave.
There were books, mostly, but also scroll cases, small statues that might have been idols or works of art, and children's toys, many of which he recognized as artifacts from the World Below. He shoved them away from him until he could sit up and look about himself, still dazed. "What the hell's all this? A storage room or something?"
It looked like the room had started as a gracious and very large parlor, and it might now be an office: there was a good-sized desk under one of the towering piles of stuff. The walls were lined with bookshelves, erupting with volumes and scrolls, and here and there, a painting decorated a rare bare patch of painted plaster. The larger stacks of junk implied other pieces of furniture: perhaps that hulking outcropping might be a sofa….
A faint rustle sounded in the literary litter near him. A hand, clad to the wrist in a white coat sleeve over a dingy shirt cuff, pushed lackadaisically at the books that seemed to hold its arm pinned. Oh hell, someone else was buried in this avalanche. A second later, Kenren realized that an unconscious face had emerged out of the rubbish a couple of feet away, A man, with glasses and delicate features. "Hey," said Kenren. "You still alive?"
The eyes behind the glasses opened, blinking blearily, and the man sat up, scratching his head and dislodging several books, which thudded down to either side of him. "Hm? I fell asleep?" he asked.
Kenren stared at him. "Don't ask me," he said.
"Ah, I must have lost consciousness again," said the fellow, seemingly undisturbed by this conclusion. "I haven't gotten much sleep lately."
His hair was wild, long and shaggy, and the front part stood up in a shock over one side of his face. What a weird guy. "Look," said Kenren, "I have business with Field Marshal Tenpou. Do you know where he is?"
The man pushed his glasses into place and his gaze sharpened abruptly. Kenren realized that the eyes behind the lenses were beautiful. "Oh, well then," said the other. "What is it?"
To his embarrassment, Kenren was struck silent, his eyes wide. "You're kidding!" he exclaimed, at last.
The marshal waved a deprecating hand. "Yes, I wouldn't believe it either if I were you."
Kenren burst out laughing and the marshal grinned cheerfully at him. "You got that right!" Kenren managed.
"And you are?" said the marshal.
"How rude of me," said Kenren, swallowing the last of his laughter. He shook himself loose from the rest of the books and junk atop him and managed a sort of bow, his hand over his heart. Then he launched into the speech he'd been preparing on the way from the barracks: "I was kicked out—I mean, I was transferred from the Eastern Army to become the general of the Western Army. My name's Kenren, I ask for your considerate guidance while under your orders." Somehow, it didn't sound the same as it had in his head. Maybe it was the setting. "Something like that," he concluded.
Oh!" said Tenpou, brightening. "So, you are my new general!"
"And then," said Kenren, "I was told to come here and get your personal seal." He held up Goujun's document, considerably the worse for wear.
Tenpou's expression fell. He was silent for a few moments, and then: "My seal."
He rose to his feet and slogged his way to the tome-burdened desk. "Seal…seal…where did I put it? I have to sign it, right?"
"Yeah," said Kenren, watching. He's never going to find it in all that junk. "It needs your signature."
The marshal was turning over books and papers. "Hmm…I'm sure I had it tucked away somewhere over here, but…maybe it was somewhere over here instead? Ah! Found it!"
Kenren discovered that he could breathe again. "Marshal."
The fine-featured face focused on him. "Yes?"
"After I've submitted this, please give me my first order."
The marshal waved one hand airily about himself. "My first order will be to help me straighten up this room."
Kenren blinked. Then he resumed his respectful expression with an effort and went to change into his dress uniform and see the commander of all heaven's armies.
Despite this rather awkward beginning, Kenren soon found himself at home with the Western Army. It took him two days to finish tidying up the morass that was Tenpou's office, and his new superior was pleased with him. The memorial dinner went off well, and he learned a great deal about the First Unit's living members, as well as their deceased comrade. A military action against several huge beasts gave the First Unit, the marshal, and Kenren a chance to see each other's qualities, and all were pleased. Kenren's days settled into a routine of drilling the soldiers, learning the history of their forays against the uncanny beasts that were their main business, and spending time with Tenpou.
Tenpou continued to be rather a mystery. No sooner had his office been emptied of extraneous papers and books (most of the latter from the imperial library) then he started to bring in new volumes. New papers, which came from a number of bureaucratic offices, soon followed. "What the hell are you doing?" asked Kenren, exasperated, when he came in one afternoon to find the floor once more ankle deep in rubbish.
Tenpou took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "It's a study I'm doing. It seems to me that these incidents of beasts are coming more and more frequently. But I can't trust my own imperfect memory about this. I must have statistics."
"When was the last time you ate?" Or bathed?
"Oh, well. I'm not sure." He rubbed at his glasses with a dirty-looking handkerchief.
"Oh, come on! Starving to death is not going to help your study!" Kenren stalked over and grabbed the sorry-looking spectacles, then polished them with his own clean handkerchief.
Tenpou smiled grimly. "We're gods. We can't starve to death."
"How do you know?"
"I tried it once. I got very thin, and then I stopped. There was no change after that."
Kenren handed the glasses back. "That sounds horrible,"
"That's what Kanzeon Bosatsu said when se saw me. Horrible. Se made me promise not to do such a thing again."
"I'm going to go get you a meal. Go take a bath."
Tenpou sighed, but he got up as ordered and headed to his bathroom. When Kenren came back with a mighty tray of dishes, he was dressed in clean but rumpled clothes. He held the tray while Kenren cleared a space for it. "Eat," said Kenren.
After he finished the soup and the spring rolls, Tenpou paused. "Did you ever stop to think about where this food comes from, General?" he asked.
Kenren blinked and frowned. "Huh. No."
"We have no farms in Heaven," said Tenpou. "The only foods that are grown here are mystical things likes the Peaches of Longevity. And yet an intelligent fellow like yourself never thinks about the fact that we all eat as sumptuously as we care to."
"That's—weird as hell."
"I assume you've eaten already. But perhaps you'd like a bite of something in particular? What would you eat now, if you could have anything in the world?"
Kenren thought a moment. "Snapper sashimi."
Tenpou closed his eyes and seemed to go off into a dream. Just as Kenren was about to get up and check on him, the marshal held out one hand. On it was a small pale green dish covered with gleaming slices of beautiful snapper sashimi, creamy white with faint pink at one edge, garnished with wasabi, pickled ginger, and bonito shavings. Tenpou opened his eyes. "Please, enjoy this."
Kenren took the dish gingerly and tried the fish. It was quite good, although not the best he'd ever had. He said so.
"Forgive me, "said Tenpou. "I'm not a connoisseur of sashimi. With practice, you could do much better yourself, I'm sure."
"But…how the hell did you do that?"
Tenpou chewed a mouthful of chicken and swallowed. "Kenren, we're gods. Most of the time, we act as though we were human beings who happen to live forever. But all that you see here in heaven was created by someone. Even our cooks are god-cooks. In life, they were devoted to culinary arts, and so now they can bring things into existence. Either that, or they're just transporting the ingredients from elsewhere. I think both practices occur. I'm not even certain, myself, whether I created the fish and its dish, or whether my mind simply found them somewhere."
"But—what else? Everything, you said?"
"What are our combat uniforms made of?"
"Have we cattle here in Heaven? And if we did, would anyone be allowed to kill them, so that leather could be made from their hides?"
Kenren shook his head. "I can't believe I never thought of any of this."
"Don't feel bad. No one else does, either. Why do you think I am so fascinated by the World Below? That's where such things occur naturally. That's where everything is real."
Kenren finished his fish, thinking over these strange ideas. "I guess I'll just put this plate on your tray, huh? They'll have a surprise in the kitchen."
"They won't even notice. As a species, most gods are disgustingly incurious. Let's talk about something more pleasant. Do you see that stack of books on the corner of the desk—the paperbound ones with the white covers?"
Kenren picked up one of the volumes. On the cover was a teenaged boy in a white shirt with blue sleeves, his hands held over his head. On one hand was a strangely bloated glove. Kenren flipped the pages: they were heavily illustrated. "What is this?"
"It's the story of a youth who becomes a champion of a sport involving throwing a ball and hitting it with a club, or catching it out of the air. Picture stories like this are common in the World Below; they're called 'manga.' I thought that the sport shown in these volumes could make a good training routine for the men. Throwing and catching the ball would simulate throwing ammunition packs or other supplies, and the other parts of the game would be good for general strength training and agility. I tried it before your arrival, but there are too many nuances I don't understand."
"I'm not surprised that you couldn't figure it out by just looking at pictures," said Kenren, thinking. "It'd be like trying to learn to fight from pictures. We should go watch mortal folk playing this game Below, Marshal."
Tenpou smiled: a lovely smile, thought Kenren, and then quashed the thought. None of that; that's what went wrong last time, and he's your superior.
Things were complicated enough already.
"Excellent idea, General Kenren. We'd better file the paperwork right away."
Three days later, the Dimension Gate deposited the two of them into a grove of trees. The air was hot and smelled…odd. "Is something burning?" Kenren asked.
"Er, no. Or at least, not in any way that's an immediate problem. The people here get about in vehicles propelled by engines that burn oil taken from the ground."
Kenren couldn't see anything but trees. "That's a lot of vehicles, if we can smell it all the way off in the woods."
"Actually, we're not 'off in the woods.' We're no more than 10 minutes' stroll from a train station. This is part of a large park, where people can relax when they aren't working, if they wish. But at this time of day, on this particular day, most of them are at their jobs. But in fact, there are many vehicles. This way."
Kenren followed him. Tenpou was dressed in narrow trousers of a very pale brown, a jacket in a finely mixed pattern of browns and creams, a rumpled white shirt, and a green tie. On his feet were leather sandals. He carried a neat but battered leather case. Kenren had been issued looser trousers in dark blue, a gaily flowered short-sleeved shirt in blues and greens, a loose jacket of some shiny and slick green material, white socks, and white leather shoes with blue stripes. He'd also been given a small leather folder—a wallet, Tenpou called it—with pockets full of colored pieces of paper decorated with characters and people's faces, which Tenpou said served as money in the land to which they were traveling, as well as some coinage in base metals. His remaining equipment for the expedition was a satchel of some strange, sturdy fabric, which contained a clean shirt, undergarments, and a neat little kit with a comb and toothbrush.
After a moment, they came upon a paved footpath, which they followed. At one point, they passed some elderly people in loose, colorful garments and shoes like Kenren's, walking energetically and solemnly. In a few more minutes, the trees fell away, and the gods arrived on a broad avenue. Metal-and-glass boxes on wheels, which must be the vehicles Tenpou had mentioned, were roaring down this road at a great speed. Across the way was a small, neat building with wooden sides and a flat roof. "There's the train station," said Tenpou. "Mind the vehicles. We'll cross farther down,"
"What's a train?"
Tenpou smiled. "That's right, all of your expeditions have been in rural or wilderness areas. And perhaps not in the same time period. A train is another sort of vehicle, with many enclosed wagons connected together, one after the other. They must run along metal rails, unlike cars and trucks," and here he gestured at the roaring automatons in the road; "Which may run atop anything with a relatively flat, hard surface. But cars are owned by one specific person, and that person must have learned to drive the vehicle. Whereas anyone with money for the fare may ride a train."
They had reached a section of road with a lane marked across it in white paint. Tenpou and Kenren waited, and after a few moments, a red lantern with a figure of a standing man on it blinked off across the avenue and was replaced by a green lantern that showed the figure of a man walking. Vehicles approaching the marked lane came to a halt, and the two of them crossed the road. "Did the lanterns change because we were standing there?" asked Kenren.
"Perhaps. I'm not a scholar of such things. Their phases may be timed by a clock instead, I believe. Here we are: a ticket machine."
The machine was a box fastened to the wall of the little building. Tenpou took out some of his pieces of colored paper money and fed them into a little slot. Different pieces of paper fell out of a chute at the bottom of the box. Kenren managed to catch them before the wind from the rushing vehicles carried them away. "Ah, thank you. Now, this is a return ticket that we can use to get back here. So keep hold of it, although the conductor—the minor official in charge of keeping order on the train—will want to see it and will tear away the end of it as evidence that you have paid for the journey."
Kenren tucked the ticket into the wallet with his money and followed Tenpou around the building. The far side of it had no wall at all: the paving stone of the floor extended into a brief veranda that ended abruptly in a drop of a meter or so. Beyond and below were the metal rails that Tenpou had described. A few other people were standing about, reading sheafs of papers or books, or gazing at small flat boxes, or looking down the road of rails.
"Now," said Tenpou, quietly. "Try to keep your voice down if you must ask about what you see, and don't stare about yourself too obviously. I understand that much of it is new to you, but we are trying to pretend that we are ordinary people of this world. People will not understand your words if you don't want them to, but that raises other questions."
So as not to roll his eyes at this unneeded warning, Kenren let his gaze linger over two pretty young ladies in very brief dresses, flowered and fluffy-looking. "Got it. Discrete as anything, that's me." Tenpou followed his gaze, looked back at Kenren, and chuckled.
A rumbling, panting sound came from the south. Everyone standing around looked up and in that direction. A long metal block on wheels roared down the tracks, pulling additional wheeled metal-and-glass blocks with it. Kenren could see people's faces through glass windows on the trailing blocks, which must be the wagons that Tenpou had described. After the contraption came to a halt, doors opened on the wagons, and men in blue uniforms hopped down and stood still and erect, expectantly. The waiting passengers sorted themselves into queues at each door. Kenren followed Tenpou up the stairs, through a vestibule of sorts, and into the long room that clearly took up the entire wagon. Comfortable-looking upholstered benches with backs were arranged in rows along the sides. Tenpou waved Kenren into one. "I know you'll enjoy looking out the window," he said.
The other passengers distributed themselves into the seats, and eventually the train shuddered and started to move. The landscape slid by, striking Kenren as alternately empty and crowded. Most of Heaven was more evenly organized. Here were clusters of buildings and then stretches of fields or forest. Mountains loomed off to the east, but they were modest compared to some of the lofty peaks he'd seen while fighting beasts. The seats were as comfortable as they looked, yet Kenren found himself hyperaware of the nearness of his commanding officer. Every so often the train slowed and stopped, and a few people got off, and a few more got on. One of the officials came by and examined the tickets they proffered, and as Tenpou had said, removed the sections at the ends.
Eventually the clusters of buildings grew more dense and extensive, and then there were no breaks of farms or woods. The buildings became taller and taller. Kenren turned to Tenpou and realized that the other god had been looking at him for some time now. "What?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing," said Tenpou. "You had a question?"
"Are those tall buildings…houses?"
"Some of them, of a sort. Apartment buildings, with each person or family occupying a small set of rooms. And some of them are office buildings, filled with bureaucrats or other desk workers with their noses in their papers or at their electronic screens."
Kenren raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Think of that many Konzen Doujis!"
"Indeed, and in this nation, many of them have just as much trouble making themselves relax as poor Konzen does." Tenpou looked past Kenren's shoulder at the buildings slipping past. Now some of them stood directly next to the trackway. "I think we're almost at our stop."
Indeed, the train was slowing again. "Have you been here before, Marshal, and ridden the train?"
"Not to this exact place, but yes, I have taken a similar train, to a similar city. How do you think I get the artifacts for my collection? Look, between those two buildings: that's the stadium, where the game of baseball will be played today."
The stadium was a huge structure, like a massive stone bowl. The tall buildings hid it from view when the train stopped, though. Tenpou led the way off the train and through a crowded space filled with bustling people, many of them carrying cases like Tenpou's or satchels like Kenren's. When Kenren glimpsed some ticket machines along the distant walls, he realized that this must be a much larger version of a train station. "How many trains use this place?" he asked.
"Oh, dozens each day, I believe. Which reminds me…."
Tenpou stopped at a large, shiny white board covered with an elaborate diagram of colored lines connecting small black blocks, rings, and circles. Characters were inscribed by each shape. A rack of folded papers stood alongside it. Tenpou studied the diagram, helped himself to some papers, reviewed them, and then pointed to a small cluster of rings along one of the lines. "Look, this represents the station in which we stand. And this"—he indicated a block—"is the station nearest a shop that sells baseball equipment. I had not realized how far the shop was, in terms of travel time, from the stadium. So we shall have to stay overnight and visit the shop tomorrow morning. Too bad!" He smiled, pleased.
Kenren grinned back. "Playing truant, heh? Guess I have to keep you company, make sure you stay out of trouble."
"Well, come along then. We mustn't waste our precious time and risk missing the game!"
One of the papers Tenpou had picked up was a street map of the vicinity of the station. With its guidance, they soon came within sight of the stadium, which loomed massively above them as they approached. Kenren could smell the sea and caught a glimpse of water glinting at the end of one of the street leading west. The street was crowded with mortals of all ages, some hurrying with their heads down, others strolling casually. Kenren looked around with appreciation, feeling his mood lifting with the bustle and noise. The hot sun beat down, and the people who were walking toward the stadium were lightly and colorfully dressed, with a great deal of blue and green and red. "People tend to support one team above others," murmured Tenpou. "The partisans dress in the official colors of their favored team. Today, the Baystars, who wear blue and green, are playing the Swallows, who wear red and blue."
"Hey, so I guess I need to be a Baystar supporter?"
"Well, that flowered shirt of yours is merely typical of a man on holiday. It doesn't have a team name on it. So you ought to be safe to cheer for either group."
"Isn't cheering for your team part of the game?"
"Well, yes." They had arrived at an open stretch of pavement before the gates of the stadium. The crowds were dividing into queues again, this time to either enter those gates or to wait for the attention of men and women behind counters in open windows to the side of the gates. "Oh!" said Tenpou. "Tickets. We need tickets."
"Is that what the people are doing at those windows? Buying tickets?"
"Yes, but look how many are going right to the gates. Not very many good seats will be left to purchase. The seats for sale will have a less-than-optimal view of the game. Let me see…let's go to the shade of that little stand of trees."
Bemused, Kenren followed the marshal to the trees. They were part of a tiny shrine, which also had a small patch of grass with a metal statue of a stern man in the center. Kenren wondered which one of the gods the statue was meant to represent. Tenpou walked onto the grass, leaned against one of the trees, and closed his eyes, holding the fingertips of one hand to his forehead. "He shouldn't be on the grass," said a severe-looking woman.
"Please, Auntie," said Kenren. "He's just had a little too much sun. He'll leave in a moment."
She shook her head but moved on. Kenren hoped he had been correct about the amount of time Tenpou would be: the bossy lady was not the only one who seemed offended by Tenpou's trespassing.
In fact, it really was only a few moments before Tenpou relaxed and dropped his hand to feel in his jacket pocket. "There they are," he said, blinking sleepily, and held up an envelope apparently pulled from his jacket.
"Well, come on, get off the grass, people are getting angry," said Kenren. He hurried Tenpou along to join the crowd filtering through the gates. "Did you create the tickets?" he murmured into his commander's ear.
"No, I don't know what they look like, exactly," answered Tenpou, quietly. "Instead, I had to find some that were going to be left unused, and then I had to call them to me."
"Why wouldn't they be used?"
"Some wealthy people buy tickets for the entire season. But sometimes they are too busy to attend."
"Baseball is traditionally played in the summer."
At the gate, attendants looked at the tickets and then pointed small machines at them. One of the attendants said something to the two gods, rapidly. Kenren couldn't follow it, but Tenpou nodded and moved off in the direction of a stairway up the side of the stadium.
"What'd he say?" asked Kenren.
"Directions to the seats. Ah, yes, very fine seats indeed."
Indeed, the seats that seemed to correspond to the characters printed on the tickets were larger than most of those Kenren could see around the steep sides of the stadium, and they were set farther apart. The mortals who were already seated in the same section nodded to them respectfully. Kenren nodded back. Many of them had food and drink on trays on their laps. Kenren realized he was hungry. "How do we get food?"
Tenpou waved toward the stairs that continued upward. "On the landing, there ought to be vendors. Just follow your nose. Think before you proffer the money: offering too little is not an option, and offering too much may draw unwanted attention." He sat in one of the seats and closed his eyes.
"Yes, just a bit tired. That was hard work, with the tickets, though it might not have looked it. Food and drink should help."
Kenren strode up the stairs, buoyed by the cheerful noises of the crowd. It's like a festival, he thought, but the mood was much stronger and more lively than any festival of Heaven. The landing was a wide plaza behind several sections of seats, and there were a dozen shopfronts along it, interrupted here and there by more stairways and modest doorways. Kenren joined a queue at random and watched the busy crowds while he waited. The doorways must lead to washrooms, he decided.
The vendor he'd picked proved to be selling boxed meals, each a tray of rice balls, pickles, meat croquettes, and so on, with a neat transparent cover. Kenren bought two, managing the payment without too much fuss. Then he followed his nose to a stand selling seafood pancakes, and another selling skewers of meat. Juggling his purchases, he retraced his steps to their seats. Tenpou opened his eyes and sat up. "Hmm, that smells good. Nice choices, General."
"I forgot to get something to drink, though."
"Have no worry. Wave to one of those young ladies carrying bundles on their backs, and she will be glad to sell us some beer."
Kenren wondered how he had missed the beer-girls before. They were all over the place, energetic and cheerful as they hurried up and down the stairs. Each had a metal barrel in a cloth sling on her back, and a tray of empty cups in her hands. They wore short, pleated blue skirts, white jerseys with short blue sleeves, and blue knee-high stockings above white leather shoes like Kenren's. He waved at the nearest, and she trotted over. "Two, please," he said, and she used a flexible tube with a nozzle to fill two of the cups with beer. The price was printed on the rim of the tray, so he happily overpaid her and told her to keep the rest, then watched her depart, her pleated skirt flapping and swaying with her movements.
"This is such a great place," said Kenren, grinning. He handed one of the cups of beer to Tenpou, who smiled warmly.
"I'm glad you're enjoying this so much," he said.
They sat and munched for a few minutes, looking at the green field with its crisp white markings. Kenren recognized most of the features from the helpful diagrams in the manga volumes. Then Tenpou pointed to the sidelines. "Look, the home team is warming up. Our troops should also do exercises of this sort before they play, and even before battles, if possible."
Kenren watched carefully, doing his best to commit the movements to memory. The players were grown men, unlike the boys in the books, although they were dressed in the same sort of uniform: short-sleeved white shirts with narrow blue stripes, white trousers and socks, and white shoes with cleats. They looked strong and healthy and most of them had the sort of eager look he'd seen in his best soldiers. A couple of older men, not wearing the baseball uniform, were observing the exercise session and occasionally giving orders that resulted in a change of movement. Those must be coaches, he thought.
Suddenly one of the coaches clapped his hands, and all the players stopped what they were doing and looked up. A voice boomed out over the field, announcing that the game was about to begin. Then the voice began to introduce the players by name. Each man grabbed his glove and jogged out onto the field, taking up a position by a base or farther out. "The visiting team always bats first," murmured Tenpou. "So the Baystars will be fielding."
The men who were to relieve the initial fielders gathered well behind home plate, and then the voice called the names of the Swallows players, who filed in, ready to take their turns at bat. They wore the same basic sort of uniform, but their shirts were bright blue trimmed with red. The chief coaches came together on the field and greeted each other. Although they shook hands rather than bowing, Kenren could see that this was a formal ritual in its own way. The coaches released each other's hands and returned to their waiting men, and the game began.
It was intriguing to see actual players perform the actions that Kenren had only seen frozen in the illustrations in Tenpou's manga. Although no lives were at stake, the players were as keen and disciplined as the First Unit, catching and throwing the ball as though the fate of the city depended on it. The joy of the crowd when the Baystars' pitcher struck out the Swallows' third batter was like a wave, washing over him and filling him with glee, and he cheered along with the rest of the fanatics. Tenpou laughed as he watched his general, and Kenren punched him gently in the shoulder. "You look like you're watching your kid do something funny," he said.
"Not my son, no," said Tenpou, his eyes on the field again. "Oh look, the Swallows are using young Takagi-san as their first pitcher. That's right, one of the newspapers I saw on the train said that Masuda-san has a shoulder injury."
The players' names were on the back of their shirts, Kenren noticed. That would make sense for the First Unit as well, but it was not traditional. He leaned back and immersed himself in the game.
In the ninth inning, the score was 4 to 3 in the Swallows' favor when the Baystars came to bat for the final half. All the players were weary and cautious, but soon there was a Baystar on every base. Every player and every member of the audience was tense. "Bases loaded," murmured Tenpou. "Will it be an opportunity—or a baited trap for your team?"
The Baystar at bat was a tall, powerful-looking man whom Kenren would be proud to have as a member of his squad. He took a couple of practice swings, mighty and yet controlled. Then the Swallows' pitcher wound up and let fly. The batter unwound himself from his half-crouch, as smooth and powerful as a breaker approaching the shore, and sent the ball flying far and high.
Straight for Tenpou.
Kenren was on his feet, his box lunch tray flying. Without thought, he reached out to grab the ball.
As though in a silent dream, he watched his hand extend slowly, so slowly, fingers spread wide, in front of Tenpou's astonished face. The ball came to his palm as though drawn there.
He felt a small explosion in the bones of his hand. The crowd was roaring. His fingers closed reflexively, despite the pain, and he was holding the ball.
People were on their feet, looking at him and waving and cheering: not just the spectators, but the Baystars players on the sidelines. They were all looking back and forth between him and the diamond on the field. The batter was jogging to home plate at his leisure, waving to acknowledge the crowd; his three fellows were already there, being congratulated by their teammates. Tenpou drew a sharp breath. "Kenren, have you injured your hand?"
Kenren transferred the ball to his other hand and wiggled his sore fingers, "Stings, but it's OK."
"Then wave back at the people. That was a home run, with bases loaded: what's called a 'grand slam.' And you have caught the ball that won the game for the home team. This is the sort of thing fans live to see."
Kenren turned and waved at the crowd, then waved at the players on the field. The cheering got louder. Tenpou sighed. "So much for being inconspicuous. I am glad I had already decided to make our shopping expedition tomorrow. We are not going to be able to leave here quickly."
Kenren sat down, handed Tenpou the ball, and started to gather up the things he had spilled. "What's going to stop us?"
"In this situation, the fan who catches the ball typically takes it to be autographed by the batter. Not doing so will be even more memorable, and besides, the batter's feelings will be hurt."
The applause started to die down as the Baystars finished acknowledging their fans and left the field. The loudspeakers boomed again, reminding everyone to be sure to gather their belongings as they left in an orderly fashion. The two gods handed the rubbish from their late lunch to the attendants who were cleaning up, accepting more congratulations on Kenren's catch as they did so. "Better decide whether 'Kenren' is your personal name or family, and what your other name is," murmured Tenpou. "In fact, I'm not sure your face won't end up on the cover of the sports pages of the local newspapers tomorrow morning, along with the batter's. We'd better be very cautious during the rest of our journey and not come to this city again."
"Will anyone care?"
"Not all that likely, but this is a very information-conscious place and time. If people can't find anything about you anywhere, they may become suspicious."
"That's not a lot of thanks for keeping that ball from caving in your face."
Tenpou smiled ruefully. "Yes, thank you for that. No permanent damage would have been done, but there would have been a lot of fuss, possibly ending with my needing to tamper with the memories of doctors and so forth. This really is better than that would have been."
"OK, then. As long as we have that straight between us." Tenpou was possibly the most brilliant person Kenren had ever met, but he was also pretty close to insane.
Officials of the Baystars were waiting to escort them to talk to the batter, and they gave their names as Kenren Ando and Tenpou Miura. The batter shook their hands effusively and thanked Kenren for making his winning hit even more memorable. Kenren was warmed by the praise of the players, many of whom said that it was a pity that he'd never pursued baseball seriously. Finally, Tenpou stated politely that they needed to be on their way because they still had to find lodging for the night.
"Oh, we can assist with that," said the general manager. He pulled out a business card and wrote on the back of it. "There. This hotel is three streets away, very new and of the most excellent quality. It's one of the owner's business investments. Tell them Manager Wada sent you and show them this card. You will get a special rate, the price of a much cheaper room."
"What! How very generous and kind!" exclaimed Tenpou, bowing politely. "How fortunate that you caught that fly, Kenren-kun!"
"Yes, thank you," said Kenren, imitating Tenpou. Wada waved them away, and finally they left. A few other spectators recognized Kenren as they left and shouted congratulations. Kenren felt as a plant must feel when it has just been watered and the sun shines on its leaves, as though he were expanding and becoming stronger.
"Hmm, you are clearly getting a bit drunk upon the praise of your worshippers," said Tenpou, once they were well away. "Be careful: some gods become quite addicted."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, I am not. Surely you have heard of this?"
He had, but he hadn't thought of it for eons. "Oh yeah. Huh. OK, I'll calm down." In fact, he recalled that Heaven had had to discipline gods for such excesses at times. Still….
"I think this is the best day I've ever had," he said, at last.
"Feeling quite alive, are you?"
"Oh yeah. Am I ever. You?
"Yes, although not so much as you seem to be."
"What else do you need? We'll do whatever it is!"
"What a rash promise, General." Tenpou smiled. "Let's start with seeing our room in this much-praised accommodation, and having a good dinner with fine liquor. Then a bath."
"What, you actually want to take a bath?"
"In this case, yes."
"OK, then. I bet we can manage that."
The hotel was a building of some dozen floors, on a corner. It was all sleek dark stone and smoky glass, and Manager Wada's card bought them a promise of a top-floor room with a view of the bay. Tenpou made a dinner reservation at the hotel's own restaurant. "A quiet table, please," he said.
"Of course," said the woman who was making the arrangements for them. "As private as I can make it." She smiled at Tenpou and he smiled back, both of them somehow smug and conspiratorial.
They took a gleaming, mirror-lined elevator up to the 12th floor. "What was that all about?" asked Kenren as the car rose. "You and the hostess, I mean."
"Ah. She imagines that we are lovers, I believe."
Kenren raised his eyebrows. "Heh. People keep making that mistake."
"They do, don't they?" Tenpou smiled at him sidelong. "Why is that, I wonder."
The elevator stopped and opened, revealing a quiet hallway with only a few doors. Tenpou led the way to one end and used the small card the hostess had given him to open the door there. Inside was a lovely sitting room, with a pale carpet, white walls patterned faintly with gilded leaves, and furniture in steel and dark brown leather. A massive viewing screen dominated one wall, and another featured a huge window showing the bay, its waters glistening in the late afternoon sun. There was a door leading to an ample bedroom with one huge bed, and off of it a bath with luxurious soaking tub and separate shower.
"Very nice," said Tenpou. "This does present a problem. I had not anticipated us dining in a respectable establishment this evening. My own clothes will do, I suppose, with a clean shirt. But you need at least a sports jacket."
"What, like the players were wearing after the game?"
The marshal sighed, exasperated. "No, something like what I am wearing. Hmm, really, you need an entirely different outfit. If anyone asks how you fit it into your satchel, you must just look confused."
"You're going to magic up dinner clothes for me?"
"It's not really magic. You should know that by now. It's divine power. You should be able to do it yourself."
"You'll never learn if you don't try. Look, take my clean shirt. Get a good look at it, then sit down and see whether you can create one that fits you. I will be busy enough with a jacket and trousers for you."
"What color shirt?"
"White works for all occasions but the disco."
Kenren wasn't going to try to get an explanation of a disco: Tenpou was already wound up enough. He took Tenpou's shirt and spread it out on the small dining table at one end of the main room, then sat in one of the chairs around it. Shirt. Somewhere out there was a shirt for him. Think, Ken, that's a good boy.
Shirts. Fabrics. White. Nice fabrics. Good quality. Not cheap-ass stuff. A shirt that'll fit me comfortably. Sleeves just long enough. Classy buttons. A really great shirt. Shirt….
"Well, if that's how you want it. Well done for a first effort, I must say."
It was Tenpou's voice. Kenren's head was resting on the table next to Tenpou's shirt. Tenpou himself was standing by the side of the table, examining the new white shirt draped over his hands. Outside, the sun was low over the bay.
"Wuh?" said Kenren, feeling as though he were waking from a full day of sleep. Tenpou held out the shirt. It was white, but the fabric was woven like a brocade, with a pattern of flowers all through it. The buttons looked like they were made of pearls.
"It's quite ornate. I'm hoping no one will notice it much in the dimness of the typical luxury dining room. The fabric is lovely, but not what a man in this time and place typically uses for a shirt. Not to mention the buttons."
Kenren stood and stretched. The fabric really was beautiful. He felt smug: who would have thought he, Kenren, could do something like that? "What else am I wearing?"
Tenpou indicated the leather sofa. The jacket was plaid, in shades of blue and grey. The trousers were dark blue, far more carefully fitted than what Kenren was wearing now. There was a gaily striped blue and pale green tie. On the floor were dark blue socks and a pair of dark blue slip-on shoes. A slightly smaller pair of tan shoes stood nearby, with plaid tan socks. Kenren raised his eyebrows. "What, you needed new shoes too?"
"Well, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I couldn't wear sandals over bare feet to such an establishment either. A rumpled jacket, yes: people usually assume that I am an absent-minded scholar. But not bare toes." Tenpou rubbed his neck. "It was a lot of work. And it's time for dinner." He picked up as many of the garments and accessories as he could possibly carry and took them into the bedroom. Kenren followed with the rest.
When he was dressed, he couldn't help but admire himself in the mirror. He looked good. The blue and grey set off his eyes, and everything fit beautifully. He puffed out his chest a bit and pivoted, appreciating the effect.
In the mirror, over his shoulder, he could see Tenpou watching him.
He stopped and turned. Tenpou's face was a little flushed. He really is too pretty, thought Kenren.
"Ah," said Tenpou. "If you're ready, we should go down." He left the room. Kenren shrugged and followed him.
The dining room was as dim as Tenpou had predicted, every table a little island of candlelight set with pretty flowers and handsome china and cutlery. Tenpou ordered them each a glass of Western liquor, strong and smoky. They had sashimi as an appetizer, bonito and aji, the light taste of the summer tuna contrasting with the richer, more oily taste of the aji. Then Tenpou had a broiled pork dish, fragrant with garlic and ginger, and Kenren a dish of salt-grilled sweet fish, touted as being fresh from the river north of the city. Small dishes of cool cucumber sunomono and smooth, smoky grilled eggplant provided sensual contrasts to the meat and fish.
"Would you care for dessert?" asked the attendant, when they had finished their dinners. Kenren shook his head, and Tenpou agreed.
"Although I'd like to have some plum brandy sent up to the room," he said.
"Of course," she said.
Back upstairs, Tenpou stripped down and took a quick shower while Kenren experimented with the television and sound system and eventually let in the server with the liquor tray. Tenpou stuck his head out of the bathroom. "Your turn. I'm going to soak."
Kenren undressed and hung up his new clothes carefully. Of course, Tenpou had scattered his about, so Kenren took care of them as well. There were robes of cotton toweling in the wardrobe: Tenpou had gone into the bath without his. Kenren brought both of them with him into the bathroom. Tenpou was apparently dozing in the tub, whose waters were faintly green and smelled of herbs.
Kenren showered off with pleasant-smelling gel and got out, wrapping a towel around his waist, to find that Tenpou was watching him again. Kenren wondered how much he could see without his glasses, which were on the sink counter. "You're going to get all wrinkled, like a dried plum," he said. "Should I bring you a glass of that brandy?"
Tenpou shook his head and then stood slowly, the scented water sheeting off his lithe, wiry body. "I don't need more to drink. I need my general."
He was fully erect. It was kind of impressive. Kenren felt his own rod twitch in sympathy. "No wonder people keep making mistakes about us," he said.
The marshal's spine straightened and he put one hand on his hip, his expression turning just a shade defiant. "Are those mistakes, General? Or are others just seeing a truth that we are too near to perceive?"
Kenren's gaze traveled over Tenpou's narrow hips, lean belly, and the plum-colored disks surrounding upright nipples. "Not sure. I guess I'll have to take an even closer look." He plucked one of the robes from its hook and came over to the tub.
"What are you doing?" said Tenpou, his face indignant and cross.
"Getting you out of there. Bathtubs are hard and tiles are cold. I'm taking you to bed."
Tenpou sighed and stepped out onto the mat. Kenren swathed him in the robe, which (it occurred to him suddenly) was much too opaque. He took a towel to Tenpou's hair and legs, using the opportunity to squeeze one butt-cheek. "Tease," muttered Tenpou.
Kenren tossed the towel onto a hook and stopped Tenpou's mouth with a kiss. It started out a little tentative, but Tenpou opened his lips almost immediately, and it turned hot and messy and eventually painful, as Tenpou nipped Kenren's lower lip.
Totally not a surprise, thought Kenren, as he dragged his commander into the bedroom and attempted to throw him onto the huge bed. Tenpou grabbed and pulled Kenren after him, so that they ended up on the coverlet in a sprawling pile of limbs and toweling. Tenpou's hard-on was pressed into the crease of Kenren's hip, and his slender hands were kneading their way Kenren's back to his buttocks. Kenren groaned at that touch and raised himself up on one arm, bending to press kisses from Tenpou's jaw down his throat and over his chest, stopping to nibble at each nipple. Tenpou arched off the bed in a sinuous and serpentine move and wrapped one arm around Kenren's torso, abruptly reversing their position.
Kenren had sparred with Tenpou hand-to-hand a couple of times since taking command of the First Unit. He knew that Tenpou was not only stronger than he appeared but also incredibly skilled at taking advantage of position and leverage. So he was not astonished that he seemed quite unable to move as Tenpou held him pinned to the bed. The marshal's hungry mouth was licking and biting its way down Kenren's body, leaving spots of wet heat where the tongue pressed and sharp little bruises where the teeth closed. And then that hot mouth was on his sex, tight moisture and perfect suction, while slender, strong fingers massaged his balls. He couldn't resist even if he had wanted to: a storm of white light blinded him and he came.
He blinked and came to himself to find Tenpou lounging lasciviously against the fluffy bed pillows, stroking himself almost absent-mindedly as he looked at Kenren, a sly smile on his face. "That's a good look on you, General," he said.
Kenren sat up and grinned. "Yeah, I guess cigarettes and baseball aren't the only things that make me feel alive, after all."
"Alive isn't exactly what I would have said. You know, some mortal languages call what you just experienced 'the little death.'"
"That's pretty morbid," said Kenren, rolling over and ending up pressed against Tenpou's legs. "I guess I need to kill you with a little kindness, now." He stroked one hand up Tenpou's almost hairless thigh, trailed his fingertips through the straggle of coarse hair above, and pressed his palm over Tenpou's hand. "You gonna let me try to steer?"
Tenpou looked at him thoughtfully. "You've never tried this with a man, have you?"
"Nope. But I bet yours works more or less the same as mine."
Tenpou gently extracted his hand and lay back with one arm crooked behind his head. Kenren pulled himself up a little farther and traced the long, slender lines of Tenpou's body with his tongue, ending with a stripe up that swollen phallus. The flesh there was hot and shiny, almost slick. He'd never thought about that before, even though he knew his was the same. He bathed the whole length and the spongy head with his tongue, probing the folds of the foreskin. Tenpou's breath shuddered and he dragged his fingers through Kenren's hair.
"Is that OK?" asked Kenren.
"Yes, but it's a tease. I need more pressure. All day I've been watching you, so alive and so tempting. I don't want to wait. Use your hand; we can practice with your mouth some other time."
"You've got it, Field Marshal." Kenren slid one arm around Tenpou's waist and wrapped the other fist around his cock, stroking cautiously at first, but gaining confidence as Tenpou sighed and began to thrust within his grasp. All at once he stopped and shuddered, and his release bubbled up out of him, running down over Kenren's fingers.
Kenren chuckled softly and released his lover. He found the damp towel and set about cleaning them both up, removing the soiled towel, and hanging up the robe. Tenpou was almost asleep now, his pale skin goose-pimpled with the cool air of the room. Kenren turned off the lights and got them both under the coverlet, then curled around Tenpou.
"Hmm, you're warm," said Tenpou sleepily. "I expected as much."
"Did you expect the rest of it, too?"
Tenpou was silent a moment, and Kenren wondered whether he had fallen asleep. Finally Tenpou said, "I hoped. I wasn't certain. You had a reputation for carnality with women, but…."
Kenren chuckled and kissed his shoulder. "I'm glad it was a good surprise, then."
"Did it ever occur to you to wonder why we shape ourselves as human beings?"
"Nope," said Kenren, "And I'm not going to wonder about it tonight, either. Go to sleep."
And that was all, really. They got up the next morning, packed the extra clothing into the laundry bags thoughtfully provided by the hotel, and went to the store that supplied baseball equipment. As Tenpou pointed out, they really only needed one example of each item. It was still quite a lot of goods, and they had to hire a cab and then a porter to get it all onto the train. A little adroit shaping of reality gave them a small cart to get it all down the path in the park, and they arrived in Heaven that afternoon with lots of plans for drills and gameplay.
After some debate, the autographed baseball ended up on a little wooden stand in one of Tenpou's bookshelves. The ancient vase that previously occupied the stand went to a minor official who was pathetically grateful for it.
It was several days later that Kenren let himself into Tenpou's bathroom, dressed in silk boxers under his leather uniform coat and carrying something white and soft over one arm. "What," asked Tenpou, "is that?"
"A little something I made for you," said Kenren. "Get out of the tub."
He wrapped the garment around Tenpou's dripping body, maneuvered his arms into the sleeves, and tied the sash. Tenpou's nipples and aureolas were blooming through the damp silk beautifully, just as he'd dreamed: white silk in a brocaded pattern of flowers, soft and sleek and luxurious.
"Now what, General?" asked Tenpou.
"That human shape thing. I have some experiments in mind."
"Ah," said Tenpou. "I'm pleased to see that I was correct in my assumptions about what sort of student you'd be. Carry on."