After Muraki’s underground laboratory had been reduced to a pile of charred rubble, with puddles of molten steel that had run across the floor and cooled like the wake of a volcano and fragments of equipment scattered everywhere, nothing had remained intact.
Tatsumi coolly surveyed the Shokan Division boardroom where the Shinigami were gathering to debrief. Muraki had specifically targeted one of their own, a declaration of war. The secretary would not tolerate bungling or other messes. The tea caddy and service were set up for early arrivals to help themselves to hot drinks and cake; the white board was pristine with plenty of fresh sharpies at the base; missile-sharp pencils and gleaming pads of foolscap were lined up precisely in front of every seat; this room was primed for strategies and plans of attack.
“Even when Muraki’s cornered, we can never tell what he’s going to do.” Konoe-Shachou reduced a slice of castella to crumbs with irritation.
Tatsumi bit back his retort. The purpose of the meeting was to overcome that drawback. That was why he had made his way to the division headquarters at 3:30 in the morning to make sure that the white board was spotless and that the entire room had been aired. Was he destined to never be acknowledged for the efforts he made on this department’s behalf?
“Does he necessarily have to have a purpose?” Wakaba brushed her bangs off her forehead. Her orange eye reflected flecks of eerie red from the rhododendron in full flower just outside the window. “I mean, beyond the one he already revealed to Tsusuki?”
“Bringing his half-brother back to life so he can kill him personally?” Tatsumi started to say, “That is a good ques—”
“A madman’s rationale will not seem logical to those who are sane.” He was cut off by the Gushoushin. “To us, his plans may seem overly developed for such a single-minded purpose. To him, no contingency, however small or insignificant, may be overlooked.”
“Never fear, fellow Shinigami!” With a flourish, as 003 danced and hooted in the air above him, the engineer tossed an object into the middle of the table. It was made of brass, which sang when it hit wood. “I, Watari Yutaka-sensei, genius extraordinaire, have uncovered something which will help us with our investigation.”
The team of investigative Shinigami reflexively cringed, as though the fragment had been infused with Muraki’s murderous spirit. Tatsumi didn’t care about booby-trapped or cursed artifacts. It was the attention that Watari drew, which made Tatsumi feel too vulnerable, like a spider in a corner exposed as a standing pool of water suddenly reflected the midday sun fully upon it.
Konoe-Shachou flattened Watari’s enthusiasm with a dry, “What is it?”
Tatsumi picked up the triangular shard of metal. It wasn’t poisoned or hazardous; Watari had handled it without gloves. As he held the antique device with its carefully worked filigree and a gauge precisely inscribed with measurements along one edge, a beam of sunlight from the window flashed over it, brightening the room. Golden, like Watari.
“I came across this image in an old museum catalogue of artifacts.” Watari passed around some printed scans.
Arabic lettering filled the caption at the base of the photograph. Tatsumi lifted his glasses to squint at the script.
“An astrolabe from Persia, circa 12th-century. What were they?”
“Astro … Ishtar, the ancient Babylonian goddess of the stars. Astrolabes were used to measure the stars for the purposes of navigation,” Watari explained. “Sailors used them to discover their location at sea. They were replaced later by more efficient metrology: octants, sextants, timepieces, tables, telescopes, and parallel glasses. Nowadays, everyone uses global positioning satellite readings. This fragment came from an old sextant. If you sketch it in, like so … .”
Tatsumi shuddered. For a moment, it felt as though he were back on the rescue boats by the Queen Camellia with nothing around him but the sea and stars and the last faint lingering traces of ghosts who had disappeared beyond his reach, far beneath the water surface.
“What does this have to do with cloning?” Konoe-Shachou reached over and took the fragment from Tatsumi to see for himself.
“Nothing,” Watari said with a skeptical frown, holding out the sketch, which looked like a flabby haystack, then quickly crumbling the paper and tossing it over his shoulder. “At least nothing that I can think of, which isn’t to say Muraki couldn’t make some kind of connection.”
“A leftover from Hakata?” Tatsumi asked. Almost simultaneously, Konoe said, “A red herring?”
Watari shook his head. Any questions as to whether the piece of equipment was a bonafide clue or debris could not be resolved yet. Everything was speculation at this stage.
Tatsumi could grind his teeth with exasperation. At every turn, Muraki had been two steps ahead. If only they could get the jump on Muraki at least once. “I’m sure the doctor is not someone to use an antiquated device when the latest technology is the most accurate, efficient and accessible.”
The Gushoushin agreed with reservation. “But modern technology is a double-edged sword.”
“It may be used to pinpoint locations and track people, but it can be turned against the tracker.” Watari volunteered.
“Not only to locate them.” The Gushoushin’s feathers ruffled. It disliked being upstaged. “Who their allies are, who is pulling their strings and why.”
“Are you saying that Muraki is using this obsolete equipment in order to stave off the scrutiny of law enforcement?” Konoe returned the fragment.
“It’s one possibility.”
Tatsumi felt it necessary to address a point the Gushoushin had made, “You seem to be suggesting that he’s working for someone else, or with someone else.”
The librarian’s eyes became even beadier, considering. “I can’t see him cooperating with anyone, unless it was to reach a common goal. He would have to be manipulated or tricked into it, somehow, and I don’t think that’s very likely.”
Tatsumi had already been annoyed when the Gushoushin had cut him off earlier. “If you didn’t really think so in the first place, why did it you mention it?”
He already knew the answer.
“It’s important to consider all possibilities,” it sniffed.
“He seemed to be taken with toys,” Hisoka suddenly piped up, probably sensing it was necessary to intervene. “Especially dolls.”
The boy shrank into himself as they turned their gazes upon him. “He kept referring to me as one of his dolls.”
“A collector?” Konoe said.
“Perhaps,” The Gushoushin said. “Or it’s just another method which Muraki uses to belittle his opponents.”
“Or both.” Watari interjected.
“The attitude of using people and opponents as playthings fits his psychological profile,” the librarians clucked. “As a sociopath, he believes himself to be superior to most of humanity — equal only to the most leading authorities in any given area, so he demeans others, or at least demonstrates his contempt with demeaning symbolic gestures, like a sort of vandal of the psyche.”
Tatsumi’s pencil lead broke. As secretary, he had been taking copious notes of everyone’s ideas, but this one particularly galled him. It wasn’t only Hisoka with whom Muraki toyed.
“‘The course of an ordinary man’s destiny is written in the stars’,” Konoe muttered. “ ‘But the enlightened man determines his own destiny’.”
Tatsumi paused in the business of re-sharpening the pencil. Had the chief finally cracked?
“An old Persian saying.” Watari said. The window above his seat had been opened to allow fresh air to circulate. A chilly breeze blew through the room from it, ruffling Tatsumi’s hair and papers.
“I detest stars.” Tatsumi got up and closed it with a firm snap.
It was such an odd thing to say that everyone stopped staring at Watari to stare at him, everyone except Watari, who already knew. Tatsumi supposed he was being eccentric, so he added, “Although I agree with the saying in principle.”
It had been while the Queen Camellia sank and the interstice between worlds howled with the terror and lamentation of hundreds of voices, that Muraki had poisoned Tatsumi’s stars. The toxin had been distilled from the torments of the dying, as Tatsumi rushed to help his colleagues retrieve their souls.
Because it was critical to pull as many souls free before the ship went down, Tatsumi hadn’t been able to quell panic through the calming properties of his competence. The less turmoil and upheaval, the fewer troubled spirits would haunt the seas and draw future sailors to watery graves. When the cause of death was more tranquil and involved fewer people — far less people — it was an easy matter, for Tatsumi was one of the most professional and competent Shinigami ever employed at EnMaCho. His presence alone made people feel silly for getting all worked up over something as mundane and tedious as death, especially when there were invoices, salaries and expense reports to reconcile.
Stars seared Tatsumi’s mind that night, winking through the swathes of smoke which rose off the luxury liner and which billowed before winds shifting over the Genkai-nada Sea, and which towered in black columns, here and there illuminated with flashes of red-orange, beyond the Hakata harbour horizon.
Stars glimmered like refractions off ice-crystals as he performed superhuman feats to lead people to safety. This, only to watch them asphyxiate in fumes a few feet from doors swollen shut with heat, and in the confusion that followed, to believe that their spirits were as trapped as their physical bodies had been so that their souls were swept beneath the waves when the ship finally sank — when all they had required to escape was to believe it was possible.
Cold, impersonal and everlasting, those stars glittered while Tatsumi reached for the soul of a girl on the threshold of adulthood, sobbing for her mother as the whirlpool of the sinking ship sucked her down, the silvery threads of her faith in him shredding beneath his frantic clutch.
Tatsumi’s blood had run cold for decades, but these stars induced an icier, more bitter sensation, one in which the magnitude of the cosmos eclipsed all endeavour, and matters of life and death were submerged in insignificance, powerlessness and despair.
In defiance, Tatsumi had drawn shadows over his eyeglasses so that starlight could no longer sting him. Each and every time Tatsumi would forsake shelter to step beneath a gathering dusk or clear, night sky, he summoned the shadows behind his glasses to mask the firmament from his sight.
One twilight, after yet another exhausting annual blossom viewing party and Rescue Tsusuki Mission at The Count’s palace, Watari reached over and plucked the eyeglasses off his face.
“What are you doing?” Tatsumi snatched, his hands closing on empty air, the fall of Watari’s hair shimmering slightly as it flicked against his wrists.
They had been strolling to the palace through the park. The evening was as warm as a soft, woolen blanket; the air sweet beneath the arching branches. Petals cascaded around them, and birdsong reverberated in the woods. The long, enduring history of their friendship felt so intimate and comfortable, neither of them had any need to speak. That was, until Watari had pulled this stunt.
Tatsumi was hopelessly shortsighted without his glasses. His companion’s features blurred, but Watari’s skin looked luminous even against the clouds of blossoms which clustered against the gloom.
That’s when Tatsumi first noticed that no matter how dark the world around them grew, Watari always seemed to glow.
“Give them back.”
“Relax. I just want to see how strong your lenses are compared to mine, or if I need a new prescription. You don’t really mind, do you?”
“But I do mind,” Tatsumi protested. “Very much.”
“Here.” Watari stuffed his spectacles into Tatsumi’s outstretched hand. “Try mine.”
“But I don’t want to.”
“Whoa! And I thought I was the only one around here with bad vision,” Watari’s voice trailed, blinking through the lenses as Tatsumi assumed he’d noticed the shadows.
Watari reflexively whisked them off, breathed upon them, then fished a corner of his button-down shirt out of his trousers, presumably to rub them clean, as though Tatsumi would ever tolerate the slightest smudge or speck of dust to coat them.
“Watari.” Tatsumi’s voice grew stern.
“Fine, fine, let me.”
Watari drew far too close and Tatsumi found that he suddenly couldn’t stop inhaling. His nose filled with the scents of soap, shampoo, and that slightly sweet, papery undertone of musk which followed the scientist everywhere.
Tatsumi waited for him to ask about the shadows.
From so close, it was easy to spot the lift at the corners of Watari’s lips, and the crisp, freshly laundered linen which covered his forearms as the wings of the glasses were slid around Tatsumi’s ears with a gesture as delicate as the dust coating a moth. A pulse of heat surged between their bodies, and Tatsumi dared not exhale for fear his breath would blow Watari away from where he hovered, barely connected to the earth, a mound of golden moth-wing dust.
“There you go.” With a swirl of gleaming hair, the scientist broke away and continued down the promenade with, Tatsumi felt, needless nonchalance. Petals seemed to chase him, like nature itself was trying without success to hold him in her fingers.
Tatsumi finally released his breath and, with it, he collapsed backwards a little against the trunk of the plum tree under which this had all happened, dizzy and disoriented. He wondered at what strange malady, what bizarre seizure had just gripped him, and half-hoped that Watari would turn around so he could ask him what this prank with the eyeglasses had been about.
Watari did not turn around, however, and after the blizzard of petals had stopped reeling and roiling around him, the evening’s quiet and composure was completely ruined for Tatsumi.
Fortunately, Watari filled it with airy chatter about the habits of bees, and why was it, even though they got so busy in this park, the trees never seem to bear any cherries or plums? Tatsumi was grateful for the casual insignificance of it. Nothing weightier would cover the accelerated pace of his heart.
“That’s a good question,” Tatsumi replied, retracting the shadows from the upper half of his eyeglasses, not in order to permit starlight to reach him again, but in order to see the blossoms more clearly. Watari could be such a dork. “But I don’t notice any bees.”
“You wouldn’t right now.” Watari shot him a side look. “They’re only out during the day.”
“Ah, sensible creatures. I knew there was a reason I liked them.”
One thing about Watari, Tatsumi realized early on, was that the proverbial other shoe would always drop, eventually. It might take weeks, months — once, an entire year. The only unpredictable elements were where and when, so there was no point holding the breath and waiting.
“Say, Tatsumi-san, do you have a problem with your night vision?”
They were sitting together in the reading room at the library. Watari had been doing some preliminary investigation work before heading to Kyoto to investigate strange rumours about Shion. Tatsumi sighed and closed the folder of newspaper clippings he had been scanning. He could feel the next questions looming. Watari’s silence was always louder than speech.
“So, it’s the night sky you have a problem with.”
Tatsumi’s eyes narrowed. His chin slowly tilted to the left, as he continued to wait.
“No?” Watari leaned forward on his chair. His face held the excitement and tension of a greyhound with a hare in its sights. Tatsumi palmed it off as intellectual curiosity. “Then something in the sky. The stars, perhaps?”
Tatsumi’s look read: “Well done, but now that you’ve caught the car, young pup, what do you intend to do with it?”
Watari refused to take the bait. “How strange. Any reason?”
“Naturally. I don’t care to divulge it.”
“I see. Is there something a person can do to change your mind about them?”
“I doubt it, and why bother?” Tatsumi was clear he did not want to discuss it.
“Because they’re in the sky, and so, unavoidable. It isn’t rational to throw up obstructions for unavoidable things. ” Watari persisted. “Is it because they’re beyond our reach?”
“I have to file this report before the end of the day.”
“Unattainable and aloof? Set above the earth?”
Tatsumi stiffened, involuntarily.
“Ah, that’s it, isn’t it? You dislike the heavens because they are unaffected by what we witness happening on earth.”
Tatsumi’s voice was as casual as he could force it. He wasn’t sure he trusted anyone with this insight, as it would probably lead to misinterpretation in the future, or too much ‘reading into’ of it. “What happens in Chisou or EnMaCho has no effect on what happens in the heavens.”
“Maybe. And yet, somehow, you seem to want Chisou and EnMaCho to reflect the heavens.”
“You should know enough about me by now that I don’t like things which I can’t control.”
Watari laughed, and started walking toward the door. “Well, that makes it easier.”
This startled Tatsumi. “What does? What are you going on about?”
“Simple: anyone who wants to give you the stars must create heaven on earth for you.”
“Oh, is that all!” Tatsumi snorted. Irony. Watari was winding him up.
“That’s better than not knowing, wouldn’t you say?”
“Not knowing what? Eh, Watari! What’s this all about?”
The question came too late. By this time, the scientist and his owl had left the room. The door had already swung shut behind them.
Tatsumi scowled. What a confusing man Watari was: brilliant in his own way, but so unpredictable, almost to the point of being scatterbrained, and the scientist had almost made it sound as though the secretary was about to become the subject of his next series of crazy experiments. The last thing Tatsumi wanted was to be transformed into a woman, especially given how lecherous Watari seemed to be. Naturally, Tatsumi’s imagination kicked in and started to fill in details. Very detailed details. It was Tatsumi’s nature to be explicit and precise.
Tatsumi dropped his briefcase. He didn’t even blink as it snapped open and papers flew across the floor.
The details hadn’t troubled him nearly as much as they should have. His heart was racing, but it was not with disgust.
Afterward, Watari attracted Tatsumi’s awareness no matter where or when he appeared or how quiet and unobtrusive he was. It was as though Tatsumi had developed radar attuned only to him. He needed no flashes of golden hair on the periphery of sight, or 003’s cheerful hoots, or the even usual excited chatter the scientist generated from other members of the staff to alert him. He could feel when Watari entered or left the room. He could sense his moods, when he was pensive, irritated or, most often, lively and upbeat. He could feel him in his heartbeat, as though the shinigami was always sitting in his body, next to his heart.
It was the enormous rushing sound, like the wind, combined with mechanical clanks and whirs, which caused Tatsumi to walk into Watari’s laboratory uninvited. He was stunned to find a massive instrument constructed of gears and cogs, wheels and globes, spinning, churning, and rolling around at a dizzying pace. It took up the entire space in front of Watari’s elegant sweeping staircase, and with its constant, swirling motion, had a peculiar rhythmic hypnotic effect.
“Welcome, Tatsumi-san.” The scientist leaned over the banister, seized hold of a spiraling globe, rode it down to where the secretary stood, and lightly hopped off.
“What—? What is—?” Tatsumi spluttered, visions of horrendous expenditures tacked onto the department’s budget sweeping through his head like the globes on this instrument. He found himself being tugged by Watari off to the side of the room just in time to escape having his head knocked off by the rotational axis of a massive copper ball and several bronze satellites. “What is this and how much did it cost?”
“This is an orrery.” Unlike the secretary, who was hunched over for fear of another swinging mechanism, Watari stood straight, both proud and pleased, and patted him on the shoulder. “And, never fear, we didn’t have to pay a cent. I found it in an old broom closet in the cellar, tucked behind some boxes of cleaning supplies. When I asked the procurement division, they seemed more than happy to let me take it off their hands. I can’t imagine why. Isn’t it magnificent?”
Tatsumi bit his tongue as he was quickly trundled off to another sector of the laboratory to escape the swoop and curl of a different rotation. He hadn’t yet recovered from the adrenaline shock that fears of massive financial restructuring had set off, and here he was ducking huge orbs again. It was only after his heart rate had calmed down that he was able to speak. “What’s an orrery? And why do we need it?
“This one is a re-construction of our solar systems with its eleven visible planets and seventy-nine invisible planets.”
“Yes, precisely so, although visible here. Also, Tatsumi-san? On the count of three, jump.”
“… Two … Three.”
Tatsumi and Watari jumped, avoiding the scythe-like sweep of another huge pendulum at ankle-height distance to the floor.
“What’s it for?”
“To perceive and anticipate the motion of the planets around the sun.”
Tatsumi stared. “Why would we need to do that?”
“And it shows the relationship of our system to other systems in the galaxy, but I need to close the blinds and turn off the lights for that.”
Tatsumi was so bewildered, he forgot to pay attention to where the orrery was moving. Before he knew it, he was scooped up from behind on the rings of a model planet and soaring around the room on a model of a planet at a dizzying pace, flipping and swaying in every direction, as though on an unpredictable amusement park ride. His seat was precarious, and there was something monstrous about the gears and chains of the massive machine; it looked like it could eat him whole, then grind his bones and spit them out.
“Turn it off,” he cried.
“I can’t.” Watari paced under the mechanical solar system, trying to track his colleague’s whirlwind rotations. “If I do, I can never guarantee that the measurements will be accurate again.”
“I don’t care. Get me off this thing!”
“Can’t do that. It’s essential to the investigation. If it’s stopped, we will lose weeks in recalibration.”
“Weeks! You think I’m going to tolerate being stuck on this thing for—?”
“Yes, that’s a bit of a problem. You seem to have fallen onto a sidewinding planet. It may be weeks before you come close to the ground.”
Tatsumi was speechless.
“Let me think,” Watari took in the reel and roll of the orrery, and made some quick calculations. From his perch, Tatsumi watched him gather his strength, and then make a mighty leap. He landed on the arm of what looked like Jupiter, then after five seconds, flipped onto Neptune’s coupling, and then hopped onto the rings beside him. “Ah, that was fun.”
“I wanted you to get me off this thing, not join me! Now what are we going to do?”
“Relax, I know what I’m doing.” Watari’s eyes looked a little too amused for Tatsumi, who had the peculiar understanding of what a mouse must feel like when it senses an owl has trained its sights on it. “By the time I’m finished with my demonstration, I will have succeeded in getting us both off.”
He pulled a long sash out of his coat pocket. “But for now, here: better tie yourself on.”
“Ah, it’s awkward. In that case, let me. It’s just a safety precaution against centrifugal force. I wouldn’t want you to fall, or have an accident.”
As Watari threaded the belt around Tatsumi’s waist, the secretary’s nerves stretched almost to breaking point. Watari had come prepared, which meant that he had anticipated this and prepared for the contingency. For all the scatterbrained eccentricity he projected, Watari had a plan and it involved Tatsumi. The thought knocked the wind out of him, unless that was from the sudden shift in the machine’s direction.
“Don’t make me summon my shadows,” he wheezed, feebly.
“Tuck your knees up so something won’t snap your legs off, and lean back against the surface of the planet.” Watari pulled out a remote control.
With a long-suffering sigh, Watari pushed the secretary so that his back was arched against the convex surface of the planet. This saved him from having his head knocked off by an incoming comet at two-o’clock, but the only way he could maintain that position was to bend his knees and tuck them up so that his feet were resting on the surface of the rings. This opened his body up in an undignified and positively lewd way that left him aghast, and he promptly squeezed his knees together in order to not look like a drunk, all splayed and hanging out.
“Might as well make yourself comfortable.” Watari chuckled, clicking the remote. “It’s only the two of us, and this is going to take a little time.”
Metallic shutters clicked shut over the laboratory windows and the lights faded out, leaving them in complete darkness. Tatsumi swallowed hard. The sensation of rolling around in an abyss of pitch black, while massive, potentially fatal objects swung near and far in unpredictable patterns, was almost too much for him to bear. His stomach started to churn.
As though in perfectly timed response, he heard Watari click on another button, and very slowly, a projection of the cosmos filled with stars flicked on one by one in the blackness surrounding them. Watari had transformed his laboratory into a planetarium with the entire sidereal map of the galaxy unveiled around them. Hundreds of thousands of flickering lights glittered in the dark, each seeming to hold their own life and purpose, an intimation of destiny, although one so far beyond human calculation, all Tatsumi and Watari could do was sit passively and observe.
Tatsumi held his breath.
Another click, and an orb at the heart of the orrery started to emit a soft golden light, just enough to light up the sides of the planets around them, a center of warmth and radiant spendour, which moved Tatsumi in an unexpected way. He felt all out of proportion, both incredibly small and insignificant, yet filled with a power and potency that he had never realized.
There was something so awe-inspiring in the scale and detail of this mechanical representation of the firmament, that Tatsumi finally — Finally! — succumbed. He let out his breath and relaxed, letting the model planet bear him across miles of untracked universe in seconds, and hypnotize him into a state of poise and tranquility, where he did nothing but simply enjoy the show. Besides, he had been getting a charlie horse from the effort of holding his knees together.
He didn’t know how long it was — ten minutes, twenty, an hour — before his head swung to the left where Watari sat, just like him, just like two kids on their backs in a grassy field at night, looking up in wonder at the sky. Once again, he was struck by how attractive Watari was, with his sparkling eyes and radiant smiles. They were lying so close to each other, almost shoulder-to-shoulder.
“Okay, I got it, Watari. It’s beautiful. No, it’s breathtaking, and thank you for showing it to me, but what does this have to do with the investigation?”
“It started as a hunch, during the Shion debriefing.”
“No kidding, you actually got an idea out of that debacle.”
Watari laughed. “It was pretty pathetic for a brainstorming session, but then, most of our meetings are. Usually the only benefit they serve is for us to connect with each other.”
Tatsumi recalled how Wakaba had faithfully marked each and every idea their team had thrown out onto the whiteboard, but no one came up with an “a-ha!” moment; no idea sent electrical thrums up the spine which signaled insights of sheer brilliance. For the most part, the team sat in gloomy bemusement, shuffling feet, clearing throats. No one seemed to have the slightest idea where to start tracking Muraki before he struck again.
Kanoe-Shachou had then slapped the table with the palms of his hands, causing everyone to jump. “If we are finished here for this morning—”
The chief’s disappointment had been palpable.
“It looks like it,” Tatsumi said, checking around the room. After all that time, and all their cases, it was appalling how they were no further ahead than ever.
The sound of chairs being pushed back and chatter filled the room as the Shinigami made haste to leave. Only Watari had remained in his seat, looking thoughtful.
Watari called him back to the present. “It was when the subject of psychological profiles and using people as toys came up, after Hisoka-chan shared his observation.”
“Even so, it may be nothing.”
“Right, which would be no different than where we were at the meeting.” Tatsumi blinked, and then corrected himself, “Than we are at present. So what was your idea?”
“Muraki used tarot cards to deliver messages about the murders committed on the Queen Camellia. I think it’s safe to say the doctor likes to leave clues behind. He also appears to be fond of symbolic fortune-telling toys, and uses them for different purposes: to foreshadow his next move, to taunt his future victims and the people who are trying to stop him, and to desecrate the dignity of the people he murders.”
The hairs on Tatsumi’s scalp rose. “You think that he deliberately planted that piece of sextant as a hook?”
“Given the games he likes to play, there’s at least a seventy-five per cent probability.”
“So, only one chance in four that he won’t try to bait us during his next attack …”
“Not really. We’ve only engaged with Muraki on three occasions. We’re just assuming there will be a fourth.”
“We don’t dare to assume otherwise.”
Watari shrugged. How could they know?
“So you think this — this thing was left behind to tell us … what? Where he plans to rematerialize? That we must look to the seas? That we need to use navigational equipment to track him?”
Watari’s eyebrows crinkled. “Maybe in a symbolic sense.”
“It’s just a hunch. There’s an old story — quite a famous one, though most likely just an urban legend. It’s about the lack of rhyme or reason behind Hitler’s movements during that war. Troops, which should’ve advanced for tactical supremacy, were withdrawn. No one could figure out why. Sudden, incomprehensible offensives materialized out of the blue, even at great loss of life to the Nazis, although usually not. It made no sense and it threw the Allied forces off-balance. Then a group of astrologers approached Churchill’s ministry of intelligence. They had managed to link the pattern of battles to movements in the zodiac. The Nazis had been using astrology to calculate their progress. After the astrologers’ predictions panned out, they were consulted in the planning of counter-offensives.”
Tatsumi snapped his head back. As though he had another reason to hate the stars, just when Watari had made it so that he started liking them again.
“But there’s no room in our budget to hire astrologers.”
“It doesn’t necessarily follow that Muraki’s clue has anything to do with astrology, or even with determining his next big strike-point,” Watari admitted. “Given that he used a similar toy in our Kyushu mission to confuse matters, this may just be — as Kanoe-Shachou suggested at the meeting — something to throw us off the trail. Yet, regardless of whether the story about Churchill and the astrologers was true, it has a sort of grandiosity which would appeal to Muraki’s more theatrical … erm, things he’s partial to. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yes, that’s an astute observation, but —” Tatsumi replied, trying to ignore the peculiar breathlessness that struck him in the chest. Watari had just flashed him a dazzling smile. As a matter of personal policy, Tatsumi was as frugal with his praise as he was with his pennies, but it looked like it was time to start rescinding that policy. “We need more data before we can begin outsourcing contracts. If I submit a service procurement requisition for astrologers to the budget committee, we will be the laughingstocks of EnMaCho — more than we already are, I mean.”
Watari nodded. “Besides, it isn’t as though there is any consistency in the field of astrology anyway. Adding astrology to the mix muddles things.”
Tatsumi agreed. “Because, as you said, Muraki is drawn to supernatural games even if he doesn’t take them seriously, I think it’s an angle worth some attention. We are short on other leads right now, I’m sure you’ve noticed. ”
“I can make do with the resources we have at hand, for now. This orrery was a good start. I’m sure the Gushoushin can assist with reference and research.”
Tatsumi nodded, and then reached over and put his hand on his shoulder. “Good work, Watari-kun.”
Watari might be freer about touching other people with casual affection — he was of a different generation than Tatsumi — but it was so out of character for the secretary to look straight at a person, let alone invade personal space in this manner, that the scientist looked a little stunned. Tatsumi couldn’t stop himself. He had felt compelled to bridge the gap which still spanned between them.
He felt so strange about it that he instantly withdrew his hand, as though stung.
The plain, straightforward approach had never worked for Tatsumi, not when there was room for subterfuge. A typical plan of attack for seducing Watari would’ve involved as much gusto and creativity as double-entry bookkeeping: recording every encounter, every interaction, every conversation in a private journal, setting up scenarios, even posting elaborate progress charts with tables and Venn Diagrams, all codified with stickers to throw off detection. For Tatsumi to shift his mode of operations so dramatically required a shift of almost cosmic scale, but then, ever since he had been scooped up and taken on this ride on the orrery, he hadn’t felt like himself.
While he puzzled over this, Watari surged forward, closing the distance between them, swinging his legs over Tatsumi’s hips so that they faced each other directly. He wasn’t going to allow the secretary to take it back. “Am I right about this, Tatsumi? Am I right in believing that you want this as much as me?”
Tatsumi was all confusion. He just sat there, wondering, marveling, admiring the golden light of day as it lit his companion’s face, his heart thumping arrhythmically. So close, so beautiful, so … he had no energy to speak, but could only manage a whispered, “But the work day hasn’t even ended yet.”
“No,” Watari’s eyes grew hooded and heavy. He leaned in and planted a small kiss on the corner of Tatsumi’s mouth, the delicacy of the touch causing a host of unfamiliar, electrical sensations to bloom. “It hasn’t.”
Tatsumi reached up and threaded his fingers behind Watari’s head and pulled him close, breathing in scents of tea and honey. The oxygen between them felt impossibly thick and heady, too heavy to breathe. “We could get into trouble.”
“Yes,” Watari threaded his legs behind Tatsumi and sat in the space between Tatsumi’s legs, so that their hips met in a single core of heat. Trails of melting warmth followed the flow of his hands over Tatsumi’s chest. “We could.”
And he leaned in for another small kiss.
An electrical current zapped Tatsumi’s lips so that they seemed to vibrate. His whole body started to tremble with the decades of rigidity hardwired within it. Everywhere Watari’s fingers traced, his nerves came to singular life, acute and thrumming, until his body seemed to buzz. The enormous swoops and sails of the orrery were almost imperceptible, measured against the surges, tensions and releases of his own body. Without thinking, he pushed his lips against Watari’s and plumbed the scientist’s mouth. Sometime during the interval when lips parted and tongues slid against each other, he spared a moment to marvel over why it was Watari seemed disinclined to resist him. Far from it, Watari was kissing him back eagerly — hungrily and ferociously. “If someone should catch us—”
“Yes,” Watari’s hand reached down and quickly dispensed of all the buttons and fastenings that kept Tatsumi from the ridiculous predicament of exposure and vulnerability, of having his secrets laid bare for anyone to see, against all his better judgment and training and sense of propriety, and Tatsumi astounded himself by the amount to which he did not care. He even spread himself wider, left himself more open for Watari’s pleasure and use. “If someone should catch.”
“Fired … demoted … disgraced …” Tatsumi pushed himself into Watari’s warm grip. “You will have to take responsibility.”
He felt, rather than heard the words, spoken through what must’ve been a shark-like grin tucked against his cheek, as his cock was tucked against the impossibly smooth skin of Watari’s, “Never fear. I shall assume full—”
Then all was lost in heat and stroking and sweat, with the rut and push of skin against skin, until Tatsumi’s head fell back and he let go with a cry.
The muscles around Tatsumi’s ass were still throbbing, when he swam back into clarity. He could feel Watari’s tongue lapping at his now-soft cock, cleaning it off. He let out a soft moan as he was tucked back into his cotton boxers, and his trousers fastened and belted. The creases were brushed out of his jacket and his shirt and tie were tidied. Everything was zipped up nicely, the way he liked it, even before his orgasm quite finished.
“Watari-san,” he started to say.
“Yutaka,” the shinigami corrected him. “How are you feeling?”
Tatsumi felt his face turn red.
“Seichirou,” he said.
“Well, Seichirou-kun, would you be steady enough on your feet if we were to try and jump off now?”
Tatsumi took a last look around him. Somewhere, Watari must’ve found the remote, because the stars were fading out, the lamp inside the solar orb was fading, the blinds were lifting, and the make-belief light of day was replaced by the more brittle and harsh mid-day sun.
“Yes, I think so.”
The instructions to set off at once for Hanyuu had barely arrived before Tatsumi was on his way to Watari’s laboratory.
Oddly enough, the next explosion to erupt was not due to a chemical reaction. When the series of thunderous booms continued to resound through the halls, Tatsumi scurried over to see what was going on and put an end to it. He burst into the science lab without bothering to knock, only to be nearly propelled backwards by music blasting over a set of speakers. From the earphones which Watari wore, it looked like he had accidentally hit a button which transformed a private listening experience into a fully public one.
The orrery was still reeling and rolling in the central space.
Tatsumi sallied over and unplugged the system. Watari jumped. He hadn’t noticed when Tatsumi sailed in.
“You’re going to wreck everyone’s hearing if you keep that up.”
“Sorry, sorry, sorry.”
“Never mind that; what is this? Why are you listening to music during work hours?”
Watari threw over a compact disc.
“Von Holst, The Planets,” Tatsumi read.
““Mars, Bringer of War”,” Watari explained.
“I see,” Tatsumi said, even though he didn’t. The room was festooned with bits of paper: newspaper clippings of daily horoscopes, Chinese ink-brush watercolours of the twelve companions of Buddha, celestial maps, and mathematical formulae. “Don’t tell me you’re—”
“Stumped.” Watari nodded. “I was hoping to be able to detect some sort of pattern, maybe along the lines of The Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma or The Princess and Monster Game, but now I’m thinking it’s more likely we’re dealing with a sort of inverted Metamagical Superrationality.”
“Muraki assumes we are using the same rationalization that he’s using?”
“You’re familiar with it?”
Tatsumi rolled his eyes, “I trained as an economist. I know Game Theory.”
“Right, except I think Muraki is counting on us not using the same degree of superreason — based on his strategy during the Queen Camellia mission, when those tarot keys were strewn all over the place, but he counted on Tsusuki, Hisoka, or even the Gushoushin not being able to accurately decipher their meaning. If they had cracked his secret code, after all, he would’ve been caught. He didn’t believe they could do it, and he was right.”
Tatsumi blinked. “Of course they couldn’t, of course he didn’t believe they could, and of course he was right.”
“My head hurts,” Watari suddenly admitted.
“Are you getting anywhere close to a breakthrough, or is this just going around in circles? — Or celestial orbits as the case may be?”
Watari’s face fell. Tatsumi had never seen him look so discouraged, and he was thoroughly disgusted with himself for drawing those shadows across that face. His attraction to Watari had not diminished in the slightest since their encounter. He wanted him more than ever. He wanted to be filled by the scientist, to feel him moving within him.
“Never mind,” he heard himself say. “Grab your coat. We have our next assignment. We leave for Sendai immediately.”
Watari stared at him as though he’d gone mad. “You and I? We’re working together as partners?”
“If you mention this to anyone,” Tatsumi felt compelled to add, “I will surround you with a column of impenetrable shadow for the next two hundred years.
As Watari started plugging files into a zip-drive, Tatsumi mentioned, “Are you following the Korean zodiac?”
“I looked into both eastern and western style. Neither one of them has provided me with any particular direction. Why do you ask?”
“I noticed the scrolls you had tacked up. Heh, one of them looked like Byakko.”
“The Tiger.” Watari nodded. “A very important symbol. One of the twelve companions and, of course, Guardian of the Western—”
His voice broke off suddenly. It was low and full of portent when he added.
“One of the keepers of the gates to—”
Tatsumi blanched. “Tsusuki and Hisoka have not yet returned from their quest for Hisoka’s shikigami.”
Watari’s face darkened. “It may be meaningless.”
But it would be like Watari to find answers in the stars.
— fin —