This is a companion piece to Archimage, although most of it is not contemporary with it.
When he woke he remembered nothing and he wondered if he should have the sense to be afraid. The room was dim and smelled like his lab-- dust, old cleaning supplies, a thousand unopened closets holding in the detritus of ten thousand years of classrooms. He stared up at the ceiling until the door opened and Mamiya entered.
Mamiya was holding an armful of roses. Red roses and small yellow flowers, on a bed of ferns. He looked at the boy carrying the flowers and and the boy looked back at him.
The room had no windows. The faint light from the hall outlined Mamiya's upright form, the red uniform he had recently taken to wearing, the stray curls of his dark hair around his face.
He sat up. Mamiya set the roses down on the beside table and stood looking down at him as he flung the patterned coverlet back and got out of bed.
"Roses again," he said finally.
Mamiya said nothing; his expression did not change.
"Bring me jam tomorrow," he said, and this time he got a faint smile.
In his office, Mamiya brought him tea. He stood contemplating the equations on the blackboard, wondering when he wrote them, how long ago, what he had meant. "Mamiya," he said, and the boy stopped, one hand on the doorframe, looking over his shoulder, standing on the threshold.
"Mamiya," he repeated, looking into the green eyes set so vividly in his dark face. "I..." Mamiya waited, poised and still. "Thank you," he said finally. Mamiya faded into the darkness of the hallway, his footsteps tapping away into silence.
The equations still made no sense. He sat at his desk staring at the last curls of steam from the teacup. He pulled open a random desk drawer, then another. He lifted out a folder, leafing aimlessly through the contents, which turned out to be his work with the applied probability effects. A single computer at the Princeton PEAR lab, some volunteers, and results which landed him this project, the title of Professor, and whispers behind his back. He stared at the datasheets and the analysis, then set the brittle papers on the desk. They rustled, crumbling dryly at the corners. The date on the journal article was illegible.
He leafed through them, then turned, leaving the tea to get cold on the desk, to add a line or two to the equations on the blackboard. The sunlight through the window of his office crossed his desk in a clear, calculable angle, distinct, crisp as a triangle printed in a textbook, perfect as a simple line.
The hallways of Nemuro Memorial Hall were wide enough and pleasant enough, but the black composite flooring made footsteps echo oddly. The exposed pipes, the corridors opening off of corridors, the doorways without windows, the boxes of lab equipment piled in alcoves-- all these things made the building feel old. It wasn't old. It just... felt old. All labs felt old. It was something about the way they were designed.
All labs were dark and easy to get lost in. And they all were ill-lit. The one he was working in before, for example...
He turned the corner on the corridor he was following and stopped, listening. In the distance, he could hear the squeak of wheels-- someone pushing a trolley. Probably computer equipment. Ahead of him was a pair of doors and he reached for the elaborate brass handle and turned it automatically.
A long red-carpeted corridor stretched out in front of him. At the end of it, another turn, and another red corridor, this one lined with doors. Each door had a pair of shoes lined neatly in front of it.
He paused, the fingers of one hand lightly touching the wall. The dorm, of course. The assistants for the project had to stay somewhere. The corridor stretched silently out in front of him, the elaborate carpet only interrupted by the perfectly aligned rows of shoes. On the wall, candle-shaped electric sconces gave a gentle light.
He looked down. The nearest door had two pairs of shoes in front of it.
He turned and silently walked back the way he had come.
He was unsurprised to find that Mamiya was uninterested in the camera. The dried rose arrangements, the preserves-- he did not like reminders that time was passing.
"I would like to put your picture up with my little gallery," Mikage explained. "Our friends are there."
"I know," replied Mamiya, leaning over the rose hydroponic tank. "But I do not duel."
"No," replied Mikage, a hint of warmth in his voice. "You are what we duel over, although they do not know it."
Mamiya trailed his fingers absently through the water. "Why do we have to kill the Rose Bride?"
"We only need one. And if you are that one, I am sure that I can open the Gate."
Mamiya lifted his lashes and looked up into Mikage's eyes. "What do you think it will be like?"
Mikage paused for a moment, not even breathing. Then he replied, "How can we know how it will seem to our senses? Infinity is such a difficult concept to grasp that it took us hundreds, maybe thousands, of years to develop it."
"Are eternity and infinity the same thing?"
"In terms of time."
"What is time?" Mamiya looked back down at the black rose in the tank. "I do not think I understand time."
"Time is merely another dimension to the mathematician."
"Oh," replied Mamiya, and one corner of his mouth curled up.
Mikage saw that and looked away, the camera dangling forgotten from his hand.
Mikage stood before the mirror, carefully adjusting his new school uniform. He decided that he approved of it; it was different enough to enhance his status while similar enough to blend in. He looked down at his hand and twisted the rose signet around, watching the play of light over the silver lines, then turned abruptly from the mirror.
Mamiya was lying on the bed, playing absently with a black rose. As Mikage turned around, the boy reached up and removed it from his face, smiling sleepily. "I like it," he volunteered.
"Do you?" asked Mikage, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Mamiya tipped his head back and peered up at Mikage, upside down. His red uniform sprawled across the pale sheets of the bed like a flower-- not a rose, he was too gangly for that-- more like a thin trumpet-flower hummingbirds would like. Thinking of that, Mikage reached down and touched Mamiya's hair lightly.
The green eyes squeezed slightly in a smile which did not touch Mamiya's mouth. "Yes," he replied. "You look very distinguished."
"Fit to run our special seminar, don't you think?" Mikage trailed just the tips of his fingers along the shadowed angles of Mamiya's face-- the sharp cheekbones, the lines of the jaw.
The black rose rustled at Mamiya's collar, then the boy drew it down and tossed it away. "I still don't see why we need them."
Mikage frowned. "Our previous-- assistants-- need some help with the current situation. It is no good opening the way to the gate if no one can unlock it."
"That's not what I meant." Mamiya turned his face away; his dark-skinned profile stood out like an ink drawing against the pale patterned sheets. "I don't know why..."
That far-away look, the face turned away from him on the pillow, looking towards-- Mikage shook the memory away and braced his hands on either side of Mamiya's shoulders. "It is for you. You know what lies beyond the gate. I mean to grasp it for you, Mamiya. I will not have you giving up now."
Mamiya looked back, his eyes wide and clear. "I will not give up. That is not what I meant."
"Good," said Mikage, and leaned down so that his own long pale hair fell over his shoulders and framed Mamiya's upside-down face. "Good."
The data made no sense. There should be a line, a curve, a progression, a relation. No matter how he looked at it or what equations he applied to it the data refused to relate.
And yet, looking over the columns of raw tabulations, he felt something, some pattern unasked for, unknown, and unintelligible. It lingered there like a shadow behind the seeming randomness of the data.
Hell, even chaos eventually had a pattern! This was meaningless!
He turned to the blackboard and began another diagram, his notes from the International Consciousness Research Laboratories, old publications, a teacup, and reprints slipping off his desk behind him. The teacup made a small clear noise as it hit the floor.
Mikage ignored it, drawing neat lines bisected by smaller curves. The important thing was to show the relation of each set of data to each other set. He paused to paw through the papers for his computer analysis, discarding the logarithmic progressions, and pulled out his correlation statistics.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing of significance.
He started to place the numbers on the board, in his new relational grid. After all, the data was more than raw numbers. It existed in several dimensions.
That was it. He threw aside some reprints from the Journal of Scientific Exploration and Advances in Applied Probability and pulled out the raw data. Abandoning his office, he strode down the hall towards the computer lab. Four dimensions, not three. Or perhaps more. Dimensions were only a matter of math, after all.
Behind him, the half-drawn rose logo on the chalkboard gleamed white in the afternoon light from the window.
The room smelled of dust and old classrooms. He supposed it was because it was attached to Nemuro Memorial Hall-- so tall and stately and full of dusty red carpets and carved brass door handles. This room probably had a carved brass door handle. He'd never noticed.
Every room smelled like his lab.
He shifted restlessly and Mamiya stirred against his shoulder, then looked up, eyes wide. "You are still awake," Mamiya said.
Mikage didn't answer, just touched Mamiya's dark, curling hair lightly with one hand.
"Tomorrow," said Mamiya, "The black rose will be ready."
Mikage was silent.
"Tomorrow we will win the duel."
Mikage said nothing, but sighed.
"Mamiya," he said, and Mamiya fell silent mid-breath. "Mamiya, do you sleep?"
"That is a strange question," replied Mamiya. "You sleep in this bed."
"Yes," replied Mikage. "Stay with me. Sleep here."
"Yes," replied Mamiya, and turned his face against Mikage's shoulder.
Mikage closed his eyes and dropped into blackness, knowing that when he awoke the next morning, Mamiya would be gone.
"Mamiya," he said, looking around the tall dark room decorated only with the rose-decorated coffin-plates. "Are you dusting those shoes?"
Mamiya sat up guiltily and tried to hide the white cloth behind him.
"Why?" Mikage asked curiously, stepping into the room. "We keep them out of courtesy, you know."
"I just think they like to have clean shoes."
Mikage looked up and all around the room. "Well," he said finally. "I guess I cannot blame them. And they are helping us, after all."
Mamiya said nothing to that, just stood up slowly, twisting the cloth between his hands.
Mikage approached a wall and placed the palm of his hand flat on the central rose of one of the cold metal plates. "They are not gone, and not forgotten," he said. "And their sacrifice will open the way for us. Yes, you are right, Mamiya; we owe them more than courtesy." He sighed, then turned. "Come, we have a Duelist to prepare."
Mamiya followed Mikage from the room, pausing only once in his stride to look enigmatically over his shoulder at the handprint fading away to nothing on the nameless memorial plate. The handprint vanished and the plate was identical with all the rest.
He walked out into the empty atrium, yawning and rubbing his face. No one was there, but that was hardly surprising; it was very early indeed for anyone else to be at work. He threw himself into a chair and rested his elbows on the small white iron table in front of him.
Everything was hushed and grey; even the roses which usually filled the place with color seemed dimmed in in the pale light.
He didn't look up as footsteps crossed the stone floor and someone set down a silver tray in front of him. After a moment, Mamiya's slender hands poured tea. "I brought you breakfast," the boy said.
Mikage looked at the tray and accepted the cup that Mamiya handed him. "Thank you," he replied.
Mamiya poured himself some tea from the silver pot and sat down in the other chair. Mikage studied him for a moment before raising the cup to his mouth; he didn't look ill anymore, just too thin, a certain fragility about the wrists.
Mamiya looked up and Mikage dropped his gaze to the breakfast tray, which bore a white letter sealed with a red seal. "You didn't bring any jam," he said.
"You had jam yesterday," the boy replied expressionlessly.
"Mamiya, I truly cared for your sister."
Mamiya nodded, those green eyes as reflective as a cat's, and like a cat's giving away nothing.
"I wasn't used to... people," Mikage confessed, leaning forward. Mamiya didn't move, not even an eyelash's breadth.
"And she was so positive. She knew what she wanted." He looked to one side and started absently flipping through a copy of the Journal of Applied Probability which was on his desk next to where Mamiya was sitting. "I..."
Mamiya looked down, swinging his feet absently.
Mikage said finally, "I liked the fact that she wanted me, followed me, pursued me. I wasn't sure, but I didn't need to be. She was so sure. And I knew that she would go on pursuing me, so I could... step back, and think."
Mamiya went on swinging his feet.
"And then she just..." Mikage dropped the journal on the floor, which was already adrift with papers, notes, and journals. "I felt very betrayed. How could she want someone else?"
Mamiya looked up at him.
After a moment, Mikage said, "Perhaps this conversation would be better continued later. In the elevator perhaps."
Mamiya nodded obediently and slid off the desk. As he headed for the door a paper, dislodged by his passing, slipped free and started to float leisurely towards the floor, intercutting the fixed angle of the afternoon sunlight.
Mikage reached out and caught it without looking, watching Mamiya leave.
He set the paper on the desk. It was titled "PEAR Laboratories: Human/Machine Interactions."
Mikage checked the fuel tank one last time, twisting the cap tightly to make sure it wasn't going to come loose. He could hear the last of their engines receding ahead of him-- how did they always get ahead of him? Swearing underneath his breath he wheeled the motorcycle up and out of the garage; the steeply angled driveway kept him from seeing the highway.
He reached the top and paused to shove his tinted glasses up his nose before throwing a leg across the bike.
Mamiya came running down the stairs of Nemuro Memorial Hall, shrugging himself into his red padded jacket and leaping the last few steps. Without waiting to be asked, he swung up behind Mikage and wrapped his arms around his waist. Mikage laughed shortly and kicked the engine to life; it coughed and roared and they swung out, around the building in a few quick dizzying curves, and onto the highway.
Once out on the highway he could see just a few of their taillights far ahead-- the stragglers, lagging behind as if to taunt him. He growled and leaned over the handlebars, the motor's whine rising steadily in pitch.
One curve. Another. More of the red lights were visible now, hovering ahead like lanterns in the darkness.
Mamiya yelled something, but it was lost in the wind. They passed an amber-lighted sign: "Night Work This Week 00/00/00"
Mikage grinned savagely and the dashed line in the center of the road blurred to a single stripe of yellow. They passed the first motorcyclist-- a brief glimpse of an armored jacket, dark bike, black helmet with a tinted faceplate.
Mikage leaned lower, his pale hair whipping around his face. They passed another motorcyclist, and another, and now the bulk of the pack was just ahead of them. They could clearly be seen in the glow of the sodium arc lamps flicking past-- a hundred of them, identical in their black helmets with the dark anonymous faceplates. On the back of each black jacket was embroidered the outline of a rose and elaborate kanji reading: The Lost Boys of the Rose.
Mamiya's hands tightened on Mikage's waist as Mikage swung the bike in narrow, carefully controlled curves, darting between the closely-running members of the pack as neatly as a duelist takes a rose. And there, in the center of the honor guard, ran the object of the race-- the red convertible, running easily, engine purring.
Mikage could just see the pale hair of the driver whipping in the wind as he angled his head to glance in the rearview mirror.
Snarling, he squeezed yet more speed out of his bike, outpacing the hundred Lost Boys of the Rose, who peeled off and were left behind. Slowly he crept up on the red car, just behind the rear bumper.
The driver of the red car seemed to see him, raised a hand in what could have been a salute, or perhaps a mocking gesture. Then Akio stood up, and as he executed an impossible-looking jump over the windshield, the red car accelerated and seemed to leap out of sight down the highway, outpacing Mikage's cycle as easily as if he had been on foot.
Mikage stamped on his brakes and swerved in a messy s-curve across the highway before he managed to bring his bike to a skidding halt. Before him ran a line of undisturbed orange cones-- beyond them, the highway's pavement crumbled off at a cliff's edge. He turned his head and looked behind him; the highway was dark and empty. Spitting out another curse word, he kicked the bike to life and started to ride back the way he had come.
As they rode, Mamiya freed one hand to tug down his jacket, which had worked its way up to show a large Ohtori rose tattooed on the small of his back.
Mikage stood behind his desk, which overflowed with clutter-- stacks of books, papers, journal articles, all thick with dust. He dislodged a heavy leather-bound book from the top of one pile and flipped it open.
If the Gate were some sort of symbolic construct, perhaps some other sort of mathematical array joined with a symbolic system could be used to understand or decode it. He left the book open on top of an unsteady pile of papers on the desk and turned around, nearly tripping over a stack of books on the floor.
He started to make notes on the board, carelessly scratching over his hastily-erased equations. Symbolic arrays lined up as neatly as equations.
Or was it necessary to use an element of chance? What /did/ the element of chance bring into it, anyway?
He spun away from the board again, leaving a half-finished trail of characters which followed the curve of the half-chalked diagram. Notes over equations over lines and arrays made a sort of heavily-layered palimpsest, opening like the petals of a rose.
Was chance the same as chaos? It was subject to mathematical laws, but probability and chaos...
His foot caught the stack of books and they scattered across the floor of his office. One fell open and he stood there looking at it in the yellowing afternoon light, as frozen as the angle of the sun.
In the front hall of the building, shadowy despite the open door, he hung the last portrait in his collection of duelists. They looked very fine, he thought, framed bright against the figured red of the wallpaper. Bright and sharp and deadly for their brief moments in the sun.
All too brief. His assistants knew that. He knew that.
It was his responsibility to honor them.
They gazed at the camera for each shot, their eyes fierce, desperate, bold, confident with the gift he had given them. They had made him proud. They had failed, but there was no dishonor here.
He bowed formally to the portraits, and went back to his office.
The coins on the desk fell, glinting dully in the sun, green-marked bronze. Mikage consulted his text. Hexagram 34, Ta Chuang. Chen over Chi'en.
Behind him, the carefully marked hexagrams of the entire I Ching gleamed dully on an otherwise clean chalkboard.
"Perseverance furthers," he muttered aloud, reading from the text, then slowly, disbelieving:
"Thunder in heaven above:
The image of the power of the great.
Thus the superior man does not tread upon paths
That do not accord with established order."
He glared at the text for a few more moments, then threw it across the room.
"I can't reach him," Mikage muttered, stalking into the atrium. He disliked the place, but Mamiya was nowhere else to be found. "I cannot reach him and I know he has the key I need."
Mamiya wasn't there. He stared around the room angrily and stomped out again.
He found Mamiya sitting on the front steps of Nemuro Memorial Hall, absently pulling at the yarrow growing by the stair rail. Mikage stopped at the top of the stairs and looked down, noting the thinness of the shoulders beneath the red uniform jacket, the fragility of his throat.
He lifted his head and glared at the white tower which rose at the center of campus and walked down the steps. "Mamiya, I need another rose."
"Why? We have... run out of duelists."
"No. We haven't."
He never remembered returning to his office after the duel, but his office was where he was when he got the phone call. He was sitting at his desk, staring at nothing, at text which meant nothing, at notes and papers and books.
No one was in the building save himself.
He picked up the phone when it rang, wondering dully why it wasn't a letter this time.
"Graduate? But I've already... I've been a professor... I..."
He set the phone down, cutting off the insistent buzz of the dial tone, and reached into his bottom desk drawer. And there, as he knew it would be, was the photograph of Mamiya and Tokiko he remembered seeing on their mantelpiece so long ago.
Mamiya looked nothing like the boy who'd been his constant companion for the past... for the past...
He stood up, opened the office door, and walked out, leaving the photograph on the desk.
When he wakes he remembers nothing and he wonders if he should have the sense to be afraid. The room is dimly lit and smells familiar, like a place he's been many times before. He lies and stares up at the ceiling but no one enters.
Eventually he sits up and swings his feet out of bed. There is a bouquet of roses lying on the bedside table, carefully arranged with yellow flowers and ferns. He stares at them and eventually reaches out and touches them; they are real.
He stands up and leaves the room, his step hesitant, uncertain, as though he has just passed through a long illness. At a little iron table (another vase of roses) breakfast is set out for him and he sits down on a chair like black lace. The little garden is soft with the light of morning.
The silver breakfast-tray holds a tea-set, some breakfast dishes, and a pot temptingly labeled "Rose-Petal Preserve" in fancy script. It also holds a white letter sealed with red wax. He doesn't touch the letter, although he gives it a tired, knowing look.
When he lifts the lid of the jam pot, it is empty, save for a few dried petals. For some reason, he is not surprised.
All of the journals mentioned in the story actually exist.
So does the lab at Princeton, PEAR, which stands for Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research. You can see their website here.
The translation of the I Ching used is one of the most common; it is known as the Wilhelm translation (although the web page I used credited both Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes). You can find a complete book here and there are many places to get your coins or stalks cast randomly.
I owe the motorcycle scene to a road trip where our car was suddenly surrounded by people in dark jackets and faceless helmets. On the back of the jackets something was written in an extremely elaborate, gothic, germanic font. I tried to read it as they zoomed past. "The Rose Boys?" I said disbelievingly to the driver. "What?" she replied, startled. "Oh, the Lost Boys," I said, still peering out the window... and the scene was born.
With many apologies and much affection to Alice Sheldon, also known as James Tiptree, Jr. I heartily recommend her short story, "Love Is the Plan, the Plan is Death," which has nothing to do with mine. (Well, except that I loved the title so much that I borrowed most of it, in tribute.) I think of you whenever I see a jam-pot, Ms. Sheldon.
Feedback is very welcome! Please send to Bara no hitomi.