9 min read

CHAPTER 03 : Cameron Green

A roll of stamps
The Butterfly Koi
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Last time: Cameron Green watched legislation on magitech make its way to a vote in the Senate, and wrestled with his alternative options should it pass. It passed.
Cameron

I turn onto Hennepin Avenue and take the bridge over the river toward Ingrid’s. The reflected lights of the city skyline seem to glow against the inky water of the semi-frozen Mississippi. It’s a beautiful view. One I’ve taken for granted, and I feel a pang of regret.

But it’s too late to change things now. I have this last box of Ingrid’s stuff to drop off, and all the rest of my belongings are either sold or in storage at my parents’ place. The stock market crashed when everyone tried to unload their magitech stocks, and it took the housing market with it. I haven’t been able to sell my condo, but at least I have renters moving in on January 1.

In the entryway, I press the button next to Ingrid’s condo number; instead of buzzing me in, though, she comes downstairs. So, it’s like that.

“Thanks for bringing this,” Ingrid says, peering into the jumble of books, socks, travel mugs and other miscellany in the box. All things I’m sure she would have been happy to live without if it meant skipping this awkwardness, but I wanted to see her one more time. The weight of my choices— that I am ending this relationship, moving to Japan, and launching myself into the unknown—settles into the muscles of my neck and shoulders.

I hand the box over, shivering in the cold entryway. Thinking she would invite me in, I didn’t wear a jacket over my sweatshirt. The puffs of our breath hang in the frosty air.

“Did you want to come up?” Ingrid asks.

I scan her face, trying to figure out the answer. “Do you want me to?”

Her expression is tight, and I realize her eyes have a glint of tears. She shakes her head. “Not really, no.”

It stings, but I get it. I lean down to kiss her goodbye, and she lets me. And then I turn to leave.

“Cam?”

I hesitate in the outer doorway, the December wind whipping into my cheek. “Yeah?”

“Good luck over there. I really mean it.” I can tell she does, not that it matters. Ingrid fit so well with the me I was making myself into, the guy with the purebred dog and the European car and the modern loft. But the guy with no job, who has to sell the car and lease the condo just to feed the dog? I should have known there was no way she would move with that version of me to Japan.

* * *

>>>

U.S. PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES MAGITECH BUYBACK PROGRAM

Will Accept Consumer Electronics, Medications, More

CAMP DAVID, MARYLAND, January 2
In an effort to support Americans in the transition away from magic-powered technology following the passage of a federal ban, President James V. Garcia announced a national buyback program. Beginning February 1, anyone possessing “magic” or “magitech” devices in the United States will be able to surrender these items at their local post office in exchange for a lump sum based on item type, no questions asked. More information on the program, including a list of contraband items and surrender payments, is available at magicbuyback.usps.gov. The nationwide ban on magitech use by non-Department of Defense entities will go into effect on March 1.

<<<

Under this press release, which my old labmate Chuck has shared on Minotaur Social, he’s included an editorial comment: Humiliation on a global scale, and to add insult to injury, they’re only going to give me two hundred bucks for a brand-new port. Shantel Clark, another former colleague, replied, They could at least have the decency to throw in a roll of stamps.

The Syphon charging panel is smooth under my left hand as I scroll through my Social feed, reading all of this from my own contraband port.

“Have you guys heard about this buyback program Garcia announced?” I ask, the question already out of my mouth before I realize how stupid it is when my sister is a literal U.S. government employee.

Vanessa has the grace to ignore this, or perhaps chalk it up to extended jet lag. She grimaces. “Oh, yes. We’ve already had people try to drop things off at the embassy gate.”

“Americans living here in Tokyo?” my brother-in-law, Drew, asks as he stirs cream into his coffee.

“Yep. And one particularly confused Australian who tagged along with his co-workers from eikaiwa school.”

Drew shakes his head, chuckling. “We’re not always sending our best over here, are we?”

“That better not be directed at me,” I grumble around a bite of toast.

“Well, you’re not going to teach English at a cram school, are you?”

“No, that’s a level of desperation I hope not to reach.” If that happens, I would have been better off staying at home.

“Are you finding any postings that look promising?” Vanessa asks.

Now that the holidays are over and my brother, his German girlfriend, and my parents have all returned to their respective countries, I’m the sole guest at Vanessa and Drew’s apartment in central Tokyo. Though I’m looking forward to getting Panzer out of quarantine, that will make the clock tick even faster on finding a job and my own place. This apartment is nice enough, but it’s still in Tokyo, which means it’s also small. Three adults plus a German Shepherd is asking too much.

“One or two. Most places don’t want to sponsor a foreign work visa.” I haven’t actually applied for anything. I have a decent stockpile of cash from selling my car, but it’s going to disappear quickly once I pay a real estate agent to help me find a place to live. Apartment hunting in Tokyo, I’ve already learned, is expensive and frustrating.

Vanessa and Drew glance at each other. I pretend I don’t see it, but I know what they’re thinking.

“Cam, Drew has an event tomorrow night, the opening of a new research center at Todai. There are a lot of magitech types among the donors—maybe you could go and do a little networking?”

I’d rather do a little root canalling, but I don’t have many alternatives. Before my parents left, I overheard Vanessa tell our mom that she and Drew are trying for a baby. I have to get out of here. “Great idea, Ness.”

* * *

The brand-new Fujiwara Center for Applied Magic at the University of Tokyo is a monstrous sharp-angled affair, all steel and glass.

“Which window is your office?” I ask Drew as he, Vanessa and I approach the main doors.

Drew chuckles at the question. “I’m a postdoc. We don’t get windows.”

As we enter the airy lobby, Vanessa starts pointing out people of interest. She has some kind of photographic memory for names and faces, which I guess makes sense, given her career. “That’s the PI on Drew’s project, Dr. Ichikawa,” she says, indicating a diminutive man in an ill-fitting suit. “Oh, and there’s Kimiko Fujiwara, one of the center donors.”

I know just enough about the Fujiwara family to find their support for this center perplexing. Fujiwara Heavy Industries is one of those old Japanese companies that was a full-on zaibatsu back when they were legal. More than a century ago, they laid waste to a not-insignificant number of mountains in northwest Honshu in their search for copper, and now there are FHI-owned mines all over the world digging for zinc, gallium, tungsten, and god knows what else. As a vertical monopoly on everything related to mineral extraction and processing, why the very public support for applied magic research?

I turn to ask Vanessa this question, but Drew is already leading her away. “Hon, there’s Ikumi-san from my project, I wanted you to meet her.”

I’m on my own. A twinge—though of what, exactly?—ripples through me as I think of Ingrid. Do I miss her? Yes. At least, I miss the idea of her, and how I felt about myself when I had her as my plus one. A pretty blonde investment banker was good for my ego.

Unsure about how to break into any of the conversations happening around me, almost all of them in Japanese, I drift over to the bar and snag a flute of champagne, then open Minotaur Social again. I don’t usually check it this often, but the Near Mi feature might help me find someone interesting to talk to.

The University of Tokyo has a default ban on all portable device-tracking functions for private citizens. Only results for public figures will be shown. To override this feature and share your profile, please read our policy before consenting to information sharing.

I tap “consent” and scan the room anyway. While most results are suppressed, a few mini-bios pop up.

Fujiwara Kimiko, chairwoman, Fujiwara Heavy Industries. The woman Vanessa indicated earlier, now engaged in quiet conversation with equally subdued-looking executive types.

Kato Mitsue, Nobel Prize winner and professor emeritus, University of Tokyo Hospital. A stooped man with a few wisps of silver-white hair and a slight paunch.

Fujiwara Eika, socialite and television personality; founder, Replenish Initiative.

My port indicates a delicate woman standing near the windows. In her blush-colored silk dress, she stands out from the room’s mosaic of tan, black, and gray wool. Surprisingly, given her status, she’s alone— people nearby keep glancing her way, but no one walks over to chat. Maybe this is my chance.

When my port pings Eika’s, she looks my way and smiles brightly. Then she takes a long drink of her champagne, draining the glass. I take the hint. Swapping out my own empty flute for two new glasses, I make my way over to her. Up close, she’s even more ethereal-looking, her skin a dewy contrast with this dry, buttoned-up space.

“It’s nice to meet you, Cameron Green,” she says, taking one of the glasses and clinking it against mine. Our ports have already swapped our business cards, sparing us any awkward fumbling with paper ones. From mine, she will have learned the broad parameters of my skills, including the fact that I speak Japanese, and that I’m looking for a job. “You were working in biokintech in America?”

“Until the new law, yeah. Now I’m hoping to find something here.”

“Are you familiar with my organization, Replenish Initiative?”

Not as much as I should be, in order to have this conversation. But I’ve heard of it before, so I nod. “Environmental clean-up work, right?”

“In part. We believe the data offer ample evidence that environmentally damaged areas are more likely to produce downslope children.”

There’s some debate in the field of magitech about whether being born in a region of ecological devastation can cause magic-related birth defects— basically, whether it pushes babies further down the left side of the magical ability distribution curve. Some children from these areas do seem less able to use Syphon devices, sucking power out of them rather than recharging them. I’m skeptical, but know better than to mention that to Eika.

“It’s an important cause,” I reply instead. My interest in environmental work doesn’t extend too far beyond my personal enjoyment of oxygen and water.

“What kind of projects were you doing in your previous job?” she asks.

“For the past couple years, mostly pharmaceutical and medical. My last one, before I had to shut down my lab, involved creating Syphon-powered cardiac support devices. I’ll spare you the details.”

A tinkling laugh. “I don’t know if I would understand them, anyway. My friend Mi-chan is in this field, too, and most of what she says goes thataway.” She makes a gesture over her head, bracelets clinking against one another.

“Where does she work?”

“Mi-chan? She’s at Helios.” Eika gives me a measured look. “She and I have a collaborative project that has a biological element.”

“Oh?” A wan ray of hope.

“Would you be interested in talking with her?”

I was thinking I might land at a start-up, something small and hungry enough to take a chance on a displaced American. Helios, as one of the biggest tech companies in Japan, is on a plane beyond my most fevered dream. The CEO, Rei Toyama, was an early adopter of magitech, and though Helios has been criticized for creating Syphon devices that aren’t universally accessible, her overall gamble paid off. Even the possibility of an interview there—it’s like I asked for twenty bucks and got a check for ten grand. This Mi-chan person probably isn’t very high up, since Eika looks like she’s a little younger than me. But it could be a foot in the door.

“That— that would be amazing,” I stammer.

Helios. Holy shit.

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