12 min read

CHAPTER 25 : Cameron Green

The Butterfly Koi
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Table of Contents | Map & Characters | Content Warnings

Last time: Misora had some chicken for Panzer and something else for Cameron. Misora and Kenji had a chat.
Cameron

The alarm on my port goes off at 7:00 AM. A more optimistic version of me had set it last night, thinking I’d take Panzer for an early run. Distracted by Misora, I haven’t paid him much attention this weekend.

Misora. I smile to myself as I roll over to hit snooze, but the drowsy pleasure of the memory fades when I see I have a blitz of unread messages. With so many, the screen only displays a preview for the first one:

I’M PREGNANT! +23 Messages

Heart hammering all the way up in my throat, I open the string of texts. That was only yesterday, how—?

It takes my stupid sleep-fogged brain a moment to realize the message is from my sister. Sending it early this morning from Tokyo, she caught our brother at night, Munich time, and our parents in the late afternoon in Minneapolis. The remaining messages are a flurry of congratulations and questions. 

Well, I’m sure as hell awake now.

I shoot off a congrats! of my own and then open a separate conversation with Reilly, Vanessa, and Drew.

Thrilled for you guys, I really am, but I think I speak for both myself and Reilly when I say: don’t do that to your brothers. } Cameron Green

Reilly immediately replies with a laughter emoji, followed by Yeah, true.

Vanessa Green {Sorry!)

She’s not. She is laughing herself sick, guaranteed.

Drew Mukherjee {Who did you think it was from?)

VG {[grinning devil emoji])

Poor kid doesn’t stand a chance with you two for parents } CG

RG { But lucky to have us as uncles)

VG { Nice dodge attempt, Cam.)

Then, in a message just to me:

VG {Lunch on Tuesday?)

(Maybe. How much crap am I in for?} CG

I look at my calendar, and the only thing listed on Tuesday is my weekly meeting with Misora at 1:00 PM. I might need to see a friendly face beforehand. We left things in a good-yet-undefined place this weekend. I don’t even know what vocabulary or verb tense to apply to the situation— I slept with my boss? I’m sleeping with my boss?

Ugh. I pull a pillow over my face. It smells like her.

Panzer whines at me from the doorway, then lets out a short woof. “What is it, bud?” Setting the pillow aside, I scrounge up a pair of joggers and a T-shirt. “Gimme a minute.”

He goes over by the door and barks again, louder this time. Barking on a Sunday morning; great, I’ll be the toast of the building. 

“He probably smells the food,” a voice says from the other side of the door. I unbolt it and pull it open.

“Asagawa, what the hell. It’s barely after seven.”

He holds up a FamilyMart sack, and the faint odor of boiled eggs wafts my way. Oden, maybe. “Time for breakfast, then, Green, since you have so much work to do today.”

Oden is not breakfast. Not for me, anyway.” Reluctantly, I back up to let him in, seeing suddenly what disarray the apartment is in. I hope there aren’t any obvious clues that Misora was here. I’m not awake enough to take shit about that from my family and Asagawa, too. “Wait— what work?”

“Lost the cord already?”

The cord. Oh, damn it. Asagawa follows me down the hall to the kitchen, where a giant Kuroneko delivery box full of my birthday gifts is still on the table. Nozomi had it delivered yesterday afternoon— tactfully, she waited until after Misora left. I open the lid. 

“Any interest in a cowboy hat?”

Asagawa gives me a look that I choose to interpret as mild exasperation. No sense of humor in the morning, I see. “Fine, fine.” I brandish the cord. “Let’s see if this thing will even turn on.”

I sit cross-legged on the tatami floor to connect the soot-crusted tower to my TV, which can double as a monitor, while Asagawa sets himself up at the kitchen table. I plug the new cord into the back of the tower, then plug the whole thing into the wall socket, and flip the switch. 

Zilch. It got too fried in whatever dust-up put it in this condition in the first place. I will have to do this the hard way.

“Hey, grab my multitool from under the sink, would you?” Asagawa disappears for a moment, then returns, tossing the tool my way. I unplug the tower again and unscrew the panel on the back. A stroke of luck— it was magitech-assembled, which means I can repair some of the busted circuits myself. 

“Look, this first bit is going to take a while. Would you take Panzer out? His leash—”

“In the hallway, yeah. Twenty?”

That should be enough time for me to get the hard part done. I nod.

By the time they return, I’ve gotten nearly all the circuits back in place. It was easier than I expected, and I only got a slight zap when a misaligned connection snapped the magic back on me. I probably should have done this outside, but there’s such a minor amount of magic in this kind of old tech that it hardly matters. 

Panzer, unleashed, bounds in to give me an enthusiastic slurp on the face before settling on the sofa. Hand wrapped around the Syphon grip of the multitool so that a very low wave of power passes through, I use the pincers setting to reset the final circuit. Doing this without lab lenses is like working with my eyes shut, but the circuits are simple enough that I can manage by feel alone. To Asagawa, it must look like a tiny, awkward pantomime; honestly, that’s how it feels, too.

“Is this what they were doing at One Eleven?” he asks once I’ve finished.

“Er, not exactly.” 

“You being deliberately vague, Green?”

Only to the extent that I can’t explain something when I don’t fully understand it myself. I meant to ask Misora more about it, and then— well, I found better ways to occupy my time with her. But it remains a worthwhile question.

Before I can reply, Asagawa continues. “How did you meet those people, anyway?”

“I already told you. Through Eika.” 

Asagawa lets out a derisive snort. “And how do you know the famous Fujiwara Eika, recently arrived gaijin?”

“This gala thing my sister got invited to.” 

“Your sister sounds connected.”

I shrug. “Not really. But she works at the U.S. embassy.” 

With the tower reassembled, I’m ready to try plugging it in again. I flip the switch, and the TV brightens with a burst of static that quickly resolves into a loading screen. I connect it to my wifi network and download the freeware I’ll need to decipher any scrambled files. 

“I don’t suppose you know what you’re looking for.” 

Another wry grunt—I am clearly not giving him whatever he wants to know— but he lets it go for now. “These people were looking into something being moved. Can you find out what and where?”

The first few files I find are corrupted beyond recognition, and they all have anodyne names like “Aug18List” and “Attendees_0412.” I click on a spreadsheet called “KeyLog_Ginzan773.” Unlike the others, it opens—into a list of what looks like expired AppKey codes for an onsen resort up in Yamagata. 

“Anything?” I ask. Asagawa shakes his head.

“What about that one?” he says, pointing to a file I haven’t opened yet. The kanji in the file name are ones I don’t know; I can, however, read that the simple katakana at the end says “labels.”

The file opens. Most of it has broken down into garbled lines of text, but there’s a stray QR code. When I scan it with my port, it dead-ends into a 404 error on the Kuroneko website. 

“Some kind of shipping labels, probably,” I say to Asagawa, tilting my port screen his way.

He frowns. “That’s it?”

“Yeah. Rest of it is shot to hell.”

Asagawa mutters a curse under his breath. 

“What were you hoping to find out, anyway?” I ask.

“How you know Fujiwara Eika.”

I unplug the computer. “Now who’s being evasive?”

* * *

Vanessa meets me outside a noodle shop near Helios. She’s unbuttoned her coat to accommodate the spring warmth, and now that I know to look, I can see the faintest convex curve to her abdomen. The girl who convinced me and Reilly we had to eat the paper inside the fortune cookie in order for it to come true—she’s going to be somebody’s mother.

“You seem on edge,” she observes after we’ve ordered our bowls of curry udon. “Is this about whoever you were panicking over this morning?”

My sister knows me too well. I nod.

She doesn’t waste time looking smug. “Well, who is she? How did you meet?”

“Work.” 

“That seems like a bad idea.” 

“Says the woman having a baby with her former TA.” I break apart a large chunk of tempura sweet potato with my chopsticks and dunk a piece in the thick curry broth. 

“I waited to ask him out until after he posted that damn A minus,” Vanessa replies with a wry smile. “Is she at least in a different department?”

My noodles are fascinating.

“Cam. Cam.” A pause, and I can feel her sharp gaze on me as she pieces everything together. “It’s your boss, isn’t it? Oh, Cameron. Not your best call.”

“We’re not all perfect like you.” Though I aim to keep my tone light, the irritation creeps in. We get along better than a lot of siblings, but there are still years of history—fortune cookies included—as baggage. I know sleeping with Misora was a giant fuck-up that has the potential to upend my career. I also know I’d do it again, if she’s offering.

Vanessa puts up her hands, palms out, in a gesture of peace. “Is it serious?”

Not wanting to answer that question, either, I shrug.

“You should check into your company HR policies, or see what’s in your contract about this kind of thing.” 

“Thanks, will do, mom,” I reply, raising a piece of onion in a mock toast. 

“Figured I’d better start practicing now.”

“Any ideas for a name?” I’m grateful for this opportunity to change the subject.

“A few. Drew likes his great-grandmother’s name, Anjali, for a girl, but I can’t decide. It’s too early.”

“If you want a family name, there’s always Cameron,” I propose. “Gender neutral, so you could use it either way. And if you guys stay in Japan for a while, it’s easy for the locals to pronounce.”

She laughs, but it fades quickly. “Yeah, I don’t know about Japan over the long term.”

“I just got here, you can’t lure me back and then ditch me. Was it the earthquake? I had forgotten about those.”

A frown. “Haven’t you been following the news?”

“Not really.”

“You might want to get caught up. The All Nippon Party has been pushing the JRP to indulge their worst impulses, and now they’re trying to ram through a bill that will prevent foreigners from owning property anywhere in Tokyo.”

“That’s crappy. But you and Drew are in a U.S. government apartment, you don’t own any property anyway.” And it’s not like I have any real estate plans.

“Cam. Think about what it means for a bill like that to be passed. You might be fine. I might, too. But Drew? This baby?”

Growing up here in Japan, Vanessa and Reilly and I all became accustomed to the mixed fascination and revulsion our light hair and round eyes triggered in our classmates. It’s not that I think the U.S. is better; in many ways it’s much worse. But here as at home, there’s an unspoken hierarchy to race, and if you can’t be Japanese, life is easier if you’re white. Whiteness in Japan is mostly a curiosity, and thanks to Hollywood, can be desirable, too. But if racist xenophobia is on the rise, then I can see why Vanessa is worried for her husband and future child. 

“It won’t pass. Japan would be an international joke.”

“As if that’s stopped legislatures before. Or did you forget that the U.S. banned magitech?”

She has a point. “But the JRP has been pretty neutral in the past, and I thought All Nippon was motivated more by nostalgia than anything else.” This conversation is fast exhausting my knowledge of Japanese politics.

“This isn’t the ANP of 20 years ago,” Vanessa says. “They’ve gotten a lot of backing from Japan First; some of their leaders aren’t even bothering to hide their ties anymore. It’s becoming the political arm of a hate group. Given the potential threat to Americans residing in Japan, we’re closely monitoring their activities.”

“What’s their rationale for this?”

“It’s concern-trolling-as-legislation. They’re claiming that magic might be a limited resource, so they need to preserve it for Japanese citizens.”

“By keeping gaijin from owning property? That doesn’t even make sense.”

“Does it need to?” Vanessa replies. “Most people don’t pay any attention to politics, and they don’t understand how magic works, either. The coalition sponsoring this bill knows that, and they’re capitalizing on it to achieve what they actually want— phase one of their planned immigration reform.”

“And by reform, you mean limitations.”

“Yes. How long is your visa good for? I expect they’ll tighten that up next.”

“Shit,” I say. I don’t know what else to offer.

“To put it mildly.” Vanessa checks her watch. “On that upbeat note, I have to get back for a meeting. I love you, don’t be stupid.”

* * *

“Green-san?” Nozomi’s voice breaks through the silence of the outer suite. “Toyama-bucho is ready for you now.”

Misora’s office is a small space compared to the typical American corporate office, but every surface is luxe, from the leather seating to the curved glass desk. Not looking up from her screen, Misora waves me toward the sofa near the windows. I sit, feeling agitated, as she finishes typing and strides over to take the chair across from me, eyes now on the second screen of her port.

“Let’s start with an update on the status of your projects,” she says, finally glancing up. Although she’s nominally looking at me, her gaze seems fixed on a point somewhere over my shoulder. Another pang of worry ripples through my gut. 

“Uh, yes, right. Denali is proceeding well, and I think we’ll meet your next deadline without any problems.”

“Good.” She scans some notes on her port. “What are the component temperatures like during energy transfer sims?”

“Everything I’ve tested stayed below 35℃, but it’s been hard to get a consistent average read on what it’ll be like once they’re assembled. When do you think a complete prototype is possible?”

Using a small stylus, Misora adds some comments to the project notes. A wisp of her subtle perfume reaches my nose, that same scent she left lingering on my pillow. It triggers memories I can’t indulge in right now. “That depends on Eika. She’s been busy, but that should wrap up today.”

“Even if she’s not available, I could—”

“We’ll wait for Eika.” 

I want to press her on this— why hire me for my particular expertise and then make me check simulated heat readouts, something that could be done by anyone, instead of having me continue with the biokintech core of the project? But I can’t risk irritating her, especially not after what Vanessa mentioned about immigration reform. Misora is the anchor keeping me legally moored in Japan.

“I’d like to focus our time today on the tracker project. The supply chain issue I mentioned last week has been rectified, so we can move forward.”

“Yeah, of course.” While I’m much more interested in the battery, I’ve spent some time on the tracker over the last few days, and I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve come up with. I share the rough schematic from my port to Misora’s, and her brow furrows as she looks it over. 

“I recognize this is a draft,” she says, “but do you have an estimate for how long it might be able to push a signal?”

“It’s going to depend, to some extent, on the potency of the user. If you look at the second tab, I’ve worked out a formula for calculating—”

Jump! For joy! You gotta gotta gotta… JUMP! Misora’s port is ringing. I’ve never heard it off manner mode before, and I can’t believe that this, of all songs, is her ringer. I start to stand, but she gestures for me to stay put. Instead, she goes over to the windows, turning her back to me. 

“Eika-chan?” She listens for a moment, giving periodic “mmhms” in response. “Congratulations, I knew you could do it. Go celebrate with Noah-kun. We’ll get drinks soon.”

Misora pivots to walk back to where I’m sitting, and the transformation is visible— whatever Eika’s good news was, it has lanced the tension from her. She smiles at me now, leftover glow from the weekend radiating out from her like the warm amber of a lamp. 

I hear myself take an unsteady breath. Did I really think one night with her would throw ice water on this? Because it’s only fuel.

“Misora—” As I say it, I realize this is the first time I’ve used her name outside my bedroom; I see she notices, too. I don’t want to ask this, but I think I have to. I need to know what she thinks we’re doing, and have her understand how precarious this is for me. 

“Yes?” Sitting down on the sofa next to me, she gives my knee a squeeze, then trails her hand incrementally upward. Ascertaining the destination of that hand suddenly seems much more important than what I was going to ask.

Jump 4 Joy, huh?” 

A light chuckle. “It was Eika’s favorite song when we were kids.”

“My little brother’s, too.” I remember Reilly playing it on repeat.

“Sometimes I forget you spent your childhood here,” she replies, still casually running her fingertips across my thigh. With her other hand, she tilts her port screen so I can see it, then uses her thumb to tap Lock Door and set all her contact lines to Do Not Disturb

“It’s going to be stuck in my head all day.”

She swivels herself into my lap, knees on either side of my hips. Oh, my god. “Sorry,” she murmurs against my mouth, so very obviously not.

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Next time, Chapter 26: Asagawa Kenji