Chapter 2

The Shrine

Kana and Una stood waiting to cross at the intersection. A tall man stood next to them. 

Kana turned and looked up at him. She asked, “What time is it?”

The man turned and looked down at her, noticing her for the first time. He said, “How old are you? Ten? Shouldn’t you be in school?”

Kana continued to stare up at him, offering no answer. 

He sighed and pulled out his pocket watch. He said, “It is eleven fifteen.”

Kana jolted to alertness. She turned and shoved Una. “We’re late!”

Una, her nubot, turned her white plastic shield of a face toward Kana. “We’re late!” echoed Una. 

Kana turned and ran down the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians and bicyclists. Una followed, her light plastic body bouncing and clicking as she ran behind Kana down the street and into an alley.

Kana squatted over a metal grate and looked both ways to make sure that no one could see her. She lifted the grate on its hinges. The conspicuous squeaking noises were drowned out by the grinding squeal of an elevated trolley. Kana slid easily into the manhole and began climbing down the ladder to the tunnel.

At the bottom, Kana looked up to make sure that Una was following her, and then she began running down the dark tunnel. In the center of the tunnel were the cable car tracks. On the sides of the tunnel were raised walkways for service personnel. As Kana ran, she was passed by cable cars rumbling by. Each car was only a few meters long, but their enormous mass produced deep booming and clanking as they traveled down the track.

Kana reached the intersection of two tunnels. She paused for a moment, trying to remember where she was going, then she turned left and continued running. The dank tunnel was illuminated by sparse electric bulbs and the light coming in through the metal grates overhead. In that dim and spotty light, Kana tried to distinguish the subtle chalk marks she had put on the walls a few days previously. She reached a spot in the tunnel marked with a small white X. Kana sank down to the walkway, leaning against the wall. She gasped huge gulps of air. Then, slowly, she tipped back onto the walkway and sprawled out. The tunnel was empty and silent in both directions. Una sat down on the walkway, then sprawled out onto it, imitating Kana. 

Kana looked at her nubot and used her foot to nudge Una’s plastic arm. Kana groaned and scolded Una. “We’re late! You were too slow.” Una made a soft electronic groan, imitating Kana. 

Kana put her arms over her face as her breathing slowed from gasping to heavy panting. Then, from the depth of the cable car tunnel, came a rumbling and clanking.

Kana sat up, suddenly alert. Far down the tunnel appeared a hint of light. Then the light became a bright point. As the cable train came closer, the headlight widened from a point to a circle. Kana popped up to a crouch and hid behind a steel support beam. She motioned Una to join her. As the cable train rumbled past, Kana counted the cars, memorizing the number and contents. 

As the last car clanked by, Kana turned to Una and smiled. She said, “Good job, Una! You did good.” She stood up and looked down the tunnel. She said to Una, “Come on, lazy, we have a meeting.”

Kana and Una walked down the tunnel to a ladder and Kana climbed up. She waited at the top of the ladder listening. When she did not hear anything, she pushed open the metal grate and poked her head out. She looked out at a scenic city park with large trees, moss-covered boulders, and a quiet pond. A woman stood with her back to Kana, looking at a map. The woman’s small dog looked directly at Kana, alert and deciding whether to bark. Kana put her finger to her lips to encourage the dog to be calm. The small dog shuffled its posture back and forth, uncertain whether to begin yipping.

Kana climbed out of the manhole and dusted herself off while Una climbed out and closed the grate behind them. The two of them walked calmly but with purpose down the garden path and out of the exit. 

They arrived at the shrine entrance and Kana told Una, “Wait here. Chirp twice whenever anyone enters.” Kana bowed at the shrine entrance and walked to the fountain to cleanse her hands. She knelt in front of the shrine and waited. 

To her left, a man with a deeply scarred face began to speak. He said, “For so long, I have been haunted by memories and ghosts. The past felt full with the faces and places that I could not allow myself to confront. My ghosts had things to tell me that I could not stand to hear. But now, in my loneliness, I go to them and ask my ghosts to speak with me because I feel that they are my only friends.” He paused, sighed, and looked down at his hands. Then he lifted his head and continued. “And my ghosts did speak with me. And I remembered the things that I tried to forget. But a surprising thing happened.” He smiled, then continued, “My ghosts became bored with me. They said what they wanted to say and then lost interest in haunting me.” He pulled an incense stick from the jar and lit it in the candle. He bowed with the incense three times and then stuck it into the incense holder. 

He stood up and turned slowly away from the shrine. He paused and looked down at Kana, his thoughts suddenly interrupted. Kana turned and looked up at him.

He whispered, “Excuse me, miss, I did not notice you there. I hope that I did not disturb your visit.”

Kana squinted up at him. His head was obscured by sunlight. Kana said, “If it makes you feel better, I am already bored with you.”

He raised one eyebrow. A slow smile lifted the scar on his cheek. He said, “It does make me feel better, actually. Thank you.” He turned and walked down the broad path out of the shrine.

Kana heard two soft chirps and she rolled her eyes. She whispered, “Una, you dumb nubot, I told you to chirp when someone enters the shrine, not when they leave.” Then Kana heard soft footsteps approaching and she whispered to herself, “Never mind, Una.”

Saga approached the shrine and washed her hands in the fountain. She knelt next to Kana. Her fine white silk robes made elegant noises as she settled and rested her hands in her lap.

Kana looked over at Saga’s distinguished features, noting again the way that Saga seemed both fragile and strong. Kana turned back towards the shrine and said, “Do you have my money?”

Saga dipped a hand into her purse and displayed silver coins on her open palm. Kana glanced over, and whispered to herself as she added up the amount of money that she saw there. 

Kana turned back toward the shrine and said, “There were two cars of just copper cylinders… two centimeter diameter… maybe two meters long.” 

Saga asked, “Cylinders? Were they pipes?”

Kana replied, “I don’t know if they were pipes, but they probably were. They had threaded ends.” She waited for any more questions, then continued, “There were four cars with vertically arranged glass panes. They appeared to be twenty centimeters by one meter each.”

Saga nodded, “Their most recent model has needed some repairs. They are probably just restocking the inventory to handle any customer requests for panel replacement.”

Kana continued, “There were three cars that each had large spools of rubber tubing, one centimeter diameter. The tubing was not steel belted. I could not see a manufacturer name.” 

Saga frowned. She said, “Tubing? Non-reinforced tubing? Why would they need that?”

Kana said, “Then there were eighteen cars that had only enclosed crates. They were labeled Hayachi lab supply. The crates had no other labels and did not appear to be reused.”

Saga nodded slowly. She said, “Eighteen cars of lab supply is too much to be a restock of their research department. They must be expanding their research or else starting a new division.”

Kana said, “That was the whole train.” She looked at Saga’s purse. She said, bluntly, “Pay me.”

Saga’s hand dipped into a brown paper bag and pulled out a rice ball wrapped in dried seaweed. She said, “Eat this first.”

Kana responded, “That was not part of the deal!”

Saga replied, “I am renegotiating.”

Kana said, “I don’t want it.”

Saga said, “I would appreciate it if you would humor me.”

Kana grasped for a reason not to take the food. She snapped, “How do I know that it is not poisoned?”

Saga pulled the rice ball back as if she had been bitten. She gasped, “I’m so sorry!” She collected herself for a moment, then said, “Of course you must be careful not to just eat things that people give to you. I apologize. I did not think of that.” Saga shifted slightly with consternation and discomfort.

Kana continued to stare straight ahead, still angry about someone telling her what to do. Then she said, “I changed my mind. I want the rice ball.”

Saga, “No, it was my mistake. I apologize for not realizing how cautious you need to be.”

Kana said, “I want it!”

Saga continued to sit, motionless, unsure how to proceed.

Kana demanded, “Give it to me!”

Saga handed the rice ball to Kana, who shoved it into her mouth in two giant bites.

Kana tried to speak around the rice ball to say, “It needs soy sauce,”  but she merely made incomprehensible noises and spit bits of rice and dried seaweed onto her lap and the ground.

Saga reached into the brown paper bag and pulled out a small ceramic bottle with a cork stopper. She removed the stopper and placed the bottle on the ground. She said, “In case you would like some soy sauce.”

Kana looked at Saga and at the small bottle. She tried to chew the rice that was so voluminous that she could not close her mouth. The bottle sat between them while Kana awkwardly made her way through the rice and swallowed it. When she was finished, Saga placed the coins on the ground between them. Kana scooped them up and they immediately disappeared into a pocket of her jacket.

Saga closed her eyes, trying to stop herself from speaking. Finally she asked, as if begging, “Are you warm enough at night?” There was no answer. When Saga opened her eyes, the spot next to her was vacant. She turned to look behind her and saw that Kana was already gone.

She looked up to the monk who was lighting incense. She deposited a few coins into the donation and said, “A prayer for my friend, please.” Saga took a stick of incense, lit it, bowed with it three times, and then placed it with one slightly shaking hand into the incense holder.