By Rob Kelk
Based on the Drunkard's Walk fanfic cycle
(created by Robert M. Schroeck)
and Princess Nine
(created by Kensei Date)
This story contains spoilers for the end of Princess Nine.
Look up at the sky,
You can see the future
Between the gray clouds."
-- translated from Princess Nine, by SHOUYOU
I don't know why I was surprised. The song that got me to this world was Take Me Out to the Ball Game -- I should have expected to land on an Earth where baseball was the big sport. I don't know whether they even play baseball in Japan back home, but they love it here ...
Oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself. My name's Doug Sangnoir, I'm a professional good guy, and I've spent most of the last five years wandering from alternate world to alternate world, trying to find my way home.
I've been on this Earth for nearly two weeks. From my point of view, it's a quiet world. I've heard vauge rumors about people with metahuman abilities (like me), but I haven't seen any evidence of any native to this world. The Japanese aren't borderline-xenophobic here, the way they are back home. There aren't any armed conflicts worse than minor border skirmishes going on. (Korea is split down the middle, and the Arabs and Jews don't like each other, but nobody's called out even the light artillery over either of those problems.) There's no sign of any illicit conspiracies, criminal or otherwise. And there's isn't any hint of a company that could become another GENOM.
Maybe that's why baseball is so popular here -- it's a distraction from the banality of everyday life. Or maybe it's because there's a team from an all-girls school trying to get to Koshien, the Japanese-high-school equivalent of the World Series, this year. From the newspaper stories, it looks like they're the first girls' team to even be allowed to try (which was my first hint that they don't have full gender equality here yet).
I decided to take an afternoon off and see them play last week. They're good -- their pitcher's a "natural", and most of the others are almost that good. Many of them would be in line for professional contracts in some of the worlds I had visited; here, I doubt they'll be able to use their gifts anywhere outside of a school yard unless they're very lucky.
I have a ticket for their next game. The girls are playing the team from their brother school -- a team that's said to be as good as they are, and by all reports has the best batter in the high-school league. This ought to be good.
We lost. We aren't going to Koshien this year.
And it's my fault.
I know what I have to do.
Nobody will miss me, anyway.
Shame about the girls not winning this afternoon, but they did a pretty good job considering how badly some of them were off their game for the first eight innings.
I did some historical research after the game -- the more I can find out about other worlds' versions of Japan, the more likely we'll figure out why the Japanese back home are so insular and racist. (Maybe there's something in my subconscious that aims me at so many worlds' Japans, just so I can get this information. I'm not going to complain about it.) But it's only because I stayed at the library until they closed that I was motoring across the Rainbow Bridge at the right time.
About halfway across the bridge, I noticed a pedestrian -- a teenaged girl, from the height and hair. It wasn't until I was even with her that I realized she was climbing the guardrail.
I didn't know what honor code the locals lived by, and I didn't care. Even if she was acting in accordance with local laws and customs, I couldn't let her kill herself. I stopped my bike as quickly as I could safely, turned around (luckily, there wasn't any other traffic that evening), and headed back to the girl. But I doubt she'd trust a stranger ... unless I tweaked the situation with my metatalent.
(Earlier, I mentioned that I have metahuman abilities. The important one in this case is my ability to get powerful or subtle effects from music. I carry a large music collection with me, in a voice-activated computer built into my helmet.)
There were any number of things I could have done, some of which would have been more effective in the short term, but the long-term effects of the one I chose would be better all around -- if it worked. If it didn't, well, I could always switch songs to The Chain and grab her before she hit the water, and worry about the long term after saving her life. "<System,>" I told my helmet in English, "<external speakers off. Load song Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood. Play song.>"
"<Baby, do you understand me now?
Sometimes I feel a little mad ...>"
It didn't take very long to get back to where the girl was about to jump off the bridge. I turned my bike back around so I was pointing the right way for traffic, and turned on the parking lights. "Excuse me, miss," I yelled to her in Japanese as I pulled a local map out of the bike's pannier, "could you help me find the U.S. Embassy on this map?"
"I'm a bit busy, sir ..." she answered in a quiet voice without turning around.
"I know, and I'm sorry, but I don't think you'd be able to help me if I wait for you to finish what you're doing. Please?"
She sighed, swung her weight back, and jumped back, off the railing and onto the sidewalk. Then she turned around to look at me. She was a pretty girl in her mid-teens -- she'll be a heartbreaker when she grows up. If she grows up. I had a nagging feeling that I'd seen her somewhere before ... but that wasn't important just then. She walked over and looked at the map that I offered, and we spent about a minute figuring out how to get from here to there.
"<... But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good,
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood ...>"
Then she turned back to the guardrail. "Miss, I know it isn't my place to pry, but I'm willing to listen to anything you have to say." She stopped, then slowly turned back to me. I've never seen anyone look so lonely and so surprised at the same time, before or since that moment. But whether it was because of the song or her own curiousity, she was focused on me instead of her suicide plan. Good. Now to get her off the bridge. The song made sure that she knew I meant well, so I expected she'd accept the offer I was about to make: "Let's get a coffee or something, and talk ..."
We spent an hour talking about her.
The song's effects had worn off long before we reached Cafe Kawasumi, the first place we could find to get coffee, but she didn't seem to notice. We walked in, placed our orders, and sat at a table near the door (so she could leave whenever she wanted).
Neither of us said anything for a minute. Finally, she whispered, "Thank you, sir."
"For the coffee? Think nothing of it," I answered with a smile.
"No," she replied. "For stopping me from throwing myself off the bridge."
Ah. She didn't really want to kill herself ... which puzzled me all the more. "If you don't mind, why were you going to jump, miss -- What is your name?"
Where had I heard that name before ... oh, yes. "The baseball player?" She nodded. "I saw you play today. Oh, where are my manners? My name's Sangnoir Doug. Pleased to meet you, Azuma-san."
"Pleased to meet you, Sangnoir-san."
Formalities (belated as they were) out of the way, I steered the conversation back to Miss Azuma. "You're a very good outfielder, Azuma-san. Do you plan to make a career out of playing baseball?"
She flinched slightly, then looked at her lap.
"Why not?" I asked.
If I hadn't heard her speak normally on the bridge, I'd be wondering whether she could speak above a whisper. "I shouldn't do anything to stand out."
Oh, dear. It looked like this was another case of "the nail that sticks out gets hammered down", with the girl's psyche getting hammered at the same time.
The coffee arrived just then. We both waited until the waitress left before continuing.
I asked leading questions; Yuki replied in the shortest phrases possible. To summarize what she said, it was an extreme case of the nail that stuck out getting hammered down. She was MVP on her junior-high softball team, but the other girls on the squad (I hesitate to call them her "teammates") punished her for being better than they were. They pushed Yuki away so hard, and the adults in her life did such a good job of ignoring what was going on, that she tried to kill herself.
This is where Yuki's story gets a bit odd. She claimed that she was stopped from trying a second time to suicide by Fifi, an alien from the planet Yukara, 18 light-years from Earth. Back home, the Warriors (the organization that I belong to) didn't know of any planet by that name, or any habitable planet at that distance from Earth, so this part of her story might be a delusion that Yuki constructed to cope with what was happening to her. But this wasn't my home universe, so Yuki might have been telling the unvarnished truth.
Fifi became Yuki's only friend (poor girl) through the rest of junior high, and helped her by telling her things that she needed to know. This continued through most of Yuki's first year of senior-high school. Fifi would tell Yuki things about the baseball games she was playing, or in one case something about one of her teammates (Yuki didn't say what, and I didn't pry). Yuki would act on what Fifi told her, and things would turn out well.
(At that point, I wondered whether she was a precog who had worked her metatalent into her delusion. Assuming it was a delusion; I couldn't ignore the possibility that Fifi was real, and a precog.
But I thought it more important to listen to her story than to take the time to examine her under magesight. Besides, the other people in the cafe would have thought I was leering at her if I did that, and neither of us needed that kind of reputation.
So I'll never know.
About a week ago, Fifi left Yuki. (One way or the other.) Her current teammates -- I have no hesitation calling them that -- rallied around Yuki, kept her from retreating into despair, and got her started on the road to recovery. The fact that they were winning game after game helped to re-build Yuki's self-esteem, too.
Then came the game that they had lost this afternoon. It had gone into extra innings, the other team's star batter came to bat, and he hit one over the fence -- just above Yuki's glove.
She was looking at her lap again. "If I had worked harder, maybe I could have caught the ball. It's my fault we lost."
I shook my head. "I was there, remember? Azuma-san, you climbed the wall to try to grab that ball! There was nothing else you could have done to catch it."
She looked up. "Are you sure?"
I nodded. "I'm positive. And it wasn't your fault that you lost. Half your team were playing below par; if any one of them was on their game today, you could have won."
I didn't expect that comment to get Yuki to show emotion, but it did. "It's not Ryo-san's fault we lost! Or Izumi-san's. Or ..." Then the anger flowed out of her as quickly as it had arrived. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Don't be sorry for having emotions, Azuma-san, or for standing up for your friends. Those are good things." I took a sip of my coffee. "It wasn't any one person's fault that you lost today. Something was going on -- I don't know what, and I don't care what -- but something kept your team from playing at its best. It's nobody's fault, or it's everybody's fault, but it isn't your fault."
A ghost of a smile danced on her face. She's cute when she smiles. "Thank you, Sangnoir-san."
"You're welcome. There is something you, all of you, should do because of your loss, but killing yourselves isn't it."
She looked surprised. "Oh?"
"Yes. What you should be doing is getting ready for next year. You came this far this year -- with a bit more work, you can go even farther. But that means you all need to practice, practice, practice."
Yuki sighed at my comment. "You sound like you're a baseball coach."
"No, just somebody who enjoys watching a good game. Do you want more coffee?"
She stood up. "Thank you, but no. I should be getting back to my teammates. They might be worried about me." She started toward the door, then turned back. "Will you come see us play again, Sangnoir-san?"
I shook my head. "Probably not, Azuma-san. I doubt I'll still be in Japan for your next game. But I wish you luck."
Then she walked out of my life, and into her own.
Yes, we lost. We aren't going to Koshien this year.
But there's always next year ...
"Douglas Q. Sangnoir," "Looney Toons", "The Loon" and any representations thereof are copyright by and trademarks of Robert M. Schroeck, and are used with his permission.
"The Warriors", "Warriors' World", "Warriors International" and "Warriors Alpha" are all jointly-held trademarks of The Warriors Group.
The Drunkard's Walk fanfic cycle was created by Robert M. Schroeck, and is used with his permission.
Princess Nine was created by Kensei Date. The Princess Nine anime was written by Hiro Maruyama, directed by Tomomi Mochizuki, and copyright © 1998 Kensei Date / Phoenix / NEP21.
Lyrics from Princess Nine (performed by Miki Nagasawa and Mami Kingetsu) were originally written in Japanese by SHOUYOU and copyright © 1998 Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd. The English translation, uncredited in the North American CD liner notes, is copyright © Animetrax LLC.
Lyrics from Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood (performed by The Animals) were written by B.Benjamin/S.Marcus/C.Cadwell. The copyright holder is unknown to me.
All excerpted lyrics are used under provisions of copyright laws and international copyright treaties which permit quoting of limited selections of text in other works.