A Bedtime Story (Part One)

Characters: Klevetati Yoshino

This all happened, more or less.
– opening line of Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

The long days in the shipyard were filled with hard work, but they nevertheless gave those working plenty of time to think, rest, sleep and dream. Knowing that most of her crewmates had gone back to Earth, to find family and friends perhaps, Klevetati Yoshino found herself thinking of these things too. Thinking of the days when she was Marina Takezo, a lonely schoolgirl with nothing to do when her homework was done but read adventure manga and dream.

Over time, she remembered, the daydreams had led to an interest in her family history. She had begun by questioning her parents, who had sent her to her great-grandmother, perhaps the only person in the family who had shown her not only duty, but genuine affection.

Now, in her quarters for the night, with Kuri settled quietly on her pillow, Yoshino sat crosslegged on the floor and lit one of her last joss sticks. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply of the sweet vapor, calling the image of the old woman to her mind’s eye, listening to her with the mind’s ear as she told one of little Marina’s favorite stories.

“It is said by some that one of our ancestors was not quite human. She was born in the time of the old shoguns, and she was kitsune — a fox woman …”

And Yoshino was off, just as little Marina had been, swept away three hundred years or more, to lands of magic and mystery and adventures. As good as any manga or anime she knew. Marina’s great-grandmother was a master storyteller, and the young Marina had often relived the stories in her dreams.

“There was a time, when the kitsune lived as a human woman, in the United States. And in that time, the Emperor’s ministers, in the Emperor’s name, began a war against the United States. The people there, in their fear, took all the Japanese people and put them in prison. And the kitsune, and her son — just a little boy then, younger than you are now — were in prison with the rest…..”

And that night, Yoshino dreamed again, of a place light-years from the bed in which she slept, and of a night over three hundred years in the past …


 

Mariko Tashimori slipped out the door of the wood and tar-paper barrack, pressing herself to the wall to gain what shelter she could from the chill wind of the night. She cradled her child, a boy not yet five, in her arms as she watched the guard tower, silhouetted against the sky a few hundred yards away.

After a moment, she thought she saw a shadow, moving at the foot of the tower then quickly ascending. It was a moving darkness, invisible unless one knew it would be there, and looked for it.

Mariko waited, holding her breath, until one of the lights on the tower suddenly flickered, and the bark of a fox could be heard on the wind. “Climb to my back and hang on tight,” she whispered, stepping away from the wall. Quickly the boy scrambled around, locking his legs around her waist and hands across her shoulders.

Crouching low, Mariko sprinted across the open field, slipping from one mound of earth and clump of sagebrush to the next, toward the tower. She paused, only long enough to catch her breath, beside a sign:

         WAR RELOCATION AUTHORITY
             Tulelake Project
               AREA LIMITS
              For Persons Of
            Japanese Ancestry
             Residing In This
             Relocation Center
              SENTRY ON DUTY

When she reached the foot of the tower, she tapped twice then twice again on one of its supports, then stepped back. A flash of silver from above embedded itself in the earth at her feet. She plucked the shuriken out of the ground and quickly climbed the tower.

The sight that met her at the top was a strange one. The sentry lay against one wall, invisible from the ground, peacefully asleep. Standing beside him was a man in a dark suit and cloak, pulling a silver cloth mask from over his head. His features were sober as he softly spoke.

“Mariko. I came as you asked.”