Confessions

“I love you.”

I couldn’t believe I’d said it. How many years had I known Nancy? How many times had I wanted to tell her? All those years, from grade school through high school, I’d known she was the woman I wanted to be with. In high school, other guys had made fun of her, called her ‘washboard’ and ‘carpenter’s delight’.

I didn’t care. She was kind, never laughed at my awkwardness, but always smiled at my lame jokes. Then high school ended, and I never saw her again. I followed my love of the stars into astronomy. College passed in a pleasant haze, surrounded by others who shared my interest and feeling at home at last. A degree, then another, brought me to manage one of the observatories atop Mauna Kea. Discoveries, even a measure of fame followed, but never love.

I don’t know why I started following my high school class on social media. I saw people I’d envied go on to fame, then failure. Others popped up, only to disappear again. The passing years brought something else: death. First one, then more of the people I’d gone to school with passed. Some died in accidents, others from disease. None of those notices bothered me. Then I saw the single line announcement that went through my heart.

“Nancy Phelan ne Coulette, died Feb. 25.”

Getting to her funeral was impossible, the notice appearing a week after her death. But I knew I had to go. So I’d made the flight, rented a car, and drove here. A mound of raw earth stood behind a plain gray granite tombstone. That was all I had to speak to, the only thing that could hear my confession.

But I had said it at last.

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‘The Occasional Okatu’ strikes again.

I thought this would be a good time to add to my ”Occasional Okatu” series. Two of these anime are ongoing, and from what I’ve seen so far, well worth watching. There’s also one that was on a while back, and as I recently had the chance to watch it again, I thought I’d pass it along.

First off is the anime that’s already been on, “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” (“Mahoutsukai no Yomein Japanese). This is an outstanding anime on several levels. The artwork is incredible, the characters are more than two-dimensional cut-outs spouting lines, and the world it builds is quite believable. It is set in England, where Chise Hatori, a Japanese girl, goes to be sold at auction. She does this of her own accord, having been shunned her whole life because she can see the spirits that inhabit the world alongside humans. What she doesn’t know is that she has powers far greater than seeing spirits. She has the power to draw magic both from her surroundings, and the magical spirits she can see. There is a price for this gift. Chise, and those like her, rarely live long due to the strain their powers place on their human body. She is bought by Elias Ainsworth, a huge non-human magician who pays a fortune to possess her and her abilities. This seems a dark set-up for a story, but as the characters move forward, both Chise and Elias begin to change. Chise learns that the world is not as dark as her experiences have lead her to believe. Elias, on the other hand, learns what it is to be human, and what it feels like to care about someone else. This is a 24 episode series, so not something you’re going to knock down in an hour or two. That said, it is worth taking the time to watch.

As far as the two currently-airing anime, I’m not really sure which I like better, so I’ll go alphabetically. “Boogiepop and Others” (“Bugīpoppu wa Warawanai” in Japanese) is a story with more sub-plots than I’ve ever seen in an anime. It is based on an earlier anime, “Boogiepop Phantom” from 2000 that I have tried to watch but couldn’t do due to the truly horrible quality of the animation. The story tells of the urban legend of a mysterious figure dressed in a flowing cloak and a tall, odd hat. Some see this figure as Death personified, while others see it as defending humanity from the evil that stalks us in the shadows. The series opens with Boogiepop’s identity being reveals: she is a manifestation of the personality of a high school girl, an entity that emerges when humanity is in danger. If you like dark fantasies where the distinction between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ aren’t clear-cut, this is your cup of tea. The artwork is quite good, the characters are interesting, and I think the premise will be engaging enough to keep you watching.

The last anime is “The Rising of the Shield Hero” (“Tate no Yūsha no Nariagari” in Japanese) a dark take on a classic story line: the hero summoned into a video game like world. In this case, four young men are summoned from different versions of modern Japan to defend a kingdom from an impending wave of disasters. There’s a twist that happens in the first episode, when the title Shield Hero is falsely accused of a crime. Thrown out and denied help, yet expected to do his part in defending the kingdom, he takes matters into his own hands. With his powers limited to defense, he buys a slave to fight for him and begins the process of learning how to fight and operate in his new world. He’s not a complete anti-hero, he treats his slave less like property than as a valued helper, but not all of his actions are quite ‘above bard’. The characters development is good for the genre, the story keeps you watching, and while I’m not a big fan of the animation, it gets the job done.

Unlike some of my past recommendations, all of these anime are available through popular sources like Crunchyroll. Like usual, here are links if you want to watch:

“The Ancient Magus’ Bride” (https://www.crunchyroll.com/the-ancient-magus-bride)

“Boogiepop and Others” (https://www.crunchyroll.com/boogiepop-and-others)

“The Rising of the Shield Hero” (https://www.crunchyroll.com/the-rising-of-the-shield-hero)

A vision of the future?

Paullus Lucius Decimus reclined on the cheap mattress in his rented room and watched the prostitute undress. Modern America had many things his native Rome had never had, but as an immortal, one thing he missed was brothels. He’d lost his virginity in one, and as a legionnaire, he’d frequented the brothels around Roman frontier forts rather than trust a local woman to not slit his throat as he slept. Now, rather than being able to go somewhere that he knew women were available, he was forced onto the seedier parts of the Internet in hopes of satisfying his sexual needs.

After discovering, in the disastrous aftermath of Teutoburg, that he was immortal, Paullus had refrained from long-term relationships out of self-preservation. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to trust a woman to keep his secret. No, many men he’d known had gone mad with grief after loosing a wife of lover, and Paullus knew his heart was no stronger than theirs. But no matter how many centuries passed, his desire for sexual release did not diminish.

So here he was, marveling at how like all those other prostitutes this one was. Her lips wore a smile that never entered her eyes, she told the same old lie about how ‘big’ his manhood was, and like every other prostitute, promised him she’d ‘show him a good time’. The sex itself was a series of mechanical acts interspersed with more lies about how ‘good’ he was in bed, what an ‘incredible’ lover he was, and when Paullus achieved climax, her theatrical exhibit of pleasure at the same moment was no more convincing than any of the others he’d seen.

Her job done, Tina, as she called herself, peeled the condom off his member and moved to throw it in the wastebasket beside. She stopped in mid-movement, her eyes fixed on Paullus’ diary. He’d left it open on the stand next to his bed, having no reason to suspect a random prostitute could read Latin. This one clearly did.

Latine loqueris?” she asked in a Latin that might have come from a patrician’s mouth and not a whore’s.

Maybe it was the shock of hearing his native tongue in such an unexpected situation that caused Paullus to blurt out “Facio, ita.”, but he collected himself before continuing in English “And how do you come to speak Latin?”

She gave him a smile, a real if wary one. “I studied Roman history in college, and knowing Latin was pretty much a requirement for accessing the original texts. You can only learn so much from someone’s translation. If you can read the original, in the original language, you can almost hear the writer speaking to you. How about you?” She pointed towards the diary. “This Latin’s not quite classic, it’s more like colloquial Latin. Only a few scholars can read that, let alone write as fluently as you do. Where did you pick it up?”

Damn, she would know the difference! Paullus had begun to suspect that Professor Upton knew his knowledge of Latin was far too extensive to put down to parental hectoring. That was one of the reasons he’d been happy to finish translating her cache of letters he himself had written before the final battle of the XIX Legion. How could he explain to this woman, who clearly knew his knowledge was uncommon? Better to change the subject. “You studied Roman history in college? How did you…?”

She finished the question for him. “How did a classic student end up a prostitute, a whore? You don’t have to be polite, I’ve been called worse. I came from a poor family, and scholarships only go so far. So I needed to raise some extra cash, and believe me, working a part-time job for minimum wage isn’t a good way to make ends meet, not and study. A girl I knew told me she ‘dated’ a guy and steered me to one of those sites where rich old guys go to find a ‘sweet young thing’ they can ‘financially assist’.” She even raised her hands to emphasis that she was quoting some standard line. “Well, I learned pretty quickly that the only reason most of those guys were willing to ‘assist’ me was if I’d ‘assist’ them in their desire to get laid.” She shrugged, and gave him a cynical smile he’d seen from far too many prostitutes. “So I could either have sex with some random guy and get paid for it, or I could starve. Not a hard choice. Problem is, once you get started, it’s hard to stop. You get used to having the extra cash, to not worrying whether you’ll have something eat or not. After a while, I started paying more attention to keeping my ‘friends’ happy than to my course work. I went from a GPA of 3.8 to 1.3. When my adviser told me to either get serious about my classes or I’d flunk out, I decided to drop out and go into prostitution full-time.” She smiled again, perhaps the first honest smile he’d seen on her face since she’d walked in the door. “What can I say? It isn’t always easy. I’ve had a couple customers decide they wanted to do the rough stuff with me, which I never do, no matter how much men offer me. The few who tried learned real fast that my cop dad taught his little girl how to defend herself. One idiot thought he’d be my pimp. I left him screaming on the floor with a nice compound fracture of the lower arm. No one’s been dumb enough to try that again.” Her eyes move back to Paullus’ diary. “And none of that explains how you know one of the less common dialects of Latin. So, care to spill, or should I just speculate?”

Time to fall back on the lie he’d told Professor Upton. “My father was a classics professor, my mother was a linguist. Between them, I learned the rudiments of around twenty languages. As for why I use that language, I always liked colloquial Latin because the cuss words are so very inventive.”

Tina laughed at that. “Yes, it is pretty good for insulting people, isn’t it?” Then, she looked at Paullus, at the web of scars that covered his body. “For a guy who’s smart enough to learn twenty languages, you’ve sure been injured a lot.” She tossed the spent condom in the garbage, then sat on the bed. “Modern medicine’s good, but these scars look like they’re from wounds that should have killed you. So either you were special forces, or you’re both the luckiest and unluckiest man alive to suffer these injuries and be close enough to care to keep you from dying. Which is it?”

Several centuries before, Paullus had killed a man who’d witnessed him surviving an attack by a huge brown bear in what was now the Kamchatka Peninsula. He’d seen too much of the attack to believe that Paullus was just lucky, but his fate had been sealed when started talking about how interested the local Koryak chieftain would be in a man who couldn’t be killed by a bear. Would he be forced to send this woman to the afterlife to spare himself the unwanted attention of modern society? Perhaps sensing he wasn’t going to answer, she settled her fate with her next words.

“Well, it’s not like we’re besties or anything like that. You don’t owe me an answer.” She dressed without wasted effort, scooped up the envelope holding the price of her company, and leafed through the bills with the practiced speed of someone who had done the task many times before. Satisfied that he hadn’t shorted her, she walked to the door.

“You’ve got my number, and I’ll be around for the next couple of weeks, so give me a call if you want another date. Di conservent te D. L. Paullus.” and she was gone, leaving Paullus to wonder how she’d managed to extract his name from one brief glance at his diary. He picked up the book and saw his name was nowhere on the pages she could have read. But on the stand, a coin winked at him. It must have been under the book because he was sure he hadn’t seen it when he picked it up. The bronze coin had the familiar weight and shape of a sestertius, and Augustus’ profile could still be made out. So how had a prostitute come to possess a two thousand year old coin that looked as if it had been minted only a few years before? Could she be like him, an immortal hiding in the shadows of modern society? He flipped the coin, caught it on the fall, and looked at the door.

“I think, Tina, you and I need to talk, and soon.”