Chapter 33:

"Don't Let Her Be Misunderstood"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

I immediately lurch forward, wanting to rush through the crowd to join Shizuko up there on the stage, but Ayako manages to get a strong grip on the back of my collar. Behind her camera, she shakes her head. The message is clear - Shizuko knows what she’s doing.

Shizuko. This is the girl who wouldn’t speak at the museum. The girl who hated her art, who was betrayed by her friend, who was utterly alone in a city of forty million. And she’s up there on that stage by herself. I have to be up there with her, because…

I stop resisting Ayako. I don’t have to be up there with her - because I trust her. She’s not just some girl - she’s a woman who likes punk rock, a woman who’s quiet but is comfortable speaking once you get to know her, a woman who likes her art again, a woman returning home because she wants to try living again. A woman with dark hair with golden strands at the end, a woman whom I danced with in the rain, a woman who has the courage to confront the past, run a marathon, a woman approaching escape velocity.

When did I fall in love with her? I can’t pinpoint the exact moment. But I’ve been in love with her ever since she showed me that the future isn’t all so bad, that it can be just good as things used to be. Was there an exact moment she showed me that? I can’t say. But she’s been demonstrating that fact to me for weeks, and only now has it bubbled up to the surface and reached the limits of my consciousness.

Anxiety. Hesitation. Patience.

I’m in love with the woman on the stage, and whatever she’s trying to do up there, I know she’ll do her best.

The concert up on the midrise quiets down, playing low notes to provide a background rhythm to it all. The dance circle also slows down; all eyes are directed toward the stage, illuminated in red lanterns. They sway in the breeze, sending shadows and light dancing across Mayor Takeuchi and Shizuko, who stand merely feet apart from each other.

Takeuchi’s starting to resemble a ragged dog. His big campaign speech, his opening of the Soga Festival, had been interrupted by a couple of high school kids, a trio of amateur actors, and one woman in college. The Hawk is down for the count. Takeuchi is out of stress balls now - I can see his hands opening and closing, clenching, while his forehead and face have gone a bright red. Nobody’s stopping Shizuko; neither Daisuke or his staffers are moving, instead looking at everything with shocked faces.

Shizuko has a microphone in her hand, probably procured from the troupe or while she was out shopping today. It’s hooked up to an amplifier in her other hand. I can see her tap her fingers along the microphone - she’s realizing the enormity of the moment, and her mouth’s moving, but no words are coming out. I can see her run through the mantra in her head - anxiety, hesitation, but then, with a deep breath, she reaches patience.

“You owned land in Shuten village,” Shizuko begins. She speaks calmly. “You built factories there. You bribed safety inspectors. You dumped waste into the rivers and contaminated the ground. When the Bubble burst, you stopped operations there. You never cleaned anything up. Not even when there were houses close by.”

“She’s spewing lies!” Takeuchi tells the crowd, but the people in the plaza are unsure of who to believe.

Shizuko taps on her chest. “I lived in one of those houses. I originally wanted to come up here and say that…it’s because of you I’m like this.” She looks down at herself. Then she raises her head back upright and shakes it. “But I want to say something different now. I’m moving on. The first twenty years of my life aren’t going to define the next sixty. I want to fly. And that means dealing with things that weigh you down. I’m not gonna get stuck on the past. Or completely remove it from my memory. I’m gonna deal with it and move on, starting right now.”

She points at Takeuchi. “This man was poisoning Yoshiaki during the past he talks so much about. You think bringing Yoshiaki back to that past will change anything? He’ll just keep on spewing waste everywhere. It’s easy to remember the good things in the past. It’s easy to let the past define you. But the past is a past for a reason. We have to move on. The future’s not so scary.”

At the moment, she finds me in the crowd. She smiles; our hearts beat in unison. “You just have to meet some nice people along the way-”

Takeuchi’s fist slams into her temple. The microphone and amp fly from her hands; Shizuko lands hard on her back, sprawled across the stage in her yukata. She doesn’t get up.

And, right before that - there was a flash and dazzle of light up on the skyscraper. The Soga Screen's been reactivated. It turned back on right before Takeuchi punched her, capturing the moment in high-quality for all time.

You could hear a pin drop in the plaza. Both on the stage and across the Soga Screen, Takeuchi can only blink at his own fist dipped in crimson and then awkwardly shuffle back to the podium. Staffers immediately fly onto the scene, helping Shizuko back to her feet. She sways a little, and even from here, I can see a gash on her temple. And everyone can see it, because it's up on the screen as well. Maybe the little conspiracy set it up this way, that the screen would display a camera feed of the stage. If Steve Wozniak could do it, then I suppose Yuka could, too. 

As the staffers help Shizuko off the stage, she looks back at me, and my God - she has the tiniest of smiles on her face.

She planned the whole thing.

With a knowing look on her face, Ayako starts up the chant again, and the crowd joins together as one.

“The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!”

I’m too busy with the blood rushing to my ears and my heart threatening to stop as I sprint through the crowd, making my way towards Shizuko. Everything during this moment was a blur, though I can still remember bits and pieces.

Takeuchi taps on his microphone, pondering his options. He speaks slowly. “...was that wrong? Was I…not supposed to do that? Because let me tell you, that kind of stuff happens in political backrooms all the time-”

“Get the hell off the stage!” Daisuke barks at him. Takeuchi’s always slouching; the current Governor stands at his full height and looms over him. With the crowd, the prefecture, perhaps the entire world staring at him, all Takeuchi can do is shake his head and walk off, muttering to himself as he departs the stage into oblivion.

Daisuke then realizes the crowd’s attention is entirely on him. It’s just like Yuka described - nervousness flashes across his face, made especially evident by the huge screen behind him capturing his every detail. But then, recognition shines through, and he relaxes.

“I’m running for re-election,” he says into the microphone quietly. “And my campaign slogan was to vote for me just because I’m me. But we need to take an honest look at things. A giant television screen won’t solve anyone’s problems. Not for the people. And not for my daughter. Yuka, if you’re watching this, I’m sorry. You're important to me, and I've been letting you down. A giant screen is just a bandage over the underlying problem, and a poor bandage at that.”

His voice is stronger now. “If you vote for me, you’ll see real change. Not just empty platitudes. We’ll go after corruption and mismanagement. The people are suffering, and it’s time to really do something about it. If Yoshiaki’s dying, then let’s go down swinging. But we can only do this together. The past is in the past. Let’s build a brighter future! Who’s with me?”

The plaza goes quiet again. Then some murmurs sift through the crowd, then some conversations, and then finally, the Seiko-chan high school girl from the earlier rallies bellows out-

“I love giant screens!”

The crowd immediately picks up on this.


The references on the rooftop start playing again and Daisuke smiles at himself on the Soga Screen. He then raises his arms wide and says-

“I declare the Soga Festival…open!”

Steward McOy