Chapter 8:

"Rhymes Like Dimes"


We now turn to the perspective of MIZUTAMI KOUJI who takes his studies of THE WAY OF THE SWORD just as seriously as HIS LOVE OF COOKING with only TWO DAYS UNTIL THE CULTURE FESTIVAL.

The cheap milk tea from the North Wing vending machine does little to soothe my nerves. Like usual, I have a lot on my mind. Since my parents aren’t around, I have a lot of responsibilities. Chief among them is my twin sister Sumiko, who’s in danger of dropping out of school entirely. I could see it now - she falls into the criminal underworld of the city, like so many from the undercity do, and her life is snuffed out just as fast. It’s what happened to our parents, after all.

I pinch the bridge of my nose. I have another pressing issue, and this one needs to be resolved by tonight - I’ve been struggling to perfect my spaghetti sauce. I get a tiny salary from the Hantei, which is why I can cook rather than wait all day in a breadline like so many other people from the undercity. And I’m not going to waste it on cheap pasta sauces made in the State of China! I consider myself an artisan.

But finding the right balance of water, tomatoes, tomato paste, minced garlic, olive oil, and a dash of love has been extremely difficult. Frustrating, even. I walk with my hands stuffed in my pockets, with the Hantei-issued bokken wooden katana on my hip. I grimace and stew on my thoughts and all the difficulties as I walk down a hallway. Right as I’m about to turn a corner, a girl comes stumbling out and bumps right into me.

I didn’t really feel it, but the impact makes her fall to the floor. There’s a pool of red around her - did my bokken accidentally slice her? I swore to never use it for evil or bring harm to innocents. A sword, like any weapon of war, is inherently neutral - it’s only as good as the one who wields it. Somehow, inadvertently, I must’ve done evil today, if I managed to slice her without even realizing.

I clench my fist. Tomorrow, I will do better-

Ah, it’s just spaghetti.


The girl’s crying and trying to put her lunch back into her bento box. And then everything becomes clear to me.

I close my eyes and nod. Mistakes are made. Accidents happen. They should not be considered a weakness - they are learning experiences. They should be studied, analyzed, and accepted as you move towards your next destination.

The only weakness one may have is to become, as they say, lost in the sauce. And that’s what has been missing from my recipe.

The girl goes to strike herself. I grab hold of her wrist and impart the knowledge she has taught to me.

“Not worth crying over spilled spaghetti, you know?”

I feel like I recognize her from somewhere. She sniffles a few more times and mumbles something, then allows me to pull her to her feet.

When she sees me touching her wrist, her face goes red and she squirms away. She then bows toward me.

“S-sorry for bumping into you, Mizutami Kouji!”

Ah, so she knows my name? I am quite known for my litter clean-up programs in my designated area of the city. Perhaps my reputation precedes me.

Oh wait, she’s in my homeroom.

“Saito Fumi, right?” I remember. The redness on her face goes all the way to her ears - it must be embarrassment from the mess our collision made on the floor.

“You c-can me Fuumi,” she mumbles, her eyes on the spaghetti at our feet.

“Hold out your lunch box,” I instruct. With trembling hands, Fuumi does so. I then unsheathe my bokken from my hip and hold it before me.

Deep breaths. Focus on your art.

With a single slash, I move the entire clump of spaghetti into the air. It falls down into her waiting bento box. I flick the sauce off my sword; drops of crimson stain the floor and walls. It’s not an image I particularly like.

“T-thank you,” Fuumi mumbles out. “I’ll think of you when I eat this.”

“I recommend throwing it out,” I suggest. “It was on the floor, after all.”

“Ahahah, yeah, that’s what I meant. I don’t…I don’t eat floor food. Saito ‘No Floor Food’ Fumi, that’s what they call me…ahaha.”

“If you hurry, there’s still time to buy bread at the cafeteria. And it’s not much, but here. Enjoy this with your lunch.”

I hand over the can of soda pop to her. I’ve drank maybe half of it; Fuumi looks at the rim where I once put my mouth and lets out a little tee-hee.

“Take care not to get lost in the sauce, Saito Fuumi,” I say in farewell. “Mistakes happen, but they’re never the end!”

For the first time, she raises her head and looks me in the eyes. There’s a small smile on her face. “Thank you, Kouji.”

“And make sure to wipe off that spaghetti from your uniform!”

She heads to the nearest bathroom while I head down the nearest set of stairs. I keep my own head held high; they say a true samurai keeps his katana in his heart.


I squeal at the noise and lose my footing down the stairs. Before I can tumble down to the landing, there’s a strong grip on my sleeve that hoists me back up.

Rina Nobuko, Under-Secretary of Student Council Intelligence, holds me like a puppeteer. Her brown hair’s cut in a bob and though I’m twice her size, she always seems to get the better of me.

“Greetings, Kouji!”

I keep my distance as we head down the stairs. “Nobuko.”

“How’s your sister doing? She’d be a star at Hantei!”

“Don’t say it like that.”

Nobuko is a childhood friend of mine, though we drifted apart once I joined up with the delinquent gang known as the Senko. She offered both my sister Sumiko and I spots in the Hantei once we got to high school.

“You joined us because you have a sense of justice,” Nobuko reminds me as we walk through another maze of hallways. “Because you wanted to make a change in this city. And because you find President Nakashima beautiful. Is the same not true of your sister? Why does she keep rejecting us?”

“I don’t think that last one applies to her,” I say, though there’s no use denying it for myself. “And sometimes, I wish I could understand Sumiko a bit better. But the inner machinations of a teenage girl’s mind are an enigma.”

“I’m her friend, too,” Nobuko says, “Even though I haven’t been able to speak to her in a while. I want what’s best for her as well. I know she wants to find meaning in modernity. Perhaps something like the Hantei would help.”

I sigh and walk with my arms behind my head. “I guess picking up litter is too small of a cause for her.”

Nobuko tilts her head. “And not for you?”

“Nothing is too small. Everything inherently has meaning.”

“Oh? And what’s the meaning of us talking right now?”

I pause, and then shrug. “I know everything has meaning. I don’t always know what that meaning is.”

Nobuko giggles and walks with her hands behind her back. “Say, Kouji. I have a theoretical question for you, though it might not be so theoretical in two days from now.”

Nobuko always likes to poke and prod at me, so I shrug. “Shoot.”

“No, it’s you doing the shooting. Every year, the Shikishima Culture Festival attracts protestors. Why are you paying so much for a high school culture festival rather than for public heating or food, they ask. Why is so much money going to the colonies and puppets rather than the poor parts of the cities, they ask. How would you answer?”

We pass through crowded hallways. These are the classes for the students hailing from the upper layers of Ni-Machi and Ichi-Machi. The golden sons and daughters of the upper layers look robust and well-fed. When they see Nobuko and I, they turn their heads and giggle among themselves, like some sort of inside joke, perhaps because life in the upper parts of the city really is.

“I’d remind them of their school lessons,” I suppose. “That Shikishima can produce no raw materials of its own, and as long as we remain estranged from Japan and the global community at large, we must secure those raw materials no matter the cost. Otherwise, the whole city would be starving.”

“Is that an answer you believe?”

“You didn’t ask for the answer I believe. You’d ask me for the answer I’d say.”

“Ah, I suppose it was a trick question,” Nobuko continues. “You can’t say anything. Crowds are noisy and violent, you know, especially this year. All those delinquents, all those unemployed, all those criminals, say they all show up at the culture festival. They can’t be reasoned with. President Nakashima hands you a tear gas gun. Do you shoot?”

I balk at the question. “Nakashima isn’t in charge of security at the festival.”

“Ah, perhaps I spoke too soon,” Nobuko says with a giggle. “You’ll see when you meet with her. But let me just say…in a city without honest cops, where the Russians in the conglomerate’s private army can’t be everywhere…our very own Hantei may be called up to provide security. And in the event it is…you’ll need to make some harsh choices, Kouji. Making a mistake isn’t an option when lives are on the line.”

I frown and rub my chin. I guess not everything can be like spilled spaghetti.

The way of the sword twists and turns and remains undefinable.

Steward McOy