Mikado's Joy Street. Nagasaki Café.
BLOOD IS THROBBING in my temples. I feel even worse now than after I had fainted back in the Temple. I can't think straight. It's as if my head has been cut off — and still I can feel the rest of my body. A bit like sensing your own feet after they've been amputated. Phantom pain, it's called. My skin, my nails, my bones — everything seems to have peeled off. Actually, that's quite possible. To have survived this without losing any of your body just wouldn't be possible.
I can see myself as if from above. My priest's robes are gone. I'm wearing black boots, a black business suit and a bowler hat to match. Standard workday attire here in Uradziosutoku.
A paper parasol protects my face from the scorching sun. A waitress in traditional geisha costume clutters her geta sandals across the floor, then bends in a deep bow.
"Would you like something else, Sir?"
"Danke schön," I say with a frail wave of my hand. "Only... this..."
She nods subserviently. "The yakitori is coming. It's just as it should be, soy sauce and all. We're heating your sake slowly: we're doing our best. Irasshai... sorry for the wait. I have something else to offer you."
The geisha leans toward my ear, enveloping me in a fresh aroma of morning chrysanthemums. "We have our own moonshine," she whispers stealthily. "Clear as a crystal."
"Good," I agree, mimicking her. "Got some pickled cabbages to go with it?"
"We'll find some, darling... we could dress it up as funchoza, I suppose... these Japanese heathens will never know."
Her cheeks burning, the waitress walks back to a door marked in Japanese and disappears in the kitchen.
The mind boggles. The Japanese took Uradziosutoku on September 10 1941 — as soon as the Nippon koku had officially entered the war. Seventy years later, there's very little left of this old Siberian megalopolis which used to be equal doses of Bolshevik and the Tsar. The first thing the Japs did, they restored the Amur Republic[i] and even summoned the Merkulov brothers, its one-time White Guard émigré ex-rulers. Still, it didn't last: in less than a year Japan must have realized it simply had to have a prime morsel like this all for itself.
Now Uradziosutoku was a typically Japanese city sliced into neat squares just like Karafuto Island and built with identical gray and white cottages, their curved roofs inviting swallows to nest inside, its streets drowning in cherry blossom — made of plastic, of course, because real wild cherries aren't that mad to blossom at this time of year in Siberia. Street shops flash their fancy Japanese neons, their owners laying squid tentacles out to dry. You can hear the screams of fishmongers at the pier market.
Disgusted, I stare at the wasabi on my plate. Where's my moonshine?
These cherry blossoms
Mess with my head;
I think I need some booze.
The hokku comes naturally. The Nagasaki café occupies several cozy Buddhist-style verandahs atop a hill. They offer an excellent view of the bay busy with adorable little boats strung with red paper sails. They're called junks in China.
I vaguely remember us going up Calm Dragon Street the other day. Kimonoed shop assistants looked out of their shops and smiled to us, bowing and saying "Okaeri nasai!" — "Welcome!"
The Japanese culture has taken over the city — although not entirely. The locals have preserved a few more exotic bits, like the Lutheran church, the Polish Cathedral of The Most Holy Mother of God and the Arch of Tsesarevich Nicholas. Hokkaido tourists love taking pictures with them. Uradziosutoku means Salt Bay in Japanese but Russlanders still use the city's old name, Vladivostok.
Closer to the Harbor of the Morning Calm (called so in honor of the neighboring Korean Province) towers the Amaterasu Arch dedicated to the goddess of the sun. Newlyweds hurry there after their shintoist wedding ceremonies to pay their respects and drink tea in the shade of the goddess' true wisdom.
The white and blue mansion of the Manchukuo consulate is only a ten-minute drive away: formerly the seat of the city council, it's surrounded by a colorful array of Chinese restaurants. From what I've gleaned from Viking News, recently the city was in a state of mourning. Geishas stopped receiving visitors as a sign of their grief. Apparently, the city's ex-Shichō — a Mayor — had performed a seppuku, leaving behind the following inscription on silk,
I am forced to disembowel myself, unable to govern this territory where they smash their sake glasses on the ground every time they finish their drinks. I am sorry to have saddened your heart. I just cannot take it any longer.
True, Japanese nationals don't have it easy here. They're run off their feet trying to Japonize the Russian Far East — but to no avail. Things don't change. Shigemitsu Ivanovich still beats the holy crap out of Dzimmei Petrovich over the former's wife — the well-respected tea mistress Kumiko Sergeevna — who has been wearing a rather revealing kimono lately so that the latter just couldn't help himself and dipped a stealthy hand under the provocative silk. No bowing, no apologies, no poems describing the remorse eating through the black heart of the bastard Dzimmei.
The rising sun has set.
The three drunk samurai
Bow to their sake barrel.
This was the hokku that the Shichō wrote with his own blood after he'd sliced his belly with a katana.
The Germanization of European Russia has been much more successful. Everyone there seemed to be pleased with becoming a "blond beast" whose Aryan ancestors had arrived from Mount Kailash, the one with the swastika on its slope. It's true that in Moskau proper the Japanese culture is popular purely due to the distance separating it from exotic Tokyo. But here, the locals can't stand the sight of it. No matter how many times the police have raided underground samovar[ii] tea parties, they mushroom by the day.
"This is your sake, Master. I beg of you, in the name of Amaterasu, do pay attention."
Bowing deeply, the waitress offers me a china flask on a tray.
I nod. My hand shakes as I pour the liquid into a tiny cup. I down it in one gulp.
Holy fucking shit. My chest burns like the fire in Loki's eyes. It feels too good.
The pickled cabbage is crunchy to bite.
Life is flooding back into me.
Time for a second drink.
Here, one begins to think in hokkus. Who needs Aspirin when there's moonshine?
I don't expect Olga — but she's just appeared in front of me. At first, I take her for a waitress: she's wearing a kimono too. A black one embroidered with yellow dragons.
She flashes a sarcastic smile. "It didn't take you long to lose that Aryan veneer. So it's vodka now, is it? Where's your schnapps?"
I'm not embarrassed. After what happened, I can drink windscreen liquid.
"Schnapps is German for moonshine," I help myself to more cabbage. "Slightly more sophisticated, maybe. Do sit down. Have you got what I asked you to get?"
She nods and reaches under the table for an attache case. Inside is a portable Buch computer. A Sony, of course, the only type purebred Aryans would use. It's white and very pretty.
I lick a finger, then touch a button. The system IDs my DNA automatically. The computer begins to reboot.
Its screen lights up. The Sakura OS is slow and glitchy. Little bells begin to chime their sweet melody.
"I rented it," Olga answers my silent question. "Five hundred yen. I paid by card."
I type away, then open my personal Shogunet account where I have surveillance camera controls set up, allowing me to monitor them from any place on the globe. Three of the cameras are installed in the Temple of Odin and two more in my apartment. Password: asgard. Not very original, I know. I switch to real time and swivel one of the cameras.
The temple is absolutely packed with people. Some are wearing the camos and black uniforms of the SS special forces. Others are in plain clothes. They look around themselves as they walk, studying the interior. The camera is low-res but I can make out the puzzled expressions on their faces. I bet. I too was surprised when I'd come round after my fall.
The sacrificial altar is floating in the air, ghostlike, like a horror movie projection. It's translucent; you can see right through it. The grotto's walls quiver like sea waves, rippling.
One of the officers approaches the statue of Rübezahl, the king of dwarves. Yes, there he is, my stooping white-bearded old man, the work of a fine sculptor chiseled out of a whole chunk of cave granite.
Now the fun bit. The SS officer touches the statue. He is probably screaming with fear as his hand sinks inside. Rübezahl's body may look like stone but it now consists of a viscous jelly-like substance.
What he doesn't know is that there were four more stone deities lined up next to this one. They disappeared the moment I fainted. And not only them. The sacrificial goat is nowhere to be seen, either.
A man in a gray shirt and matching pants seems to be in command of the squad. He barks orders; they jump to attention. A big wig. I've never seen him before. I move the camera closer, just in case. He turns round. I take a snapshot of him. And another.
The picture disappears in a flash. What's happened?
"He shot at the camera," Olga explains. "They'll be over at your apartment at any moment. That's why we are here. I had a strong premonition that they might locate me soon. That they'd come for me... in the very near future. I was right."
I click the Buch's lid close and top up the bone china with more moonshine.
"Sehr gut," I take in the original aroma of good old home brew. "Let's try and reconstruct what happened. There isn't much to reconstruct, really. I came back home. You were still handcuffed to your bed. I walked over to you in order to remove them..."
I look over the bay. Seagulls squawk and squabble over the ocean. The waitress bows deeply to a new customer. I exhale sharply[iii] and down my drink, then hurry to pinch some cabbage with my chopsticks. "... and the next moment we were here. Seven thousand miles away from Moskau. What happened?"
She laughs softly and rearranges her black hair. She's unbearably beautiful. "I've no idea how it happens. It must be the danger that does it. I can't control these things. That's how I teleported into the temple where you later found me. You thought guerrillas had brought me there, remember? Even though the front doors were locked. You lay me under Rübezahl's statue to dress my wounds. It's the energy within my head... it works like teleportation. But I never know when it's going to happen."
"Why didn't you disappear earlier, then? Somehow I don't think my handcuffs would have stopped you."
She clicks her lighter. That's the Nippon koku: no one would arrest you here for smoking in a café. "Probably because I knew you weren't a threat."
Crashing noise. Howls of agony. Screaming.
As if in slow motion, I watch as Mikado's Joy Street caves in. A round crater appears in the middle of the pedestrian zone. The doll houses adorned with red lanterns begin to slide into the chasm; the St. Paul's Church crumbles, listing to one side, bell tower and all. Hundreds of human figures pour into the crater as it gapes like a huge, smiling lipless mouth. I hear the inhuman screams of dying people. Houses sink through the tarmac which is now fluid like sunflower oil.
The city dies before my very eyes but I can't do anything about it. People wail with horror, their bodies turning transparent as if made of fine glass. I can see their hearts, their livers, their brains, I watch their blood run through their veins. Crowds of glass people.
Uradziosutoku rapidly breaks out into a gossamer net of crevices. Trees snap like matchsticks. The ocean hisses, convulsing, spewing out dead fish. Instinctively I grab a knife from the table.
I sink it into my right palm already covered in scars.
Blood splatters onto the plate, mixing with the soy sauce. I look at the girl's face. Not a face: a skull. A grinning, scowling skull greedily drawing on a cigarette.
"What are you?" I croak. "What the hell are you?"
Her gaze alights on me. Her eyes have no pupils. They're filled with unfathomable darkness.
"What a strange question," she lets the smoke out. "Don't you know yet?"
[i] The Amur Republic: an independent state that existed in the Russian Far East from May 26 1921 to October 25 1922. Recognized by both the US and Japan, the Amur Republic ceased to exist with the taking of Vladivostok by Bolshevik troops.
[ii] Samovar: a traditional 19-century water urn that became synonymous with Russian tea culture