Runesansu

The coffeehouse, with its bright walls advertising boba tea and sweets, sheltered them, Ayana noted as she watched her charge perfect an animation on his computer. On the screen, filmy soothing pastels shimmered with accents of gold, and Ayana’s shoulders relaxed as she watched. She knew Ichirou intended as much, for they kept as their secret Ichirou’s talent of composing moods which took hold in the viewer’s psyche. More than the sum of images, Ichirou infused the graphics with something – a post-hypnotic suggestion? she wondered. She pulled her gaze away from the swirling colors. A beautiful weapon in the wrong hands; Ayana suspected he could call up a whole array of states, not just calm.
Ichirou stood and stretched, and Ayana marveled at how he had matured in those six months since their ordeal. Taller than her, tall and lean, no longer afraid to leave his room, almost of age. Where would he go when he aged out of Runesansu Residential School? Who would try to exploit his talent? Ayana fretted, despite the swirling, soothing graphic which promised relief from her concerns.
“Ichirou,” she asked. “What would you like to do when you graduate from Runesansu?” Ayana asked.
“I would like to go to college for graphic arts,” he said, packing up his computer. “I enjoy visual arts, even if I don’t use my –” Ichirou stopped mid-sentence. Ayana knew Ichirou wouldn’t speak of his talent out loud, having kept it hidden from everyone at Runesansu but her. Yet Second World Renewal, a shadowy group in Poland, had invited him to their sham “young prodigies’ assembly” and almost kidnapped him for his talent.
She remembered the invitation that Harada-sensei, the educator who had founded Runesansu, had handed her, an invitation for Ichirou to attend an international assembly for teen prodigies. “I believe this would be advantageous,” Harada had pressed.
Soon after, she received an email from an address she didn’t recognize, which warned her that the assembly fronted a power-broking group known as Second World Renewal. At that point, she felt more intrigued than frightened. She offered the writer, who called himself (at least she thought him male) Tinker, her services to scout the organization out. She wanted the glamor of spy work, the feeling of mystery and danger, not understanding the nature of danger at all.
She should never have gone to Poland, she realized. She recalled the sinking realization that the assembly, shoddily presented, was in fact a sham. She remembered the tensions of the banquet, which culminated when guards dragged Luitgard Krause and her children from their chairs, and the turning of her stomach as she saw Ichirou and Grace, the other young prodigy, sitting so far from her. Even then, she didn’t anticipate the gunshots she’d heard in the distance or the smoke in the hallways of the Palac Pugetow. She hoped that Ichirou had fled, as she’d bid him to if she didn’t come back. She hoped he’d taken Grace with him. Tinker had watched over them and guided them to a precarious safety, dodging pursuit. When she followed Tinker’s texts, she found the two wide-eyed and frightened, and the three of them fled Poland under Tinker’s guidance.
How had Second World Renewal known about Ichirou? How had Tinker known about Second World Renewal?
Ayana kept her worry to herself. All was quiet now, and she wanted to keep it that way.
But quiet was not to be. Late that night, as Ayana readied for bed in her small room, brushing her long dark hair back, her cell phone beeped. A text message, she realized, highly unusual at that time of night, as she had no life outside the boarding school. She picked up the phone, not recognizing the number the message came from. Then she read –
Tinker here. You do remember me?
Ayana remembered many things. She remembered sensing his hand as he led them out of Poland one step at a time. She remembered admiring the agile strategy he employed.
Ayana remembered her longing to meet the one who had remained in shadow, who had disappeared from her life. Until now.
I do remember you. What’s up? She replied in Polish, because she had a talent for languages, and she spoke better Polish than he spoke English. He spoke no Japanese at all.
What is the name of the school you work for? he asked abruptly. Very much like him.
Runesansu. Why?
Runesansu. Renaissance. Renewal. Think on it.
What?
No answer to that. Ayana thought on it as she tucked herself into her narrow bed. Of course, renaissance and renewal were synonyms. The Renaissance, borrowed into the English language from Italian, was a period where Western European culture experienced a rebirth, hence the use of the word. Rebirth, another synonym. Renewal.
Second World Renewal.
What are you trying to tell me, Tinker? Ayana typed into the phone.
No answer.
Ayana tossed and turned most of the night, dreaming of Poland: Ichirou sitting at the banquet surrounded by the agents of Second World Renewal, the fire alarms going off as she ran down the hallway looking for Ichirou and Grace, the gunshots. She dreamed that she ran down the corridors of the Palac Pugetow to find Dr. Harada, the Soshi-sha or founder of the school, who she had known since she first arrived at the school as a ten-year-old orphan. Dr. Harada stood in the middle of the hall, just as spry at 80 as he had been twenty years before.
Sensei,” Ayana beseeched him, “teacher, please tell me. Why did you name this place Runesansu?”
“Because the children are the world’s renaissance, its rebirth,” he said, gesturing to the empty hall. “We bring them here to unlock their talents, to bring the world to its proper state.”
After her disturbed sleep, Ayana checked her texts as soon as she woke up. She found one from Tinker, bearing only a link. The link took her to a shared Google workspace and a single document titled Renaissance Theory.
What is Renaissance Theory? Ayana texted to Greg. No response; of course, he had to sleep sometime.
She opened the document and began to read:
The phenomenon of Renaissance Children may predate the 1950’s but the first mention of them in secret government documents occurs soon after the Bikini Atoll nuclear bomb tests. It is not known, however, whether nuclear radiation is the cause, or the only cause, of Renaissance talents; collected family stories yield a hint of hereditary talents.
What is known is that Renaissance Children possess extraordinary talents beyond the scope of human ability. The ability to manipulate molecules to cause fire, the ability to manipulate emotions (Ayana thought of Ichirou in horror), mindreading, and invisibility are talents that Renaissance theorists have discovered in individuals possessing talents. It is suspected that —
She checked her watch and realized she was late in meeting with Ichirou. She left the document and rushed to the classroom where Ichirou waited.
 “I hope you are well,” Ichirou said as he stood and bowed. So tall, Ayana thought. Almost an adult.
A Renaissance child, as was she.
 “I am okay,” she nodded and sat down. Ichirou sat after her, across the desk. They always conducted class that way; she taught him one-on-one as soon as he’d been considered one of their most promising students. “Here is some homework to start with. I hope I’ve made the instructions clear enough,” Ayana instructed as she handed the page on which she had written in English to Ichirou: I have not told Runesansu anything about our trip to Poland or why you were invited there.
Ichirou read, raising his eyebrows. “I believe I understand this homework.” He then started writing furiously in the English Ayana had taught him and passed the page back.
Ayana scanned the message without the need to translate back into Japanese: Thank you. You have understood my wishes.
How much did Ichirou understand about the place that had become his home?
How much did she herself understand?
“I would like you to write an essay about what you would like to do when you leave Runesansu.” She considered that this was an amazing feat for a former hikikomori, a hermit. Ayana herself thought she would like to see Ichirou leave Runesansu but knew he would lose the protection of the place, which scared her.
While he wrote. Ayana checked her messages. She saw a message from Tinker, two words: Read further.
She searched and found the document again and read further: 
Renaissance schools were founded beginning in the early 1990’s to screen for the unique talents Renaissance children possess. They promote themselves as residential schools for talented (in a mundane way) children, by which means they find children of unusual Renaissance talents. Most Renaissance schools are not currently aligned with Renaissance Theory’s aims, although inroads are being made (See Appendix A for RT-affiliated schools)
Ayana scrolled back to Appendix A, where she didn’t see Runesansu listed. She breathed a sigh of relief until she saw listed the American school where Grace Silverstein, the talented violist who fled from Poland with her and Ichirou, attended.
Too close, she thought. Too close for comfort.
She found herself wishing for the oblivion of Ichirou’s graphics.
Later, in the classroom, after Ichirou left to run the track, she pored over Ichirou’s essay, in which he expressed the desire to go to the US for college. Ayana felt a shiver pass through, a feeling that she had been captured in fate’s design.
Leaving for the States could solve so much, Ayana thought. He could keep his secret from Runesansu, and perhaps he could rescue Grace from – oh, no. He was still so young. She could go with him if she quit – no, she would lose her job at Runesansu, and she had nothing else.
But what would she do if Runesansu discovered Ichirou’s talent?
What would she do if they discovered her own talent?
In her room that night, Ayana shot off a quick note to Greg – Why are you telling me this?
A few minutes later, he answered with a question: How much does Runesansu know about Ichirou?
Ichirou has kept it secret, Ayana shot back,-as have I. But Runesansu is not affiliated with Renaissance Theory. I read the appendix.
Are you sure Dr. Eizo Haneda has no ties to your government? Renaissance Theory is not the only bidder.
Ayana considered what she knew about Haneda through the filter of what Tinker had exposed her to. Haneda-sensei was a renowned educator with an international reputation for his educational theories and work socializing hikikomori. The Ministry of Education spoke highly of him. Renaissance Theory was not the only bidder, Tinker had said. 
Ichirou and I are lab rats, Ayana realized, under watch. A part of her had known this all along, even as a child. When Dr. Haneda bent down to her and asked her about her schooling – her Japanese and English, which she liked the most; all the other subjects, which she did reasonably well at, she said simply, “I apply myself to my studies.” She hid the fact that she knew more English than did her instructor, that anytime a group toured the facilities, she could have conversed with every guest in their own language. Even now knowing that prodigy talent – Renaissance talent – existed, she did not know where her gift came from unless the seed to every language was tucked in her DNA, a genetic Rosetta stone.
And now Tinker confirmed that she was a lab rat. As such, she could be observed –
Ayana glanced around her room, looking for spy holes, for two-way mirrors, for cameras. None that she could see. Unless …
She took a calming breath and strode over to her desk and the fluorescent lamp that stood there. She lifted the lamp and stared at the base, where a small hole, hardly noticeable, heralded the presence of surveillance. Quickly she thought; she put the lamp down, and casually set some books in front of it, blocking the lens. She shook uncontrollably.
Tinker, she typed rapidly into her phone when she could trust her hands, I just found a camera in my room. They’re spying on me.
I’m concerned, he sent back, as you should be.
What’s the worst they can do? Ayana typed. Haneda-sensei has been so good to me.
Even dictators can be benevolent, Tinker replied. Second World Renewal served an excellent banquet.
Why can’t I find anything about Renaissance Theory myself? Ayana challenged. I’ve tried.
Because you’re not looking in the Dark Web. Ayana read. And I don’t want you to go there. A pause, then: Trust me. I don’t want you to go there.
Ayana didn’t know if she could trust Tinker, but she remembered the Renaissance Theory document.
Ayana quit the conversation, wanting to forget, to go back to her ignorance. Just like her mother, whose drug use led her to leave Ayana at an orphanage. Later, of course, Runesansu adopted her, because there was nobody to stop them.
She reached for the laptop she left on her desk and opened the copy of Ichirou’s program, the one she hid deep in her files, password locked, away from temptation. She reached to open it –
Ayana stopped herself. She didn’t take even aspirin after watching her mother addle herself with substances. And most of all, she considered Ichirou’s creations as a drug.
She got little sleep that night, memories of the escape from Poland mixing with nightmares of pursuit by the personal guard of Second World Renewal – a member, as her reading had told her, of the Renaissance Theory group.
The next morning, Ayana stumbled into the room in which she instructed Ichirou, muzzy from lack of sleep. Still, she glanced around at the walls for cameras. There was a knothole in a wooden frame surrounding a picture of waves, a watercolor from Sensei’s hands, which could be suspicious.
Ichirou looked up. “I hope you are well today,” he said. 
“Yes,” she responded after a deep breath. “I feel a need for fresh air today. Would you mind if we went to the coffeehouse to study?”
 “Of course not,” Ichirou responded carefully. “I think I would like that.” His body posture had stiffened, and she knew that he had read her own.  Ichirou bundled his books and supplies into his book bag and they headed toward the front door.
In the hallway, they met Haneda-sensei, his eyes kind as always, his manner calm. “Where are you going?” he asked. He already knew, Ayana guessed. He stood between them and the door.
 “We’ve decided we need a change of scenery,” Ayana said truthfully. “We’re going to the coffeehouse to tutor Ichirou in trigonometry.”
Haneda nodded and stepped away to let them pass. When they stepped out the door and nothing happened, Ayana sighed in relief.
They did not stop at the café where they usually worked together, but walked a few blocks further to a cat café. Inside, kittens tussled on the ground; adult cats draped themselves on shelves and tables or sauntered by. “I should have taken you here sooner,” Ayana admitted. “Your upbringing has been so sterile.”
 “Not necessarily,” Ichirou noted. “Remember that stepping out to the track was once intimidating to me.”
 “Still, you haven’t been exposed to cats much.” They sat at a table graced by a round-faced cat with strangely folded ears and a perpetually surprised expression.
The calico butted her head against Ichirou’s hand; Ichirou chuckled and petted him, then grew sober again. “This is not about my trigonometry, is it?”
 “No, Ichirou. This is not our usual place. We can talk here.”
“I understand,” Ichirou said simply, although he leaned forward as if receiving some sort of secret.
Ayana paused, looking for words. “You’d like to go to the US someday? To college?”
“I would have to graduate from Runesansu, first, right?”
Ayana didn’t know how to answer. She didn’t know if Ichirou’s education would be found acceptable by an American university, nor whether Runesansu would release his transcripts if asked. Or even if Ichirou, or that matter herself, had transcripts. Nor could she recall a graduation ceremony for anyone, nor any expectation she would work anywhere but Runesansu. Ichirou, as well, hadn’t been given much incentive to go outside the invisible walls of the neighborhood; his needs had been taken care of. Like her, he could be kept indefinitely as an instructor. Suddenly, she realized that the school’s purpose was not to cure hikikomori, but to find their talents and keep them for use by – the government, she guessed. She, although not hikikomori, was an early experiment.
Her home for most of her life was a box that she had literally become trapped in.
 “I think they will let you graduate,” Ayana lied, idly petting the cat’s head.
Ayana reluctantly returned to her room at Runesansu that night, exhausted from the effort to hold her suspicions back from Ichirou, from Haneda-sensei, from the cameras she knew were everywhere. Her books still blocked the camera, but she didn’t know if they had wired her room for sound as well. She smiled thinly at how much easier it was for her to dissemble because Japanese culture expected one to be in command of their emotions; far easier than Grace would, who wore her emotions like a flag. She hoped Grace could find a way to fade away after she graduated from her Renaissance school, before Renaissance Theory captured her.
Ayana sat on the bed and checked her messages:
I need to talk to you, Tinker typed. We have an emergent issue.
What is it? Ayana typed back, feeling her heart hammer.
Renaissance Theory is starting to move. You and Ichirou are in danger.
Ichirou is in danger, Ayana typed automatically, denying the fact that she was a Renaissance child herself. What’s the danger?
Renaissance Theory knows of Runesansu. They know you and Ichirou are there, and one of them has managed to infiltrate the Ministry of Education as a consultant. Grace Silverstein is also in danger; someone at her school seeks to capture her soon.
Ayana remembered that Lakeview, Grace’s school, was a Renaissance Theory school. What should I do? 
Leave, Ayana considered. Sneak out of Runesansu with Ichirou, just as they fled Poland six months before. And go where? Her command of the world was limited, given her relative isolation at Runesansu.
Leave Japan, Greg confirmed. Find Grace and get her out of that school. I will arrange the path for you to go.
When? Now? We have no tickets, no visas. Ayana felt helplessness wash over her.
I can arrange both. It’s relatively easy to arrange things with the right people.
You know diplomats? Ayana queried.
I know forgers. Do you have access to your passports from Poland? Are they still active? Tinker appeared to know the questions to ask. Had he done this before?
Yes, Ayana said. I can order the tickets –
No, you can’t. What if your email is monitored?
Of course, it was. Her life was monitored.
All you need to do, Tinker continued, is – is there a place where you can have mail sent that is not Runesansu?
No, Ayana breathed. I live here at Runesansu.
Is there a place where your mail could mistakenly be sent to?
Ayana thought of the cat café, so recently founded that Runesansu wouldn’t think of tracing her there. Yes, hold on – She looked up the address of the cat café and relayed it to Tinker.
Give me your passport numbers and full names, and I will overnight the tickets and instructions to the cat café. This should take a few days. The cafe should realize it’s a mistake and call you. If I have timed this right, you’ll have twelve hours to get to the airport once you get the package. I suggest you leave without any belongings you can’t carry in a bag; I’ll send money for you to buy what you need.
Who are you? Ayana asked, not for the first time.
Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy,  Tinker typed back..Trust me. I’ve got your back. Remember Poland?
Ayana could not forget Poland, but how did she know that this person – man? – who spoke to her wasn’t of Second World Renewal? How do I know you’re Tinker?
Besides the fact I want to get you out of danger? How about the pouch of money I left you at the all-night pierogi place? And the disguises I left at the train station? The Hello Kitty shirt for Ichirou?
Ayana caught her breath. Both had happened, clandestinely, without her ever meeting Tinker. Yet nobody else should know about them – You win.
I try, Tinker responded.
Ayana’s lips curled in a grin despite herself. I will await my instructions.
Ayana rummaged in the bottom of her dresser drawer for her passport and Ichirou’s. She wondered idly why Runesansu didn’t ask for them back after the ill-fated Poland trip. Finding them, she typed the information in. 
Ayana, you are amazing. Remember that.
Oh, it’s nothing, Ayana typed back, knowing that, in fact, his praise was a big thing.
The phone call from the cat café came three tense days later as Ayana and Ichirou sat quietly on their computers. Ayana read from Renaissance Theory, which she explained to Ichirou as a paper on a new educational theory, which was correct as far as it went. 
 “We have a package that has to be yours,” the voice, which seemed so young to Ayana even though she herself was still young, chirped. “It’s addressed to you, but it came to us. Can you come here to pick it up?”
 “We’ll be there in a couple minutes,” Ayana said and ended the call. She felt herself shake enough that she was sure Ichirou picked up on it.
 “Ichirou,” she said, schooling her voice to calm, “pack up your computer. We are going out to work. I need some fresh air.”
Ayana picked up her purse, where she had tucked the passports, and they walked toward the front door as if nothing was amiss.
Haneda-sensei stood in front of the front door, blocking it. Ayana felt her knees weaken and wished she could have braced herself against a wall, but that would give away her weakness. They bowed to each other.
 “Haneda-sensei,” she took a deep breath to calm her voice, “we were just going out to the café to get some fresh air. Would you like us to get something for you?”
“No, no need,” her boss and former teacher waved her off. “We all need fresh air sometimes.”
“Itte kimasu,” Ayana said. I’ll be back. She hoped Haneda hadn’t caught her lie.
“Sayonara,” Haneda-sensei said, nodding slowly.
Ayana schooled herself not to look behind her as they walked toward the cat café. She knew she gave something away in the pace she set, in her rigid posture, as if holding herself together with sheer will. Ichirou started to speak and faltered.
Soon, they arrived at the cat café, and only then did Ayana look around. The cats sauntered, the humans petted them, drinking lattes and milk tea. A small group of tourists, Caucasian, probably American by their jeans and t-shirts, sat on the floor playing with a kitten. Ayana strolled past them, up to the counter.
“I understand that you’ve received a parcel of mine?” she asked, hoping her voice did not waver.
“Yes,” the pink-haired barista with her cat ears and whiskers smiled. “What is your name?”
“Ayana Hashimoto,” she said, hoping nobody else could hear her heartbeat.
“Here,” the barista smiled and handed her an envelope, an ordinary manila envelope.
“Ichirou,” she turned to her charge. “Could you sit down for a bit while I go freshen up?” He nodded and petted the kitten.
In the bathroom, door locked, Ayana opened the parcel with shaking hands. As promised, two official work visas (forged) lay in her possession, and she hoped the technological voodoo had been done to make a legal paper trail. Two printed tickets rested there as well, for a flight that would leave Narita International in seven hours. And a credit card, with a note –
You will leave Narita and fly into Detroit Metropolitan, United States. Buy yourselves things from the duty-free shop, enough to travel with. I will text you further instructions when you get to Detroit. If you have questions, ask. You know where to find me. – Tinker
As Ayana stepped out of the door, her eyes automatically scanned the café, where Ichirou petted the round-faced calico with folded ears. She realized suddenly she didn’t need to worry, that nobody from Runesansu would come after her.
She knew it from Hareda-sensei’s word of parting:
Sayonara. A word heavy in its finality.
For the moment, she and Ichirou were safe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s