(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
The year is 2023.
Dan paused the anime at the commercial-break and brushed egg-yolk orange fabric away from his quarters’ window. The early sunset was too dark to see the smaller two Islands of Sheridan from the monastery’s position near the cloudy peak of the main mountainous one, but the full-moon’s glittering on the ocean suggested their outlines.
LuLu’s raised a lot of questions, and meeting Virgil Green had only raised more. Dan left his quarters for the monastery courtyard. Fourteen more monks were sitting facing their preferred topiary, each monk with a unique combination of skin-color and robe-color. Virgil Blue wasn’t in sight. “Oran dora,” Dan whispered. He could still speak just the simplest Sheridanian. “[Where’s Virgil Blue?]”
“[Collecting centipedes,]” said a pink girl in yellow robes.
Dan left the monastery and circled around it to climb higher up the main island. Above the altitude of the bell-tower’s top, wild thorny black bushes each bore a ball of long tangled fruits with little orange legs. Virgil Blue walked bush to bush inspecting the centipedes for ripeness. “Virgil Blue, is your name really Nemo?”
“Oran dora, Danny. Call me what you want.”
“Tatsu‘s rendition of the Biggest Bird names the first man ‘Nemo.’ ” Dan flipped through a few manga-pages. “Really, now, I wouldn’t still be in your monastery if I didn’t resonate with your lessons, Virgil Blue. Sheridan’s creation-myth adds science to Genesis and mixes in some Quetzalcoatl… but for me to say I believe these lessons literally, I’d need to hear more about your experience during the beginning of time.”
“Do you need to believe my lessons literally?” When Virgil Blue found the right centipede-bush, he shook his sleeve and a bird-bone knife fell into his grip. He used the knife’s tip to pry a centipede’s orange legs off the rest of the fruit-ball. “Isn’t it possible I provide lessons with customized metaphorical symbolism so your interpretation empowers you in ways literal lessons never could?”
“Um. I guess?” Dan covered his face with the manga-volume. “Virgil Green says you want me to die before you do. I’ll need something more solid than a metaphor to show you’re this immortal Nemo-guy.”
“Danny, look at me.” Virgil Blue pulled a centipede out of the bush. He wrapped it around the ten black spots of his cane’s gnarled tip. “My hooded navy robes are literal, aren’t they? My silver mask, too.”
“But you wear those to look like the Biggest Bird, right? That’s still a metaphor.”
“What does Nemo mean, Danny?”
“Literally? ‘Nemo’ is Latin for ‘no one.’ Odysseus calls himself Nemo in The Odyssey to trick a cyclops.” Dan snapped his fingers. “So you’re Nemo because you’ve discarded yourself to become ‘no one’ in a spiritual quest seeking emptiness.”
“Was Odysseus ‘no one,’ Danny?”
“Um.” When Virgil Blue asked retaliatory questions like this, Dan got the impression he was supposed to have reached some conclusion ages ago. He felt the best recourse was asking questions back, like he’d come to an even better conclusion long before. “No, but he’s a fictional character. Are you a fictional character, Virgil Blue?”
“Aren’t we all?” Virgil Blue investigated more centipede-bushes. He and Dan had no trouble navigating between them in the dark if they avoided the fog around the island’s peak. In fact, avoiding the cloudy peak was one of Sheridan’s three easy rules. “Odysseus isn’t the only Nemo in the bell-tower library. You can name at least one more.”
Dan bit his lip. “Nakayama named the first man ‘Nemo’ because she was thinking of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. ‘Captain’ Nemo had a submarine, the Nautilus.” Virgil Blue looked back at him. Dan could see the Virgil was smiling wide under the mask. “Captain Nemo died in The Mysterious Island.“
“His last words?”
” ‘God and my country!’ “
” ‘Independence,’ originally,” said Virgil Blue. “Editing replaced Captain Nemo’s sovereignty with religion and nationalism.” Virgil Blue decided his one centipede was enough. He led Dan back to the monastery. “Stop trying to find ‘Nemo.’ What other texts did the Biggest Bird reference in your sequential art?”
“Nakayama mentions a classic giant space-robot manga, actually. Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo.” Dan found the pages where the professor dreamt through the Hurricane’s legacy-files. “Until you let me annotate LuLu’s, Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo was the only manga in the monastery.”
“I annotated it myself,” said Virgil Blue. “Open the gate for me, Danny.”
Dan opened the monastery’s heavy wooden gate. “I think Daitatsu is only mentioned in LuLu’s as a hidden signature from the anonymous author, Tatsu.“
“Finish the episode, Danny. Maybe Tatsu is sending a message on multiple channels at once.”
Dan slid open his orange paper door, but didn’t enter his quarters yet. “I’ve always been curious, Virgil Blue—what do Sheridanians use centipedes for? Virgil Green explained they can show you your worms in the next eternity, but I’ve never actually seen anyone do it.”
“I forgot, you didn’t experience this yourself, did you, Danny?” Virgil Blue unwrapped the centipede from his cane. “When Virgil Green’s students finally climb to my monastery, I promote them from fledgling to monk with an entheogenic ceremony. With my guidance, a centipede doesn’t just show you your worms; it can reveal both eternities from the perspective of the Biggest Bird.”
“Oh.” Dan covered his face again. “Why didn’t I get that ceremony? Is it because I once smoked a centipede without your supervision?”
“Jay did the entheogenic ceremony for you, Danny.”
Dan shook. “Was that what killed him?”
Virgil Blue walked down the hall without another word.