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Vol. 7, No. 2

Mirror Studies
by Mary Yukari Waters

Mirror Studies

The Kashigawa district, two hours from the Endos’ home in Tokyo, was an isolated farming community with two claims to distinction: indigenous harrier monkeys up in the hills, and a new restaurant—Fireside Rations—that served “rice” made from locally grown yams. This restaurant had been featured in an Asahi Shimbun article about the trendy resurgence of wartime food, also known as nostalgia cuisine, and it had received special mention on NHK’s thirty-minute Rural Getaways show. City dwellers, jaded by French and Madeiran cuisine, were flocking out on weekends to try it. It seemed a fitting place for Dr. Kenji Endo; his wife, Sumiko; and Dr. Ogawa to toast the start of a new primate field study.
          This field study would be Kenji’s last. Sumiko had insisted on it, quoting the doctor about the seriousness of his arrhythmia. “There’s enough work for you at the university,” she said, “where you’ll have access to phones and doctors.” Kenji had conceded with ill humor. Even now, at odd moments, that decision pressed hard on his chest, where he felt his heart galumphing under the skin. He was lucky, he supposed, to have this last project, a mere thirty-minute drive from this small town of Kashigawa. It would require almost no physical exertion; he had deliberately confined his mirror experiments to the provisioning area where monkeys came to feed.
          Tonight, dressing for dinner at the Red Monkey Inn, Kenji stood behind his wife, who was fluffing her hair before the vanity mirror, and faced his own reflection. It pleased him that at fifty-eight he still looked good, belying the heart condition that, despite medication or perhaps because of it, had drained him over the past three months (“What happened to those pompous monologues of yours?” a close friend had joked recently). He was permanently tanned from years of working in the wilds of Borneo and Madagascar, and beneath his pressed spring suit he retained the lithe frame and hard calves of a trekker. Unlike Dr. Ogawa, whom they were meeting tonight, Kenji still had a full head of salt-and-pepper hair which he parted in a dashing side sweep each morning. His only visible symptom of age was a tendency to walk or stand with knees slightly bent: the first sign of a curved back, according to his secretary at the university. He always caught himself, therefore, and corrected it immediately.
          “I’d forgotten,” his wife remarked, “how common yams are in Kashigawa. I’m surprised we didn’t get one in our welcome basket.” She smiled enigmatically at her reflection, turning her profile this way and that. Sumiko had grown up on the west side of this district, in a small hamlet long since swallowed up by postwar suburbs. Secure in her own sophistication, she often amused their city friends with anecdotes from her rural childhood.
          “The monkeys today sure liked them, ne?” Kenji said. Ordinarily, he discussed primates for hours on end—anytime, with anyone—but lately this tendency had abated. He found himself economizing in other ways as well: if he needed a book from another room, he put off rising from his chair until it was time to use the bathroom; he sat silent in the chair while working through a complex thought process, rather than pacing the room and talking aloud as he was accustomed. He sensed how this slower pace hampered his creativity, his greatest asset, and this realization also lay heavy on his chest. For so long now, his mental agility—augmented by his affiliation with the nation’s most elite university and a long and respected publishing career—had cleared his every path like a red carpet. As a young man, naturally, he had battled hard for advancement. But that was decades ago; until the advent of his arrhythmia, he could barely remember how it felt to be thwarted.
          On this particular evening, however, Kenji was in fine form. He was eager to talk. His thoughts sprang up, keen and full bodied, like stringed notes plucked by a koto master. He had felt this way for two whole days now, and he harbored a secret hope that his heart problems were receding as mysteriously as they had once appeared. Luckier things had happened in his lifetime. “Did you notice,” he said, “how they peeled the yams with their incisors, then washed them in the stream?”
          “Aaa, aaa,” Sumiko agreed, “you showed me.” She powdered her nose, leaning in close to the mirror. “Like miniature housewives,” she said, “with those little black dexterous hands.”
          There was an emotional hardiness about Sumiko that Kenji assumed came from her country stock or—more likely—from being married to him. He had always appreciated this quality in her, like a rope to which he, the mountain climber, could entrust his full weight. “I’m a research widow,” she had mourned jokingly in their early years, as Kenji departed for one exotic locale after another. “Wave bye-bye to Papa-san,” she told their toddler, Toji, carrying him in one arm and demonstrating with the other. After Toji entered high school, she immediately joined several women’s committees; the experience had added a gloss of poise to her unruffled core. “A charming woman!” people often said of Kenji’s wife.
          “Their food washing is learned behavior,” Kenji told her. “It’s one of the brightest discoveries credited to Japanese researchers.”
          “Aaa,” Sumiko murmured, blotting her lipstick with a tissue.
          “Because it’s proto–tool use, you see, which is a key component of human culture.”
          This afternoon’s tour of the site had been brief, just to confirm all was in order. Dr. Ogawa and his assistant, who were actually here on a project of their own, had been kind enough to set up Kenji’s freestanding mirror for him, lugging it up the dirt trail and propping it securely in the middle of the clearing. The monkeys would have unlimited access to this mirror before official tests were performed; this would allow plenty of time for them to establish familiarity with it.
          “In the first mirror study eleven years ago,” Kenji explained to Dr. Ogawa later that evening at the restaurant, “a few orangutans actually showed signs of self-recognition. The same with chimpanzees. An exciting discovery! But then that study of Japanese snow monkeys, headed by my friend Itakura—do you know Itakura?”
          Dr. Ogawa, who dealt with physiology rather than cognitive behavior, did not. But he had run across articles.
          “Well, anyhow, that study was a disappointment. The monkeys interpreted the reflections to be either other members of the same species or else meaningless images. So the obvious question is—”
          “Is there a rift between monkey and ape,” Sumiko provided, rummaging in her handbag and pulling out a handkerchief.
          “—soh soh, exactly. Whether it indicates a major evolutionary discontinuity.”
          “Fascinating,” breathed Dr. Ogawa’s assistant.
          “I think it’s pretty early for a conclusion like that,” said Dr. Ogawa.
          Kenji halted him with a raised forefinger, nodding. Absolutely, he said. There were so many unexplored variables. Some apes, such as gorillas, showed no self-recognition whatsoever. He personally suspected a correlation between a species’ level of aggression and its concept of self. “Wouldn’t aggression be the natural result,” he said, “of a capacity for self-awareness being developed and adapted for survival?” These Kashigawa monkeys represented a strain of macaque that was, with the exception of baboons, one of the most ferocious in the entire primate order. He hoped this characteristic would make for some interesting findings.
          “On what grounds?” Dr. Ogawa asked.
          “It’s still a hunch at this stage,” Kenji said. A good many such hunches had paid off during his career. Much of this, he knew, was sheer luck, but surely some of the credit went to a scientist’s gift for inventiveness, for subconscious mental connections. He loved telling the story of Einstein, whose theory of relativity had begun with a childish fantasy of riding on a beam of light. “I have some latitude to explore as I go,” he now said.
          “Aggression studies must be ‘in’ again,” Dr. Ogawa said grimly. “Psychologists, sociologists, they’re all whipped up about it.”
          Kenji laughed. He felt invincible tonight, closer to his old self than he had been in a while; he was conscious that every good hour, indeed every good minute, was ensuring his odds of recovery. “Our nation has a hunger,” he explained, forearms leaning heavily on the dinner table as if it were a podium, “given our experience with the most destructive war in modern history, to understand what seed within humans made it possible. We can look back now from the safe distance of time. Even this wartime cuisine—I think it’s all part of the process.”
          Dr. Ogawa, a middle-age medical man with little regard for trends of the masses and even less for culinary fads, drank his Asahi beer and looked skeptical. He was collecting DNA samples for a study of pathogens and sialic acids, a process that led him and his assistant far out into the hills with their stun guns. Dr. Ogawa vaguely reminded Kenji of alpha-male apes he had studied in the past. Not in any aggressive sense but rather in the quiet force of his linear focus, that unrelenting, almost brute push of each thought to the very end. Kenji looked forward to some interesting debates. He knew from a colleague that Dr. Ogawa was fairly well known within physiology circles.
          “Soh soh, wartime cuisine,” sighed Dr. Ogawa’s assistant, a weary-eyed graduate student whom Dr. Ogawa perversely addressed by the babyish nickname of Kana-chan. “We’re simply inundated with it,” he said, with a prim moue of distaste comically identical to Dr. Ogawa’s.
          Kenji laughed out loud at this, slapped his thigh. His exuberance had been rising all evening. His heartbeat was returning to normal—yes! he could sense it, with that intuition for success that had seldom failed him in the past. “You’re absolutely right!” he said generously. Speaking of war cuisine, he told the table, two okonomiyaki places had sprung up in his own neighborhood. Kenji, having grown up in the city during the war and the occupation that followed, remembered those crispy pancakes: meager substitutes for rationed rice, their flour content barely enough to bind together leftover scraps of cabbage or turnip stems. Nowadays, of course, such ingredients were upgraded for modern consumption.
          “Rock shrimp! Calamari! Filet mignon!” Kenji crowed. “They’ve missed the entire point!”
          His audience laughed appreciatively, the assistant most heartily of all.
          “Way before your time, Kana-chan,” Dr. Ogawa teased, patting the young man’s shoulder. Kana-chan flushed and stopped laughing.
          Their waiter approached. In the muted candlelight (Kenji took out his reading glasses), they peered down at the identical bowls set before them. Yam rice, the waiter said, was unique to this region. First, yams were mashed. Binding glutens were added, and the mixture was strained through a large-holed colander into boiling water. The resulting noodlelike strands, once cooked, were chopped into rice-size bits. These were bleached, then finally roasted.
          “All that work,” murmured Sumiko, “just so they could pretend they were eating rice.” The rice had a chewy, nutty texture not unlike that of brown rice, although its flavor was largely masked by salt and azuki beans.
          From nowhere, a familiar tiredness hit Kenji. The shock and disappointment of it paralyzed him; he had put so much faith in this comeback. He sat still, feeling himself descending in slow motion beneath the bright surface of the dinner conversation, as if to the bottom of a sea.
          With this underwater sensation, which so often accompanied his fluctuations in blood flow, he gazed dully at his wife sitting before him. She was eating slowly, pensively, deep in a world of her own. He recalled her saying once at a dinner party that her own mother, who had died when Sumiko was in middle school, used to reminisce about eating yam rice while she was pregnant with Sumiko. He wondered if his wife was remembering this now. It was strange how these small shifts in blood flow could open him up to the sadness of things, like a receding tide exposing sea creatures crumpled on the sand. His wife’s way of eating this dish struck him as profound, an acknowledgment of all the loss and longing that had created it.
          “Think of all the labor they could have saved,” Kana-chan was saying, “if they’d just baked their yams instead.”
          Tiredness poured in from all sides now, like sand into a hole, infusing Kenji with an unaccustomed sense of disadvantage. The new generation, he thought. Never gone hungry, never had a familiar world jerked out from under its feet. Before this young mind, as hard and green as an unripe peach, Kenji felt unaccountably uneasy.

~

“Irregular heartbeats have various causes,” Kenji’s doctor had told him at the beginning. “For example, minuscule heart attacks over time can build up scar tissue, which interferes with electrical impulses.”
          “But I have excellent arteries. My blood pressure, my cholesterol, everything’s in a good range!”
          “Well, then,” the doctor said—briskly, as if nipping a pointless argument in the bud—“yours must be hereditary. These flaws do crop up in later years, and we can’t always explain them.”
          It was unnerving to think how confidently he had stridden through life, utterly ignorant of what defects lurked in his genes. Now, weeks into his study, Kenji mulled it over again, sitting at the edge of the dirt clearing and observing the macaques. Five or six of them, sated from a lunch of yams, loitered thirty meters away, grooming each other or strolling about on all fours. Directly overhead the sumac leaves rustled, intermittently letting in a blinding flash of sun. Kenji closed his eyes—it was just for a moment, the monkeys were nowhere near the mirror—and orange flooded his eyelids, the warmth pressing down on his face and body like a blanket. He felt great solace in the midst of this loudness that was nature: the back-and-forth of birds, the drilling of a woodpecker, the alternating drone and chi-chi-chi of insects, the grunt of a monkey.
          How he would miss fieldwork: this riotous energy all about him, each cell living with all its might, yet synchronized in cycles of deceptive efficiency.
          Kenji’s fascination with nature had started when he was six, when his family had evacuated to the countryside to stay with relatives after the Namiki bombing. He still looked back on those months as the finest in his childhood. One day his granny had taken him to a dense pine thicket to pick shiitake mushrooms with other villagers, wicker baskets slung over their backs. They had all roared with good-natured laughter whenever someone forgot and leaned over too far, causing the contents of his basket to come tumbling out . . .
          “Everything in nature is put here on purpose,” his granny had told him, pushing apart mushrooms as soft as flesh, “to keep something else alive. Nature knows exactly what it’s doing.” And the boy, young as he was, had grasped something of this omniscient bounty. He felt secure and protected on those rainy nights when they all hunched over the brazier, mouths watering for roasted mushrooms and quail eggs.
          Later, as a young man, Kenji attempted to recreate the wonder of those early days by studying the natural sciences, which promised ever-widening vistas of discovery. His focus on primate sociology was a lucky accident—the influence of a particularly charismatic mentor—or so he had always believed. But in the past few months, as he looked back on his career, it had occurred to Kenji that his specialty was a logical, if somewhat extreme, extension of his nostalgia for living off the land. In primate society was the essence of oneness with nature that humans must once have had, muddied now by all the ills of modern life. At this late age, Kenji felt a rueful tenderness for his early idealism; and perhaps because of this, he had become unduly disheartened during yesterday’s talk with Dr. Ogawa.
          Over the past few weeks, the two men had held some interesting discussions as they drove into town in the evenings (Kana-chan had to stay behind, sorting specimens). Both Kenji and Dr. Ogawa were interested in the concept of evolutionary divergence.
          “New studies tell us,” Dr. Ogawa had said, as they descended past terrace after terrace of rice paddies darkening in the twilight, “that human DNA is almost identical to that of primates. Almost identical. How is this possible? What accounts, then, for the vast difference between the species?”
          A few months ago, Kenji would have made an irreverent quip about not being so sure there was a vast difference, following it up with various conjectures of his own. Since the yam-rice dinner, however, his old economy had returned. This evening, weary, he merely shook his head with a hnn sound.
          “Sialic acids,” Dr. Ogawa said with quiet relish. “That’s one of the clues.” Characteristic of his step-by-step thought process, he started at the beginning. Sialic acids acted as a protective layer over a species’ DNA structure, shielding it from invasion and alteration by outside viruses. It had been discovered, only recently, that human sialic acids have a makeup distinctly different from that of other primates’.
          “Which would suggest,” Dr. Ogawa said, “that each species was influenced, over time, by different viruses.”
          Dr. Ogawa’s theory was this: Long ago, in humans, some virus tampered with the delicate balance of electrical impulses that limits the size of every mammalian brain. “So now humans are born with open sutures in the skull to accommodate further brain growth,” Dr. Ogawa said, “whereas every other mammal continues to be born with a fully knit skull.”
          “So what you’re saying,” Kenji said dully, “is that our larger brains, our self-awareness, basically everything that makes us uniquely human, is in direct violation of nature’s internal control system?”
          “Maa maa, Endo-san, isn’t that a dire interpretation! Evolution is all about mutation.”
          Kenji could sense his own brain firing, working, but in that slow, underwater way, the clean lines of scientific thought tangling in the kelp of his personal sorrows. “A mutation like this would have enormous repercussions,” he said finally. “It casts a whole new light on humans running amok over the biosphere. The human brain as the supreme anomaly, a divine defect . . .” A sense of futility had washed over him, and in spite of himself he sought Dr. Ogawa’s eyes for reassurance.
          Dr. Ogawa’s eyes, squinting suspiciously behind the lenses of his eyeglasses, seemed small and far away, as if seen from the other end of a telescope. “Defect? What, like de-evolution? What kind of unscientific talk is that?”
          “Viruses, too, thrive by ravaging their own environment,” Kenji said. In the deepening dusk, the dirt road glowed whitely before them.
          “Interesting. I suppose one could find similarities.” Dr. Ogawa turned his headlights on. “But why make moral judgments about life-forms?”
          A woodpecker, drilling directly above his head, brought Kenji back to the present. He opened his eyes. His recent problems suddenly seemed alien compared with the sunny scene before him, tasseled grasses waving and everything in perfect harmony down to the pyoo-pyoo of a whitetail: one giant, attuned orchestra. He had a fleeting impression that his arrhythmia was the consequence of straying so far, over the decades, from the simple faith he had once known as a boy. How much this career of his had cost him: the joys of a simple home life, the bonds he might have forged with a son now grown and distant in Wakayama.
          One of the monkeys, a young male, had ambled over to the mirror and now sat hunched before it with his back to Kenji, unmoving. Typical beta behavior, he thought automatically. An alpha would have charged the mirror or bared its teeth. But in another few weeks they would all be sitting sideways before the mirror, monitoring the scene by glancing back and forth between the clearing and the reflected image.
          In the freestanding mirror, Kenji could make out the monkey’s close-set eyes peering unblinkingly at its own small, reddened face. Seen from the rear he looked pitifully human, tiny shoulder blades poking up through the fur, and Kenji had the same urge he used to have when his son was small, to rest his hand on that narrow back. Primates moved him, as did children, by all they were incapable of understanding.

~

When Kenji came home that night (they had by now transferred from the Red Monkey Inn to a condominium overlooking the Kashigawa valley), his wife was boiling something in the kitchen. Its pungent, earthy smell hit him as soon as he opened the door.
          “They’re wild fuki shoots from the hills where your monkeys are,” Sumiko told him. She looked excited and happy. “A woman at the market gave me the recipe.” Her hair was wrapped up, peasant-style, in one of the dyed indigo kerchiefs native to the area. Her dark-skinned face, washed clean of cosmetics and glistening from the heat of the stove, put him in mind of the healthy country women of his childhood.
          “Ara, you’re cooking!” he said in mock surprise. “What’s going on? Is this the latest in country chic?”
          She gave an embarrassed little laugh, pulling off her new kerchief as she did so, and once again she was the university wife from Tokyo. “So how’s your medication working?” she asked, businesslike.
          “So-so,” Kenji said. He couldn’t help an inward cringe; his condition was a fragile thing, to be cradled in the soft recesses of his mind and handled, only at the right time and with utmost delicacy, by no one but himself.
          “Try not to get your hopes up,” Sumiko said. “Remember what the doctor said? That a certain level of fatigue is probably unavoidable?”
          “Aaa, aaa, right.”         
          “Try to be more careful about long hours, and don’t run yourself down. Remember, you have a serious condition.”
          “Aaa! Aaa!” He escaped to the bathroom for his predinner bath, which was ready and steaming under its heavy lid. Sumiko had purchased some old-fashioned gourd loofahs, as well as an array of local beauty products. Kenji picked up, then put down, a small jar of soy curd labeled the beauty lotion of our mothers. It was unseemly, an intelligent woman like Sumiko embracing this wartime trend like she was a member of the masses. It occurred to him, briefly, to wonder about her day-to-day life, so closely linked to his and yet riddled with mysterious gaps. He tried imagining it: a slower pace, a narrower scope, the kind of world he himself had always resisted.
          Settled in his bath now, his mind restfully blank, Kenji gazed down at his body wavering beneath the shifting water. It always came as something of a jar, after a full day of observing primates, to view the naked human form: the vestigial shortness of the arms, the pink, hairless skin, vulnerable and fetuslike.
          Evolution is all about mutation.
          That talk with Dr. Ogawa had vaguely reminded Kenji of the ideas of another scientist, and he now remembered, with the satisfying click of a fact falling into place, who it was. Buffon—a French naturalist from the eighteenth century—had proposed that humans, biologically speaking, were born at least a year too soon. Kenji had read him many years ago, in the context of another topic which he could not recall, and at the time he had found the man’s claims entertaining but not particularly relevant to his work. Buffon claimed that man was forced to complete, within society, a psychological development that all other species accomplished within the womb. As Kenji recalled, this had to do with the human head being too large to be carried full term. Man’s problems, apparently, traced back to this prematurity of birth.
          Buffon’s idea had been bolstered in the 1920s by another European—Ludwig Bolk—who proved that mutations inhibiting maturation did occur naturally in animals.
          Kenji closed his eyes and conjured up the perfection of the afternoon: the sound of leaves and insects and birds weaving together into one drowsy murmur, the monkeys seated on the ground, gnawing on yams with their hairy legs splayed out before them. Like Eden, according to the Western conception: the paradise from which man was banished almost immediately after his creation. Kenji recalled that Christianity, unlike the Eastern religions, held humans to be distinct from animals, born under a shadow of original sin. Well, perhaps they had tapped into something. Clues were everywhere. How odd that he had never noticed.
          “Dinner’s ready!” called Sumiko from the hallway.

~

Unfortunately, Kenji’s medication brought on proarrhythmia, an exacerbation of his preexisting condition. “Saa, who knows why?” his doctor had said blandly, ignoring Kenji’s glare of exasperated disgust. “Every so often, antiarrhythmic drugs have tricky side effects.” An appointment had been made for a pacemaker installation.
          The operation was to take place in three days. This afternoon, sprawled in a chair on the condominium terrace, Kenji mulled over the mirror test that he planned to administer the next day. It was the first and most basic of the series: anesthetizing the monkeys, painting green dye on their heads, then seeing if the recovered monkeys touched their own heads while looking in the mirror.
          It worried him that, after almost two months of loose observation, he had come up with no significant brainstorms, unusual connections, or inspirations for more tailored tests. Loose observation was usually his most fertile period, when chance details coupled with spontaneous insights guided the course of his study, refining a general hunch into a testable hypothesis. But this time, although he earnestly, even desperately, watched the monkeys grooming or fingering the mirror or leaping lightly from branch to branch, nothing clicked into place. He was like a thick-witted detective at a crime scene, unable to make sense of clues right before his eyes.
          Never mind, Kenji told himself. He gave a curt sigh and glanced at his watch. It was a little after four. In a few hours, his new assistant from the university, whom he had recruited to handle the monkey anesthetization as well as any lifting or dragging, would be coming by to go over the checklist.
          “I still don’t see why you can’t put off your experiment until we get back from Tokyo,” Sumiko said. She was sitting beside him on the terrace, alternately squinting at an instruction manual and weaving something out of rattan.
          Kenji brushed away her words with one hand, as if they were flies. She’s like Ogawa, he thought with a flare of helpless fury. A horse with blinders.
          They sat silent. The terrace overlooked the south end of the  Kashigawa valley, and the cluttered towns lay faint and ephemeral in the dense daze. To Kenji’s left loomed the hills of his final project, so close he could distinguish the colors of certain trees. Despite the patchwork of lime-colored rice paddies encroaching on their lower regions, the hills gave off an ancient air, as if they had never been shadowed by anything but clouds and an occasional red hawk.
          After some time, Kenji glanced over at his wife. Her arm, weaving the rattan stalk in and out, moved as serenely as a swimmer’s.
          “What are you making?” he asked.
          “A pouch,” she replied, “for hard-boiled eggs.”
          “Aaa.”
          They fell silent once more. Below them in the valley a train whistle sliced the air, echoing the mournful, delayed quality of Kenji’s mind.
          “The first time I ever rode the slow train,” Sumiko said, “my mother packed hard-boiled eggs in a straw pouch. We peeled them on the train, and ate them.” She said this absently, unmindful of his response, as a mother might talk to herself in the company of a child. Kenji felt himself freeze as he instinctively did before creatures in the wild, peacefully eating and as yet unaware of a human presence.
          “The window was open, the breeze was blowing in,” Sumiko continued, “and you could smell the iron heated up by the sun. We were so hungry in those days. And the eggs tasted so good, with a sprinkle of salt. It was a wonderful day.”
          “Is that why you’re making this bag?”
          His wife looked up, suddenly self-conscious. She regarded him for a moment, with dark eyes as unfathomable as a primate’s. “I thought it might be nice to take a train ride,” she said. “Just for a couple of stops.”
          Kenji was jolted out of his own self-regard. His no-nonsense wife of thirty years, with her dinner-party conversations—how long had she harbored such longings? He pictured her sitting alone by the window (did train windows even open anymore?), a woman past middle age, peeling an egg. He remembered her eating yam rice at the restaurant, and he felt a pity so deep he could not tell where it ended and his arrhythmia began.
          “June is nice here in Kashigawa,” he said gently. Then, after a pause, “I know what you mean . . . When I was a boy, I once picked mushrooms in the forest.” Nodding, his wife resumed her handicraft. They said no more.
          This is married life, thought Kenji. Suddenly his underwater state seemed not so much a banishment as the entering of a new realm, with the slowly dawning kinship of divers who swim among the fish. In him welled up a strong allegiance with Sumiko, with his entire aging generation reaching back for its simple beginnings. What countless private Edens they had managed to extract from the war . . .
          Sumiko got up to attend to something in the kitchen. Kenji remained sitting in the evening light, which now slanted low over the hills and cast pink shadows on the valley haze. And as effortlessly as the spreading of the light—not with the clean scientific click of old, but with a soft suffusion—his allegiance widened out over his entire flawed race, with its fierce need to create beauty for itself.
          A memory floated up in his mind. Madagascar, early in his career: towering stone crags whose jagged outcroppings snapped beneath his boots with high-pitched pings, and below them, the famous sunken forests where lemurs lived. The forests had been created, millions of years ago, by earth collapsing into itself for kilometers around, destroying all life in its wake and forever changing the land’s topography. Kenji was a young man, and the forest’s lush beauty had astonished him.
          “Isn’t life a resilient force,” one senior member of their party had remarked as the scientists gazed upward in wonder, faces tinted green from the virgin foliage, “turning the worst of its disasters into something like this.”

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