G3. The Great Stand

Jango told Faith about returning to the great plains of Kansas to stand on a concrete porch outside an apartment complex. Jango, in his early fifties, brushed wrinkles from his robes and sighed to clear his mind before knocking. A woman peeked through the window-blinds and, seeing Jango, opened the door. “Can I help you?”

“Please, thank you. I am looking for my brother Jun.”

“Jun doesn’t get many guests.” She led him through some corridors. “He never mentioned a brother.”

“I haven’t come back to Kansas in more than a decade.”

“I don’t think your brother’s left the apartment in about as long.” The woman stopped at a door on the first floor. It didn’t have a room number. “We let Jun rent the basement for cheap.”

Jango knocked and waited, but no answer came. He opened the basement door and blinked in the dark. It smelled like someone had lived there for months with little ventilation. “Jun?”

“Don’t turn on the lights.”

Jango lifted his robes to watch his step down the stairs. “Jun, oran dora! I’m visiting from Sheridan! Why are you in the basement?”

“So I can control the lights.” In a lone spotlight, Jun sat hunched over his desk. He was about forty-five years old and more than slightly overweight. He aimed the spotlight at a pencil sketch. “Just visiting, huh? You’re going back to Sheridan, then. Why’d you bother coming back?”

“The Virgils taught me the importance of family.”

“Yeah? And after visiting you’ll return to Sheridan for another decade or two, to learn more about family.” Jun brushed eraser crumbs onto the floor. He redrew some lines in pencil. “What a joke.”

Jango approached from behind, but Jun did not turn. “You’re wounding me, brother.”

“I hope so.” Jun glanced at Jango over his shoulder. “You shaved your head.”

“Sheridanians shave when they visit religious sites. Most monks are always bald.”

“So you’re still a monk? You’re not a Virgil yet?” Jun brushed hair from his face. His mane was long and unwashed. “Our parents weren’t happy when you left Kansas. Now you’ve come back after they’re both dead, and you’re not even enlightened.”

“I’ve learned much from Sheridan. In my pilgrimage I danced with fledglings in a bird’s mask for many moons, wearing only feathers. I walked circles until my feet blistered, and sat chanting until my pelvis ached. Virgil Green’s lectures pried the folds of my brain apart and showed me the true shape of reality, in the Biggest Bird’s form.” Jun shook his head. Jango continued anyway. “Earning Virgil Green’s approval, I swam to the main island. It took twelve hours. For six hours I swore I would drown, and for the other six I was drowning. But when I crawled onto the beach, a bird laid an egg in front of me and poked a hole in the shell with its mate’s tail-feather. I drank the raw egg and it rejuvenated me. I hiked to the white-walled monastery in the manner of the birds, nude and unseen behind pines, sleeping in the road at night. When I arrived at Virgil Blue’s monastery I was gifted this sky-blue robe. Having studied there for some time, I decided to visit my brother, who surely missed me.”

“You never called, you never wrote.”

“I wrote a letter as soon as I arrived at the monastery. I addressed it to our childhood home; you must have moved into this basement by then. Since I did not receive any postage from you, I never learned of your change of address. It was quite difficult to find you.” Jango sighed the matter away. “How is your comic coming along?”

“It’s not a comic, it’s a manga. Not that you’d care. You always made fun of me for watching cartoons, and reading comics.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Jango interlaced his fingers and let his sleeves fall over his hands. “What was the show we both liked? The anime, I mean? Mid-nineteen-fifties, about combining dragon-robots?”

Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo. The Great Dragon’s Eternal Guardianship.” Jun at last barely turned his face to acknowledge Jango’s presence. “You know, that title’s mistranslated. They probably thought the first word was dairyuu” He wrote two characters on scratch paper, a star-shape and a moon in a hat near a serpent. “The great dragon. But actually, it was daitatsu—” More characters: the same star-shape, and a foot stomping on a snake. “That’s initiating a political action. Literally, to stand up against something. It’s sort of a pun, because the word ‘dragon’ might be pronounced tatsu depending on the circumstance. All of humanity fights as one, represented by the fully combined dragon-robot.”

大龍 Dairyuu, the Great Dragon

大起つ Daitatsu, the Great Stand

“This guy?” Jango retrieved from his sleeves a humanoid figurine. Jun took it with trembling fingertips. “Virgil Blue gave it to me. He received it on a pilgrimage to Japan.” Jun turned the figurine over and over. Each limb was a different color combined at the torso with mechanical seams. Each shin, each thigh, each forearm, each shoulder, the chest, and the head all bore snarling snake-faces, like armor forged to frighten foes. “Under the Blue Virgil’s bell-tower there is an ancient library stocked with books from the past, present, and future. The Virgils annotate works as they become contemporary, and their relation to the Biggest Bird understood. Among those books is a complete collection of Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo’s original manga run, in Japanese, which the current Virgil Blue was meant to annotate. Virgil Blue traveled to Tokyo to meet the author and gain insight for annotations. The author, seeing how Virgil Blue owned the full run of the series before the final issues were even conceived, understood the Virgil to be divine and gave him the figurine to thank him for the visit.”

Jun set the miniature giant robot on his desk and tested the articulation. In the show, each colored limb could separate into an independent fighting machine. “Virgil Blue. Isn’t that the old man with the walking stick like a cricket, who stole you from the family?”

“Yes,” said Jango. “To be fair, I had my own house and a job when I decided to leave for Sheridan. I was forty and I’d lived in Kansas all my life.” His little brother turned away from him, and Jango knew he shouldn’t press the matter. “When I found the manga in my studies at Sheridan, I questioned Virgil Blue. He showed me the figurine and I was awestruck. I told him about watching the anime with my little brother, and Blue insisted I pass the robot on to you. There are no coincidences.”

“Say I believe you.” Jun penned some pencil lines. “There’s an ancient library, renting out the whole run of Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo since the dawn of time. Why? Why would that manga be so important?”

Jango chewed his tongue. “When Virgil Green expressed the Biggest Bird with paradoxical descriptions and asked us impossible questions, I wondered how so many aspects could be held at once in one vessel. Virgil Blue taught me the Biggest Bird is the Mountain’s messiah, hence the rarer name for the Biggest Bird, the Heart of the Mountain. To me, this made it worse: the Mountain contains all things, so I didn’t mind that it contained contradictions; the Biggest Bird, being a mere messenger of the Mountain, should have been lesser or subordinate, not equally complex. But when I saw Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo in the ancient library, I understood. The fully-combined dragon-robot couldn’t be piloted by all of humanity at once because disparate parts would bicker and get in one-another’s way. Instead each limb’s pilot represents a few nations, so the fully-combined dragon-robot signifies the whole of Earth trimmed of fat and hungry for battle. In the same way, the Mountain’s many aspects are expressed in the Biggest Bird. But unlike the Mountain, birds can be beheld by mortal mind! The Mountain sent the Biggest Bird to show mankind the full glory of manifested non-duality without overwhelming us. The Mountain put its vital aspects into its Heart, and the Heart leads us to the Mountain so we may become sheer aspects ourselves, eternal and undying. The individual dragon-robots are each nation’s pride, and combining those robots represents the eternal guardianship of humanity’s collective consciousness. So too does the Mountain paint its greatest contrast in the Biggest Bird.”

Jun thought about Jango’s speech, at first sucking on his own lips with doubt but eventually shaking his head with reluctant acceptance. “I want to write my own manga inspired by Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo. I’m done writing the story and finalizing the designs. Now I’m drawing the first issue.” Jun showed his older brother his giant space-robot sketch. Jango expected a stylized sci-fi mecha, but Jun’s robot had weirdly human proportions. Seams separated the arms and neck from the torso, but there were no legs. “In my story, the whole universe except the Milky Way was eaten by a monster called the Hurricane. These robots and their pilots are called the Zephyrs, and they protect the galaxy.”

Jango rubbed one eye until it cleared enough to make out details. “The chest-Zephyr has a pony-tail.”

“That’s Princess Lucia. Everyone thinks she’s the Earth’s last hope against the Hurricane, but she dies giving birth due to grievous injury in battle. Her daughter Lucille grows to surpass her, and she takes the fight to the Hurricane.”

“I’m proud of you, Jun. Your art is quite distinguished.” Jango ran his fingers over the dry ink. “You wrote it in Japanese?”

“Mom taught me,” said Jun. “When you left, our parents had one kid to carry their legacy. Mom taught me Japanese and Dad made me read him a Chinese newspaper before he gave up the ghost.”

“I’m afraid my Japanese is rather limited,” said Jango. “What’s the name of your manga?”

LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration. Transliterating to Japanese, the first part of Lucia and Lucille would be pronounced RuRu. Look at this kanji with the same pronunciation.” Jun showed him a mock-up cover he’d water-colored. One Ru looked like a winged woman holding a chainsaw over her head. Instead of a second Ru, Jun had written a kanji character meaning ‘the same kanji once more.’ It looked like a pointed flower blooming. “RuRu means continuous and unbroken, to a meticulous extent. It is only by truly representing the sum totality of earth that Lucille is able to triumph over the concept of human evil.”

縷々 の 時空-加速 RuRu no Jikuu-Kasoku, LuLu’s Spaciotemporal Acceleration

“That’s a message from the heart, little brother.” Jango hugged Jun. Jun didn’t hug back, but Jango felt some affection radiating from his aura.

“Tell me, big brother. What else have you found in Virgil Blue’s library?”

“Mostly books of philosophical and religious merit. That’s why the manga was such a surprise.”

“But is there any more manga?”

“Not available to me yet,” said Jango. “But Virgil Blue tells me that when I am promoted to Virgil, I may read those works from the future yet to be annotated. If I find your books there, I’ll demand to be promoted to Blue right away, so I can be the one destined to annotate them.”

Jun sighed and took the drawings from Jango. “I don’t know if I ever want to publish LuLu’s. Maybe someday I’ll travel to Japan and pitch it to someone.”

“I hope you do. If your books aren’t in Virgil Blue’s library, you’ll have to send them to me, because they should be.”

So saying, Jango returned to Sheridan.

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