San Fransokyo International Airport, 5:56 AM
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have now arrived at our destination, San Fransokyo International Airport.” - announced the flight crew through a muffled transmitter. - “…The local time is 5:57 and the outside temperature is 12 degrees Celsius. Please remain seated until the aircraft has come to a complete stop…”
The girl’s eyes darted briefly to the seatbelt sign before lounging again on the view outside the window (or at least the little of what could be seen from it). She’s been awake since four in the morning. A book lay closed on her lap – her long travelling hours have altered between periods of sleep and intense reading after cloud-watching got a little boring. Always think of how you use your time, her father used to say. She spotted a few other aircrafts resting peacefully at their station and read the names of the airlines.
She thought, not without some sarcasm, that they looked more well-rested than she did. She had been glued to this seat for 16 hour, more cramped than a sardine in a can. Her back now felt stiff as a stick– her cramps a souvenir of the long hours she’d been on this plane. It would feel weird to be on her legs…
Her name called, she quickly refocused her attention on the smiling lady behind the reception desk.
“That would be me,” she replied, trying not to sound too tired and fought the urge to correct her pronunciation . In truth, she yearned for something to lie down on.
The lady had a lively expression, as bright as the little plastic flowers on her desk.
“Come this way. I need you to sign and verify a few admission forms. Please return them to me once you are finished.” Once Sanae handed in the filled papers, the lady smiled quickly scanned them and nodded. “Yup, all seems to be in order. Mr. Pichon will take you to see your professor now, if you would follow him.”
The girl nodded with words of mild-mannered thanks before turning back to catch up with the other college staff, her suitcase (which would be lighter if it were made out of bricks) trailing obediently behind her. Her eyes swept around, taking in the modern buildings and spacious school grounds. It was everything one would expect from an institution perching on the top of all rankings.
“Oh and one more thing.” The student services lady called loudly after. “Welcome the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology!”
San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, Ito Ishioka Robotics Lab.
“Did you hear?”
“Hear what?” – Tadashi said from where he was bending over his lab table, upon which laid his latest project. He put down the delicate instrument he was holding, knowing from experience that his tendency to drop things increased exponentially with Fred’s exuberant presence. Wanting to humor his friend, he turned around, trying vainly to remember what could possibly have happened that day.
“Which news?” Tadashi scratched his neck sheepishly.
Fred quickly rolled his eyes before clapping a hand on Tadashi’s shoulders and leaning in to whisper in a conspirator’s tone.
“Duh, the one about the new student! The one to be transferred here next week! What else?”
“Yes of course.” He nodded obligingly, though he had no idea about it until this very moment.
Aunt Cass always told Tadashi to never pay attention to the veins of gossip. It’s just not good manners, she said. But her advice wasn’t necessary. Rumors circulate in the school still, of course. And they would usually come in from the IT department, for undisclosed reasons. But ever since the Orange Incident of 1996 which nearly shut down the whole school, that department and his have been in a cold war. Since then, a tradition of rivalry had continued, and no piece of juicy gossip ever got to the Ito Ishioka lab.
But if ever was there any rumour that does reach the science geeks in the Robotics lab, which is about as uninterested in social news as piece of cheese, it had to be very important. And they usually just leave it to Fred to broadcast it: since he isn’t an official member he was quite privy to the goings on in SFIT.
“Oh, that one. I heard there’a student flying all the way from Japan. Pretty cool,” Wasabi, in a display of his hearing powers, overheard their conversation and decided to pop in.
“Yeah, that’s like half away around the world!” Fred nodded sagely. “Do you guys know how awesome it is to actually live in Japan? I went there once, and it was... breath-taking.” His voice falters as if recalling the memory of a spiritual enlightening. “It set me on the path for comics. I’ve felt the call of my homeland ever since.”
Tadashi chuckled. He was pretty sure Fred’s father came from Brooklyn, as Fred told him as much long ago. Many people love to study Japan, dedicating whole faculties to its past, its culture and linguistics because its empire changed the course of history, but Fred is the first to study its comics. He calls it his only real major.
Japan became an Imperial Empire when its firsts ships carried men and guns across what was then called the Bering strait and colonised the new continent. It became a superpower dominating the West coast at the same time European ships even started spreading its influence on the North and South-east coast. Of course, every knows the Japanese Empire collapsed long ago, and the only relic of this glorious past is the pride of the Japanese people, and the obvious cultural change as one migrated East to West across the continent.
Being half-Japanese himself, Tadashi had spent a part of his childhood in that island country at the edge of a far away continent. He couldn’t remember much, since it was so long ago, but he did remember that it was beautiful. His Dad had a private research lab in the countryside, in one of Japan’s mountainous regions. They practically lived inside the lab, but surrounding it was one of the most gorgeous scenes anywhere has to offer. It was back when his parents had been alive, and he and Hiro were the happiest of children growing up. But that was, again, a long time ago.
His thought reeled back to the present, where he had been distracted from one of Fred and Wasabi’s debates about the new student. Apparently he missed out on Go Go joining the conversation as well.
“-says here, this guy’s a pretty impressive deal. IMO* Champion at age 11, 13 and 15. Twice International Young Physicists’ Tournament First Prize Winner, and apparently a chess master.” Wasabi recited from an online profile.
“Seems like one of those child prodigies.” Go Go said, glancing meaningfully at Tadashi, her teeth chewing her favourite bubble gum. “No wonder the fac is so eager to have him: it boosts their image.”
“You think we should throw a welcome party?” Tadashi asked, resting his elbows on a stack of books on his desk.
Then came Honey Lemon, in all her jubilant clothing, heels and fashionable 60s headband. “I think that’s a great idea,” she chimed “It’ll make him feel so welcome. Since everyone here knows each other from before grad school, it might be nice to have someone new.”
“No No No No” Fred butted in to stop the flow of conversation, fervidly waving his hands around. “What’s this about a guy? You guys got it wrong. I’m telling you, it’s a G-I-R-L!” He smirked, pleased with sharing his superior knowledge to his ‘’ friends. “I mean, have you seen the picture? She’s a real babe."
“Wow, like, for real?” asked Wasabi in wonderment. “’Bout time! Our lab goes negative in femininity.”
Go Go immediately smacked him on the head.
“Just kidding, Go Go. Ouch...” flinched the victim. “See! That just proves my point!”
“I just hope she’s nice.” said Honey Lemon dreamily, her coppery hair shining against a slit in the window.
“I’m sure we’ll get along.” said Tadashi, smiling, ever optimistic.
“Easy for you, Mr. Popular. You’re so nice even the IT guys tolerate you. Your social statistics don’t apply to the rest of us.” Go Go groaned and went over to Wasabi’s side, who instantly panicked at her messing up his space.
“Come on, guys. Get back to research. Enough chatting already.” Professor Callaghan cleared his throat seriously, but the light twitch on the corner of his mouth suggested that the man was amused.
As his friends scrambled back to their posts and their voices faded into the background (“Wasabi, have you seen my Di2 Internal 8 Speed Hub Gear?” and “Wasabi, have you seen my sweat wipes?“) Tadashi’s thought didn’t linger a moment longer on this new student.
*International Mathematical Olympiad