Kagura felt something wash over her, the feeling of exhaustion. Crammed at a table in a tiny izakaya, she nervously tapped away at her phone, waiting for the all clear from the surface. She was, much to her irritation, on liaison tonight, with a particularly special delivery. And liaison meant being sober. The worst thing of all. Sober Kagura was a miserable Kagura. The world was just so much duller, so much slower. She needed chemicals to give life a bit of a boost. Also to be able to think, and speak in complete sentences, things that were harder sober than she ever initially realized. The tiny street outside her window, so narrow she could grace both sides with her wingspan, seemed less lively than usual at this hour. Normally the din of playing children, arguing couples, street vendors, and other assorted members of the oppressed classes which she served formed a near-constant white noise that served as her canvas for thinking, but now it felt almost gone. She needed nicotine, but she'd wait until she reached the surface for that. No beer, no mushrooms, no Good Stuff. Strict orders. Her brain felt like it was distending from the material plane. This city already felt like it was no longer part of this reality.
The Okinawa Urban-Residential Complex, or just the City to its residents, was built hastily. As part of a nationwide initiative to alleviate overcrowding, the government promised Evangelion-style GeoForces across Japan to serve as new places to live. Okinawa's was more like Kowloon Walled City--a relatively tiny area, encompassing about a third of the ground underneath Naha, packed with about the same number of residents. Oxygen was in such short supply that giant ventilation shafts had to be built to keep the city from asphyxiating itself, and pipes drained off excess rainwater for recycling below. Kagura lived about four feet above where she currently sat, so close she could still smell the incense she left burning when she left.
Finally, her phone went off.
"Oh, thank God," she said to herself.
The old captain watched the TV as shiphands and dock workers unloaded heavy crates off the freighter under the burning halogen sun. An American military man, his eyes dark with sin, was giving a determined interview. In between the pounding rain and the yelling in Okinawan, the captain could only make out every other sentence or so. "We now believe there to be a link between the insurgent and the narco-trafficker...yakuza organizations linked to cells of insurgents...need heightened security throughout Japan's ports..." It all sounded strange and incoherent, like he was hitting bars early.
One of the workers sheltering briefly with the captain sneered. "First, they say the Maoists are being funded by China, before China repudiated the Maoists and vice versa. Then, they said that they're funded by Russia, and Russia told the Americans there's no reason they'd want anything to do with Maoists in Japan. And now it's the yakuza and drug trafficking?"
The captain raised an eyebrow. "It seems like they're grasping for strings."
"They are," the worker quickly responded. "They have a massive jungle warfare training base on this island, but are being outmaneuvered by a bunch of bit workers and farmers and street urchins armed with any gun they can get their hands on."
"You sound like you're on their side."
The worker's fingers danced carefully around his hips. "I'm just tired, is all. I want whatever gives me peace."
"Even if it means communism?"
"Listen, bro, the stories from the communist zones elsewhere? Worst case, can't be a whole lot worse than what we had before. Best case, might be the first time I've worked an honest day in my life." He let out a smoker's cough. "You know how many sweatshops we had on this island before the revolution showed up? I may not know all the lingo and I couldn't tell you historical stuff to save my life, but I would love to work an 8 hour day. Hell, make it 4!"
"So you're one of them?"
The worker rolled his eyes. "Bro, why are you so up on that? I'm not a communist. I'm just me. I want what's good for me, and for my family. Wouldn't you do the same?"
"So you get it."
"Yes, I do."
The worker made a gesture that the captain guessed meant so that's that on that. The rain refused to let up. The air was thick with steam and cigarette smoke and sweat.
"Hey, seems like they want me back," the worker called to the captain.
"Oh, yeah? Yeah, you should go, then."
The worker waved to him and went to join his mates. I should probably go out there, too, he thought, even though I'm really tired. He felt the bags forming, his eyes droop. He really should get some sleep.
Good thing he didn't.
As he walked out of the building, he was greeted by a terse, distinctive "Captain McManus." He turned sharply towards the source. This person was not a dock worker, although she looked like she could lift one of these crates single-armed. But he wasn't worried; there weren't many other Black Ryukyuan girls wearing People's Revolutionary Guerilla Army uniforms with that voice.
"Naagusuku," he responded.
"That's Naagusuku-Lovestone, Captain, I'm just as 'American' as you," she said with a sardonic smirk. "How's the unloading?"
"They're doing well."
She walked towards him, the heels of her boots making a solid clock sound on the pavement. He chanced a glance at his contact, someone he'd only yet talked to through back-channel communiques. "Ugh, this damned rain," she groaned. "Sorry I'm late, there was...business that needed attending to." He thought back to their last transmission: I'll be there to briefly meet, so you know I'm real. You'll know me when you see me. If I seem high, don't think about it. Was she...? Nah. Not his business.
She was only 5'9", but built like a rugby player. She had extremely messy, whispy, ruddy brown hair that, despite being tied back with a green headband, she constantly brushed out of her sharp brown eyes that knew all secrets. The green short-sleeved uniform of the geurillas hugged every curve, but he wasn't turned on by her; more just impressed. He'd heard tales of Kagura Naagusuku-Lovestone before, but to actually behold the legend was something else entirely.
"Glad to hear it," she said matter-of-factly. "The Party appreciates your efforts."
"It seems you have a lot of sympathizers here, at the yards."
Kagura smiled again. "Mm. Yes, we do. The dock workers are unionized through the red unions."
The captain kept a straight face. "The Communist Party of the New World is always willing to lend a helping hand."
"We'll find a way to repay the favor some way."
"I'll talk to my people, you'll talk to yours?"
"Mhm. You mind if I light up?" She waved around a cigarette between her fingers.
He shook out of a small daze. "Mm? Oh, yeah, go ahead."
Finally, one of her most precious rituals. Flick. That quick inhale as the tip burned orange. The menthol and nicotine heating up her throat and lungs. The world grew clearer. Her headband felt cool against her forehead, soaked with rain, despite the rest of her uniform being soaked horribly. At least it washed easily.
When the captain turned to ask her a question, she was gone. He didn't even hear her go.
Just like all of her other jobs, she had slipped back into the world she came from.
"Yeeesh," said a husky, yet light voice.
"Would've been better if I had my happy chemicals."
"Ah yes, what the world needs, a stoned Kagura."
"Listen," she said, playfully defensive. She took a long draw off the hookah, back in the comfort of her own apartment, as much as it could be called comfortable at about a couple hundred square feet, if even that. She had her uniform unbuttoned, the red kerchief undone like a salaryman's tie. "Honestly, though, with how hot it was up there? I might as well have been high."
"God, that bad, huh?"
Her friend also had her uniform unbuttoned, revealing a very ample chest that she insisted was grown 100% naturally. A red bandanna, signalling someone of higher rank, tied back long black hair. She was also wearing no pants. Or underwear for that matter. Not that Kagura minded Sakaki lounging around with her dick out, it was just funny how much she'd changed since they were in high school together.
"Yeah. Say, talked to anyone back in Tokyo lately?"
Sakaki shook her head. "Here and there. The Party's been moving people around lately. Kaori got sent to Hokkaido for PRGA work. I think Ayumu is still above ground, doing work in the teachers' union. Haven't heard from Tomo or Yomi in months, and Chiyo's abroad..."
"Right, yeah," Kagura murmured, pulling off the hookah again, feeling the comforting, somewhat cooling sensation of watermelon shisha fill her lungs. "So she's probably involved with the New Worlders?"
"The world's different now, Gura. In the Before Times, they'd probably have a bead on her, but now...who knows. I doubt whichever warlord currently controls Los Angeles is strictly monitoring Japanese college students."
"I feel bad."
"For not talking to the others?"
"Yeah. I mean, Ayumu and I..."
"Oh, really? Yeah, uh for a bit now. Since high school."
"So what does that make our relationship?" Sakaki said with a smile. "We're both technically cheating on our girlfriends."
Sakaki laughed, a bleating-type laugh that Kagura found extremely adorable. "Office romance!"
"Having relations with you...we'd be in so much shit right now."
"Oh, right, yeah. Yeah, they definitely wouldn't care about all the drugs you do. Or the fact I do sex work so we can keep this place. Or all the other shut we get up to. No, they'd care most about you banging your higher-up. Even though I don't even have a designation!"
Kagura made a face. "Yeah you do, dumbass, you're our fucking battalion commander! Only reason I got the assignment tonight is because Akira wanted me to get some fresh air, you're the real head honcho around here." She put away the hookah, and hung up their uniforms.
"Still weird to think about sometimes," Sakaki said, slinking into bed next to her.
"You've put in the work, babe, and that's all there is to it."
"Yeah, well..I'm pretty proud of you too, comrade."
"Ugh, God, Sakaki, please."
She heard her girlfriend's little giggle of gremlin-like behavior, and before she could say goodnight, she was asleep.