Marianne Kimura is a Shakespearean scholar teaching at a university in Kyoto, and her papers on Shakespeare have proved popular on the website academic.com. She also writes imaginative fiction based on Shakespearean themes, integrating ghostly or SF elements as can be seen in the excerpt below from her second novel, The Hamlet Paradigm, published under the pseudonym of Gemma Nishiyama. (For more about Marianne, click here, and for more about her book see here.)
“First of all”, said Haruki, “I have to explain what happened next in Dr. Fukuzawa’a apartment. He explained what he had found out, and then he gave me a flash memory stick with all the incriminating files he had and asked me to keep it safe. He wanted to have another person involved, to back him up, in case anything happened to him. He also wanted to ask me what I thought we should do.”
“What was your advice?”
“I said—-and he agreed—–that we should just keep working as if nothing had happened and then wait for a chance to bring the information to light and get the project stopped somehow.”
“What project?” I asked, hearing my voice getting loud, “I can’t seem to get you to tell me! It’s very frustrating! What project?!”
Yuuki rolled over and mumbled something in his sleep.
“You’re waking him up!” said Haruki. “I’ll tell you, but try to control yourself a little. How can I rely on someone as emotional as you?”
I was about to get annoyed and defend myself, but he smiled mischievously at me in the flickering light. I could never quite keep up with him. I had to laugh.
Haruki waited until Yuuki was sleeping soundly again and then began to tell me, in a serious tone, everything.
“The project is code named Project Elsinore”, he said.
“Project Elsinore?” I asked, “what a funny name. Why? “
“Briefly, the night sky, crowded with bright stars, above the castle of Elsinore, in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet was the inspiration for the name. There’s a lot more I need to tell you about the Shakespeare reference later, but for now, just remember that—as far as our research was concerned—-it’s basically a weird story based on the phrase ‘two stars that have left their spheres’, like Hamlet’s eyes and Juliet’s eyes.
“Hamlet’s and Juliet’s eyes? Why?”
“Well, you see, we were told that the goal of Project Elsinore was to find the sun’s binary companion star. That’s what the “two stars” refers to. That is, the star that the sun—our sun—-may be going around.”
“You mean, orbiting? Our sun is orbiting another star? Really? Can this be true?”
“Yes, there’s a theory, still only a theory that, in fact, our sun, which is, after all a star, goes around another star. It may be Polaris, Sirius, or it may be a dark companion star or a black hole. No one is sure, and we were extremely excited to be given such a lot of funding and a great deal of freedom to find out whether or not our sun, together with our whole solar system, is in fact orbiting another larger star. The second goal of our research was, of course, to identify this other star, our sun’s own sun, as it were. It would be a major finding if it could be proven.”
“But Dr. Fukuzawa learned something he shouldn’t have about it? So what is ‘it’, this secret?”
Haruki sat up. He seemed focused and taut again, though he also looked drawn and sad now.
“It was quite a shock when he showed me the documents in the files. It seems that Vector has a secret plan to launch hundreds of huge solar-energy-gathering satellites to orbit just beyond the earth’s atmosphere. They will block the sun’s light over a large portion of the Pacific Ocean, since, of course, this light will be used to generate electricity. Vector plans to enter the market for electricity and sell the electricity to the highest bidder, large corporations like themselves, their clients and suppliers.”
“But satellites have to keep orbiting, right? Didn’t you say so once?”
“Yes, but with new technology, the satellite remains almost stationary, moving very slowly in tight circles only over the Pacific Ocean. It’s obvious that no government of any country would tolerate Vector blocking the sun on the territory of the land that makes up their country, but the Pacific Ocean is commonly held, so Vector would use that fact as a wedge to act and in a sense, take over the Pacific Ocean, or at least steal almost all of its solar energy.”
“But how does this horrid plan of theirs relate to the two stars idea?”
“We were told that we were making instruments, like gyroscopes and other items, to measure the earth’s speed relative to the sidereal background—-the stars you can see in the night sky—-but Dr. Fukuzawa explained to me what he had discovered. The ‘two stars’ idea, or identifying the star that our sun is revolving around wasn’t the real goal of Project Elsinore at all. That was just a lie we were told so that we wouldn’t quit or go public with the truth. What we were actually doing was figuring out navigation data that would be programmed into the satellites and then also used to guide them from earth. I was shocked when he told me how we had been tricked into helping Vector with their evil plans. The Pacific Ocean will basically die once a large portion of it is starved of sunlight.”
“My God!” I said, thinking of fish, whales, seaweed, plankton, starfish. Yamaguchi, the western prefecture where Kiyama is located is surrounded by the sea and every town along the coast has a small fishing port. Everything alive in the sea would die once the energy from the sun could no longer reach the plankton and carry out photosynthesis.
It would devastate the food chain!
“The whole Pacific ecosystem would be disrupted and subsistence fishermen all along the coasts of the whole ocean, of course, not only in Japan, would go out of business and millions would starve. The poor would bear the brunt of it.”
“Can’t the government stop Vector?” I simply couldn’t believe that Vector was going to be allowed to go through with this devious scheme!
“I asked Dr. Fukuzawa the same thing, but he explained that unfortunately, Vector is so immense that it secretly pays off many politicians and political parties, not just here in Japan, but in many other countries too. I had always had a kind of bad feeling about working for Vector. It’s an enormous corporation with large offices and facilities and factories in almost every country you can think of. Although they were once only an American company, now they are all over the world and elected representatives in practically every country are in their pockets. Vector has kept the plan a secret, but their idea seems to be that if it becomes known, they will use their funds to pay off any powerful political entities that try to stand in their way before the satellites are launched.”
This was ghastly news indeed!
“So my plan is to bring this out into the open before the huge satellites go up. Once the satellites are established up in the sky, it’s too late.”
“What do you mean by ‘too late’?” I asked.
“No matter how many international protests are registered, it won’t matter. There’s no way to bring the satellites down unless they malfunction on their own and drop or get shot down by missiles, which is risky and dangerous, so Vector is calculating that people will accept its effective takeover of the Pacific Ocean once the satellites go up, kind of a fait accompli. Then Vector will mount an expensive PR campaign to drown out any remaining opposition.”
“The beautiful Pacific Ocean! Nami’s favorite ocean!”
Not Vector’s to steal!
I felt my body go weak and limp; just hearing this bad news was making me depressed. How could people like those who ran Vector be allowed to have so much destructive power?
“You have to understand something fundamental about all of this”, said Haruki, sounding more calm and scholarly, but looking haggard and weary in the shadows of the lantern light, “Mari, you see, the basic and underlying problem is that oil is getting more and more expensive. It isn’t just the price in money or currency, which is influenced by many things, but the physical effort, the expense and energy that companies have to put in to get it out. To extract the oil, the oil companies have to dig deep through the ocean floor, or mine oil sands, or else they have to blow up oil-soaked rock. The same is true for uranium, for nuclear power and it can be said for coal too—with all of them the easier deposits are drained first. It’s sayaku. Things become harder and harder.”
“I think I understand the basic concept.”
“All of the work involved in oil drilling is tough, expensive, and time-consuming and getting more so, of course, every day, so Vector wants to corner the energy markets with its massive Pacific Ocean satellites before the oil gets even more expensive and remote and difficult to obtain. When the global petroleum energy situation starts to really bite, Vector’s factories that make everything from aerospace technology to pharmaceuticals to weapons to communications, their large investment bank, and their other divisions might not be profitable anymore, and they’ll face an end to their power and influence. Frankly speaking, they must be worried, or they wouldn’t be trying this rather extreme, risky and rather devilish idea. Developing these truly revolutionary and remarkable satellites has cost them billions of dollars.”
In the darkness, Haruki poured out more wine for us. I drank mine nervously in one gulp. This was too fast, and some rose up uncontrollably into my nose and my eyes started watering.
“I see” I coughed, “Their satellites will also keep them going, in other words”, I said, wiping my eyes. What we were up against was becoming clearer to me now.
“Of course. And all the TV stations, the big advertisers, the huge corporations, the plastics makers. The electric cars, for those who will be able to afford them.“
“And Dr. Fukuzawa found out about all this?”
“He hated to think about a large dead Pacific Ocean. He told me that he was sent the files detailing the satellite plan anonymously, so there must be at least one other person in Vector who also hates this plan and wants it to come to light. But perhaps he or she is also being watched by now, or maybe even dead, too. I don’t know. Anyway, somehow, someone at Vector must have found out about the fact that Dr. Fukuzawa knew too much.”
“What exactly happened that night, then?”
“As I was leaving Dr. Fukuzawa’s shukusha, I saw a man in a car pulling into the parking lot. It was dark, but I saw his face clearly under the light in the parking lot. I couldn’t remember where I had seen him, but he looked vaguely familiar.”
“When you got home, what did you do?”
“I heated up a frozen pizza for dinner that night, then took a look at the files showing the designs for the satellites, their proposed launch locations, all the specifications. I was eating my pizza while studying the files, and the details of the plan just amazed me, but all the while, somehow, in the back of my mind, I was still wondering who the man was in the car. It was bothering me that I couldn’t remember. Later, as I was about to take a shower, I got a call from Dr. Aoyama, the Department Chair. He told me, in a shocked voice, that Dr. Fukuzawa had been found dead on the ground outside his shukusha. It seemed he had fallen or jumped from the balcony. I was shocked. Dr. Fukuzawa hadn’t been depressed or sad. I just knew it couldn’t be suicide. I hung up. I didn’t know what to do. I took a shower after all, unable to think about anything except Professor Fukuzawa. I went to bed, but I was too worried to sleep.”
“You should have called me!”
“I was already worrying about what was going to happen. Probably, I didn’t want you and Yuuki to become involved. I couldn’t sleep, of course. And it was then, anyway, while I was lying tossing and turning in my bed, that I remembered who the man in the car was!”
“Who was he?”
“It was someone who had visited our research center. He could have been someone from Vector. I don’t know his name. I had only seen him in the hallway once or twice very briefly. He had never introduced himself or spoken to any of us, it seemed. In fact, when I recalled him, it was as someone turning his head away and seeming to blend in with the scenery, almost as if he had wanted not to be noticed.”
“My god! How sinister!”
All of my exhaustion was gone, and I could feel my heart pounding with fear.
“I finally fell sleep, although I was worrying about the next day. What would we hear about Dr. Fukuzawa? I was also wondering if the story would break and everything would become public. But at 6 am, someone called me on my cell phone. I woke up right away, I was sleeping very fitfully, as you can imagine. On the other end of the line, there was a woman, but I had never heard her voice before. She said ‘Professor Muramatsu, Don’t go to work today, and don’t stay in Kubatsu either. Get out as fast as you can. Someone knows you were visiting Dr. Fukuzawa last night. They know you have the files, and you are in danger. ‘ I said ‘who is this?’ and there was a pause before she said, ‘My name is Sumiré’ . Then she hung up. I didn’t even have time to say a word.”
“I don’t suppose you know anyone actually named Sumiré, right?”
“No, of course not.”
“Was her voice familiar? Had you heard it before?”
“Is Sumiré her real name or a code name then? All of these bizarre events are like something out of a spy novel, not real life. I can’t even believe it myself. Sumiré must be her code name. But why would she choose ‘violets’ for a code name?”
“It could be her real name, obviously; I mean, it is a name, a woman’s name.”
“Of course, and we just have no way of knowing either way. But anyway, what did you do next?”
“Since I realized now that Dr. Fukuzawa had probably been murdered, and I had seen the man in the car, I recognized that Vector would be worried about what I knew too. Sumiré’s warning haunted me. I had to assume that the man in the car had seen me on my bicycle.”
“So what did you do? They could have been outside your apartment too! Those dangerous thugs! How did you get away?”
“Well, don’t laugh, but remember how you brought up a bag with one or two of your old cotton summer dresses for me to rip up and use as cleaning rags? I can now safely admit to you that I actually had never gotten around to cleaning anything with them, or even to ripping them up. It was lucky as it turned out. You and I are not so different in size, I realized. I put one on, and cut the other one up to make a large flowered scarf that I put on my head. I packed a small nylon bag with some of my own clothes and put on a pair of loafers and a sweater and walked out casually. There may have been someone watching in the parking lot or not, I still don’t know. Maybe people just thought I looked crazy, someone dressing for a cosplay. Maybe people thought I was really a woman, even with my razor stubble. I don’t know, but somehow, it worked. Probably, it was just weird enough to work.”
I had to laugh. Haruki could be very practical when he had to be.
Haruki smiled and continued, “I just kept my head down so no one could see my face and I went to the nearest bus stop and the next bus took me to a train station on the Joban Line. That’s where I changed back into my real clothes in the men’s bathroom and melted into the crowds. I spent the morning riding different trains, changing lines, going first west towards Takasaki, then south down to Kanagawa, then over west towards Nagano. I got as far away as I could. I kept my cell phone off the whole time, since, actually, you can be tracked with your cell phone, though they need sophisticated equipment. But Dr. Fukuzawa told me that Vector has good friends in the NSA, one of the major spying organizations in the world, so the technology wouldn’t be a problem for them, I guess. By the time I got to Hakone, I was fairly sure that I had evaded them. I called you later that afternoon, when I was sure your classes would be finished for the day. I was near Shizuoka but I thought it wouldn’t matter if they picked up my location since I was just passing through.”
“Thank you. That was considerate of you. It would have been awkward to leave in the middle of class.”
“Yes, I was fairly sure that it would take them time to think of accessing your address and name on the university computer, and since you weren’t at home anyway, I decided rather than have you panic and rush out of the classroom, it would be better to wait.”
“Well, they did show up, as I told you.”
“Yes, they were quicker than I had expected. As I told you, there are some powerful people on their side. They can probably deploy an army to seek us out. Certainly they can use the police force as they wish. We are totally outnumbered, of course. To tell you the truth, our situation looks so hopeless that I’m thinking, a little, of just giving up. It might be safer. They’ll let you and Yuuji go, I’m sure, even if they keep me locked away somewhere until after the satellites go up.”
“But what a world it will be if they succeed with their plan!”
“Exactly. So my thinking is that if I can contact some journalists at some reputable newspapers to bring this out in the open, then there will be enough opposition, probably, to force them to abandon their heinous and cruel scheme. Decimating the largest ocean on the planet for money or for any reason must be where human beings draw the line.”
Haruki lay back down and stretched and I checked the time. It seemed like we had been talking for a long time, but it was only eleven o’clock. All the emotions and fears associated with his story had utterly sapped me. I managed to crawl into my sleeping bag, and I was tired enough not to care about the fact that we didn’t have soft futons to sleep on. Haruki had done his best to keep us warm and safe. I closed my eyes and felt my body becoming more relaxed. I was almost asleep, but, then unexpectedly, suddenly two bright, glowing and beautiful stars came into my mind and I opened my eyes wide in the dark, half expecting the stars to be before me in the little room.
The two stars were still a mystery!
The stars that had left their spheres!
And now I was desperate to know more about these stars!
In a whisper I asked Haruki, “What about the two stars that have left their spheres?”
But there was no answer. My husband was already asleep. My lingering questions would have to wait.