Title: A Fish Out of Water
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: Mild PG.
Characters: Suzuki and an original character.
Summary: After the rise of the Kabane, a young sailor's new life begins with a new name.
Disclaimer: They belong to Kabaneri Committee and other relevant parties. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt words "Name" and "Language" at Fan Flashworks, and "Pre-Canonfic" at Genprompt Bingo. Please note that the English name I've given Suzuki here is entirely my own invention. I wanted to explore the assumption that he must have originally had an English name—and after learning one meaning of the word suzuki in Japanese, it amused me to think that it could be a literal translation.
In the days and weeks after the dead rose up to prey upon the living, Arthur Bass learned very quickly not to let himself think too much.
When the undead swarmed into Hinomoto's largest port city, what if the young sailor on shore leave had tried to get back to his ship, instead of finding himself swept onto a train by the crush of fleeing refugees? Would he be safely at sea with his crewmates now… or would he be dead because someone had carried the infection aboard and doomed them all? Even if his comrades had escaped, what would they find on the next shore they reached? Was the plague of risen corpses isolated to this island nation, or had it already spread throughout the world? Had his home country of Anglia suffered the same horror in which he was now trapped? Would he ever know if it was?
And as for himself: a stranger in a land ravaged by monsters, unable to speak a word of the native tongue… would he even survive for much longer?
These were the sorts of internal questions that could have driven a man mad if he dwelled on them. So Arthur willfully shut them out, and focused himself on the immediate present.
In that regard, he knew his seafaring experience made him luckier than many. The train commandeered by local officials for the citizens' escape was not in the best condition, and had lost more than half its crew to the first wave of the undead—the Kabane, as the natives called them. That left the remaining men in desperate need of any hand with a modicum of mechanical ability. As much in the interest of self-preservation as anything, Arthur managed to convey an offer of help; and after one glance at the universal look of a seaman about him, he was put to work straight away. From that point on, his skills quickly proved him valuable beyond any need for words. So much so that when at last they found a securely fortified refuge, and were able to let off the passengers, the engineer made it clear via emphatic gestures that he wished Arthur to remain with his crew.
So Arthur stayed. As things were, he decided it was the most ideal situation for him. The vibrating heartbeat of a train under his feet was different from a seagoing vessel's, but still comforting, and the routine of life within a metal hull felt as familiar and safe as anything could in this foreign place.
Of course, if this was to be his life now, he knew he couldn't get by on mere sign language forever. Eventually he would have to start learning the more complex and formal tongue of his new crewmates. It was a daunting prospect… but soon enough, he learned there would be help for him in the task.
One morning, a gentle tapping against metal distracted Arthur from his probing into the bowels of an access panel. He raised his head to see a now-familiar figure squatting on the deck beside him. Kaede, he recalled: a thin fellow his age or even a little younger, with perpetually messy hair and an earnest smile.
That smile was in evidence as Kaede raised a stub of chalk between finger and thumb, and then reached down to scrawl with it on the deck plating.
He first produced one of the oddly elegant clusters of chicken-scratch that were the native writing in Hinomoto. "Kaede," he spoke his own name clearly as he pointed at it. Then he outlined a tree beside the lettering, followed by the distinctive shape of a maple leaf. "Kaede," he repeated as he pointed at the tree, and then at his own chest.
The young fellow's name meant maple tree, then. Arthur returned a thin smile of his own, nodding his understanding.
Kaede offered him the chalk, and he accepted it. After a moment's consideration, he decided that his last name lent itself much more easily to such pictograms.
"Bass," he declared, pointing at himself as Kaede had done. Then he slowly wrote out the word BASS on the deck, followed by a rough sketch of the eponymous fish.
"Ah…" Kaede looked up at the foreigner with visible uncertainty. "Sakana?"
Arthur hesitated. He wasn't the best at drawing, after all—and it occurred to him that if his landsman companion was unskilled at identifying different fish species, the word he used may simply have meant fish in general. So the sailor attempted to illustrate further detail about the habits of bass. He drew the snaking outline of a river, to which he added small shapes of fish swimming upstream in it.
Creatures of the sea making a long hard inland journey…
Arthur's hand paused and his breath caught, as he suddenly felt an odd sort of kinship with the fish whose name he shared.
For his part, Kaede's eyes grew bright. He nodded and pointed at Arthur's second drawing, tapping the fish in the river. With much greater assurance, he said, "Suzuki."
The natives did know of bass, then—and that was evidently the word for them. Suzuki. It had a nice ring to it. Arthur dwelled on the sound for a moment, letting it mingle with his new sense of how fitting his name had become.
"Suzuki," he announced in agreement, pointing up at himself with a faint smile.
In that moment, he decided that as long as he remained bound to Hinomoto by the cruel turn the world had taken, he would be Suzuki to the comrades he gained there. Perhaps he should have felt that his Anglian name was his last possession from his former life, a precious thing he should not give up; but instead, it felt as if taking this new name was a way of claiming his new life as his own. Because a name was a beginning. It was a foundation on which to build something meaningful where he was, instead of pining for a place and people he might never see again.
After all, he had first left his country for the sea because he wanted adventure—only to find that shipboard life could be much more dull than he expected. If fate had answered at last by thrusting him into an adventure more dire than he ever bargained for, perhaps he had no right to complain.
Kaede took back the chalk, and in the little remaining blank space on the deck before them, he drew a pair of stick figures that appeared to be shaking hands. Then he beamed at the newly rechristened Suzuki, gesturing back and forth between the two of them. With unmistakable warmth in his voice, he said firmly: "Tomodachi."
Suzuki needed no more pictures to tell him that the word meant friends.
2018 Jordanna Morgan