with birthday wishes to Daphhime
He's preached many times from his makeshift pulpit in the depths of Fukuoka's sewers that there is no God.
Excel finds after deep thought she must disagree. Sometimes this deep thought occurred while she flew through empty space, other times when she swam through the ocean, other times in her own bed when she couldn't sleep and didn't want to think about the pool of blood next to her. She's said to Hyatt and to other people that Ilpalazzo himself is God, but she doesn't think she believes that anymore either. The people are always meanies and don't listen to her or tell her she's wrong anyway.
Once upon a time, when she was still in high school and most of her thoughts were about passing algebra and inventing new ways to get away with skipping cram school, she didn't think there was any kind of god or gods at all. Sure, she went with her parents to temple when someone died or something. Her relatives would always make fun of her, call her a black sheep and tell her she'd never get anywhere in life if she didn't study. She didn't like going to funerals too much.
When she went to Kyoto on the school trip (trips to Kyoto should be eliminated once the Glorious Revolution comes about, she thinks) there was an unusual occurrence that struck her. The class had wandered through all the customary temples and old houses of government and such, buying overpriced souvenirs as they went. Outside one of the red-tiled temples, Excel saw something that was quite out of the ordinary - a female monk with a begging bowl. Monks were generally sexist too, because Enlightenment was for men - or so a lot of them said.
She bounced over, ignoring cries from a few of her friends to stay with the group. She yanked some coins out of her pocket, making sure her hand avoided the knives and candy, and dropped them into the old woman's bowl. They clinked, and the woman looked up, surprised. Her face was lined and she had the normal shaved head and brown wrap of a monk, so Excel's brain logically concluded she was an old monk.
"Morning, Grandma! How's it going?"
"Perhaps more importantly, how are you, young one?"
"Awesome, as always!" Excel inwardly praised herself at the alliteration. "Particularly happy to see a female monk as a shining example of what we females are capable of, and also to get away from this rather pointless, overbearing, probably money-wasting, and repetitive school Kyoto trip!"
"Ah, a school trip. Do you like school?"
A pause. "Not really. It's rather boring. Learning stuff that's not important, calculus, for example, lots of stupid numbers that go nowhere, having to go to cram school and study study study! Because it's all about tests. And what comes after the tests I'm a little confused about - is it enlightenment? A positive future for Japan? Lots of good food? The last one would be nice, but I dunno. They never tell us what comes afterward, they just tell us to do well on the tests!"
"That is a common problem today, I've heard," the old woman says, and smiled. "Come, and sit down."
Excel tucked her uniform skirt under her and sat down; she didn't care if she gets dust on her butt or not. She couldn't keep still, and keeps traced smiling faces and made-up English words in the dust like "qurie" and "maleo". She liked the look and feel of the English letters even if they confused her.
The woman watched her, silent. Excel thought it was a little weird but didn't complain and instead babbled about how she hates school, how she likes plum basil sushi and mochi a lot, how she has no idea what she's going to do when graduation approaches because she has kind of a big choice but it'll be OK, she's always been OK before.
The woman smiled and only looked away to thank a person strolling by that tossed more coins into her begging bowl. Finally, Excel ran out of words; it's not something that happens often. She traced more made-up English words in the sand and threw in a few Japanese made-up words too before the woman spoke.
"You mentioned you met someone. Who is he?"
"He's a very shady character and I'm very happy about that!" she replied without thinking, then threw her hand over her mouth. "Well, I mean-he's not someone I think my relatives would approve of. He's offered me a job after graduation, I'm just not sure if I'm going to take it. But he's tall, charismatic, and his eyes are absolutely gorgeous!" She couldn't stop blushing.
"So you wish he would be more than an employer, yes?"
"I suppose so, I mean it's not like me to take an interest in guys other than as a thing to throw stones at and drool at in the yaoi manga that I don't really read because I'm an upstanding young girl and such, but he is rather tempting and delicious like a golden apple!"
"One of the most upstanding doctrines we have is that to reach enlightenment.."
"'One must give up all wants,'" Excel finished. "Yeah, I know, it's never seemed to give me any help in my life though since I didn't ever want much until now. Well, I wanted something to happen other than tests, but now he's suddenly here and my brain's all topsy-turvy. How's one to reach Enlightenment in this day and age anyway? Pshaw, how can one even survive without wants? Well, I guess I have for a while, but the point is-"
"I understand," the woman nodded. "And I'll tell you a little secret. In today's world, the Buddha's words mean to know when you have to give things up, and not want obsessively. His words are a guideline, not a rule."
"That was nice of him," said Excel.
It takes her forty minutes to find her school group again. Her mind feeds on the kind old grandma's words for a while, and then stores them back in a dark recess of her mind that coincidentally also stores calculus.
Two years later, as a full ACROSS Agent and loyal servant of the Fuhrer Ilpalazzo, she wandered one day on her way to complete a Mission. She walked along the street, swinging her arms in her normal fashion, and an especially ignorant member of the masses ran by and shoved her into a church sign. The sign's inspirational message had too many kanji for her to understand and her elbow was bleeding too much of its own accord so she concluded from the previous two facts she might as well investigate the church and see if she could clean her elbow.
They could really get robbed this way, she thought, as she rubbed her elbow and entered the big, green, and rather imposing doors. Maybe they'll have some sort of sink that I can wash my elbow in, she thought, and made her way up the aisle. Christianity was one of the most suspect of all religions, according to Ilpalazzo. It was the religion most acceptable to capitalism, and in turn encouraged a great class divide and imperialism. It was responsible for 90% of the world's problems and he didn't blame the other monotheistic religions for hating it so much, although they were rather silly in their beliefs as well. It was pretty ridiculous, Excel had to admit as she studied the figure on the cross at the head of the church. For a religion that claimed to take such stock in love (or so its people claimed), they worshipped a man in his dead state instead of in his living state when he gave them all those precious words that they were so proud of. She decided it would be like her and Hyatt carrying out Ilpalazzo's orders and claiming they still heard from him after he was dead. Now, a perfectly still Ilpalazzo that she could do stuff with - that didn't sound too bad to Excel - but she also didn't want him to be dead, because that was gross. Yes, all in all she would prefer a living Ilpala-
"Can I help you?"
The priest (she assumed; he had on that traditional white and black clothing) was a short and rather harmless looking man. Of course, she knew from ACROSS staff meetings that those who looked harmless were the worst. Old ladies could be packing Uzi's, children could be messengers, a priest could be a tool for the Opposite Side, whatever the Opposite Side was.
"Uh, yeah, some silly person pushed me into your sign and my elbow's bleeding now and it won't stop no matter how much I tell it not to, silly elbow, do you possibly have a sink or something?"
"Of course we have one and of course you may use it," the man bobbed, and led Excel to the right of the scary-looking man on the cross to a back room with a sink. As she washed her elbow off he asked her a few questions, like her name and where she lived and such. She lied, of course.
"Do you have a religion, young one?"
What kind of question is that?, she thought, and answered plainly, "No. Il-my boss who I respect a great deal and think is the hottest man on earth has declared that religion gets in the way of what we do and is rather corrupt and capitalistic and causes coups - I think?"
"Ah, so you work for the government."
"You could say that." No, real governmental employees would follow that overrated hypocrisy that the rest of the world calls religion, she thought. It pained her to say that she was from the government that was connected to those awful Daitenzin with their horrible Power Ranger rip-off suits. But sometimes one had to do what one had to do for ACROSS.
"It's sad that you don't follow any religion at all."
"Are you trying to convert me, buster? I'm just a normal every-day average girl trying to wash off my bleeding too much elbow!"
The priest sighed, and Excel followed the lines around his eyes until she realized that he was quite old. Again, that didn't make him blameless, but a certain part of her that had been yelled at by her mother a long time ago remembered that the Young were supposed to Respect The Elderly. That was one of those Traditional Japanese Society Thingies that Lord Ilpalazzo denounced so much-
Lord Ilpalazzo. The Mission. She started rubbing at her elbow more hurriedly. When she noticed that the Blood of Trickery seemed to be gone, she turned to the Priest.
"I'm sorry, I have to go now, I just realized that there's something that I forgot to do that I have to do, and, um-"
"Why don't you stay and talk with me for a while? I'm an old man who likes to talk, and if it's not Sunday there are few people who enter here."
Excel forgets her self-imposed ban on Thinking yet again and they end up debating religion for the next hour; the Mission is forgotten, but that's okay, because Lord Ilpalazzo didn't specify what it was in the first place.
So it is now, one year later, with a head full of religious philosophy that she stands in front of a conquered Fukuoka and contemplates the nature of love. Well, to be honest she's leaning on a door in one of Fukuoka's tallest buildings, waiting for Ilpalazzo. But that's just a minor detail.
The streets are empty; those ignorant masses who are left are inside their houses. Well, she corrects herself, they're still ignorant masses but they are our ignorant masses, soon to be ACROSS Intelligent Masses. There was heartbreak and trauma and stress (imagine that!) inside ACROSS during the conquest, but they Conquered. The Daitenzin are gone forever (actually she thinks they've joined up with ACROSS; at least the black-haired fella who's obsessed with Hyatt has), Kabapu is in jail, and the Department of City Security building is theirs. Japan is in chaos. The major news channels alternate the Prime Minister saying with wild gesturing and clenched fists that Japanese Military Defense Force will crush the rebel state and Hyatt calling the true followers of democracy to ACROSS. Lord Ilpalazzo has appeared on television only once, after Kabapu and the mayor went into ACROSS custody. He was impressive, wonderful, stunning, and said a lot of big words Excel didn't understand. Or has conditioned herself not to understand.
She waits for him now; he is in a meeting with some important city people. It is too few important city people for her to be upset that she isn't included. After all, if he included her in absolutely everything he wouldn't be the absolute ruler, right? And she wouldn't be the second in command. Hyatt is a natural Chief Communications Officer, her laid-back and polite manner impresses the masses (especially the men). Excel is in charge of the rather large manpower ACROSS has under its command. There's not much Thinking involved, thankfully. Lord Ilpalazzo gives her the orders and she relays them in her usual happy man-
The door she's leaning on starts to open and she jumps backwards.
Men and even a few women in suits file out. Some give her a slight glance but no more than that, and she leans against the wall (it has horrible wallpaper with flowers on it; what kind of taste did that Kabapu have?!). About a minute after the last suit walks out, the new ruler of Fukuoka himself does.
He looks dignified, as he always does; regal, in the black uniform. He abandoned the shoulderpads and the cape a long time ago.
Excel's heart flutters, her pulse races, her cheeks flush. Despite what anyone else says about her feelings about him, it is not just lust; it never has been just lust. He offered her a way out of mediocrity, a permanent end to ridicule at family gatherings and cram school and the Salaryman Dream-oh, but for women, it's the Office Lady Dream with Marriage and Some Kids. She's subordinate to him, but it's because he has The Ideas. He has The Look. He has The Rope and The Pit, which she's even become accustomed to. Except now he's stopped using it.
Her mind is swarming with how one must renounce all desires including love to be successful in obtaining the way to Heaven and not to Hell and how following the Ten Commandments leads one to Enlightenment, and then she realizes that it's all wrong and she's mixing it up anyway. Her happiness, her complacency, her relative peace of mind is him. God (or Enlightenment or whatever) is love.
They're about to go out and address the troops jointly about their new strategy in the conquest of Japan.
He looks down at her again through regular glasses now and offers her his arm. She takes it. It is a little display of affection, but it is enough.