Well, I had no intention of ever posting anything unless I'd already finished it, but after coming back from a break and looking at this story again I realized that I already had quite a lot written and was still interested in continuing and seeing where it goes from there. Plus I figure having it in progress online will motivate me to keep working on it more often. So, while I can't promise regular updates until it's done, I can promise that I'll do my best to get there eventually without leaving anybody hanging.

Oh, and if anyone has any better title suggestions, I welcome them. Titles and I rarely get along.


Stepping Stones

~1~ In which Hikaru discovers a Go ghost ~

Hikaru Shindo considered himself a fairly typical twelve-year-old. He enjoyed kicking around his soccer ball (not playing seriously; he didn't have enough interest to try to make a career out of it as his father had once pushed him to do), hanging out with his friends (one of whom was a girl, but was generously tolerated anyway despite her eye-rolling habit whenever the boys mentioned such things), and had developed a habit of playing an online strategy game called Go he had first discovered soon after his father had forbidden poker when Hikaru was nine. He considered the Internet an indispensable source of entertainment, information and communication; he was horrible at Spanish and good at math when the teachers let him get to the solution his own way rather than making him follow a particular process; his favorite video game was Super Smash Bros and his favorite movie was Star Wars Phantom Menace. He was, in short, a perfectly normal American preteen, despite being half Japanese.

Hikaru had never really learned or paid attention to much about Japan, to his father's everlasting annoyance, except for their manga (most of which he read online since his allowance usually went to snacks and movie tickets). The rest didn't have anything to do with him. And that was why, at twelve years old and having never traveled farther from the U.S. than the coast of California, he was chagrined to find out that his family was suddenly moving "home." Hikaru had always figured that thirteen years in and a permanent visa to another country, not to mention meeting and marrying an English-only-speaking southern-heiress American blonde, didn't count as just a business trip anymore, but apparently he had been laboring under a misconception. To Japan they were going.

"Start getting used to it," his father told him. "First off, you'll now be going by Shindo Hikaru. Family name first. Everything isn't Westernized at home."

"I'll have to get used to it seeing as I'll be drowning in all the differences," Hikaru pointed out. "What about my oral history project next month? I'm supposed to be concentrating on the stock market crash, and the Rural Electrification Act, and now my grades are going to start dropping like rocks just before I'm transferring and needing to be at my best to get into a good school..."

"Drama queen," his mother said, amused.

"Hikaru!" his father exclaimed, aghast, the next time he entered the house. "What did you do to your hair?!"

"What?" Hikaru brushed aside his newly blond bangs with casual bewilderment. "I'm just upholding my pride in my nationality and American heritage before I'm irrevocably sundered from my roots and homeland forever."

"I'm so proud of you for using a dictionary, honey," his mother drawled.

And I ain't going somewhere where I'm going to look just like everybody else, either, Hikaru added to his friends in their online chatroom after updating them on the progress of The Departure. Hey Ami, think you can do my whole head if I duck p.e. tomorrow?

No freakin' way, my sister already found the dye, Ami posted back. Besides, I didn't want to tell you, but you'd make a terrible blond.

I gotta agree with her on that one, dude, his former best friend Jamal betrayed him. The bangs look good though.

Your too smart to be blond anyway, even if you are a goofball, his other former best friend Trey heaped further coals upon his head.

Yeah, sure, hit me when I'm down, Hikaru posted. See if I remember any of you when I'm halfway around the world making new friends.

No worries for us, Jamal posted without even any little emoticon to show he actually felt remorse. You won't be able to understand a word any of them are saying.

Hikaru grimaced at the screen and clicked out. That was true--despite his father's sporadic but unrelenting attempts to instill some of his homeland's culture in his son, Hikaru couldn't speak, read or write a word of any of the Japanese dialects. They were all horribly complicated and impossible to remember.

He paused and sent up a word of thanks for American schools in foreign countries, and the moving went on. Before the year was over he was looking around their new home--apparently not a totally traditional Japanese house, but still weirdly different from the real ones back in America--with not-very-motivated helplessness. His father seemed invigorated from being back on his native soil, directing Hikaru and his mother in how to slide the doors open and closed without breaking them and under no circumstances to set foot beyond the entryway with their shoes still on, and what seemed like a thousand other totally irrelevant things...

This is not my world, Hikaru posted to the chatroom he could still blessedly connect to with his old computer. As if to emphasize his new isolation, none of his friends was online to respond. He sighed deeply, logged off, and neglected all the miscellaneous chores his father had set him in favor of spending several hours downloading English-translated chapters of One Piece, Bleach, and Petshop of Horrors. He probably wouldn't be able to buy any volumes anymore that were actually readable.


So, how's it going in the land of the weird? Jamal posted a few weeks after Hikaru's arguably successful transplantation.

Thank God for the American school with people I can actually understand, Hikaru immediately typed. All the other students aren't natives either. I dunno though, except for that I haven't really got anything in common with them so far. And everybody *else*--gah! You know what Japanese students do to hang out besides the girls shopping? *Karaoke*! Seriously, it's like a national pastime or something!

Oh, I so want to see you standing up on stage belting some song you can't even pronounce the lyrics to, Ami posted. With a bunch of girls sighing and giggling, and all the grownups gasping and clutching their hearts and collapsing...

Here comes Pe-ter Cott-ontail, skipp-ing down the bunn-y trail, Hikaru posted irrepressibly.

Iiit's a small world aff-ter alll, Trey joined in.

I like big butts and I cannot lie, you otha brothas can't deny, Jamal posted. Hikaru whooped with laughter, drawing a half-attentive call of "Now now honey, no animated eviscerations before dinner."


"So, son, how is your Japanese progressing?" his father asked as he had started doing practically every night as they sat on the floor around the table--on the floor not because their furniture hadn't arrived, but because his father insisted cushions were supposed to be furniture now.

"Uh... fine, okaa-san," Hikaru pronounced, with careful attention to repeating the word exactly as he heard it earlier.

His father, unappreciative of the effort his son had put in, thunked his head against the heel of his hand. "That's mother!"

"Great food, okaa-san," Hikaru said, unbothered by his mistake.

"Thank you, dear," his mother said with a complacent smile. Her husband had tried giving her several English cookbooks with Japanese recipes in them since the family's arrival; so far they had resulted in casseroles, spaghetti, and macaroni and cheese just like she had always cooked for them back home. Hikaru figured his father was putting up less of a fuss about her slowness to adapt than Hikaru's because he was waiting for her stored supplies from America to run out. He just hoped she would manage to pull out a secret stash even after that.


C'mon, seriously, what do you actually do over there? Jamal posted.

Basically nothing, Hikaru reiterated. Well, basically same as ever except without everything I did with you guys. Surfin the Net mostly. I'd try playing Go with some of the other kids from school except the only time I mentioned it nobody even knew what it was.

That is so an old people game, I'm always telling you, Trey posted. Seriously, who enjoys staring at this big grid putting down checker pieces? Can't you just see the ancient grandpappies sitting all in a row out in a park playing that game as if it was chess? Who likes chess?

People with brains, Ami posted. People who enjoy thinking. Being able to out-think other people. You wouldn't understand.

Oh, hey, you will *not* believe what I found out in the shed behind the house last week, Hikaru posted. It's a great shed, the last owner stored all his junk there and didn't clean out when he moved, I'm thinking of clearing it out some and putting some of it up on eBay if I can figure out how to post in English but sell in Japan.

This is fascinating, Jamal posted.

Edge of my seat. Tell on, Trey posted.

Shut up, morons, Hikaru posted good-humoredly. So anyway, I found this Go board in there--it's like a little wood table with legs, and it's got the grid on top, and even has two bowls of stones, black and white. And it's got a ghost.

Ghost? Trey repeated.

Oh, boy, I knew it was going to be trouble sending you off all by yourself like that, Jamal posted.

Shut up, morons, Ami posted. Stop provoking them, Ru. What d'you mean by ghost?

I mean ghost, I swear, Hikaru typed, enjoying himself. I saw the board, I was like 'oh, cool, it looks you could play Go on that' and *bam* this flowy whitey guy pops up from nowhere sitting on the other side of the board and waving this fan at the stone bowls. He looked like a little puppy dog, all 'let's play! let's play! please please please?'

A Go ghost, Ami repeated after a moment in which none of his friends seemed to be able to find anything to respond.

Well, I dunno really, Hikaru relented, figuring he had well and truly stumped them. Dad keeps telling me how Japan's all so high-tech and everything but there's all this weird old stuff around, and I can't understand anything I see or hear. I figure it's either a Go ghost or some kind of hologram project that got dumped or something, you know like those computers that are supposed to be able to beat chess masters eventually? I tried playing a game against it just to see--that sucker is set on Elite level at least, I'm pretty good online but it totally creamed me, kept tch'ing and shaking its head and sighing whenever I moved. Stupid thing.

Aw, almighty hotshot, beaten by a player who's not even real, Jamal posted, recovering promptly to tease him.

You have got to get a life, how sad will it be if you start hanging out in your shed to play an old people game with some old guy ghost? Trey posted, following the lead.

You should see if anybody else at your school likes soccer, Ami advised. Or start a movie club or something. You gotta hang out with somebody sometime.