By Mike Breslau
Disclaimer: Better folks than I own most of the characters that appear
in this scribbling.
Rob sat on the ground leaning against the trunk of the only tree that
grew on the only hill in the neighborhood. The sun shone brilliantly in
the clear blue sky. Overhead a few slender aircraft flew silently by -
they had neither wings nor visible means of propulsion, and seemed to be
made of glass. Rob ignored them. He often came here to admire the
scenery. Farmland and a few highways surrounded the hill, stretching
away to the purpled-by-distance mountains on the horizon.
A bird flew down from the tree and alighted fearlessly on the ground
near Rob. It did not disturb the tranquility of the moment.
Rob murmured to himself, "Shore is pretty."
"It certainly is," came the unexpected reply.
Rob was startled and looked around. His visitor was an androgynous
person with red hair and sapphire-blue eyes. The surrounding grasses
were undisturbed by the stranger's passage. "Sorry, I didn't hear you
approach," Rob said.
"That's all right," replied the redhead in a friendly tone of voice.
A few minutes passed in companionable silence. "You know," Rob said,
"I've heard stories about a stranger who wanders the world, righting
wrongs, healing the sick, and performing miraculous good deeds."
The redhead nodded. "I've heard those stories too."
Rob continued, "They say he's sometimes male, sometimes female,
sometimes old, sometimes young, and can belong to any race at all. Folks
argue about whether there's only one of him, or many different people
taking turns. The only constants seem to be startling blue eyes and his
silence - unless he's talking he makes no sound at all."
The stranger nodded, saying nothing.
Hearing no objection, Rob went on, "They say he built the hospital over
there." He pointed. "Built and furnished an entire hospital in one
morning! Isn't that amazing?"
"Not bad," agreed the redhead.
"But nobody can figure out whom the 'Ukyo' is that 'Ukyo Memorial
Hospital' refers to."
"Ukyo Kuonji, my friend from more than two thousand years ago," supplied
the redhead. "It's not surprising that folks don't remember her."
Rob was pleased that the stranger had confirmed his guess about his
visitor's identity. "Ah. If you don't mind my asking, what are you? Some
people think you're a ghost, others say you're a kami..."
"I've met ghosts, and I've met kami and demons. I'm not any of those,
although once some kami tried to recruit me into their ranks."
"Really? What happened?" asked Rob.
"I told them to ask me again after I tired of the life I was leading.
Kami work behind the scenes, from a distance, and indirectly. That's why
people have met so few of them. Me, I prefer to work close-up and
Rob asked, "So, are you the only one, or are there others?"
"I've never met anyone else like me, so I'm probably the only one," said
the stranger. "When you're the very best, there can be only one."
In the distance the afternoon Lunar Shuttle climbed swiftly and silently
into the sky. Like the aircraft, it had no wings or visible means of
propulsion. Rob and his new friend ignored it because it was a familiar
"If you're the only one, do you ever get lonely?" Rob wondered aloud.
"I used to, sometimes, but not anymore. I've had friends, enemies,
lovers, and spouses. They all grew old and died, beyond my power to save
them. The pain of separation...was great. Now I seldom form
relationships - not only to avoid the pain, but also because I have so
few peers." The redhead paused, then continued. "So many people think it
would be nice to stay young forever. Take it from me, it's not a good
idea. Your memory fills up, boredom is a constant threat, and every day
is like the day before. Besides, it's unnatural. Death is an essential
part of life, just as important as birth. Without death progress and
evolution would grind to a halt."
Rob said, "Yet you don't sound sad or regretful."
"I'm not. I enjoy my life, or I wouldn't still be here. I like being a
paladin, a martial artist, a healer, an architect, a dancer, and so many
other things. Striving for perfection is good because it's unattainable,
so you always have room for improvement." The redhead held out her hand
and a bird flew down from the tree and alit on an outstretched finger.
The bird twittered happily.
Rob nodded, feeling that he understood somewhat. The bird grew bored and
"As long as I'm here, would you like to be younger?" asked the stranger.
Rob smiled wryly. "I've earned every one of these wrinkles and grey
hairs. I wouldn't mind if you fixed up my left eye though. The doctors
can't restore my retina any more."
"Done!" declared the redhead, who proceeded to dissolve into a shower of
polychromatic sparkling motes. Rob was again alone on his hilltop.