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Caught in the Sun

A 2002 World Cup / Anime Fanfic Series

By Roehl Sybing (indef@infinitedeferral.com)

Episode Two: Timeless

Group F: Argentina v Nigeria @ Ibaraki

A Mermaid Saga Fanfic

"The starting eleven for team Argentina reads like a who's who of professional soccer, and are looking to continue the tradition of South America's impact in these World Cup finals. Before this current squad, legends like Kempes and Maradona have been immortalized wearing the blue- striped jerseys for their country. But ever since the 1986 team that took the Cup, Argentina has been wandering about in the shadows like lost souls, going out in the second round in the US and failing to make the semis in France. Starting today, here at Kashima Stadium, the torch has been passed, and a new generation of Argentina's finest are looking to make names for themselves and capture that rare bit of immortality for their own."

---

Yuta pleaded with the old man one more time. "I need you to tell me where he is," he said.

"I don't blame him, of course," the dying man said weakly, "I was too hard on him. Perhaps if I...didn't push him, he wouldn't have..."

"Please, I have to stop him before it's too late, where are those elixirs?"

He coughed up some bile, and struggled to speak, "In the drawer, there's a key. The map is in the safe."

Yuta did as he was instructed. He couldn't help but think that the old man's troubles were precipitated by greed and ambition. The man who rested on his own deathbed built his own company from the ground up. He created his own wealth, influence and power. But that was over ninety years ago.

Sato and his real estate empire survived the terrible days of the war by virtue of a traveling man who sold him a set of supposedly magic elixirs, rumored to be created from the blood of a mermaid. He was young and superstitious, and drank from one, not realizing the implications until his house was bombed with him and his first wife inside. Ever since, Sato rebuilt his business, and became the richest man in Kashima City. He remarried and had children, and found success wherever he went.

But a dire problem arose as the decades passed. Sato did not age, while his second wife grew old and infirm. He kept it a secret, of course, by turning into a recluse inside his castle of a home, speaking through well- paid mediums and ruling his empire from up high.

Sato knew he couldn't keep it that way, and wanted to leave his company to his children. But he loved what he built more than what he created, and couldn't bear the thought of his children then passing the mantle outside the family. The empire was far too large to leave it in the hands of strangers, long after he was gone.

"Yuta," Sato said, "Do you have it?"

"Yes," he replied, pointing to an area on the map, "Is this where he is headed?"

"I believe that's where I hid them," he said, "Tell me, Yuta. Am I...a failure?"

Yuta looked down on him, "I think you're a foolish old man, Mr. Sato. He lived up to no one's standards but your own. It may kill him."

His words pierced the air, painfully cutting to the truth. But Sato did not hear him. Sato was dead.

Shaking his head, Yuta breathed heavily. He heard his own labored breathing until Mana's footsteps turned his head.

"Is he dead?" Mana said emotionlessly.

Yuta nodded. "The mermaid's elixir wore off," he said, looking at Sato, a mere, aged shadow of what he once was, "He never saw it coming."

"Did you find out where his son went?"

"Yes," he said, pointing to a spot on the map, "He went to the stadium."

---

"Mr. Sato!" the official said, "We weren't expecting you, we thought you might be watching the game at home."

"Change of plans," said Jiro, a near-spitting image of his father, "The executive box is open, is it not?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good. I know the way."

"I'll have someone tend to your needs sent up right away, sir."

"No!" Jiro cried, "I mean, that won't be necessary. Thank you, I can take care of myself."

"Yes, sir."

He sure was persistent, Jiro thought. But he was in a hurry, knowing that his father's new acquaintances were most definitely on to him. At least he could fade into the crowd and get lost without his adversaries getting the best of him. He did just that, making his way into the stands of thousands of people focused on the activities on the field. What was most important to him was not on the field, but somewhere beneath it.

---

Yuta and Mana stood behind the police line, in plain sight of the stadium. They looked on the various groups of people walking in and out and around the property, all of them being checked out by police and stadium officials.

"We're never getting in that way," Mana said.

Yuta shook his head, "We're not. C'mon." He looked at the map and took Mana by the hand a block away from all of the action. There, along a narrow side street, was a manhole leading to the sewer tunnels below.

"From the looks of this map, the old man had a secret tunnel carved into the sewers heading into the stadium," he said as he lifted the cover.

"But why?"

"It leads us to where stashed those elixirs. Who knows what other things he's been hiding away in his private collection. Take my hand, I'll lower you down."

Mana looked down into the sewers and hesitated. "This is crazy," she said.

Yuta was taken aback. "You're really sheltered, you know that? A man's life is at stake. C'mon!"

After a moment, Mana did so, being dropped into the sewers as Yuta followed, luckily catching little attention from anyone on the street.

---

"Still no score as we approach halftime. If you're just joining us, we've been talking about Argentina's success in World Cup history. Most of it has been predicated on the winning ways of Diego Maradona, the nation's second top goal-scorer. He made headlines throughout the world last week when Japan's Interior Ministry denied him a visa for this tournament, solely on his involvement with drugs, which also led to his being sent home in USA '94."

"A checkered past, indeed, but when he played for Argentina, he got things done. Many question now if illegal stimulants had anything to do with his five goals in the '86 World Cup, when he led his team over West Germany in the final."

"That picture of him lifting the Cup is an eternal image in the hearts and minds of all Argentinians, but forever tarnished by questions that will never go away. Nonetheless, this national squad looks up to Maradona, and is playing as if he is still their de-facto leader."

---

The lights to the seldom-used hallway flickered on, and Jiro slipped in, getting away from all the fans and all the guards roaming about in the public areas. He walked through the hallway and saw, hung up on the walls, pictures of his father and his family, and all the various events that had chronicled the history of the Sato clan. Jiro recalled all those memories, and the image of his father, in a picture adorning the piece of the wall next to a door guarded by a double lock. It was a painting of his father, as president of his company, standing proud as the artist depicted him with watercolors. Jiro wanted so much to be like his father, but until now he never accepted the final caveat that was asked of him. He saw what had happened, and feared for his own welfare.

But now, he thought, he had no choice. There were people trying to take away his father's treasures, including the one item that elevated him to greatness. As the last of the Sato family, he was duty-bound to do what was necessary.

The door swung open and the room lit up. Jiro entered a room filled with more pictures and more of his father's prized artifacts. But the one and only thing of importance in the grand collection room sat in the middle of everything, atop a stand, enclosed inside a plain wooden box. His father had told him the story of how he got it and what it was. He even got to touch the vials in which the elixirs were stored. Jiro didn't believe it at first, until he was convinced of its effects on that first of many tragedies. It was his turn now, and he gave it not one more thought as he opened the box and put in his hand a small vial, pristine and unaffected by decades of time.

"Jiro, stop!"

He turned around. He was expecting Yuta and Mana, but not so soon. Jiro looked at them while holding up the vial, "So, he showed you the tunnels."

"You don't have to do this."

"That's where you're wrong," Jiro said, shaking his head, "These elixirs saved my father and his business."

"Those elixirs are the reason he's laying in his bed right now," Yuta said commandingly.

Jiro looked away, "He's dead?"

"That's right. The elixir is taken from the blood of a mermaid. It grants immortality to a few people, but it kills most of the others who take it. You'll end up just like him if you drink that."

He approached the two of them like he had all the answers in the vial in his hands. "No," he said, "I could end up a lot worse than my father. You see, he wanted us to be like him. People were beginning to talk. He needed a successor. So he tried it on my mother...and then my brother and sister. They all died immediately after they drank this poison. My father was lucky, it didn't work on him for nine decades. But until then, he was in perfect health and never aged a day."

"You watched your father age this past week," Yuta replied, "It was a painful and excruciating death. Even if you survive, do you want to die like that?"

"You know what I don't want? I don't want to fail. I don't want to be remembered as the child that was caught in the shadow of his father. The great Sato, the king in his castle ruling the city from above. Do you know what that's like, living with expectations like that?" Jiro said emphatically.

The roar of the crowds above shook the walls as the three of them looked up. Jiro laughed. "You hear that? Listen to that! They wouldn't be here if it weren't for my father. At least if I die now, I won't have the chance to fail. And I owe to him...to make something of myself, and I can't do that if I'm old and grey!"

Jiro looked at the two of them and had his mind made up. He lifted the cork off the vial and drank the contents, even as Yuta reached out his hand in vain to stop him.

"No!"

"It's done," Jiro said, licking his lips, "There was really no other way, I assure you."

He stood there, quite confident of himself, in front of startled Yuta, who knew the worst was at hand. It was only a moment for the silence between them to break. Jiro coughed and gagged violently, as his hair grew long and quickly turned grey. The developing wrinkles on his face told the story of the effects of the mermaid's poison, as his hands and legs writhed in pain before he passed out on the floor.

Yuta and Mana rushed to his aid, but it was too late. The symptoms that Jiro's father experienced were duplicated on him at a much quicker pace. This close to death, Jiro had the face of an old man.

His head was held up by Yuta. "I had great expectations," Jiro said softly in his final breath, "I was the king's son...I had no choice."

As they watched him finally surrender to a miserable and painful death, Yuta and Mana then looked at each other with disappointment, one that went largely ignored throughout the entire stadium.

---

"The referee whistles full time, and that's gonna do it. What a heartbreak for Argentina in their opening match! They fell behind late in the game due to Nigeria's goal flurry, and the underdogs of this game win, four-nil, taking the early lead at the top of the table with three points."

"I think what you alluded to earlier was felt by this Argentinian side. This country has great expectations for their team going into this World Cup. They are still poised to advance out of the group, but they were simply crushed by the weight of the authority wielded by the legends before them. The game that the great Diego Maradona played is long gone, but Argentina nonetheless tried to play the way he led his squad. That caused the collapse of their defense, and Nigeria just took it from there with four goals, three of them in a manner of ten minutes."

"Are we the shadow of our parents? Apparently not, says this last match, and Argentina learns this lesson the hard way, losing to Nigeria, four-nil. But they will try to regain their composure and perhaps start their own legend, when they face off against England this Friday. They will find out then if their mistakes will or will not cost them the World Cup."

---

"Yuta?" Mana asked, "It must be really rotten to have parents like that."

"I don't know," Yuta replied, "To be honest, I can't remember mine anymore."

"I wonder what it's like to be raised by other people's expectations," she surmised as they walked along.

"That's not a bad thing, as long as their children find ambitions of their own."

"I guess you're right. But poor Jiro. He went before his time."

"Are you getting philosophical on me?"

"No, why?"

"Good."

END.

Next match:

Episode Three: Croatia v Mexico @ Niigata

A Love Hina Fanfic