As the craft Lee was piloting matched the velocity and position vector necessary to achieve berthing his chipset informed him this maneuver was called a “space rendezvous”. Those words (and their Japanese counterparts) floated unbidden up in his mind, nearly breaking the concentration he already found difficult to maintain. Over the past weeks he had rotated out more wetchips that he had ever previously and he found the constant reconfiguring of his internal skillsets to be a schizophrenic experience.
He let go of that with a sigh of relief as he heard the arm of the station’s remote manipulator system clamp onto their craft with a hollow echo. Through the cockpit window he saw the craft guided towards the connector bay. He felt none of this, though, the gravity that would have allowed the associated sensation conspicuously absent. The result was a disassociation that made Lee think of being pulled by the current of a mystic river, there but not there, like something out of Haruki Murakami story.
He finally did feel something as the craft began to match the station’s rotational speed, the pressure changing as the connectors synched up. Lee pushed himself off the console and floated down the long hallway that was the craft’s central shaft. Jhel was already waiting by the bay door, standing as straight as he could in the increasing gravity, waiting for his feet to meet the floor. Unable to hold himself in a straight perpendicular line to the base it gave him the appearance of a clumsy child floating in a pool.
The bay doors were painted a sickly color of yellow, an odd choice Lee thought, given the name of the station that was painted onto them in shūji characters: Kuromaku. Again his Japanese chipset floated the meaning of the word into his brain: “Black Curtain”. He busied himself by attempting to imitate Lee’s posture, already feeling the increase of gravity pull him in the direction that could only be termed “down”. Doing this helped him get his thoughts away from what might be hidden behind the black curtain.
The doors slid open with a pneumatic sound. Beyond was a simple genkan, the yellow from the doors continuing into a small room, little bigger than a closet, with a recessed floor and another portal at the end. Feeling his own weight settle onto him completely again, Lee was grateful to have the moment in removing his shoes to readjust. Beside him, Jhel continued his prolonged and uncustomary silence. The launch and landing suits they wore made removing the boots difficult, but they managed to do so and get back to being upright before the inner doors slid open.
Seeing the old man beyond, flanked by two younger men, Jhel took the lead. He bowed deeply, bending his legs in an awkward manner, extending his right hand in a submissive gesture, cupped palm up. In perfectly calibrated and formal Japanese he said, “Please receive our introductions.”
The old man, tall for the small space, with a large belly that stretched out his black robes, said nothing at first, but something subtle about his kinesics said he was pleased by Jhel’s movements. He replied, “Receive ours first.”
Keeping his eyes to the ground, maintaining the awkward posture of the bow, Jhel replied, “Impossible. Your position is higher.” Lee thought of the hundreds of miles they had traveled from the Earth in order to reach the station.
A blink from the old man. Then, “We will receive your words.”
“I am Jhel Phen. I was born in Maharashtra. I belong to no clan.” Lee blinked, realizing that he had no idea where Jhel was from until that moment. He didn’t look Indian. Had he had surgery to change his appearance? Or was he born from expatriates?
Without taking his eyes from Jhel the older man seemed to indicate his approval to the two beside him. “We are impressed by your politeness. I am Akiyama Masaru, a humble oyabun of the Kuromaku.” Lee wondered why a lesser kobun hadn’t been made to make the introductions, but then realized this must indicate the importance of the exchange. Created and operated by the Yakuza, Kuromaku was a data haven and hideout, built to house the most wanted members of the crime syndicate.
To Lee, the old man appeared as the “foster parent” of his title, perhaps stern but not dangerous. The contradiction of his appearance to Lee’s knowledge of the station gave the old man’s words a sinister ring.
“We extend our best regards.”