Thanh Truong leapt from the trolley as soon as it came to a stop and hurried over to Yellow Dragon Square. As he turned the corner at the end of the shop row, Thanh halted dead in his tracks. Yellow Dragon Square was gone. In its place, and spreading up into the hills where residences once stood, sat a grassy park with pebbled walkways between rows of cherry trees. Thanh had never seen so many cherry trees in his life.
"Quite the sight, isn't it, nephew?"
Thanh turned his head and saw a ten-year-old boy standing nearby.
The boy had his hands tucked into his armpits. "Uncle Cris?" Thanh
asked in surprise.
"Yep. How's your family? Linh have her baby yet?"
"The baby should come day after tomorrow, uncle. How's the new body?"
Cristobol Ng held up his hands and wiggled his fingers. "Fits like a like a body. Weirdest thing is being so short." He lowered his arms. "What do you make of all these cherry trees?"
A crowd was slowly gathering, and a woman nearby said, "I heard that the Child Empress is wiping the Opaline District clean."
"False rumor," said a man behind her. "The Serene Knight did this.It just came on the news."
The woman stared off into the distance, eyes unfocused. "So it has."
Thanh accessed the Current Events database and scanned the headlines. The Serene Knight had, of a sudden, abolished Yellow Dragon Square and replaced it with cherry trees and Shinto Temples, the new park to be called Hanami (Cherry-blossom Viewing) Park. Only a corner of the Opaline District was being converted, piece by piece, into a medieval Nihonjin city; the rest of the affected territory lay in the Spinward wilds. The Serene Knight had decreed that all persons (biont or otherwise) within the boundaries of newly created Yoso-Kyoto must speak solely in nihon-go.
Thanh turned to his uncle. "There's scant biographical information on any of the Lords and Ladies. Is the Serene Knight of Nihonjin ancestry?"
"I think he's a hyperturning Ai-Ei," Ng answered. "Maybe he was originally made by Nihonjin."
"Perhaps. Oh, I came upon a weird scene yesterday when I cut through the Jade Dragon Park during my lunch break."
"You worked yesterday, then. How are those new glazes?"
"Very nice. Good colors, and easy to work with. Anyway, I was walking along the Path of Roses when I came upon a statue of a bearded man in a shortened dhoti blocking the path. And when I edged around it, I found a young teener boy prostrated in front of it. Apparently, he has to spend an hour each day abasing himself before the statue which he claims is an avatar of the Child Empress."
"A statue of a bearded man?"
"And it's supposed to be the Child Empress."
"Well, the boy thinks so. And from the way the child was dressed, I'd say he was a superbright out of the Opaline."
"Maybe he had a visitation. It's been known to happen." Cris Ng gestured at the cherry tree park. "The Lords and Ladies act in mysterious ways. What do you think prompted this?"
"Your guess is as good as anyone else's."
"That statement is false," said a lanky man who'd just made his way to the front of the crowd. "A superbright's guess, for example, is infinitely better than yours."
Cris Ng scowled up at the man. "And infinitely no closer to the truth."
The man grinned. "You're quite correct, boy. So, how's your nihon-go, youngster? You'll need it if you want to hang about Yoso-Kyoto."
"Motto tsuzukete. O-genki desu ka? Genki des ne?"
"Hai. Domo. So you do speak the language. You do look a bit nihon around the edges."
"Viet, sir. Not nihonjin. I'm sure all Ai-zhan people look alike to you."
"Your son has pride," the man said to Thanh. "Good for him."
"Actually, he's my uncle, and even his wives don't patronize him."
"Sorry. New body, eh?" The man slapped his forehead. "Aren't you Cristobol Ng, the thrillseeker."
"Yes, I am."
"Parrpa Dooley. And do I ever feel stupid. My apologies, Freeman Ng."
"I followed your exploits up until your accident. I guess it'll be a while before you pick that up again."
"Good guess. What participatory sports do you favor?"
Thanh turned his gaze to the park while his uncle talked shop. A group of children halfway down the slope dared each other with nervous to be the first to enter the new park. It was then that Thanh realized no one had approached the park, and that its grounds were devoid of sentient life. As if everyone feared that the park would suddenly vanish, along with everything held within its bounds. The world held its breath.
Twin dark skinned, inky-haired girls darted out of the crowd. One wore khaki shorts, and the other nothing at all. The girls shot down the slope and into the park where they cartwheeled across the grass. They commenced a game of tag among the trees, and within minutes other children began to trickle down the slope and into the park.
"It's probably as safe as anything else in the city," Parrpa Dooley commented. "I wonder if those two girls are simply more daring than others, or if they were memed into charging forward."
"Piped Piper of Hamelin."
"What piper, Uncle Cris?"
"Ancient Feringji legend about a piper who hypnotized vermin with his music and led them out of the city of Hamelin. When the good citizens refused to pay up, he stole their children away in the same manner."
"Just what I wanted to hear with a new child on the way. Don't ever tell Linh this story."
Ng laughed. "Your wife is the one who told me."