Several nights later, he was deep into the project of sorting out Cookie's cryptic ship's accounting. He'd created a spreadsheet which had begun to sprawl wildly, despite his best attempts to tame it. He'd put together coffee and early morning munchies for researchers staying up, and then went back to the puzzle. He thought he had part of the problem licked by using several clever sorting commands, but a whole lot of the entries defied classification. He'd actually had to go and look up things in the manuals. Cookie had long since gone to bed and would not reappear until about four AM.
He stared at the screen. The sound of feet in the corridor startled him.
It turned out to be Ellie, the geologist. "Wally! I got you something!" The sturdy blond girl beamed at him.
He hurriedly saved his work and looked up. She had a handful of paperbacks in her hand and another researcher in tow. He cocked an eye at her.
"Manga!" she crowed. Ellie was not a quiet girl; he wondered if she would wake everyone in the staterooms up. Then again, one learned to sleep heavily and quickly on the Feigenbaum. A noiseless night was nearly unheard of. She shoved a pair of worn paperbacks into his hand. "One Piece, Vinland Saga," she said succinctly. "You can thank me later."
Her companion chuckled. "You don't wait around, do you?"
"How can you say that? It's Manga!" she chortled.
"But not everyone understands it as you do," he smirked.
"That's why I brought you, Graham. I thought you could explain it."
"No, I came down for coffee, Ellie," amusement plain in his voice. He moved to the counter to pour himself a cup.
"Wally, what are you doing?" Ellie asked. He had been flipping rapidly through the pages of one of the paperbacks.
"Um, Ellie, these are in Japanese," he said.
"Of course they are. They're written in Japanese."
"But how am I supposed to read them?"
"You can probably follow the basics of the story just by following the artwork," the guy called Graham put in, "but if you ask her, I'll bet Ellie wouldn't mind translating."
He studied Graham more closely. The new man seemed a few years older than himself and stood at least as tall as Ellie. A sparse beard trailed on his jawline and chin. Humorous, friendly brown eyes looked down at him from under brown curls as abundant as his own blond ones. Unlike Ellie, Graham seemed lanky and sinewy under his pale blue t-shirt, imprinted with an illustration of some fantastic creature.
"You know Japanese?" he asked.
"Just a little," Graham admitted, "Ellie's fluent."
"Gah, not really," she put in from where she was grabbing an orange and mug of coffee. "I spent a year in Japan after high school with an exchange program, but I'm not really fluent.”
"Don't let her fool you," Graham said, "Ellie knows all the slang."
"Yeah, for Niigata. Not for Osaka or anything like that," she complained.
Graham shrugged and smiled.
"So, what's it about?" he asked, holding one of the books up.
"That's One Piece," Graham told him, "it's kind of a pirate soap opera."
He lifted an eyebrow. A pirate soap opera?
Ellie rolled her eyes. "Graham, it's a saga. You just have the first parts there," she said, stirring her coffee. "I didn't bring it all with me, but if you get interested, there's a lot more."
"Sorry, El. It's a saga." There was definitely a smirk in that voice.
He thought he could like Graham. Ellie, too. She was okay, if a little enthusiastic.
"So let me know just how awesome you think One Piece is, and I'll hit you up with another book," Ellie told him, "and thanks for the midnight snack. Graham, you ready to count critters some more?"
"Sure, Paleo Princess," he grinned back at her. "See you later, Wally." He waved as the pair made their way out.
He looked down at the Japanese book in his hand. Weird.
But later in the early morning hours, as Cookie's equally strange accounting finally took its toll, he picked up the book again and paged through it. Flipping the leaves back to the beginning, he tried to make sense out of the illustrations. There was an execution, and a crowd appearing to cheer about it. Of course, the Japanese characters meant nothing to him, but the pictures seemed mildly interesting. He tried to piece together something of the story. Clearly someone was looking for the executed man's treasure, but it really didn't make a lot of sense.
"Hey, Wally, ready to make breakfast?" Cookie was up. He was done with the accounting project – and the comic saga – for the next few hours.
After breakfast ended and his watch was over, he couldn't quite let the accounting project drop. Foregoing a catnap, he went back to it, trying a more sophisticated sorting method. He was pleased at the end of an hour to see that many of the unorthodox entries had been handled more or less correctly. That still left quite a few without a viable classification, but he'd created a spreadsheet that seemed to handle the bulk of Cookie's entries.
He decided that the rest would have to wait until he'd studied the shipboard accounting manuals yet again. It seemed that being at sea did odd things to the usual rules. It was also odd that Cookie hadn't been hounding him with lectures and homework exercises and so on, as the other section heads had done during the January cruise. Perhaps he had forgotten.
Whatever the case, Cookie seemed pleased when he showed the Purser the progress he'd made just after he went back on his watch at midnight.
"This is great stuff," the man pronounced, squinting at the digital rows of figures. "You mean all you have to do is type the entries on this page here, and everything gets sorted out automatically?"
"Kind of, yeah. You have to go to the next tab to see it…"
"Oh, I get it," Cookie murmured, clicking as indicated, "there. Now then, let me see…" He inspected the entries minutely. "So, Wally, there's a problem with this one here…"
Before long, they were in a warm discussion of why the spreadsheet commands had succeeded, or in a number of cases, failed.
"I get why the machine sorted it that way, but that entry can't go there," the Purser insisted. "It's the wrong kind of expense. Different category."
"Well it wasn't in the manual," he retorted.
Cookie smiled beatifically. "Not everything is in the manual, Wally."
"So what you're saying is that I have to guess at the right categories before I can have the machine decide…"
"Of course, Wally! That's part of the job…making that decision," Cookie exclaimed, as he stood. "Otherwise, they wouldn't need the likes of me, now would they?"
He couldn't help but smile at that one. "No, Cookie, you're pretty much indispensable."
"Nah, they can do without me well enough. In fact, I'm going to prove it to you. I'm going to bed," the big man yawned, "and I won't be back until it's time to serve up. You’re on your own, Wally," he laughed. The Purser made his way to his cabin, still chuckling.
Shit. Cookie had led him on into that one.
He felt nervous somehow, even as he told himself he shouldn't. He'd done the breakfast prep under Cookie's supervision at least a dozen times. He'd done the serving on his own, too. Still, what was Cookie thinking? He got up, checked the menu book. Checked it again. Fruit, cereal, eggs, coffee, juice…gluten free toast for that guy from UGA…dress up the leftovers from the last twenty four hours…nothing terribly special.
In the meantime, he'd need to take care of the dogwatch snackers.
He got up and made a few more sandwiches. He put them out on the tray with the others. He checked the coffee supply: adequate for now. He located everything he'd need for starting the breakfast on his own. He fought back an urge to get started right away. There would be plenty of time, with or without Cookie.
He sighed. He could at least try piecing together some corrections to the accounting spreadsheet based on his argument with Cookie. Those discussions were good for something, he guessed. He settled into his chair and got to work for a while. A few visitors came and went, filling mugs with coffee. The sorting commands got more tangled as they had to be applied more generally. There probably was an easier way, but he was in too deep, now.
Needing a break, he spied Ellie's paperback lying on the mess table next to the laptop. He needed a distraction about now, so why not? He picked it up and went back to deciphering the stylized comic. He'd never really gotten into that style of illustration, but this was kind of a puzzle. Different from his accounting project, but a puzzle.
"Enjoying that?" a friendly voice asked.
He looked up to see Ellie's friend…Graham…grinning at him from the coffee maker.
"Umm, it's okay. I don't really get it, though."
"Well, where are you?" Graham asked, moving closer.
"Only a few pages in," he admitted sheepishly.
"What do you understand of it?"
"Not too much. It's drawn well, though."
"Don't let Ellie hear you say that. She's all over the story," Graham snickered, sitting down next to him at the table. "You mind if I sit?" he asked, as an afterthought.
"Go ahead. Maybe you can help me make sense of this," he said to the brown headed man next to him, handing over the book.
"Let me see," Graham said, musing over the page, "here…my Japanese is pretty horrible, but…here, you understand, it's telling us the treasure is buried…and…there, the barrel, you get it, Luffy's in the barrel, and…"
Slowly, haltingly, he and Graham toiled their way through the comic, the taller researcher helping him learn the cast of characters and understand the text a little better. At least he grasped the story, as the two of them pored closely over the dog-eared paperback. Every now and then, Graham paused to talk about Japanese culture or some other diversion.
He found himself grinning, enjoying himself. Despite the hour, he didn't feel sleepy, as he often did. He couldn't help poking a little fun at Graham's serious linguistic analysis once or twice – after all, it was just a comic, right? But they both smiled.
"You have to understand how they see it," Graham was saying at one moment, "Japanese see relationships hierarchically, and their language reflects that."
He nodded. It helped him get the idea.
"Oh, so now you're the anthropology prof?" Ellie's gleeful cackle startled them both. Where had she come from? She held a mug of coffee in her hand.
"Right, well, here's the expert," said Graham.
"So, you're getting into it after all, Wally?" Ellie asked him, ignoring Graham.
"It's…interesting. Graham's helping a lot."
"Excellent. I'm going to make you a Manga addict yet," she returned. "Hey Graham, are you coming back to help me with the data set? You've been over an hour."
An hour? They'd spent that long? It seemed only like a few moments.
"Oh. Shit, sorry, Ellie." Graham rose. "I'm coming."
"You're forgiven, this time," the tall girl grinned, "if only because you were helping convert another poor soul to Manga."
"See you later, Wally."
"Good night," he answered, and in moment, he was left alone to his thoughts.
Craftingmom very kindly and generously edited this chapter. Carlos, tim and Spike were marvelous beta readers.
Feel free to leave any sort of review you like. Be assured I will appreciate whatever you say.