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    Parker Owens
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Predator Prey - 23. Diversions

No warnings needed for this chapter.

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.

Copyright © 2017 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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"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." There - one of the most hopeful bits so far - have we ever seen him so relaxed, so at ease?
"after all, it was just a comic, right? But they both smiled." - just a comic? But...
Has he ever been as easy and innocent - can't think of a better word - as with Graham so far? This seems to be the first conversation not marred by misgivings or remembering his own past. The first free one...
Interesting that he needs help to decipher the drawings that he cannot read the drawings as a story - but then I have never "read" mangas, so maybe I am naive... to me he seems to be entering a world with a completely different culture, one which needs explaining.
So I am not sure where he is at the moment, but he could be in a very good place - learning about friendship now. Promising chapter
thank you for sharing it

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Hmmmm Wally and Graham ... interesting. Time together flew by ... nice Parker.

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On 02/17/2017 09:10 AM, mayday said:

"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." There - one of the most hopeful bits so far - have we ever seen him so relaxed, so at ease?

"after all, it was just a comic, right? But they both smiled." - just a comic? But...

Has he ever been as easy and innocent - can't think of a better word - as with Graham so far? This seems to be the first conversation not marred by misgivings or remembering his own past. The first free one...

Interesting that he needs help to decipher the drawings that he cannot read the drawings as a story - but then I have never "read" mangas, so maybe I am naive... to me he seems to be entering a world with a completely different culture, one which needs explaining.

So I am not sure where he is at the moment, but he could be in a very good place - learning about friendship now. Promising chapter

thank you for sharing it

I think Wally probably finds the Japanese text distracting. The general outline might be visible in the story, but the text might mean something important. He might find a translation on the internet, but that's not something he will find right at the moment. But you are right in that Graham and Wally have had a lovely, unconstrained conversation, and that's the best thing he's experienced in a while. Many thanks for your very perceptive thoughts and for reading the story!

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On 02/17/2017 09:12 AM, Mikiesboy said:

Hmmmm Wally and Graham ... interesting. Time together flew by ... nice Parker.

Yeah, you can tell what might be happening. Their time just zipped past. Interesting, yes...thanks for reading and for your comments!

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Sometimes, someone sneaks up on you. A little conversation, a little banter, and before you know it, there's something there. Comfortable. Is that what's happening here? I don't think Wally has any idea yet. I liked he took note the guy was pleasing in appearance, but his thoughts didn't go straight to sexual. He wasn't calculating anything, like he would have in the past. He has more than one focus now. This should be interesting... great chapter, buddy... cheers... Gary....

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I remember some of the convoluted formulas I created for my databases – and mine were just text.

 

I took over and wildly expanded a database that created comparison charts for many of the products we sold at a computer store in the mid- to late-‘90s. I made sure that if the quantity was one, the description would not be plural and other little things like that. I definitely included too much information, but I didn’t really know how to decide the relative importance of the information I had found in my research.

 

I read a few of the Game of Thrones graphic novels, but I’ve never read any manga. I’m having enough trouble deciphering Danish in Timothy M’s stories! English and Danish share Subject-Verb-Object word order, but Japanese is a Subject-Object-Verb word order language. I have enough trouble with British English, much less learning yet another language.

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Well, well. Wally's education continues. Or, perhaps it's his reform we are seeing more clearly in this chapter. He is starting to see new people without strings attached, without hidden motivations, and he is liking that. I like the way he has interacted with Ellie and Graham, accepting their friendly advances as normal. I also like the bond he is forging with Cookie. Even though he was somewhat manipulated into working on the spreadsheet for Cookie, Wally has approached the project as a non-profit endeavor - something he is willing to do just to help out.
I like Wally now. What an interesting about-face you've made with him in this story.
At some point, I hope we can learn his true name.

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Awww Parker....you just gave me another cavity. Good Job! Oh BTW you have me re-reading A to Z with all of your posts, giving me even more cavities. Darn you and the sweet stuff. hehehe

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On 02/17/2017 10:05 AM, Headstall said:

Sometimes, someone sneaks up on you. A little conversation, a little banter, and before you know it, there's something there. Comfortable. Is that what's happening here? I don't think Wally has any idea yet. I liked he took note the guy was pleasing in appearance, but his thoughts didn't go straight to sexual. He wasn't calculating anything, like he would have in the past. He has more than one focus now. This should be interesting... great chapter, buddy... cheers... Gary....

You read this so well...Wally is perhaps less aware of the change in himself than we are...that he could engage in conversation and banter without some other agenda or fear is probably a very refreshing experience. If Cookie was able to sneak up on Wally, what else might creep in? I am glad you are enjoying the voyage, though. Thanks for your perceptive thoughts.

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On 02/17/2017 10:26 AM, droughtquake said:

I remember some of the convoluted formulas I created for my databases – and mine were just text.

 

I took over and wildly expanded a database that created comparison charts for many of the products we sold at a computer store in the mid- to late-‘90s. I made sure that if the quantity was one, the description would not be plural and other little things like that. I definitely included too much information, but I didn’t really know how to decide the relative importance of the information I had found in my research.

 

I read a few of the Game of Thrones graphic novels, but I’ve never read any manga. I’m having enough trouble deciphering Danish in Timothy M’s stories! English and Danish share Subject-Verb-Object word order, but Japanese is a Subject-Object-Verb word order language. I have enough trouble with British English, much less learning yet another language.

Poor Wally is probably just trying to make out the storyline from the pictures; the text in Japanese is quite likely to be more distracting than helpful. But Graham seems to have shed some light on the story; at least, he seems me to have a vague clue of the language. A database could be a better tool for Wally in his work with Cookie, but the spreadsheet is what he knows how to use. When Wally gets back to land, perhaps he will get some training...thanks for your comments and thoughts. I appreciate them so much.

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On 02/17/2017 03:47 PM, Geron Kees said:

Well, well. Wally's education continues. Or, perhaps it's his reform we are seeing more clearly in this chapter. He is starting to see new people without strings attached, without hidden motivations, and he is liking that. I like the way he has interacted with Ellie and Graham, accepting their friendly advances as normal. I also like the bond he is forging with Cookie. Even though he was somewhat manipulated into working on the spreadsheet for Cookie, Wally has approached the project as a non-profit endeavor - something he is willing to do just to help out.

I like Wally now. What an interesting about-face you've made with him in this story.

At some point, I hope we can learn his true name.

I like the term you use to describe the work Wally is doing for Cookie...non-profit. Certainly, he is doing this for nothing else except that the older man asked him to try. And I can't help but appreciate the way you talk about the changes Wally the onetime predator has undergone. He can make friends, and be conversations dn. funny and charming for no other reason than it seems right. He has no further agenda than that. In the process, it appears he is making friends and building something more enduring than his 'business' ever was. Thanks so much for continuing to read along in this voyage, and for your very encouraging remarks.

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On 02/17/2017 07:47 PM, JayT said:

Awww Parker....you just gave me another cavity. Good Job! Oh BTW you have me re-reading A to Z with all of your posts, giving me even more cavities. Darn you and the sweet stuff. hehehe

Sweet stuff? Yes, well, perhaps the calorie count is climbing. But maybe Wally is changing, and that's a good thing to see. This story can't send you to the dentist entirely, can it? Thanks for continuing to read and for your comments!

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I have never read manga either, so I'd probably be lost also.

 

I do like the ease Wally has when he's conversing with Ellie and Graham. He's never had real friends before -- just guys he used for his own pleasure. He's learning about spending time with people just for the sake of hanging out, so to speak. As a few of your readers pointed out, Wally has no agenda when he's talking with Ellie and Graham. He's never NOT had an ulterior motive for anything, so this seems like a big step in the right direction.

 

Great chapter, Parker! I really like this Wally. Could TP be gone forever? We will have to wait and see. :)

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A love;y pastoral chapter. Sometimes the big changes continue though the quiet moments. It seems that nothing much happens and yet we see the gathering of great changes within Wally. Ellie and Graham are going to quietly shale things up. Cookie is another addition to Wally nascent family of paternal influences.
Thanks for sharing this story

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Hmm ... Him and Graham? Where's that going, I wonder? He's also not only doing work for other people but also teaching them and having discussions.

 

The word saccherine has been used - I wouldn't use that but I do find the journey to the sunlit uplands disconcerting. I can't believe that it will continue without something going wrong. Maybe, I'm being pessimistic, but Wally has far too much baggage, I think ... Good chapter. :)

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On 02/18/2017 03:24 PM, Lisa said:

I have never read manga either, so I'd probably be lost also.

 

I do like the ease Wally has when he's conversing with Ellie and Graham. He's never had real friends before -- just guys he used for his own pleasure. He's learning about spending time with people just for the sake of hanging out, so to speak. As a few of your readers pointed out, Wally has no agenda when he's talking with Ellie and Graham. He's never NOT had an ulterior motive for anything, so this seems like a big step in the right direction.

 

Great chapter, Parker! I really like this Wally. Could TP be gone forever? We will have to wait and see. :)

Wally is more at ease now than he has been since we met him. His motive for conversation is just to have good conversation, nothing else. Well, and maybe to figure out what the heck the comic is about. But Wally is clearly not the same man he was when he prowled as a predator. I am glad you like him in this chapter. But your final question is an apt one. Thanks so much for reading the story - for sticking with it, despite its difficult beginnings - and for your keen insights.

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On 02/18/2017 11:39 PM, Rndmrunner said:

A love;y pastoral chapter. Sometimes the big changes continue though the quiet moments. It seems that nothing much happens and yet we see the gathering of great changes within Wally. Ellie and Graham are going to quietly shale things up. Cookie is another addition to Wally nascent family of paternal influences.

Thanks for sharing this story

I love that you used the word 'pastoral.' It fits perfectly. You are absolutely right about change coming in quiet moments, in simple interactions. As you say, not much - yet very much - is happening. And Cookie? Everyone should have someone like Cookie. Thank you for continuing to read the story, and for your comments.

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On 02/21/2017 04:14 AM, northie said:

Hmm ... Him and Graham? Where's that going, I wonder? He's also not only doing work for other people but also teaching them and having discussions.

 

The word saccherine has been used - I wouldn't use that but I do find the journey to the sunlit uplands disconcerting. I can't believe that it will continue without something going wrong. Maybe, I'm being pessimistic, but Wally has far too much baggage, I think ... Good chapter. :)

I'd hardly characterize this chapter as saccharine, but I do understand it to be much less bitter and harsh than previous chapters. Sunlit uplands may be almost too green and lovely, but Wally is clearly enjoying the company of Ellie, and even more, Graham. And now you are looking for something to go wrong?

 

Many thanks for your keen and thoughtful remarks and comments. And thanks again for reading!

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I think Cookie knows exactly what he's doing with Wally, and I like it..
And Graham? Another friend with no agenda.. Wally seems comfortable with them and even though he's noticed Graham, there's not that predatory tone to his thoughts.
All good things and new experiences to further Wally's positive turnaround..

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On 02/25/2017 08:52 AM, Defiance19 said:

I think Cookie knows exactly what he's doing with Wally, and I like it..

And Graham? Another friend with no agenda.. Wally seems comfortable with them and even though he's noticed Graham, there's not that predatory tone to his thoughts.

All good things and new experiences to further Wally's positive turnaround..

Cookie is an old pro, a master hunter. Wally doesn't even know he's been cornered, right? Graham is a new thing...a friend on equal terms. And you are right, there is no predation or hunting involved. This is a very new and happy experience for Wally.

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Cookie isn't as ignorant as he seems ;)  And maybe Wally isn't destined to spending his life alone and loveless.  I just hope that Graham doesn't get hurt along the way.  Wally's past is still a predator unto itself. :/  

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