Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 2, Page 1- [30/03/2016]

The first time I ever met the man who had stolen the name of Harry McArthur, I was barely a teenager. Introduced by my father on his deathbed after a raid gone wrong. “This is my good friend,” he had told me in English, a language I barely knew. “He will take care of you. I promise. He promises… right, Harry?”

“On my honour, Okita Jyuuichi, I will take care of your daughter,” he said, bowing in a particularly Japanese way, contrite and respectful. Were it not for the solemnity of the situation, I would have laughed when Harry offered me a handshake. Instead, I took the hand and grasped it firmly. We said nothing, but the conversation was there in our eyes. That this was going to hurt. That it would be tough. That together, we’d get through it – the loss of a father, the loss of a friend.

I didn’t see McArthur for a while after my father passed away, and the next time I did, it wasn’t intentional. I’d joined the other nine of the Resistance’s ten warriors, the Juuyuushi, in performing a raid on dam in the southwest of Arlandria. The bombs we had used were a tad more potent than we’d anticipated. The explosion knocked me off my feet when I was about 500 meters away, and I was hit by shards of metal and chunks of falling concrete. By the time I stumbled into the woods and found a tree to prop myself up against, I’d already lost a lot of blood. I just about managed to take out a flare and toss it into a dry bush, setting the whole thing alight.

I passed out, and when I came around, I was being carried by a familiar man with a familiar face. Apparently, I had reached for his glasses and pulled them away, only to be gently chided for my actions. “I need those to see, Kanon. Please return them, otherwise I might be less inclined to heal you.”

I managed to rest them on my stomach before fainting again. The next time I came around, I was in the bedroom of Harry’s apartment, the fragrance of dark coffee wafting throughout the house like smelling salts. My wounds were healed completely, the first sensation of that odd, electric feel under my skin. I was weak still, having lost a lot of blood. Stumbling to the kitchen, I must have looked less like a warrior and more like a sick child – it was testament to my upbringing that at 15 I considered that a bad thing. I was brought up to think I was invincible, and to accept death when it came with open arms. Warrior logic, for a time long after real warriors had really existed. Those like me, we were living legends, but in a way that was without pride or satisfaction.

“You’re making coffee at this time?” I asked in mumbled Japanese, my throat dry and head heavy.

“It’s four in the afternoon,” he replied, gesturing at the fading sunlight outside. “And you shouldn’t be up. You need to rest.”

“I’m fine,” I said in a frustrated tone, as I stepped forwards and almost immediately collapsed onto the linoleum. “Okay, maybe I could use some rest. But I’m also starving.”

“I’ll bring you breakfast,” he said, as gently as he lifted me from the floor with his rough hands. “Now please, I made a promise to your father that I’d take care of you, and your stubbornness is making that a little hard.”

He set me down on the couch, and I couldn’t really move from there. In spite of how hungry I felt, I couldn’t eat, even when he brought me a light breakfast of rice, eggs and some sort of smoked fish. I managed a few mouthfuls before I couldn’t eat any more. About the only thing I could stomach was the green tea, the bittersweet warmth far more soothing than the food.

That wasn’t the last time I saw him, obviously, but it was the last time I let myself get so heavily injured on a mission. We lost good men and women, men and women even he couldn’t save, and I refused to let him break his promise. He said he’d take care of me, but in order to do that, I had to take care of myself. I pieced together armor, started training with firearms. Even managed to ‘requisition’ some night vision equipment and experimental tech.

By the time I was eighteen years old, I hadn’t had a single injury inflicted upon me by an enemy. But I still met with Harry. Still sat with him in that dingy apartment, with a pot of fresh coffee on the side.

“You Japanese used to have names for different eras, didn’t you?” he once said, as he passed a plate of toast across to me, the brown bread roughly buttered and topped with some lemon and lime confection. “What do you call this one?”

At the time, I remember leaning back into the chair, and attempting to think. The last Emperor’s heir was the emperor when the invading forces took control, and had been killed as a result of the uprising he hadn’t instigated. That was the Meiji era. Then his father took over once again, but he was sickly, and only reigned for another 14. Emperor Taisho, we’d called him. After that point, so many Japanese had been killed, and so many remnant factions were dispersed across the country that we hadn’t really worked out who was eligible for the role. It was like a vast disease had swept across the country. And that gave me the idea.

I took a pen and notebook, and sketched down two kanji. One meant ‘disease, sickness’ – ‘Shou’. The other was the old name for Japan – in Chinese, that was ‘Wa’. “Let’s say this era is called ‘Showa’ – the Diseased Japan. And since it’s been sixty years since the Emperor passed… that would make it Showa 60.”

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Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 1, Page 3 – [23/03/2016]

On arrival back at the apartment, a long way from the park and even further from the point of the Vice President’s demise, I leaned against the bathroom’s doorframe casually, masking the fact that I was genuinely exhausted. My stomach begged for food, my dry lips for water.

“Harry, I need to take a shower,” I told the man who had pretended to be my father. A cool breeze caught my arms through the open window, sending a shudder through my body. “Is it going to be warm?”

With the hand that wasn’t holding the mug of coffee, he gestured lazily in the direction of the bathroom. “It’s a power shower now, K. You pull the cord near the light switch and it’ll take a matter of seconds to heat the water. Enjoy.”

Door locked, I took a moment to look at myself in the medicine cabinet mirror. The whole setup was surprisingly real, bought from a movie prop maker who had apparently assumed my ‘dad’ had some unusual pastimes. But no, it was a method to change me from Kanon, the descendent of a legendary member of the Emperor’s secret police, to Kayley, the daughter of a Britannian ‘Addition’ as they called them and a deceased Arlandrian citizen. The real daughter was dead too, most likely. She’d gone missing in mountains between Arlandria, Juneau – which took up the area around Osaka – and New Prussia, based right atop the ruins of Kobe. Since her death couldn’t be confirmed, we decided to jump on the identity as a fake. Convinced the authorities I was her. Same age, similar build. I even went to the college she attended for a while before dropping out.

“Kayley McArthur,” I said, at my own reflection, at the reflection of the girl I was supposed to be imitating. “You are certainly the very image of a typical Arlandrian.”

I stripped my clothing and dug my nails in where the silicone mask  and upper torso form had been fused to my chest with liquid latex. The blend wasn’t perfect, but it was enough. Not like I really had time to change at my little checkpoint either. I pulled the whole assembly off in one movement and packed it away in the false ceiling.

A few clicks and the shower was running, the head pumping out water that was an ideal temperature in a matter of seconds. I felt a collection of sharp stings where the water coursed over cuts, the dull ache of all my bruises. As a child, in training, this is something I’d been told I’d get used to. Didn’t take me very long to work out they were lying. You never really get used to your body crying out in pain as such – it’s more like you just learn to ignore it, drown it out. Tell yourself it’s all for the greater good.

Sometimes it feels like the shower at the end of a mission is the only good you’re ever going to get, as you watch the pinkish water disappear down the drain and hope the cuts on your skin won’t need stitching. I sat down in the porcelain tub and let the water course over me. After a while, I washed and climbed out, grabbed a towel and the first aid kit. Disappeared to the convincingly decorated room.

“Are you honestly going to do that yourself after the bloody mess you made last time?” Harry said, leaning through the doorframe. I made no attempt to cover myself – he’d been my doctor for two years, I was used to him seeing my body. “You know I can help you with these things.”

“It’s just basic cleaning and sealing,” I said quietly, as I rubbed the antiseptic cream against a long surface cut on my thigh. “You don’t have to work your magic… it’s been a long night and I woke you up.”

Harry knelt by the side of my bed and put a single finger to the edge of the cut, and traced it along, the skin stitching itself back together with a faint sensation of static electricity. “See?” His expression was cheerful, fatherly. “Barely broke a sweat. Now, lay down and I’ll cover the rest. We both have work to do and this is quicker.”

I lay back on the white sheets, the pattern of black vertical and horizontal lines standing out in the plain, mock-rustic decor of the room. The rough fingertips coursed across my skin, picking out the minor lacerations and closing them up. After a while, the faint buzz under my flesh made me feel a little lightheaded, my body picking up the faint traces of mana and absorbing them back into my cells.

“You should be done now,” Harry said finally, standing up and vacating the room. “I’d recommend you wait until evening to head back. You did just take out a particularly big piece of trash. You must be tired.”

I smirked. The apartment walls were thin, and we had a tendency of talking in euphemisms just in case the wrong kind of person was listening. Referring to Siciliano as trash was a little improper maybe, but it wasn’t exactly incorrect. Her family had been part of an Italian-American mafia syndicate before they bought in heavily to the Arlandrian project and moved out to the collection of Pacific islands that once had been called Japan. She was racist, violent and highly charismatic. She was almost once sent to jail for a series of lynchings that happened following a speech she made, but the charges mysteriously disappeared.

“Trash is trash, dad,” I replied loudly enough to be heard over the television, broadcasting some early morning re-run. “I’ll be fine once I’ve had some breakfast, then I’d better be on my way.”

I dressed quickly in something casual; clothes I kept at the apartment and clothes that Harry kept stocked up. We paid him well for his services, and he delivered time and again. Back in England, before he had moved, he apparently had served time in the military, but wouldn’t ever say what branch. Judging from his age, he would have missed out on the initial conscription in the Second World War. But I could speculate all I wanted, I knew I wasn’t going to get any answers from the man with the glasses, even as I sat across from him at the breakfast table, ready to tuck into what he called a ‘Full English’. His smile alone as he set the cups of coffee down was when I knew that our time together was limited.

——– S C E N E   E N D ——–

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Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 1, Page 2 – [16/03/2016]

I think all of us grow up with tales of great rebellions led by characters who are larger than life. Charismatic revolutionaries with words as sharp as their swords, ideas that penetrate deeper than any bullet. More often than not, those stories are fabrications – either partially or entirely. But you can’t discount the fact that these stories take root in the hearts of the downtrodden. Everyone likes to root for an underdog. Not everyone likes how underdogs have to manipulate things to win.

Heroes aren’t flawless. Even legendary figures at one point did something underhanded. When history is written by the victor, these things are brushed aside, considered irrelevant to the overall story. But in the happening of things, the lines between the good and the honourable become blurred.

My ancestors, blinded by their loyalty and their code, refused to use their abilities in any function besides a defensive one. Bending light to peer around corners or to conceal themselves when wounded. They knew the potential it would have offensively, and let themselves be bound by right and wrong. I promised myself that I would be bound by no-one.

Escaping the scene of the Vice President’s demise was not as simple as my abilities would have you assume. Bending light, while useful, consumes a lot of energy. Energy I had already expended on the initial assault. In addition, bending visible light doesn’t account for the heat that the body gives off. The Arlandrian Special Forces had got wise to my abilities; figured that technical science could defend them from magical alteration. And they were right, at least partially. But I had years of training, knew the cities like the back of my hand and had all the escape routes planned.

A narrow alleyway to the south was too small for vehicles, and had a fire escape up the side of some apartments to the roof. I could head west then across the rooftops, blending in against the night sky and conserving my energy.  That was the route I took. I figured by the time I reached the edge of the tallest blockhouse in the row, they’d be looking for an Arlandrian soldier, not a third party. Their little internal dispute was on its way to boiling over. All I did was turn up the gas.

As I reached the edge of the building, I changed my clothing. Pulled on a mask – a layer of fake skin I had to apply to my face and body. A wig made from actual hair topped the whole thing off. Obviously, none of these things would stand up to close assessment, but it was enough to be able to move freely. I made my way down through the residential area via the internal staircase. My bag was one I’d pilfered earlier, the markings related to some Arlandrian sports team.

The sun was just about rising to the east, the sky mostly a dark purple, interspersed with oranges and pinks towards the sun. Cool October air filtered through the streets, and I pulled the jacket I was wearing around me, the change of clothes not helpful in retaining the heat I had built up.

Two blocks from the apartment building, I stopped at a public phone booth. There wasn’t much reason for people to use them anymore, what with the advent of handheld phones, but there was a benefit to using them – no digital records, no traces. Maybe they could file back through if they really wanted, but it was the dead of night and near enough to a bar for it to be logical that someone would use it.

I dropped in a quarter and dialled the number of an apartment seven blocks away. The phone rang three times before someone answered, that was standard. Too late meant trouble. Too early meant more trouble. Never meant the worst kind of trouble.

“Hello? Who’s this?” The voice was male, middle aged. Flat and nasal. Much like the man himself, we used to say. “Have you checked your watch lately?”

I rolled my eyes in mock contempt and leaned against the glass of the phone booth. The question was code. “Who wears watches when they go drinking?” As was my answer.

“Gentlemen, primarily,” he replied – that one meant he had actually been asleep when I called. “I suppose you’ll be wanting a lift then?”

I stood up and turned my back to the road as a Military Police vehicle rushed past, lights flashing but siren muted. They were travelling too fast to get a glimpse of my face anyway. “Yeah, if that’s okay? Sorry, dad.”

There was a long sigh and the sound of metal jangling. “I’ll head out now. Meet you by the park? South side, please – I don’t want to have to go all the way around.”

“Got it, dad. See you soon.” I ended the call and stepped out of the phone booth. Casually flipped the hood on the jacket and tried to conceal as much of my face with the wig as possible. The sun was casting long shadows across the street, and illuminating everything in a warm orange glow. I quickly crossed into the north side of the park, not turning as the rumble of an armoured personnel carrier entered my ears. I followed the central pathway of the park, knowing that the dog walkers usually preferred to meander along the grass. That was to my benefit.  I turned south, crossed the bridge and then made it over the grass. Vaulted the wall and sat on the edge like a delinquent teenager. I was no actress, but I could definitely loiter.

The car arrived, and I dismounted – intentionally landing awkwardly. I pretended to hobble off across the road and climbed into the  passenger side of the black sedan. The middle-aged man had his hands gripped tightly on the wheel, and glanced sideways at me as I got in. As the heavy door slammed shut, he moved off. “Is it done?”

“Yeah. The night is over, but the real fun has just begun.”

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Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 1, Page 1 – [09/03/2016]

They call me a blade in the night, a ‘killer shadow’ who disappears without a trace. They cast aspersions on my countrymen, on their enemies, on their gods. In a nation split by foreign hands, by greed and paranoia and childish misadventure, they see me as little more than a myth.

I’m sure that’s what the guard that night had assumed too, when my blade pierced his neck. The glint of crimson in moonlight and the wound my only mark. His spine arched back into my grasp, it was easy to lower his body to the floor, his green uniform camouflaged into the lawn of the complex. I remained little more than a distortion in the moonlight.

The complex itself was impressive. A palace, by all accounts. Its architecture, I was told, was taken from the American Colonial style – the pillars, Greek revival. Not the kind of thing that would stand a strong earthquake, nor a heavy assault of bullets. Huge windows, too large for bulletproofing, were an obvious target. The building was ceremonial, far from a castle-like structure for political discussions. It was testament to the arrogance of the Arlandrian government that any politics occured there.

The usual lights that lit the structure had been abandoned for ‘security purposes’ – since the government were increasing restrictions on the military’s domestic activities, they had done a pretty good job of irritating practically every trained individual with a gun. Fortunately for me, that meant my approach was covered.  I moved around behind a group of soldiers waiting near a window. Two were smoking cigarettes. The acrid yet faintly sweet smell of tobacco threatned to irritate my nose, but by the time I had pulled the pin on the central soldier’s grenade, there wasn’t time to think of it. I sprinted across behind a heavy planter, knowing the architectural cement would at least protect me from the shrapnel. Two seconds after getting to safety, the anti-personnel grenade exploded, the shockwave enough to deafen me even with my hands clamped around my ears. As I peered around to survey the damage, I saw that the grenade had done its job – three soldiers lie on the ground; two motionless, one injured and writhing.

With less considered footsteps than before, I paced across, the Arlandrian .40 ASP calibre pistol in hand. It was an ugly, utilitarian thing – blackened steel slide on a bulky plastic grip – but it was accurate. The attached suppressor reduced the noise of the first shot to a punctuated thud. The writhing soldier stopped moving, and I made my way through the damaged window into the conference room where the Beaconsfield Treaty itself was signed – along with all the amendments that followed.

The reason I was here, the reason I chose to risk my own life, was because of the most recent amendment. Amendment 17.  The license to kill for every citizen of every little fictional state in this new Japan who just happened to see a legitimate Japanese person within their borders. If it had been a war, doing such a thing would be a war crime. But these people… their nations… they saw us as little more than an irritant.

The pistol I mentioned earlier? That was key to the operation. As was doing what any right-minded assassin would loathe: leaving the shell casings at the scene of the crime. The pistol, being Arlandrian-made with Arlandrian ammunition, would naturally be linked to the country itself. A bullet from a gun used by regular soldiers would definitely be linked to the disgruntled military forces. The government would strike back hard at the military, and the country would be too preoccupied in its own melee to bother hunting down some of the dangerously close Japanese remnant settlements. But who was I planning on shooting?

The Vice President of Arlandria herself, Marcie Siciliano. Her constant lobbying and filibustering was repeatedly the thorn in the military’s side – and while she was popular with the younger generations, she was also an ardent expansionist who wanted to run her own specialist pseudo-military force with the intent on expanding towards the former Japanese capital of Kyoto and filling in the gaps between Arlandria and its neighbours, Poluspari, Neue Bayern, Technis and Cornelia. For those of us who weren’t banned from hearing of the outside world, it sounded a lot like history repeating itself.

Siciliano’s office was at the back of the building, an old office of the Congressional Library which had since been moved into storage – permanently. The grenade, however, would have set off alarm bells and they’d be trying to get her to safety. Speed was of the essence. Through the corridors lined with oil paintings, and through the double doors at the end. I burned through another five rounds of the pistol while the Vice President’s guards shot at shadows. I ceased my spell, finally, and drew up the pistol to the woman’s head from a few meters away.

“Who are you? What do you want?” Her voice was shaking with terror, her bony hands clasped around a small revolve. Her pale skin like that of a chicken, nailbeds and fingertips yellowed by nicotine. “Don’t you know who you’re dealing with?”

She pulled the trigger and I stepped aside, her accuracy terrible and the recoil not doing her any favors. A light shattered, a cascade of glass upon the ancient wooden floor. I pulled the trigger of the Arlandrian pistol and she slumped in her chair. Another shot, to seal the deal. Then, I switched the pistol with one of her guards’, making it all look like a big accident. Or at least, a big set up.

I gave a quick glance at the portrait on the wall. A family in the traditional, nuclear set-up. Mother. Father. Older daughter. Younger son. A dog, in place of a third child. Adorable, from one angle. But one no doubt shrouded in lies and deceit. The happiness in a photograph is not something that keeps forever. Every family has a dark secret that they keep under wraps. My family secret, as well as their legacy, was a certain trait passed down by blood. Some people’s families bend rules, much like the recently deceased Vice President. Ours? We bent light. And if you bend light in just the right way, in all the right places… you might as well be invisible.

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