Editor: Deus Ex-Machina, Skythewood
Night fell as the sun set.
The reed-like plants had their roots in the river and rose to roughly a man’s height from the surface of the water. Imperial troops stared at them from their boats, paying attention to the rippling and splashing of water.
They reached out with their torches, seeking to shed the light of their torches on whatever was drawing near. But the lotus-like plants were like a curtain that prevented the light from spreading too far.
On a moonless night, the light of the torches made the piled-up weeds and sedge grass that surrounded the fortress even more visible. It was not uncommon to see these things clumped up everywhere, thanks to the current. For that reason, the troops could not study them for too long.
“Oi, let’s go.”
In response to the somewhat impatient voice of his comrade, the Imperial trooper said, “I want to take a closer look, hang on…”
He leaned out from the boat, studying the darkened bank opposite him.
“Must have been a fish jumping, right?’
“Too loud for that.”
“So it was a big fish. If we stop every time we hear a splash, we’ll be patrolling forever. Plus, there’s alarms strung up around here. If we set them off by accident, we’ll never hear the end of it from the vets.”
The fact was, whenever a patrol boat touched the alarm triplines, the soldiers had to waste their time falling in.
If they only did it once or twice, they could be forgiven for simply being diligent. More than that and the excuse would not hold up. In addition, this was the middle of the night. Anyone woken up for a false alarm certainly have something along the lines of “Who’s that stupid motherfucker who set the alarm off” for whichever luckless friendly had done it.
Life in the military could be very complex. It did not pay to have the veterans’ eye on you, or perish the thought, their anger.
The Imperial soldier paused to think, and nodded to his comrade before turning away.
“Alright, let’s go.”
And so, the patrol boat with Imperial soldiers aboard continued to their next patrol waypoint.
Are they gone?
Kenzaki poked his head above the water’s surface, and gestured to the pile of weeds in front of him.
At a closer look, said pile of plant matter was actually a well-camouflaged face belonging to Matoi, painted in shades of dark and light green. The only clue that it was actually a face was the two white eyeballs within it.
Matoi scanned the area around him, and gave a confirmation signal.
“That was close.”
After patting his chest in relief, Kenzaki returned to his work near the barricades.
In truth, taking care of the triplines around them was not difficult. Neutralizing them followed the same principles as silencing a tin-can telephone; in other words, one had to hold the vibrating string in place.
Specifically, they would embed a bamboo rod into the riverbed and then run the tripline on top of it. After that, they could cut through critical parts of the alarm network. However, his hand had slipped and the rope had fallen into the water. That sound was what the Imperial troops had heard.
After verifying that the patrol boat was sufficiently far away, Kenzaki continued sawing through the palisade.
Fortunately, sufficiently waterlogged wood made hardly any sound when sawn through. Before long, he had cut through one of the logs that formed the palisade.
Still, the hole he had opened was only 30 centimeters across. In order for Kenzaki and the others to pass through in full battle gear, they would need to cut through another log, forming an aperture of 60 centimeters.
Kenzaki continued his work, and cut through another log.
He pasted a pale green fluorescent sticker on the parts of the barricade he had sawn through to mark it.
Everyone was in camouflage uniform, and their bush hats dripped with water. The M4 carbines they carried were not standard issue in the JSDF. Some of them did not carry guns, but bows instead.
Finally, Kenzaki surveyed his surroundings warily before giving Matoi the signal and moving in.
Matoi — who was tasked to stay behind — returned to his rubber dinghy hidden among the lotuses. After that, he peered through the night sight of his 50 BMG rifle and observed Kenzaki and the others as they advanced.
“Be more careful! Check out any movements you notice!” Centurion Borhos, Primus Pilus of the Imperial Army, bellowed at tonight’s sentries lined up before him.
“Even the sound of fish jumping out of water?”
“That’s right. You will root out and capture any fish who try to disturb us with all your hearts and souls.”
Perhaps they thought it was a joke, so the men laughed. However:
“What’s so damn funny? Huh?”
Borhos glared angrily at his men, his serious expression unmoved.
The laughter stopped immediately. Then, one of the new soldiers nervously raised his hand and said. “Commander… there’s something that’s been bothering me.”
“What is it?”
“I just came back from patrol.”
“And? Speak up, Trooper Terry.”
“There’s something I want to show you.”
What the young man showed the centurion was a stick connected to a tripline. Several other lines trailed into the river from there. Terry brought his torch near one of them, and told Borhos to take a closer look.
“And what’s the problem here?”
“The day before yesterday, I was tightening the lines so as not to get the alarms wet, so…”
“At a closer look, one of the lines was loose, and the part of the web it was secured to had sunk into the water.”
“At first, I thought it might have come loose over a couple of nights, but it would seem the same thing happened to other triplines. That was pretty weird, and it stuck with me.”
“When did you discover this?”
“Good. Well done.”
Borhos patted Terry on the shoulder in praise.
“Assemble all the duty sentries! The enemy has entered our perimeter! Notify the commander right now! This is an emergency!”
Much like the waterside, the sandbars were covered in man-height vegetation. Hidden among them was Oshino, peering through his night vision optics. He flashed a signal behind him to let the others know he had spotted the objective.
“There… Major Izumo, over there. The cage in the central plaza.”
“There” was a place roughly 200 meters from where Izumo was hidden. The cage was in the center of the plaza.
Still wearing his night vision gear, Izumo produced a laminated picture from safekeeping, using an infrared torch to verify the target’s identity before looking at the cage again.
“Cheh, I can’t see his face.”
The captured man lay down in the wooden cage. He seemed to be sleeping, and his knees covered his face, so they could not confirm his facial appearance.
“What should we do?”
“Stick to the plan. We assault after verifying that’s our man. Until then, we wait.”
“Still, if he’s sleeping, then he won’t lift his head until dawn. It’ll be light by the time he wakes up.”
“Our objective is to rescue the kidnap victim. Do you honestly think we can do something embarrassing like extracting a fake? We only have one chance to verify him, so take care.”
A tall team member peered out from behind Izumo.
“Boss. You basically need to wake up that guy, right?”
It was Delilah.
She was dressed in camouflage fatigues and disguised in the same way the rest of the team was. After covering up her ears with a bush hat, she was almost indistinguishable from the rest of the men. That said, the curves of her body betrayed her femininity. After all, no man had such an ample bosom or slender waist.
“Do you have something in mind, Delilah?”
Delilah produced a fish sausage from between her cleavage. She bit open the top, and then stood up like it was the easiest thing in the world.
“Leave it to me. If it’s going over there and waking him…”
“You can’t do that. Hang on, wait, hang on.”
Izumo and the others frantically tried to stop Delilah, who had already gotten to her feet.
Delilah was good enough that she could operate alongside the Special Forces Group. Her movements, alertness, awareness, enemy-tracking ability, close combat proficiency and other skills were superior to that of any man in the SFG. While she only used the bow and the sword, the need for noise discipline made them superior to firearms in the present circumstances.
Unfortunately, she had a fatal flaw.
That was to say, she did not fully consider the consequences of taking action. She had not acted independently, so there had been no problems there, but in contrast that implied that someone had to keep an eye on her and micromanage her.
“We have to hole up here. If we get close, we’ll end up as the proverbial fish in the barrel.”
(TL Note: the CN proverb is 瓮中之鳖. There’s a story behind it, go Google it)
“That’s right. You need to worry a little more about your own safety.”
Kenzaki and Oshino scolded her for her carelessness. As Oshino had said, Delilah paid little heed to her personal safety. However, Delilah seemed to have something to say, and puffed up her cheeks even as she munched on the sausage.
“Still, didn’t we come here to rescue that person? We won’t do that by sitting on our butts here.”
Izumo lightly patted Delilah on the shoulder.
“That’s true. But charging in recklessly is a one-way trip. We can only take action once we’re sure that person is Matsui-shi. Until then, we have to be careful. Got it?’
“So that means it’ll be fine as long as I go, right?”
“Are you kidding me? ‘We’ includes you as well.”
“R-really? So I’m everyone’s comrade?”
“That’s how I see it, but do you think otherwise?”
Izumo nodded, followed by Kenzaki and the others. Delilah bowed her head and quietly replied, “I’m sorry. I didn’t see it that way earlier. I get it now. So as long as I don’t get close to him but wake him up, it’ll be fine?”
“That’s right. Well, as long as you can do it.”
With that, Delilah withdrew an arrow from her quiver. She did something to the tip, and then nocked it to the bowstring.
“Oi, oi, what are you doing?”
“Taking off the arrowhead. That way, he’ll wake up once I poke him.”
As Delilah explained her actions, she drew the string back.
So that’s it… seems a little rough, but for all we know, it might actually work.
Izumo studied the target through his night vision optics as he directed Delilah.
“Don’t hit the head. That’ll make a high-pitched noise.”
“Got it. I’ll aim for the shoulder or waist.”
Warrior Bunnies did not need night vision equipment to find their targets in the dark, probably because their innate night vision was very good. Then there was their enviable arm strength, which could easily draw a bow to hit a target within 200 meters.
Before long, Delilah had spotted her target. She held her breath for a moment, and then the bowstring twanged, sending an arrow forth.
A muffled impact rang out from the distance.
The sleeping male lifted his head in surprise, rubbing his sore shoulder and looking around fearfully in an attempt to figure out what was going on. As he saw that face, Izumo was certain.
“Umu, that’s right. He’s Matsui Fuyuki-shi.”
His hair was messy and his face was frail. His looks had changed dramatically, but they still fit the image of “what he would look like after being thrown into a cruel environment”.
The members of the SFG rose as one.
Advance and secure the objective. That was their aim. However, Delilah gestured for them to “wait”, which made them halt.
Though they had their doubts, they went to one knee again. They warily formed an all-round defense, covering their arcs of fire with their weapons as they waited for instructions.
Before long, they saw the reason why Delilah had halted them.
Soldiers bearing torches suddenly appeared, reinforcing the security around the cage.
In addition, they began deploying numerous smaller search parties, which started investigating the area around the plaza. If this kept up, the riverside where they were hiding would soon fall under their search radius.
“This is bad,” Izumo sighed as he realised they were being pushed towards a dead end.
“No need to worry so much. Time to assault,” Utsuta whispered.
Oshino replied, “That’s not all of them. If it’s just us falling back we could assault, but don’t forget the hostage.”
“That’s right. Dammit,” Utsuta muttered.
“What should we do?” Kenzaki and Imawano asked as they looked toward Izumo.
“Observe first. Why did all these guys pop up at once? I want to find out… Delilah. Listen to them.”
With that, Delilah took off her bush hat and closed her eyes, her bunny ears standing up.
Her keen sense of hearing picked up the conversation Izumo and the others could not hear.
“Centurion Borhos, the men have been assembled.”
“Good. Once in position, begin a thorough sweep of the vicinity. Do you understand?”
Without Delilah’s acute hearing, Izumo and the others observed the enemy’s movements through their night vision optics.
Delilah told them what the soldiers in the monochrome images were saying, and so they learned about the enemy’s situation.
Soon, a bulky man who did not look like a common soldier emerged, and began speaking to the man who looked like the leader.
“What are you all doing up so late, Primus Pilus?”
The man speaking was probably a high-ranked official. The Centurion took on a keen bearing and replied, “Sir, we have detected signs of enemy intrusion and we are tightening our security, Godasen-kakka.”
“-Kakka?” Oshino asked.
“Might be command staff,” Izumo muttered.
“Signs of intrusion, you say. Were you the one who discovered them?”
“Yes, sir. Trooper Terry reported when he found something amiss with the triplines. I verified the abnormality myself and concluded that it was a sign of enemy infiltration.”
“Are you stupid?”
“Have I erred in judgement, sir? My responsibility should have been to stay watchful against enemy infiltration and capture or destroy the enemy.”
“Have you fished before?”
“I am a soldier, sir. I have not indulged myself in childish games like fishing.”
“You son of a bitch, are you trying to pick a fight with all the people of Japan who love fishing?!”
Oshino seemed quite upset, possibly because fishing was his hobby.
“I thought you would feel that way. You see, I like fishing, In particular, I like bait fishing. I delight in seeing the fish flop around helplessly on the hook when they’re caught. I like it so much that I often consider what sort of bait I should use to trick the fishies. Well, that’s about how good my skills are. To me, you’re making an amateur mistake. You place the bait on the hook and release it into the water. Then, the fish nibbles at it. Amateurs will immediately pull the rod up impatiently.”
“Sir, you feel that my decision is comparable to such a course of action?’
“Indeed. With such tight security, won’t the enemy slip off the hook?”
“I feel that it would be better to cast a net once we know there are fish in the pond.”
“With normal enemies, that would work. However, we face a foe with sharp teeth that can chew through a net. Thus, your men are now in extreme danger.”
“Then what should we do?”
“Call your men off for now. Do not put anyone around this cage. Wait for the fish to near the bait, and when the enemy swallows it, raise the rod in one go. If you understand, go change your troop assignments. Do so now!”
The gathered men were issued orders to disperse.
“Alright, get lost!”
After being given these dismissive orders, the fired-up men soon lost their drive and began grumbling. Some returned to their barracks while others returned to their original posts.
“Sorry, it was too noisy so I couldn’t make the rest out.”
“Ahhh, it’s fine. You were a great help.”
With that, Izumo put Delilah’s bush hat back on her head, at the same time head patting her as a reward. He was not very gentle, which made her pout, but she still smiled shyly and looked away.
“Then, what should we do next?”
Izumo looked around for opinions. Kenzaki replied:
“All we can do is stick to the plan and perform a split assault, right? Team Two will launch a feint while Team One rescues the target. If we execute it well, we’ll be able to retreat successfully.”
Oshino, Utsuta and Imawano concurred.
Now that time was limited, they had no other choice. However, Izumo did not think that plan would work. The reason was because he had seen how the enemy commander looked. The man looked very impressive and fighting him would result in a lot of casualties. Izumo’s instincts told him that more than half of the fourteen people here would not make it back alive.
Of course, that was not a problem. Each of them here was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. However, Izumo felt that any operation which assumed the loss of any of his men was a form of negligence on his part. Success achieved by luck, the will of the men and sacrifice could hardly be considered a success.
Izumo suddenly recalled a subordinate from a past training exercise, similar to this one. Unlike all his colleagues who had failed and died, he was the only one who had managed to save the hostage.
If he used the strategy that man had employed, it might work. However...
“Still, even so…”
He was highly averse to copying the actions of that man. After all, what that man had done transcended the boundaries of mere cunning and veered squarely into the realm of the despicable. No right-minded person would ever be able to do such a thing.
However, if he had to go up against a commander like that, such a morally repellent tactic might be the only way to overcome this situation. If it succeeded, they might be able to retreat without loses. If it failed, they could always fall back to the assault plan.
He felt it was worth giving it a go.
“There’s something I want to try.”
Izumo laid the plan out to the others. As he had expected, they all seemed reluctant to consider it.
“I hate fishing!”
After receiving Godasen’s orders, Borhos had dispersed his men from the plaza. However, with the night ending and the sky starting to light up, he found it difficult to continue waiting. Unable to contain his impatience, he paced back and forth, looking toward the bait in the cage, then turning in place like a bear. This cycle repeated itself over and over again.
Given his tension, the expected response was, “You’re not suited for fishing, you should give it up.” Even a newcomer knew that no matter how many lures one put down, one would not catch anything if one paced around them.
“If you asked me what I hate most, I’d reply that it would be bait fishing! I can’t understand how he can calmly say things like that! Doesn’t he feel sorry for the fish? They’re surely thinking ‘Mmm, that looks yummy, looks interesting’ when they go for the bait, but turns out there’s nothing there! It’s a con! A sham! It’s too much! And then instead they find a hook waiting for them! Does he have any idea of the depths of despair they’re being plunged into?!”
Borhos cursed like he had been a fish in a past life. He passionately declaimed the feelings of the miserable fish on the hook to his men.
“The enemy should have infiltrated this place after dark. Is that right?”
Upon hearing that, Trooper Terry nodded while the rest of him remained ramrod straight.
“And we’re waiting for the enemy to take the bait, am I correct?”
“Yes, that’s right, Centurion.”
“Then why hasn’t the enemy shown up? When the sun comes up, they won’t be able to escape under cover of darkness. Is the enemy really that stupid? Could it be that they’re a bunch of cowards who came all this way here to gaze admiringly upon the bait in the cage? To think even the Commander would make an error in judgement!”
The soldiers who had to bear the Primus Pilus’ wrath looked unhappy, but all they could do was suffer in silence.
“That would be a mistake, Centurion.”
There was an unexpected response to Borhos’ furious ranting. It was Godasen’s voice.
“The enemy is far more cunning than we expected.”
When they turned to look, they saw that Godasen was surrounded by a group of men in speckled green uniforms, in front of the others.
His hands were tied and a sword blade pressed deeply into his throat.
Godasen shifted forward uneasily, as though being forced by the person behind hmn.
At a closer look, the reason why he could only shuffle forward was because his ankles had been tied together, probably to keep him from fleeing.
Borhos and the soldiers advanced, pointing at them and shouting:
“You filthy, despicable bastards! Have you no shame?!”
“Well, we haven’t bathed or changed since last night, so filthy would be appropriate. Sorry about that.”
With that, Izumo indicated that they should make a path.
“If you want your commander to keep his life, then please release my countryman in the cage to us.”
The Imperial troops shrank back as they heard the threat, but Borhos stood resolute and shook his head.
“Then your commander’s chances will be slim indeed.”
“Borhos! Save me!” Godasen shouted.
However, the centurion replied, “Your Excellency, a moment please.”
Then, he continued his threat: “If you dare kill the Commander, I’ll have you hacked to pieces!”
As if to prove the truth of his words, the soldiers around them simultaneously nocked and drew their bows.
Looking around, there were more archers or crossbowmen than infantrymen with sword and shield. A closer look revealed many catapults and ballistas waiting in the wings.
It would seem the Imperial Army had gained much experience in the running battles with Japan. Primitive weapons could still be a threat in great numbers. In all likelihood, the Japanese would not be able to achieve overwhelming victory like before if they attempted an assault.
Izumo strove to mimic the thoughts and tone of his ex-subordinate and told the enemy:
“Well, being hacked to pieces just won’t do, so we’ll guarantee that we won’t take his life.”
Still, he felt that it was not a good imitation. It was too hard to copy Itami, after all.
“Good man. Looks like you have some sense. Then, let his Excellency go and surrender. If you do that, we won’t kill you. You’ll be treated better too.”
Izumo desperately wanted to give the Imperial commander an honest answer, but if he did that, negotiations would immediately break down. He had to give the impression that there was still room to negotiate, while blustering off the other side’s demands as though he did not care about the danger he was in.
What should he do now? How should he think, how would he answer? That man would surely mess up the tense atmosphere with his playful attitude.
Izumo struggled to recall Itami’s words and deeds.
“Well, that would be a pain, No, no, if that happened, we wouldn’t be able to finish our mission.”
“Forget your mission, then. We’ve stationed an entire legion at Tanska to capture you. Currently, they’re converging on this location.
That much was true. The troops were pouring in from all directions. Izumo and the others were trapped like rats in a cage. The situation was getting worse and worse.
“Alright, so what will you do?”
“How about this? We’ll give a bit of the Commander-kakka back to you.”
In the past…
The scenario in that exercise was to recover a hostage being held by 50 SFG troopers.
Izumo and the others racked their brains and attempted a rescue, but since it was an exercise, the opposition knew when the attack would come. Thus, it was very difficult to surprise them.
The electronic tones indicating the deaths of his team members rang out continuously from their simulator gear, informing Izumo of the unshakeable reality of their defeat. The training instructors chalked this up to the operational conditions, saying, “How could anyone launch an actual surprise attack during a training exercise?”
However, Itami had pointed his gun at the SFG commander who had come to inspect the training exercise and taken him hostage, then requested an exchange of hostages.
“Release the hostage, or I won’t be able to guarantee this man’s safety.”
Of course, they could not accept such a request. The OPFOR team commander ignored Itami’s request. It was training, after all. Even if Itami said he would harm the hostage, the fact was that he could not carry it out. Thus, they disregarded him.
And then, before the eyes of the SFG members, Itami proceeded to cruelly pluck the remaining strands of the SFG commander’s hair one after the other. Everyone knew how much the Commander cared about his ever-dwindling hair, how he bought expensive hair-growth tonics and tended it carefully. They knew that a gentleman would not go anywhere near it.
Yet, Itami was the opposite. JGSDF safety standards were extremely high and the actions that could be taken in training were very limited. Since the SFG had been chosen from the larger body of regular servicemen, there was no way they could not have known that. They were already pigeonholed into the mindset of “This is training”. Thus, what Itami had come up with was to launch a surprise attack on that mindset.
As they witnessed his cruel actions, the SFG members grit their teeth in resentment and anger, on the verge of crying out in despair. “Here, I’ll give you back a bit of him.” When presented with a few strands of hair, the OPFOR commander’s face was a picture of utmost misery. Thus, crushed by the thought of “did he have to go that far” and driven by the desire to protect the thinning strands of their commander’s hair, the OPFOR had no choice but to accede to Itami’s request.
Of course, the umpires ruled that his attempt was “successful”. Because of that, the commanders and even the men underwent a change in mindset. The most important thing now was, “We are the SFG. Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”
Itami, the man responsible for this, received both a commendation and “special considerations” from the SFG commander… in other words, he was forcibly enrolled in a series of comprehensive long-term training courses from which he could not possibly escape.
Izumo and the others had not copied his methods exactly. This was because plucking a few strands of their hostage’s hair would not make much of a difference. Still, that was one way of doing it.
It was for that reason that Itami’s actions had been deemed “effective”, even though they had raised much debate around them.
“A bit? What did you say, a bit?!” Borhos was confused by what those words meant.
“Now, which finger would be best?”
Delilah’s tone was sunny and cheerful as she directed that question to Godasen. Shocked, Godasen practically shrieked at the Warrior Bunny holding a sword on him: “What, what are you doing? What are you going to do to me?”
Delilah’s eyes narrowed, and she asked:
“I was asking which finger you could do without. Hurry up. If you don’t decide soon, I’ll start by chopping off your right thumb.”
“Stop, please stop! Please!”
“Well, if you return the Japanese man to us, you won’t need to suffer.”
“Paul, Borhos, save me!”
A bitter expression came over the Primus Pilus’ face as he replied:
“Your Excellency, please bear with this. We can’t fall for their scheme!”
“Look, he’s telling you to bear with it. Well then, pick a finger.”
“But, but why? Please, save me, I’m begging you! I’ll give you the bait, just stop!”
“Well, let’s start with your right thumb, then~”
With that, Delilah pressed the edge of her sword to Godasen’s right thumb.
“I, I’m right-handed. At the very least, start with my left ring finger!”
The fact that he did not pick the little finger was proof that he was a quick thinker. When humans held bat-like objects, they used the little finger to stabilize their grip. Losing the little finger was third only to losing the thumb or index finger, and it would make life very difficult.
So great was Godasen’s pain that the tears flowed freely. He screamed like he was going to wear his throat out.
Delilah looked to Borhos. “See? We’ll return a bit to you,” and tossed a slim white object out at him.
The object rolled to a halt before Borhos. As he took it in, he bellowed, “What have you done, you bastards?!”
“Hey, you wanted him back, so we gave him back. Now, give us back our countryman.”
“You savages! You barbarians!” the Imperial troops cried in unison. Izumo and the others were bathed in a storm of invective. However, Izumo nonchalantly continued:
“Looks like one wasn’t enough. How about a couple more?”
“Next will be your right ring finger, and then your left middle finger, then your right middle finger, and then your right ear. Well, the ladies won’t be falling for you anytime soon, but it’s better than being inconvenienced in other ways, right…?”
Izumo and Delilah laid out the dangerous situation Godasen was in. The combined terror and pain was too much for Godasen, and he passed out.
“Oh dear. I was hoping he would be able to walk under his own power.”
“Well, if we’re going to drag him, why not chop his legs off to save weight?”
Hearing this, Borhos was at his wits’ end. Still, all he could do was protect Godasen’s life.
“So we’ll return this Japanese man’s finger to you as—”
Just as Trooper Terry moved to carry out Borhos’ orders, the hand holding his sword was blown away and he collapsed to the ground.
The surrounding soldiers were spattered in his blood. They backed away with terrified looks on their faces, because they realized that the Japanese had not done anything. Looking around, they did not see any trace of the enemy either. All they knew was that they had been attacked from a great distance.
That was Matoi’s sniping. He had moved to a vantage point where he could overlook the entire area and had been studying the situation as it developed.
The Imperial soldiers made a path for Kenzaki, unwilling to fall under the barrel of his M4 carbine.
“It can’t be helped. We can’t let the Commander-kakka be hurt any further.”
Unable to think calmly and clearly and forced to a decision, Borhos ordered his men to “let them pass” as a sweat cascaded down his back.
The SFG troopers clustered up as they approached the cage in the center of the plaza.
The Imperial troops backed away from Izumo and the others, their bows still nocked and drawn.
Once they reached the cage, Kenzaki and Oshino broke the lock and addressed the man inside using Japanese.
“Are you Matsui Fuyuki-kun?”
“...Yes, I am,” came the Japanese reply.
There was no doubt that this was their objective. Now, all they had to do was retreat. Just then, a new voice hailed Izumo and the others.
“Alright, men of Nihon. Put down your weapons and surrender!”
That voice belonged to Oprichnik Dulles.
Dulles was wearing his elegantly-made kobold mask and cut an impressive figure. He strode before Borhos as though he were the true officer commanding here.
“The Commander-kakka is a man who values his public image. If he knew you let them go like this, he would surely blame himself. The responsibility for the failed operation will surely fall upon his shoulders.”
“So? What about it?”
“Do you not understand, Primus Pilus? We need to consider the Commander’s feelings. In order to prevent his family and vassals from being dispossessed and forced onto the streets, tell your men to disregard everything and capture them!”
However, the soldiers glanced at Borhos, as though looking for confirmation on whether or not to make a move.
Dulles grew impatient with the insubordinate soldiers and shouted, “Seize these men! Did you not hear me?!”
However, the situation was far too prickly. As though mirroring the men’s thoughts, Borhos replied: “Oprichnik Dulles. The Commander-kakka distinctly begged us to ‘save me’.”
“You are mistaken!”
“No, I am not.”
“You seem to have misunderstood the Commander’s intentions. I am certain Godasen-kakka would surely say ‘It’s alright, don’t worry about me, just get them!’”
“No, no, I clearly heard ‘save me’.”
The soldiers nodded one after the other to indicate that they had heard the same thing.
“Then, I order you once more — arrest these men!”
“We can’t do that.”
“Do you wish to be purged?”
“Oprichnik-dono. I am the Commander’s subordinate.”
“But the Commander has become a hostage and has lost the ability to make rational judgements. That said, I am now the highest-ranking commander present.”
“I agree that the Commander can no longer think rationally. However, the chain of command passes through him, and not through you, Oprichnik-dono. When the commander is absent, authority falls to the second-in-command. When the second-in-command has not yet arrived at the scene, then the Primus Pilus becomes the commanding officer.”
The soldiers were hard-pressed to veil their discomfort at the power struggle playing out before them.
Under normal circumstances, Borhos would be right. But anyone who angered an Oprichnik might find themselves being purged. Rather than get involved in the details, it was better to give in to the other party. One could consider that a humanitarian reason. However, the Primus Pilus was a stubborn man, and he could not adapt that well. He was not in the habit of bowing and scraping to those in authority. His men considered it both a strength and weakness of his, which was also why they approved highly of him.
While all this was taking place, Izumo took advantage of the dispute to order Kenzaki and Oshino to grab the kidnappee. They were preparing to flee.
Borhos saw this and shouted, “Wait! Stop right there, you lot!” But he was distracted by Dulles shouting “That’s enough, listen to me!”
Kenzaki and Oshino took this opportunity to escape the cage.
“Who gave you permission to flee?!”
“What? I figured that since you had forgotten about us, we could go back.”
“I’ll deal with you after I settle this. Wait there until I’m done. Do you hear me?!”
Perhaps it was a habit of his, but Borhos ended up pointing his index finger at Izumo and the others while he was speaking. Of course, none of that constituted a reason for Izumo to stay, so they flatly denied him.
“Ahhh, well, to be honest, I don’t really have time for this, so I’ll make a move first. As you can see, the kidnappee’s kind of frail. Then there’s the bleeding from the Commander-kakka’s finger. We can’t stop it. He might die if we don’t treat him.”
“What’s this? How could you disregard him like that! Stanch his bleeding!”
“Well, we tried performing some first aid, but it’s not enough. That’s what’s happening now, no?”
Delilah replied in a tone that was calculated to grate on his nerves. Frustrated and angry, Borhos could only click his tongue loudly.
“I understand, it can’t be helped. If you guarantee you won’t harm the Commander-kakka any further, I’ll let you pass to the main gates. Once there, you will release the Commander-kakka at once!”
“Oi! Borhos! Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Please be quiet, Oprichnik-dono. This concerns the Commander-kakka’s life.”
“You’re letting us proceed to the gates?”
Izumo looked like he was willing to agree to Borhos’ terms.
“Correct. We can concede that much. You will release the Commander-kakka once you reach there. How about that?”
Dulles shook his head, unable to believe what he was hearing. Even if the regional commander had been taken hostage, he could not help but think of them as weak for actually negotiating with the enemy.
“It can’t be helped. If we don’t do something…”
He glanced to one of his men behind him.
Surprise flickered over the faces of Dulles’s men, but then they said, “It’s our turn,” and drew back their bows. The bowstring creaked as it was pulled taut, and they took aim in the direction of Izumo and his group.
“Alright, it’s a deal, then. We’ll clear a path for you to the main gates. Oi, you lot, stand down. And then get the physician. We must treat the Commander-kakka immediately once we recover him.”
After Borhos gestured, the soldiers moved in unison, like mechanical dolls. In an instant, they had formed a corridor of men leading to the main gates.
Izumo could not help but be impressed by their drilling and coordination.
“They may be enemies, but they’re pretty damn good.”
As he had expected, this man was a dangerous foe. Anyone who could direct his troops so well with a single order must have extraordinary command ability.
However, as Izumo muttered to himself, a pair of arrows streaked toward Godasen. Delilah immediately batted aside one of them with her sword, but the other sank into the hostage’s chest.
The pain from the hit woke Godasen, and his cries of agony rang through the plaza.
“Dammit! Go go go!”
Izumo and the others wasted no time in counterattacking. They threw grenades into the Imperial army’s formations and blew apart the walls of men. Smoke grenades went everywhere, instantly veiling the surroundings in a heavy curtain of white smoke. The sounds of gunfire and explosions flooded the plaza.
“Fall back! Fall back! Who, who loosed those arrows?!”
Borhos bellowed loudly as his men died one after the other, in order to keep them from falling into chaos. The troops fled in all directions, as though afraid of being enveloped by the smoke.
Elsewhere, the SFG troopers hiding in the smoke did not have it easy either. Arrows flew from all directions and peppered Izumo and the others.
Within moments, several men were on the ground.
“This is bad. But that means it’s my turn!”
The first person to react effectively was Delilah.
She used Godasen as a human shield, and did not flee, but charged into the ranks of the Imperial infantry.
As the Warrior Bunny blitzed the Imperial battle-line, they could not bring themselves to shoot at Godasen. That was all Delilah needed to reach them. Unable to switch to their swords in time, they were cut down one after the other by Delilah’s flashing blade.
“That stupid bunny! She charged in recklessly again!”
However, Izumo shouted, “Follow Delilah!”
The unwounded members assumed their formation, Utsuta leading the way. He covered Kenzaki and the others, who were moving the wounded SFG troopers and the kidnappee, and then they launched their own assault.
Izumo might have called Delilah stupid, but she seemed to be having an easier time surrounded by enemies. All she had to do was swing at everything that moved. In contrast, the Imperial footsoldiers were having a hard time. Delilah was surrounded by their own people, after all. They hesitated in shooting, afraid to wound their comrades. Even if they hit her, they could not hurt her severely. In the end, the Imperial losses mounted.
And then, the SFG troopers were fighting as well. Their forward push threw the Imperials into chaos and trapped them between a rock and a hard place.
“At them! You will not retreat!”
Dulles bellowed at the soldiers and waved his sword from a safe position.
When thrown into confusion, the right decision would be to temporarily fall back to regroup and restore order. However, Dulles was very angry at his orders being overruled. He desperately tried to countermand Borhos’ orders to pull back, which only added to the chaos.
As Izumo watched this from afar, he picked up his radio handset.
“Archer, this is Caster. Are you enjoying the show from there? If you can, put a few rounds downrange for me.”
His reply was a crisp “Roger”, and then it happened.
Dulles’s head — covered by a kobold mask — was suddenly gone.
There were no holes in it, nor had it split. It was simply that everything above Dulles’s neck had vanished, pulverized into scraps and fragments of flying meat and bone.
It had happened just as the angered Dulles was about to stab at Borhos. The sheer impact of the event stole everyone’s eyes, and they froze in place.
A direct hit from an anti-materiel sniper rifle’s 12.7mm rounds tended to do that to human heads.
The decapitated man collapsed to the ground. Dyed red from the spray of Dulles’s gore, Borhos’ mind briefly shut down. Only after wiping off the face full of blood and looking down at his carmine hands did he realize what had just happened.
He looked around. Then, he discovered Godasen’s body lying beside an Imperial soldier, near an expended smoke grenade. He ran closer and realized that although he had passed out, the arrow had only struck his shoulder, so there was not much damage. The stump of Godasen’s finger was bleeding, but his life was not in any immediate danger.
“Cheh. I fell for it, huh?”
“Centurion! The enemy’s fleeing! Should we pursue?”
After the men around him asked him that question, Borhos finally came to his senses and gave his orders.
“No need for that. We anticipated that something like this would happen, so we had troops placed in ambush nearby. They never had a chance to escape in the first place. Our priority now is to aid the Commander-kakka.”
Borhos called out the nearby soldiers and ordered them to move Godasen. Then he ordered: “Sound the bugles! Have the ambush troops move in! We will trap the enemies like rats in a cage!”
“Enemies at Point C too!”
“We’ll change evac point to D!”
The tension on the scene filtered through the wireless connection.
There were some in the Chinook who grew afraid as they heard this. There were some who grew impatient and uneasy. And then, there were those who were silent in order to control the pounding of their hearts.
“O-onee-sama. Are you alright?”
A shuddering, panting Rory nodded to Giselle. If she were on the ground, she would probably have charged out. However, she had to stay here. If she stayed here, she could reach the ground sooner.
The Chinook began to descend. If one looked carefully, they could see the battle taking place in the distance.
“This is Hayabusa, descending on Point D. Status report!”
“Hayabusa, you say? Good name. We should be able to make it back no matter what happens. This is Caster, moving to point D. Enemies are popping out from everywhere, we’re having a hard time.”
Itami poked his head out from under the pilot’s armpit and shouted into the pilot’s mike.
“Avenger here. Caster, any wounded?”
“Yo, long time no see, Avenger. Glad to hear you’re still the same. We’ve got more hurt than unhurt. What do you have in mind?”
“We expected that, so we brought a pretty nurse along. She loves casualties and she was going on about ‘I don’t care if they’re dying or their heads are falling off, all victims belong to me’. If we don’t give her casualties, we’ll become the next casualties.”
“That nurse of yours sounds like a real maneater . How come all the women you meet are like that? Kuribayashi’s cute, but scary too.”
Apparently, any date with Kuribayashi would involve passing by a dojo or boxing ring, and she believed in passionate engagements with her partners. Apparently, winning such an engagement would result in a delightful prize… but sadly, nobody had won that prize so far.
(TL Note: the JP uses 突き合い, which sounds like 付き合い. The first refers to sparring, the second refers to dating)
“Wouldn’t you want to be eaten up by a beautiful woman? Just make sure you all come back.”
“Ahh, leave that to me.”
Itami turned back to brief his men and the local collaborators.
“Our mission is to secure the landing sight. Once the SFG troopers get aboard, we’ll dust off immediately, so don’t stray too far from the Chinook. Kurokawa, there’ll be casualties galore as you just heard, so I’ll leave their treatment to you.”
“Do I look like some sort of man-eating ogress to you?”
Kurokawa cracked her knuckles as she glared at Itami.
“I, I said a beautiful nurse, didn’t I? That’s okay, right? Right?”
“Right you are. Prepare yourself.”
As she spoke in a menacing, ogrish tone, Kurokawa picked up the defibrillator paddles for her portable Artificial Electrical Defibrillator (AED) unit and pointed them at Itami. Sparks flew between them, as though promising electroshock therapy for him.
“If possible, I hope the professors and Pina-denka can help with the wounded too. And Rory…”
“What is it?”
“Our mission isn’t to kill them all, but to clear an escape route.
As Itami told her not to miss the chance to pull back, Rory shrugged and replied, “I got it.”
“Ambush troops in Point D!”
“We can’t change the plan now. Force our way through!”
“That’s too reckless!”
“That’s what it means to be SF!”
The rear hatch opened, and the chopper’s downwash swept into the cabin like a typhoon.
As the helicopter hovered near the surface, the monsters, demihumans and Imperial footsoldiers gathered around it. Some of them were poorly equipped. It would seem they had pressed mercenaries and gangsters into service as auxiliaries. Even so, there were enough of them to make extraction tricky.
“Open fire! Keep firing!” Kuwabara ordered. In response, Kurata and the others fired madly.
And in front of them, black blossoms bloomed.
Rory leapt from an alarming altitude, her skirts fluttering in the wind. The instant she touched the ground, her halberd reaped a wide circle of enemies.
“Cover her! Fire! Fire!”
Kurata and the others opened fire on Rory’s flanks as she carved a crimson road through the foe.
During this time, Itami was looking for the rescue team.
He saw four men bearing a stretcher.
Covering them were about ten men with M4 carbines pointed in all directions, gunning down the Imperial troops in hot pursuit.
There were those among them who were leaning on their comrades’ shoulders, probably from wounds, but everyone looked exhausted. They seemed to be trying their hardest to run, but all they could manage was a brisk walk closer.
That being the case, why not go out and get them? Having decided that, Itami turned to Tuka and the others as the helicopter landed and shouted, “Alright, let’s go!” and charged out.
With covering fire from Kurata and the others, combined with Yao and Tuka’s arrow fire, Lelei shouted, “Go!” and explosions cut down the arrows flying through the air towards them.
“Professors! What are you doing? Don’t follow me!”
The troubling thing was the fact he was being trailed by unarmed civilians.
“What are you saying? Don’t take us for doddering dotards!”
Youmei, Urushibata and Shirai took over the stretcher from Kenzaki and the others. “Good, let’s go!” they said, as though carrying luggage. Thanks to them, Oshino and Kenzaki were freed up to join the fighting.
The cameraman lugged his camera to film the sight of the SFG troopers being pursued by the enemy, while Nanami yelled into her mike, “And now the JSDF’s special forces troopers have returned. There look to be a lot of wounded — aaaaahhhh!”
An arrow flying from behind her struck the Chinook’s rear rotor and was reduced to dust, which landed on Nanami.
Katsumoto pulled Nanami back and hid her behind him.
Lelei’s funnels flew forth again, exploding in mid-air.
After seeing the SFG troopers scramble aboard the Chinook, Itami shouted, “Alright, we’re dusting off! Everyone, come back!”
On Itami’s command, everyone rushed back in. Even Rory — whom he was afraid would not return mid-slaughter — ran back, clutching her halberd.
As Kuwabara shouted that, the Chinook left the surface once more.
Looking back into the depths of the helicopter’s cargo compartment, he could see Kurokawa inserting cannulas into the arms of the wounded men, one after the other. “Alright, next! Alright, next!” she shouted, as she went from casualty to casualty.
“What, what’s she doing?”
Pina had been pressed into service as a tourniquet tyer, so as to make the wounded troopers’ veins more visible. She had no idea what Kurokawa was doing. After all, treatment to her meant stopping blood loss or dressing wounds. However, Kurokawa was simply poking her casualties with a needle.
“Circulation secure! Hamilton-sama, please help stop their bleeding!”
When performing first aid during an emergency situation like an accident or a natural disaster, the most important thing was to ensure the integrity of the circulation system. Once too much blood was lost, the casualty’s blood vessels would collapse and there would be no way to insert a cannula. Thus, saline solution was used to maintain blood pressure and prevent hypovolemic shock. In addition, one could infuse drugs intravenously through the cannula, which made treatment easy.
Of course, there was only so much one could infuse through the radial veins, so if the need arose, they might need to infuse through one of the bigger veins in the chest instead. However, there did not seem to be anyone who required such treatment among Kurokawa’s casualties.
“Yo, Itami, I don’t recall seeing you work this hard even when you were under me...”
A tall man patted Itami on the shoulder.
“It’s been awhile, Major Izumo. This time, we’ve got civilians in attendance and a film crew present, so I wanted to show them how cool we can be.”
Behind Izumo, the other men of the SFG — covered in mud and grass — presented themselves to him. Among them were Kenzaki, Matoi, Utsuta, Oshino and Imawano. Then there was someone with sleek curves, for whom the term “man” was not appropriate. She bounded up ahead of the others.
A pair of arms wrapped around Itami, and he was briefly baffled.
“Boss Itami! It’s been a while!”
“Hey, isn’t that Delilah? What are you doing here?”
Indeed, it was Delilah. Delilah — who had once worked in Arnus’ cantina — was now dressed in camouflage fatigues and her bunny ears were hidden under a bush hat. Nobody would have equated the two unless it was pointed out.
Izumo spoke on her behalf.
“Working with the locals has produced excellent results. You’ve done it yourself, haven’t you? So, Yanagida told me to make use of this bunnygirl.”
Delilah had been put on trial in a Tokyo courthouse for what she had done in Arnus, and she was sentenced to probation.
She did not complain about her sentence given what she had done to deserve it, and meekly accepted the court’s verdict. That said, she could not return to House Formal or the ALC’s cantina. With nowhere to go, Delilah decided to atone for her sins by taking care of Yanagida. Once he returned to the frontlines, she had become a local collaborator.
“I got rid of the person who tricked me!”
“That’s good. But are you alright? Physically, I mean.”
“Aw, everywhere from my waist to my ass is damaged goods now. I can’t say ‘Don’t touch it, it’s not cheap stuff’ any more. Want to see? You can touch too, if you want.”
With that, Delilah suddenly began pulling off her belt, so Itami hurriedly stopped her with a “wait wait wait”.
“You’re doing okay, right?”
“No, that’s because the doctors were amazing. He fitted me with something called ‘titanium’ to replace my hipbone. It took me a month to learn how to walk again.”
Itami was quite surprised by the fact that she was bouncing around barely a month after such major surgery, but Delilah simply went on gushing about the efficacy of Japanese doctors.
“Well, it does ache a little. Still, it’s great. I’m better off than Master Yanagida.”
Delilah replied that she would accompany Yanagida all her life to atone for her mistakes.
While they had this conversation, the cameraman turned his lens on the freshly rescued kidnappee. Nanami extended her microphone to the person on the stretcher.
“Can you tell us your name?”
It would seem his captors had not fed him properly, but his face was skinny and his lips were split. Even so, he panted and replied:
“How do you feel about being rescued?”
“Am, am I rescued? Can I go back? Can I go home, back to Japan? This isn’t a dream… this isn’t a dream, is it?”
This was not the answer Nanami had expected, but she decided to let him continue speaking, because those words came from his heart. After that, Nanami squeezed his hand and said, “Yes, you can go home. You can go back to Japan.”
Nanami directed her impassioned plea at the news director.
This was because she had not been allowed to report on the material she had collected in the Special Region: on the Apocryph, the earthquakes, the stellar distortions, as well as the recovery of the kidnap victim.
Of course, she had asked why they were not releasing this exclusive scoop. No, one could say that it was her duty to ask why. After all, she had not gathered her material by herself; her cameraman, the SFG members of the JSDF, Professor Youmei and the other academics had all come together to help her put it together. Not publishing it could be said to be disregarding their hard work and the (in some cases literal) sweat and blood they had put into it. It was nothing short of corruption.
She was not sure if the news director understood this, but he did not look Nanami in the eye. Perhaps he was feeling guilty. Instead he gazed at the ceiling and muttered to himself before forcing out an excuse.
“Instructions from the top. They said that they didn’t want to startle the affected person. There were problems with Noriko-san because people rushed to present her first, so they’re waiting for him to recover first.”
“And that means covering up something that affects every single person in this country?”
“We’re not covering it up. We’re simply prioritizing other big news. Timeslots are limited, and I decide how to fill them. That’s what they call freedom of the press, right?”
“Yet you have the time to broadcast B-list gourmet and pet owner specials?”
“These are important news items too. The audience will be stressed out if we do nothing but report exciting news.”
“Then what about the abnormalities in the Special Region? It’s a big matter that concerns the existence of the Gate and it won’t harm our political neutrality.”
“The Special Region… the Special Region, huh… well, you might say that, but the Special Region is not just a matter of global interest, but the focus of an impending expansion, no? The nations are coming together and looking to the Special Region with interest. Share prices are going up as well… I don’t think we ought to put a damper on this good mood with news like that.”
“You dense motherfucker!”
Nanami kicked the wastepaper basket beside her.
Of course, it would have been stupid to actually do that. Instead, Nanami had meekly replied, “Okie, I get it,” and left the director’s office, before taking her anger out on an innocent wastepaper basket in the hallway. She had been wondering why someone would put a wastepaper basket in the hallway for some time now; perhaps it was there for people to vent their anger, she mused.
“None of that shit even matters!”
However exclusive a scoop might be, it was worthless if it did not get published. Nanami pouted as she returned to her desk, dropping herself onto her chair like she was going to pulverize it with her butt.
“Son of a bitch. If you’re going to be like that, then I’ll—”
Nanami looked at the cameraman seated opposite her, and extended her hand.
“Sunagawa-kun, please give me the memory stick with the Special Region video we put together.”
“Don’t see why not,” the cameraman said as he produced it from his desk and gave it to Nanami.
“What do you want it for, anyway?” he asked.
“Do you have to ask?! Won’t it be a shame if things ended like this? I’m going to upload it to a video-sharing site.”
“Oi, that would be bad!”
The cameraman reached out to get the stick back.
However, Nanami had already stuffed it into the cleavage of her ample bosom, twice the size of others. “How so? He’s not reporting it. What difference does it make?”
The cameraman could not bring himself to reach out for the stick. If he touched her by accident, he would be branded as a pervert. He would be excommunicated from society. Therefore, he tried to talk Nanami over while saying, “Calm down, calm down.”
“There should be a reason why the higher-ups aren’t releasing this, right? If you share this online, you might end up getting fired.”
“Fire away, then, not like it’s a big deal. I’d rather quit a shitty station like this!”
“What’ll you do after you quit?! It took you so long to become a presenter! Think about the consequences!”
“I’ve thought about it already. Sunset industries like TV stations are on their way out!”
“Oi oi oi. You two are getting really heated up over there. I heard all the dangerous things you said, you know.”
The man addressing the feuding pair with acid tones was Komurasaki.
“What‘s someone from another TV station doing here?” Nanami blurted.
“Don’t be so cold. Didn’t we go to the Special Region together? I heard you came back, so I came to visit you. Looking at you, it seems you did a pretty good job.”
“It’s all wasted, though. They won’t broadcast it.”
“Well, I expected as much. It only makes sense.”
“Isn’t it obvious? Their business plan is to increase their TV viewership and paper circulation numbers by fanning the flames of anti-government sentiment. Thus, any news regarding the Special Region will be calculated to tie into international or economic issues.”
“Do, do they think they can get away with suppressing the media for material gain?”
“It’s not a matter of getting away with it. If it doesn’t sell, they won’t do it. In Japan, there might be some slight differences in the content of TV programs and newspapers, but ultimately, they cover the same things and have the same inclinations, no? The reason for that is because something is guiding them in the same direction.”
“So you mean there’s a human factor involved?”
“Who on earth could do such a thing?”
“Who? If you have to ask that question, then you fail as a newsmaker. Take for example, who are the clients of the TV station?”
“Wrong. The TV stations have never treated their audience as customers or whatnot. Their true patrons are the sponsors who pay them. However, the sponsors are generally content to pay up and not care about the details of the programming. Now, who handles those details?”
“The advertising agencies.”
“Precisely. The advertising agencies say, ‘We’re planning so-and-so program; want to invest in it?’ and thus they draw investors. Therefore, the sponsors are mainly concerned about whether the program is beneficial to their advertisements and not the actual content.”
“But, could it be, how could it be, the ad agencies…”
“Papers and the like would not have survived until today without advertisements. It’s easy to imagine how the papers can’t publish anything which would make the advertising companies look bad, but the same goes double for TV programming. The advertising agencies have a lot of say in what sort of shows get made.”
“So all this is the result of deliberate action by the ad agencies?”
“I told you just now, didn’t I? If you have to ask ‘who did it’, you fail as a newsmaker… Alright, I’ll discuss this with you. Come with me.”
“I’ll pass on that. I need to upload this…”
“Like I was saying, you can do it after listening to me!”
“How about here?” Komurasaki said as he picked another location.
“We’re still at work,” Nanami answered. However, a glance outside the windows revealed that it was night time. Time flew by when one was working hard.
Komirasaki and Nanami stood up, heading for a nearby pub.
“Let’s start with beer and peanuts. We’ll order more later on…”
After that exchange with the shop attendant, they took facing seats in a booth, and then Nanami asked:
“Komurasaki-san, are you alright? Fuku-san, Matsu-san… I’m sorry for your loss.”
As fellow representatives of the media to the Special Region, they were all comrades. Nanami expressed her condolences over the deaths of Komurasaki’s colleagues.
“Thank you. Why don’t you offer up some joss sticks to them next time round? They were worried about you, Kuribayashi. I’m sure they’d appreciate it.”
Komurasaki downed the beer that the waitress brought him in one gulp.
“Now then,” he began, with a serious air that would better fit a university lecturer.
“Let’s start from the beginning. This entity called the mass media is like the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. At that time, the church proclaimed itself to be the intermediary between God and Man, with exclusive power over the interpretation of the Bible, as well as possessing the power to excommunicate those who defied their power and even have them put to death as heretics. Such was their power that they could even threaten kings and emperors, themselves the leaders of the secular world. Why could they do that? Because they controlled the hearts and minds of the people. Similarly, the Japanese media has free reign over the people and thus the approval ratings of the government. By making minute adjustments in their content and spreading it broadly, they can tank the approval ratings of the government. Though the media does not claim to be God, they still have the power to demonize those who defy them and even topple the mighty from their positions of power. Those who are denounced as heretics will be ruthlessly cross-examined and harangued by the media — like inquisitions of old — and if they cannot give the media satisfactory answers, they will be hounded to death by the same questions over and over again. If they keep quiet, their silence becomes tacit acknowledgement of their sins, and thus they are branded as heretics. With that in mind, having a microphone shoved in your face is equivalent to being confronted by all your sins and ugly moments, being played over and over again. It’s like being burned at the stake, and indeed, sometimes it’s nothing less than a witch hunt.”
“And as an inquisitor yourself, you’re one to talk?”
Kuribayashi turned a doubting gaze on Komurasaki.
“Well, calling me an inquisitor is flattery. Although it’s true; to some extent, I do count as an inquisitor.”
Komurasaki punctuated his statement with a large mouthful of beer. His mouth ringed in foam, he continued:
“Still, Kuribayashi. There was a reason why the religions back then went hysterical.”
“Why, what was the reason?”
“Because the Renaissance was not a sudden thing.”
The religious bodies of the time realized that the people were starting to become intelligent.
They realized that the mindless little sheep of old would no longer obey them, and thus they became nervous and uneasy, launching their inquisitions and witch hunts. They condemned those who doubted the faith and attacked them, then framed them as heretics and had them murdered.
“The reason is simple; because they fear the people. At that time, the worldview of the faithful and what the people observed in reality were already starting to diverge. Are you familiar with the trial of Galileo? No matter what the tribunal ruled, the world still moved. They knew that point well, but the Church could not accept this. In order to make the people believe what the Church said, they had to stir up the people and constantly create a sense of unity.
They attacked their scapegoats with criticism, creating a unique form of unity in the form of mass hysteria. It was similar to the religious mania felt by celebrants in festivals. Thus, they prowled around, looking for people to attack. They rewarded informants and practiced torture, and those who confessed because they could not endure the torture were deemed guilty. As for those who staunchly denied their wrongdoings, being able to withstand torture was proof enough that they were witches, and thus guilty. With that logic as a forethought, they carried out their sentences.”
“Ah, but in the end they shot themselves in the foot.”
Nanami recalled entertainment shows where artistes with questionable conduct were repeatedly hounded with all sorts of inane questions.
“And that led to the reformation of the churches?”
“Exactly. Even in this information age, new religions move in the shadows, threatening the original media. As the power of religion declined, people’s minds were freed and the Renaissance flowered in full. Similarly, today anyone can spread their opinions widely through the Internet. Thus, people have no need to express their views through the filter of the media and obtain their news. The people are slowly drifting away from the media and the views they espouse.”
As Komurasaki described the revolution of the Internet as a prelude to throwing off a dark age, Nanami interrupted:
“As more sources of news appear, the value of each individual source degrades. It’s true that the Internet was useful in overthrowing Middle Eastern dictators, but those were basically revolutions targeted at removing people. They paid no heed to what happened after removing the people in power. The dream that all will be well after the bad people are gone caused all sorts of tragedy.”
Komurasaki nodded, as though to say, so you do get it after all.
“What? I always thought you were a fan of the Internet, Kuribayashi.”
“It’s because I support it that I understand its limits and dangers. People are drawn by the news they like and form an opinion, and from then on their confirmation bias leads them to view all new evidence as further support for their beliefs, while disregarding evidence to the contrary.”
“In other words, all the news in the world won’t reach someone with different values from yourself.”
“Do you know how many blogs there are out there which aren’t read by anyone? The same applies to Twitter; famous people have fans, but hardly anyone ever reads messages sent by average people. Those are on the level of friends exchanging diaries; they’re hardly newsworthy. They’re little more than babbling to themselves.”
“That’s right. We need something with impact or interest to draw peoples’ eyes to what they’re not familiar with. Martin Luther King once said, ‘I have a dream’, and those words had a great impact, but if some guy around you said the same thing, the people around him would reply, ‘Oh really?’ and essentially ignore it. Thus, the messages important people send are more powerful.”
“I feel that is the purpose of the media.”
“It’s just like you say. In truth, the news the media reports gains authority and power. Anyone would write off ‘I saw a god’ as some teenage girl’s delusions, but once the Vatican corroborates it, it becomes a miracle, and that girl becomes a saint. That should be it, right?”
“Komurasaki-san, wouldn’t you be better off as a university lecturer? You certainly sound like one,” Nanami replied.
“Well, the fact is that people have asked me if I wanted to become an assistant professor… no, let’s not talk about that. My point is that someone in the media has to be fully conscious of their power. The Vatican will not casually endorse any old happening as a miracle. The decision to do so is born from thoroughly investigating the circumstances and the consequences of such an endorsement.”
“In other words, it’s a deliberate order, then?”
Nanami sighed. She did not approve of that sort of thing, because it implied that the person who gave such an order was doing so from a position of power.
“In this internet age, news flows like a mudslide, and vast quantities of information are sent out every moment. But simply sharing information is not in itself a good thing. Wasn’t there a case where a lot of diplomatic problems resulted after someone set up a site which leaked state secrets? Because of that, a group of people had to start considering how to keep their information from leaking out. The idea is to carefully vet information before releasing it, but the Internet makes this troublesome. Censorship and regulation is not very effective either. If you ask me, the purpose of the media now is to criticize, evaluate, dismiss and provide legitimacy to information sources.”
“Now, assuming there’s vetting of content and a decision-making process on whether or not to release specific pieces of news… then who decides what stays or goes, and what criteria do they use? If it’s the ad agencies pulling strings behind the scenes like you said, then all we television people have to do is obey them, right?”
“Which brings us to our point,” Komurasaki said.
“Of course, as members of the press, we are motivated by all sorts of mindsets and values. We collect information based on these motivations, we process them, and finally we broadcast it. And the prime motivation for the ad agencies is financial.”
“In other words, what sells and what turns a profit, right?”
“Correct. So they follow the mood… or rather, they follow the trends, eagerly chasing their asses. They write reports which follow the state of the world, and turn their mikes on events which excite the masses and make them heard. This is the reason why they get ratings and their news sell. Because of that, they have agreed to seal off news which runs counter to these trends which they have invested heavily in. Their objective is to avoid putting a damper on positive economic trends.”
“Cheh,” Nanami clicked her tongue. “Komurasaki-san, you don’t seem to see it their way.”
“The first thing I consider is “fear”. Events which lead to rapid development and change make people afraid. Thus, I regard criticism and analysis of everything I see to be a basic component of my working attitude. Criticism is natural. I use a critical eye to attempt to remain neutral.”
“Can’t you just stick to the facts?”
“Well, that would be ideal. But realistically speaking, it’s impossible. If you write an article that’s pro-government, even once, the government personnel will reach their hands out to you and say ‘pleased to make your acquaintance.’ Did you know that a sizable amount of the Cabinet’s secret budget goes to the press?”
“I know of examples to the opposite. There are news shows where critics are paid speakers’ fees for a single appearance which exceed what we make every month, by backers whose funding has the opposition in a panic. And all these critics do is endorse their respective politicians.”
Komurasaki did not deny this, but smiled coldly.
“That’s not all. Organizations linked to other countries also make payouts like these.”
“What, what do you mean by other countries?”
“I mean all of them. If you think it’s only one, you’d be sorely mistaken. America, China, Russia, South Korea, North Korea… the whole lot. One can obtain funding and various considerations and conveniences from them. Once you become addicted to the heady feeling of access to these things, extracting yourself will be a tricky task indeed. As time passes, these people end up dictating the contents of the programming. Japan’s media is now ruled by these people.
“My friends of the past have all fallen to that dark path,” Komurasaki said. “And in truth, I’m the same. I was sent here by someone else to persuade you.”
“That’s terrible. No wonder you knew so much despite me saying nothing.”
“Hmm. That’s just how the world works. This trend has also led to people asking me to be an assistant professor. Still, there are pieces of news which exceed our predictions.”
“What are those?”
“Things like the scoop you have. Things like footage of a Chinese fishing boat colliding with a patrol boat. These things have an extraordinary impact on people which view them. In the past, people laughed at the idea of the Chinese threat. But after that footage was made public? People started feeling the threat of China. Footage like that can have a decisive impact on the state of the world. Even the fiends in charge can’t control that.”
(TL Note: On the morning of September 7, 2010, a Chinese fishing trawler, the Minjinyu 5179, collided with Japan Coast Guard vessels in disputed waters about 12 km northwest of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.)
“Was that why my scoop was suppressed?”
“Ah, that’s right,” Komurasaki nodded.
“Several days before the footage of that collision was released on the Net, it was secretly delivered to the media. Yet, the broadcast departments ignored it, so the person who provided it had no choice but to release it on the Internet. The person responsible at the broadcast department claimed he dumped the memory stick with the footage without viewing it, but do you actually believe that?”
“It makes no sense. If he thought what he was getting could be a big scoop, it would be impossible to just throw it away without viewing it. I know I would.”
“Right? In my opinion, someone on top felt that letting it get out would be very bad news. The problem is who exactly felt this way. Now that his plans went up in smoke, that person is now frantically searching for the offender.”
Nanami was so shocked that she could not close her dropped jaw.
“Similarly, I think someone feels that this kidnap rescue operation is bad for business. Consider the successful recovery of a civilian kidnapped and taken as spoils of war. If this made the news now, government approval would instantly soar. Wouldn’t all their previous efforts go up in smoke?”
“So they’re suppressing my scoop too?”
Komurasaki nodded heavily, and ordered another beer.
“The people on top seem to think a change in power is desirable, so they’re supporting the opposition, but if the opposition has no ability to influence policy, then who will be responsible?”
“Ahhh. See, the important thing to them is not whether what they do is right or wrong, but whether it personally benefits them. Didn’t I say so just now? Their involvement goes very far. At this point, their objectives aren’t so much playing kingmaker as weakening Japan’s strength. To these people, what they want is a group of ineffective, powerless politicians leading Japan.”
“How could this be! Then, what have we… Komurasaki-san, now that you know this, what have you been doing?”
“I’m doing what I always do. I critique everyone, no matter who they are. How’s that, my convictions are still firm, no?”
Komurasaki smiled in a self-deprecating manner. Nanami gasped in surprise and asked:
“People who do nothing but criticize end up not taking any responsibility at all.”
“Correct. Criticizing everyone ends up being effectively the same as agreeing with everyone. You don’t have to get involved or take sides, so you become the fulcrum on which the balance turns. Strictly speaking, it’s similar to the Imperial Rule Assistance Association…”
WIth that, Komurasaki took another big swig of his beer.
“Among the current opposition, there are a lot of people who are famous, but not for doing anything special. These are all people who elevated themselves by pointing fingers at the failures of others. People with that mindset will immediately panic once they have to bear the responsibility for failure and frantically blame others for their mistakes. ‘It was the guards’ fault. It was all my adjutant’s fault. It was all the fault of poor leadership by the previous incumbent, and so on. Excuses like this were heard then, they are heard now, and they will be heard forever. And you know what? The ultimate target of their hate is the people. It’s not my fault. The people chose wrongly and this happened. Pol Pot did that. He felt he was right, and chose to educate everyone in the country in the way he liked. He did that by killing everyone who dissented against him.
“Knowing this, you’re still going to be a critic, Komurasaki-san? When all the people hear is criticism, they’ll end up having no faith in anything around them. How will you take responsibility for your attitude of ‘it won’t do, it’s not perfect so it’s no good’?”
“I know that. Nobody believes people like me anymore,” Komurasaki sighed.
“You reap what you sow,” Nanami muttered before gulping her beer down.
“What I wanted to say is, even if you have something you want to tell the world, the interplay of power and influence will constantly get in your way. The ad agencies, your superiors, the reporters’ club, foreign national influence… all of these weave a complex web of relationships and power. We cannot do as we please.”
“Then, what do you want me to do, after learning all this?”
“Amidst this tangled web of relationships and ties, I have chosen to become a critic, in order to free myself from any particular viewpoint. That’s the only way to avoid becoming mired in subjectivity. But what will you do next? You have to decide. You can choose to tread in my footsteps, or you can choose to blaze a different path. There are many options and you may select from all of them.”
“You want me to become a Martin Luther?”
(TL Note: Reformed the Christian Church in the 16th century)
“How could you be anyone that great? Still, ah, you could become one of his supporters, no?”
As Komurasaki said this, he handed Nanami a slip of paper.
There was a URL written on it.
“Take a look. It’s quite interesting.
When she lifted her head to look again, Komurasaki was gone.
She looked around, but there was no sight of him. Then she heard a door closing behind her. When she looked back, she saw Komurasaki’s back fading through the window glass.
“Oi, oi… is this a dine and dash? You want me to pay?”
Nanami looked at the bill, as if ‘tuition fee’ was written on it and cursed bitterly.
The URL Komurasaki had given Nanami was a blog which gathered news about the Special Region. It had been founded by a certain “Meganekko”... who turned out to be Noriko.
After returning home, she booted up her computer, connected to the Internet, and then stared at her monitor.
“This is amazing…” Nanami muttered
There was a lot of information there about the Special Region which had not been reported in the media, as well as raw commentary from the residents of the Special Region. Sadly, there were few visitors and the view counter hardly moved.
The blog also featured video that had obviously been taken by amateurs, demihumans of the Special Region.
She had started this blog because she desperately wanted to share the truth which the media did not report about. However, because she had not made her news interesting, it did not attract the eyes of the public.
Perhaps if Noriko had used her real name — made famous by magazines and mass communication — she would have received a lot of publicity. However, she had used a pseudonym instead, possibly because she detested gaining attention in that way.
When Nanami saw this, she felt that someone else had stolen her ideas for what she wanted to do. At the same time, she realized that even if she had done it herself, it might not have gone as smoothly as she had imagined.
Suddenly, she remembered what Komurasaki had said about eliminating the various influences at work in the world of reporting.
“Video. Explosive, impact-filled videos have power. However, it’ll take a lot of work to make the public watch videos which don’t have that quality. What should I do?”
Nanami began to understand why newsmakers would meddle with news, to distort and falsify it. And then she realised the reason why the editors — even if they did not go so far as to twist or fake news — would exaggerate it.
However, she could not do that. She did not want to do that.
“These are the facts. The facts should be spread without being colored by emotion.”
Nanami picked up her cell phone and silently dialled a number. It was well into the night and the person she was calling was most likely asleep, but Nanami did not care.
“Ah, Noriko-san. It’s been a while.”
Several days later, Noriko’s blog made it onto a lifestyle news variety show.
“I want to talk about a few interesting things in the Special Region.”
After hearing Nanami’s explanation, the director said, “Well, it’s not a bad thing,” and gave his approval.
This decision was made to win her over, perhaps because he felt guilty about suppressing an exclusive scoop. In fact, he felt that the news on Noriko’s blog was nothing much, little more than a presentation on the Special Region’s culture and practices.
However, once she had everyone’s attention, she released the gruesome sight of the black mist swallowing everything on Noriko’s blog.
It struck a chord with the viewers, and they loudly demanded to know why such important news had not been reported.
The TV stations and newspapers frantically began their coverage. Their repeated reporting drew all their sources from Noriko’s blog, because to do otherwise would imply that they had known about this beforehand but kept quiet.
And so, people finally learned about the oddities happening in various parts of the world.
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