The City of Edo, Hiroshi
May 14, 2791
Three squadrons of Falcon Orbital Ground
Attack Craft, dropped a few minutes earlier from the carrier IMS Pandora, sped
low and fast across the small moon's surface. Near invisible in stealth mode,
their camouflage systems closely mimicking their surroundings, terrain
following radar kept their height at fifty metres. Dust from their down-angled engines,
curved upwards in artistic seeming arcs, a subtle sign of their passage, then
settled slowly in the low gravity once the ships had passed. Fifteen minutes
above and behind, two more squadrons, a second wave of OGACs, dropped towards
Walls - six-kilometres-high, grey and rugged
- closed in around the lead squadron as they began to climb the lower slopes of
a large crater, the moon's largest, heading for a dark gash in its edge. An
ancient meteor had created the gash as well as a passage through the wall, but
more recent events had closed parts, twisted others, into a treacherous canyon.
The canyon, the only passage into the crater except from above, was protected
by automated gun emplacements.
"Status report, Sergeant?"
Lieutenant Commander Zandra Stone, captain of the lead craft, STR/BG-1A,
continued checking her plane's weapons and detection equipment.
"Three minutes to canyon, Commander,"
Sergeant Russel Cage, callsign 'Animal', drawled. "Speed, one thousand
kay, stealth mode active."
"Thank you." Stone glanced at her
tech-gunner, eleven years her senior and considered the relationship between
his name and callsign.
animal?" She thought, 'Sounds
"Spin up the Gatlings and prepare to
slow us to five hundred."
"Main guns one and two spinning up,
Ma'am." Cage nodded at one of his panels, "Setting speed reduction,
half-kay pre, OK?"
"Just the ticket." Stone grinned at
her tech. She and Cage weren't great friends off duty, but their working
relationship was about as tight as any could be. "Activate strobes on canyon
Military strobes operated across a wide range
of frequencies, many of them harmful to the human eye, and Stone knew they
would increase the craft's visibility. Questions about their suitability as a
weapon had been raised following reports that some nations had used strobes to
control civil unrest, even though she was fairly confident Saxonia wasn't one
of them. However, they were in a canyon and their complex light patterns helped
confuse automated optical equipment so, used correctly, they could reduce threats
to their craft. For the umpteenth time Stone checked the status of their
primary payload, a half-ton HKA penetrator, all systems coming up green. Nine
of her first wave carried the penetrator missiles, along with six of the
second, the rest were armed with conventional bombs and missiles.
As Lead Squadron Commander, Stone felt she
had a duty to keep herself more informed than her crews concerning the whys and
wherefores of the mission. The Valentians had allied with the Geist and, ever
since, had become a problem, destroying Saxon ships emerging from gates around
the Sea of Souls, harassing convoys to Maleth and interdicting troop transports
across the Kusini arena. The Supreme Lord Chancellor had been most insistent
that the problem be dealt with so Commodore Wheatley, CINC Sea of Souls, had
come up with the delightful little adventure that was Exercise Sagacity. Stone
also had a fairly good idea what might be waiting for them beyond the twisting
and narrow canyon and knew that if they didn't navigate the pass successfully,
they wouldn't get the chance to launch their penetrator. In her mind that
justified the use of strobes, whether she approved of them in other scenarios
Their target, almost dead centre on a
thirty-six-kilometre-wide crater floor almost a kilometre below the rest of the
moon's surface, was the Valentian forward base, Vulcan. The base protected
Valentian interests around the Sea of Souls and her crews would shortly
discover whether Vulcan's notoriety was deserved. Stone had studied
photographic, video and holographic data from a series of stealth drones and
was worried enough by what she had seen. Clearly the base was a major refuel,
repair and refit facility having some thirty docks, ten capable of mooring full-size
battleships. The data revealed that six battleships, six cruisers and eight destroyers
were in dock. She had seen that the base was heavily defended with kinetic and
laser emplacements as well as several missile batteries. She had also seen
ordered shapes, implying the base had several squadrons of short-range,
defensive fighters. Fortunately for her people, the orbiting missile platforms
would be a problem for Pandora's task
force but, just based on what she had seen, the base alone looked formidable.
Falcon Orbital Ground Attack Craft were new
and Sagacity was the craft's first real outing but Stone and her crews had been
training on both simulators and the real thing for almost nine months. The
squadrons had hit dirt a hundred kilometres out, just out of Vulcan's detection
range, and had reconfigured their camouflage and stealth profiles. The small
moon's gravity was low and limited the squadrons to a maximum of one and half
thousand klicks per hour and she had opted for two thirds. As the craft cycled
up to speed, Stone revisited her decision... to her mind that would be fast
enough but would still leave something in reserve in case the mission went
south. In her mind, she could hear her trainer saying the Falcon's optimum
attack speed was around three thousand kilometres per hour, that her chosen
speed was too slow for an attack against well-prepared positions, but her gut
was telling her the Valentians had never dealt with an attack of this kind.
With six-variable direction engines, the Falcon had the very latest in stealth
tech and her hope was that that would be enough to catch the Valentians off
A message appeared on her command panel.
Opening a laser comms channel to her squadron she spoke tersely, "GemStone
to StringBag One. Pandora and her
support have engaged the missile defence platforms. They're likely to take some
casualties so let's make this count. Take 'em up to a hundred, straighten up
and follow us in."
She looked at her co-pilot. "Relay that
to the other squadrons, Sergeant and get ready to pile it on when we come out
the other side."
"Yes Ma'am." Cage nodded.
The lead craft moved to the head of the column, the perfect arrow head formation
gracefully collapsing to single file behind her. The canyon walls closed in as
a nest of Viperidi guns opened up on them. The squadron began a complex series
of evasive manoeuvres, weaving from side to side, rolling back and forth as
well as up and down, the small ships rapidly switching places with each other.
Three more Viperidi nests opened up on the squadron.
Cage had sent the warning back to the
trailing squadrons, Two and Three only minutes behind, Four and Five about ten
began to be buffeted
by flak, Stone and Cage both stayed alert for problems, but both knew what
their small craft was capable of... close though they seemed, both knew the small
explosions had to be virtually on top of the Falcon to do it any real damage.
the advantages of flying an armoured bathtub in a vacuum,' Stone thought as
they sped down the dark canyon.
Still she was glad they were flying the flat
and boxy craft, little more than a heavily armoured cage built around two
Gatling-style kinetics. Though the guns were immobile, aimed by manoeuvring the
ship itself, they could fire massive numbers of armour piercing five-centimetre
slugs, a storm against which even heavily armoured targets rarely stood.
The canyon was less dusty than the plain and,
as they continued their descent to the crater floor over half-a-kilometre
below, they passed over the first Viperidi nests, all five craft dropping
clutches of bomblets. It wouldn't help their squadron much but she figured it might
make it easier on the fellows coming in behind them. Darkness closed in around
them, explosions, strobes and scanners continuing to guide their way.
"Top engine sliced, Commander," The
radio squawked, "Nano fibre. Five engines still operational. STR/BG-1C responds AOK."
"Damnation!" Stone swore thumbing
the comms override, "StringBag One, all units! Get down closer to the
canyon floor! Fibres! Reduce speed to three hundred."
move,' Stone thought as she envisaged the carbon-fibres the Valentians had
strung across the canyon, undetectable and with passages through it that only
they knew. But she also knew such defences were costly to install and difficult
to maintain so her best guess was that the fibres would be patchy and probably non-existent
at lower levels. The squadron dipped to just over ten metres, a dangerous
manoeuvre, since it would give them far less chance to avoid rising rocks and
other high obstacles.
helps that the canyon's descending,' Stone thought as, further down the canyon,
the flak reduced and finally stopped.
A little over ninety seconds later, the
canyon walls started to open out again and the squadron burst back into full
stellar light. Ahead, as she ordered the strobes deactivated, Stone could see a
distant series of domes, masts and what looked to be docked ships. Had they not
been on a mission to attack the base, she might have considered it a fairly
"Reckon they anticipated this kind of
attack?" Stone mused rhetorically. "We'll loiter round the crater
edge, clockwise I think, keep us below one thousand, relay that to Squadron
Two. Let's take a closer gander, shall we? Magnification fifty, please Sergeant."
"Yes Ma'am." Cage nodded,
increasing the craft's speed as he started to reconfigure the craft's defences
and stealth, to match the crater walls.
Armoured as it was, the Falcon had no true
windows but the distant view through their main forward display, a simulated
forward 'window' courtesy of a hundred tiny holo-cams embedded in the hull,
switched to a close-up of the base. The small craft's computer rapidly
identified the main dome, various masts, fuel depots and, the most important to
her, a series of larger docks.
"We're taking some fire, small scale
stuff. Primary targets have been identified and, ah, Squadron Two are in,
Ma'am. They are proceeding anti-clockwise." Cage paused, the glow from his
displays casting a green light over his face, "Squadron Three is in. We're
good to go."
"Computer has established optimum
ingress, AOK." Stone flexed her shoulders in preparation, "Send
'Saddle Up' and targeting data then turn us towards the docks. Give me the best
you can Sergeant."
Cage turned the craft towards the docks and, as
a series of confirmations came back, Stone checked her command screen to see
all fifteen craft all heading in towards the docks from three directions and
ramping up to one point five kay.
"Tally Ho!" She murmured.
At one and a half thousand kilometres per
hour, she figured they should be in firing range in forty seconds and, as they
closed on the docks, Stone had Cage alter the angle of the Falcon's engines to
give them more lift. That, she figured, would allow them to launch their baby
right down the throat of one of the now clearly visible battleships. Stone saw
movement out of the corner of her eye and saw STR/BG-1B, Coalscuttle and Salmon, pull ahead as they zeroed in on The Rōmulus.
"Contact! There you are." Breathed
Stone as she stared into her targeting scope at the pride of the Valentian
navy, The Vesuvio, "You're mine.
Sergeant Cage? Open the bays. Going tactical."
Speeding over the crater floor, the Falcon
rose higher, engines compensating, preparing to hold them stable for the shot
Stone was about to take. Twenty seconds from optimum, all hell broke loose as
fire rose from The Vesuvio, the
nearby Rōmulus and the cruiser Tiber.
"Mud launches detected, targeting enemy
missile emplacements and direct threats." Cage drawled turning the craft
slightly, a stream of kinetics causing an incoming missile to explode
enthusiastically, then turning back as he loosed a pair of ground busters at a
Valentian missile silo. "Bingo! Targets squished."
"Good splash, Sergeant." Cage
nodded in acknowledgement, his concentration focussed on the threats ahead of
"Secondary targets. Fuel depot and silo.
Fifteen and nineteen degrees starboard." Cage's voice carried no
discernible trace of emotion, "Permission to engage, Captain?"
"Engage," Stone replied,
"Missiles only. Stay on target."
"Yes, Ma'am." Cage gestured over
his panel, bright flashes evidence of the missiles streaking past the cockpit
from their craft's rear launchers, "Four birds homing." He paused
then, "Three confirmed hits, silo and fuel depot destroyed. Two birds
"Well done, Sergeant."
times,' Stone thought, 'That I love
Five kilometres. The radio squawked,
"Volcano and Shaman are down. They've bailed."
"Damn!" Stone breathed, "Good
Four kilometres. Streaks of fire shot out
from the closing squadrons as defensive flak and laser fire intensified.
Three kilometres. A blinding flash ahead.
"What the hell? Was that..."
"Falcon down," a voice hissed
against radio static, "STR/BG-1B.
CoalScuttle and Salmon. No evidence of bail."
"Fuck! God speed guys!" Stone
Two kilometres. Flak explosions bracketed
them and lasers sang past their hull. Stone ordered Cage to bring the Falcon up
to firing height and, seconds later, released her bird. Cage jinked the craft
up and away from the missile, a brief glare told them the missile's engines had
ignited as it shot away.
"GemStone to StringBag One. Mission
objectives complete. We're out of here." Stone closed the communication
channel and turned back to her screen to monitor the missile's progress.
"Full burn, Sergeant." Stone saw
the missile vector in towards its target, full 3V and tactical thanks to the
hull holo-cams and sensors mounted on the speeding missile. The craft's six
engines ramped up to full power and she was slammed back in her seat.
"And while you're at it," Stone hissed
through gritted teeth, "Ditch the rest of our shit."
"Yes Ma'am." Cage's voice was
strained and she wasn't sure if he had heard the order until she saw the
confirmation on her screen, multiple launches as he fired off his two remaining
missiles at a destroyer several kilometres away and dropped the last of the craft's
cluster bombs on a neat row of fighters far beneath them.
Their Immersaline suits inflated around them
as the Falcon accelerated upwards and, as they crossed the thousand-metre upper
threshold of the craft's action envelope, there was a bright flash. The screen
dulled for a moment, the inevitable electronic response to the blinding actinic
glare of an atomic explosion.
"Splash one battleship!" Stone tried
to punch the air, failing miserably against the savage g-forces, then lowered
her tone, "Gotcha, you bitch! You ain't gonna be comin' after our ships no
"Reckon," Cage drawled, "Must
have scored a direct hit on the reactor."
"Yeah but lighten up Cage, we got the
job done, didn't we?" Stone playfully admonished even though she knew it
was just Cage's way, "OK. Relay tactical info to the others and the Task
Force then get us the hell outta here."
"Data transfer initiated, Ma'am. As the Commander
suggests, let's get the hell outta here." Cage turned his face and grinned
as the small craft rocketed upwards.
Minutes later, as they slid into IMS Pandora's massive shadow, the inside
of the cockpit faded from view.
Six students leant back from their
simulators, stretching wearily in the dimly lit room as their chairs slid away
on AESRA cushions and settled gently onto fixed supports. On a raised dais in
front of them, sitting comfortably in a leather chair, the class tutor remained
silent, watching his students and allowing them time to readjust to reality.
After a few moments, he pressed several buttons in the arm of his chair, the
light in the room slowly brightened and the large wall screen lit to display a
series of statistics about the battle they had just experienced.
"Exercise Sagacity otherwise known as
The Battle of Vulcan." Vice Admiral Kishi spoke slowly to allow the
students additional recovery time, "A battle you just got to experience
thanks to the Saxon habit of downloading pilot PAs after missions and the
hacking skills of some of our, ah, friends over at Bunrui Jigyōbu."
Kishi watched with amusement as several of
the students shook their heads, still fuzzy from their recent immersive
"So, the Battle of Vulcan, the first
time a nation took action against another without the battle fleets of either
side either sighting each other or directly engaging. Even the battle between
the Saxon task force and the orbital missile platforms was fought at long range
and there were no Saxon fatalities. Records indicate that only fourteen penetrators
were fired and that twelve of those were confirmed hits. The task force's only
casualties were OGAC crews compared, as you can see, to the massive Valentian damage
and personnel loss and, overall, it was a success for the Saxon military, a
huge boost to their morale.
"What have we learned from this, ladies
"Sir?" A hand was raised, Kishi
smile frozen at the expected response, as he nodded at Sergeant Okuta to
continue, "You say 'overall' when the Saxons destroyed or damaged four
Valentian battleships, two cruisers and several other ships for the loss of
only three," She looked at the class screen, "Sorry, four
fighter-class ships and their crews. Surely that would be a victory in anyone's
Kishi looked at Okuta, the youngest member of
the class and the only non-commissioned officer ever to attend one of his
courses, and she stared back at him, locking her gaze with his.
"A good question, Okuta." The smile
on Kishi's, brown, leathery face briefly turned into a glare as he surveyed the
five commissioned officers of his class. "In terms of the battle alone,
yes, it was a complete success and no one can take that away from the ships and
personnel involved. However, the operation could have been so much more
successful if greater resource had been provided. Yes, naval fighter power was
thoroughly demonstrated but it did relatively little to change the balance of
power across The Sea of Souls even if it did give Wheatley, the Saxon Commander
in Chief, Sea of Souls, a break of almost a year before the Valentians were
properly back on their feet.
"To be fair to Saxon Naval Command, the
original plan did envisage using two carriers instead of the one actually used
but the Antaeus developed engine
problems shortly before the fleet set off and no other carriers were available
so an additional squadron of OGACs was transferred to the Pandora and the rest, as they say, is history."
"Your assessment of the Saxon action
seems overly cynical, Sir." Okuta seemed curious, "Why?"
"Because the Saxons failed to exploit the
opportunities the Battle of Vulcan presented them." Kishi was patient.
"They allowed the undamaged battleships, Lyskamm and Libertà, to
move freely back, deeper into Valentian space. They also allowed the damaged
ships, Karalis, Nuova Fortuna and Rōmulus,
to be towed back to other bases, bases equipped with big docks capable of
repairing battleships. What could they have done?"
"Attacked again on a second night,
Sir?" Kishi nodded as, once again, Okuta was first to answer but another
student, Susumu Daigoku, indicated he wanted to answer.
"Could the Saxons have set a trap,
Sir?" Daigoku looked uncomfortable as he asked the question, "Perhaps
positioned some cruise-bombers along the expected route for the undamaged
"Good answer." Kishi smiled, "However,
there is something you're missing. I'll give you a hint. Something they could
have done before when planning Sagacity."
"More ships, Admiral?" Okuta was
marginally ahead of the disappointed Daigoku, apparently thinking much the
same, "Clearly the Valentians were unprepared for such a strike so another
carrier with more OGACs would have massively increased the damage done. It may
even have effectively removed the Valentians from the war altogether."
"Excellent Okuta, quite excellent."
Kishi favoured her with another cold smile, "Daigoku?"
"I was going to say something similar,
Sir." Daigoku nodded to Okuta, acknowledging her more rapid answer but
struggling to think of another answer.
"Thank you, Sir." Okuta didn't
smile, Kishi couldn't remember a time when she had, "I think I need to do
more research on this."
Kishi paused for several seconds as he
considered the young student. He could detect no trace of smugness in her mien.
Mentally shrugging, he addressed the class generally, "Any other
"Yes Sir." Daigoku seemed
uncertain, "Could the Saxons have used atomics?"
"They could." Kishi looked
thoughtful, "However, general public attitude towards nuclear weaponry
remains negative because of the damage and horrific injuries resulting from
their use in the Amaranthine. Yes, they are still occasionally used, for
example when a damaged enemy ship refuses to surrender, remaining behind to prevent
pursuit of its fellows. A nuclear bomb in its guts will ensure it is permanently
out of action and forever end its resistance. Nuclear missiles are also a
useful, though expensive, method for dealing with orbital defence platforms.
But public distaste for nuclear weaponry severely limits their use... that's
why the majority of highly destructive weapons are HKA based."
"It's war, Sir."
"Yes Daigoku, its war." Kishi
sighed, "And as we all know, as soon as wars start, the rules, the
conventions and just about everybody's rights go out of the window. Any
There were none so after a short silence he
stood but before turning to leave, as the class made preparations to head off
to their quarters, he turned back.
"The simulation and several other
resource files have been transferred to your personal work areas. That includes
all the planning details for Exercise Sagacity, tactical information as well as
a series of personal records and recollections of the pilots involved in the
operation." He surveyed the looks of alarm on all but Okuta's face.
"Take the weekend but, by Tuesday morning, I want to see a reasonably
detailed outline of a hypothetical attack on the United Colonial Systems base in
the Aumakua system, UCS Port McKinley. Dismissed."
Walking out of the door towards his car, Kishi
smiled, he had a Bunrui Jigyōbu graduation
ceremony to attend. His smile turned into a cynical grin at the chorus of
groans from the class behind him.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, stepping out of his
car on to the wide paved area in front of Edo Memorial Hall, Kishi was met by
an honour guard of six elite Bunrui
Jigyōbu soldiers who escorted him up the steps towards the massive
gothic structure. As he passed through the wide arched doorway, Kishi glanced
around. The foyer was stunning with massive marble columns supporting a domed
ceiling painted beautifully with a copy of Michelangelo's, Creation of Adam. At
least he assumed it was a copy, the original was supposed to be in the Sistine
Chapel in Rome on Earth and he hadn't heard anything about it not being there
anymore. Sumptuously carpeted marble stairways curved up on either side of the
foyer, stained glass windows rising next to them. Sculptures were everywhere,
busts of famous city councillors and others to whom the city owed its heritage.
The walls were adorned with pictures and other works of art, mostly of famous
Akatsu, both military and civil leaders.
However, to Kishi's mind, the most impressive
piece was a central silvered sculpture, twenty metres long and three high, of
the first Earth generation ship, the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi,
the ship that had kickstarted human expansion into space. The Tsurugi, launched in nineteen-twenty
with a cargo of two thousand young men and women, had made the trip to the trinary
system Rigil Kentaurus in just fifty-six years. Finding a wealth of planets,
the Tsurugi's descendants had renamed
the stars and started the process of terraforming. The Tsurugi was no more of course, she had been purposefully
crash-landed on Higuchi a few years after her arrival there, her components
cannibalised and turned to use by the colonists of the then inhospitable world.
Today, populations increasing massively by birth, embryo banks and centuries of
hyperspace immigration, the Akatsu home systems centred on four planets, Hiroshi,
Hayashi, Higuchi and Hattori. Still, Kishi found the sculpture both beautiful
and detailed and his only regret was that he couldn't touch it, surrounded as
it was by barriers keeping people at least three metres clear.
Turning his attention finally to the event
itself Kishi saw a throng of people, some military, some student as well as
men, women and children, relatives of the graduates he assumed. His gaze swept
around the foyer and he spied two familiar faces, Major Itsuko Ishizaki and
Captain Ryou Umemoto, his contacts for the event. They turned towards him,
coming to attention and saluting as he marched up to them.
"At ease, Major, Captain." Kishi
gestured to his two subordinates, "Thank you for meeting me here."
"Vice Admiral Kishi." Ishizaki
bowed politely, "If you will follow me through to The Great Hall, I will
show you to your seat."
The two officers escorted him through a
smaller arched doorway nearby and into a large open hall that Kishi estimated
must have contained over five hundred people with more wandering in to occupy
the remaining seats. He sat in the chair indicated by Ishizaki and glanced
curiously around the hall. To one side was a dais, lower than the one on which
he and his fellow officers were seated, with some thirty seats. He guessed that
was where the new Bunrui Jigyōbu
graduates would sit, and rapidly found that he was right as the smartly dressed
youngsters, seventeen men and thirteen women with shaved heads, entered to take
Major Ishizaki checked his portable speech
cue, coughed and stood to walk smartly to the centre of the dais and stand
behind the lectern. As Ishizaki spoke to the rapt graduates, Kishi's attention wandered
around the hall towards a number of Bunrui
Jigyōbu staff standing at ease around its edges. His gaze swept across
a young female guard wearing darkened protective glasses, almost continuing on but
looked back as a sickening wave of familiarity, almost Déjà vu-like, hit him. Shaken
and unable to place her, Kishi stared for almost half-a minute until she looked
up to meet his eyes and forced him to look elsewhere. He returned to his
abstract analysis of the hall, his eyes roving everywhere but where the
strangely familiar guard stood, his jitteriness slowly fading.
Ishizaki's speech lasted for about fifteen
minutes before he finally paused and nodded towards Kishi.
"And with that I would like to hand over
to our guest of honour, Vice Admiral Kikuma Kishi."
There was a round of applause for Ishizaki
and, as he stepped backwards to stand respectfully several steps behind the lectern,
Kishi took his place.
"Good afternoon, Ladies and gentlemen."
Kishi focussed on the graduates, feeling the presence of the young guard at his
mind's edges, "I confess to an inclination to ramble so I will do my best
to keep this short and with that in mind, hope you won't mind that I address my
comments to our new graduates.
"Since being invited as guest of honour
for this ceremony I have wondered what I would say. What important life lessons
I have learned and how I can, in the space of a few minutes, pass those lessons
on. The simple fact is I can't and, in short, don't plan to try." Kishi
paused as a ripple of murmurs flowed across the hall. He smiled, "At least
"Some that have met me will know me will
know I am something of a devotee of the ancient Greeks and it is to one of
them, Heraclitus, that I turn for my first piece of wisdom. 'There is nothing
permanent except change'. The world is continuously changing around us all,
technology is outdated before it hits our desks and society is a moving, living
force that ebbs and flows around us. As such, very little of my experience can
be directly relevant to our newly graduated students here. Yes, I can advise in
general terms but there are better people than me for that purpose and, to be
brutally honest, our young graduates have spent the last two years with exactly
the right kinds of people to advise them properly in such respects. Regardless,
I would advise our young graduates to be aware that all things change and not
necessarily for the better.
"My second piece of advice is to say
that time is a precious commodity, perhaps the most precious commodity. Why
waste it living as others want you to? This is important. Having graduated, you
have demonstrated your potential, that you are clever enough to pass the set
exams, that you have a modicum of skill and presumably a unique set of talents.
An old Earth playwright, George Bernard Shaw as I recall, once said 'The
reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable one persists in
trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the
unreasonable man.' Live your life the best way you can but be unreasonable, change
the world to fit your needs.
"My third piece of advice is by Demosthenes,
yes, another ancient Greek, who said, 'Small opportunities are often the
beginning of great enterprises.' Be aware of the huge, the calamitous, the
impressive but don't overlook the small as they might present opportunities you
previously did not know existed. Think of it like a set of interlocking
building blocks. Individually they are nothing but put them together in a
certain fashion and they become something much greater, much more impressive
and potentially very useful. Remember that from tiny acorns, mighty oaks grow...
if you are unable to see the little things or use them correctly, you might
never be able to do or see the larger ones. Pay attention to detail.
"My final piece of advice is to remember
that it is not so much if you die but to remember that we all die. You may get
little choice about how or when you die so the only thing left to control is
how you live. We could die at any moment and it should not be a case of how
long we live but what we do with our lives. Make your lives count for
"And with that I shall finish, all that
remains is for me to make a few presentations."
A few hours later, after they had eaten,
Kishi wandered over to the bar to see if they had any single malts, perhaps a
decent Braeriach. He had found Ishizaki and Umemoto perfectly pleasant, if a
little bland, but now sought something with a little more character. He felt a
presence at his side and turned to look straight at the young guard he had
somehow connected with earlier.
"Admiral?" She saluted, "Matsuyama,
Lieutenant. I don't know exactly how I know but, during the ceremony, I got hit
by a feeling. Part of it told me that you wanted to talk to me?"
For several seconds Kishi stood still. When
he had seen her in the hall he had been hit by a wave of dizziness, a feeling
of having somehow known her previously, a feeling he could not logically
explain. As far as he knew, he had never met the young woman before but had
somehow wanted to meet her, to talk to her. However, he knew he hadn't told
anyone and he was stunned by her direct approach.
"Yes." He agreed, finally returning
the salute, "I do have some questions. My first is a request for
confirmation, Lt. Matsuyama. Are you in any way related to Yori and Kiya
"If I was, I would not admit so."
She locked her gaze with his, her face wearing an expression of forced
neutrality, "You may take that as you wish, Sir. If you wish to know more
you can look on my records."
He smiled, instantly aware she had bested
him. He knew he didn't have the necessary clearance to access Bunrui Jigyōbu security files. She
knew it too.
"OK Matsuyama." Kishi had already
decided he liked this rather straight-laced young woman, "If you're not
willing confirm your identity, are you will to tell me how you came to enlist
in the Bunrui Jigyōbu?"
"Certainly, Sir." She agreed
readily, "Though I will have to keep it brief. I already have my next assignment
and I need to be across the other side of town before midnight. Would you mind
if we sit for a few minutes?"
They sat at an empty table in a darkened
corner that others seemed to be avoiding.
"My childhood was troubled."
Matsuyama began simply but precisely, "I ran away from my family when I
was fifteen. I ended up in Edo, like many others, the potential prey of thugs
and pimps but I decided I wasn't going to be a victim. Building on martial arts
skills I had acquired at school I learned to fight. I lived simply as I made a
name for myself, competing in street fights or leagues for status and
insignificant prizes. Sure, I still got targeted by the thugs, got threatened
and beaten but each time I learned a little more and one day, when I thought I
had learned enough, I fought back. That fight wasn't quite so one-sided but I
still lost." She flinched then smiled ruefully before she continued,
"Times were, ah, challenging but I survived and less than six months later
few pimps or thugs dared lay a hand on me and if any did, I made damned sure
they ended up regretting it.
"I improved my street-fighting skills over
time and began selling my skills as a bodyguard, an enforcer or whatever and I
quickly earned enough to rent a small single bedroom flat in the slums near the
Izumi river. I know." She smiled sadly, "I had arrived a romantic but
as my notoriety increased, my dreams faded. Even that took its toll, despite my
relative success I took to drinking heavily, throwing my money away and often ended
up collapsed in gutters near the cheap bars.
"That was when he found me."
"Kubota. One morning I woke to see him,
a man in a light grey suit, crouched in the shadows nearby. Thinking he was a
threat, I attacked him but he beat me away easily, so easily I just turned and
ran. I thought I lost him but a few minutes later he was there, a hundred
metres behind and clearly following me. I ran once more, fleeing for my life
this time, and again thought I had lost him but when I turned, he was still there,
a little closer. I put everything I had into an escape move and buried myself
in one of my bolt holes, a place I was confident no one knew anything about. I
watched as Kubota walked nearly silently past my hideout and his quiet
footsteps began to fade. I stayed there for an hour, perhaps two. I started to
believe I had lost him but when I climbed out of the hideout he reappeared,
moving out of some shadows to stand in full view of where I had been hiding.
"He spoke to me by name, his voice
quiet. I just stared. I wasn't very nice. I screamed at him, demanding he tell
me what he wanted. He just introduced himself but then mostly talked about me...
my early life, my schooling, my flight to Edo and my rise within the slums of
Edo. He went further, predicting my future, a day when I would lie dead in an
alley from the fight I one day had to lose. Finally, he persuaded me that there
had to be something different, something better, more worthwhile and that this
was not who I was meant to be.
"I asked him what he meant and he said
he worked for an organisation that could use someone with my skills. Then he
just walked away."
"Really?" Kishi asked, "What
did you do?"
"I followed him... at a distance at
first, I got a bit closer later. I followed him right into the administrative
sector of Edo, somewhere in the backstreets I had never been before, until he
had stopped at a door. I remember it clearly, a small, black door in a large
featureless building, not so much a door as a black chasm into... into... somewhere
else. I don't mean spiritual, just somewhere scary. I asked him what came next
and he told me it was a choice, a choice I had to make, whether to go in or
not. The way he said it made it clear that it was no easy option, that the
doorway could mean life or death for me."
"And?" Kishi was totally engrossed
in her tale, "Did you go in?"
"Well duh!" Her laughter broke the
tension, "I'm here. Of course, I did."
"And nothing really." She became
evasive, "I don't like to think of some of the things they put me through
in order to evaluate my suitability for Bunrui
Jigyōbu training but I passed, barely. I didn't start out as their
best student but I worked hard, I've always been willing to study if I
understand what the goal is. I graduated top of my year in combat and tactical.
I very nearly graduated top in information acquisition and interrogation but
not quite. I've been working as part of a specialist unit within Bunrui Jigyōbu.
"Really?" Kishi leant forward,
"And that is?"
"With respect, Sir." She pulled
back slightly, "I think perhaps it is better you do not know. They've been
"I understand." Kishi nodded,
almost absent-mindedly, "At least I think I do."
"And on that note." She stood,
"I really need to be on my way."
"Yes, of course." Kishi smiled and
extended his hand, "Good luck, Ms. Matsuyama. I trust you know I won't say
"Thank you, Sir." She smiled,
realising that a silent bargain had been struck. As she took the proffered hand,
she felt an energy pass between them, "Perhaps we will meet again,
"I hope so... in fact, I feel sure we
will." He had felt the connection too but simply bowed as she let go of
his hand and when he raised his eyes again, she had disappeared.
"May the gods be between you and harm in
all the empty places you walk." He whispered as he felt her presence fade
and finally disappear.