This is the second part of the fifth section of the Suzuki files.
There is a gap between this and the first part of about five years.
So far, that gap hasn't been satisfactorily filled.
Suzu 5b: Futility (T +21)
I am a rice-straw, not what they think; I am a name dissolved in its ink. It took me five years to see that my tears were easily erased with a nod and a blink.
As Natsume—after all these years, still not my friend—says, I have problems keeping my story together. I’m so broken, but nobody cares because when I’m around, other things break. I try to save them from falling apart, but I feel like a fake, and so does my heart.
Here’s a story I feel safe telling. It’s not a happy story, but it doesn’t end that badly. Over the years, I’ve loved only two men. Both became something else, both became strangers. In the end, I decided never to love men again: it always ends in pain—for them.
Here’s a story I feel sad about: it’s about how everyone went and then I never got them back again. But it’s okay, you don’t really need people as long as you’re free. An old song says, “Take my heart, take my hand, take me where I cannot stand; I’m still Suzu, I am free, I’ve understood futility.”
I’m in my nest, the little house of straw where Suzu lives alone, beyond the law. Up in the North, so full of tangled things, there I await the call to stretch my wings.
“It makes its own munitions,” says Kei to me. Only three humans have been up to my nest. Kei has long been my boss, but she’s too busy most of the time, and she normally sends the big man who isn’t my ex-husband. Today is different. It’s show-and-tell.
“From what?” I ask, genuinely surprised. I don’t do munitions. I’m a poet, an artist, and I make my own munitions, I don’t trust my pen to write poetry for me.
“From atoms in the air and, if you like, other materials you can feed it. We call it the Hungry Gun.”
In my head I suddenly have pictures of tiny vampires industriously making Gothic bat-bullets in lonely towers up in the high mountains. “Hungry?”
“Yes. It loves carbon most of all, and its little pile stops at iron.”
“Includes iron, or excludes?”
“Just about includes. Prefers lighter atoms.”
I turn the long, flat little machine over and over in my hands. It’s as long as my arm, lovingly crafted, almost like a wakizashi scabbard. It’s very light, and yet you can feel the strength in it. I wonder if Rin Tezuka would carry one in her state-of-the-art prosthetics. These days, who knows, especially with Rin? But that’s a fantasy. She knows nothing of my world.
“Will it eat my arm?”
Kei laughs. She has a quirky laugh, and it’s seldom employed. Normally she gets Nobu to threaten people with his grin.
“Not unless you block its intake with your fist.”
I’m not sure if she’s joking or not. “Isn’t there a safety feature that would prevent that?”
“Oh yes, there is. You can only feed it with pre-cut blocks of low relative mass materials, about a cubic centimeter in volume. There, see?”
“Very nice. I like those lines,” I say, as if Kei and I are discussing clothing purchases. I feel a pang of nostalgia. It’s been decades since we last did that together, two young women working for a minor department in the government bureaucracy.
“It’s a gift, from me to you, Suzu Suzuki.”
I’m overwhelmed. She’s being kind. I don’t know I deserve it, mind.
“Why?” I ask.
“We’re friends,” she shrugs. Her shrugs are very telling, after a while. “And it’s only a working prototype.”
“What is it you want me to do?” I suddenly feel afraid and angry. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, all black hair with streaks of turquoise, a strange and haunting look, maybe a haunted look. I look like a falcon that hasn’t slept for years.
“It’s something you are probably best equipped to handle.”
I laugh one of my ugly laughs, the kind that boils up because you don’t have a real laugh left. “Me?”
“You remember your classmate?”
“Which one is it now? Which one of our cripples?” The waves in my head are like white-water ripples.
“The one you married.”
For a moment, I don’t know what to say. She’s talking about my tall, intense husband who went away to be an Okinawan rebel, until Okinawa needed no more rebels. I stare at her.
“He’s not my husband. And I didn’t know he was alive.” In fact, I’d thought he was dead. He’d been reported missing after an act of sabotage involving a large amount of explosives and a freight car. The incident had removed the last traces of the influence of the United States of America from my ex-husband’s homeland.
“He is. And he’s somewhere on Honshu right now.”
“What?” Part of me is professional, the woman who used to sieve through satellite data and spycam footage, drone pictures and microdrone imaging, to see and understand the deeds of mortals, the deeds of those who would do us ill. Part of me feels ill, sickened.
“We can’t find him. Okinawan cloaking technology is too clever.”
I hate cloaking technology. It makes Suzu unable to see things, and a Suzu who can’t see can’t be effective. My mind goes back a few years, and I think of Naomi Inoue, who died because of it.
“You want me to find him? You have better people, Kei.”
“Nobody understands his behavioral patterns better than you do, Suzu.”
“What does he intend to do?”
“We think he’s going to blow up a university, for some reason.”
I laugh. This one is a raw laugh, the laugh you make when you think everything has gone insane and your mind is reeling from the pain.
“A university? Whatever for? Okinawa is our ally now.”
“He seems to have something against nanotechnology. He’s also hunting the Black Dragon.”
This time, I know I’ve gone insane. The Black Dragon is gone, destroyed by nano-agents so thorough that hardly any trace of his body was left. The Black Dragon would also be about eighty years old by now, even if he were alive.
“Yes. He’s alive too.”
Bitter my response, sour my words: I hear myself say slowly and softly, “Can’t you keep anybody dead, these days?”
But of course you can. You have to kill them yourself
, my mind whispers.
It is the most horrible springtime of my years. This kind of thing is what can only lead to tears.
There’s always another woman. Having been one myself qualifies me as an expert. It takes me a long time to track them down, because nobody would think to look for Okinawan infiltrators when Okinawans need not infiltrate, and neither should they be hanging out in Hokkaido.
I follow. They are innocent, like honeymooners, my ex-husband Isamu ‘Sam the Lizard’ Takagi and his pretty thing. He’s old now, as am I, in our late fifties and people who shouldn’t be wandering around in the cool March weather outdoors. But we’re tough, that’s what we are. I need to keep my elderly joints and tendons supple, so they don’t go off like whipcracks as I hunt this couple.
And then, there’s betrayal. There’s always one of those to see. Having been betrayed and also betraying, I’m twice the expert that I should be.
Late at night, after their leisurely descent to the Axeblade for some excellent cuisine, and then further south, I see her sneak away. She’s all stealthed, her net interfacing seamlessly with ours. She has plans that aren’t the same as his. I make a dissatisfied click in my mouth. Someone should know about this
, I think, as I follow carefully from afar.
I disconnect myself from this part of the net, because that’s how people are discovered. I don’t want to be discovered. I replay the conversations I’ve had with my sisters, so that if anyone locates my deceptive signal, they’ll think I’m an old ditz with nothing better to do than chat with her floozy sisters.
My signal moves independently of my own location, using a lot of energy to stay that way. My augmented senses are sadly limited by this, and in the end, I don’t really see what the woman does. This is a mistake, and it’s not the first I make. At least, I get enough of a picture for identification.
She’s in her twenties. It’s the first thing I notice. Twenty-seven years old, this one. Days later, they are in a supermarket, and as she selects groceries, he nods, she nods—the little courtesies we Japanese produce deep from our sense of body language. They respect each other at least that much. They smile and laugh softly. And she is young enough to be his daughter. She is young enough to be our
daughter. The thought is briefly painful.
I am angry for a lightning-flash moment of time. It ends when I realize I don’t have any real reasons for it. He left me to find himself, years ago. I thought he was dead, years ago. That he’s alive, it means little to me; it doesn’t mean nothing, but it means little enough.
I still have to figure out what he’s doing here. Who is he loyal to? Takagi was always loyal to somebody.
When I finally find my answer, it’s not what I thought it was.
“You found him?” says Nobu. Nobu is big, his fists like drums resting silently upon the table. We sit where we sometimes do, tasting excellent spring seafood at the little hut along the coast that we both know about.
“You know I did,” I say, savouring the taste of shrimp, squid and scallops on my tongue. “I sent you the images.”
“It is indeed him, beyond a doubt?”
“We were married for some years, you know.”
Kei snorts, but her snort is directed at Nobu. Her husband is twice her size, and would never recognize her in the field unless she wanted to be seen.
“What do you think his mission is?” she says lightly, musing.
“I think he’s on a second honeymoon, and she’s the one on the mission.”
“Hrrm. So what’s her mission?” the big man asks.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you know?”
I’m sleepy by habit, not by defect, for that is what I am these days. I look at him and upload some of my files to his inbox. I do not wait for praise. I wait for analysis.
“Ah. Interesting. No contact with the Black Dragon.”
“I have no evidence he’s alive, except that Kei is certain that he is.”
He gives the big, resigned grin that he’s always given. “And Kei is she who must be obeyed.” Another snort.
“Not always, by me.” I am Suzu, fourth of five; whatever comes, I will survive. The only ones I ever listened to were my parents for a time, and my elder sisters.
“Stay close? We might still need you.”
“I’m sure you will,” I reply, suddenly tired. It’s as if my will to act has now expired.
In the end, they catch us all flatfooted, because what they do is foolish and unexpected. Or at least, what one of them does, because the other seems to have defected.
“We’re too late,” says Kei’s disembodied voice. “Intel says Tohoku, 99% likely Sendai.”
Nobu and I are coming south quickly, to Sendai. Kei is back in the White Room. There are multiple targets. Will they aim for the expanded Miyagi General Hospital complex? Or the Sendai hub airport? The questions crowd our minds, and they are all wrong.
I wonder what my old school feels like now, for that too is in Sendai, on Mount Aoba, the once-fortified hill from which Masamune Date dominated the surrounding region in the 17th century. And then my blood runs cold.
Masamune Date was something like the patron saint of the Sendai-Aoba Mountain District Academy, the high school I had gone to and which was colloquially referred to as ‘Yamaku High’. We’d all grown up knowing about that Tokugawa-era daimyo, the fearsome warlord known also as the ‘One-Eyed Dragon’—a man who’d never let his disability define anything about him except his nickname.
There’d been a Masamune Date display in the Mount Aoba museum downhill from the school, and his distinctive black helmet was the thing foreigners thought of when they were asked to describe samurai headgear. A certain science-fantasy franchise had even modeled the main villain’s life-support cowling after the famous helmet.
The ‘One-Eyed Dragon’ in the black helm—and not the Black Dragon. Badly interpreted intel, the bane of my life, has come back to haunt us.
“Nobu, the school. Up the hill. Bring reinforcements… to these coordinates… secure the perimeter,” I gasp as he pilots the gyrocycle at ever-increasing speed while I desperately extract the necessary information from the local net. “We’ll stop in the public parking area at the base of Mount Aoba Park and approach the school by the side gate near the administration building.”
“Yamaku. You know, the famous cripple academy.” I can sense Nobu doing a double-take as his body tenses.
“How do you know the place so well?”
“I spent three years there as a student.”
“You’re a cripple?” he says, sounding utterly disbelieving. I’m torn between yelling at him (something not me, especially not now we’re older) and feeling proud that even he doesn’t know I was disabled by severe narcolepsy. Kei knows, of course, but she doesn’t seem to have let him in on that part of my past.
“Not anymore. Hurry up! I think they’re going to blow the place up!”
“Any faster and the heat will burn your legs off!” he replies, as his words flutter away into the wind of our passing. “Why would they want to blow up a school?”
“It’s also Shizune Hakamichi’s unofficial residence!”
“Damn it all to hell!” is his succinct reply.
“Satellite feed,” announces Kei’s dispassionate voice, the one she holds when she’s under high tension and needs to remain professional and cold. “Tracking Big Sam but there’s no sign of Small Flea.”
I wince inside at the use of these names, but that is Kei and she is prone to games. “Copy that. Transmit heat map and coordinates.”
She updates us. I am carrying the Hungry Gun. It looks like a prop from a movie studio. I recall the phrase ‘set phasers to stun’.
Nobu is some distance behind me and to the right. On the left are two more agents, the kind that like black leather and motorcycles for the sake of black leather and motorcycles. I’m the spearhead of this uphill movement.
The forest behind the school is as I remember it. I never liked that forest. You could fall asleep quietly and be lost forever. Rin Tezuka seemed to love it. Once in a while they’d send search parties out for her; better she than I, being the subject of such searches.
[Quiet] I signal. We’re closing in. Part of me wonders why Big Sam is all alone.
In my receiver, I hear: “Heat map shows that he’s injured. Mobility is impaired.”
Maybe the small bitch left him behind, I think with a viciousness that appalls me. I snap back quickly in my mind: I am Suzu, Number Four, not Number Three.
It happens rather quickly. Big Sam rises and turns, breaking cover. Something glints in his arms, long and metallic, like a pulse rifle. I hear the wheet-wheet-wheet as the air in front of him curls and peels back. Whatever he’s aiming at, it’s away from us, nearer the school, and at the 800-metre limit of his accuracy.
But that doesn’t stop Nobu. Even before I hear the wheet of the deadly pulse, Nobu has seen the glint, and fired. The brutal crack of his slugthrower echoes loud in the gloomy forest. Big Sam drops. I could have fired first, I know, but I am still wondering why he wasn’t firing at us. And he’s silent now.
I approach cautiously. Big Sam looks smaller than he used to be, his right arm awkwardly placed and his left leg crumpled under him. There’s still breath in him.
“I know you’re there, Suzu. Get down. We’re… below the treeline. Should be… safe.” He sounds very tired, his speech labouring as if under water.
“Safe?” I ask from five metres, the Hungry Gun framing his head in its polarized holographic sight.
“Don’t look.” He turns, slumps bonelessly to the ground.
“Kei!” I subvocalize sharply into my throatmike. “Radiological scan!”
I don’t know what I’m thinking. Why not look? Radiation, of course—it’s in the Japanese psyche to worry about radiation, the only country to have had the Bomb inflicted upon us as an act of war.
But it’s something else. Something else shrieks in the air, a high-pitched warbling followed by the sound of a shaped charge or something worse. And when Big Sam hears it, his broken body twitches. “I loved you, Suzu. And I’ve failed.”
The photon grenade (that’s what the sensational press calls them) he’s concealed under his body fires upward, consuming its own core in a tiny sliver of the shadow of a second. A cone of brilliant light fans into the sky, igniting some of the forest—but only some, because Isamu Takagi has placed himself between the forest and the source.
He’s killed himself. I don’t know what else has happened until the top of the ridge behind which we’re sheltering blows off. Trees are sheared cleanly like sticks cloven by a sword. I’m on the ground, and I hope the rest of my team is too, but everything else is covered by the second wave of sound and dirt and madness.
My last thoughts for a while are a jumble. The Hungry Gun and I are both failures. Neither of us was of any use at all. And as for human relationships? The only thing is that you sometimes never know. You never know until it’s too late.
They tell me much later about the Hexal bomb, packed with plane-polarised explosives and designed to blast outward in a disc five hundred metres in radius. The woman, whose name I won’t repeat here, had set it off by tightbeam. The heterodyning field we’d used to suppress every radio signal in the area wouldn’t have worked on the microwave pulse she’d fired.
Big Sam had tried to take her out himself, once he knew what target she’d been heading for. She’d shot him in the knee, which is why he’d not been able to get closer to her. I suppose when he heard us coming, he’d decided to try to be a hero with his long shot. He’d almost got her, according to the reconstruction. But she’d remained alive enough to trigger the bomb.
There’d been roughly fifty casualties. Some were dead. Fortunately, the device had been hastily emplaced and hadn’t destroyed any structural supports completely. Unfortunately, one of the casualties… oh, Suzu, when things are bitter, they are bitter indeed.
I see him briefly as he leaves for Miyagi General. Kenji Setou is unmistakable, even though his hair is now full of salt and silver. He is furious, and has every right to be. The security service tasked with dealing with this whole mess has failed. He flew in like the wrath of a god, and leaves with an anger that could boil the sea.
“Is she…?” I ask Kei when she comes to visit me in another, lower-priority wing of the same hospital.
“Lost both her legs at the thigh,” she says laconically. “Not your fault.”
We aren’t speaking of the Okinawan terrorist, who is very dead. Neither are we referring to Shizune Hakamichi, who escaped unscathed despite having to be dug out of her shielded office. We’re talking about Kenji’s wife, the school’s senior administrative officer, Yuuko Shirakawa—who had a wall collapse on her, crushing both legs.
It’s one of many little tragedies of that day. But all I can think of is that it’s all over now. I will retire, and tomorrow will be a new day, a good day: for all our dreams can fall apart to dust, but we survive and thrive, because we must.
| end of Book 1 | next