Thursday, 14 January 2016

Numen, Part I

On cold, winter days such as these, it is often impossible to get out of bed. The piercing, Northern winds are unbearable - born of the frigid Arctic and kissed by the Russian steppes, there can be no hell worse than my dry skin bared to such relentless assault; and there is no greater dishonour that my captors could do me than parade me for what little worth that I have left in these conditions. My leg is weak, though not in the same way that my comrades feel - their weakness is from malnutrition, starvation, famine and wear - where mine is from discomfort, at worst. A biting, almost gnawing sensation, with the occasional pins and needles from my war wound that acts up on its own whim, though exacerbated by this damned cold. I will admit that though I cannot give in to any luxury of pity or nostalgia, my suffering has been infinitely less severe than others. My only recompense, and curse, is that I live, and what haunts me in my sleep keeps me awake when I try. There can be no escaping the begrudging that is this past, just the same way that there is no reprieve from the blistering winds. But I cannot justify a complaint, for even with the worst days of winter, the cold, the abuse, the ridicule and the uncertainty is nothing compared to what past. And the past is always there, echoing with every recount I am forced to give, every time I look into the mirror, every button I do of my pristine military outfit, and worst of all...

... worst of all, every time the wind howls; for it reminds me of that eerie cry of a child.

It has only been four years since the end of the war. Four years that, for others in a situation similar to mine, would have been horror and loathe, though for me, it has been anything but. I must explain, before I further my story - General Shiro has been kind. He was kind, and I believe he continues to try to be so, at least more so than his contemporaries. When the war ended, he did not forsake us for the safety of Japan. Instead, he would to sacrifice himself to captivity of the infidels - the Americans or Russians, I do not know - a moral hara kiri, if you may, that was undertaken in the hope of salvation for his underlings, such as myself. Salvation, perhaps, that was promised him on our behalf, only to be delivered as a watered-down version of compassion, or a begrudging necessary evil for whatever devices the Americans have as ends. I can see it in the eyes of the guards. For every interrogation, every query session, they stare staidly and without emotion, but beyond their visages, I know the want to kill or torture or maim me - I know it because I have felt it, myself.

During the climax of the recent global conflict, there was word of the Americans having developed a weapon that would change the tides of war - a weapon that we could not anticipate or prepare for, because the technology they used was entirely unheard of, much less predictable. At the time, I regarded such news as rumour and hearsay. Perhaps revolutionist scare tactics or Russian sympathiser mental warfare drivel. Or maybe even American propaganda to affect the morale of the people - not that there would be any tarnishing of the people's iron will. Nevertheless, we were scientists and men of logic. General Shiro himself made sure that if there was any truth to the rumours, evidence would be accumulated, and if enough was amassed, precautionary measures would be taken. For the ones amongst us who were at the forefront of military weapons research, we laughed and joked at every new and updated version of these stories. Once, over tea and biscuits, a young but jaded officer said he had read reports of fleets of British and American ships crossing the Pacific, but could not be detected by sonar nor could be seen with the naked eye. Another would report of an airship so big, it would blot out the sun over the entirety of Japan should it grace our skies. Yet another spoke of undying Russ conscripts whose clothes, now more sanguine with the blood of Germans than from the Red Army dyes. In effect, they were all probably tales conjured by bored officers to scare the new recruits (some of them being too young to have facial hair yet).

What empirical evidence we had was from inconsistently translated intercepted messages, and unreliable 'tongues' from ranked war prisoners and dubious spies (both German and Italian, for none of the Japanese spies were left abroad during the last few waves of returning to Japan). For us at the Unit, we knew that our biological warfare was far superior to any the opposition had. The Germans had superior firepower, which they willingly shared (or, at least, were willing to share in the near future), and the chemical agents that were last encountered had been replicated and deconstructed sufficiently to produce antitoxins and cures. We were well ahead in the arms race, and we were sure of it - until that fateless and wretched day where all those stories became a singular truth and horrific reality. The dual echoes that rumbled deeper than the sounds of cursed earth still deafen my ears when the mornings are silent. It reminds me of the children pounding at the metal door after the experiments commence... boom... boom...

... knock... knock... knock...

An American private is here to usher me to an interrogation session. I still have the lowest two buttons of my uniform to fasten, but all formality has eluded me for months. I do them up anyway as I open the door. The short walk between venues is still too much for my scarred leg, and I have to pause thrice. The private seems accommodating enough, but I feel his detest - the curdling of his blood for every second more he has to spend accompanying me, driving his trigger finger closer and closer to his sidearm. The thought of a swift bullet to the temple is somewhat soothing - there is promise of redemption and release, intermingled with some newfound instillment of justice, or perhaps some twisted form of Stockholm syndrome.

I am sat down at a simple metal table and chair, which when juxtaposed against the oil paintings hung on the wall and embroidered drapes, gives off the air of impromptu and arrest. I recognise one of the paintings as a somewhat amateur reproduction of one of van Gogh's 'Sunflower' series. It reminds me of better times. The inquisition starts off casually, with the Captain turning on fluorescent lights and adjusting for me a microphone. I know that behind the one-way glass, higher-ranking officials are watching and evaluating my answers, but I cannot be sure of anything beyond what I have heard from the briefings we had before scorched earth protocol was enacted. In any case, all that is moot and of little practical value in light of General Shiro's post-capture announcements.

"Tell me about the Vault facilities," the Captain begins. I believe he knows that I know he's asked my peers this question multiple times, and he seems disinterested in the answer I will give beyond that it reflects what others have said. "Are you aware of the number of Vaults there are?"

"The facilities operated independent of each other. I do not know of others besides ours," my lie is somewhat benign. The independence of each Vault was implemented before researchers or subjects were moved into them as a safeguard against exposure and infiltration. I was more interested in the unbiasedness of such a setup, but even I could not resist stealing glimpses at unattended folders and carelessly placed records to see what the other Vaults were up to.

The Captain starts the recording of a tape-machine. It isn't the conventional reel model we use at our institutions, but is about one third of the size and there are multiple wires leading to a socket in the wall. I am intrigued as to how data is stored on the device if it were to not use reel or film.

"Please state the details of your Vault, your name, position, and serial number clearly into the microphone."

I subconsciously check my English. Though it is formidable even compared to my peers, the Empire's education was reverted to be facilitated entirely in Japanese before I had completed high school. I would not care less for simple grammatical errors, but the challenge of being assessed puts me once again into my old academic stance. It feels good, once again, to be authoritative and somewhat important.

"Vault 7-31 of PingFang under the Empire of Japan. My name is ----, Senior Researcher and Physician number 13884."

"And what projects were you involved in during the past three years."

"All of them," I reply curtly (and smugly), assuming he knows the nature of our experimentations.

"I believe all your experiments were biological in nature?" his tone was more that of confirming than questioning, and I nod in agreement - all the physics Vaults had been relocated to Mongolia a year before for unknown reasons, and I was not privy to what went on in their facilities.

"Please state your answer verbally, Mr. ----."

"Yes. They were predominantly biological and chemical."

"And they were purposed for war?"

"I do not know about that, my interests were purely academic and for the betterment of medical research," this of course being a lie. We were formally told that such was the case, and this would be how we should answer any interrogation, but we all knew the real purpose of much, if not all of the studies conducted at the Vault.

"That isn't what I've been told by your colleagues," he assumes an assertive but aggressive stance. The Captain's moustache is twitching furiously, clearly eager to get to the end of this, to get answers to questions that he could not ask any of my underlings or even any superior from a different Vault. Only I could sate his need for answers, and I felt the need to press this situation to its very end, perhaps even milk it for every advantageous worth I could, even if such an advantage were to be merely my own pleasure.

"What have you been told, pray tell?" I am sure my English syntax bothers him more than my lying at this point.

"That you have been developing biological weapons for the war effort and that your only chance at redemption, salvation, and even survival depends on your divulging it." Before I can utter a response, he adds "I do the questioning here. It would do you well not to forget that in the future."

I lick my lips, which are now dry with anxiety the same way my brow is sweating with anticipation.