The interrogations are becoming more and more frequent, and the interrogators less and less patient. Sometimes I feel that they are here to barter for my salvation, sometimes it feels like a formality preluding to a crucifixion - not necessarily that of mine. I cannot attribute the disdain I have for these sessions to lack of rest, or food, or even compassion; something instilled in me during the early war days has kicked in and taken hold, dictating my answers with dogmatic fervour, and leaving my body with a lethargic wish for release - one that can only be obtained, perhaps, by relinquishing truths that I have convinced even myself to be accusations, false and malicious.
I am allowed a half hour’s walk around the compound before dinner time. Thankfully, the remorseless steppe winter has yielded to a more tolerable, but equally hypothermic spring. I can hear the animals in a distance beckoning with calls of their nature, but I cannot imagine anything bearing offspring in such harsh an environment. Perhaps it is true that all things Russian are impervious to cold. Perhaps the Red Army would have been able to invade us in winter, naked and laughing at our pitiful caricature of wintertide, with only a bottle of vodka to warm their bodies and a Kalashnikov to make cold ours. Such tall tales seem less incredulous now that I am so far away from the comfort of the Empire - at least psychologically, if not geographically. I wonder what will remain of the people’s land now that it is not ours to toil. Will the Americans have at our fields, our seas, our women, our children? Or will the Russians have at us, with equal consequence? Mayhap the British will lay stake for the losses their colonies suffered in the Pacific theatre? I am too small to comprehend what difficulties the Emperor will face in the coming months, and what worse it will mean for the people. What I am certain, though, is that his divinity will not save him now. The Americans are our new gods, and we lie prostate for one whose compassion or vengefulness we cannot yet gauge.
Returning to my cabin grants no reprieve - my mind feels still as cold as my body, and I await dinner with a weary hope that it will be something more palatable than usual.
It turns out to be not. Potatoes, bread and some cold meats, which would normally be considered delicacies and rarities back home. However, I still yearn for a simple bowl of rice to accompany - not the coarse, fibrous, dry cereal they sometimes have from Western Russia, but glutinous, supple and sweet rice that we used to grow in the Philippines. At least there is some local fish, though smoked and too heavily seasoned.
The night is silent, once I am accustomed to the noises of camp. They are not so unfamiliar for one who has spent days in our research facility, though sometimes it is not the noises of the night that perturb sleep - perhaps the spotlight may refract through the windows, or the smell of burning tyres may waft through the cold air. They are irrelevant, I will recall; nothing in comparison to the nightmares that beck with sleep. The irony, of course, lies in that I will not fend off sleep to save my sanity, for as I have given up on any reconciliation with my conscious, so have I accepted that during sleep is my only repentance for past sins. I slowly drift away. The clock shows thirty-one minutes after ten o’clock. A knock on the door serves to interrupt my sleep, but I cannot tell if I am more irked by the disruption, or that the matter is so urgent that it cannot wait till the morning.
“Mr. ----, they’re ready for you. Please follow me.” The call-person is young, perhaps 16 or 17. I cannot fathom him having enrolled into the army without lying of his birthdate. There is something about his accent that reminds me of the young boys shipped to us in the last months, from the mainland, only that in this boy’s voice, there is neutrality, or even arrogance, where in those of my memory, there is fear, denial, confusion, and most prominently, fatalism.
“If I may ask, what is this about? I have been questioned today, and I believe there should be nothing else to add. Nothing of import, at least, that cannot wait until…”
“Sir, I do not know why, and I apologise for the inconvenience,” he trails off with some mention of higher-ups summoning me for questioning, but what catches my ear is his apologetic tone that is sincere. Something is amiss, but I feel that the only way I can circumvent any military rhetoric that would have been placed for my benefit, is to comply. So, I follow the young man, sheepishly, and half wishing that it is mere formality (the other half wishing it is a Russian intervention that will result in my being taken to a mock trial, where I shall, perhaps, be sentenced to a swift execution).
He escorts me down a spiralling stairwell that goes on for an eternity. The darkness that extends beyond the sixth flight of steps makes it impossible to tell if we’re getting any closer to the end (which I assume must be the bottom level, as I have yet to see any door this whole time), and after what seems like the whole night spent walking downwards, we stop mid-track. I ask him why we have stopped, and he bluntly replies that “we’re here”. With a perplexed look, I face forward in the direction of his gesture, and indeed, there is now a hallway leading equally into the infinitesimal dark, but before I can complain of this, a cohort of balding men in white coats accosts me with a barrage of concerned questions and statements:
“Sir, are you sure this is the best course of action?”
“Sir, I do not believe that the children will prove any different from the adults, and even if so, are we willing to risk that…”
“Sir, have you seen the results from last night, this is not unprecedented, but…”
“Perhaps it is better that we leave the room confined until we can ascertain what has happened.”
“This cannot be made known to the superiors. Chalk it down to a failed run, and…”
I cannot make head or tail of each person’s dialogue, so I signal them to silence. One man stands out in that he is young (he is the only person with voluminous and well kept hair), and is the only person to not have said a word since the start of all of this. His face is ashen and he looks petrified at the thought of my addressing him. “What do you think?” I ask the person, and look behind me to find my escort now nowhere in sight. All the better, I believe, as this would seem information that should not be privy to anyone outside the scientific community of the centre. The young man fumbles through his clipboard searching for some datum-piece to pivot an argument, “… I cannot see why we should not proceed, but perhaps. Err… if the correct ethical protocols, of course. What I mean to say, is that surely someone has thought of this before me, Sir, I do not think that…”
I interrupt him because I know that he is the only one benign enough to have kept this to himself, and every other person here, myself included, has long foregone giving conscious thought to the ‘ethics’ of the experiment. I prompt him for a yes-or-no answer: “Are the results encouraging, or do we need to re-design the agent?” He remains silent for only a moment, but the boring of everyone else’s eyes upon him must have felt like an eternity. The sweat that glistens his temples is slick with his hair-grease and his spectacles are tremor. The tension in the air is palpable, just as his pulse would be if he anyone should brave physical contact with his own. “There are not enough time-points, Sir,” he says, which is greeted by barely-audible groans and sighs from the crowd. One of his senpais even constructs a quick retort, starting with that the young scientist is but new to the study and hasn’t had time to comprehend the magnitude of the data, but I believe what he says is true - I have seen the data myself, and it is nowhere enough to be convincing - not unless we were to fabricate some figures, or bamboozle superiors with jargon and pseudo-scientific hogwash to appease them (and continue in our own, misguided fashion). Never before has an argument broken out in my presence, and authority is only tantamount to their knowing that I would see fit any action as appropriate, and that has never failed us yet. But this seems close. There is lack of sleep. Too much coffee and cigarettes. Admonishment from failures, and fear of the uncertainty - if not only for the results, then also of what will come of the institute should a superior see our cause as a failure. There is already much talk of dissent in the ranks farther away from Japan, and the repercussions have extended to even the most secure in the homeland - we are more replaceable than we would like, and more dispensable than we could care to consider. All I can hear now is the din of debate, but it already sounds like the only thing that could ever have come out of this, should we have had no results (which we do not!) - strife. I contemplate sending everyone away for a fortnight, to work on other projects that are less strenuous, but also with less impetus to be finished. Perhaps they could accumulate minor victories to later fuel attempts anew on this project. I, myself, could use a distraction. Perhaps something to do with the experiments on the dogs or rabbits. Anything to be less empathised with. Then my train of thought halts, as does the arguments. It was faint, at first, but now it is clear - a knocking on the lead doors, and though I could not recall them at the time, the distinct spine-tingling sensations of scraping at the reinforced plastic window. The proverbial nails on a chalkboard, except it was less proverbial than one could want. The sound heightens, and I am left staring into everyones’ eyes in turn. How could this be?
Scrape. Scrape. Scar. Knock. A muffled voice - could it be? The sound of the metal tubes contracting in the night’s cold (which would have been indistinguishable from any other creak or clank, considering how far underground we are. The night was not the source of the cold).
Scrape. Thumping. Knock. Knock. Knock…
The knocking gets louder and louder and is deafening beyond bear. Knock. Knock. KNOCK. “Sir! I am coming in, if you do not respond!”
“Yes, yes! I’m awake,” I yell much louder than I normally would, simultaneously sitting up in bed and grabbing my glasses from the nightstand. They are not there, as I realise that I am wearing my spectacles having fallen asleep with them on, last night. The doorknob jangles as someone works a key and swings open the door. I look at the person through squinted eyes and see his silhouette against a glaring sunrise. “Sir, you need to get dressed. They’re waiting for you.”
“Yes,” my lips are trembling, “I’ll be ready in a moment.”
The rest of the day is a blur.