Chapter 8:

Conviction

REWIND: How To Commit Genocide in 48 Hours


The voices run in the family. You'll stop hearing them when you grow up.Bookmark here

She had been wrong. Inigo Asano never stopped hearing them, though they now had less sway over him. But he still listened. He always did. He would be a fool not to; the Voice had never been wrong, and today was no exception.Bookmark here

He dodged the boy with a quick shift in his feet, like a door opening into an invisible room. The boy, Renji might have been his name, caught himself on the fall and repositioned himself. The boy was as experienced one his age could be, that much was certain, but no amount of experience could beat the Voice. Asano had felled much stronger men relying on the Voice alone. Experience was too instinctual, it seemed, and could not best premonition.Bookmark here

Asano said nothing as he weaved away from the boy, as if he was a hand guiding a needle down the path of a soft tapestry. He had learned to say nothing - ordinary people did not recognize the Voice as it was - the Voice of God. Of course, Asano was not religious. That would be counterintuitive.Bookmark here

He couldn't help but smile as he savored the thought, and that movement of the muscles contorting his face into an ice-picked shape made the boy freeze.Bookmark here

"W-what?"Bookmark here

"Oh, nothing. Please continue with your dance."Bookmark here

"It's not a dance!"Bookmark here

"Most things seldom are."Bookmark here

"It's an Art of Protection!"Bookmark here

Amazing. You could hear the capitalization in that strained voice.Bookmark here

"And who taught you that mantra, child? Or perhaps you racked your brain for weeks coming up with it?"Bookmark here

"My grampa's!"Bookmark here

The capitalization there was an idolization of the disgusting sort, the kind that showed no real consideration of the matter using one's own mind. It was only natural that a child should be so stupid, of course, but stupidity like that required extensive reeducating, lest he grow into an adult who worshipped a false idol, a Golden Calf.Bookmark here

Asano caught the boy the next time he came around with a knee to the chest. Renji's chest caught in his throat and his eyes turned inwards like there was something on his nose. He hit the ground in a trance as Asano stood over him.Bookmark here

"Why do you fight so hard for a decrepit man's philosophy, child?"Bookmark here

"It's - hyrphh - the right thing to do!"Bookmark here

"Why?"Bookmark here

"Because hurting people is wrong!"Bookmark here

Renji got up and kept swinging. Asano allowed an intermission for the exchange of ideas, dodging at the right moments to keep the act going.Bookmark here

"I propose that hurting people isn't the root of the issue, or else you would be a pacifist. No, hurting good people is wrong, yes? I then question your ego, to assume yourself worthy of determining who is good and who is evil. I kill on the basis of improving the world, which I find is very rational."Bookmark here

"Shut up!"Bookmark here

"I see."Bookmark here

Asano caught him like a squirrel in a snare and brought him into a chokehold. Renji scrawled for a hold on Asano, but panic was setting in.Bookmark here

"To judge others outright for who they appear to be is insidious. I shall judge you on the merits of your past."Bookmark here

Asano's arm lit up with a red heat. Spectators covered their eyes. Hermes leaned forward, arms behind his back.Bookmark here

The red light flowed into Renji's head and the boy fell out of Asano's embrace, flopping to the ground.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Renji's Grampa was a standing man.Bookmark here

For as long as the twelve year old boy could remember, that long shadow had been standing over him, instructing him on the rights and wrongs of life.Bookmark here

"Faster! Get with the rhythm, that's right! Step into the punch!"Bookmark here

The outside world was white light. Only the gym was real. The smell of sweat wafting from the floor mats. Cleaning fluid. Spit and blood. Thump thump thump - punching again and again and again.Bookmark here

"Off the floor! Get up!"Bookmark here

"More please, sir!"Bookmark here

"That's right!"Bookmark here

Never a moment of silence except to take a drink from the canteen. Wipe your brow with a rag and get back to it, boy. Jump ropes tapping the floor rhythmically. The world was a pop 'n step, never a dull moment or your moments would get dull.Bookmark here

He had a particularly vivid memory that wasn't really all that special besides him asking a question. He usually didn't ask questions, because if you were asking something it had to be about the Art of Protection, the Art of Self Defense. To ask about something else was a sin, in a way.Bookmark here

"Why do we train, Grampa?"Bookmark here

The silhouette, dark and husky, looked at him from above. After all, Grampa was a standing man.Bookmark here

"Don't say dumb things."Bookmark here

"I've been feeling pretty lonely, Grampa. The kids at school all go to the arcade-"Bookmark here

"And what do they learn at the arcade? You missing out on something?"Bookmark here

"No, but why can't I have some fun? It's not like I'm using any of this."Bookmark here

"You're using it every day."Bookmark here

"Not in the real world!"Bookmark here

"This is the real world. The problem with kids raised comfortably is that you distinguish your reality from the 'real one'. There is no other real world. This is it. This is the world where people die. You could be walking down the street to that arcade one day and get attacked and killed, and that's when you're gonna be using these skills - in the real world."Bookmark here

Renji's conviction had died as soon as it began. Arguing made his head spin, and that was like getting hit with a nasty uppercut, which he didn't like very much. He hung his head. The Standing Man ruffled his hair.Bookmark here

"I see a seed of doubt in you. Let me tell you something to kill it before it sprouts and blooms into a weed. You ask why we train. Don't ask questions that only lead to more questions. As soon as you start down that road you can't stop. You'll start questioning why you do everything that you do. You'll end up just like your good-for-nothing daddy. Asking big questions that you ain't the right one to answer. Leave it to bigger men."Bookmark here

"Bigger men? Like you?"Bookmark here

"Haha! Not quite. I'm no bigger man."Bookmark here

"Then what is a bigger man?"Bookmark here

"Hm… I suppose you'll know when you meet one."Bookmark here

Renji always sized up his opponents from then on, wondering if they were the bigger man. None of them seemed to quite fit the picture. What was the picture? That in and of itself was an unanswerable question, and those led nowhere good. So Renji just imagined one of those cookie cutter shapes that you used to make trees and faces in the dough. His imaginary cutter was in the abstract shape of a bigger man.Bookmark here

Secretly, he always wanted to be that bigger man. And so he was put to the test one day on his way to the arcade. He was attacked, just as Grampa had predicted.Bookmark here

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