Outside the front gate of Hardy Barracks—the name Akasaka Press Center no longer in use—the night was calm as a summer breeze, unlike the grim-faced man standing guard inside their shacks near the entrance. They were part of the first checkpoint into the complex, aided by dozens of hidden eyes behind the many security cameras along the perimeter. The main structure had been reinforced with blast-resistant walls and bulletproof windows since the UNSMF had taken over. No incident of any kind had ever occurred there, the action taking place far from the confines of the barracks.
Underground, however, the story was different.
A meeting was taking place in a conference room next to the operations center on the fifth basement level, which didn’t exist as far as public knowledge was concerned. Designed to be soundproof, no listening devices or reverberations from outside could penetrate it. After all, and as Tetsuya knew all too well, what was discussed there could never leave that room. He was the only physically present person in it, standing in front of one of the long ends of a horizontal table lit by dim panels of bluish glow. He gazed at a bank of monitors mounted over a wall, each displaying the face of a different member of the appointed UN oversight committee for the Sentinel Initiative. Tetsuya measured their reactions to the video recordings he was showing them. These displayed the recently captured terrorists facing one-way interrogations within rooms arranged for such purposes. The feeds floated before him from hidden holographic emitters over the table, the delegates gazing upon them from the comfort of their offices on their laptops.
The main recording focused on Kotori Koizumi as she spoke to his men, spitting everything she knew without restriction. “Look,” she began, still a little overwhelmed by what had occurred to her, “If I’d known they were going to kill innocent people to get what they wanted, I would’ve never joined them! As for Watanabe, they had him blackmailed. They ordered him to fix a PCB blueprint for an exoskeleton and move encrypted files from the company’s server farm to a local server and a physical storage device.” She took a few moments, as if weighing her following words. “B-But that’s not all. A few days ago, I ran into a shipping manifest showing Cytek used a shell company to import cargo linked to a thing called ‘Porphyrion.’ Protect me, and I’ll help you figure it out.”
There was a brief silence as Tetsuya let the information sink in. The one who took the word first was the UK representative. As most of the committee members, he was an aged man who had amassed vast fortunes and political power throughout his life. He was the major shareholder of a large PMC heavily requested by the United States, not to mention a former SAS, the world’s finest and foremost Special Forces unit. He had selected and provided men for the initiative while also being in charge of the training and tactics programs. “So, Hashimoto-sama, were these people behind the leak of classified files?” he asked in a grave tone.
“No, sir, but Amaterasu’s used the same modus operandi before,” Tetsuya replied. “Watanabe was filmed accessing child pornography sites unaware his notebook’s camera was on. Like the woman, he operated on a need-to-know basis. But the files she claims to possess can only be decrypted on a company terminal.”
The silence was longer this time, the beeping electronic noises coming from the projector taking over the room. Such news was hard to digest.
“Wait a minute,” said the Chinese delegate, astonished. He was the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and former CEO of the major state-owned bank in his country. The weight of the institution and the capital it managed had been substantial in the preliminary stages of the project’s development. But his political alliances were very close with the government of his country, which wasn’t on the best of terms with those of his peers. “Are you telling us the terrorists keep exploiting people familiar with the internal architecture of the company developing our weapons? This is unacceptable!”
“With all due respect, sir, it’s well known Amaterasu is backed by terrorist cells in China and Russia tied with local mobsters and politicians.”
“What are you implying here, Hashimoto-san?” the Russian delegate stepped in, his displeasure clear in his tone. The man was a former KGB agent who had resurfaced among the intelligence community given the policies of their current president, his role in the initiative linked to such purposes. But his country’s allegiance lay alongside that of his Chinese counterpart.
“You think our governments support these terrorists?” the Chinese man yelled, offended by Tetsuya’s claims. “How dare you!”
Tetsuya’s face tensed. “Gentlemen, it’s naïve to believe our world’s cold-war scenario has no place here. Still, we are working together as the one last hope for our nations to avoid a worldwide-scale war.”
It was the Russian member who replied to him. “Yet you blame us when it was your men who failed to avert these incidents!”
Tetsuya was getting tired of their grandstanding. He knew he had made a bold statement, even if one with sufficient backing, but it was his subordinates who were being put in check. He wouldn’t let him talk like that about his people when faulty intelligence from his network had caused their recent setbacks. Seizing the opening the Russian delegate had given him, Tetsuya moved his hands over the floating panels. The holographic projections now showed images of the knives the terrorists had employed, including the special case where one of them had hidden his gun. “My men act on intel mostly provided by your network!” he countered sharply. “And not only that, but now we find their thugs using limited Russian-made equipment. Wanna talk about negligence again, sir?”
The Russian’s voice rose in indignation. “What kind of insolence is this!? You’d do well to—”
“Enough!” roared an authoritative female voice, much to Tetsuya’s relief. “We’re not here to pass the blame on each other!” She was the American representative, a woman of politics who had sustained a lengthy career and served as secretary of state. Although she boasted less wealth than her peers, Tetsuya trusted her the least. Her position, after all, had resulted from her connections and leverage over her peers. But her role in political affairs and logistics was vital to the initiative, and perhaps her intervention had played in his favor. Indeed, while the Russian member still looked unpleased, he opted to keep his mouth shut and end the argument.
The one who spoke next was the Brazilian delegate, a young woman of diplomacy. She’d had a key role in restoring investor confidence in her nation after a series of corruption scandals, not to mention the debacle her country’s major oil company suffered in the wake of Cytek’s rise. “I agree. Our top priority right now is to put ourselves one step ahead of the terrorists. How about finding a way for more skilled personnel to operate the suits instead of mere teenagers?”
Tetsuya frowned in confusion. What kind of question was that? While it was possible her diplomatic role had kept her out of the loop, he wouldn‘t bet on it. “As you should already know, ma’am,” he said, trying to mask his bewilderment at her ignorance, “few candidates can reach the required synchronization rates. It’s not simply a question of age or training, but of genetics. That said, we do have a few promising prospects under study.”
“What about the Stage-two prototypes?” came the voice of the American delegate once more. “Has there been any progress with them? While we have some troops alongside the latest Missouri-class dreadnought stationed in the Sea of Japan, our mediation capabilities are limited by law after the Okinawa insurrection.”
Tetsuya was ready for that topic. His fingers danced lightly over the thin transparent keyboard on the table, his free hand scrolling through multiple files across the floating board. He brought up a new set of holographic images, which displayed blueprints alongside a data slate showing technical readouts of a user-operated walking vehicle of significant size. It evoked an aesthetic not unlike the powered machines that fascinated the younger generations of his culture. “Currently, we’re running various performance tests on the new prototypes. They look promising and can be manned without inconvenience, but the cost of field deployment may be higher than initially budgeted.”
The German committee member glared at Tetsuya, tight-lipped. He was a former GS9 and the owner of a major weapons manufacturer. But he was also a man of diplomacy, his speech during the last emergency special session of the UN General Assembly leaving a powerful impression on the public. A man of few words, yet precise and incisive. Tetsuya liked him. “Hashimoto-san,” he finally spoke, looking glum, “you know the work of this committee is to supervise the growth of the Sentinels Initiative. The funds of the seven most powerful countries in the world are at stake. We are not interested in your excuses. We only care about your results.”
“I understand, sir,” Tetsuya acknowledged while nodding in agreement. “We’re still looking into different alternatives around the issue of the files. You’ll be briefed once we have determined the course of action.”
“Very well,” concluded the Japanese member in a heavy and plaintive voice. He was an industrial tycoon who had seized the most important companies in his country. Among other things, he was in charge of the manufacturing process of the military vehicles the Sentinels employed. For all intents and purposes, he was the most powerful man in Japan. “But remember, we’re running out of time. Everything indicates an attack will occur within the next 72 hours, so the threat level will remain critical. That’d be all for now.”
As the screens dimmed and the overhead lights gained strength, the room came back to life. Tetsuya leaned his hands against the table, sighing in relief as if taking an enormous weight off his shoulders. These situations made him wonder whether he belonged to such exclusive circles, engaging in dialogue with people who could deflect the course of the world with a single phone call. Was he getting too old for these sorts of things? Compared with the long days of combat where he faced hunger, lack of sleep, and the constant siege of enemy troops, there was no reason for his current activities to exhaust him to such lengths.
Tetsuya sank into a comfortable leather chair and massaged his temples as the doors were pushed open. His ears picked up the sound of distant chatter, the air conditioning system, and the typing from the operations center barging into the room for a brief moment. “That looks like more than simple work fatigue,” said Hachiko Deguchi as she strolled up to him. “You really have to do something with that presbyopia. Get yourself some contact lenses.”
“Deguchi-san, you already know I’ve never been able to adapt to them,” he replied, then glanced at her as if she shouldn’t inquire into such matters knowing his answer in advance. “You’re here to ask about the meeting?”
“No. In fact, I’m here because your children are waiting for you.”
Maybe Tetsuya was, in fact, getting old since he had forgotten he’d ordered his secretary to bring them to him once the meeting was over. As he shifted his eyes toward the door, he came across both his children, their faces so similar they almost looked like two drops of water. Both shared the same blue eyes and dark, shiny hair, although his son’s was thicker and more renitent, as was his. It was a pity they couldn’t bear his family’s name, employing instead the one that belonged to their mother for security reasons.
Saori and Hayato placed themselves before him, arms crossed behind their waist, backs flat in a firm posture, dressed in the mandatory urban-camo Sentinel fatigues. Before Hachiko abandoned the room, she murmured something into his ear. “Don’t be too hard on them...” Tetsuya forced a wry smile as she bowed graciously at his children, then eased the door shut as she left. For a few seconds, he wondered, as he had many times before, what would be the best way to address them. He always found it hard to keep a professional distance as he did with those under him in the chain of command. Should he show the severity expected from a man of his rank, or was it better to follow Deguchi-san’s advice?
His strict and gruff nature took over him in the end as he set his eyes on the twins. “I’ve read your reports and discussed the pertinent points with the head of field ops. Your level of coordination still leaves a lot to be desired. You’re lucky there were so few fatalities during both operations. Anything to say on your defense.”
His daughter was the first to take the floor. “We did all that was within our reach, sir. It‘s just that Hayato keeps committing too fast and making rash calls as if—”
“It’s easy to judge everything from behind your scope, isn’t it?” Hayato interjected defiantly. “At least I can keep myself together for more than two days straight.” Saori cast a deadly glare at her brother, like a pointed cat ready to throw itself against her prey. It was fortunate she didn’t press on the matter.
Tetsuya was in no mood for arguments. “Enough, Hayato. She’s right. You do tend to act rashly.”
“And you do tend to forgive her too much,” he countered. “What if this happens again? She could’ve killed the guy! Wouldn’t it be better if she walked away from this for a while? Give it some time?”
Saori wouldn’t stay quiet this time. “Look, if this is about the other night, I only got a little emotional, okay? It won’t happen again. And I’m not going to let you rob me of this!” Her daughter suddenly realized how she had to look in his eyes, the intensity of her overflowed emotions reflected in hers; she calmed herself down, casting a forlorn gaze at the floor.
Tetsuya scowled at this, worried about her recent behavior and his own role in allowing her state to reach such a point. He knew he should have done more for his children in all these years, his mind perhaps too focused on his military role over his responsibilities as a father. But there was too much at stake in their crusade, the lives of millions of citizens depending on their actions. “I know I haven’t been the best father, but this has to stop,” he demanded while his gaze darted from son to daughter. “We cannot afford any more mistakes. The future of this project is in our hands, your hands.” He closed his eyes for a while, rubbing his temples once more and convinced they would explode at any moment. But he had to focus on the task at hand. “Now, with your ties to the Sentinels secret, we can use your visit to Cytek HQ for you to aid Hashimoto-san, pass it off as model students having a huddle for the internship program. The thing is, will you be okay dealing with such exposure?”
His daughter was far from convicted, but Hayato stood up confident as always. “Sure. C’mon, father, we’ve faced worse than that. We can do this.”
Saori tossed a hesitant grin at his brother as if wanting to share his resolution. But Tetsuya had little choice considering the pressing circumstances. “Very well. Just don’t let your demons get the best out of you this time,” he concluded, the last words aimed at his daughter along with his eyes, although she wouldn’t return his gaze.
Both siblings bowed at him and headed for the door. As Saori closed it behind her, Tetsuya’s mind hovered around another person who had been occupying his thoughts lately, for whom he also felt some responsibility. He picked up a book resting over the desk titled “Three Unifiers of Japan,” and as he opened its first page, he read the note dedicated to him.
To my other great mentor, a peek at how we're seen on the other side of the pacific.
Troubled, Tetsuya cast the book aside to lift his laptop screen open, trying to focus on his work. He tapped a key to bring it back from sleep mode, stumbling across a picture of him and his late wife enjoying a vacation on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. They both looked relaxed as they basked in the local warmth back when the world was waking up to Cytek’s energy revolution, the imposing image of the USS Missouri standing behind them. Tetsuya moved his fingers over her, his longing for her never as strong as in her absence.
Moving past the distant memory, the Sentinel’s Colonel pulled up the recordings of the security cameras outside the hotel on his computer. A curious figure that made his way into the whole thing had caught his attention. He stroked his trimmed short beard as he scanned the pages of the young man’s file, recalling his name had come up during the background checks performed on Kotori Koizumi.
Tetsuya couldn’t help but wonder where he fitted
into all this, even more so knowing he had been on the Sentinels’ crosshair for
quite some time.