Chapter 4:

"Walking Contradiction"


THE NEXT MORNING. We now go to the perspective of MIZUTAMI SUMIKO, the aforementioned GHOST MEMBER OF THE HRC, who considers herself to not only be THE LAST SAMURAI but perhaps even THE MAIN CHARACTER with only TWO DAYS UNTIL THE CULTURE FESTIVAL.

I was born a hundred years too late.

I get up early in the morning, right around when dawn hits. Morning calisthenics are a must; I want to wake up each muscle, feel each tendon, be in tune with my own body. The body is all there is; the words you’re reading right now are just a mere distillation of reality. It weakens reality, really. How many people rely on their experience of reading words rather than the experience itself? Mass literacy wasn’t a mistake by any means, but a society that allows weakness certainly is one.

I spend the morning in the gym I rigged up in the vacant apartment next to ours. After calisthenics comes stretches, then comes the various piles of scrap metal and cinder blocks I’ve found lying around the undercity and turned into equipment. Today is leg day. I never skip leg day.

Then comes the punching bag. With each hit, I think of the shrill whistle of the sergeant - over the top we go. I climb up the trench ladder and hear the whistle of shells and drumfire of artillery. Somebody yells “Gas!” but I’m already moving, hand grenades at the ready, and now I’m at the speed bag in my primitive gym, hitting faster each day.

I wasn’t made for modern life. There’s something immensely lacking in its very fabric. I want to walk through a storm of swords, in storms of steel, feeling only the sun and steel on my skin. I want a great war, I want my cause, I want something worth fighting for. I want-

“Sumiko,” my brother Kouji says, wiping his hands on his pink apron decorated with little drawings of cupcakes as he enters my gym. “Breakfast is ready.”

I throw my arms in the air. “Gosh, Nii-chan, can’t you see I’m in the middle of something!?”

He puts his foot down, and despite his gentle nature, he’s strong enough to make the whole room shake. “You’re gonna be in the middle of trouble if you don’t wash up and get ready for school. Now c’mon, I made your favorite for breakfast.”

I sigh, because I know he’s only looking out for me. “Alright, I’ll be ready to eat in fifteen.”

A minute later, I stand in the shower, enjoying the two minutes of hot water rationed to the Shikishima undercity. I pretend I’m a samurai standing under a waterfall the whole time.

No, I am a samurai standing under a waterfall. It’s just that this is the modern equivalent of the waterfall, and I’m the modern equivalent of the samurai.

When I arrive in the kitchen, Nii-chan’s tinkering with the little television on our kitchen counter. It’s an old Nakashima conglomerate one, built in the early 2000s, back when we dominated global electronics, and it’s not like we’re gonna get a new one soon with an imprisoned father (racketeering) and dead mother (took a morning train to the face).

Nii-chan gets it working for a moment, long enough for a talking head to say, “-there was an attempted break-in at the Shikishima Cold Fusion Reactor last night, but thanks to Nakashima conglomerate security protocols, our fair city has nothing to fear. In another news, reports of delinquent activity are up, including more frequent muggings, so here's a friendly reminder to report all suspicious activity to your local Hantei-”

The television cuts off. Nii-chan chuckles; he’s already traded his apron for his crisp Prussian officer’s school uniform (if only I could have worn one in its heyday) and the green armband designating him as a member of the Student Disciplinary Committee - the Hantei. They really should work on that name.

But I wouldn’t mug Nii-chan. He’s built like a brick shit-house, a wide frame compared to my slender, a neat buzz-cut compared to how my (dyed) light blonde hair tends to go wild, and you wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley. ‘Cuz he’d talk your ear off, of course. Such a softie, and I don’t dislike that.

“You gonna stop the muggings, nii-chan?” I ask, sitting down to eat the breakfast he’s cooked.

“Nobody’s getting mugged on my watch,” he says. Then he sighs. “If only I could watch the whole city, then everyone would be safe.”

He sits down next to me and starts eating. He finishes his whole plate while I twiddle with my fork, frowning at the meal.



“My favorite meal is bell peppers and beef.”


I tap my fork on the plate. “I don’t see any beef. It’s not really ‘bell peppers and beef’ if there’s no beef-”

I catch myself. He knows it, too, ‘cuz he’s grinning.

I cross my arms. “I’m not making an anime reference. Cartoons are weak for the soul.”

“You should lighten up some time,” he says, eyeing my leftovers. “Would do you some good. We used to watch anime on that crappy television all the time growing up.”

“There’s nothing to lighten up about.”

“What about your future?” Nii-chan frowns. “The Student Council told me about your future career questionnaire.”

I raise an eyebrow. “You mean President Nakashima told you that. And?”

He doesn't deny the accusation, instead only answering with a sigh. “Kamikaze pilot is not a good answer…for a number of reasons.”

I sigh and force myself to eat. Everything tastes like sand to me. “You spend too much time around the Kaicho. She has you wrapped around her finger.”

He waves me away with his beefy hand. “Yeah right.”

“You’re a member of her special Hantei squadron, right? The Lads?”

A stupid, lovestruck smile appears on Nii-chan’s face. “Darn right I am. Her handpicked elite force. Hantei aids the police in keeping the peace, so being an elite Hantai means I’m elite at keeping the peace. They need people like me to keep Shikishima afloat, after all. There are rumors of organized crime and monsters and Reds floating about.”

I snort. “All you do is pick up litter.”

I hand over my half-empty plate to Nii-chan, who swallows the leftovers whole. “You always go off about your cause this and your cause that,” he mumbles with his mouth full. He points his fork at me. “I got a cause, yet you make fun of me for it.”

“‘Cuz you’re doing it for the elites. They’re just using you. You’re just a cog.”

He scratches his head. “Isn’t that the same for all the movements you idolize?”

I chuckle. “It’s different. Because you’re you-”

I jab a finger at myself. “And I’m me.”

A few minutes later, we’re off. I throw on my red bomber jacket and step into the crisp air of mid-autumn. Shikishima is shaped like a three-tier wedding cake - we live in the bottom rung of San-Machi. The layer that actually touches the water, mind you, but the rich all have their ports and warehouses or manors and beach houses there, so we live deep within San-Machi, the undercity, with the second layer over our heads so the sun doesn’t always make it through. Apartment Complex #517-A is quiet today - most of the people here work in the generators and factories in the undercity and are already off to earn their daily bread.

Well, rice.

In any case, Nii-chan always warns me that if I don’t take school seriously, I won’t be able to get a job even in the power plants. I’ll be stuck as a cashier or longshoreman or even worse - a bum - but all of those jobs suit me just fine. I don’t have any ambitions beyond burning brightly and shortly. I walk with my hands clasped behind my head as we head down the cracked sidewalk for the station.

The morning commute leaves the station pretty packed. Nii-chan eyes me as we get in line. He knows I’m gonna try to bolt because every day I try to bolt. Sometimes he even has to grab me by the collar and haul me onto the train. This time, he shows me a sharp glare to indicate he wants no tomfoolery this morning.

The drab gray train pulls into the drab gray station. This is an inbound train up to the second layer, so nobody’s getting off. Nii-chan stands right in front of the doors as they open.

“-believe in miracles!” Kano Kyoko says, kneeling behind the doors as they open. Her camera’s pointed right at Nii-chan, startling the crap out of him. The only reason I know Kyoko is because, as a member of the school newspaper, she likes to put her big fat nose in everybody’s business. Next to her, Kato Ryoko sighs at the antics of her friend while she uses the commotion to purloin a distracted salaryman’s wallet. People are wary of Ryoko and her shark’s smile.

Nii-chan sighs, puts his hands on his pockets like he does when he wants to act tough, and slips past Kyoko. She’s still kneeling and filming and her camera’s pointed right at me now. The incident is to my advantage, taking up precious time, and now the station bells go off because the train’s about to take off. Nii-chan gasps in horror as I stick my tongue out at Kyoko and kick her camera into the air. The violent motion is immensely satisfying.

As Kyoko falls on her ass and bobbles the camera, Nii-chan goes for the door, but the tumbling Kyoko gets in his way. The door shuts right as he arrives. I stick my tongue out and pull my eyelid down in triumph as the train takes off for the next station. He stares at me with a slackjawed mouth until the train disappears deeper into the layer.

I walk off, having nowhere in particular to be, and that suits me just fine. 

Steward McOy