In two days’ time, Nambu Kozaburo would be receiving his Master of Science degree in applied physics at an age when most of his peers were just receiving their high school diplomas. It required a certain amount of sacrifice on his part, of course, but he considered it worth it.
Although he did not do the things that typical teenagers do, he did not feel as though he missed much. He was not, by any means, anyone’s idea of the typical teenager and frequently had more friends within the teaching staffs of the universities he’d attended than those with whom he attended the classes.
Still, though. He frowned and let his eyes roam around the vast space of the library’s main reading room. It was to be an achievement of sorts. Certainly his parents saw it that way, especially when the degree bore the name “Harvard.” So why didn’t he?
His eye fell on a poster that had been tacked to a message corkboard some distance away. “Be All You Can Be,” it proclaimed. Something in him clicked and Nambu sat up straight. That was what he wanted; he realized what was missing. He wanted to be everything he had the potential of being. Without another thought, he flipped open his cell phone and dialed the number.
* * *
They took it better than he would have thought. True, his mother was upset, but then, everything upset her. After he told them that he would be going to boot camp directly after graduation, his mother immediately withdrew her lace-edged handkerchief from some discreet pocket to dab at her eyes so as to not muss up her makeup. Her other hand drifted up to toy with the strand of pearls that she always wore with her Chanel suits.
“Really, Koza-kun,” she chided gently. “If you wanted a break, or just wanted to travel, we certainly could have arranged for you to do so. To do something this drastic….”
His father stood there, a picture of stoicism in a double-breasted dark brown suit. His frown deepened. “And if you wanted to continue with such foolishness, you should have told me first. We have connections, you know. You need not have gone in as enlisted. We could’ve gotten you in as an officer. Why struggle at the bottom if you don’t have to?”
Nambu sighed, his shoulders slumping just a fraction lower. He knew they wouldn’t completely understand. Hell, even the recruiter didn’t understand, especially when he went out of his way to explain to Nambu that, because of his college degree, he could be considered for officer’s training. But Nambu was tired of being treated as someone special. He wanted to start over, with everyone else. Begin from the ground up and learn what it’s like on every step of the ladder. What good does being at the top do for you if you don’t understand the foundation of what’s below you?
He turned at the light, amused laugh behind him. “Congratulations, Koza-kun,” his elder brother, Ichiro, said, raising his glass of wine to him in a mock toast. “For once, you actually made me look good.”
“Ichiro--,” their father grumbled in warning as their mother took another shuddering, but ladylike, sob.
“What, Father?” Ichiro persisted, placing the glass on top of the mantelpiece. “I think it’s a good idea. It’ll make a man out of him.”
“Time would do the same thing,” their father snapped. “Why purposefully put yourself in the line of danger if you don’t have to?”
This last statement was accompanied by another delicate cry from his mother. Nambu’s head began to hurt and all he wanted was to leave the room, this house, this life with the false front and nothing behind it. He wanted to get to what was real and to get his hands dirty. He sighed again and tried to block out the rest of his parents’ diatribe. He glanced at his watch. In thirty-six hours, he would have his wish.
* * *
It turned out to be the most difficult thing he had ever had to do in his life. Nambu had never had to work at anything before. And certainly not this hard. He realized, belatedly, exactly how much had been handed to him, thanks to his family’s social standing and relative wealth; thanks to his own fortune of having a high intelligence and the parents with the best of intentions to give him the best of everything the world had to offer.
Others, he now saw, were not so lucky. His entire unit was filled with young men whose life stories varied greatly from his own. Jenkins, a small, slight kid, had joined to escape the abuse of a drug-addicted mother and her equally abusive succession of boyfriends. Dawtel and Merren, on the other hand, were as stocky and solid as the middle class families they came from, but both lacked direction to their lives. Dawtel didn’t want to go to college, and Merren couldn’t afford it. Some, like Armans, Dilts, and Lofton, had had juvenile delinquency records and many nights he would listen to them boasting to each other. Even dressed the same as they all were, they still looked the part of the troublemakers. Then there were those who enlisted solely for the food and shelter, and they were the ones who broke his heart.
One evening, Nambu lay on his bunk, writing out a few lines to his parents in the quiet minutes before lights out. He glanced up, lost in thought, searching his mind to find the right turn of phrase, when his eyes automatically fell upon the sullen young man in the bunk directly across the row from his. He had, apparently, fallen into that last category, though it was by rumor alone that Nambu knew this.
And even now, with boot camp nearly midway through, Washio Kentaro had made friends with no one, did not laugh or joke with the rest of them, and was not included in any of the pranks that were played. It was as if there were an invisible barrier separating him from the rest of them.
He intrigued Nambu, solely because he was such a question mark. A puzzle waiting to be solved.
Feeling the weight of his stare, Washio lowered the newspaper he was reading to look straight back at Nambu. “Is there a problem?” he challenged coolly.
Nambu swallowed hard. Truth be told, this guy scared him. Though Nambu was actually a few inches taller than him, Washio was compact and muscular, all hard edges and straight lines. There was nothing about him that was soft, either in looks or in personality. Nambu had seen a few of the girls on base try to flirt with him, only to be quickly rebuffed or, more likely, completely ignored.
“No,” he replied, quickly looking away. He licked his bottom lip nervously. The last thing he wanted was to start trouble with Washio. Relief flooded through him when the newspaper was raised again. Quickly, Nambu finished his letter and retired for night.
* * *
He hit the wall. Literally. Scrabbling, his hands trying to find purchase so as to lift himself up and over the wooden barrier, he still felt himself sliding down. Nambu had never been athletic and never participated in any type of sport, organized or otherwise, nor had he felt the need to do so. In fact, his time, up until now, had been completely consumed by his studies. As a result, he was struggling now. He made up his mind, as he hung there, that he would do what it took to remedy this embarrassing situation.
Sweat dripped down the sides of his face and he grunted his frustration as he tried to pull himself up again. One leap and fly over, he thought. Should be so easy, and yet…
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an arm reach down, felt a hand grab his belt and pants at the small of his back and, before he could even react, felt himself being hauled up and over. To his surprise, when they landed, he saw that it was Washio who had pulled him over.
They finished the obstacle course, but because of him, their squad finished last.
For reasons that Nambu didn’t entirely understand, right from the beginning, their drill sergeant had further divided their platoon into five man squads. He then had these squads competing against each other, like the obstacle course now. Winners were given some type of reward, usually in the form of skipping a part of the exercises or free time after dinner. Losers were generally given the grunt work and made to do extra exercises besides.
Being the cause of finishing last had, not surprisingly, resulted in the three others on his squad—Jenkins, Merren, and Lofton—to practically growl at him. Washio alone remained impassive.
Their drill sergeant walked over to where Nambu stood.
Nambu stood to attention, dread sliding into his stomach. “Yes, sir!”
His drill sergeant leaned in close, their noses nearly touching. His eyes narrowed. “How many times I got to tell you boy? You that stupid? Do I have to say it slow? Never. Call. Me. Sir. You call me sergeant or you call me Sergeant Sperring, or you can call a monkey’s uncle, but you never call me sir. Understand. Now?”
Nambu could hear snickers behind him. He felt the heat rise to his cheeks. “Yes, s-sergeant.”
“Your performance out there was a disgrace. What are you, a little girl? You needed your mommy to come help you out?”
“I will not have any of the men in my unit disgraced. And you did a bang up job of disgracing your squad.”
Washio’s head lifted ever so slightly as he stood to attention. “Yes, Sergeant.” More snickers from the background, but Washio never gave any outward indication that he heard or that it bothered him.
“Since you were the one who helped this mama’s boy, he’s now your responsibility. He can’t make it over the wall next time, you’ll take the punishment. Understood?”
Washio cut a scathing look to Nambu as he replied. “Yes, Sergeant.”
Sergeant Sperring cast a cutting look over all of the men assembled, many of whom tried to pull themselves back to attention from being at ease.
As the men dispersed, Washio walked near Nambu, slamming his shoulder into Nambu’s. “After mess tonight, don’t make any plans,” he hissed as he walked by.
* * *
Training with Washio after hours wasn’t easy, especially since they already put in a full day, rising before dawn. However, Nambu was determined to not let his exhaustion show. It wasn’t easy and Washio was a hard taskmaster. The only thing that made his abuse palatable was the fact that Washio never asked him to do something that he himself did not also do right next to him. Washio was a private now, but even Nambu could see that he would not remain one for very long. As a military man, Washio was going to be brilliant. As a human being, however, Nambu was slowly learning that Washio was a train wreck.
During that first night, and the several that followed, Washio only said what was necessary, outlining what they would be doing and then just doing it. By the end of the first week, Nambu had gotten comfortable enough in his presence, that he had forgotten himself and simply began talking as they began their series of pull ups. He had been thinking about the conversation he and Merren had gotten into right before he came into training, so it had been on his mind. Beginning the chin ups, Nambu picked up the conversation.
“My parents were actually almost offended that I joined. When you signed up, did your parents give you a hard time? Or did they understand?”
“No, they didn’t or no--”
“No, as in no parents to care.”
This took Nambu aback slightly. They finished one set of reps and began another, this time faster, no doubt to prevent any further conversation.
“What happened to them?” he finally asked when they were finished and packing up their gear.
Washio viscously threw his hand towel into his bag and zipped it shut. He leveled a cold stare at Nambu, who quickly looked down as though zipping the bag required the utmost of his concentration.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” he answered, then grabbed his gear and left.
* * *
It was not until several days later that Nambu attempted another conversation. He was considering whether or not to increase the amount of weights to bench press when Washio joined him.
“If you’re not sure,” he said, coming up behind him. “Then go with the weights you’re used to. No use breaking your back if you don’t have to.”
Nambu snorted. “Now you sound like Ichiro.” Washio gave him a questioning look. “My older brother,” he elaborated. “You have any siblings?”
Washio turned away to set up his own weights. “No.”
“No parents, no siblings, so do you have any relatives at all?” Nambu pressed.
Washio slid on a weight and secured it before turning around. “No.”
“All your life or just recently?”
“You writing my life story?”
* * *
Nambu worked as hard as the rest of squad and the squads each pulled together as a larger unit. Eventually, they all found their strides, each working to their strengths. Nambu loved to use the time doing menial labor to analyze what made this setup work, why, and what didn’t work. Some of his suggestions were actually used, and the unit was the better for it. He was still lagging behind in the physical endurance, however, which was still bringing the unit, and his squad in particular, down.
Washio took matters into his own hands and increased up his training. Sergeant Sperring watched and said nothing, but Nambu could see the approval in his eyes. Damn, but he hated being someone’s pet project, but there was nothing he could do until he could pull his own weight and then some.
Frustration caused him to lash out, slamming his unprotected fist into the punching bag that hung in one corner of the gym.
“Problem?” Washio asked as he leaned against the weight rack, arms folded across his chest, the slightest of smiles at the edge of his mouth.
“How long before this stops?” Nambu asked, panting in his anxiety. “How do I get any better when it just seems like all I do is tread water?”
Washio let the question hang a moment, then pushed off the rack with one hip. “Fact is, you are getting better. You just don’t see it.”
“How do you know? It seems like I’m still in the same spot…”
“But you’re not. Sergeant’s been stepping up our game, and we’ve come quite a way since that first night. Think about it.”
Nambu stopped a moment to look at him.
“You’re so lost in the minutiae, that you’re not seeing the larger picture any more,” he elaborated.
“I want to be better.”
“Good for you,” Washio said dryly, picking up a weight. “So do it. Otherwise, I’m just marking my time here.”
Nambu stacked his weights and together they began arm curl reps.
“Has there ever been a time in your life that you haven’t been so….” Nambu stopped, not entirely sure how to end the sentence.
Washio shot him a look. To Nambu’s surprise, he actually gave a small chuckle. “Yeah, there’re a lot of ways to end that sentence. Foster parents found many, and none of them complimentary.”
“You were in foster care?”
“Yeah, for a while. Here and there. I was eight when my mother died. Had no choice, then.” He stared hard at the weights he held. “Have a choice now, though.”
Nambu waited a moment, then asked, “What happened to your father?”
Washio shrugged. “Split somewhere when I was little. Haven’t seen or heard from him since.”
“Do you miss them?”
Another shrug. “Can’t miss what you never had.”
Nambu let the conversation lapse back into silence. He tried to picture Washio as a small boy, but the image just wouldn’t come to his mind. To think that he had been bounced from foster home to foster home, roaming everywhere and belonging nowhere, suddenly crystallized a lot about Washio in his mind.
Nambu thought back and realized that this was why Washio never received any mail or phone calls. Why he never took leaves of absence stayed on base, and often volunteered for duties during holidays.
He felt sorry for him, but looking at Washio’s arrow straight back, Nambu knew that pity was the last thing Washio wanted from anyone.
* * *
For all of the hard work and physical demands, Nambu found himself fascinated to watch as the squads within his unit pulled together. He noticed that a pattern was repeated, over and over, regardless the personalities of the men in the squads.
There was always one who emerged as the leader, and he usually had a second, who frequently shadowed him. Then there would be the one who was the anchor, or muscle, of the group. And finally, there would be the techie and the mascot, or more aptly, the one everyone else looked out for.
Washio was their leader, though how that happened, Nambu still wasn’t quite sure. Washio was not personable and did not talk often, but when he said something, everyone jumped to obey, whether they wanted to or not. Stocky Merren was their muscle, just as the hot-wire loving Lofton was their “techie,” with the slight and slightly childish Jenkins as their “mascot.” To his discomfort, that left him as the “second,” a designation he chafed under, mostly because it happened due to the extra training. Then he had to remind himself that at least the rest of them weren’t looking out after him as they did for Jenkins. That would have been an intolerable embarrassment to him.
With Washio’s pushing, Nambu was able to complete the obstacle course fully and by himself. His times were still not stellar, but he was improving and their squad finished with respectability. With their sergeant’s approval, the two of them continued their additional training.
By this point, Nambu resigned himself to the number two spot, but he found himself keeping a close watch on Washio, especially for any sign of weakness. Then he discovered to his great surprise, that he, of all people, would be doing this. He had never before sought any type of leadership position, and yet, here he was, guarding it close and waiting for his opportunity. He was beginning to see how and why power struggles could occur in any situation.
* * *
Just before the end of basic, as they got ready to leave the barracks, Nambu summoned up his courage and took a chance.
“I was wondering,” he blurted out. “If you’d like to get leave to come home with me after basic ends, for a rest, you know, before tech school starts. You would be welcome and we have more than enough room.”
The barest flicker of surprise glinted in Washio’s eyes for a moment, and then a slow smile pulled at his mouth. “Somehow, Nambu, I don’t think your family would be welcoming me with open arms.”
“You would be my guest. Of course they would--”
Washio gave a small, harsh laugh. “Outwardly, yes. And then they’d have the butler locking up the family jewels and the maid counting the silverware after dinner.”
Nambu flushed. It was true, he had to admit, that if he had never joined the military, he and Washio would never have crossed paths. But he did, and they had.
“I mean it,” Nambu repeated, this time in a firmer voice, his mind made up. “I would like you to come back with me.”
* * *
While Nambu would not have called it a mistake, exactly, it probably had not been the best of ideas, either. Not that Washio had done anything out of place, but he kept reminding Nambu of a domestic animal that had gone feral, and now he, Nambu, was trying to bring him back to domesticity once more. It was not a good fit. He watched with trepidation as they all sat down for dinner together.
Interestingly, Nambu watched in a sort of horrid fascination as his mother seemed to take to Washio, though even she seemed to be hard pressed as to say why. Ichiro and Washio eyed each other like boxers, and cautiously sidestepped each other at every turn.
Even worse, Washio began to mimic their actions and patterns of speech, though Nambu could not figure out if he was doing it on purpose as a joke or not. But then, Washio was not the joking type.
One thing was for certain, though. By the end of the week, if given the right clothing, no one would have been able to guess that Washio himself did not belong in that well-appointed house, with all of the privileges afforded to one born to the higher society.
* * *
Being deployed from basic was bittersweet. The unit he belonged to had become a tight-knit group, a family of sorts, and now they would all begin their military careers in earnest. Nambu was surprised to find that Washio was to be fast-tracked into the piloting program. Nambu couldn’t help but wonder who made that decision. The word around base was that they wanted him in the air as soon as possible.
“Is it true?” Nambu asked as they did their routine 50 pushups.
“Yeah,” Washio grunted.
“I can’t imagine you as a pilot.”
Washio finished the last set of pushups and sat on the floor cross legged, a light sweat sheening his face and moistening his t-shirt. “Why not?”
Nambu likewise finished his set of reps and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He, too, then sat of the floor. “I don’t know,” he said with a shrug. “I guess I just thought of you more as the hand-to-hand combat type.”
Washio leaned back on his arms, his head tilted. A lazy smile drifted over his face. “Nah, man. I love flying. They gave me the pilot’s test when I first joined and I blew them away. Can’t wait to get up there. It’s a whole other world, there.” He paused a moment, lost in thought.
Nambu held his breath. This was the most he had ever heard Washio talk at one run. “Why?” he asked, hoping to prod Washio into talking more. It worked.
“Up there,” he said, gesturing with one arm, “all this shit down here doesn’t exist. Nothing does. It’s just you and the plane. You get in, get the job done, and fly out. Only way to go.”
Nambu thought about that for a moment and could see why Washio would find that desirable. He, however, had other thoughts. Nambu wanted to be in the mix, as were, helping people and doing work that would actually make a noticeable difference in the lives of other people.
* * *
If he thought boot camp was bad, active duty with the peace-keeping troops was even worse. Nambu detested the situations when they had to engage the enemy, when he had to fire his weapon at other human beings—enemies or not—and he had witnessed more than enough violence to last him the rest of his days. Ironically, Nambu had proven to be the most proficient at target practice and was a skilled sniper by the time his tour of duty ended. Though this would not be something that he would ever brag about, he would find that this would serve him in ways he never expected, in the end.
The scenes of the places and the people would come back in later years to haunt him. One such was an impoverished village, consisting of cardboard houses and makeshift tent-like structures that ranged down both sides of a sluggish river. He watched in horror as women washed dirty clothes in the same water that raw sewage from cities up river emptied out into it, and then that same water would be used for cooking meals for those in the shanty towns down farther.
“This is crazy,” he muttered to no one in particular, though Merren was the one who answered.
“I know. You’d think someone would stop them, or give them clean water, or something.”
Nambu squinted up river, then tracked the river with his eyes until he was staring down river again. “Why isn’t there any sort water filtration system in place? Why are these people literally drinking filth?” he complained.
A sergeant by the name of Squireson, who had been listening to their conversation, merely shrugged his shoulders. “The way it is, Nambu. Those with, get everything, those without, drink shit.”
“That’s not right.”
Merren laughed. “Not right, but Squeaks here is right. It’s the haves and the have nots. This country isn’t rich enough to give anything to the have nots.”
“So they have to eat and drink dirty water and die because of it? Because their government can’t—or won’t—give them clean water?” Nambu was disgusted. There had to be a better way of doing things.
* * *
It would end up being the children’s faces that he would see in his nightmares. Pieces of them, what was left. It broke his heart to look into those small faces and not be able to help each and every one of them.
How could anyone in good conscience bring an innocent child into such a devastated world, he wondered. He, himself, could not. Would not. There was much work to be done, and he needed all of his time for his plans.
* * *
By the end of his tour of duty, Nambu already had ideas in mind for attacking many of the problems the world now faced in terms of pollution, poverty, and illness. He had already been accepted into Cambridge University, where he opted to obtain his first Ph.D. in chemical engineering and biotechnology.
From there, he switched gears and began pursuing another Ph.D., this time in molecular biology, in the hopes of rounding out his education.
Before he could submerse himself into his molecular biology studies, however, Nambu was pulled back to the outside world by a single call from his father, who summoned him home.
Now he stood in the doorway of his mother’s room in the hospital, listening to the timeline—again—of what had happened.
His father stood with his back to the room, looking out of the window, his hands clasped behind his back. “She was complaining of not feeling well for a few days,” he said to his reflection. “But you know as well as I that she was frequently given to bouts of this or that. It became pneumonia. The doctor had her admitted here.”
He turned then to face Ichiro, who had just arrived. Nambu was impressed that his father was giving his brother the exact same speech, along with the exact same mannerisms, that he gave Nambu only a day ago. Nambu resisted the urge to intone the next sentence along with his father. “A day ago, they said that they are giving her a broad spectrum of antibiotics in the hopes that it will knock out whatever bacteria is causing this.”
“Can’t they just test and find out what it is?” Ichiro asked, a slight edge of desperation to his voice.
“No,” their father responded. “I asked them the same thing and they told me that the only way to know would be to do a biopsy, but she is not strong enough. She would never survive the procedure.”
They fell silent then, Ichiro walking up to their mother’s bedside and taking her hand into his own. Three capable men in their own fields, but none of them could help the one woman who connected them.
She died a few days later, leaving them to their own devices. Ichiro headed back to the life he had made for himself in Hontworl even as Nambu returned to Cambridge. It was their father, as stalwart and unyielding as they ever knew him, who would be the one to cry every night at the loss of his wife. Without her, he did not care what became of him and he lived the remainder of his life accordingly.
* * *
During his time at Cambridge, Nambu met an intriguing man by the name of Demon with whom he often studied. Demon was brilliant and Nambu thoroughly enjoyed their lively conversations. They were both hired by the ISO, and worked on several projects together, but things turned ugly when they found out that they were both being considered for the same high level position.
Late one afternoon, prior to the Board’s decision, Demon appeared at his office.
“I think you should reconsider this post,” he said without preamble. “It would be best for it to go to me, don’t you understand? I’d still be able to help you, certainly, but I need that position if I am to continue my research.”
Nambu took his time to finish writing out his thought before he looked up. “Demon, I am just as qualified as you for that position,” Nambu said slowly, rising to his feet. “You know that, and I’m sorry if you think that I would not back you in your research.” Nambu turned his back to Demon to look through a stack of books on a credenza behind his desk. He continued, “You know that would not be the case. So long as the research would not be so dangerous as to jeopardize--”
All he heard was the slamming of the door. He had not seen Demon walk out and couldn’t believe that the man would not even hear him out. Heavily, Nambu sat back down at his desk and pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes as he did so. He had the uneasy feeling that, regardless of what the ISO board decided, he had just lost one of the best friends he ever had.
Two weeks later, Nambu found out that the position was to be his. However, when he went in search of Demon to discuss the matter, he found that Demon had just vanished without a word to anyone. Upon returning to his office, Nambu’s cell phone began ringing. It was Ichiro with the news that their father had just died of a heart attack.
They always said bad news comes in threes, Nambu thought, then wondered why that old superstition would occur to him while he sat at his father’s funeral.
* * *
In the weeks and months that followed, Ichiro and he sorted through their parents’ belongings and assets. Nambu had been floored to see the bottom lines of his parents’ financial portfolios. He knew that they were well off, but never dreamed that his father had amassed so much. His share of the estate would mean that he would never need to grovel for funding or grants ever again. Nambu could underwrite his own research now.
As to the real property, Ichiro took the family house in the city, while Nambu opted for the villa.
With part of his share of the portfolio, Nambu hired an architect and outlined exactly what he wanted. Several rooms in the villa were re-purposed; others he left alone. By the time he was done, Nambu had a vacation house that could also double as a research facility. All in all, he was very pleased with the end result.
* * *
Upon his return from his father’s funeral, Nambu found Dr. Borombo waiting for him in his office.
“I just wanted to give you a heads up,” Borombo said sotto voce. “While you’ve been away, there’s been a group that’s taken part of your initial research and run with it.”
Nambu looked at him a moment. “I’m sure that’s fine,” he said. “After all, we’re all striving for the same results. We need to work together…”
Borombo shook his head. “You misunderstand me, Nambu. They have taken your research regarding non-emissions engines and used it as a base to formulate their own, changing it only slightly. They are now in the process of selling the idea to a private manufacturer.”
Nambu stilled. Borombo continued, “It is sad to say that there are many here who would have done the same thing, if given half a chance.” He shrugged. “I like you, Nambu, but you will not last long here, or anywhere else, if you continue on as you have been.”
Before Nambu could utter a word, Borombo turned on his heel and headed for the door. He placed his hand on the door knob, then paused. “If anyone asks, we never had this conversation,” he said softly before opening the door and leaving.
Nambu spent the rest of the day tracking down the truth of what Borombo had told him. He was disheartened by his discoveries. He had known that there were those who sought to use such research for their own greed, whether it be in the form of money, fame, or, worst of all, power. It existed in every profession and occupation, but for it to exist in a place like the ISO, where they were trying to work for the greater good, it was heartbreaking.
Nambu scaled back what information he put out. He stared to watch his back. He did not like to think that there were those working for him now that he could not trust, but that seemed to be the way things were. Slowly, Nambu became unsure of who he could trust and who he couldn’t. To make his life easier, he decided to trust no one at all and gave information out on a strict “need to know” basis only.
* * *
Upon his promotion, Nambu also found himself acquiring a new office. It was larger than his old one, and significantly more impressive. Not that that meant anything to him, but his new duties would now require meetings and his new office could also double as a conference room.
As the previous occupant had wanted a more opulent desk than the ISO was willing to provide, he bought his own desk. When he left, he took the desk with him. So Nambu contacted the ISO storage warehouse and requested that a replacement desk be brought over.
He placed the last of the boxes containing his research papers on this new old desk and pulled open one of the drawers. He loaded it down, then pushed it shut. The drawer slid, then caught and stopped. Nambu tested it a few times, then realized that something had fallen in the back.
“Damn it,” he muttered as he got to his knees and lifted the drawer and slid it up and out. Reaching into the gap the drawer created, he felt his fingertips graze something like a bundle of papers. He wriggled down and pushed his arm in further until he could get a good grasp on the object.
What he pulled out surprised him. “What the hell…”
An old spiral-bound type notebook bearing the words “Paracelsus Project” on the front. Old strips of what looked like masking tape bordered the book on the top and bottom.
“Paracelsus?” he read out loud. Out of idle curiosity, Nambu flipped through the notebook and was surprised at the depth of the research and equations contained therein.
He flipped through the book again, slower this time, but could find neither a date nor a name of the one wrote this. The handwriting was not familiar to him, and he had never heard of any such research as outlined in this book as having been done in any of the ISO labs. It was intriguing in its simplicity and the uses boggled the mind.
Like Paracelsus, who had the notion of turning lead into gold, this modern-day alchemist proposed to change one item into another at a molecular level using a high frequency not normally found in nature. At the end, the notebook hinted that the scientist, or whoever he was, was attempting to change one animal into another, but had had little success.
Nambu, however, thought that the process outlined could be used on a different plane and at a different level than the author of the notebook originally hypothesized. Suppose military uniforms could be shifted? He thought of all of the equipment he had lugged through enemy territory for all of that time. How much easier would it be for a solider to simply transform an outfit—such as fatigues—into full battle gear just by engaging a high frequency?
Nambu took the notebook back with him to his villa and began toying with the ideas and formulas it contained. Before he knew it, he had been up all night.
* * *
He pounded down the hallway, heedless of those he passed. It had been several hours since Nambu received the call that his brother had been found, bleeding and unconscious, in an alleyway. He had been shot several times, the victim of an apparent robbery. Now he was in the ICU, his condition critical.
Nambu could not move himself fast enough. He nearly slid into the room where his brother lay.
“Ichiro,” he said, slipping his hand into his brother’s limp one. “Onii-san…”
At the sound of his voice, Ichiro’s eyes rolled under their lids, then slowly opened. “Koza-kun…”
“Don’t try to speak, Ichiro,” Nambu said, gripping his brother’s hand tighter. “Save your strength. You must get better. Have you seen Mariko, or the twins…?”
Ichiro shook his head. “Have to…speak with you. Have to…tell you.”
“Please, Onii-san…” Nambu begged softly, reaching out hesitantly with his other hand to smooth back the hair that lay limply over his brother’s forehead.
Ichiro shook his head again. “No time, Koza. There’s…no time…they…not let me live.”
“Who?” Nambu was instantly alert. “You know who did this to you?”
“Yes,” Ichiro said softly. “They are many…they will succeed. Koza-kun, you have to promise me.”
“Yes, Onii-san, what is it? Anything.”
“Promise me…promise me that you will not fight them, as I tried. Join them, if you have to…to stay alive. I was stupid…tried to fight…saw them…tried to fight…”
“Who, Onii-san?” Nambu asked, confused and concerned. “What are you talking about?”
“They have weapon…or…plans for one. They…rule the planet, Koza-kun. They will…crush any…all… in their way. I know…I am one.”
Ichiro closed his eyes a moment, panting slightly through his pain. After a few minutes, he opened his eyes again. “Coat pocket…you’ll see…show to them…they’ll know…take you in…may keep you alive, at least…”
“What happened, Ichiro?” Nambu begged. “Is this some sort of organized crime outfit?”
Ichiro did not answer him right away. What had his brother gotten himself into, Nambu wondered as he studied his brother’s pain ravaged face. What type of organization metes out such punishment and then would have him want his brother to join?
Nambu knew his brother worked in the Hontworl government, an aide-de-camp to one of the higher ups, but who that was, Nambu did not know. Ichiro had never said and Nambu never asked. Nambu bitterly wished that he and his brother talked more about their lives. Maybe then he would have been able to help Ichiro before it all came to this.
“Be careful.. They will use…anyone…anything…to get what they want. They…” Ichiro’s voice caught, tears spilling down his cheeks. “Mariko. Our children. Gone. I refused…to help…them…from my position, you see? That…their way…coerce. I still refused…now this.”
Mariko and his niece and nephew dead? Could that be? Nambu tried to think of the last time he spoke with them, but he couldn’t place it. It had been some time, that he knew, but to think of all of them gone was unbearable.
“The syndicate will not…let me live….much longer. Is better…end like this...,” Ichiro gasped out. The gauges on the machines he was tethered to slowly drifted into red zones.
“No, Ichiro. We can get you better again. Together, we can fight…whoever did this…” Tears blurred his vision and he felt the exact moment life slipped away from his brother. The monitor alarms went off and Nambu suddenly found himself back outside in the hallway, watching as they tried, in vain, to revive his brother. The damage was too great, they told him later. There was nothing anyone could do.
Once the tubes and lines had been removed, the monitors turned off, and the nurses cleaned him up, they let Nambu back in the room. He went to his brother and held his hand once more.
“I promise you, Ichiro,” he vowed. “I will know who did this and why. I will stop them.”
Nambu let go of Ichiro’s hand then and went to the small closet. He opened the door to find the coat that Ichiro must have wearing—it bore the traces of his blood—and felt in the pockets. There, in an inside pocket, was a small white card with a stylized red symbol of a devil head or something similar on one side and ‘V-2’ written on the back. What did it all mean?
* * *
It was like a fever to him. He could not break himself free of it.
In the days and weeks since his brother’s death, Nambu tried to piece together the last few days of his brother’s life, but it was not easy. Mariko and the children had died, he found, though their official cause of death was listed as an automobile accident. Ichiro believed they were murdered. That he had been murdered.
Nambu stood at the window in his office and looked out over the city. He was alone now, with no family at all. And he had to find out the who and the why. Nambu thought back over his last conversation with his brother.
He had said that they—whoever ‘they’ were—had wanted Ichiro to use his position within the government. But why? He also said something about a weapon and plans to take over the planet, apparently by hostile means, if necessary. But who were they?
Why in Hontworl?
He no longer had a family.
The connection was there, then. The answers he was looking for lay in Hontworl.
He was alone now.
He would need help. If they knew Ichiro was his brother, if they had killed his family as Ichiro believed, then they would know Nambu almost on sight.
There was no one he could trust.
He needed someone who could go in…find out…if they had approached Ichiro, then they most likely have approached others.
He was alone.
He needed someone who would be able to fit in…work his way around…someone who knew Hontworl…
He needed…Washio Kentaro.
* * *
He could hear the boys playing in the garden out back, but tried to block out most of it. With a cup of coffee in one hand, Nambu idly watched as Ken and Joe ran around the small space, burning off the excessive energy that comes with boys and summer vacations.
He tried to clear his mind of the latest reports that had come in from Washio and the others. They had to think of something to protect themselves against the underground movement known as Galactor before it was too late. But what? Nambu took another sip of his coffee and studied the boys.
In one easy movement, Ken leapt onto the top of a picnic table, struck a pose and “I am Owashi no Ken!” In a split second, Joe leapt onto the table beside him, struck a similar pose, and cried out, “I am Kondoru no Jo!” Then together, they jumped down from the table in tandem and began a mock battle.
Nambu took a sip of his coffee and pondered the scene before him. Out of the blue, that damned wall from the obstacle course in his basic training days came back to his mind.
One leap and fly over….
A uniform transforming…
One leap and fly over…
One leap and fly over…
An idea came to his mind, whole and complete. It would take time. At least three other members would have to be found. Plus, he would need to complete all of the formulations and begin the research tests on the Paracelsus project that he had only half-heartedly still pursued through the passing of these last few years. But if he was right…
He stared at the boys playing.
If he was right, then the two boys in front of him would not be just playing at battles, they would be fighting them for real.
Nambu had come up with an idea to finally fight Galactor.
* * *
The small coastal fishing village looked picturesque from where Nambu sat. As the train skimmed by and then slowed into the station, Nambu looked around in an attempt to find his host.
“Over here!” A stout man shouted, waving his hand over his head. “Nambu Hakase, here!”
This, then, must be the man who identified himself as Captain Nakanishi, the man who had originally contacted him. Taking up his briefcase and equipment, Nambu sidestepped his way through the crowd to where Nakanishi waited for him.
Nakanishi was the union leader of the town, and as such, he took responsibility for contacting Nambu, though he never dreamed that the man himself would come.
Over the next several days, Nambu went out with the fishing boats, to study the wave currents, and talk with the fishermen about the habits and schoolings of fish and lobster that they earned their living by trapping and catching.
At the end of the week, Nambu had gathered enough data to begin drafting up a proposal for the townspeople so that they could become one of the “create and not take” type of town model towards which the ISO was working. He had in mind the idea of a quasi-fish farm, but belatedly realized that he still needed some further information.
Unfortunately, by the time Nambu got to his home, he found that Nakanishi had already gone out in his fishing boat for the day.
“I can take you there,” Nakanishi’s son, Ryu, offered. Nambu considered the boy for a moment. He was what many would have described generously as “big boned.” Nambu knew the boy could certainly eat, based on what he had seen at the dinners at the Nakanishi household to which he had been invited. “I know exactly where it is. My dad told me to take you anywhere, if you still needed anything.”
It was with reluctance that Nambu took the boy up on his offer—he really needed that information—but Nambu was greatly surprised and pleased to find that, though young, the boy knew what he was doing on a boat and within the hour, had Nambu at exactly the place he needed.
Once he finished his sampling, he gave Ryu the go-ahead to take them back to the harbor.
Within five minutes, however, the sky turned dark and the waves began to churn.
“Looks like we’re in for it now,” Ryu commented.
“What is it?”
Ryu shrugged a shoulder. “Squall coming up fast. Maybe we can outrun it back to the harbor.”
The dark storm descended on them fast, though, and churned up waves that Nambu thought for sure would collapse the boat they were on. With one roiling wave, Nambu found himself pitched down, and suddenly, he was underwater, the boat seemingly vanished.
And then, he felt a hand grab onto him and he was on the deck again. Spluttering and trying to find something to hold onto, he realized what had happened. Ryu returned to his position at the helm and gave him a lopsided grin.
“We’ll should be fine now, sir. The storm’s breaking up, see?”
Nambu looked from the boy to the sky, his wet, shaking hands still locked around a piece of chroming rimming the boat’s frame. Ryu was right. It was breaking up.
He watched Ryu steer the boat back into the harbor, then as he lightly jumped from boat to dock, before lifting the chains and thick ropes used to anchor and secure the vessel to the dock.
“That was some ride, eh, Hakase?” Ryu said to him as Nambu clambered back to dry land.
“It certainly was, Ryu.”
All that night, Nambu lay awake, thinking. Not about the potential of the fish farm, but about the boy who not only pulled him up out of a storming sea, but also remained calm and steady as he piloted the boat through such treacherous waters.
By the time the first streaks of light smudged the darkness at the horizon, Nambu made up his mind.
He had found his team’s anchor.
* * *
He had walked into a standoff. In the years since his tour of duty ended and since his father’s death, Nambu had set a number of trusts for orphanages around the globe. He also liked to drop in on them unannounced, to make sure that the funds were being used as he had directed.
In this particular orphanage, set in the Himalayan mountains, the funds he had sent were to be used for a new computer lab for the children. Nambu now found, however, that there was a problem.
A group of administrators and secretaries stood around one such computer station, all wearing attitudes ranging from fury to amusement. A small girl sat in the middle of this, a computer in front of her, her arms crossed over her chest. The look on her face was one of stubborn defiance.
“Is there a problem here?” Nambu asked as he walked over to them. The expression on the girl’s face swiftly changed to one of fear.
“It seems that this child hacked into the school’s computer system and did…something…and now we’re all locked out and she refuses to fix it.”
Nambu raised an eyebrow. This young girl actually hacked into the school’s main computer system? Given some of the antics he’d seen Ken and Joe get into, this he had to check out for himself.
“I don’t know,” he said thoughtfully, eyeing the girl in the chair. “Are you sure? I mean, she looks awfully young to have done something like that…”
“I am not!” the girl piped up, taking the bait. “I’m nearly eight and a quarter years old.”
Nambu suppressed a grin by frowning. “And why would such a great girl of eight and a quarter years old need with messing with the school’s computers?”
The girl’s small face crumpled as tears immediately welled in her eyes. “They took my brother. He needs to be here. He needs to stay with me--”
The head administrator cut her off. “Jun, we’ve been through this. He is not your brother..”
“He is!” Jun shouted back. She looked to Nambu in appeal. “He’s only a baby. He needs me. He’s mine. He’s my brother.”
“Jun,” the head administrator countered, her patience thinning. “You found him, but that does not make him your brother…”
“Finder’s keepers!” she yelled. “That makes him mine, doesn’t it?” She looked to Nambu for confirmation.
Nambu listened to the exchange with interest, his mind rapidly analyzing all of the possibilities. At the top of his list, for reasons he was not about to go into with half the staff standing around, he needed to see what the girl was capable of doing.
“Jun,” he began, conscious of the crowd. “If you can show me how you got into the school’s main computer, and if you can fix whatever it was that you did, I will arrange for you to be with your brother again.”
“Nambu Hakase, this is outrageous…” the head administrator blustered. Nambu waved her off.
“If you want the computer fixed, then I suggest we do this my way,” Nambu responded calmly, never taking his eyes off the girl before him.
Jun eyed him suspiciously. “If I fix everything, I can see Jinpei?”
Nambu nodded. “Yes. I promise you that.”
Jun looked at the monitor and keyboard, then made her decision. Her small fingers flew over of the keyboard with the skill of a virtuoso on an instrument. He watched in amazement as she broke through the computer firewalls, navigated around the various programs, and deleted the locks she had installed. All without knowing any of the original passwords. With a final keystroke and the computer’s screen blinking back to the main screensaver, Jun spun in the chair.
“Now I can see Jinpei?”
* * *
Nambu kept his word to Jun, though it was hard in the beginning. Jinpei, he found out, was a very sick infant and needed time to heal and gain strength. He did extensive research and ultimately placed them in an arrangement that suited all of them.
While Jun attended an exclusive boarding school nearby, Jinpei was kept at the Snow White Orphanage, where he was tended to and slowly grew. Jun was happy with this arrangement because, on the weekends, she was allowed to stay at the Orphanage with Jinpei. Jinpei, for his part, always seemed to behave better around Jun and seemed to be all the happier for having this girl in his life.
Nambu followed their progress keenly. When the time was right, he would arrange for these last two to join him and the others.
His team was now complete.