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Taiwan


Taihoku
10:03 AM


Tiger Tanaka looked out the window of the plane as it began its final approach towards Formosa.

Taiwan.

Tanaka had to remind himself that the island was Taiwan now. The Empire had renamed the island Taiwan in an effort to reject the old colonial past in East Asia. It was still an imperial colony, but at least it had Asian masters instead of European ones. Off at the edge of the horizon was the Chinese mainland, the tallest buildings of Fuzhou just visible through the haze.

He'd been here twenty years earlier under much different circumstances. As a junior officer, Tanaka witnessed the Third Humiliation. His destroyer and the entire East China Fleet evacuated as much of the Chinese Expeditionary Force from the continent as they could before the Communists could capture them. Those they could not save had been left to their fate. If the men were real Japanese they would have committed suicide either through -- seppuku or a bullet to the brain -- before the Chinese had a chance to capture them. There were reports of scattered Japanese prisoners of war living in China since. Gossip and the stuff enlisted men talked about while they drank. Two decades since and Tanaka still felt shame at both the defeats and the men left behind. Their dishonor had come at the hands of their empire's dishonorable actions. Their empire, the one they sacrificed their lives for, could not protect them.

"Gensui-kaigun-taishō," the pilot in the front seat of the small aircraft addressed him through the headphones. "Please fasten your seat belt. We are preparing to land."

Tanaka complied. He looked out the window as they flew over the city of Taihoku, the capital of Japanese Taiwan. It was a copy of every colonial capital the Empire had. Squat buildings in a grid formation with only a handful of those structures actually above ten stories. Anchored off the coast was the early formation of Tanaka's fleet. The crown jewel of the fleet, Tanaka's flagship aircraft carrier Kasagi, sat in the middle of the collection of ships. A light aircraft carrier, a few destroyers and cruisers and smaller support ships all orbited around the Kasagi like the planets orbited around the sun.

The plane landed onto the deck of the Kasagi with a hard bump. Tanaka saw that a small welcoming party had gathered at the end of the deck. He ran a thumbnail across his thick black mustache and made sure his white uniform and cap were in order before the plane came to a stop. Tanka exited and was met by his boss. Navy Chief of Staff Grand Admiral Kubo stood at the front, the captains of the other ships in the fleet flanked him on both sides and stood at attention.

"Grand Admiral Tanaka," Kubo said with a nod while the other officers saluted Tanaka. "Welcome to the Southern Expeditionary Fleet."

Tanaka quickly returned the men's salute before he saluted Kubo. The chief of staff returned his salute casually and looked back at the captains.

"I'd like a word with your fleet commander before formal introductions can begin."

The officers nodded and bowed to Kubo as he put his arm around Tanaka's shoulder. It was quite a reach for the shorter man, but he managed it. They walked across the deck as wind wiped across it, Tanaka holding firmly to his cap while Kubo's shaved head was bare. The plane that dropped him off was already taking off. It roared overhead as the pilot turned north back towards Japan.

"You look good, Tiger," said Kubo. "How was Korea?"

"Thank you, sir. And it was boring."

"Of course it was," Kubo laughed. "It's full of Koreans. At least Pusan has some international flair. I heard you took up with an American woman."

"Yes," Tanaka said curtly. "She's a widow, and I have never taken a wife. So there is no one to object. But what does that have to do with my role in Taiwan?"

"Touchy touchy," Kubo said with another laugh. "I just wanted to know how pink the nipples of white women are."

Tanak cleared his throat and pulled at the collar of his uniform. "Very.

"There we go." Kubo slapped Tanaka's back with a chubby hand. "Now since you are not in the playful mood, Tiger, I'll speak quickly. You know the mandate here, yes?"

"Yes," said Tana. "Pirate duty. Merchant ships from all across Asia are being boarded and robbed. Specifically in the East and South China Seas. Although... permission to speak freely?"

Kubo smiled. "Please, I welcome it."

"It seems a rather large fleet for pirates."

"Well," Kubo said with a grin. "There's a reason I was here to meet you. On paper, yes, find and destroy any pirates you come across. As the premier naval power in this part of the world, the duty to patrol the seas falls upon us. But if these patrols take you into other nation's waters... Filipino waters for example... then so be it."

Kubo's face showed no hint of emotion, only a slightly raised eyebrow conveyed his message. Tanaka bowed slightly to Kubo. The message was received. Kubo was a few years older than Tiger, so both men knew well had bad their retreat from the mainland had been. All the high command of the military knew disgrace and shame. All all of them were eager to regain their honor. Russia had been a start, but it was just that: a start.

"I believe that Asia has quietly forgotten about the Imperial Japanese Navy and all that we can do," Kubo said. "Perhaps they can be reminded by this new fleet."

"Yes, sir," Tanaka said with a smile.

((Tagging @Letter Bee just in case he's interested))

---

Tokyo


Taitō Ward
9:23 PM


The small gathering in the apartment watched with rapt attention the action on the canvas screen hung on the wall. A medium shot of Date Masamune showed the mighty warrior on horseback, raising his sword to the sky in victory. There was a close-up on the face of the legendary daimyo, one eye covered by an eyepatch while the other remaining eye looked wild. The scene cut back to the battlefield. All around Date were fellow samurai from the Date Clan. They cheered as the camera pulled back further to reveal dead samurai and horses on the ground.

"We will remember our dead," Date shouted as the camera was back on him in close-ups. "While the losers of today's battle will never forget the Date Clan. We have united the north under our banner. Now we ride to Edo. The shōgunate will be ours!"

More cheers and cries from the samurai. Date's horse raised up on its hind legs before racing across the battlefield. Date, with sword still held high, led the samurai as they galloped across the field in the direction of the sun. The music swelled and the scene faded to black. The gathered people began to applaud and clapped harder when the words "Directed by Miki Yasutake" flash on the screen in Kanji.

From his seat in the back of the room, Miki took in the praise and applause with a grain of salt. Everyone at his apartment tonight had been either a member of the cast and crew of the film, or they were part of the Tokyo arts community who thought Miki could do no wrong.

He stepped forward and politely bowed as the lights came back on and the projector flicked off.

"Thank you, thank you. You are most kind. I have one more edit to go through, but for the most part this version of Dokuganryū will be the one released in theaters across Japan next month."

The film screen was the climax of the party. Miki walked around and continued to mingle, sipping champagne along with the odd shot of saki. He fielded questions about the next movie he would direct, his thoughts on the big Hollywood murder scandal, and when they could expect a sequel to Dokuganryū. Miki played the part of aloof artists and gave vague answers. With his black turtle neck, black slacks, sunglasses, and flowing premature gray hair he looked every bit the part of the auteur director.

"We do actually need to discuss your next film, Miki-san," Saito said as the party was winding down.

Miki resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He'd been successfully avoiding him the entire party up until this point. He looked at the man from the Imperial Information Ministry. If Miki was the cliched artist, then Saito was the cliched bureaucrat with his cheap suit and glasses and love of rules and regulations. For the Empire's chief propagandist, Miki found that Saito had very little in the way of imagination. He had to be someone high-up's nephew or in-law.

"The movie was received well," said Saito. "Here tonight and at my offices. With how Dokuganryū ends, there is room for a sequel. And the IIM would like to commission you to write and direct the sequel. Ideally, work on it would begin as soon as possible."

"No," said Miki.

"Excuse me?" Saito looked taken aback. "Miki-san, you know who the IIM is."

"I know very well who you represent."

Miki turned away from Saito and started through the now nearly empty apartment. Those that had stayed behind were admiring the art on the walls. There were a few Japanese pieces, but plenty were works of western artists. He had a few Edward Hoppers, an excellent Paul Nash painting inspired by the Great War, and a few paintings by his favorite artists Lucille Lucas. But the main attraction was the disturbing Goya paintting Saturn Devouring His Son. The piece was always a conversation starter. Even now, three of Miki's guest were huddled around it observing the stark painting the Spanish master had painted directly onto the wall of his house.

After passing the painting, Miki turned around and found Saito right behind him, looking up at him with a look that was half angry and half worried.

"No one refuses the IIM," it came out more incredulous than anything.

"And I am not," said Miki. "I am simply stating that my next film will not be a sequel to Dokuganryū. It will be something else all together."

"What will it be, Miki-san?"

Miki held up a long, thin finger and walked to one of the desks in his apartment. He pulled a well-worn book from the bottom drawer of the desk and handed it to Saito. He saw the little man's brow furrow at the sight of the square-jawed man on the cover, smoking a cigarette as he walked under a lamp post. The title was in English, but Saito had no trouble reading it aloud.

"'Poisonville: A Sam Bennett Mystery.'" Saito flipped it over and read the plot synopsis aloud. "'When an accused corrupt politician commits suicide, Sam Bennett is forced by a crime boss to investigate the death. What looks like an open and shut case begins to unravel and Sam finds himself waist deep in graft, girls, and guns. As the bodies start to pile up, Sam plays a dangerous chess game with the powers that be that could cost him his life and bring the whole rotten foundation of the city down.' Saito looked up at Miki with a frown. "Miki-san, this is not a Japanese book."

"No," Miki said with a smile. "It is not. But it is one of my favorite books. And I want to adapt it into a Japanese setting. An historical samurai movie, set before the Meiji era."

"A samurai detective story?"

"With the trappings of a Hollywood western," said Miki. "I want to show the world Japan can do more than simple propaganda, Saito-san. The IIM wants to promote Japanese culture, well so do I! But I need help with that."

"The IIM?"

"Yes," Miki said with a nod. "I need to buy the rights from the American author, and then production costs. I already have a screenplay, Saito. I will let you read it for approval. If you let me make this film first, then I will work on Dokuganryū right after. I will even work on the screenplay while we're in preproduction."

Saito rubbed his forehead and sighed.

"I will have to talk to my superiors about this, as well as review and potentially edit the screenplay. But... we have a tentative deal."

Miki bowed to Saito.

"Thank you, thank you."

"If you want to thank me, Miki-san, then make sure you make good films. Films that are Japanese."

"That has never been a problem with me," Miki said with a grin. "This one was written by an American, but when I am through with it, it will be thoroughly Japanese."

---

Hiroshima


Saeki-ku Ward
11:45 PM


"Sixty thousand yen."

Abe Dokuro looked at the young man in the knock-off sharkskin suit and sunglasses. They were in the back alley behind a noodle shop, neon lights reflecting off the boy's dark lenses. Even though it was less than a kilometer away, the Saeki Ward was as far from the nightlife and hostess clubs of Naka as you could get. It was a rough neighborhood were working class rubbed shoulders with the criminals and petty grifters. Ghettos, they were called in English. Saeki was the ghetto. It was also where he'd been raised. To the Abe brothers, the ghetto was home.

The boy cradled in his hands, what appeared to be a Colt M1911 in good condition. Abe preferred American guns when he could get them. He chose quality over patriotism every time. In Japan, it was illegal for civilians to carry handguns. Military and police could carry them, but everyone else could only have rifles and shotguns after a lengthy screening process. Normally the Yakuza had a pipeline to weapons thanks to Chinese smugglers and IJA officers willing to look the way for extra yen in their pockets. But there was no way Goro would give Abe a weapon. Not after tonight. So he was having to resort to this: A kid pretending to be Yakuza.

"Here," Abe said, passing him the money.

The kid slid it into his breast pocket and smiled before he turned the gun on Abe.

"Thanks. Give me the rest of your money."

Abe looked down the barrel of the gun. He quickly turned his head to the right, causing the kid to look in that direction. Abe struck him with the open palm of his right hand. The gun jerked up and went off, a bullet whizzing past Abe's ear. The kid yelled as Abe jerked the gun from his hand.

"You little shit," Abe said as he struck the boy across the forehead with the butt of the pistol. "I was going to pay you."

He fell on the ground and his sunglasses clattered on the pavement somewhere. Abe pinned him down by placing his knees on the kid's shoulders. With Abe's left hand holding the gun on the boy, his right hand jerked the sixty thousand yen from the kid's jacket and put it back into his own pocket.

"At least I know the gun works," he said.

"Please," he pleaded. "Don't hurt me."

Abe flashed his tattoos at the boy. The kid's eyes went wide in recognition. Abe felt him starting to shake underneath his knees.

"If you want to play Yakuza, boy, at least look the part better."

Abe aimed the gun on the boy's head.

"Please don't hurt me. T-t-there's no more bullets in the pistol."

Abe ejected the magazine and looked in. He was right. The magazine was empty, as was the Colt's chamber.

"I can still bash your head in with it," he said, flipping the gun so that he held it like a club. "You're just lucky that I'm in a forgiving mood tonight. Answer me one quick question: The Koreans and the other foreigner gangsters. Where do they congregate?"
Scotland Yard
11:05 PM


DI Rory McEntyre sat at his desk and rubbed his calloused hands over his face. It had only been twelve hours ago that he was here, but it felt like twelve lifetimes had passed since. The robbery at the cooperage ended up all bollocksed. One was arrested, one escaped with the loot, and the rest were dead. The one they had wasn’t talking and wouldn’t talk. He’d take the prison time and tell the coppers to jog on. He was what the criminal underworld called a stand-up guy.

McEntyre searched his pockets for his pack of cigarettes. He found them and his lighter in a jacket pocket. After lighting up, he looked over at the super’s office. The door was closed, but he could see the lights were on from the crack beneath the door. The old man would probably be here all night, reviewing cases and files and intelligence reports. As big as the robbery at the cooperage was, it was a simple sideshow compared to Wembley. The old man missed big time on that regard. Although, the grass was to blame and not Brown. The intelligence had been sound. Just the scope of it was off.

He stood up and walked towards the guv’s office, gently rapping on the frame.

“Enter.”

Brown was behind his desk, a pair of thick reading glasses squarely on his. Open folders were stretched out on the surface. On the guv’s chalkboard was a map of Wembley tapped to it with notes in the margin. McEntyre caught a quick glance of a timeline scribbled down the side of the board.

“I think our young friend Cecil is in on it.”

“You reckon?” asked McEntyre.

“He said something to me earlier today. Talked about how the robber was tossing bags out the window. He couldn’t give us a good description of our man. Even though he was with him the longest of anyone. But he talked about the cash going out the window. That implies he was watching our man mighty hard.”

“So he’s lying. Maybe he’s afraid to cooperate for fear of the robber coming back. That wouldn’t shock me. The thing that I wonder is if he was watching, then why he didn’t get the bash in the skull like the girl got?”

Brown nodded in agreement and stood. He walked towards the board, grabbing a chunk of chalk as he did so. He drew an X on the map with chalk.

“Our fake bobbie knew exactly where to go to meet Cecil. A door that is normally guarded,” Brown. gesturing.

“The security guard said that he was called to the stands. Something about a nutter throwing around poppers.”

Brown tapped the chalk at his timeline, near the end of the match.
“Exactly. The moment the security guard walks away, Cecil comes out that door. An employee with the right keys to get to the count room, an employee that even knows where that room is. The management said that of the some hundred odd people who work at Wembley, most of them have no idea where the money is kept. So what are the odds that one of the few employees they need just so happens to walk out that door?”

“Too high for me to take,” said McEntyre. “Did anybody follow up on the nutter?”

“According to the security at their little makeshift jail, our nutter was conveniently taken into police custody. Nobody at any of the stations around Wembley reported a man being booked on charges of mischief and disturbance at the stadium.”

It dawned on McEntyre.

“It was him.Our robber. He plucked his distraction out of jail and they escaped.”

Brown pointed back at the timeline and started his summation.

“My working theory is this: Distraction pulls stadium security to the stands. Our robber goes into the count room with Cecil’s help, be it willing or unwilling that’s yet to be determined. He loads up and tosses it out the window to an awaiting party. If he’s dressed up like a copper, then whoever is on the ground is probably dressed either the same or similar. Nobody in England questions a man in a uniform who looks like he belongs. The robber slips out, after braining the girl, The distraction gets nicked and goes in to stadium jail or whatever it’s called. The faux bobby shows up and gets his friend out of jail while the other half of the group, the one with the score, drive off.”

“Jesus,” said McEntyre. “It’s cheeky as hell, guv.”

“It’s them,” said Brown. “The robbery crew nobody believes exists. It’s bold, brilliant. And if not for the dead girl, it’d be flawless. They’ve finally stepped in the shit.”

McEntyre looked at the old man. There was conviction in those eyes. People in the Met used the Boogie’s as proof that Brown was slipping. But, the previous conversation showed the inspector that the guv wasn’t slipping at all. He was as sharp as ever. And… he was right.

“Next step, sir?” McEntyre asked. The day had been long, but he was suddenly not so tired.

“Where’s your squad?”

“Out trying to get in touch with their grasses,” he said with a grin. “Case like this, it’s round up the usual suspects time.”

“Let’s go bring Cecil in,” Brown removed his reading glasses. “We’ll say he’s going into protective custody, which isn’t a complete lie. We’ll protect him and interrogate him.”

The old man’s cheeky smile was like a shot in the arm. It was theory and conjecture, but damn if it wasn’t a solid one. The Boogies, which had only been a fantasy in McEntyre’s mind a few minutes ago, was now realer than ever. And well within the Met’s grasp.

“I’ll drive,” said Brown.

--

Lignum Vitae Ltd.
Fulham, London
11:06 PM


Charlie felt the smooth skin above his lip once more to make sure he hadn’t missed any spots. Satisfied, he placed his razor and shaving cream back inside the shaving kit and stepped out of the small water closet. Coach and Bobbie were long gone. Charlie and Red would both settle into the small studio flat was just a step above a bedsit. One of them would sleep on the Murphy bed hidden in the closet while the other on the lumpy sofa. Coach once made a joke about them getting bunk beds and Charlie conceded it wasn't a terrible idea.

He was sitting on the sofa reading when Red came in. Charlie knew right away something was wrong. Red was usually loose and jovial after a successful job. Now, he was tense and he had a sour look on his face. Charlie looked up from his book and raised an eyebrow.

"You look like you smelled shit."

"I have," said Red. "It's the big pile of it you stepped in."

Charlie tossed his book onto the sofa and stood.

"What are you on about?"

"There was a girl in the counting room," said Red. "You hit her upside the head."

"Yeah," said Charlie. "She was eyeballing me. The rest of them were keeping their eyes on the ground like I said. But she was watching and remembering so I had to get her to stop. I hit her across the noggin with my gun and--"

"Killed her."

"What?" Charlie asked with a scowl.

"You fucking killed her. She bled out internally from the knock."

"FUCK!"

Charlie ran his hands through his head and started to pace the floors of the flat. He knew that a civilian getting killed elevated things. The heat was already going to be massive thanks to the scope of the robbery, but the girl changed things. The coppers would be after them even more now that someone was dead.

"Why didn't she fucking listen to me?" Charlie asked aloud. "It's her own goddamn fault she died. If the bitch had stopped looking at me--"

"Steady on," said Red. "You fucked up. Make that, we fucked up. Not just you. The heat is gonna take awhile. But if we lay low and don't make noise, it'll pass. It always does."

"What about your man?" Charlie asked. "Cecil. You said he'd stand tall when Old Bill came 'round. What about now?"

Red shrugged and groped for something in his pants. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and started to slide on into his mouth.

"He's pissed. He fancied the girl. He blames you for it. I don't think he's in any state to be questioned again. Coppers get near him, they're gonna smell blood in the water."

"Little wanker."

Red exhaled smoke from his nose and kept a passive look on his face.

"I'm getting him out of the country tomorrow." He raised his hands when he saw the questioning look on Charlie's face. "The money I need will be out of my share."

Charlie nodded and bummed a smoke off Red. Suddenly, these walls felt very tight and small. Even tighter and smaller than usual. He could hear a ticking clock from somewhere close. Cecil out of the country wasn't a sure thing. He could be eventually picked up and brought back. Murder charges never went away.

"I'm going out," said Charlie.

"We're laying low."

"Just to the pub up the road," Charlie flashed a reassuring smile. "I need a drink after this shit. Wanna come with?"

"No," said Red. "Think I'll stay in."

Charlie was relieved. The offer had been a bluff and Red hadn't called it. He finished up his cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray.

"I'll lay low, mind my P's and Q's, and be back before close."

Red grunted, already lost in thought. Charlie went to the coat rack where he kept his jacket and shoulder holster. He quietly slipped the gun out the holster before he put on the jacket. He slipped the gun into his jacket pocket and walked out into the night.
American Interlude


Chicago


Chicago Amphitheater
8:21 PM


Bob Baker limped out on to the stage and waved at the standing audience. He'd won by acclamation on the first ballot. Before the start of the convention Baker and Justice Houghton had a sit down between the two front runners to decide conduct. Both men agreed that the winner would win on the first ballot and as quickly as possible. Both of them wanted to be president, but both had their current positions to fall back on, Bob with the governorship in Ohio and Houghton with the Supreme Court. Both men agreed there was always '64 or '68. All the GOP chieftains reluctantly agreed, though some were disappointed that they wouldn't be wheeling and dealing this year. After the shitshow that had been LA, the Republicans wanted to show the voters how a national convention worked. Once Bob started rolling up the early states Houghton saw the writing on the wall. He released the delegates sworn to him and Baker was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote.

"Thank you!"

Bob's wife and two adult sons stepped on to the stage behind him and joined him. He hugged his boys and kissed his wife before he turned away from them. While they continued to celebrate, he addressed the crowd as they began to settle down.

"I am honored by the confidence the party has in me. I shall do my best to be the good steward this party needs in the coming months and hopefully years. One hundred years ago, in this very city, the Republicans nominated a man who once said that 'a house divided against itself cannot stand.' While his words addressed an issue we no longer face, they are still words that ring true in our modern political climate. We are in the midst of crisis in our government. We still strive for that famous, shining city on the hill that a famous Pilgrim once spoke of. But we have become bogged down in partisan politics and the seeking of power for power's sake. The feeling of unity we faced after the war has faded away and sectionalism is back.

"I do not believe that there is a Southern America, or a Conservative America, or a Negro America. I think there is only one America. A united America, all with the same hopes and wishes, the same concerns and fears. And as president, that is the America I will work for. That is the America I will fight for. That is the America I will lead into a new era of national and international prosperity. It will be a prosperity that will unite, a prosperity that will raise all Americans up like the rising tide raises all ships. It will be a prosperity that will let the world know that these next forty years shall be years where America leads the way and the world follows."

---

Savannah


Tybee Island
8:34 PM


"Bullshit."

Russell Reed sipped scotch from a tumbler and watched the speech in Chicago on a special TV hookup in his hotel room. He was alone in the hotel room. His wife and kids and grandkids were downstairs in the hotel dining room, awaiting his arrival for the farewell dinner. The tenth annual Reed Family Vacation had been truncated to compensate for his campaign schedule. Instead of the usual two weeks on Tybee, they settled for five days while Russell campaigned in the South before and after the trip.

It wasn't hard campaigning in this part of the country. As a Southerner, there was no way in hell he could lose the Southern vote. Earlier this week he'd stood on the steps of the statehouse in Savannah and promised to re-segregate Atlanta, something that drew a five minute standing ovation. For almost twenty years, Savannah had been the seat of state government because of the federal mandate in Atlanta. Savannah had thrived. By contrast, Atlanta was a giant slum that no white people would ever visit. Negroes from all over America held it up as some kind of paradise, Negrotown they called it. The intentions had been well-minded, but it ended up a complete failure. Time to throw in the towel and admit the experiment hadn't worked. When white people and their money came back, the city would rebound.

Russell turned away from the TV when he heard the phone ringing. He stood and padded across the carpet towards the nightstand.

"Hello?"

"Good evening, Mr. Vice President," said the operator. "I have a direct call for you from... Adidas Bobby?"

"What?" Russell asked.

"Africa, sir."

"Oh," said Russell. "Addis Ababa. Is it Mr. Bacon?"

"Yes, sir. Shall I put him through?"

Russell said yes and waited several seconds. There was complete silence. Russell began to ask if he'd been disconnected when he heard clicks and a voice on the other end of the line, distant but his thick Southern accent left little room for debate on who it was.

"How the hell are ya, Russ? Congratulations on the nomination!"

"Jeff! Thank you, sir. We're in Savannah, so you know where' doing fine. How's Africa?"

"Something else for sure," he said with a booming laugh. "You need to come here when you're president. You'll get a kick out of all this crazy shit."

"What time is it over there?"

"Getting close to four in the morning. It's late, but I wanted to tell you first before I wired the state department. We brokered a deal with their emperor. As long as the Carnahans live up to their part of the deal, that is."

"I'll walk that bill through Congress myself if I have to," said Russell. "What about the other end of the deal? Their silence?"

"He's agreed to it."

"Do you trust him?"

"His Excellency is an odd duck, that's for damn sure, but he's a man of his word."

Russell breathed a bit easy. It was a dilemma for sure. He debated with his campaign manager about letting the news slip out, a scandal he was already in the process of fixing. We it was announced he brokered a deal, then it would make him look good. But the deal they came to wasn't a good thing. It'd look like a government payoff to Ethiopia for something the Emperor's own damn sister had started. It would make them look weak.

"Good. We can rest easy then. How's the family?"

Russell and Bacon spoke several more minutes about their respective families. He'd known Bacon a long time, they served as junior congressmen together thirty years ago. While Russell chased higher office, Bacon chased the dollars. Eventually he used his connections as a lobbyist and became a major player on Capitol Hill. After the election, he'd used a great deal of that influence to get himself appointed ambassador to the Ethiopian Empire. Of all the countries, that's what he chose. It never made any since to Russell.

After saying his goodbyes to Bacon, Russell walked across the room and watched the television. Baker and his family were still celebrating on stage. Russell laughed and turned the TV off before starting towards the hotel's door. He still needed to spend time with his family before he started back campaigning. Once he started back, he'd be a ghost for the next three and a half months.

---

Washington D.C.


The White House
12:05 AM


Michael Norman looked out at the lights of Washington from the Lincoln Bedroom. His wife slept soundly in the four-poster bed while he stood at the window. He'd been warned about how bad D.C. was before he arrived. They were messing with him, he figured. Playing up its image as a cutthroat town to try to get in his head. He'd laughed it off.

But then he lost the nomination. To his own goddamn vice president. The first time it had happened in the history of US elections. He'd also been warned about Russell Reed. He was a master at underhanded schemes and backroom deals. But there was no way Michael could have carried the south without him. So he let Reed become the Veep, but he kept him at arm's length and tried not to let him get too close to events. That distance had given the son of a bitch room to outmaneuver him. Lame duck. That word kept running through his mind. That's what he was. A lame duck. But that didn't mean a lame duck couldn't be dangerous.

With a look back at his wife, Michael shuffled out the bedroom in his slippers and walked through the halls of the White House. The Secret Service agent by the bedroom door followed him through the corridors and downstairs until they were in the Oval Office. Michael sat down behind the big wooden desk Queen Victoria had given to America when Rutherford B. Hayes was president. He found what he was looking for in the top drawer.

Jefferson Davis Bacon's communique from the State Department arrived just as the Normans were finishing up dinner. He read it over and was pleased with the results. The ambassador had adverted a diplomatic crisis and managed to obtain the Emperor's silence. There would be no editorials about America paying off Ethiopia and kowtowing to the African nation. Scandal averted.

But Michael was a lame duck. Who cared if his administration caused a scandal? It wouldn't hurt him. There was only one person it could hurt: Russell Reed. Michael placed the telegram on his desk and picked up the phone.

"White House operations board."

"It's the President."

"What can I do for you, sir?"

"There's a Washington Post reporter named Traci Lord. I know it's late, but I need to get in contact with her."


Siberia


"The Farm"
2:14 PM


Dr. Yamada Kenji looked through the two-way mirror while his men worked. A metal table was the only object in the room. Yamada's side of the mirror was as equally spartan. He sat a plain wooden desk with nothing on it, save for the doctor's pocket watch and pack of cigarettes. Behind him were five young men in lab coats with clipboards and pencils. Yamada reached into the breast pocket of his lab coat and removed the well-worn notebook and stubbly pencil. He licked the tip of the pencil while he flipped through the pages towards the back of the notebook. He quickly jotted down the day's date. The twenty-second day of the seventh month of the tenth year of Chikara, the top of the sheet read in neat Kanji script.

Through the glass, two scientists in white lab coats and gas masks were busy strapping a Russian to the metal table. The Russian was naked, his pale and hairy body reflected harsh in the bright lights above. His eyes were glazed over from the sedative he'd been injected with. They had to use a double dose on the monster to get him to finally call down. At two meters tall, he towered over his Japanese captors. It'd taken nearly a dozen men with batons to get the brute down on his knees for the injection.

Once they were done, one of the men signaled to Yamada that they were finished with a quick thumbs up gesture. They hurried out the room and shut the large metal door with the wheel on it. The wheel spun as the vacuum seal suctioned itself into place and left the observation room airtight. Yamada made quick notations on the page about the Russians approximate height and weight before turning to his pocket watch.

Precisely a minute after the door had been sealed, gas would seep into the room from overhead vents. Yamada would not see it, neither would the Russian. He would smell it, but by then it was too late. Really, it had been too late for the man the second the guards came to his cell. Yamda wasn't exactly sure what the gas was comprised off. He was a psychologist and neurologists but not a chemist. He had a basic understanding that the cocktail in question was a powerful thiophosphonate but that was it really. The Russian began to feel the effects of the gas quickly. Yamada looked down at his pocket watch and noted the time as he wrote his other observations. Behind him, the other men scribbled their own notes.

Thirty seconds before symptoms.
Hyperventilating.
Vomiting and dry heaving.
Evacuating of bowels and bladder.
Intense muscle spasms.
Blue face.
Complete body spasms.
Death(?)
Elapsed time: two minutes.


Yamada closed his notebook. The Russian was dead, there was no question about that. His face was now completely black, his tongue a bright yellow. The junior scientists behind him wrote notes and softly spoke among themselves. Yamada held up the notebook. One of the men bowed and said his thanks as he took the battered book from his hands.

"Last page," said Yamada. "Write up my observations. Collect everyone's notes and tag them with the subject's medical history. File it with the rest."

The young man shuffled off with the notebook and the notes from the others. Every page in Yamada's book was another Russian. They had either been gassed, vivisected, impregnated, given a venereal disease, or exposed to the new biological weapons the Empire were creating. These men and women had no honor. Their surrender had negated any honor they had held. This was how they regained it. Each one of them did their patriotic duty, Yamada thought. Sacrificing their lives to help the Empire progress. They weren't Japanese by birth, but in their last moments the doctor thought of them as honorary Japanese.

Yamada reached for his cigarettes and lit a fresh one. He took his time, watching as two soldiers in gas masks entered the room and removed the dead body. They'd toss it into the incinerator along with the others who died every day. The young men watched their mentor intently as he flicked ashes on to the floor.

"Let's run it again," he told his staff. They all started to bustle through the room, taking notes and hanging on to his every word. "With another male of comparable height and weight to the last subject. Increase the dosage. I want to see if we can get our time down to under a minute flat between first inhalation and complete termination of all biological functions."
The Oyster Gentleman’s Club
Bow, London


Charlie pulled the car to the side of the street and turned it off. He and Red climbed out and walked to the car's boot. Fireworks were going off from somewhere close by. Two men rushed down the sidewalk, each one waving English flags as they drunkenly sang "God Save The Queen." Charlie and Red were used to seeing the sight by now. The drive over from Peckham took twice as long thanks to the celebration in the streets. Red opened the boot and took the bag out, slinging it over his shoulder.

“Don’t lose your head in there," he said. "You know what the Twins are like, Albie especially. They’ll take any opportunity to fill some poor sap with holes – even if England have just won the World Cup and that sap comes bearing gifts.”

Charlie stuck an unlit cigarette in his mouth and scowled. “Alright. You don’t need to tell me twice. Let's go.”

They walked up to the entrance of the club. A gorilla in a tux stopped and frisked them. After making sure they were free of weapons, another man in a tux led them inside. Though not a gorilla, he was distinctly Cro-Magnon in his features. He popped a pair of hairy knuckles as Red and Charlie followed him across plush red carpet.

To their left, a half filled room of men sat at ornate tables and watched a woman dance on stage to "Paint it Black." She was curvy and topless, a pair of star-shaped pasties covering her nipples as she swayed to the song. Charlie chalked up the low attendance to the game.

They followed the caveman to the backroom. It was set up like a miniature version of the main room. A mini stage with a pole sat on the far end of the room. On the other end was a large table. Sitting at the table were the underworld kings of South London. Alan and Albie Binney, twin reflections of each other. Only Albie's glasses helped tell the two men apart. Their older brother Frank sat at his own table by himself, watching but not speaking. Albie smiled brightly at the sight of Red and Charlie. Alan, for his part, was engrossed in a plate of steak and vegetables.

“Well, well, well," said Albie. "If it isn’t the infamous Red Turner and his hired gun. Come to share in the revelries, have you boys?”

“We’ve come to pay our respects, Mr. Binney,” said Charlie.

“Shame. It’s always all business, all the time with your lot, Turner. That’s your problem. A man needs friends in this world, y’know? What’s the saying, Alan?”

“No man is an island,” Alan grunted, his mouth full of meat.

“That’s right. No man is an island. I thought you of all people would understand that.”

“Here,” said Red, passing the bag to the caveman who tilted it on the Binney Twins' table, stacks of cash spilling out.

Alan paused from his food to admire the money. “This is quite the haul.”

“It’s all there,” said Red.

Albie motioned towards his older brother. “Frank, come make sure our associates here aren’t trying to pull a fast one on us, would you?”

Frank stayed where he was. He made eye contact with Red and nodded. “He’s telling the truth, Alan.”

Alan pushed his plate away and looked up at Red and Charlie. “Congratulations on a job well done, gentlemen. See to it that motor you borrowed doesn’t end up out on the road again. Take it back to the geezer. He’ll know what to do with it.”

Albie broke in with a complete non-sequitur as he looked at Charlie, a soft smile on his lips.

“Turner ever tell you how he got his nickname, boy?”

“I suppose it’s on account of his hair,” said Charlie.

Albie laughed and turned his gaze to Red. “That’s cute. No, no, old Turner being a ginger has nothing to do with it, hard as that is to believe. There’s more to it than that.”

Frank stood up and started towards his brothers. “Let’s get some more girls over here and leave the past in the past, shal-”

“You shut that mouth of yours, Frank," said Albie, murderous anger in his eyes. "Or so help me God, I’ll shut it for you.”

“You heard my brother,” Alan sighed, rubbing his now full stomach. “Don’t leave the boy in suspense, Albie.”

Albie nodded his thanks to Alan. His anger had left as quickly as it had come. And why wouldn't it? He was back holding court, every eye int he room on his as he told the tale.

“Before my brother and I became the all-singing, all-dancing kings of East London that you see before you, we used to work for a fella named Donoghue. I’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of the cunt, because he didn’t go about his business with quite the same panache as my brother and I. This must have been about a decade or so back – things were done a lot quieter back then, y’see.”

“A lot quieter,” Alan said as he picked his teeth.

Albie's face flashed annoyance at the interruption. He glanced over at his brother to make sure he was done before he pressed on. “Anyway, whatever old Donoghue asked of us, we did. Some wog is pushing drugs near a school, we make it so that wog never uses his hands again. Some unlucky bastard happens to shag one of Donoghue’s birds, we make it so that he never shags anyone again. You get the deal. Well, back then your mate here worked under a different name. What was it, Alan? Frank Turner or something like that?”

“Near enough,” Alan called back. “I think it was Fred.”

“That’s the one!" Albie slammed his open palm on the table so hard that Charlie nearly flinched at it. "Old Freddy boy ran with a different crew back then – a slightly bigger one if memory serves. They pulled jobs all across London. They were professionals, too, never a single body on them. For his faults, I’ve always said that Red was a clever bastard. But see, kid, back then your mate was a little too clever for his own good. He was like that fella that flew too close to the Sun. He had’ta come crashing down to Earth at some point.

“Turner here made the mistake of trying to take a slice of old man Donoghue’s pie. Four robberies all at the same time at four different locations across East London – all done between nine of them. It was impressive, wasn’t it, Alan?”

“Real impressive.”

A playful grin slipped on to Albie's face as he spoke. “What he didn’t realise, of course, was that he had a grass in his team. Irish kid named Kinnear that was two hundred grand in the hole to Donoghue and didn’t like the sound of splitting the take nineways. Who could blame the poor sod? If I was two hundred grand in the hole to someone, I’d of done the same. Then again, I’d never end up two hundred grand in the hole to someone to begin with.”

Everyone in the room chuckled in agreement. Everyone that was, Charlie noticed, but Red. Red hadn't spoken, his jaw clenched and his eyes fixated on Albie Binney.

“Where was I?" Albie asked, before he nodded. "Yeah, Kinnear puts Donoghue on to Turner’s plan in the hopes the old man will write off his debt. Instead of going after the bastards before the deed is done, Donoghue lets it go ahead. He let’s Turner and his boys think they’ve struck gold for twenty-four hours before unleashing the forces of hell on the fuckers. Alan and I got four of the bastards personally. Who got the other three?”

Alan looked up and tried to remember. “I think Sparkie got the two Barrie boys. Not sure who got the other one.”

Albie shrugged, the murders too inconsequential for him to even remember. “Who the fuck cares? Anyway, that stupid mick Kinnear goes running to the Sweeney with his tail tucked between his legs. Must of figured Donoghue would go after him next. Silly move, that. The old man was many things, but he weren’t spiteful. Old Bill put Kinnear under police protection – reckon he thought he’d be given a new name and packaged off somewhere – but things were different then. Lots of unpaid overtime slips around, if you know what I mean?”

Alan looked at Charlie. “We caught up with your fearless leader in a safehouse in Rotherhithe. Guess he thought he’d be safe across the river in Richardson territory.”

Albie let out a soft chuckle. “Put the beating of a lifetime on him, too. Don’t get me wrong, kid, Red’s not a bad looking fellow, I’ll give him that much, but if you’d have seen him back then you’d of sworn he was an actor or something. Not sure you could say the same after we were done with him. I’ve never seen a nose look so broken before. Even slashed that pretty mouth of his up like it was a piece of pork. It was downright disgusting, wasn’t it, Alan?”

Alan belched and said, “Absolutely disgusting.”

"We really should be going," Red said through clenched teeth. "Still work to do. C'mon."

Red motioned for them to leave. But Charlie stayed right where he was, transfixed on the Binney Twins. They were everything Charlie wanted to be. More than just big shots, they were kingpins. If the Binneys snapped their fingers, both Red and Charlie would be dead and nobody would do a damn thing about it. Not since the kings of old had an individual held so much power. And Charlie wanted it.

“Why didn’t you kill him?” asked Charlie.

Albie furrowed his brow. “What?”

“Why’d you go to all that trouble if you weren’t going to kill him?” Charlie asked.

The twins traded looks, both of them smiling at each other before Albie looked back at Charlie. “Let’s just say he was more useful to Donoghue alive than he was dead,” Albie grinned. “A walking reminder as to what happens to you if you try to steal from the man in charge. That’s where the nickname comes from, y’see.”

“Caught red-handed,” said Alan.

Albie slipped his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Christ, that feels like a long time ago. When was that, Alan? ‘58? ‘59? It must have been around then because we did the old man not long afterwards.”

“‘56,” Red said coolly. “It was 1956.”

“He speaks,” Albie said with a laugh. “Have a drink with us,” Albie poured a glass of Scotch into a glass and offering it to Red with a cutting smile. “I insist.”

“Until next time, gentlemen.”

Red took Charlie's arm in his hand and led him out of there. He almost had to drag Charlie away. Finally, he followed behind Red and looked back just once at the Binneys, holding court and enveloped in power, before the door closed behind them.
Hiroshima


10:09 PM

It's not your hands searching slow in the dark, or your nails leaving love's watermark. It's not the way you talk me off the roof. Your questions like directions to the truth."

Dokuro Abe pulled out a pack of Red Apples and lit a fresh cigarette. He inhaled smoke and took in the surroundings of the nightclub. Girls in thigh high boots and miniskirts mingled with men at tables. Most of the men in the room were Japanese. A few of them were foreigners, Asians and westerners, who were clearly sailors. A young woman stood on the stage alone, strumming an acoustic guitar while she song in heavily accented English.

"It's knowing that this can't go on forever, likely one of us will have to spend some days alone.
Maybe we'll get forty years together. But one day I'll be gone. One day you'll be gone."

Abe expelled smoke and started through the club. The Naka-ku Ward served as the nightlife hub of Hiroshima, The Rose its crown jewel. All of the girls in the miniskirts and short shirts worked for the club. Their job was to get the men to buy the overpriced drinks and keep the party going. A man could easily walk out of the club after an hour, one thousand yen lighter.

He walked passed the tables and ignored the catcalls from the girls trying to get him to stop and buy them drinks. The heavyset man who guarded the door marked "MANAGEMENT" interested him far more. Abe stuck his cigarette in his mouth as he approached the man.

"I'm here to see Goro."

"No Goro here."

Abe smiled. The muscle cracked his knuckles. Abe saw that he was missing a pinkie finger and had to fight the urge to laugh. He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and showed off the tattooed forearms hiding under the fabric. The big man raised an eyebrow at the sight.

"Abe Dokuro. Shategashira for the Tokyo Inagawa-kai. Goro knows who I am. Now, let me see him before you have to preform yubitsume again and lose your other pinkie finger."

The guard bristled at the dressing down, but he finally turned and disappeared behind the door. A few moments later, the door opened and Abe stepped inside. Goro's large figure sat behind an even larger cherry desk, a cigar in his mouth. A topless Korean girl sat on the desk, her breasts in Goro's face. Four bodyguards were sprawled on chairs around the room, their eyes transfixed on Abe.

"If it isn't the Tokyo Terror," Goro said with a laugh. "Everyone, leave us to talk alone."

One of the bodyguards began to protest. Goro cut him off with a sharp rebuke. "I've known Abe for fifteen years. I'm sure he has murder on his mind, but not in my direction."

The bodyguards started to shuffle out, every one of them giving Abe a hard look before leaving. The Korean girl finally left once Goro pinched her nipple and swatted her on her ample rump. When it was only them, Goro stood and walked towards Abe.

"My friend, I am so sorry about your brother."

Goro embraced Abe in a bearhug and squeezed. It was a powerful squeeze. Years ago Goro had been a sumo. He'd never had the skill to go pro, but he was more than capable of beating the brains out of men who owed Yakuza money.

"Who did it?" Abe asked, the first words he'd actually spoke since entering. "How do I find them?"

"We know who did it," Goro said, retreating behind his desk. "A goddamn yobo."

Abe sat in one of the chairs a bodyguard had been sitting in. "Why did a Korean kill my brother?"

Goro shifted in his seat and sighed. "I've been keeping it quiet, but we are involved in a conflict with competition. Koreans and Taiwanese with Triad support have been flooding the streets of the city over the last year. They travel here on so-called work permits, but almost as soon as they get here they're pimping girls and trying to crash our rackets."

"Hideki was a casualty of this war, Goro?"

Goro nodded and apologized.

"He ran one of our soapland bathhouses. The yobos are targeting the Water Trade. They have at least a half dozen soaplands and hostess bars dotted through the city."

Abe took a long drag off his cigarette before he expelled smoke. "I hear a lot of talk, Goro. What I do not hear is a name."

Goro leaned forward and stabbed at the desk with his finger. "Please, Abe. Let me find this man. You shall kill him, but I am the boss of Hiroshima and you are my guest. Honor dictates that you kill him, but my reputation demands that I deliver him to you."

Abe sighed and stubbed his cigarette out in a nearby ashtray.

"I'll wait for you to find him," he lied. "But do not take too long."

"My men are out there as we speak," said Goro. "Let them do the hard work. Go to your brother's wife and arrange perpetration for Hideki's body.

Abe nodded but did not speak. A grin slipped on Goro's face. "Besides, you are back home. Big city Yakuza like you should relax and enjoy yourself... at least as much as you can at a time like this."

He nodded again and stood, turning towards the door.

"Abe, wait. Stay here. Enjoy the club and the girls. Drinks tonight are on me."

"Thank you," Abe said with a bow. "You are most gracious, Goro. But I have matters to attend to."

"Abe... Abe!"

He ignored Goro as he left the office and started back through the club towards the exit. The girl on stage was in the climax of her song.

"If we were vampires and death was a joke, we'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke. Laugh at all the lovers and their plans. I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand. Maybe time running out is a gift. I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift, and give you every second I can find and hope it isn't me who's left behind. One day I'll be gone, or one day you'll be gone."

The club broke out in polite applause. Abe looked over his shoulder at the club. Goro stood at the entrance to his office and watched him intently. Abe nodded at him before stepping out into the night.

---

Korea


Keijō

11:21 PM


Inspector Shinzo's stomach was in knots. He sat in the backseat of the chauffeured car as it navigated the streets of the Korean capital, worrying the band of his hat while his right leg shook. Shinzo was preparing to end his sixteen hour day when an urgent message came in to Kenpeitai headquarters. His presence was required at the General Government Building. Shinzo at least knew he would be be arrested or executed. When the Kenpei took you, it was always in the dead of night. K-Time, Shinzo and his colleagues called it. Always between three and five in the morning, when even the most dedicated night owl had bedded down for the night.

No, he was not worried about this being some governmental purge. Shinzo was worried that he was being called forth because something major was underway in Korea. Maybe there was an uprising in Pusan. Or maybe the Communists had finally invaded from the north. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before they tried to drive Japan off mainland Asia and consolidate their power. Perhaps tonight was the night.

The car came to a stop outside the building. Shinzo thanked the driver and stepped out. He slipped his hat on and looked up. The colonial capital was impressive sight, designed in a neo-classical style with a large dome that made it look far more western than any other building in Keijō. Shinzo quickly hurried up the steps towards the large metal doors leading inside. A guard met him at the entrance and said he was expected. He led Shinzo through thee empty marble halls of the building and up to the third floor office.

"Good evening," the Governor-General of Korea said, standing to meet Shinzo.

The inspector bowed so deeply it seemed that his nose was parallel with his knees. This was the first time he had ever met the man, a former prime minister of Japan now serving the Empire abroad. Shinzo rose and looked at the middle-aged man with his steel gray hair and jovial smile. He wore a tuxedo and bowtie. Around his neck dangled the Order of the Chrysanthemum pendent.

"Pardon my attire, Inspector. I was at a reception this evening when I was pulled away."

The governor motioned towards a chair in the ornate office. Shinzo sat and waited for the governor to sit behind his desk and get comfortable.

"I am also sorry to call you in so late. I myself was given the news late and I decided tonight would be the best to talk. During the day, the walls have ears here."

Shizno did another polite bow, adjusting his glasses as they slid down the bridge of his nose. "Yes, sir. I understand this better than most. How can I assist you?"

The governor placed his fingers together and formed a steeple with them. His brow furrowed in concentration.

"What I am to tell you is only to be shared between us, Inspector."

"But of course. I would not be in the Kenpeitei if I did not know how to keep secrets."

The governor nodded in agreement and laughed. "You have a reputation as an effective and discreet Kenpei officer. You have been chosen for an assignment that requires both. This comes from the highest corridors of power in the Empire. From Tokyo itself."

"Well, I am honored by your kind words and trust," Shinzo said, another slight bow.

"Soo Jung Kim," said the governor. "Approximately thirty-one. Just her name and age, Inspector. That was all that I was given. She is a Korean subject somewhere in the country. You are to find her and put her under Kenpei custody. Once that is accomplished, report back to me."

Shinzo bowed again. Their business done, the governor rose and escorted him out the office. The security guard who led him up led him back through the empty corridors. Shinzo remained silent, his thoughts on whatever it was he was being asked to do. He had only a name and an age. Finding a Kim in Korea would be like trying to find the right needle in a pile of needles. And what had she done that people in Tokyo were so interested in her? Shinzo would never be so bold as to ask. Fifteen years in this profession taught him that those who questioned too much were either fired and disgraced, or worst of all they simply disappeared. As if they had never existed.

"Good night, sir," the guard said as he opened the backdoor of the car Shinzo had arrived in.

"Thank you, good night to you."

Shinzo settled in as the car took off down the street. His driver looked up at him through the car's rearview mirror.

"Home, Inspector?"

"No. Back to headquarters. Drop me off and you can go home. I still have work to do."
Tokyo


Imperial Palace
12:51 PM


"Door pounding woke Sam up. The hangover pounding his temples was even worse. He reached across the bed to find a bottle that wasn't empty. No dice. He stumbled through empty bottles and crushed cans towards the front door. He still wore last night's clothes: an unknotted tie and rumpled shirt with pants that had just a hint of puke on them.

'Samuel Bennett?'

Two men at the door. Meatheads in black suits and sunglasses. Très goon chic. Sam leaned against the door frame. Sam cut odds he could take them. A long shot at best. Sucker's bet on that. Instead, he nodded and lit up a smoke.

'The same Samuel Bennett of Samuel Bennett Investigations?'

Sam blew smoke rings. 'The one and the same.'

'We need you to come with us, Mr. Bennett.'

Sam cleaned his nails and yawned. 'Why is it these things always start with two dickheads in suits wanting me to come with them?'

One of the meatheads cracked his knuckles. The other popped his neck. Flexing and posturing were punk moves. Sam knew the way to scare a man wasn't by cracking your knuckles. It was by cracking his bones. He laughed and shook his head.

'If you two gorillas can get me a stiff drink then I'll go wherever you want me to go.'"

--

Nobuhito looked up from his typewriter and rubbed his chin. Like with most of his writing, he knew where he wanted to go. He had a vague outline and general idea of the story beats and would fill those beats in as he went. This would be his fourth novel featuring Sam Bennett, a hard-drinking private investigator who worked in an unnamed American city. A cheap publishing firm in America had bought the manuscripts and printed them as twenty-five cent paperbacks. The name on the cover was that of H.B. Jamison, the pen name Nobuhito used for his work.

The publisher's had no idea who he really was. The manuscripts he sent out came from a Tokyo post office box, the same with the small checks they mailed to him. The checks, which he never bothered to cash so they still sat in the bottom drawer of his desk, all together probably amounted to less than five percent of what he spent each year as Emperor.

He put his fingers back on the typerwriter keys but stopped when he heard approaching footsteps. Kiddo's chubby face appeared through the door of his private office. Nobuhito felt a slight surge of annoyance at seeing his private secretary. It was well understood that for three hours after lunch he was not to be disturbed.

"Heika," he said with a bow and downcast eyes. "I am so sorry to interrupt your private time."

"What it is, Kiddo-kun?"

"It is Count Togai," said Kiddo, his eyes still staring at the floor. "He is insistent."

Nobuhito sighed and removed his reading glasses. He had hoped to finish at least the first three chapters of his latest novel. But it seemed as if the adventures of Sam Bennett would have to wait until tomorrow. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and nodded at Kiddo.

"Let him in."

"Heika," Togai said as he entered. He bowed, but not as deeply as Kiddo and he maintained eye contact with the Emperor. "How are you this afternoon?"

"Fine," Nobuhito said, removing the first page of his manuscript from the typewriter. "Taking some time away from work to write poetry."

"Ah, I'd love to read some."

Togai sat down in one of the two chairs facing the Emperor's desk. He crossed a long, thin leg over the other and placed his weathered hands on his knees. The old man was the only person in the Royal Family who could remember Emperor Meiji at the height of his power and the struggles that came with the Meiji's new vision for Japan.

"Maybe one day, Uncle," Nobuhito said with a smile. "Once I am confident any of it is good."

The count waved a wrinkled hand dismissively.

"I'm sure it is fine, Your Majesty."

The Emperor grunted and looked at Togai with a raised eyebrow.

"So, you wanted to see me? I assume this is some Genrō business?"

"Yes," the count said with a nod. "I just came from a very productive meeting with the Prime Minister and the military men."

"Oh?"

"Yes. The Communists are invading Russia. The war ministers think that now is the time to conquer the Philippines."

"Of course they do," Nobuhito said with a sigh. "And I assume Prime Minister Chiba was not of that opinion?"

"Correct."

The Emperor shook his head. This fall would mark the tenth year of his reign. The majority of that time he had been pressing for governmental change. Inspired by the model of western governments, he wanted all facets of the Imperial government be overseen and administered by the prime minister, a prime minister appointed and held accountable by the Emperor. Easier said that done, especially when it came to taking power away from the old men who had grown accustomed to it.

"Do you not think they are too eager?" the Emperor asked.

"They remember well the stings of our defeats in China," said Togai. "They are eager to make up for the humiliations. The conquering of the Russian territories helped, but with the Philippines we would have precious resources and dominate the South China Sea."

"You seem eager as well, Uncle."

Togai bowed his head. "Yes, I admit that I am. I remember the wars with the Qing and the Russians, back when we were an empire on the rise. Now we seem to be one of stagnation, Your Majesty. Our future is an uncertain one."

The count let his gaze linger on the Emperor. Nobuhito could feel his face warming as it flushed. He knew damn well what the old man was insinuating.

"Be careful, Uncle," he said after a long silence. "You will always be my wife's uncle, that will never change. But myGenrō I can easily change."

Now it was Toagi's turn to blush. This in anger instead of embarrassment. The old man's hands gripped his legs tightly and he slowly bower his head.

"A thousand apologies. I misspoke. I am just worried about the future. Six years of marriage and no child--"

"You do not need to remind me," the Emperor said curtly. "And is there anything else besides the Philippines idea?"

"No, Heika."

"Then you may leave. I shall hear a proposal from the war ministry about the Philippines when one is ready."

Toagi stood, bowing deep this time, and slowly exited the office. Nobuhito watched him leave and continued to stare off into space after he was gone. The old man was right to be worried. He and Kiko had yet to produce a child, let alone a boy who could become heir to the throne. He was the last male descendant of the line, his father's third son.

Nobuhito was never supposed to be an emperor. His two older brothers had went off and learned at the right hand of their father how to govern and how to rule. They had gone to school to learn about politics and the military. He had gone to school to learn literature. His oldest brother reigned as emperor for all of two years before he dropped dead of a heart defect. No children so the throne passed to middle brother Kazuo.

At the age of thirty, Nobuhito finally began to learn about how to be an emperor. It was at the suggestion of the royal family. It was a long shot, Kaz was young and healthy and he had just married a young woman who would give him lots of heirs. But as healthy as his older brother was, he wasn't invincible. Kaz and the Empress were on the way to the imperial retreat in the north when their plane crashed in the countryside.

He was in Korea on a goodwill tour when he got the news. The governor-general and his entire staff kneeled before him, everyone afraid to make eye contact. That was when Nobuhito knew he was in deep, deep trouble. The man who was never supposed to rule was now sitting on the Chrysanthemum Throne. The man who wrote detective novels in his free time now ruled over millions and decided the fate of an entire empire.

Sighing, Nobuhito turned back to his typewriter. H.B. Jamison didn't have to worry about wars and a teetering empire. All he had to worry about was meeting his deadline. Sam Bennett's gin-soaked world of pulp fiction was the emperor's escape. He was rough around the edges, but the square-jawed detective always saved the day and caught the bad guy.

--

"Sam sipped booze out of a paper-covered bottle. The stuff was cut-rate, but there was enough booze to stop the headache. He sat in a study filled with books. Sam thought of a book he read in school once, it had a rich guy and a big study filled with books that were never read. He stared hard at a liquor cabinet in one corner. The sight made his mouth water. Scotch, high-grade grain alcohol. The real deal. It put his cut-rate drink to shame."

---

Siberia


Urajiosutoku
11:34 AM


Nagumo flew the plane low over the hilly forest, the wings so close to touching the tree tops. He lined up the cargo truck in his sights and opened fire. The bullets ripped across the side of truck and sent a group of Russians scattering away from it. Nagumo pulled up and began to circle overhead. He could see a group of Japanese soldiers advancing on the truck, opening fire at the fleeing Russians. Above it all, Nagumo could see train tracks a few kilometers away from the dirt road where the truck was parked. He could see smoke off in the distance.

"Tempura Six to ground patrol," he said in the mic. "I have eyes on a rail line and what appears to be a locomotive approaching."

"Ground patrol to Tempura six, Confirm the locomotive," came the reply from the officer on the ground.

Nagumo flew higher and sped up. He saw a steam train traveling around the bend with a single boxcar attached to it. It was an older model, nothing like the gasoline powered trains the empire used today. It was technology befitting the Russians who had to steal and cobble together everything they had.

"If it's a friendly, it's one from the past. I think I found the Russians getaway vehicle."

"Roger that. Keep an eye on it and if you see Russians climbing aboard, open fire."

He copied and began to keep an eye on the action below. He saw gunfire erupting through the trees, inching closer and closer to the rail. Meanwhile, the train began to slow and expel steam as it arrived at what had to be a rendezvous point.

A few minutes later Japanese soldiers emerged from the treeline and opened fire on the train. Nagumo knew then that his part in all this was over. He had already started back to the city when he was ordered by air control to head back. He sped up and climbed higher and higher until the trees all blended together and the train and soldiers were long gone.

Over the horizon he saw the massive building complex located just twenty miles north of Urajiosutoku. It comprised twelve buildings, four giant eight story ones surrounded by eight smaller buildings. The eight small ones were barracks and bunks that housed prisoners and guards, the four large ones were the factories that helped keep the Japanese economy afloat.

Nobody had said it, but he knew the fleeing Russians had come from here. Officially it did not exist. Those that knew about it did not talk about it, but yet it was widely known by everyone in this part of Siberia. They called it The Farm. Like a lot of hard facts of Japanese life, they talked about it without actually talking about it. Everyone knew of the horrors that went on inside its barbed-wire fences.

Nagumo gave a half-hearted salute as he passed above The Farm. If it was as bad as they said, then Nagumo could at least sympathize with the escaping Russians. But they had surrendered and lost any claims they had to be treated as honorable men. Real soldiers died fighting or killed themselves before they could be captured. Cowards surrendered and were left to their fate.

He began final preparations to land and put the thoughts of The Farm out of his mind, focusing on landing without incident. He had work to do once he touched the ground. He had to write a report and be debriefed on what happened in the forest, schedules to review, daily logs to audit and mounds and mounds of paperwork. The life of a flyboy.

"Tempura Six to Ground Control," he said, keying his mic. "Requesting permission to begin final approach."

"Come on home, Tempura Six."
Tokyo


Metropolitan Police HQ
3:21 PM


Detective Inspector Matsumoto shook a cigarette free from his pack of Cornell's and passed it across the table to the man. Shin Nishimura's bald head gleamed in the harsh light of the interrogation room. Matusmoto supplied a match, Nishimura mumbling his thanks as he inhaled his first puff. Matsumoto glanced towards the two-way mirror on the far side of the room. He nodded while Nishmura's eyes kept darting up at the microphone bolted to the ceiling above their heads, and then againd own at the manila folder resting on the table between them. The folder, along with a glass ashtray, were the only items on the table.

"Western brand," Nishimura said, observing the cigarette and making a face.

"I served abroad in the Army," said Matsumoto. "In China, they were all over the place so I developed a taste for them."

Nishimura shook his head. "Give me Red Apples any day. But a man in my position cannot afford to be picky."

"You know why you are here," said Matsomoto. It was not a question.

Nishimura shrugged. "You think I did something."

"We know you have done something, Nishimura-san."

Matsumoto took time to light his own cigarette, ignoring Nishimura's further protests of innocence while he did so. He stayed silent and stared across the table at the man. He wasn't much to look at, Nishimura. Thin with a bald head and a beak like nose, a thick salt and pepper mustache resting underneath the large nose. Late thirties to early forties judging by the graying facial hair.

"Aiko Saito," Matsumoto finally said. "Does this name not sound familiar?"

Nishimura apologized and said, "It does not, Inspector."

"Perhaps you are better with faces than names?"

Matsumoto wedged his cigarette into his mouth and opened the folder. Inside were glossy black and white crime scene photos. A half-nude woman, stripped from the waist down, rested on the ground. Her arms were akimbo in the grass. The last few shots shots were in so tight it was easy to make out the marks encircling her neck.

"Meet Aiko Saito. Her body was found in a park in the Shibuya Ward two days ago. Does her face appear familiar?"

Nishimura shook his head. The fingers holding his cigarette began to tremble. Ashes fell on the table. Matsumoto closed the file and wiped ash from the table.

"The girl's mother reported that you would often call on her. As did her friends. The mother and the friends both say that you were promising the girl a job at the laundry you run. Is this not correct?"

"Yes," said Nishimura. He nodded vigorously. "I remember the girl now. She wanted a job at my laundry, yes. And I was in the process of creating an opening for her. But I have not seen her in several weeks."

"Did you offer her a job if she would have sex with you?"

"What? No. Inspector, I am a married man. I love my wife--"

"You wanted to fuck her," said Matusomoto. "But she was a virgin and she didn't want to. So you took it. You fucked her in her cunt. You fucked her in her ass. Then you killed her. You strangled her with your bare hands."

Nishimura dropped the cigarette on the table. "What? No, I didn't do that!"

Matsumoto stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray on the table. "Nishimura, you are a rapist and a murderer. You disgrace your race, your country, and your Heavenly Sovereign with your actions. You wanted to fuck her. Only, she didn't want to. So you took it. You fucked her in her cunt. You fucked her in her ass. Then you killed her. You strangled her with your bare hands."

"No! No! No!"

Nishmura began to openly weep and bang his hands on the table. Matsumoto sighed and stood up. He looked towards the mirror and nodded again. The door leading into the room swung open. Matsumoto's junior officers walked into the room. Six young men in cheap suits, the only thing their paltry salaries could provide for them. They each carried a bamboo cane in their hands. Nishimura sobbed at the sight.

Matsuomoto spoke over the man's sobs. "Nishimura-san, these fine young men serve me. We are Room #1 for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police's homicide division. We are the best."

The young men cheered, raising their canes in the air.

"In the year since I took over, we have solved every murder thrown our way."

Another cheer. Matsumoto smiled while Nishimura began to shake his head violently.

"I did not do it! I did not murder or rape anyone! Please believe me!"

Matsumoto nodded at the young men. Two of them moved the table out of their way while the rest walked forward with their canes. Nishimura began to scream as the young detectives lashed out.

---

4 PM

Nishimura smoked a fresh cigarette with bloody, shaking hands. One of the junior detectives had to light it for him and pass it across the table. Matsuomoto looked back over at the two-way mirror and nodded. He heard the buzz of the overhead microphone as it came on and started to record.

"Tell me about the girl."

"I wanted to fuck her," Nishimura said in a neutral voice. His face was a mass of welts and bruises. His shirt covered in blood. "Only she didn't want to."

"So what did you do?"

"So, I took it," he said. "I fucked her in her cunt. I fucked her in her ass. Then I killed her."

"How did you kill her?"

"Strangled her with my bare hands."

"Thank you for your cooperation, Nishimura-san."

Matsumoto stood and walked out of the room. One of the boys would see to it that Nishimura would be escorted to a cell for a hearty dinner and a chance to recover from the interrogation. With the confession, he would be hanged for his crimes in less than a month's times. The Empire had no use for criminals, murderers and rapists especially. The wheels of justice were fast moving. The quicker the criminals were put to death, the easier it was to move on from their crimes.

The incident had not been publicized, and neither would be Nishimura's arrest and execution. His death would be filed as a simple heart attack or cancer or natural causes, the same with the girl's murder. That was if either deaths were recorded at all. Statistically, the Empire had the lowest murder rate in the world, and Tokyo was heralded as the shining example of imperial efficiency. To be a subject of the empire was to be safe from things like hunger and murder. At least officially. The truth was, this case marked the twelfth one for Matsuomoto's room this year. His room was one of four, and the other Inspectors reported similar numbers for their rooms. That meant over fifty murders in Tokyo in seven months. Safest city in the world, indeed, thought Matsumoto.

Room #1 comprised of seven desks. There were three pairs of two desks facing each other. Matsumoto's desk sat in the corner, facing everyone else. Posters and bulletins written in Kanji and Kana were hung on the wall alongside wanted posters. The rest of his squad was busy processing Nishimura, so Matsumoto was surprised to see another man in the office.

"Superintendent Mori," Matsumoto said with a bow.

Mori leaned against Matsumoto's desk while he smoked a cigarette. The superintendent always wore a black suit and tie with a white shirt, something no one ever did unless they were attending a funeral. Everyone called Mori Andāteikā-- The Undertaker -- behind his back. His pale complexion didn't help combat the nickname.

"Congratulations are in order," said Mori. "I caught the end there, but I know what the results were. Another confession from Room #1."

Matsumoto bowed again. "Thank you, sir."

"I know you are still wrapping up one murder, but I need your expertise on something else."

Matsumoto raised an eyebrow. Mori sighed and blew smoke from his mouth and motioned to follow him. They left the office and climbed the stairs up to the eighth floor. Matsumoto had never been on this floor before, but he knew the offices of the Major Case Unit and Organized Crime Bureau were housed here. Mori led him to a room halfway down the corridor. It was almost like Matsumoto's office downstairs only bigger. Thirty-two desks were grouped together in pairs of four, while two supervisor's desk sat off to the side on opposite ends of the room. The only difference was the cork board.

"Take a look," said Mori.

Matsumoto stepped forward. Atop the board were photos of three young men. Under them were written their names, dates of birth, and dates of death. The youngest had been fifteen, the oldest nineteen. More information was pinned further down the board, autopsy reports and ballistic reports and field interrogation summaries.

"Three murders," said Matsumoto.

"Four," said Mori. "Another young man was gunned down last night."

Matsumoto nodded towards the board. "All in the last two months."

Mori grunted. "We are assembling a task force to investigate it. Homicide, Organized Crime, and Major Cases are all contributing men, and I have been chosen to lead. With your record, you are the best candidate to serve as my second in command. As soon as the paperwork on Nishimura is finished, Room #1 will report here until further notice."

Matsumoto bowed again. Inside he felt excitement, but the bow was for modesty sake. It would be unbecoming to laugh or smile or even celebrate in front of a superior.

"When do I start?" Matsumoto asked.

"Now Inspector." said Mori. He pointed to boxes stacked in the room's corner. "Start reading up on the last three murders."
@Letter Bee

Okinawa


3:30 AM

Fuji Shimabuku sat on the porch of the big house and looked down at the lights of the city. He couldn't sleep. He never could when he was back home. Home not just being Okinawa but here, the big house on the hill. The place was filled with ghosts from the past, ghost and a legacy he had always been trying to outrun. For over four hundred years, Fuji's ancestors had ruled the Ryukyu Islands. That run ended nearly a hundred years ago. The old kings of Ryukyu were now a distant memory to the world. But Fuji's family would never forget that they were once independent of the Heavenly Sovereign and all that he stood for.

He stepped off the porch and took one last look at the house. Fuji wouldn't be back home for months. The old man who served his parents as groundskeeper would make sure nobody broke into the place and ransacked it. Not that he would mind. The relics inside the house mattered very little to him. To his mother, they had been priceless treasures. She had a glass case mounted on the wall. Inside of it was piece of scroll some great-great grandfather or other had written a dispatch on. Swords of the old kings decorated whole walls along with photographs of them. The crown of the kings was on display in the parlor. It was a ridiculous looking thing with colorful beads running up and down it. To Fuji, it was like growing up in a museum. It was why he'd left as soon as he could.

Okinawa was quiet this time of night. At least this part of town. The majority of Fuji's crew were busy spending their money on all the pleasures of the red light district across town. That meant they'd be stumbling back to the boat, hungover and penniless and ready to put in work again. He couldn't expect much more out of them, really. They were a motley crew made up of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and a few oddball Asians from other places. He even had one American, an older man who claimed to have served in the US Navy during the Second Civil War.

Fuji passed through the market, now closed for the night. The vendor stalls were shuttered and locked. The markets here in Okinawa, along with all the markets in Taihoku and Manila, were how he made his money. All the vendors were hungry for product and didn't care where it came from. They didn't pay top dollar for it, but it was all profit from where Fuji and his men stood.

It took only a half hour to get to the docks. Like the majority of town, it was quiet. The boats moored to the dock all slowly bobbed with the currents coming in from the ocean. He found her in the slip where they'd docked three days ago. She wasn't much to look at, but the Arō was the closest thing Fuji had to a legacy. A real legacy and not some half-remembered stories and rusty swords. She wasn't much to look at. To the world at large, she appeared to be a rusty commercial shipper designed for roll-on/roll-off cargo. But the truth was her hold was filled with weapons, everything from belt-fed machine guns down to balasong knives. With a smile on his face, Fuji began to climb the netting on the side of the Arō. He was home at last.

Fuji saw no point of romanticizing the crown of the Ryukyu Kingdom. He had never known what it was like to rule Okinawa and he would never know that feeling, so why waste time on it? Besides, he wore another crown. This one was secret and could not be worn. There were no gaudy headdress with beads on it. It was not a crown given, but a crown taken. A crown earned.

Fuji Shimabuku was the pirate king of the South China Sea. He did not recognize no sovereign's authority but his own. He believed in no radical ideologies. His outlook was a simple one: I will take whatever I please until someone stops me.

---

Siberia


Urajiosutoku
10:00 AM


Lieutenant Commander Kishimoto Nagumo pulled back on the yoke of his plane and brought the craft off the ground. The Mitsubishi-R77's single engine roared as Nagumo made it climb higher and higher into the sky. The weather was perfect for flying, clear skies with only a few clouds off in the distance. With his free hand, he strapped on his oxygen mask while he elevated and banked the plane to the right.

The city below him came into view. It wasn't much to look at, none of the buildings were above twelve stories tall, and several were covered by construction crew scaffolding. Further down was the harbor and the waterfront with its boats. Merchant ships were gliding through the Golden Horn Bay towards the docks while an assortment of IJN ships were moored farther out to sea.

It had once been called Vladivostok by the Russians. After the Japanese conquest, it had been renamed Urajiosutoku. The city was still almost all Russian and Eurasian, the few Japanese that resided there were either military or government officials. Nagumo was one of them, calling the city home for the past five years. Everyone else always rotated back home after six months to a year, but Nagumo always stayed. He used what little leverage he had as a member of the Kazoku to block orders to return him. He had no desire to ever return to Japan again. There was nothing there for him except an old man's tired dreams.

Flying over the city, Nagumo pointed his plane towards the border. Most squadron leaders assigned their newest flyers to reconnaissance duty, and Nagumo was no different. But he also took at least one shift a week. It made him look good among the rest of the pilots, but it also gave him a chance to remember why he'd become a pilot in the first place. The sky was the great equalizer. Up here, things like military rank or noble standing didn't matter. It was just a man in a tube of metal, violating the laws of nature. And when it came to combat, nobody would show him deference because he was the son of the great count. And that's just how Nagumo wanted it.

He identified himself on the radio as a friendly as he entered Korean territory. The radio operated confirmed his identity and allowed him clearance in the clipped, bored cadence all air traffic controllers used regardless of their country of origin. Nagumo turned north and aimed his plane towards the Chinese border. Ostensibly, the patrols were to look for any potential attacks from the Cossack Mykhalov and his forces. But the naval high command always commanded the patrols skirt right to the edge of the Chinese border, as close to actually crossing over as the brass would dare. The unspoken message was clear: As vigilant as they had to be against Cossack raids, the Communists threat was never far away.

Nagumo flew through Korea parallel to the Chinese border. He saw the usual encampments both sides had built up near the border. As far as he could tell, the Chinese forces were the same as they always were out here. That seemed to fly in the face of the rumors he'd heard back in Urajiosutoku. According to some loose lipped sailors, the Chinese were massing their forces along the border in preparation of the invasion of Korea. Nagumo laughed to himself as he began to redirect back towards home. It wouldn't be the first time a sailor told tall tales, and there was no way it would be the last.

"Shogun to Tempura Six."

Nagumo raised an eyebrow and keyed the radio mic with his foot. Shogun was the call sign of the Amagi, Vice Admiral Hoga's carrier division flagship.

"Tempura Six," Nagumo replied. "Go ahead, Shogun."

"Air support is needed thirty miles north northeast of Urajiosutoku. Cossacks have a transport convoy pinned down and you're the only plane in the air we can dispatch."

"I'm on the way," said Nagumo. He redirected his course and increased the throttle on his plane. "Tempura Six out."

---

Tokyo


Prime Minister's Office
11:35 AM


"Intelligence sources inside China have confirmed that the Communists are preparing to invade Russia."

Inaba Chiba blinked rapidly in surprise. He sat the head of the big wooden conference table. Minister of War Aoki and the rest of the military clique sat to his left. Director Yamashita and the Kenpeitai delegation sat at his left.

The top secret meeting was supposed to have started right at eleven, but Aoki and the general staff were late. That didn't shock Aoki at all. In his two years as prime minister, every meeting Chiba had with them almost always started a half hour behind schedule. It was only a bit ironic that the men so renowned for their accuracy and precision could never keep an appointment. By contrast, Yamashita and his intelligence officers were always ten minutes early regardless of the circumstances. It was a comparison that seemed to sum up the differences between ruthless, autocratic, and unassuming Yamashita and the ostentatious generals who seemed to be more peacock than man.

"How solid is this?" General Ueda asked. "How much do you trust this information, Yamashita?"

"It's bedrock," Yamashita softly said. "A long time and valuable intelligence asset."

Chiba saw the three military men bristle in excitement. He knew exactly where they was about to head. He started to talk, only for Minister of War Aoki to shoot a bony finger forward.

"Then now is the time to strike south," he hissed. "If China keeps their eyes towards Russia, then no one will be watching the Philippines."

"We can begin to amass troops into Kyushu," said General Kubo. "Give me two months and I will have an expeditionary force ready to invade."

"That's rash," said Chiba. "Very rash, give how little we actually know. I know you all have had your sights set on the Philippines for years now--"

"With the Philippines, the Empire would have a major foothold in the South China Sea and a further inroad into Southeast Asia."

"We retracted from Russia because of over extension," said Chiba. "But now we're strong enough to take all the Philippine islands?"

"Russia is a quagmire," said Yamashita. "It's a vast land of quicksand. Watch as China gets sucked in. I am no expert on military affairs, but I will say that the Filipinos are much more open to submission than the Russians. They are a weak, confused people who took advantage of the United State's weakness and now think they are a major nation. Delusions of grandeur. I blame the Spanish influence."

"I do not disagree that the Filipinos can be easily bested," said Chiba. "I only worry about war with China."

General Kubo pushed out his chest in defiance.

"The Three Humiliations were a generation ago. All three of us know their stings well, we were junior officers at the time who have learned from our mistakes. The Communists do not stand a chance."

Chiba sighed and rubbed his temples. He knew it was fruitless to argue with the military clique about this. It was only though the Emperor's intervention five years ago that they did not continue deeper into Russia. There was a clear divide between the civilian and military sides of the cabinet, and Chiba did not have the authority to reign them in as prime minister. They all reported directly to the Heavenly Sovereign, and they all served at his the pleasure. Or, in reality, he served at the pleasure of the Genrō.

"Do you have any thoughts you'd like to add, Count Togai?"

All eyes fell on the far corner of the room. He'd been silent all through the meeting, but Count Ōkubo Togai had been intently observing. Befitting his status as the deity, the Emperor did not attend meetings. In his stead he sent the Count. As the Genrō, Togai was the power behind the throne. He was the closest advisor the Emperor had, and he was a fan of the military. There was speculation that Togai was the de facto ruler of the empire, making decisions in the Emperor's name. From what Chiba had witnessed of the Emperor, it would be a fair assessment to say that his imperial duties were not a top priority with the man.

"We must have a strong Japan," Togai croaked out. "The Heavenly Sovereign's ancestors have dictated that so goes Japan, so goes the rest of Asia and the world. The Communists have rose only because we have allowed them to. Either Asia will come under our control, or China's. A clash is inevitable, Prime Minister."

Chiba ground his teeth. He once learned a French word that summed up the meeting perfectly. Fait accompli. That was all this meeting was and Chiba was powerless to stop it.

"Very well," said Chiba. "Very well. Then it is decided. Just do not blame me when the Fourth Humiliation comes."
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