She had to yell over the raucous audience: "Before the great Pacific war, the Americans said, 'An innovative fighter plane stamped 'Made in Japan?' Ho Ho! The Japs can't fly-- they have no balance!" She held a handstand and the audience went wild, less patriotic fervor than the sight of her loose shirt opening to bare skin. She dropped, forward rolled and bounced back up to the hollering assembly of airplane workers -- boys, old men, asylum patients, students, communists, school girls, grandmothers - who drummed on long-empty oil tanks with spanners and glee. Dr. Ozumi sprang from behind a screen in his paper and balsa wood Zero airplane suit. He snarled and buzzed and made machine gun sounds. Toshi donned a leather pilot's cap painted with an American flag. She shrieked, "What am I gonna' do?!" in a broad American cowboy movie accent. They did a dog fight with outstretched arms. Dr. Ozumi closed in for the kill. Red paper streamers sprang from Toshi's sleeves and she went into a whining dive, exploding on the floor with a quiver of sheet metal behind a snapped open, fireball-orange parasol.
She took a low bow to wild applause while Dr. Ozumi brought out Uncle Sam. The puppet was four feet tall and had a swaying beard of milkweed floss. Ozumi was filled with the perfect happiness of once again sharing a stage with Toshi. She said, "As we struggled to make more and more, newer and better Zeros, the Americans were studying a near-intact Zero they had recovered to learn its secrets." Ozumi moved the Uncle Sam puppet stealthily across the stage where he scooped up a little Zero model and then scurried away.
Toshi's voice dropped to conspire: "How could it be so light? A skin of the new Duralumin! How could it be so strong? It has wings of a single center main spar! How could it fly so far? An extra fuel drop tank! But we were victims of early success. The Zero was never meant to perform unaltered for another 5 years, just as our army and navy were never meant to fight a protracted war!" Ozumi turned Uncle Sam around. The other side was a scowling bald man in a gray coat. A scar ran under his eye. Ozumi pointed and said, "When the police come to you and say, you must fight on, tell them, we must surrender! This is no time for false pride and hollow dreams! The Americans are coming! Peace is coming!" A tiny stooped grandmother near the stage rocked on her knees and exploded into cackling laughter. Her toothless black maw of a mouth looked ready to swallow a dozen policemen. The gallery exploded with clapping and cheers. Through the crowd a man in a gray coat approached Ozumi and Toshi. His name was Genda and he'd come from Tokyo to help. They arranged to meet the following morning. Genda smiled at the puppet and touched the scar under his own eye. Then he disappeared back into the crowd.
The next morning Genda joined Ozumi and Toshi for tea in Ozumi's work room. The far wall of glass suggested an observation window, but disclosed nothing save an unreadable blackness beyond.
Genda said, "There are many in the capital ready to join us. But first, please, I must know. Tell me how you began. Your puppets and airplane shows."
Ozumi said, "When the Pacific war began I was a doctor of philosophy. Teaching Aristotle and Kant did not seem …necessary. I had an amateur's delight in traditional puppet theater, and kamashebai picture stories, so…"
"And how did you two begin your association?"
Toshi busied herself with the tea. Ozumi said, "Toshi was my student. Her family died in a fire and she was badly injured.
My sister agreed to take her in. Once I developed my traveling plays and Toshi had recovered she offered to become my assistant. She speaks the worker's language. She has a thorough knowledge of the Zero fighter."
Genda had stopped listening. He took out a pocket notebook and flipped through densely filled pages. "Is there anything more you would care to add? No? All right, then. I don't intend this to be unpleasant, but my work demands it." He licked the pencil stub and began. "Before the war, Ozumi-san - or should I say Dr. Sataka? That is your real name, I believe?"
Dr. Ozumi blew on his tea. Genda continued, "Before the war, Sataka-san, you spent your days wandering through your teaching post at Shiga Technical College. You devoted most of your time to your magazine, Irregular Electricity Airplane Detective Stories. I was a high school student when it first appeared. I was one of your most devoted readers."
"As a devotee of westerners like Mr. Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Nicola Tesla and Flash Gordon, and our very own Juza Unno and Harai Taro, you also chaired a "Science and Spirit Association" of your colleagues called Dogura Magura (Abbra Cadabra) Society. You had the good fortune to be approached by the military: would you be interested in proposing a new area of research, generously funded by the new and controversial Navy Special Projects Division? Something along the lines of Ku-Go (microwave death ray) or Ka-Go (high-voltage disintegrator ray)? But you had something very different in mind; you wanted to know if Zeros --and other fighter planes-- were ... how can I put it? Alive? Then, unaccountably, you and a certain technical assistant named Yuki Tanaka simply… vanished. Poof. Dogura Magura. Zero."
Ozumi said, "You've been very thorough."
Genda turned to Toshi. "Before the war-Toshi Iura? Yuki Shindo? Which do you prefer?"
"My name is Toshi now."
"Very well, Toshi -- forgive my presumptuousness -- you were always an independent type, never quite fit in, no doubt the influence of your aunt and uncle, long time communists and opponents of the war. Where are they now, by the way?"
"Prison. I think you know that, too."
Genda's cheer was relentless. "With your background in electronics and metallurgy you were a natural choice as the doctor's 'technical assistant'. You both opposed the war and were determined to develop projects and show progress where little of either was possible. Your own little sabotage. Though I wonder, Toshi, if you know the sad truth about your doctor's Dogura Magura Society? How all of its members were arrested for treason? All except your doctor."
She sat and held her cup. Ozumi said to her, "I didn't realize…" Genda circled Ozumi's work table, hands clasped behind his back. His officious gaze roamed over the jumble of lenses, mirrors, motors, and masks. He stopped and picked up a small-headed ball peen hammer, patting it gently in his palm. "This imaginary work of yours was as difficult -- perhaps more difficult --than real work on the actual Zero. It seemed nothing was produced but your peculiar theatricals." Genda moved his hand over the plaster surface of the nearest wall, then tapped with the hammer every few inches. In a soft, careful voice he said, "It seemed nothing useful …Ah, here we are!" the tapping hit a hollow note. "I believe this is a false wall. You will please take it down."
Dr. Ozumi stood and gripped a wooden mallet from the table. With a few bangs he knocked free a set of thick wooden pegs along the bottom frame and lifted out a 6 foot square panel. He set it to the side as Genda inspected the long narrow space inside, filled with 12 black boxes the size and shape of caskets. Genda laughed and shook his head. "I thought I'd seen everything. You two are so original! Open these, please. It will go faster if you help, Toshi."
She bowed and joined the doctor. The lids were unattached to the box and lifted off easily. Genda waited until they were all open and then peered inside at the Zero Theater puppets within: the Genda puppet, and many uniformed prefecture police, secret police kempeitai, military police, army officials and plain-clothed men, presumably agents of the government. Dr. Ozumi said, "These boxes are based on the work of a German scientist named Wilhelm Reich. They are 'energy collectors,' so to speak. My particular work was on developing an adapted box that could fit into the cockpit of our Zero fighter. On test flights with Orgone Zeros, extraordinary and mysterious effects have been obtained in the process of completing certain aerial maneuvers. For example…"
Genda laughed. "With no real military application. And why are these 'psychic collectors' occupied by puppets? Am I witnessing some 'mumbo-jumbo'? Is this really my voodoo doll?"
Ozumi and Toshi were silent. Genda slapped his head in burlesque eureka. "So, you really are conjurers! Both of you! Tricksters!" His playful rebuke gave way to faux shock. "Artists. Mesmerists. Mountebanks. Shamans! And while all your followers are arrested, you two always escape! Please tell me how this is. Please. I am truly all ears. And starving, by the way."
Toshi bowed, left and quickly returned with a wooden tray of gray rice squeezed into china bowls. Genda ate while the others watched.
"Now. The puppets. Is this how you've disposed of agents?"
Ozumi said, "We haven't disposed of anyone. The workers fashion the puppets. The agents just…go away."
"I suppose you and the workers are changing the police into puppets, and then…what? Trapping their spirits in these energized boxes? Should I be afraid?"
Ozumi said, "That really is too fantastic, Genda san."
Genda touched his scar. "Yes, such detail. Fantastic. You've read Von Kleist on puppets, I imagine. He says, 'grace appears most purely in that bodily form that has either no consciousness at all, or an infinite one, which is to say, either in the puppet, or god'."
Ozumi stared. "You surprise me more and more."
Toshi said, "We don't believe in god, or gods."
"Oh, they don't need your belief to be real."
Ozumi sat and sipped at the cooling tea. Genda sighed. "I have to be frank. My superiors have ordered me to arrest both of you for repeated and flagrant violations of the Peace Preservation Act."
Toshi waited behind the mask of a cowed school girl. Genda went to the small brazier and fed the waning fire from a meager gathering of charcoal and mulched table legs. "Ah, better." He rubbed his hands and relished the heat, blowing on the embers. His face was bathed in a red glow. "One might think you are actually seeking the attention of the thought police with this treason."
Toshi said, "The war is lost. It's the truth."
"Oh, the truth. The truth is always treasonous. Many of my colleagues think you were both killed in a raid 6 months ago. This is the first time I've been invited to tea by ghosts." His voice dropped.
"Maybe there are many such invitations, if we only pay attention."
Ozumi reached under the work bench and hoisted a huge bottle of saki. "This ghost is certainly good for more than tea." Beside it he set out three more cups, a metal tripod and a battered pan. Toshi poured the saki into the pan and put it on the stand over the brazier to heat.