Soon they were breathing the loamy warm fumes. Genda accepted a steaming cup from Toshi and nodded to his hosts. After the 5th cup Genda rose languidly from the table and went to a large power box in the wall. He threw the switch. An electric buzz sounded and the dark window blazed with light. On the other side of the glass endless rows of ceiling sodium lights clacked on, one after another into the far recesses of a vast underground hanger beyond. Beneath the lights ranks of pristine gray-green Zero fighters in the hundreds stretched into the cavernous depths.
Genda nodded at the planes. "This is the real Dogura Magura! Raw materials cut off; fuel and parts almost gone; precision machines breaking down; our skilled workers dead; our surface factories pulverized and incinerated daily. Yet Nara 77 can do this…"
Ozumi said, "It's not what you think."
"It's exactly what I think. You know, I've been talking to the factory workers. An unusual group. Farmers and black-marketers. Korean laborers. Communists. Deserters. Lepers. Comfort women. Boys and old men. School girls. Grandmothers. Cripples. Lunatics. Spirit healers. Music hall entertainers. Ginza drug dealers. Bad poets. Even a contingent of designers and technicians from the Toho movie studios. Where on earth did you find them?"
"They found us."
"Do you know what they say? They say you two can speak to Zeros. Through your performances."
"Insane?" He didn't smile. "My superiors have ordered me to put these planes in the air."
"You have the pilots, and adequate fuel."
"We have students with --at best --five hours flying time. My puppets are better pilots. You know about our fuel."
"It's enough to fly them into the American ships. A force this size could surely turn the tide."
"So…stupid!" Toshi laughed, chill and bitter. They stared at her, both taken aback. She had a small compact body, all springs and coils and pounce. After drinking she walked like a proud man. She could settle into stillness like a cat at a window. Every morning she drank tea and drew in her sketchbook. She didn't draw from life. She drew imaginary machines, or engineering plans for dream projects. Once Ozumi found a self-portrait tucked in the back pages. Toshi had drawn herself even more disfigured. The welts and scars advanced across half her face, more tattoo than burn. He thought of masks from the northern islands. Or wires tangled behind control panels. She ate fast, and a lot. She drank as much. She was often silent, but when she talked it was a furious blizzard of regrets and rage. She gave Genda a radiant smile, shy curdled to coy. Ozumi saw his face reflected in the glass, flushed blood dark with jealousy. Her smile dangled pleasure in front of Genda's face, and threat over Ozumi's head.
Genda warmed to her display. "I can feel your bitterness."
"I'm not bitter." She was still smiling.
"First your parents in the fire. Your face. Then your aunt and uncle. Perhaps it feels like the entire country has gone mad."
"It doesn't feel that way. It is that way."
Genda shook his head. "I'm always amazed there are still people like you in Japan! How have you resisted the call of your country?"
She shrugged but kept still. Genda turned away and addressed Ozumi. "Please. We don't have much time. An international delegation will be here in two hours."
"The allied forces must know we are serious about peace, but a negotiated peace. A treaty that respects Japanese tradition and values. We are not negotiating from a position of weakness but of strength. Diplomatic envoys from The Soviet Union will return to the Americans to report what they see here."
"And just what will they see?"
"They'll see you, doctor. You and Toshi and our secret armada in the final performance of Theater Zero. The Russians will tell the Americans that Japan's underground industrial capacity has been untouched by their bombing raids."
Ozumi said, "After 4 years of war you still don't understand the Americans. Hearing that we have thousands of new planes will only confirm that we truly are the unyielding fanatics of their nightmares, who must be exterminated as a race."
Genda looked genuinely perplexed. "'Exterminated'? The Americans can firebomb our cities all they like, but our hidden factories are completely untouched. You know what else your people tell me? They say Zeros have a life of their own. They say our airplanes are angry, vengeful. But not at the enemy. They're angry at us, for denying them armor or modernization. For throwing them away with such contempt in suicide raids."
"Tsukumo-gami. The angry spirits of our thrown-away things."
"Precisely. Before, Tokyo dismissed it as folk superstition. But you and I know differently."
Ozumi went to the glass and motioned for Genda to follow. They went out the door and down a narrow cement corridor to another door of steel on a sliding track. The doctor turned three locks and pushed aside the door. They entered a long room in the shape of an acute triangle. The air was lacquered thick with the smell of wood, glue, paint and hot lights. The slanting walls, floor and ceiling converged to a point more than 200 feet from the door. To the right the near wall forming the base of the triangle held the other side of Ozumi's observation window. A viewer looking through the glass from Ozumi's loft saw into this meticulous miniature of a great airplane hangar. The floor was filled with hundreds of Zero airplane models running the length of its floor. To force the perspective even more the floor slanted up, the foreground model planes with a wingspan of over four feet, descending in size to 1/64ths of an inch for the most distant rows of fighters. Genda leaned over the canopy of the closest plane, murmuring admiration and extending his hand.
Ozumi said, "I would prefer you didn't. They're very delicate."
Genda showed a flicker of irritation but withdrew his hand. "How do you keep this secret? Haven't the observers ever asked to walk among the planes?"
"Access to the hanger must be strictly limited to ground crew and pilots. Security concerns."
Back in the workroom Genda stared through the glass. Again the vista of Zeros, again his small, tranquil smile. He leaned close in and rested his forehead on the glass, squinting sideways with one and then the other eye closed. "Optics. And mirrors. Incredible. I really admire what you've done here, doctor. I'm also a student of illusions, you see." He tapped the glass with a polished nail. "I'm thinking of some intriguing military applications." He returned to the table and said, "I'm going to meet the delegation now. You will be ready. I've prepared a script." He took some papers from inside his coat and dropped them on the table, bowed, and left.
Ozumi exhaled. "Now what?"
Toshi dropped to her knees before him. She wrapped her arms around his legs and rested her head in his lap. He stroked her hair. Hard water and Ozumi's uncertain barbering had made it a choppy, glorious mess. He kissed the tangle and said, "You realize this 'delegation' is probably a company of Imperial Army soldiers. From what I've heard they put farmers and communists only slightly above the Americans. And they'll kill for half a rice ball. We have to get everyone out."
"I've already told them. They're leaving now. Haven't you noticed the quiet?"
She got up, took Genda's papers and held them over the coals. A corner burned. Ozumi grabbed them and shook out the flame. He sat with another cup of the saki and Genda's script. Toshi kneaded his shoulders and read with him.
It began as a nationalist reworking of Theater Zero, meant to evoke - and invoke - some Japanese fantasia of the near and distant future: revive the old dream of a True Japanese Science, serve the Imperial Way, dictate to the tsukumo-gami spirits eternal fealty to the divine emperor:
Japan, starved for raw materials, its factories in shambles and its skilled work force dead has somehow managed to maintain a miraculous but totally inadequate production of the now obsolete Zero. But our manufacturing processes are less Western assembly line than 21st Century aggregation of modules, with many interchangeable parts, universal fittings, subcontracted components and team built, prefabricated sections. Every family is playing a part and building a part. Every school and shop, bathhouse and bar is a factory. There are no assembly lines. There are assembly circles, clusters, clubs and hives. Toshi's old neighborhood is cable city, control rod alley, wire ward, aileron alley, rivet road. Her old school is making giant balloons from thousands of glued together paper strips, bearing incendiary bombs aloft to attack the forests on the Pacific coast of the U.S. When a Zero whines overhead everyone sees a part of themselves banking silver to the sun. Our own sinew and bone, nerves and blood are the rods and struts, rivets and cylinders and oil that join together as one people, one machine over Nippon. School girls and students run make-shift factories, whip the boney oxen and starving horses dragging Zero wings and front and rear fuselage sections onto barges, pulled by local farmers through shallow canals for final unloading, reassembly and accident -prone flight.
As the surface of Japan is baked and glazed in firebombs and the war long lost yet just declared, our Nagoya plant keeps producing Zeros deep underground. Our Special Technologies Section will be at the deepest level, so deep you could almost believe Japan is winning the war.
Much of our factory is underground, but the precision jigs for cutting the airframe parts have yet to be moved for lack of people power, or more accurately, student, girl and woman power. At first it's a trickle but now it's obvious: Our people are disappearing. Has it occurred to any of you that we may be turning into machines? Our production figures continue to climb, we keep making more and more airplanes, yet there are fewer and fewer people here at the plant. How is such a thing possible? All of you have lost someone - a family member, a friend, and surely a work mate, the person next to you riveting a wing assembly together, or a technician installing a gas or oil pressure gauge in the instrument panel. Where did they go? Were they killed? But there was no cause. They were here one day and gone the next. Do you remember their names? Do you remember their faces? No? Perhaps you soon will…
Ozumi felt nauseous. "More ecstatic suicide. The Americans are in no mood to be dictated to. Not to mention the tsukumo-gami spirits."
Toshi lit a cigarette and drank bitter smoke. After a moment she muttered, "Keep reading."
Ozumi watched her for a second and waved for his share. She passed the cigarette over with her eyes glued to the page. He took the cigarette, sucked and exhaled, and forced himself to read on.
…the west says it is 1945! Our Koki calendar says it is 2605! As east meets west our calendars join! We meet in the 21st Century, a wonder time of rare devices!
"He was a fan of Irregular Electricity Airplane Detective Stories, remember?"
Genda's writing was part theatrical script and personal confession, political manifesto and future history, nationalist fever dream, aeronautical mysticism and machine koan, all of it rolled into a vast future movie produced, directed and staring Hiro Genda, veteran of the Great Pacific War, mystic, clairvoyant, prophet, and swordsman. He told of great robots; electronic calculating machines the size of wrist watches; "pleasure planes" that fused with their pilots to copulate with other airplanes in the sky in sweating knots of grinding duralumin; three-dimensional movies creating entire artificial worlds; the development of faster-than-light travel, then instantaneous teleportation; engines to cross dimensions, and move through time; telepathy and mind-control weapons; invisibility, immortality…
She straddled his lap. Her hands moved up his arms. He pushed her hard to floor. She glared up at him; a knife had appeared in her palm. "I slept with him. Before. I slept with plenty of Gendas.. I did what I had to do, just like you. Like with Dogura Magura."
"I couldn't persuade the others to collaborate. I've tried to make up for it…"
She snorted, "'make up for it.' Well, that's all over now, isn't it? The knife trembled in her white hand. "We are responsible. What about all the young men thrilled and inspired by Irregular Electricity Airplane Detective Stories? Young, well-educated poets, dreamers of flight and philosophy! Who do you think most of the kamikaze pilots are? College students who finally get their chance to fly. The kamikaze way as scientific romance! You prepared a generation to go down in flames!"
"Why didn't you tell me about Genda?"
"You haven't heard a thing I've said! Go run away with the others!"
She slid the knife back up her sleeve, grabbed her coat and left, slamming the door behind her.
For a long time he listened to the pounding in his head before he noticed the silence in the plant beyond. He threw on his once elegant wool coat and wound his neck and head in a long scarf the color of faded bandages. Rifling through the junk on the table he picked out the ball-peen hammer Genda had found so interesting. Ozumi unscrewed a bolt through the top and inserted a threaded, L-shaped tube. He added a metal clamp with two CO2 cartridges from an old soda bottle. He snapped a bundle of needle-sharp bamboo flechettes into the slotted chamber. It was good, maybe, for a single shot of the darts, at very close range. He tucked the needle gun into the deep pocket of his coat.
He raced panting through a complicated zig zag of creaking stairs and ladders, airless tight chimneys and low dirt shafts winding to the surface. He got outside and let his head clear in the cold. He waited in the trees. "Go back." He hadn't noticed Toshi at his side.
He kissed her. She gave him an angry shove. "Get out of here!" Then she fought to grab him hard. Harder. They dropped to the ground. She groaned underneath him, and the snow crunched under their weight.
"I thought I'd find you both here." Genda's voice behind them had a soggy unction. He'd been drinking more. He was holding a length of twine tied to a pair of cardboard airplane suits from Theater Zero. A sheathed sword dragged at his side. In his other hand was a standard issue Baby Nambu pistol.
Ozumi said, "What do you want?"
"Take off your clothes. Both of you."
Toshi said to him, "This isn't what we agreed on."
She wiped away the tears.
Ozumi said, "Why?" She didn't answer.
Genda's voice tightened. "Take off your clothes."
They didn't move. The flash of the gun lit everything white orange. Ozumi blinked past purple coronas and shook out the flat ringing in his head. He grabbed blindly at Toshi. She yanked her arm away.
Ozumi took off his coat and shirt and stepped out of his pants, then peeled off his ragged boxers, socks and boots and grimaced through the cold. His thighs needled and burned. Rage helped, but not much.
Toshi had stripped down to her underpants. She stood shivering with her arms around her shoulders, her face wreathed in frozen breath. Ozumi groaned at the sight of her, her smallness against the wall of her betrayal.
Genda stepped back. "Drop your pants, Toshi. Good. Now, put on your airplanes." He unstrapped his sword and dropped it to the snow, settling into an easy full-lotus with the gun in his lap.
The airplane suits were five foot long cardboard and paper boxes shaped like the Zero fuselage, with balsa propellers and stubby stabilizers and wings. Toshi and Ozumi wiggled through the cockpit openings and slipped on shoulder straps that kept the planes from dropping off their waists. "Now, doctor, Toshi, I want you to hold each other. As if saying goodbye for the last time."
Toshi said, "No."
"What do you mean, 'no'?"
Ozumi said, "He'll kill us if we don't do what he says."
Genda's voice of gentle reason returned. "Listen to the man, Toshi."
The cardboard and balsa frames crunched and crumpled in their embrace.
Toshi broke away. "Genda, why are you doing this? I promised you...!"