2459 August 29 05:45
Loniponi City (Former Tokyo Metropolis Prefecture)
A loud persistent banging on the pod woke me. I extracted my arm from under Magnolia and padded over to the entrance thumbing the control lock open, wiping at my eyes still swollen from sleep. The metal door slid open with a faint hiss.
A yotagi stood in the entryway and I jumped back reflexively now wide-awake. Without making any attempt to enter she said, “You’ve been summoned, come.”
I stared frozen. Yotagi were the boogie men of our childhood, I had never seen one so close. Citizens only spoke with them once in our lives; only the warrior elite ever saw them a second time, and that was for the Huisaeng. Seeing one any other time was considered really bad luck and having one appear on my doorstep before sunrise was terrifying.
“Now.” She commanded when I still hadn’t moved. I mumbled an apology and grabbed my specs and a clean tunic. Magnolia was still fast asleep. It was too early to wake her, so I scrawled a note telling her I loved her and would be back soon, and then sprinted after the yotagi who had already left.
We walked quickly through the maze that was the undercity. The sun had not yet risen and the gray morning blended with the carbon composite making the pathways appear dream-like and infinite in the early morning light.
I peered at the silver cross, tattooed just below the base of her skull. I had never seen a girl with the mark before. I had thought yotagi were all male, yet her mark left no doubt what she was, just as the green maze on my neck marked me for Science.
“Has something gone wrong with the demo?” I ventured after several minutes of silence. I was in charge of my laboratory’s submission, a new organic nanotech upgrade for the defense grid. I tapped my specs attempting to check the project status, but my uplink failed to connect, but before I could resolve the glitch she stopped suddenly and turned on me.
“Dan Ing. You have been summoned. Do you comply or dissent?” She made it sound like I had a choice and yet the underlying menace shook me to my core.
“Comply,” I confirmed hastily. I had never been accused of dissension. “I would never— I just wanted to ask—”
“No. You come or do not.” She continued to walk. “Questions were not an option.”
I was so taken aback I forgot about my broken uplink. “Questions are not dissension,” I said softly but not so softly she could not hear in the still sleeping city.
“Questions disrupt alignment. Much like your proposal to abolish the Huisaeng.” She said conversationally.
“That’s not—“ What could I say? She shouldn’t have known about that. The proposal was barely a draft thesis, the beginning of an idea. It was not ready for review much less defense. What concerned me more was the fact that I hadn’t shared it with anyone. I had made sure that all references to it had been encrypted on my private ‘form.
We continued in silence while I considered what this meant. Suddenly the path opened onto City Center and I realized she was leading me to Palace Island.
We approached the bridge where two samurai flanked the gate, an honor guard only since our warriors were always required elsewhere.
I lowered my head respectfully and followed the yotagi across. Palace Island had been rebuilt after the Breaking. Most of the buildings on it were constructed of the same shock-absorbent carbon composite that made up the rest of Loniponi. Only the central garden remained as a sort of memorial to the world before.
That was where we walked.
We arrived at a simple wood house overlooking the garden. The yotagi rapped twice on a red door and it slid open. I sucked in my breath as I recognized the occupant. Lord Ishihito, King of Loniponi and protector of the last sanctuary of human civilization.
He looked exactly the same as he did on the weekly casts; short and well muscled, his jet-black hair pulled back into a ponytail. His simple grey tunic was open at the neck, revealing the elaborate tattoos of the Defense elite, as well as the markings for Service and Science.
He was only the second person, to walk all three paths, Service, Defense and Science. As royalty he was born to serve and thus had the blue palm of service tattooed on the left side of his neck. Like most rulers he also bore the red shield tattoo of those in Defense. Over time the elite defenders added red markings for battles and honors won. Lord Ishihito was a hero without peer, and his neck and chest proved it, covered with elaborate red ink marking every battle he had fought. However, my eyes searched for the green maze for science indelibly imprinted on the right side of his neck.
His mark matched my own exactly. Knowing he was a man of science assured me more than his all legendary victories. He governed with reason, logic and compassion, allowing citizens transparent access to the war that raged beyond our borders. He never tried to simply assuage our fears about these threats. Instead we all knew the threats and faced them together. His faith in us gave us the courage, the strength to fight, and the strength to win.
In university I studied the theorems he had made when he was my age, before he ascended to the throne. The man was a genius; if the recent incursions hadn’t escalated I could only imagine the work he would have produced. To say I revered him was an enormous understatement.
And yet in person he was so much more. It was easy to understand why his ancestors had been worshipped as gods. It was as if on the vids his energy was dispersed as it streamed to 100 Million citizens. In person, it was like getting all that power all at once.
“Thank you.” He said dismissing the yotagi with a nod.
She bowed and left without giving me another glance.
I stepped into the room and saw, General Lee Jai, the king’s own kin standing behind him.
“Good bye.” The king said with a bow.
The general said nothing but bowed deeply and left. As he passed he caught my eye for a moment and I saw – pity?
“Breakfast.” The king said and gestured to a table set with tea, hot cereal, and fruit. I nodded confused by the civility but was nonetheless famished.
Despite my nerves I had to tell him. “Can I say how much I admire the work you did on organic harmonics and nuclear metamorphs –— my entire thesis was built on it. It transformed everything we think about modern nanotech and Biophys. I use your research at least once a day.” I was gushing but I couldn’t help myself. I don’t think I took a breath in my rush to get it all out.
The king smiled at my effusiveness.
“I’m glad to hear my work has proven useful.” He said. “These days most only ask me about the Reno Stratagem or Iki Gambit. It’s nice to me reminded that my other contributions will not be forgotten.”
“Of course not, but is there really no hope for you to return to the labs? When I think what we could accomplish—“
“No. The labs are no longer either of our concerns.” My heart plummeted, terrified by what he would say next, but instead of explaining he said. “I enjoy reading the working coming from Hiroshono’s lab. You know, he and I were in the same class at university.”
My jaw dropped. Hiroshono was my boss and the City’s chief phys-tech scientist Most considered him the most brilliant man alive. “He never said.”
“He wouldn’t have. We worked together on harmonics, he should have received a co-authorship, but he insisted I take sole credit. I think he was jealous that I was the first with a breakthrough. Of course now he’s gone on to do much greater things and as he may have mentioned — he is the most brilliant scientist alive.”
The last he said in a perfect imitation of the gruff old scientist. And despite the pit in my stomach, I laughed.
“He’s never been good with people he doesn’t consider his intellectual equal,” the king added, “Which is why I was impressed that he spoke so highly of your work.”
I literally choked at that; it was hard to imagine Hiroshono saying a kind word at all, much less about me.
“I wanted to show you this.” The king said as he tapped at his temple indicating that I should access my specs. To my relief, my uplink to the Connection was working. My viz had been cleared of everything but a journal file with the king’s insignia.
“I haven’t been able to continue my research, but I’ve collected notes and ideas over the years. I’ve also included comments on your work. Mostly suggesting avenues of new inquiry, and samples of anomalies from border outliers that you haven’t been given access to.”
I opened the files and started to peruse his comments. I quickly found that he had a record of all the work I had done – ever. Amazingly he had gone through and left extensive details on everything from my university thesis to my current project on clustering. It was brilliant. And then I saw it.
“You have my proposal draft on the Huisaeng.” I looked at the meta date, 2459 August 27 23:45, two days ago. “That was encrypted on a private disc.” I said, sick to my stomach. I was no cysec expert but knew the encryption key I had used was no small thing to crack. Regardless, accessing a personal ‘form was considered a severe violation, even for the king.
“I know this is an invasion of your rights. I am sorry but it was necessary.” He said simply. “You wrote that you believed the Huisaeng was an antiquated tradition. A cruel rite that was in fact a sickness to our society.”
My face burned but I nodded there was no use denying my own words.
He nodded thoughtfully, “You know the difference between conformity of actions and conformity of ideas. We do not punish people for ideas, only actions. Do you believe me?”
“Yes.” I said with some caution.
“Good. It’s important that you know that this is not a punishment. We are not retaliating, this decision was made before and in spite of that file.”
“What decision?” I asked. He still hadn’t explained why I had been summoned. The look he gave me then, I’ll never forget it.
“There is only one kind of summons Dani-san. This is a Huisaeng, a ceremony of sacrifice.”
I lost my sense of time as I tried to process what he had just said.
“That makes no sense, who could you be kin to? You’re the king. No one cares if I live or die.” Except for Magnolia, but she was no warrior. It made no sense. My brain spun.
No. The thought caught in an unending recursive loop of broken logic.
I took a deep breath. Pause.
I wouldn’t argue or beg, not to him, not to my king. I had to accept this with honor and dignity.
“Ok,” I said.
“You misunderstand, I think,” the king said and very deliberately explained, “I am the huisaeng – the sacrifice. And after today you will become Warrior and Scientist and Servant as well as kin to my son, Tomah for the rest of your life.”
“No!” The word escaped from me before I was aware I had formed it. “I can’t kill you.” I tried to explain the reasons why I couldn’t be Zhanshi, why I could not, could never, hurt him of all people. He was like my own father, a father figure to our city and he had read the proposal, knew why I believed these sacrifices were wrong, so many reasons and then of course there was Magnolia. God what did this mean for her?
Before I could say anything the room lurched and I doubled over. I had just enough time to pull the bucket at my feet under my face before I heaved out the contents of my stomach.
When I sat up the king handed me a mug of tea. Peppermint for my stomach he told me.
“I can not accept this,” I said. There was one alternative, which was rarely sought, but we could choose to take our own life if we refused the calling. “I have to choose seppuku—you must know that,” I said and immediately began to enumerate all the reasons why.
He sat and listened and when I finished he nodded once, then said. “I wanted to show you your file.” I saw a folder on my viz unfold without prompting, cascading into hundreds of hundreds of documents all about me – everything from the vid of my birth to yesterday’s lab notes.
“I watched the vid of your Choosing with a great deal of interest.” The king said. In my specs the vid, taken from above, began to play and I saw my sixteen-year-old self, arguing with the yotagi against joining Defense.
“Few refuse the path the yotagi dictate, especially when it is to join the ranks of the elite Defense – but you did.”
“Oddly enough your friend Magnolia, also was offered all three paths. Her interview was even more interesting. She refused both Defense and Science and insisted on Service even when it was explained she would not be allowed to teach.”
I was surprised. I had known her Choosing had been long but she had never told me the reason.
“You both would have undoubtedly been elevated to elite and yet you both refused.” The king looked at me levelly, “I assume it was to protect each other from the Huisaeng – which is interesting.”
“Apparently it did us no good,” I said drily.
“Indeed.” The king agreed. “In your proposal, you posit the Huisaeng’s primary purpose is population management. An unfortunately but necessary evil from the early days after the Breaking.”
I nodded, I was certain that was why it had begun, but now it was ingrained into our society. I expected him to deny it but to my surprise, he confirmed my hypothesis.
“We do not admit this for obvious reasons but you are correct that was a small part of how it began.”
“But now you have to agree that with recent advancements we can sustain more, healthier —“ I started to argue.
He raised his hand, “I said it was one factor but you fail to understand the real reason for the sacrifices. You focus only on the cost, but not what is gained. You lack insight into the bond and the purpose among our warriors. You need to know Dani-san. It’s not ego or hubris or even technology that sustains our defenses. It is our bonds as humans. The Huisaeng did not originate as a dictate from the state, rather it grew from the desire of our people to serve each other and reclaim our humanity after the Breaking.”
I shuddered. I knew our history, the war and the holocaust that literally split our island apart, killing millions, leaving us alone. The survivors were an equal mix of citizens, refuges, and invaders, but after the Breaking, after so much death the fighting stopped. In the peace that followed, former combatants pledged their lives to the family of those they had harmed. That was how the Huisaeng had begun, a willing sacrifice and offering to rebuild our world. It had evolved over time into ritualized, sanctioned murders bonding our warriors elite in chain of death, a life for a life.
“I know how it began, but we must change, we must evolve,” I argued.
“No.” He said. “We can’t.”
Suddenly my viz was replaced with a 3-D map of the city, each citizen represented as a tiny dot of color, connected in a massive neural network showing the connections between all our people. I had seen this before. “The orchid” was the representation of our society as a living organism. The view suddenly replicated into nine different maps, appearing in a three-by-three grid.
“We’ve modeled out your proposal’s impact on our population in a thousand ways,” The king said. “These are the top nine best case options. I wanted you to see the time sequence model.”
Each model started to accelerate over time, one second per year. I watched as the networks representing the city’s population flared over a period of ten or fifteen years then quickly disintegrated, the top model lasted less than a minute, not even 60 years.
“Where did you get this data, how do you know?“ I trailed off as I realized. I had just seen how much data they had collected about me, there was no reason to doubt the data they had on everyone. But who were “They”? There was no way our civil administration could have done this kind of probabilistic analytics. It hit me. It was so obvious.
“The yotagi.” I said. The king nodded. “How can you trust them?”
“Because I know the cost of not trusting them.” The king replied. “What are the two worst calamities to affect our nation?”
That was easy. “The seven-day virus and the Breaking.”
The king nodded. “Go on.”
I told him about the nuclear attack on the Paris Peace Accords immediately followed by the seven-day virus which wiped out 95% of the world’s population. I spoke of the Queen’s Miracle, how she saved the country, mobilizing the resources to produce and distribute the vaccine. We had been lucky. Japan was the most technologically advanced society on the planet, even so, if the queen hadn’t acted when she had we would have shared the same fate as the rest of the world.
The king nodded approving of my summary, “That was the first time we failed to heed the warning of the yotagi.”
“What do you mean? The queen saved us?”
“No she did not, she was only forced to take credit. The person who saved us was the first yotagi, a junior analyst in the Defense Department. She predicted the events, three years in advance.”
“Three years?” I repeated stunned.
The king nodded, no doubt guessing what I was thinking, “No one believed her. Knowing the stakes she quit when her warnings went unheeded, and joined a pharmaceutical company to produce the vaccine that saved us. That young analyst is the only reason any of us are alive.”
I was too stunned to respond. We had come so close to the brink only to be pulled back by one person.
“The second time we failed to listen to her was when she recommended we evacuate the northern isle and detonate atomic weapons over what was once Fukuoko and Hiroshima.”
“But we lost them anyway. We lost all of Kyushu and Shikoku in the Breaking.” I said, in fact we had lost so much more. In addition to the northern islands we had lost the southern island of Hokkaido and all cities on Honshu save Tokyo were destroyed. The queen had sacrificed her own life in the final conflagration that had finally stopped the invading forces. We had won but only barely.
“And if we had initiated nuclear protocols on those cities, we may have saved many more lives, there may have never been a Breaking.”
“But that was soon after the virus.” I said. “So many people had died already. We had barely survived, how could anyone be expected to sacrifice two cities?”
“That’s the point. We didn’t know what to do but the yotagi did. The yotagi see things in a way normal people do not and they have proven themselves time and again. I will not be the first ruler in centuries to ignore their advice.”
“And so you would sacrifice your own life? What can possibly be gained by your loss?”
The king shook his head. “The yotagi don’t always explain their reasons. You’ll need to get used to that.”
I frowned, he was insane if he truly believed I could go through with it.
“I do no know their reasons but I have my suspicions.” Suddenly my specs were filled again with the orchid model. “Since the Breaking, the yotagi knew we would not be able to sustain our city forever. We have past the crisis point and failure is predicted within the next fifty years. That was at least – until they identified you.”
“I still don’t understand. Why can’t we do this together? There is so much I can learn from you. You could— “
“No.” His voice was hard cutting me off.
“I know what it is to bear the weight of this responsibility.” He acknowledged. “Your obligation would be not just to Tomah but to the City, and the resurrection of humanity. Will you answer your calling?”
“I— I’m no killer.” I whispered. It was the only truth I could manage.
He frowned disappointed. “No one can force you Dani-san, this is your choice, but you must make it, it is time.”
From behind his back he withdrew a katana and offered it to me. My hands shook as I accepted the steel, far heavier than I could have imagined.
The king walked over to the open panels that overlooked the garden, and sank to his knees as if in meditation.
I sank to my knees and joined him, there was nothing left to say. All that remained was for me to make my peace with this life. I thought of the lab and the work I would never complete, the things I would never do but mostly I thought of Magnolia. I took some solace knowing that sacrificing myself would keep her safe. That my death would ensure no future kin would called to harm her, she would never be threatened by the Huisaeng
I thought of how I left her sleeping soundly warm and beautiful, I wondered how she would find out what had happened and wondered what she would be told. I thought of her alone, never seeing her again, her life without me and in that instant my heart broke.
My choice had been made, if I even had one. I whispered a prayer, whether it was for my king, my country, or myself I can not say.
I rose to stand behind my king and with the greatest care placed my hand on his brow, he sighed as I tilted his head back.
“Thank you.” He whispered so softly it may have been my imagination.
Distantly I thought of bio dissections, the katana was my scalpel, just an instrument to perform a function.
I closed my eyes, miraculously my hand did not hesitate.
I knew human anatomy and made my cut quick and deep into his carotid artery. The blade sliced without resistance and I felt him shudder and collapse as life poured out of him. I let go of the blade’s handle, letting it fall and caught him as he fell; reverently lowering him to the floor, the woven mats absorbing the crimson of his life’s blood.
I bent over him and wept.
“I’m so sorry.” I whispered. I had made the decision he had wanted but not for the right reasons. I was unworthy of this responsibility or his faith. I clutched his lifeless body as the enormity of it all sunk in.
It was dark by the time I heard movement behind me. Looking up, I saw the prince and the yotagi who had brought me, standing by the door.
I had not heard them enter.
The prince—my king and Zhanshi now—came to where his father lay, still cradled in my arms.
“I had no idea.” He said to his father’s corpse. His voice vibrated with fury and grief.
He knelt to pick up the katana from where it lay and slowly, deliberately cleaned it of his father’s blood.
“I would have stopped this if I had known. You would never have touched him.” He told me.
I understood his meaning. In truth I was relieved. I bowed my head and waited for him to strike.
I wanted no mercy.
He raised the blade above his head and in a flash brought it down, the razor edge millimeters from my brow and stopped.
I looked up. He met my eyes then walked away.
End of Part One
Dear Reader Thank you for reading this first story in the Paradox of Forgiveness - Stories after the Apocalypse. Over the next year I’ll be publishing several more stories and novellas, so if you want to follow the continuing story of Dani, Magnolia and Loniponi – please feel free to connect with me on social media to get notifications about new releases and special offers. It’s probably best to connect with me on Twitter or Tumblr. Twitter = @hbomb11222 (a remnant of an unfortunate nickname and brief stint in Brooklyn) Tumblr = memorypile.tumblr.com (my mental scrap book including my thoughts on writing, philosophy, politics, business, puppies etc.) I'm also collecting my First 1000 Readers List = https://goo.gl/forms/oDg8CWiEvKigQbo53 The Orchid Copyright © 2016 by Heather C. Ingram All Rights Reserved Special thanks to my friends, beta readers, family and editors, I’d never finish anything without you guys.