Chapter 27

Feb. 2nd, U.C. 0001 11:06 AM

Deep breath in, deep breath out. Repeat. Deeper. Louder. Ignore the other noises. They’re just distractions. Breathe louder to drown them out. Just focus on finding the x’s and will them out of existence. The suit will take care of the rest. Don’t think about how the suit works. Don’t think about how you’re seeing everything, about how your subconscious mind is making friend or foe determinations, and the suit is feeding them as x’s and circles to your conscious mind. The real images are buried shallowly in your subconscious. If you think about them, they’ll resurface. The suit will help you repress them, but it’s harder if you remember them.

X! Shimatta! another circle got in the way. That circle was Bunta-san, wasn’t it? Iie, it was just a circle. Just a circle that got between you and the x. Besides, it’s not your fault. You saw the x and the suit moved your body to shoot at it. It’s not your fault you hit Bunta-san—the circle—not your fault you hit the circle. Just breathe. Relax. Keep your eyes out for the x and breathe. Breathe.

Iie! Don’t breathe! Breathing is for ningen, and you’re a machine, a satsujin machine. You’re a machine that separates x’s and circles, a machine that kills ningen and nothing more. Machines don’t need to breathe. If you needed to breathe, you’d be a ningen, and ningen don’t kill without feeling anything. They don’t kill their own squadmates trying to shoot the damn x. You’re a machine. Don’t you dare breathe. Breathing is admitting you’re a ningen. There’s the x! Ute! Ute, ute, ute! Prove your effectiveness as a machine by killing the x. Ignore the circles that keep getting in the way. They don’t matter. Just keep shooting.

Breathe, aho, or you’ll pass out. Don’t stop firing, but breathe. Breathe to survive, and breathe to drown out those annoying, distracting noises. The suit is a machine, but you’re still a ningen inside it. It’s using your brain because computers can’t think, not really. They can’t make friend or foe decisions accurately enough, and that’s why the suit needs your brain. The rest of you is just along for the ride. If they could scoop your brain out and put it in the suit, they probably would.

Demo, it’s just so stupid. We have all this advanced technology, but we can’t create an artificial mind? If the suits could run themselves, we wouldn’t need to send ningen to die. They’d probably be more effective. The circles keep getting caught in the crossfire because we’re uncoordinated. No, it’s worse than that. The x is trying to make us shoot each other. Machine brains wouldn’t panic, and they could coordinate better in situations like this. I bet one of them could even grab the x to keep it still, like Goku grabbed Raditz, while the others shot it. After all, it’s not sad when a machine dies.

That noise is getting louder. It’s really annoying. And stupid. This whole situation is stupid. The suit is stupid, the circles are stupid, my lungs are stupid, machines are stupid, ningen are—Doko’s the x?

In the blink of an eye, the helmet was lifted from his head, and the x’s and circles gave way to grizzly reality, but he didn’t shut his eyes or look away from the corpses littered around him. He continued to breathe heavily, but without the helmet to cover his face, it was no longer loud enough to drown out his commanding officer’s orders.

Hideaki-nitouhei, hold your fire!” the gruff-looking sergeant bellowed, His right arm hanging limp, having been grazed by a stray beam early in the fight. He gripped his rifle in his left hand. The two of them were the only surviving members of their squad.

“This is stupid!” Hideaki shouted back, giving a voice to his internal monologue.

“I agree with the boy,” a woman’s voice came from behind Hideaki. He craned his head to look behind him and found a tall meido with long black hair, the x. “This is stupid. Master, did you manage to capture this farce?”

“I—I think so,” a boy, not much taller than Hideaki, said as he walked towards the meido from behind. He held up a cell phone, and she took it from him.

“Yes, this will do,” the meido said approvingly. While she was distracted, Hideaki whipped around to shoot her. With her hands full, the meido kicked Hideaki to the ground and placed one foot on his rifle’s forearm. “My apologies. Did you want to see?” she asked Hideaki, turning the screen of the phone towards him. It displayed a video of Hideaki gunning down the other 22 suited members of his squad in pursuit of the meido.

“He’s just a kid!” the boy behind the meido gasped.

“So are you,” the meido pointed out.

“I’m a young man,” the boy insisted. “He shouldn’t be fighting.”

“And you should?” the meido scoffed. “There’s maybe two years between you. Do you really think you’re more qualified just because you feel funny when you see a girl and this boy doesn’t?”

“I’m more qualified because I have a righteous cause,” the boy said defiantly. “He’s just being used as a weapon. They’re not even so desperate that they need to resort to child soldiers. Do they just not care? How despicable.”

“Don’t look down on me,” Hideaki challenged the boy. “I have a cause—a great cause. I’m fighting for my mirai. I’m fighting for anime.”

“Then go fight in ‘Murica,” the boy shot back, “and leave my city alone.”

“You’re right, master,” the meido said, ignoring their argument, “he is too young to be on the battlefield. That’s why I left him alive.” A cruel smile slowly spread across her face a she spoke. “Of course, that works in our favor as well. What do you think they’ll do to him once they see this video? If he were an adult, there would be a court-martial, and he’d be put to death, regardless of who was at fault, but a child soldier is more sympathetic. Some of them will still want to execute him. They’ll argue that it’s necessary to maintain discipline, or to serve as a warning to other soldiers. Some will simply want revenge. But most of them will object to killing a child, especially one so dedicated to their cause. It will cause internal divisions from their rank-and-file all the way up to their leadership. It will add that extra level of fear that will guarantee they’ll retire these suits.”

“That’s dirty,” the boy protested. “That’s not how I want to liberate Paris.”

“These suits have been responsible for the deaths of too many of our compatriots,” the meido pressed. “If we don’t get rid of them, there will be no more Paris.” The boy looked at the ground but did not argue with that point.

Saseru ka,” the commanding officer grunted. He raised his rifle with his left arm, and fired directly at Hideaki. He knew he had no chance of hitting the meido or her charge, but he could prevent Hideaki from being used as a tool. Hideaki’s suit, however, rolled out of the way automatically. The meido lifted her foot from his rifle as the cable attaching the rifle to the suit’s backpack pulled taught, and Hideaki grabbed it out of the air mid-roll, leveling it at his commanding officer. “Stay still, Hideaki-nitouhei,” the officer pleaded. “You heard what she said. Are you going to let her use you as a weapon against us—against anime?”

“I—I don’t want that,” Hideaki stammered, lifting himself to a kneeling position “but I don’t want to die either.”

“It’s too late for that,” claimed the officer. “She’s lying to you. There’s no way they’ll let you live after killing twenty-two of your comrades-in-arms. You only get to choose how you die. Here, it can all be swept under the rug. You’ll be another soldier who died heroically for his ideals.”

“I am not lying,” the meido said, sounding offended. “I’ll admit it’s not guaranteed, but you have a better than fifty percent chance of living if you go back. Isn’t that better than a guaranteed death here? Besides, once we leak this video onto the net, there will be no sweeping it under the rug. You should be grateful, boy. I rarely let my enemies walk away.”

“Iie,” the CO snapped. “Kakugo, Hideaki-nitouhei. I’m taking you down with me.”

Hideaki kept his eyes on the CO, not daring to blink. The suit would react automatically, but only based on what he could see. He didn’t resist when the meido slipped the helmet back over his head. It didn’t make any difference. Even before the visor was lowered in front of his eyes, all he could see when he looked at the officer was an x.

Dec. 25th, U.C. 0051, 3:00 PM

Deep breath in, deep breath out. Repeat. Keep Calm. Your reflexes aren’t what they were go-jyuu years ago, so stay alert. You’re not alone this time. You have the gynoids to back you up. This is why you created the electronic brain. You wouldn’t even be here yourself if you didn’t need the credit. After this, you can leave the fighting all to them.

As nonchalantly as he could manage, Hideaki strolled into the lobby of the Defense Ministry annex. It was an unassuming office building, just four stories tall, and more than half of the offices were being used for miscellaneous storage. The rest housed workers who had been sidelined politically but were too important to fire. The lobby was usually staffed by two security guards who occasionally doubled as receptionists, but when Hideaki entered, he faced six fully-armed GSDF soldiers.

“Hideaki-nitouhei reporting for duty,” he said loudly, flipping his visor up and saluting in one motion. The six soldiers looked at each other in confusion before their leader spoke.

“At ease, nitouhei,” the man said. He didn’t recognize Hideaki’s suit, but he could tell that Hideaki was elderly. While he couldn’t rule out the possibility that Hideaki was a Soviet spy, his initial impression was that Hideaki was an old veteran with a few loose screws. “State your purpose.”

“I’m here to relieve you, sir,” Hideaki replied, holding out forged orders to the man. “With the Soviets closing in, they want all the young blood they can get on the front lines. I guess all old reservists like me are good for is guarding unimportant buildings.”

The squad leader took the papers from Hideaki, scrutinized them, and finally looked back towards Hideaki. “Just a moment. I have to call this in.”

It was worth a try, Hideaki thought to himself, drawing his sidearm and blasting the man where he stood. He managed to shoot two more before the remaining three realized what was happening and raised their weapons. Before they could fire, however, they were gunned down by the gynoids surging into the building behind Hideaki. Some gynoids took up positions by the elevators, the stairwell, and all the building exits, while others swept the building, starting from the ground floor and working their way upwards.

Hideaki, while not feeble, was not spry either. He didn’t dare set foot in the elevator, where he might be trapped if the building went into lockdown, so he resigned himself to slowly climbing up the stairs. Gynoids brushed past him as they ran up the staircase, making him feel even more useless in the current situation.

He had just managed to make it to the second floor when the transmission came. “Hideaki-sama, we found him,” a gynoid voice reported. “He’s on the top floor.”

“Great,” Hideaki groaned. “On my way.”

Huffing and wheezing, Hideaki powered up the remaining two flights of stairs, escorted by gynoids in front and behind. They lead him down the hallways of the fourth floor and to an unassuming office.

“Hideaki-dono? Dou ui—” The question was cut short as Hideaki, not waiting for the man to finish, shot him straight between the eyes.

Hideaki had killed the defense minister.