From: Oregon, USA
November 14, 1944
Attached to: Disbanded in port
System Damage: 0
Float Damage: 0
With the ship’s stores once again full Riku has little trouble wheedling a day pass out of the tolerant Paymaster Kataoka. His next step is to lure Taiki ashore. This he accomplishes with only a little arm-twisting, and before long the two men are sitting cross-legged on mats on either side of a low table in a good restaurant.
As tea is poured and the first courses arrive the two friends talk about the recent battle, news from their wives, and other matters. Later, when they are full of good food and enjoying a cup of warm sake, the conversation wanes to a companionable silence. Riku sets down his cup and looks at Taiki.
“All right,” he says, “let’s have it.”
Taiki looks up at him, a little confused. “Have it?” he says. “Have what?”
“Whatever has been bothering you these last few weeks,” Riku says. “I don’t think anyone else has noticed, but you can’t fool Shiro. He mentioned it to me and I have been watching you. Something has been bothering you, bothering you a lot I think.”
Taiki grimaces. “I need to find less perceptive friends,” he says. “Look, Riku-san, I appreciate the concern, but it is not something I wish to discuss. Thank you, but I am fine.”
Riku just shrugs, as if in acquiescence, and takes a sip of his sake. Taiki does the same, though he takes an uncharacteristically large gulp. Riku signals the hostess, who glides over in her kimono and refills the cups. After she withdraws Riku simply sits quietly and waits, watching Taiki. Taiki takes another drink.
“That damned island,” the young petty officer says after a moment. “I wish we had never gone there.”
“It seemed like a nice place,” Riku says in a carefully casual tone. “Rather pretty, if it weren’t for the war and all.”
Taiki sets down his cup with such a thump that a little sake slops over the side. His face, however, is like a mask. “You don’t know,” he says. “You can’t. That island is cursed.”
“You would be surprised,” Riku says, “by what I have seen and what I might believe.” Taiki sighs.
“Look,” he says, “I will tell you, but it must remain between us.” And without waiting for confirmation he tells the tale of General Tachibana and his grisly feasts. By the time he is done Riku has emptied his cup again.
“I thought it must be something pretty bad,” Riku says quietly. “But I didn’t know it was like that.”
“Why would someone do something like that?” Taiki asks him. “How could someone do something like that?”
“I think,” says Riku slowly, “that this war squeezes people. Under the pressure everything else melts away until only one’s essential self remains. I imagine that Tachibana was always cruel and mad, deep down; with the war his masks are now gone and the monster within him is visible.
“It isn’t all bad,” Riku continues. “Look at you, for example. Before the war you were a plasterer, a man with great gifts you never used. Now you are a petty officer, one worthy of respect. You could be an officer. But whatever you do, you will not be the simple, quiet man you would have been. Under the pressure your quality has emerged.”
“The same could be said about you,” Taiki tells him. “You have changed even more than I have.”
Riku bows his head slightly in acknowledgement. “It’s the same with us as a people,” Riku says. “The war has brought out the best in us; our ability to endure, our loyalty, our courage, our spirit of sacrifice. But it has also brought out the worst. Cruelty, harshness, barbarism. The good and bad, both now as starkly visible as the bones of a starving man.”
Taiki ponders this for a few moments. Finally he nods to himself. Then he looks up at Riku.
“An officer?” he says with a slight smile.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” says Riku. “With Captain Ishii and Lieutenant Miharu’s help you could take the qualifying exams. You would pass them easily. You would be an outstanding officer, the kind that men follow willingly.”
“Perhaps,” says Taiki. “I never thought about it before.”
“Think about it,” says Riku. “And think about what you learned on Chichi Jima. I have seen a few things too. If we survive the war it is our job to see that such things do not happen again.”
“We do not want our children to see what we have seen,” Taiki agrees. He raises his cup. “To a better future,” he says. Riku raises his cup and both men drink.