The view through the window was set to slow motion. Roger Tyson stood in his office with a morose expression, watching the procession of late-night shoppers to the sound of a funeral march. On his desk, sat the notes of the speech he was writing. It had got no further than the title, “The Death of England.”
At his command, the window reverted to transparent and the wall retracted. With a deep sigh, he stepped onto the observation deck and surveyed the scene. A big red sun hung over the English Channel, casting the Chrysanthemum Bridge in a warm glow, while a never-ending stream of bullet trains rushed across, taking their passengers to and from London. He turned to the skyscrapers of New Folkestone Business District and the elevated expressways that threaded their way through like flickering streams of red and yellow, before casting his gaze up to the shimmering holographic company logos. His mood briefly lightened at the sight of the famous Greenwood Oak, but as the information service announced the business news, he grew anxious. The Eikkei index of 100 leading shares had hit another all-time high.
He bit his lip and stared out in gloomy contemplation, only to be interrupted by an election drone, which had hovered into view. He looked up with annoyance as it projected a broadcast for the ruling English Liberal Democratic Party. “Don’t let the other lot in,” it shrilled, depicting rival politicians as cabbages. “Vote for the natural party of government – for a nation at ease with itself.” A rival drone zoomed in, playing a cartoon of the Government as turnips. “Kick them out,” it trilled. “Vote for change. Vote for the Democratic Party of England.” The two drones battled in the sky, trying to drown each other out before buzzing away.
“Tomodaore,” Roger muttered. “All fall down together.”
With a sigh, he rested his hands on the railings and looked out to sea, his eyes fixed on the horizon. Tall and strongly built with a face that seldom smiled, he still cut a commanding figure, even if at over sixty he lacked his former physical strength. While many found him intimidating, those close to him said his intense pale blue eyes reflected a deeper, sensitive nature. It was a side few saw. Always difficult, he had grown unclubbable with age, preferring to retreat into the past than spend time with others.
The sun dipped below the horizon and he drifted back into melancholy, remembering the time after the Great Incident when levelled cities and food queues were common. He thought of the reconstruction efforts and the study missions to Japan. He recalled how he had given up a promising career in the Self Defence Forces to found a small kaisha called Greenwood and how, under his leadership, it had grown to become England’s largest keiretsu; a worldwide constellation of affiliated businesses. Yes, he thought, it had truly been an economic miracle. England had become the world’s most dynamic economy and he, Roger Tyson, its pre-eminent businessman; not just a public figure, but to many a hero.
As he stood in the fading light, those days seemed long gone. He looked inside at the Samurai Sword of Honour he had won at Sakura Military Academy as leading Officer Cadet, feeling like the product of a bygone era. When he had first warned that boom was turning to bubble, he had been listened to with respect, but when, instead of crashing, the economy had grown faster than ever before, he had found his judgement called into question. It had been a rude shock. He was out of touch, old fashioned, stuck in the past; even within Greenwood, the criticism had become voluble. Publicly, he remained defiant, but privately he grew embittered. The whispering was one thing, but the rumours of a boardroom coup were another matter. He knew the politicians were stirring it up, he knew they wanted him out, but no-one would listen. He gritted his teeth as the fruity voice of a Ministry of Economic Policy, Trade and Industry spokesman (or MEPTI, as it was known for short) emanated from the media screen.
“We live in a New Era,” it announced. “In the long run, the economy can only grow.”
Roger turned around as a fresh wind picked up, blowing his thick grey hair everywhere and spattering him with salty sea air.
“It won’t last forever,” he growled. “We’re no different from those ruined civilisations in the sand.”
He ordered the screen off and returned inside, briefly looking back as a large banner was unfurled from the Chrysanthemum Bridge. BE HAPPY, a smiley face said as fireworks marked the start of another Government Sponsored Celebration, LIFE IS GETTING BETTER. With a disconsolate pout, he left for home.
The evening turned cold and Roger boarded his private aircraft, ordering a sake from the robot valet as he flopped into his favourite armchair. Damn them! Damn them all! Damn everything but the sake! As the aircraft lifted off, he activated the internal wraparound screen and watched as New Folkestone and the Chrysanthemum Bridge receded into the distance. Within minutes, he was flying over the London Dormitory Suburb of Kent, one of the many residential complexes that surrounded the cities, commonly known as “the barracks.” He watched the endless sequence of gigantic blocks that seemed to march across the landscape, then zoomed in on the gangs as they fought amidst the garbage-mountains and burnt out vehicles, torching cars and tossing burning mattresses out of windows. The sight filled him with sorrow. Once model homes, the barracks had become no-go areas that even the police wouldn’t enter without an armed escort. They were an alien world, dominated by warring ganglords and beyond government control. Law and order counted for nothing. Behind the perimeter walls, furigans ruled.
The aircraft continued over the eighty storeys of Lansdowne Tower, centrepiece of the notorious Deer Park Estate, and Roger turned to the news.
RIOTS ERUPT AGAIN IN MIDLANDS PREFECTURE
TEENAGER SHOT DEAD
SHOPKEEPER FIGHTS FOR HIS LIFE
He selected the last story, watching the CCTV footage of the attack. A portly man in a tank top stood behind the counter of a well-kept electronics store, attending to the multitude of screens on the rear wall. Seconds later, a gang wearing balaclavas and fluorescent long johns burst in, screaming and waving metal bars. The shopkeeper hit the floor as they leapt over the counter and curled into a ball as they set about him. After about thirty seconds, they ran out of the shop, screeching and laughing, except for one who squatted over the counter to leave the gang’s calling card. None had attempted to take any money. Roger’s hands tightened as if ready to wring their necks. If there was anything noteworthy about the attack, it was that the man had survived.
He retrieved his speech and began writing. If there’s hope, it’s with the Government – if only it would wake up. He quickly crossed the last part out, feeling his anger return. Only the Government had the power to solve the problem, yet it did nothing, responding to furigan violence by withdrawing police patrols, making sentences more lenient and increasing their financial aid – everything he considered wrong. As he entered Central London airspace, he recalled his last speech.
“This is appeasement,” he had thundered. “Give them what they want in return for a quiet life. If we don’t get tough now, we’ll have to send the Army in.”
Ministers had reacted angrily, accusing him of “alarmism” and “exaggeration,” but others had been more forthright, calling for him to be banned from the media. He had avoided censure, but only just. Criticising the Government might be acceptable, even something of a national sport, but criticising furigans was not. There was a Political Consensus and everyone adhered to it. Beneath the official line there was no good or bad, only different, lay a deeper unstated message – society was bad and furigans its victims – and to say otherwise meant being marginalised or worse. As the saying went, the peg that stood out would be hammered back in.
He gulped his sake down and stared woozily at the shiny new buildings in Nagata-Cho. While furigans slipped out of state control, the rest of society found itself enmeshed ever further. An extensive state apparatus had sprung up to regulate life, overseen by four new Commissions – executive bodies with plenipotentiary powers that reported directly to the Sori Daijin (who in previous times was known as “Prime Minister”). The Commission for Fairness rooted out abuses of power; the Commission for Wellbeing controlled social relations; the Commission for Lifestyle regulated culture and the Commission for Identity managed media representation. Indignation bubbled up from the pit of Roger’s stomach. Furigans might be left alone, but if he failed to comply with their “administrative guidance,” he would face a heavy fine or prosecution – and it would only get worse. He looked down at the incomplete Sori Daijin’s Department, whose skeletal frame dominated the district. Once that was finished, his impotence would be complete.
What could he do? He put the empty glass down and let out a belch. If the Government was weak, the opposition parties were no better. Though they traded insults and attacked each other vociferously, there was little to differentiate them – and all supported the Political Consensus. The same was true of the media. Despite the hundreds of stations, none ever questioned it and none would have anything to do with him after his speech. Roger, however, retained hope. The evidence might be impressionistic – boozy chats in the pub, snippets of conversation on the train – but he knew the people would support him.
“Democracy has become a rigged choice,” he once said. “But if the politicians won’t listen, the people will. They can see what’s happening. They hate it. They want an end to it. And if they had a voice, they would be unstoppable.”
He looked at the image of the shopkeeper frozen onscreen, anger welling up within him. He could contain himself no longer, the anger was too strong. He picked up his speech and shouted the words out. Furigans were the enemy.
He breathed out, unable to write the words down. Not only was this controversial, it was subversive. No, he couldn’t. He couldn’t. He had to. His body seized up. A message had arrived: a reminder from the Commission for Fairness. Compassion Day was approaching.
It had been nearly a year since the last event – the world’s largest celebration of Niceness, as its organisers, the Compassion Foundation, had billed it. Roger had arrived at Tokugawa Square in the early evening, taking his seat onstage as a grey politician droned on, ignored by the crowd, who, divided into groups, taunted each other like rival football fans. A commotion broke out backstage, breaking his concentration. He turned around as a large entourage proceeded through the cordoned-off path and Sori Daijin Bill Harris arrived, taking the large throne-like seat centre stage. Roger looked at him, dressed in a fashionably sharp suit and a new pair of designer glasses, and nodded an acknowledgement. Bill responded with his trademark matey grin, then for a fraction of a second it vanished, replaced by a steely glare. Roger felt a searing contempt, but before he could respond the grin returned and Bill was laughing with his Naikaku colleagues, full of camera-friendly bonhomie.
In contrast to his run-ins with others in the Naikaku, relations with Bill had been cordial, if cool. It was as if their careers had crossed, like escalators travelling in opposite directions – Bill the media darling and Roger the dinosaur. Although they had never been in conflict, it was under Bill’s administration that the Political Consensus had hardened into dogma: soundbites had replaced argument and name-calling masqueraded as debate. Worst was the vitriol reserved for anyone deemed out of line.
“True, no-one’s ever liquidated,” Roger had grumbled, “but there are plenty of character assassinations.”
Roger watched Bill with suspicion. He might have been more political thespian than ideologue, but the Political Consensus made him bulletproof. Criticism never stuck and somehow it was always the critics who found themselves attacked. So slippery, Roger thought, so underhand....
Firecrackers broke the hubbub, fizzing and crackling through the air as the compere opened the event. Immediately, the crowd turned to the front as Niceness Mentors worked their way through them, smiles fixed to their faces as they clapped and chanted “Ha-ha-ha, he-he-he, ho-ho-ho.” Roger watched the crowd repeat the chant, then looked to the edge of the square. There, serious looking Compassion Stewards stood in fancy dress holding aloft electronic placards that alternated between LOVE NICENESS and LOATHE NASTINESS.
The event began with a brief montage of warm sunsets, gambolling lambs and children clutching teddy bears on the screen accompanied by gently lilting music. There were “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd before a short film with a group of furigans in bobble hats and freshly pressed long johns began. As usual, they looked into the camera with big round eyes and frightened expressions while a voiceover admonished people to be Nice, its tone at once patronising and hectoring. The furigans skipped through a meadow of buttercups in slow motion as the sun’s rays beat down on them until they came to a hill. At its crest stood a smartly dressed family with their backs turned to them. The furigans stopped and looked up to the summit. The camera zoomed in on a young furigan girl, one big tear rolling down a rosy cheek. The image faded out, leaving the legend, “Let’s try to be nice for once, eh?”
The next film was a furigan screaming and snarling into the camera, the sound muted. His face filled the screen as he lunged forward, coating the camera lens with flecks of spittle. He backed away and made a slashing gesture then lunged forward again. The film played in a loop then stopped. “Shocked? Angry?” a voice admonished. “Have you thought about how he feels?”
“How can we do this to them?” a voice behind Roger trembled.
“What kind of a society treats its vulnerable like this?” said another.
Roger looked around and bit his tongue. Everyone except him was nodding.
Throughout the square, the mood grew subdued as the crowd was pummelled with images of helpless furigans being bullied, the voiceover repeatedly chiding viewers for being heartless. A young man near the front held his head in his hands before putting his arm around the girl next to him as he began to sob.
“Synthetic emotions,” Roger gagged.
He looked away, catching the gaze of a woman in her mid-thirties with glossy brown hair and chestnut eyes. She looked at Bill and rolled her eyes with a smile. Amanda Cooper had been a rising star within the Liberal Democratic Party, tipped as a future Minister of Finance, but her career had stalled when Bill had become Sori Daijin and she had suddenly been sacked. Roger had met her at a business conference after she had become a Member of the National Diet and they had instantly established a rapport.
“You’re the only person who sees through this madness,” he had said. “I feel as though I live in an alien world.”
“You have to speak out,” she had replied. “The Government fears you.”
She had leant in, their faces almost touching, her voice barely a whisper.
“Bill’s propaganda is slick, but it hides a lot of dirt. If people knew the truth, there’d be an uprising.”
Roger had known exactly what she meant. Officials acquiring assets they could never have earned, funds unaccounted for, misappropriation, embezzlement, cronyism; the rumours were abundant, but nothing had ever been proven. It was tantalising, frustrating, elusive. If only it could be made public. If....
The square darkened and the gentle piped music was replaced by a low hissing noise. Amanda slipped away as Roger faced the front. NASTINESS, the screen flashed against footage of ordinary people walking down a street, IS ON THE RISE. The Stewards thudded their placards on the ground as the film cut to footage of Bill addressing his last party conference.
“Nastiness is the menace we must always guard against,” he said as films of people screaming, war and corpses appeared onscreen. “There are those who don’t want a Nice society. They poison minds: picking on the weak and vulnerable, blaming them for our failings. Nastiness is a conspiracy for power and its forces are growing. It must be stopped.”
The crowd began to get agitated; anger and hatred flashing across their faces.
“Nastiness is evil,” a stentorian voice boomed, the words appearing onscreen to reinforce the message. “Stamp it out!”
The crowd began stamping and shouting, crying out for the Forces of Nastiness to be punished. Roger reeled, feeling the relentless pressure to conform. This was the insidious thing about the Political Consensus. There was no law forcing anyone to conform, nor any forbidding dissent. Language had been loaded so as to make support obligatory and opposition impossible. To celebrate furigans and condemn society was to be Nice, the supreme political virtue, whereas to criticise furigans and praise society was to be Nasty, the ultimate vice. It was a simple choice: to be branded Nasty meant an end to one’s career. Free speech hadn’t been abolished, only distorted so the Political Consensus dominated by default.
The compere returned to the stage, accompanied by the Shacho of the Compassion Foundation and a pop singer. The hissing noise stopped and the light brightened as anticipation replaced anxiety.
“And now for the moment you have all been waiting for,” the compere announced, “The naming of this year’s Figure of Hate!”
The crowed hushed as the singer stepped forward to the podium and opened an envelope. Roger winced.
“This year’s Figure of Hate is,” she beamed, “Phil Tucker!”
The crowd cheered as the name flashed onscreen in huge letters. A wheeled trolley bearing an effigy emerged from a hatch then trundled slowly down the trackway as the crowd pelted it with rotten eggs. A group of youths leapt over the barrier and bashed the effigy with baseball bats before being escorted out by security.
The trolley reached the front, where two stagehands removed the effigy and the compere handed the microphone to the Shacho of the Compassion Foundation.
“We’re all aware of this man’s vile malopinions,” he said, “Stirring up hatred, using Nastywords and calling the Helpless ‘furigans.’ We thought this sort of Nastiness had been eradicated, but it shows how far we have to go.”
Roger watched as the screen played a short film of Phil spliced together from old interviews, interpolated with clips of people being beaten. It was like the furigan violence, except actors playing furigans were attacked by actors dressed in suits. The effect was instant. Whenever Phil appeared, the crowd became a snarling pack, baying for his blood. The couple who had been in tears earlier were now screaming at the screen and waving their fists.
“Furiganism,” Phil said in his plummy accent, “is an attack on civilisation.”
At the sound of the word “furigan,” the crowd threw itself into a frenzy, egged on by the Compassion Stewards, who banged their placards ever harder, shouting “Death to the hater!”
“Phil’s a decent bloke,” Roger protested, but no-one could hear him above the din.
The lights dimmed and the crowd went quiet as a soft drum roll began. The singer collected a torch from the corner of the stage and approached the pyre, her smile now gone. She stopped and held the torch aloft, then with one dramatic movement set it alight. Fireworks lit up the square while music boomed from loudspeakers and the crowd went wild, yelling and jeering. Onstage, Bill chuckled while his fellow ministers gloated.
“We’re making fools of ourselves,” Roger cried. “A society that hates itself and loves its enemies is finished.”
The spotlight returned to the stage for the closing message. Roger scanned the square as those onstage stood up to sing “Let’s build a nicer society.” Apart from a few individuals, the crowd was paying no attention, whooping and cheering as they looked for things to smash. In one corner, a group of Compassion Stewards had broken away and were charging down the streets chanting “Phil oroshi, Nastiness oroshi.” Roger watched as the screen switched to the news, where a reporter was running after them.
“A group of revellers,” the reporter puffed, “Have left the square to protest outside novelist Phil Tucker’s home.”
He stopped as they reached the writer’s home and smeared his windows with filth, one man running up to the front door and urinating in his letterbox before coverage ended abruptly.
Roger watched in horror, trying to imagine what Phil must have been going through. You can stand up for yourself in a fair fight, but not at Compassion Day. It’s a ritual, a human sacrifice, victims thrown to their foes – and I’m next. He looked at the remaining Stewards watching him through narrowed eyes and his horror turned to hatred. I know you bastards hate me. I know you want to do that to me. Well, screw you! As Phil’s image disappeared from the screen, his defiance evaporated. Phil Tucker was nothing. It was him they wanted and how badly they wanted him. To them, he was Nastiness incarnate: his speeches and attacks on furiganism nothing more than a campaign to seize power and make himself Shogun. Worse, the image of him as a power-hungry nationalist was not confined to the political classes. Murky dealings, secret links to the military, allegations of a criminal past; nothing had ever been substantiated, but nothing had gone away either. He could blame the media all he liked, but if ordinary people saw him as a would-be tyrant….
He looked up, alone with his enemies in the emptying square, unable to bear it any longer. If being accused of Nastiness was irritating, the prospect of being slandered filled him with dread. What could he do? He had little personal appeal and the media were hostile. With a shudder, he turned to leave, only to find Bill blocking his path.
“I want a little chat,” Bill smiled.
Roger gave him a surly look and the grin faded.
“Some of your recent comments have caused us concern,” Bill said. “There’s a feeling you’re not fully behind us.”
He paused as the Compassion Stewards marched off.
“But I know you better. I know I can count on your enthusiastic support. Next Compassion Day, we will finally eliminate Nastiness.”
He grinned and left, leaving Roger to stare at the effigy’s charred remains.
The aircraft began its descent, snapping Roger from his thoughts. Nervously, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a brown envelope. Inside was a sheet of paper, a military intelligence report.
Assessment on the Threat of Insurgency
Enemy: the Movement for Supreme Love (known colloquially as “the Muhonin”) – a chiliastic religious cult with its own underground army. Highly motivated, disciplined and exceptionally violent, its aim the total destruction of society.
Muhonin Strategy typically follows a three-staged insurgency:
Stage One: aggressively recruit new members, build up arms, form alliances with anti-social elements such as furigan gangs.
Stage Two: mount hit-and-run attacks against the state, typically beginning with assassination of low-level officials.
Stage Three: full-scale attack: pin down civil forces with furigan allies in coordinated nationwide rioting while Muhonin attack and destroy state targets.
Assessment: Muhonin weaponry at least as sophisticated as those of the Self Defence Forces, possibly including chemical and biological weapons. Stage One should be considered complete and Stage Two ready.
Threat Level: IMMINENT
Roger stared at the page, thinking of the Muhonin holy book The Divine Prophecies, which prophesied that humanity would be cleansed through violence in a “Supreme Rebeginning.” They had launched numerous insurgencies to bring it about, none of which had succeeded, but all of which had caused massive bloodshed. On their own, neither furigan violence nor Muhonin insurgency could bring down a state, but together, with the Government weak and society fragmented, an uprising could well succeed. As the aircraft touched down, he began writing furiously:
OUTLOOK BLEAK: barracks at crisis point – Muhonin ready to strike – government blind – state failure – social collapse – consequences unimaginable
The limo took him the remaining distance home, stopping in the security bay outside the gates of Suzuki Hall. The Head of Security strode from the guardhouse and saluted as a tracked bomb detector scanned beneath the vehicle. Roger smiled back, trying to hide his disquiet. A Muhonin Insurgency would sound so far-fetched as to be ludicrous, yet the threat was real. He had to speak out, but it wasn’t just the media he had to worry about. He thought of his wife Jane’s growing friendliness with Bill. If he were made Figure of Hate, would she stand by him? The gates swung open and the limo glided down the oak-lined driveway, halting by the statue of a girl playing a violin. As he stepped out, he could already feel isolation enveloping him.
Jane was in the front room, hunkered down with a glass of red wine, watching an old black and white film and wearing a collarless tweed trouser suit. Petite with short red-grey hair, she was and everything he was not: cheerful and gentle with a warm smile and infectious laughter, a person who was the focus of every social occasion. However, while friends said she was the person they liked to be around, those who had fallen out with her told another story: of warm smiles replaced by icy glares and friendships abandoned at a stroke. She was not was a member of the Robinsons for nothing, they said. Hers was the wealthy industrial family from Derbyshire of whom it was said that “steel ran in the blood.”
Roger tiptoed past the ikebana display and bust of Winston Churchill and sat down beside her.
“Good day?” she said without looking up.
She nodded an “uh-huh,” still absorbed in her film.
There was a long silence as he watched the small tracked robot rake the gravel in the karesansui garden. She turned the film off and looked at him, her arms folded.
“Have you reached agreement with the board yet?”
“You’re turning a minor spat into a keiretsu-wide problem, Roger. Find a compromise; those directors only want to expand the business.” Her expression softened slightly. “Come on, let’s enjoy a glass of wine together.”
She poured a glass, but he would not be moved.
“This is no spat,” he said. “Bill’s behind it.”
“Bill?” she laughed. “I think you’re suffering an incipient megalomania. Nobody’s trying to force you out and nobody’s trying to take over Greenwood.”
His expression turned dark.
“While we’re blathering on about Compassion Day, our enemies are arming. A failed state, Jane – it could happen here. The Government is supposed to be our sword and shield, but Bill’s stuffed it up. Look beneath the surface; we’re heading for disaster.”
“Roger, stop this nonsense,” she cut in. “The state is not going to fail and society won’t collapse. It’s make-believe, the talk of the lunatic fringe – and if you continue to talk like this, you’ll end up making yourself Figure of Hate.”
She smiled sympathetically and put her hand on his knee.
“You’re a brilliant businessman, but also a political novice. You’re too thin-skinned to succeed in politics. I see how much their lies hurt you, but you will insist. Stop listening to cranks and focus on Greenwood, where you can still be a hero. Why sacrifice everything?”
Why sacrifice everything? He scowled as memories of past disappointments bubbled up and a deep voice boomed inside him: You’ve never achieved what you were capable of and you never will. You lack what it takes for greatness. Retire. Keep quiet. Give in. He sank back as he remembered the intelligence report. He was all that stood between the people and the Supreme Rebeginning, but what could he do? He was alone, devoid of political power, he had to get to his enemies before they got him, but his enemies held all the advantage, except one. Bill. He was hiding something – something bad, something worse than corruption…. His insides froze. No, he could never give in. He had to go on, impelled towards the one thing that truly terrified him.
Jane smiled and put an arm around him.
“I’m sorry,” she said, giving him a kiss. “I’m only trying to help. We’re a team – you the visionary and me the realist. Kudasai, Roger, don’t get drawn into a reckless political adventure.”
He looked at her, his eyes melancholy.
“Let them make me Figure of Hate. I will be Sori Daijin. I have to defeat the Muhonin.”
Fear shot across her face. She took his hand, her face etched with concern.
“Roger itoshii, listen to me. There are some things you just can’t say.” She squeezed his hand, “I don’t want you to get killed.”
A loud explosion ripped through the air, scattering gravel against the window. They sat alert for a minute then went outside. Apart from some wrecked streetlights, there was little damage. They cuddled up close as people groaned and a woman cried for help. He looked at her with a grave expression as police sirens wailed in the distance.
“It’s happening,” he said.