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TEN BILLION DAYS AND ONE HUNDRED BILLION NIGHTS
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A SMALL CHARRED FACE
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ROKURO INUI

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Excerpt from AUTOMATIC EVE

“A dark and fascinating meditation on what makes us human–think Blade Runner, but set in the Floating World of Edo Japan. Plus sumo wrestling!”—Molly Tanzer, author of Vermilion and Creatures of Will and Temper

“Amazing,” he said. “Kyuzo can even re-create memories in his automata?”

He sat down beside her and examined her face closely, noting the concern in it. He touched her cheek. It was as soft as a mochi rice cake, and he saw the downy fuzz on her skin, dazzling white

as the sunlight caught it. No matter how he tried, he could not convince himself that she was a creature of springs and gears like the macaw at Kyuzo’s mansion.

Could she actually be real?

He began to nurse this suspicion a while after they moved in together. But there was one thing he didn’t understand: how she could be identical to Hatori. Unless Hatori had a twin sister he

had been unaware of, he could not see the Eve who stood before him as anyone other than Hatori herself.

When he asked Eve directly, she insisted that she was nothing but an automaton made in Hatori’s image. But even when they shared the bed at night, she gave no indication of anything but humanity, to the point that Nizaemon found it disturbing. This led him to wonder where exactly Hatori had gone and what she was doing with the freedom he had given her.

Abandoning his resolution to make a clean break, refrain from looking for her, and comfort himself with Eve alone, he hired someone to search for her.

They found nothing. His suspicions grew stronger.

#

Without telling Eve, Nizaemon went to visit the Thirteen Floors.

Hatori’s old room was now used by her former attendant Kozakai, who had since graduated to full courtesan. Nizaemon bought her attentions for the evening.

“You mustn’t sneak around behind Hatori’s back, Niza,” she said, looking surprised but not entirely unhappy to see him. She leaned into him with a flirtatious smile, perhaps remembering how freely he had spent as Hatori’s client.

But Nizaemon had other intentions.

“Do you know the man Hatori was in love with?” he asked her. Seeing that Nizaemon was as single-mindedly infatuated with her old mistress as ever, Kozakai gradually abandoned the coquettish approach and looked at him with exasperation from under a furrowed brow.

“And her little toe—who did she send it to?”

At first Kozakai insisted that she knew nothing, nothing at all, but eventually she talked, although not without resistance. His sheer dogged persistence might have worn her down.

“Hatori told me not to say anything, so you didn’t hear this from me,” she began.

He nodded.

“I was the one who cut off her toe, with the help of one of the boys from our establishment. I tied it off tightly where it joins the foot and chopped it off with a single blow from a carving knife. The bleeding went on forever, and—”

“I don’t care about that,” Nizaemon said irritably. “Get to the point.”

“We put the toe in a silk-lined box and then had the boy deliver it.”

“Where?”

“You really don’t know?”

“Enough theatrics. Just tell me.”

“Kyuzo Kugemiya.”

Nizaemon was dumbstruck.

“And Hatori told you not to tell me?”

Kozakai nodded, without meeting his eyes. She had gone pale under her white makeup.

Nizaemon’s hands trembled with rage. Everything fit together now. Hatori had sent her toe to Kyuzo as the traditional sign of devotion. They had secretly been lovers all along, conspiring against him.

They had swindled him out of his priceless fighting cricket habitat, sold it to buy Hatori’s freedom, and then taken what was left as payment for an automaton they never meant to build.

Perhaps even the habitat they had sold was just another copy and the original was still in Kyuzo’s hands.

If so, Kyuzo had ended up with not only the money and the woman but the habitat as well. He must be laughing himself sick.

The memory of Hatori’s apparent humiliation at the hands of Kyuzo came back to him. He imagined them laughing together at his discomfort, and his insides boiled with fury and shame.

“Were you laughing at me with them, too?” he demanded of Kozakai.

Once the wick of his rage was lit, it was uncontrollable. No one had ever made a fool of him like this before.

Kozakai hurriedly tried to soothe his agitation. On the Thirteen Floors, to anger a customer was taboo. She could be whipped for it if word got out. Nor would she go unpunished if it was revealed that she had helped Hatori amputate a toe and send it to a customer.

But the more desperately she sought to calm him with her feminine charms, the more of Hatori he saw in her.

When he came to his senses, her bloodied form lay at his feet.

From elsewhere in the pleasure quarters, he heard the strains of a three-stringed shamisen, coquettish voices at a party. He was fortunate that he and Kozakai had been alone in the room together.

He slid his sword back into its scabbard without even shaking the blood off, then covered Kozakai’s corpse with a blanket, blew out the lamp, and quietly left the room.

Hiding his bloodstained hands in his sleeves, he descended the staircase and departed the Thirteen Floors entirely. He crossed the bridge back across the canal and began the long walk back to the city along the path between the rice paddies, trying not to be seen.

Looking back, he saw the brightly lit Thirteen Floors towering against the indigo veil of night. Beyond the railings that ringed the balconies, through the latticed windows, he saw silhouettes without number in constant motion.

When he arrived breathlessly back at the rooms he shared with Eve, she was still awake.

Her kimono was of a plainness he would never have imagined possible from the Hatori he had known at the Thirteen Floors. She wore no powder or other makeup at all, but her simple beauty was not diminished in the slightest.

Hearing him come stumbling in, she paused and looked up from her sewing. There was surprise in her expression but also a kind of sadness, as if she had already sensed something.

“I told you happiness was not in my future,” she said.

“You’re Hatori.”

“Can I not just be Eve?”

Her dark-green eyes bored into him. For a moment Nizaemon wavered.

“Does it matter exactly what I am?” she continued. “Sometimes it is better not to know what is real and what is not.”

“If you’re an automaton,” Nizaemon said, “then show me your gears.” He drew his sword and brought it down on her where she sat.

Eve did not attempt to dodge the falling blade. She only closed her eyes, as if resigned to her fate.

A cascade of gears and springs, oil and mercury instead of blood—right up to that moment, Nizaemon still had hope that this was what he might see.

But what spilled from the wound his sword made was a tide of all-too-human blood.

Excerpt, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, v9: Upheaval

“Your Majesty, I have every intention of accepting the marshal’s staff from you alive.” Lutz retained his composure as he spoke. He even smiled. “I had the honor of sharing the founding of Your Majesty’s empire. With luck I will also share the ease and flourishing to come.”

Lutz glanced at Müller. The “Iron Wall” nodded, then respectfully took Reinhard by the arm. “We must go, Your Majesty,” he said.

Reinhard’s golden hair shone even more splendidly in the firelight.

“Lutz, when you are no longer able to fire, surrender. Von Reuentahl knows how to treat a hero.”

Lutz saluted, but spoke neither ja nor nein in reply. He watched Reinhard and the others leave, offering a final salute when the kaiser turned back one last time, and then strode unhurriedly into the trees by the path to take cover.

The limits of Lutz’s patience were not tested. Ten seconds later, roughly a platoon’s worth of pursuers turned up. Lutz opened fire.

The pursuers visibly shrank from him. They knew Lutz as a great general, but had never imagined that he was such an accurate marksman.

In just two minutes, Lutz’s blaster felled eight men, half of whom died instantly. Despite the flames and the relentlessly approaching enemies, he remained flawlessly composed. Half-concealed behind a great tree, sometimes even taking the time to brush off the sparks that showered down on him, Lutz held the line grimly. When he heard calls for him to surrender, he unflappably replied, “Surrender! And rob you of the chance to see how a senior admiral of the Lohengramm Dynasty dies? Whether you come with me or not, why not watch and learn?”

Then he extended an arm as unbending as his spirit and pulled the trigger again.

It was as if his own will poured forth from the barrel in streams of pure energy. The pursuers seemed to forgot their numbers—each of them returned fire desperately, as if facing him alone. They dove into the forest to escape his deadly accuracy, only to be chased out again by the flames.

As he loaded his third and final energy capsule into his blaster, Lutz wondered when exactly Brünhild would take off. He felt irritation not for himself but on behalf of Reinhard and the others.

The flames flickered wildly. The red and black and darkness and light that had struggled for supremacy above him was pushed aside by an all-illuminating silver gleam. Looking skyward, Lutz saw a warship that every soldier in the Galactic Empire knew. A great bird of purest white, spreading its wings amid a thicket of energy beams rising uselessly toward it from the planet’s surface. The sight was magnificent.

The transcendental moment passed. Lutz saw a thin beam of white light pierce him beneath his left clavicle, and then felt it emerge from his back just beside his left shoulder blade. Pain exploded from the point of impact, spreading to fill his body. Lutz staggered just half a pace backward, frowned slightly, and brought down two more pursuers with two more pulls of the trigger. He pressed his left hand to the breast of his uniform and felt an unpleasant stickiness. Tiny snakes of a dark, wet color trickled from between his fingers and crawled downward.

Still upright, he once more pulled the trigger, which now felt very heavy. As his target spasmed before a backdrop of flame in a brief dance of death, the left side of Lutz’s skull was pierced by a diagonal blast of return fire. A gout of blood poured from his ear. The flames disappeared from his field of vision, leaving only darkness.

Mein Kaiser . . . I am afraid I cannot make good on that promise to accept the marshal’s rod alive. I shall await my reprimand in Valhalla—but let it not be for some time yet . . .”

Excerpt, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, v8: Desolation

At 0630 on May 3, SE 800, year 2 of the New Imperial Calendar, the Galactic Imperial Navy began its entry into Iserlohn Corridor under the direct command of Kaiser Reinhard. Even after losing more than a million souls in the first skirmishes of the battle, the imperial forces still numbered 146,600 ships and 16.2 million officers and men, with more in reserve at the rear—specifically, 15,200 ships under the command of Senior Admiral August Samuel Wahlen, currently stationed between the corridor and the former alliance capital Planet Heinessen. Yang Wen-li’s fleet, on the other hand, was already down to fewer than 20,000 ships. In terms of sheer numbers, the two sides simply bore no comparison.

Kaiser Reinhard was on the bridge of the fleet flagship Brünhild, where the viewscreen showed the Imperial Navy vanguard clearing mines as they advanced.

The “Silent Commander,” Senior Admiral Ernst von Eisenach, had been chosen by the kaiser to lead the strike force that would follow.

“These orders are the greatest honor a warrior could possibly receive. I shall spare no effort to carry out Your Majesty’s wishes, and if those efforts should be insufficient I shall apologize with my life. Sieg Kaiser!”

…is what Eisenbach did not say, instead making only a deferential, silent bow before leaving the kaiser’s presence.

One by one, the other admirals received their orders and set off to their posts. Wittenfeld, who had tasted the bitter chalice of defeat in the first engagement, was given temporary command of the former Fahrenheit Fleet in addition to his own, giving him almost twenty thousand ships in total. The implication was as clear to Wittenfeld as it was to everyone else: the kaiser had high expectations of the ferocious commander’s burning desire for revenge.

Neidhart Müller, youngest of the senior admirals, was assigned to guard the rear. He had played this role at almost every stage of the kaiser’s Great Campaign since its commencement the previous year. The truth was that the Imperial Navy simply could not eliminate the uncertainty that lay in its wake as it advanced across the galaxy. Behind them stretched a vast territory that had once belonged to their now-defeated enemy. If organized rebellion should arise, it might be beyond the ability of even the seasoned Wahlen to put down. In such a case, Müller would turn back from the battlefield and cooperate with Wahlen to secure the widest possible route back to the empire’s home territory for the rest of the fleet. He was also responsible for defending against enemy attack from the rear, although that seemed impossible in their present situation.

The man who had been entrusted with the vanguard and tasked with cleaning the minefield as he plunged into the depths of the corridor was Vice Admiral Rolf Otto Brauhitsch. It was a grueling operation of more than half a day, but he completed this assignment eventually.

Brauhitsch had formerly served under Siegfried Kircheis. After Kircheis’s death, he had come under the direct command of Reinhard. Whether on the front lines or at the rear, his ability to deal with situations as they arose was first-rate, and his meticulous advance preparations and decisive leadership in battle belied his youth. Sometimes, however, he was accused of forgetting the preparations he himself had made and rushing in blindly. Perhaps it was simply that while his bravery was inborn, his attention to detail was the fruit of conscious effort.

At 2100 on May 3, Brauhitsch fired his first volley at the Yang Fleet. Return fire tore through the dark void toward him precisely fifteen seconds later. Points and beams of light multiplied by the half second until his screen had become a vast, rippling curtain of light.

From this moment on, Iserlohn Corridor was a dizzying kaleidoscope of devastation and slaughter.

###

 

In short order, the Brauhitsch Fleet was taking concentrated fire. Worse yet, the minefield behind them made retreat all but impossible.

This was all as expected—indeed, part of their strategy. Brauhitsch car- ried out the instructions he had received from the kaiser and divided his 6,400 ships into squadrons of one hundred to avoid the concentration of enemy fire, but the fleet took no little damage while executing this maneuver. With walls of fire and light penning them in both fore and aft, the vanguard of the Imperial Navy had been forced into a perilous position.

At 0220 on May 4, secretary-general of Supreme Command Headquar- ters Marshal von Reuentahl ordered the commencement of the operation’s second phase.

The release of directional Seffl particles began. The minefield was run through by five invisible pillars of cloud, which when ignited became five vast dragons of flame dancing in the void. It was both a magnificent sight and a ferocious manifestation of the terror within that very magnificence. Eventually the dragons burned themselves out, leaving five tunnels through the minefield like the fingers of some colossal god that had seized the dragons and crushed them.

High-speed cruisers poured into the five tunnels.

When they emerged into the corridor, the former alliance forces quickly showered them in fire, and many exploded into balls of flame. However, it was impossible to maintain suppressive fire on five entrances at once—and, above all, the cruisers were a diversion. While the Yang Fleet’s attention was focused on the five tunnels, the Imperial Navy’s main forces were making their entry through the path that Brauhitsch had so painstakingly cleared into the corridor proper.

After two hours of pitched battle, the imperial military finally established what might be called a bridgehead within Iserlohn Corridor.

The pure-white form of Kaiser Reinhard’s flagship Brünhild emerged into the corridor at 1200 on May 5, and the Yang Fleet’s communications channel filled at once with vocalized tension and anxiety.

Excerpt, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, v7: Tempest

On January 12, leading the entire fleet that was under his command, Lutz departed from Iserlohn Fortress. The fleet was composed of more than 15,000 vessels, and the embarkation of this stately swarm of light flecks was picked up by the Yang Fleet right away—though since this was being done for show, that was only natural.

“Admiral Lutz has left Iserlohn.”

On January 13, that report from Bagdash was greeted with cheers and whistles among the crew of the Yang Fleet. Another of “Yang Wen-li’s miracles” was on the verge of coming to pass, and it was how well theyfought that would determine whether or not it came true. Voices rose up calling for an advance celebration, and in no time bottles of whiskey were passing from hand to hand, each soldier drinking in turn.

In the midst of such a cheerful, fearless crew, not even calm, imperturbable Merkatz—whom some even called “the Yang Fleet’s only gentleman”—could maintain the dignified aloofness of his imperial days. Although he just touched his lips to the drink for appearances’ sake, when he awkwardly raised aloft a small flask of whiskey, the applause and the cheers grew even louder, and that was when he opened his mouth with something important to say.

“We have Lutz acting in accordance with our plan, but Lutz must also think that he has us acting according to his plan. He is an outstanding tactician, and the fleet he commands is ten times the size of ours. Unless we can gain control of the fortress before he turns around and overwhelms us, our chance for victory will be lost forever. The battle to capture the fortress will commence immediately. Vice Admiral von Schönkopf, I’d like to ask you to command the front line.”

“You can rest assured, Admiral. Just leave it to me.”

Von Schönkopf saluted, showing not a hint of apprehension. In that year of SE 800, he would turn thirty-six, a graceful gentleman in his prime. Watching him, Julian was remembering Yang’s explanation of the plan to capture the fortress.

“…Lutz is a fine admiral. He understands just how important Iserlohn is, so even if the kaiser orders him to mobilize, it’s possible that he’ll stay put and beg him to reconsider. And even if he departs Iserlohn per the kaiser’s command, there’s no telling when he might catch on to our plan and turn back. That’s why we’re letting him know up front what our plan is. If he sits there and doesn’t mobilize, there’s nothing we can do, but depending on how we leak the intel, we can probably make him think that he’s catching us in a trap. And to catch us in that trap, it will be necessary for him to be a certain distance away from the fortress. The farther away he moves, the easier it gets for our plan to succeed. You may think I’m relying too much on cheap tricks, but cheap tricks are what we need… so that Lutz can see through them…”

Lutz fell splendidly into Yang’s trap. At that time, the orthodox tactician—who under normal circumstances would have led a large force and an impregnable fortress to crush Yang’s group head-on without resorting to stopgap tricks—was 800,000 kilometers from port, watch­ing on the screen of his flagship as the Yang fleet bore down on the fortress.

“They’ve fallen for it, those wandering bandits.”

Kornelias Lutz was hardly what might he called a frivolous man, but just this once, he couldn’t contain the joy that was bubbling up inside him. At long last, Yang Wen-li, that living treasure trove of trickery and ingenious plans, was about to become ensnared in his own trap, and the knee of the Imperial Navy would soon weigh heavily against his neck.

His joy, however, was not to be long-lived. Though he waited and waited, the white column of Thor’s Hammer—the fortress’s main cannon, capable at any moment of erasing those impertinent enemies from the sky at point-blank range—never roared forth. The commanding officer’s eyes were locked on the screen, while behind him, his staff officers were exchanging uneasy and suspicious glances.

“Why isn’t Thor’s Hammer firing?” Lutz shouted. A nervous, agitated sweat dampened the brow of the Imperial Navy’s intrepid admiral. His carefully timed, intricately constructed plan was beginning to collapse like a wall of sand.

###

On the other side of an 800,000-kilometer void, the tension inside Iser­lohn Fortress had rapidly grown into worry, followed by panic. Operators flooded the comm channels with a mixture of screams and curses, and their fingers raced vainly across their keyboards as though they were amateur pianists.

“It isn’t working!”

“No response!”

“Control is not possible!”

Their cries resounded against one another. Numerous transmissions had been broadcast from the rapidly closing Yang Fleet. One of them that Iserlohn’s computers picked up was a string of words no operator could have considered a normal transmission—“For health and beauty, have a cup of tea after every meal”—and in that instant, all defensive systems immediately went down.

Vice Admiral Wöhler, entrusted by Lutz with the vital mission of defending the fortress, could feel something akin to a toothache shooting through his mental circuitry. The sense of victory he had felt up until a moment ago had been purged from his body, replaced by the oppressive weight of a nightmare presaging doom.

“Break off computer control and switch over to manual! Fire Thor’s Hammer at all costs!” The orders caught in his throat, and wouldn’t eas­ily leave his mouth.

Despair transformed into sound, and leapt from the operator’s mouth.

“It’s no good, Commander! It’s impossible!”

Understanding and terror invaded Vice Admiral Wöhler’s right and left lungs, and finding it increasingly hard to breathe, he sat there frozen in the command seat.

That keyword for disabling the fortress defenses had been the seed of Yang Wen-li’s magic trick—one he had planted one year ago, when he had fled from the fortress. Even so, what an absurd pass phrase! For his part, Yang felt he had worked very hard to come up with an utterance that carried no risk of being used in Iserlohn’s official transmissions dur­ing the next few years—although not even he could have put up a strong argument for it in terms of stylishness and taste.

Clearly, there had to be another phrase to unlock the systems, but as a practical problem, discovering it was an impossibility.

When the Imperial Navy had recovered Iserlohn, a large number of ultra-low-frequency bombs had been discovered. It had been believed that the fleeing Free Planets’ forces had tried and failed to detonate the fortress. However, when he thought about it now, that had actually been an exceedingly clever feint, designed to divert the Imperial Navy’s eyes from the real trap.

“The enemy is about to storm the port!”

“Close the gates! Don’t let them inside!”

Although the order was given, the reply was not hard to guess. When he heard the operator’s cry that the gates couldn’t he closed, Wöhler stood up from the command seat, and gave the order to prepare for hand-to-hand combat. The air inside the fortress vibrated with the sound of alarms.

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