Takeda Katsuyori had survived 14 flash-level conflicts, 8 complete immersions, 29 cases of circuitry failure and 5 invasions. He was going to be awarded for butchering his friend and comrade, Kakare Minamoto, into multiple, non-merging, non-germinating portions. He was going to be awarded a Noble Citizen’s award for Exceptional Performance on the battlefield.
He had long-since forgotten what it meant to live without his suit. It didn’t have the new shine as it used to. It had survived many battles, and contrary to what the critics had said when it was released, it was indeed far more robust than the older version. He once wore the sleek armor as a token of his loyalty and pride, and indeed it was no small honor to be in service of the Shogun himself. But lately, he felt naked without it. Especially today, when he was going to be honored before The Shogun’s Consulate. All 12,000 of them.
The Shogun’s gathering was uncomfortably quiet.
He waited in the silence, watching all the dark visors of his troops show his own reflection back at him. They were silent and strong and multiple people. People, not monsters, reinforced the Shogun. They were not the killing machines that they wore on their skins. How natural it should be then that he was to commemorate a man who had slain his best friend. How natural it should be then that he should commemorate a man who had slain a monster.
Takeda Katsuyori had been asked to appear on the central podium seven minutes ago. His form had not shifted from the crowd. It was against protocol to violate explicit orders but the Shogun thought that perhaps Katsuyori needed a moment to overcome his emotions and let the silence simmer for a few more minutes. The Shogun felt oddly comforted by their awkwardness. It seemed to re-affirm the humanity behind the suits.
But it wasn’t just Katsuyori. Of all the faces that stood before him, the Shogun was sure that Katsuyori’s was the only one that was unafraid. He had survived his fifth invasion. Yet, he had not been taken. Neither had he defected. He had hunted down the Other forces with cold ruthlessness. The soldiers who worked under him said that when he lifted his visor, his eyes would appear to be blank and yet his grip firm. He did not care whether what he fired at was human or Other. This worried the Shogun somewhat. How was he expected to control a man who felt no fear?
In fact, any one of them could be suffering from the spasms of an invasion right now and he would never find out. Blood could drip on inside the visor for days at a stretch, and if for some reason the wearer of the suit struggled to open it, only then would the contamination spread. The Shogun could not deny that he felt helpless in being the only person present without a visor or a helmet or even a veil of sorts.
The change in interpersonal dynamics was noticeable more so after the Midori no kawa (Green River) mission. Midori no Kawa had once been a freshwater river that marked the longest stretch of uncontested border between their empire and the Other. It used to be called Green because scientists had discovered that it hosted a rare species of natural algae which made the water appear somewhat colored, but potable. But then, the Other had started discharging their radiological effluents into it, and now it was a toxic gush of chemicals.
The Midori no Kawa ran through a very barren stretch, having contaminated the region in about 50 km radius. Citizens of the village nearby had to be moved elsewhere, and in fact that was one of the strategic points of the conflict with the Others. The new suits that were designed for the samurai were designed to withstand the effluent and allow comfortable ventilation, while securing the wearer from toxins.
Except Minamoto’s suit had failed. The toxins had managed to invade his system and soon all the cells in his body were desperately splicing themselves, tearing through the restrictive fabric of the suit. What had once been Kakare Minamoto was now two sentient human beings smashed together in some haphazard freak of nature. His brain as unable to cope with the sudden expansion in multiplicity in organs, and he died a painful, horrifying, agonizing death. Katusyori still remembered Kakare’s fourth arm trying to force its way into his mouth as he started screaming. Katsuyori suppressed the urge to fidget nervously and wipe off the imaginary flecks of what had once been Kakare’s blood off his feet.
The Shogun called him out again. Katsuyori started the slow, halting walk to the podium.
The other visor heads tilted slightly towards him as a token of respect for his accomplishments. For some inexplicable reason Katsuyori started feeling nervous. His rational mind justified it was stage fright, puzzled somewhat at the sudden outbreak of sweat within the helmet. The other attendees watched the visor falter slightly from it’s upright position. Was Katsuyori losing his sense of balance?
Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.
Katsuyori walked firmly, in fact he even possible marched up to the podium and dropped into a graceful, neat, practiced bow before the Shogun. The same bow that Kakare had dropped to. But he did not dare to think about Kakare now, especially now that his sole achievement to glory had been slaying that very person who had been his best friend. Even then, even then, there must be some strength in the person who could see that his best friend had morphed into a monster and wasn’t the man he had trained with and laughed with.The Shogun stepped closer to him on the podium and Katsuyori felt that in order to suppress the huge waves of disgust, he had better stare down at the floor and keep swallowing his own saliva to dry up his rapidly drying throat. Within the suit, the temperatures began to sore uncomfortably, and it would have been a breach of grace if Katsuyori upset his position to start a self-diagnostic on the suit. Come on man, you have survived 5 invasions from the Other. You know how to control your mind.
But when the helmet visor flew up, for the Shogun requested to see his face before placing the award onto his now-shivering outstretched arms, Katsuyori raised his head looking for that desperate source of fresh air. Yet even he, the experienced, the survivor, the brave had no idea what was coming.
And fresh prey.
What had once been Katsuyori started bursting through the reams of the suit, expanding the human form at an alarming rate. The cells in Katsuyori’s body forgot their genetic instructions, and parts of his human anatomy that were not designed to stretch pulled himself apart and Takeda Katsuyori exploded in gruesome mass of rapidly multiplying and self-morphing cells. One of his four malformed arms was creeping towards the Shogun and another large limb, stretched out as a tentacle, blocking off the Shogun’s access to help. One of Katsuyori’s own hands tried to strangle him to death while his skin ruptured and there was blood all over.
The Shogun struggled in the creature’s grasp as more of it tried to make it’s way inside him, through his pores, his eyes, nose and every open access to his body. The Shogun’s silent, suffocating protests seemed to accentuate the horrible tragedy of Katsuyori’s rapidly dissolving voice. The acoustics of the podium had been designed to magnify the sounds on the stage and indeed 11, 999 of the visor signals picked up the audio from the stage.
It was an awful spectacle indeed, to watch a comrade give in to an invasion. It was perhaps still more awful that the Shogun submitted to an easy and equally painful death, because he was defenseless and unprepared. As Shogun, he was dying a disgraceful and pathetic death, having been caught at the hands of the enemy when he least expected it. He was dying simply because he had been unprepared for this contingency. He had been stupid to assume that behind the visor was a man who had survived 5 invasions, after all, no human being had ever been able to survive five consecutive invasions and still function normally. Katsuyori had been waiting to blow, for a long time, and the Shogun’s neurons had been ripped apart too long ago to experience the consequences of his stupidity.
There were 11, 999 soldiers tasked with the duty of protecting their land and protecting the Shogun and his legitimacy to rule them. Not one of them moved in the slightest as the greatest mutiny of their time happened right before their eyes. Not a single one came to the rescue, no more was there any awkward shuffling. They simply stood there, rod straight, silent and watching.
There was no remaining human left to tell the deceased Shogun that behind those black visors were the green radioactive ghosts of smiles.