Part 81: Salo Republic
Stars seemed to spin around inside my head. I could just lie down on the floor, but that'd only make him more angry. I've no intention of being obedient. Still, it'd be stupid to get myself punched for no reason, so I got up and stood at attention...
The fighting's close, is it? You really think the American troops are likely to show up on this forgotten island? Then let them come right now. That's what I've been waiting for all this time.
"What's this cowardly look you're wearing?! Is this how afraid you are of death?! Are you so scared of those Americans?! You won't be killin' any of them with an attitude like that!!"
I was hit again.
They let themselves be controlled by this inexplicable anger because it was the only way to distract themselves from their own fear. Heart and spirit aren't any use when the battle becomes hopeless. When trapped by an insurmountable hopelessness, humans will rely on several other emotions to escape their fear. For these young, inexperienced soldiers, anger was a very convenient emotion to fall back upon. Anger is the wine they used to paralyze their fear. It made them chant 'damn the British, damn the Americans' as they swung their bamboo spears around and called it 'drilling'. The more one drinks wine, the more they need to drink to get drunk. Their useless anger continued to pile up, day after day, without pause.
I... did not fear death. So, I had no need of the wine called anger. This made their cowardice all the more apparent to me.
"What's that look on your face?! Ushiromiya, you've lost your nerve down to your very soul!! You're a fish, that's what you are. You've got the eyes of a dead fish!!"
However, it went both ways. Just as I was able to spot their cowardice... They were able to pick up on my lethargy.
"Stand up! No slouching about! Double tiiiiime!!"
First Lieutenant Yamamoto was the commanding officer in charge of the Rokkenjima garrison. He was just another filthy coward trying to forget his fear with violence, and would often reprimand his subordinates for slacking off at the drop of a hat. The stories of his life he'd spout off when in a good mood were all about how much of a thug he had been, ignoring the rules of society. On and on about how so-and-so was a prick so he taught them a lesson, or how everyone was so scared of him that he got special treatment. He kept on talking about what a vile human he was as though it was a badge of honor.
Normally, I had nothing to do with this disagreeable lieutenant. He would always hang around with his non-commissioned subordinates, so as long as I treated him with a snappy salute, I could more or less ignore him for the time being. Now that the construction project on this island has been suspended indefinitely, there's no longer any use for an engineer like me. So, why did the lieutenant ask for me specifically? At that moment, I couldn't think of anything...
"I am proficient in both English and Chinese, sir."
The lieutenant liked to brag about his education in front of the non-commissioned officers, but he held a bit of a grudge against me for being even more highly educated than him. Since he also felt uncomfortable about having a subordinate who was older than him, I wasn't exactly a person he would be willing to confide in. Just the fact that I knew several languages must have hurt his pride.
"What about Italian?"
"I don't speak that."
"So, you wouldn't be much help as an interpreter between me and an Italian person, would you?"
"It should be possible if they speak English as well."
"...Ah, yes, very true! Have you ever talked with a foreigner in English?!"
Why on Earth would he need an interpreter in a cave on an uninhabited island that even our superiors have forgotten? His question made it clear that some guest had arrived on Rokkenjima who would need an interpreter.
"Good! Ushiromiya, you'll be my interpreter, that's an order!"
BGM: Bore Ral
That pointless cavern submarine dock that had never been used... was now being approached slowly by a submarine of the Italian Navy. Of course, I knew that the Italians had been our allies. However, this was the first time I had seen anything from their military with my own eyes.
"It was the Kingdom of Italy that surrendered. However, the ones who couldn't accept that surrender joined Mussolini and formed the RSI, so that they could continue fighting."
"The Italian Social Republic. Also known as the Salo Republic."
"You know your history. The ignorant often call the Italians cowards, saying that they surrendered first of the Axis powers in 1943. That's not true. The military of the Italian Social Republic fought bravely from the outbreak of war until April 29, 1945."
"And Berlin fell just three days after that. Far from being cowards, they gave one hell of a fight. Still, I'm surprised the RSI Navy even had possession of a submarine that could travel all the way to Japan."
"...Even if they did, it's a surprise that they'd come out this far at all. Why would they come to Japan? To Rokkenjima?"
The submarine was both weather-worn and massive. I doubt anyone had imagined that a foreign submarine would come all the way here... when we'd never even had one of our own submarines dock here. All of the guards of Rokkenjima, of which there were only about 30, stood at attention as the submarine docked.
"I heard a mine or some kinda accident trashed their sub."
"From what I heard, it sounds like their ventilator broke down and the cabin got packed with chlorine gas."
"Lieutenant was hinting about there being something veeery important in there..."
"You mean like a code machine or the blueprints for some new kind of engine?"
"I couldn't care less what they're carrying, i'm more surprised that the higher-ups still remember we exist..."
"Hurry up, Ushiromiya!! How're you supposed to interpret from over there?!!"
On top of the hatch was a young Italian saluting us. Normally, this should have been the job of a commissioned officer, but his clothes looked like those of a sailor, and it really didn't look like he had the dignity and composure of a ship's captain. That probably meant that all of the commissioned officers in charge had died in the accident that had befallen this sub. Crew members crawled out of the hatch one by one, but they all looked pale and entirely worn out.
I'm not sure how long ago the accident happened, but being crammed together in a tiny sub filled with chlorine gas for any amount of time can't be good for your health. Not only had the ventilators broken, but traveling about carelessly on the surface of the waters around Japan these days would be foolish in the extreme. Their trip had been like one inside a can of poison gas. Almost all of them were unable to walk without leaning on someone else. It looked like a bunch of people staggering out of a hospital boat.
"Ushiromiya! Ask them who the captain is! Tell them that I'm in charge of this island!"
The crew members seemed to understand that I was speaking English, but it looked as though none of them could speak it. Eventually, someone who seemed to be dressed as an officer saluted.
"<Welcome to Japan. Are you the captain?>"
"<I cannot speak English>... <Please, wait.>"
The officer answered in slow, laborious English. After asking us to wait, he shouted something to his subordinates in rapid Italian. It looked as though he was telling them to get someone among them who could speak English.
"Ushiromiya, what're they talking about?!"
"They've asked us to wait. They might be looking for someone there who can speak English."
At that moment, I heard a high-pitched cough. It wasn't a man's cough. It was a woman's.
BGM: Ballade Continuer
As she came down from the hatch, a woman with beautiful golden hair said this in English. In this filthy cavern, the appearance of one as beautiful as she was seemed like an angel descending upon us...
"<The captain is dead. That man over there is the only officer left.>"
"<My condolences. Can we do anything to assist you?>"
"<Well, we would like some fresh air and water. Some of us are still having trouble breathing. We'd like a place to rest.>"
"<We would be happy to help. Do any of the others understand English?>"
"<There were some who did, but they're all dead. I'm the only one now.>"
"Ushiromiya! What's that woman talking about?! Who's the captain? That man from a second ago?! Who is that woman?! Let's see some translating, dammit!!"
The lieutenant has been yelling like that for a while now. He must have been surprised to see such a beautiful woman appear from the submarine... and more than a little annoyed to see all of her attention focused on me alone. It was a mark... of how divinely beautiful she was.
"Sir, it seems that she's the only one who understands English. She will act as their interpreter. Their captain is dead. That officer seems to be acting in his place."
"<Who's that loud man who keeps yelling at you? Don't tell me he's your superior.>"
"<Yes, unfortunately. He probably doesn't like seeing me have such a beautiful lady all to myself.>"
"<Oho. I didn't expect such flattery from an Asian. Your English is superb. I imagine you've been brought up very well. Unlike that rude man who keeps on shouting. They should have made you the officer in charge around here.>"
"<Oh? I didn't expect such flattery from a Westerner.>"
"<*giggle*! You're an interesting man. What's your name?>"
"<Ushiromiya... Kinzo. If you don't mind, may I ask for your name as well?>"
"<Welcome, Beatrice. Welcome to Japan.>"
"...So, Beatrice was an Italian."
"Yes. She was the daughter of a high-ranking RSI official. Apparently, their most important cargo was her father himself. Sadly, he had already died by the time they reached Rokkenjima."
"Why would a high official like that come to Japan? You're saying he went through the Suez Canal and crossed the Indian Ocean to come all the way here?"
"That's a good point. If they wanted to reach one of their allies, Germany should have been much closer. So, why would they make the long trip to Japan?"
"...It may have been part of some grand, outrageous strategy. I don't know all the details, but shortly after, I learned that this submarine's mission was far from a minor one..."
However, only about 10 of them, including Beatrice, had survived. Their submarine had apparently hit a mine or something in the nearby waters and sustained a great deal of damage. They told us that it had flooded rapidly with water, which had taken out the batteries and released a large amount of chlorine gas. Their sub had become completely incapable of continuing further, nothing but a massive lump of metal floating by the dock.
Since the sub seemed to be carrying 'something of immense value', the higher-ups ordered us to investigate. After questioning the Italians, with Beatrice and me acting as double interpreters, we concluded that this thing of immense value must have been her father himself. Apparently, Beatrice's father was extremely high up in the RSI hierarchy, and it was thought that he might have worked alongside Mussolini himself. Though their massive voyage had apparently been part of some top-secret mission, now that the man himself and all of the commissioned officers had died, their reason for coming to Japan remained a mystery. And, since the higher-ups were telling us to investigate, that meant that even they didn't know what it was.
Their ship had broken down, their mission was unknown, and the high official they had been carrying was dead. And even the Japanese government didn't know why they were here. The Italians' great and perilous voyage... had come to a meaningless and utterly fruitless end...
"<What a coincidence. I've always thought Italians had hair made of pasta.>"
"<Of course we do. You don't know how hard it is to get that perfect al dente texture. I imagine you Japanese all wear spaghetti al nero?>"
"<Oh, you know quite a lot, I see. In Japan, we like to use squid ink instead of shampoo.>"
"<Kyahaha! You really are amazing, Kinzo. It seems you know everything! Have you ever been to Italy?>"
"<Never. I have read a lot of your books, though.>"
"<An Asian man reading Italian books?! Wow, what kinds of books?>"
"<Niccolo Machiavelli. And Dante Alighieri. So, I know of course that you are the eternal lady.>"
"<Oh, what a surprise... You must be quite the bookworm. Does this mean you came from some Japanese noble family?>"
"<You're completely different from those other savage-looking Japanese soldiers. I can tell! You must've come from a noble family. Are the Ushiromiyas some sort of Japanese aristocrats?>"
"<...Of course not. They just managed to strike it rich in the spinning industry in recent generations. I didn't study to prepare myself for nobility or anything like that. I just did it because I wasn't allowed to do anything except read, play around with roses, and get myself drunk.>"
There had been no trace of malice in Beatrice's words. It had just been a curious question asked to a friend from a faraway country. However, Beatrice was from a noble family herself, so she could tell. She could see the faint gloomy look on Kinzo's face.
"<I... don't really care about my family line. When I die, the name Ushiromiya will have no hold on me. Then, I'll finally be free.>"
"<...So, you joined the army because you wanted to die? You mustn't do that. Your family would be so sad.>"
"<Family? I have no family.>"
I have a wife for the sake of public appearances... and children. However, I've never wanted any of them. Everything, everything... is a fleeting daydream created by those selfish, greedy elders. So, at least being stuck on this island, I can forget about all of that... and find some peace.
Peace...? But haven't I spent each and every day complaining that I wasn't sent to the front and haven't managed to die yet...?
"<...I can't understand the pain you're going through, but I do realize that my thoughtless words have hurt you. Forgive me, Kinzo.>"
Forgive me, Kinzo. Yes, those words are probably what did it. All of the Japanese people called me Ushiromiya. It reminded me that I was the property of the Ushiromiya family every time they talked to me.
But she was different. She... called me Kinzo. Not Ushiromiya. So maybe... just for the time I chat with her like this, I can forget that cursed family.
I hadn't meant to make Beatrice feel guilty, but she seemed certain that her thoughtless words had hurt me.
BGM: Le 4 Octobre
"<Since you always call me Kinzo, I finally feel like I'm my own man. I think... that I've finally met a person who truly sees me for who I am.>"
"<Kinzo. You may be a foreigner I met in a distant land, but I know your heart is very sensitive and beautiful. If we had grown up in the same neighborhood, I'm sure we'd have become quick friends."
"...I'm happy too. You always call me Beatrice. Not 'the daughter of the Castiglioni family'.>"
We were both in the same position. Her Castiglioni family must have been a rigid place as well. Though we came from different countries, we had finally found something that we both understood.
"<Do you have a nickname that people close to you use?>"
"<No. They would just call me Kinzo.>"
"<Well then, you should stop calling me Beatrice. All of my close friends used to call me Bice. I'd like you to call me that too.>"
"<Very well. From this point onwards, I will call you Bice as a sign of our friendship.>"
"<Ah, come on. You can't talk all stiff like that. We're friends now, okay?>"
A bright smile stretched across Beatrice's face...
"...So, by meeting Beatrice, you managed to regain your sense of self."
"Or, as most people would put it, he cheated on his wife."
"If you plan to continue being rude, I suggest you get in the habit of covering your butt."
After having his butt pinched once more, Will hopped around in pathetic agony...
"So, in your eyes, Grandfather, Rokkenjima was always special for being the place you first met Beatrice."
"...Yes. If I had never come to this island, I would never have met her, it truly is an island of miracles..."
"Yes, it's still there, close to Kuwadorian. It's in the shadows of a cove that can't be seen from the outside. After all, fishermen never approach this supposedly ill-omened island. It is unlikely that anyone besides me still knows of its existence."
"Is the two-kilometer-long underground passage between Kuwadorian and the mansion a remnant of that base?"
"That is correct. There was some nonsense about fortifying several locations across the island and connecting them with tunnels carved out of limestone caverns. I made use of that underground passage, and built two mansions, one at each end of the island."
"Two mansions, two families. The Ushiromiya family mansion, and the mansion for Kinzo, released from the shackles of the Ushiromiya family."
"...Correct. It was something I needed. A place for me to escape from the cursed name of Ushiromiya."
"<I don't really know what Papa's plan was. He said that we needed to run far away to hide 'it' until the time came.>"
"<And what is 'it'?>"
"<I don't know. 'It' was something very important, and he planned to hide it for many years until the right moment. Oh, and he planned to hide himself along with it. I know because he apologized to me for sending us to live a long time on foreign soil.>"
"<Didn't that ensign of yours say that you had no cargo in particular, and that you were transporting your father instead?>"
"<Ensign Angelo doesn't trust you or the others. Even I know a few things he's kept hidden from you. He might even know what Papa's goal was... and what the cargo is.>"
"<Whatever it is, that's a mission for the Italian military. It has nothing to do with us. After all, we are allies. We should be able to trust each other.>"
"<I have no doubts that you're a good person, Kinzo. I've even told Ensign Angelo that you're a man we can trust, but...>"
"<...Why is it that men always get so rigid and uptight when they're in a strange land? Normally, they're all very bright and cheery people.>"
"<Ever since we came here, there's been this strange feeling of tension. Ensign Angelo has ordered that his subordinates be armed at all times. It's almost as though we're in enemy territory.>"
That was true. The Italians were clearly the very opposite of relaxed. The Japanese soldiers, watching this, began to suspect that the Italians didn't really trust them at all.
"<They have a person stand watch every time they sleep, and they're still keeping a lookout to make sure none of you approach the submarine, even though it's nothing more than an unusable scrap heap now. It almost feels as though they're clearly prejudiced against the Japanese, and that bothers me.>"
True, they had set up a constant sentry by the submarine and had refused to let any of the Japanese soldiers come near. This hadn't made the Japanese particularly happy. However, submarines are treated as classified in all countries. Maybe it was just natural for them to stop foreigners from approaching it without reason.
"<They're probably uncomfortable with being made to live in a way they aren't used to. That boat which is supposed to take you back to the mainland is still being delayed by weather and problems up the command chain. Just how long will it take before they can send you there...>"
We had been told that a boat was being sent for them directly from the mainland, but apparently, thanks to the weather, problems up the command chain, and the recent air raids, there were no ships to spare for a forgotten island like this. There might have been some sort of diplomatic problem. After all, their homeland had already surrendered to the Allies. I didn't know the details. The only thing I knew for sure was that they'd been stuck on Rokkenjima for two whole weeks and no one had come to get them.
Of course, we had some small boats on Rokkenjima. There was nothing physically stopping us from taking them to a nearby island. Still, Rokkenjima was technically a top-secret base, and contact with the outside world had been strictly forbidden...
BGM: Le 4 Octobre
To me, those two weeks... were the first I'd ever truly lived. The faint 20 years before all seemed to vanish in the sparkle of those two weeks. I realized that she would have to leave this place eventually. And yet, this one moment felt so rich and dazzling... that I felt myself wishing it could last forever...
"<...It's Ensign Angelo. Looks like he wants you for something.>"
"<Probably to scold me. These days, he keeps yapping on about how I shouldn't get too friendly with the Japanese soldiers.>"
The ensign approached, saluting Kinzo, and after glancing at Beatrice as though asking her to translate something, he began to speak in Italian. Judging by his tone, it sounded like something serious.
"<...Ensign Angelo has something very important to say, so he wants to talk with your commanding officer. He wants your help with something. I don't know what.>"
"<Something important...? Got it. I'll go find Lieutenant Yamamoto.>"
Ensign Angelo had two of his subordinates with him and wore a stern expression on his face. They didn't have to say anything for us to realize that this must be something very serious...
BGM: Bore Ral
The winch creaked and the thick chains rang out with a dull clang. Very, very slowly, 'it' was lifted up out of the submarine's cargo hold.
"...Now I get it! So this is why those Italians didn't want us near their sub...!"
The lieutenant and the others looked up at what the winch was slowly lifting up, all of them wearing unpleasant, forced smiles...
"<...Unbelievable... So this is what Papa brought all this way...?>"
"<I, incredible... I've never seen anything like this...>"
Those carefully piled bars were being slowly lifted out of the cargo hold, one group after another...
This gold had been their true cargo. I don't know where they were planning to take it. They might have been trying to sneak it into Japan, one of their allies, or they might have been on their way to hide it in some remote area. Was it some sort of strategy? A conspiracy? Embezzlement? Top-secret transportation of wealth? This incomprehensible amount of gold led to all sorts of dark suspicions, but we didn't know anything about the truth. All told, the gold weighed an incredible ten tons. That was the only truth we could wrap our minds around at the moment...
They had strongly resisted showing this to us. However, the submarine could no longer make sea, and it was apparently continuing to take in water bit by bit. Rokkenjima had been outfitted in an extremely slipshod way, so we had no means of repairing it. Also, while we could unload the sub, there was no way we could lift it up again once it had filled with water and sunk to the bottom. Now that it was clear that transporting the gold had become completely impossible, they had apparently decided on unloading it.
Of course, they made no effort to explain the reason for all this gold. They had just asked us to help them take it out...
"<Why would they take so much gold out of the country...? Couldn't they have changed the course of the war with this much wealth...?>"
"<...Weapons change the course of war, but after the war, they aren't useful for anything. Money may also change the course, but it remains just as valuable after the war.>"
There's no longer any way to change the course of this war. The Axis powers will probably all surrender, leading to an Allied victory. Anyone could tell this simply by looking at the American planes flying across the sky day after day. However, gold does not lose its value after war.
Everyone stared upwards, dumbfounded... as the winch slowly lifted the dully sparkling gold...