0-5

Engaged

End of Intro Section


A week and a half before they crossed over: Back at Camp 1A. Chained at the table, but still sitting all the same. In his issued clothes: white tee-shirt and slacks, this man didn't look any different than any other American. A western white man. Like any guy out of Brooklyn maybe. Any Italian prick Emerson had seen cross over from Jersey or Arthur Ave.

Though his fundamental beliefs, his understandings in the world, his tongue, they were not any Emerson had known. Though he tried to understand.

"It was harder to learn Japanese. I'll tell you that." Emerson had crossed his arms as he and Lieutenant Itami sat next to each other in a repurposed interrogation room in the utility halls of the once mall. It was minutes earlier, and all they had was each other to talk to. He spoke it in Japanese, and, likewise, Itami, bed-ragged and generally tired as he usually was nowadays, answered in English.

"English is even worse. My ex, she sometimes needed a translator, and, well, I was drafted."

"How terrible." Emerson spoke dryly.

It was the banal and the casual that had kept Itami and Emerson afloat in that rush of two months and change since Ginza. The ruminations and the disguise of a normal life that they were living that kept them grounded and sensible and, currently, not about to be orientated to a Roman.

They had to know the enemy. Whatever that meant.

Blackburn had brought them asides, both of them, and said this: "I know we didn't do this back in the Sandbox, or for North Korea, but you people have to understand what we're dealing with."

Lieutenant Itami, for all the years that he had on Emerson (not much), he had known of people like Blackburn. They were the type of people to speak in the broadest of generalities or the most cutting of specificities, and nothing in between. Often for a reason, but it was just the type of person that existed above the chain of command. He was only a second lieutenant after all.

"Blackburn, he reminds me of a captain…"

"Oh yeah?" Emerson looked up from his phone, he slouching in his foldable chair. One hand had been swiping away at a group chat with his family, the other resting on the holster of his sidearm.

Itami nodded. "She was a colleague of mine. Organized the first group from my base to head out to Fukushima."

"What reminded you?"

She was a mother, with deep roots in Fukushima. She understood what was at stake and she had gone to war against the disaster far more fiercely than she would ever against a North Korean or a Chinese.

Itami shrugged. "Just that sort of… go getting attitude."

Go getting. It was a particular phrase. Blackburn had hidden his age well. Latter half of his thirties, probably, but the man had been around long enough to have been a station chief in Asia, of all things. Emerson supposed he had to have been a hard worker.

This was opposed to the man across from him.

Youji Itami. Itami Youji, that is.

He was an interesting man, by Emerson's mark, and he had known quite a few. His entire platoon had been made of interesting people. Itami had filled in a slot that he hadn't yet seen though, at least in the military.

It was very much self-described.

"I really try not to be that much trouble on base. As long as I'm one ahead of worst, my life is gonna be okay." Itami spoke to Emerson, top of his class at West Point. "I really could not operate on the same level as you."

Emerson and Itami had gotten a meal, off their respective bases, after their first meeting at 1A. Quite frankly Emerson didn't quite buy that.

"You're Special Forces though." Emerson had reminded him.

Lieutenant Itami Youji. A thirty-something year old man, a slouch to his back, rims around his eyes, as care free about life as any man his age with a respectable income, had been Emerson's equal. Equal, if not superior.

"Well. The hobby takes precedence. Not the work."

And that hobby had been of manga and online doujinshi.

Emerson didn't have a head himself for the media, but he wouldn't judge what a special forces operator did. Perhaps there was something deeper to him that betrayed his outward appearance: lanky and tall, darker hair on top of his head and a slight fuzz rimming an angular chin. A long face, amiable smile. Frankly Emerson didn't mind looking at him, though there had been a mystery to Itami that he couldn't pin down. Something itching at him as if there was a great secret to him, beneath the skin.

Any mystery Emerson would try to peer into was wiped away. The door their room opened and the clank and clack of chains shuffling toward them. Emerson's hand had remained on the back of his holster and .45, but he wouldn't do anything even if he tried. A coldness, a shock rain through his veins.

JSDF MPs had escorted a man in plain clothes to their metal table, loops on it for the chains that bounded him. He looked like just a prisoner. A prisoner of their world. Not a man, removed from wherever he came from: another reality outright it felt.

He looked down trodden and beaten, but what prisoner wouldn't? He wasn't unhealthy looking, just jittery, a fish out of water.

The MPs had left the room, leaving Itami and Emerson dead silent as the three of them sat: Itami and Emerson on one side, the man on the other.

He was scruffy. That was the first detail that spoke out to Emerson. Scruffy, probably not from shaving in quite a bit, but he was a man. Masculine, the mark of a soldier on how his exposed arms looked, and the way the tan on his skin showed: it had been from marching in the sun. It was the unmistakable olive brown of the Mediterranean.

Brown eyes. Handsome brown eyes.

There was no savagery that was on him. No savagery that Emerson looked for to justify the wish of his comrades:

Kill them all.

Emerson's mouth was dry, all the way down to his throat, but it was Itami, putting back his phone, that had spoken first.

"Salutaran." Itami had quietly started, inching his chair close, putting his arms on the metal table before them.

Greetings.

This is what they were here for: to talk as they did in their Lingua Franca.

"You know Arabic?" Itami had asked over text one day.

"Yep. French, Pashto, Japanese, Arabic… I'm pretty passable in all of 'em."

They were working on Lingua Franca now. But, more than that, they were forced upon to have an understanding: that this was a person. All of them had been people.

The prisoner had seemed surprised, odd, that Itami had spoken in a language he understood, but he, shaken, had calmed himself, breathed in, and repeated the same.

"Salutaran."

His fluency far and beyond beat Itami's however that wasn't surprising.

"Salutaran." Emerson had finally thrown in. "Meux namen est Emerson."

Itami nodded as Emerson began his own part. "Meux namen est Itami."

The prisoner had looked back and forth of his two opposites, shaky in speaking, but he point was made as Emerson gestured to himself. This was who these people were. Like all Roman soldiers, he could only be strong and respond, breathing in and speaking his truth:

"My name is Mercaius."


Standards for Itami had been in a strange limbo that suited him just well enough. Normally he had been assigned to desk duty in a bog-standard ground regiment of the JSDF. It put him just on the outskirts of Tokyo, which was by far preferable.

The closer you were to Ginza and Akihabara, the closer you were to the beating heart of mangaka Mecca, and he had always the preference for his hobby.

However, this was in light to a particular detail about him that Emerson had been well enough to point out: He indeed had been Special Forces. Or, at least, trained like such. He hadn't been in formation with such a team in a while, perhaps because they operated at such a higher level that he didn't impress upon his superiors. That being said he had preferred it.

Bread and butter officers like him, up until recently, were a relatively metropolitan career; one that kept him more like an office worker than a soldier.

He hated paper work however so the grind was the same, but he tolerated it.

He preferred the paper work to the recent responsibilities of the JSDF: the ones that made him wade through destroyed countryside and contend with the toxic radioactive waste of another nuclear plant gone the way of disaster.

He joined in at such the right time to avoid the Korean War's end outright, avoiding the meat grinder that had put upon the South Korea, American, and expeditionary JSDF forces. It just meant that he had been on deck for the Fukushima relief efforts.

Being out in public in uniform hadn't been a strange thing nowadays.

"It's… strange. I mean you usually never brought home this part of you."

Risa. A mangaka herself, more on the doujinshi side of things. A short woman with spectacles that would make even a professor shy away (vision put upon by the glare of a screen and her drawing tablet). She always had the look of someone who just got out of bed, but to be fair, so did he. They oddly enough matched, and not.

She stood across the other side of a power box turned their breakfast table that cold morning in Ginza.

Ginza. What had been a world away in the days following the incident had returned to some form of normalcy following the Ginza Incident. The blood-soaked streets and the charred corpses that had been planted there by the dragons flying above had been torn up, renovated anew. Buildings that had burned down had been condemned and broken down, and risen up in record time. Business returned slowly, eventually, and certainly up until that one day in late Summer.

Ginza had never happened it seemed, and yet…

Itami was here. Three divisions of the JGSDF had been there.

A rifle had been across his back along with his kit. Ammunition set and there. 9mm pistol on his hip.

Four hours to D-Day.

Itami shrugged, adjusting his fabric covered helmet, the camo of their destination newly applied. "This part of the job never usually happened this close to home."

A morning, damp and cold and befitting of what was to happen.

A Type-74 tank had rolled past them in order to bunker up in an alleyway, in preparation for the ceremony.

Risa had almost shrunk further as it rolled by meters away, adjusting disheveled glasses.

"It's so strange, seeing the army out here on the streets." She commented, eating down a croissant ham and cheese. She never ate well but it was endearing to Itami.

Itami had another comment to that, but he held it in himself as he looked down the road and saw an iron dome. It was stranger to see the Roman army rolling down these streets.

A block in every direction of the Gate had been cordoned off on the day to day, held jointly by a majority JSDF force, with the US Marine Corps holding down a choice unit.

The American Marine Corps. Itami had been around them. Cross-training, the ever present maintaining of Japanese-American defense initiatives. The Americans had been around even more in the last few months given the new Fukushima disaster and the toxic waste cast upon the prefecture. American aid came in the form of bodies and supplies, and, begrudgingly, the Japanese government accepted.

Itami kept most of politics out of his head, but he wasn't ignorant. The Japanese had wanted the Americans out for years. The protests every time a Japanese girl had been raped by a Marine in Okinawa, a drunk American killing the innocent after a night out, they had elevated to a fever pitch up until Korea, and when it passed, it became a grating reality that the Americans were to stay for the foreseeable future. The want of an independent Japan, and all of the fury and pride that had culminated in the yelling, had been replaced with something else:

Close the Gate.

The rhetoric had been clear from the protestors: There was no need to go beyond the Gate. Those that did the deed had been dead. Dead by a measure of nearly a hundred thousand. To go further would be to intertwine unnecessarily.

Itami had gotten the briefing on them, and he understood. The tangle of other people's lives was always tiring. He figured the same could be applied to national politics; to war.

Because that was what he was doing: going to war.

The zone around the Gate in Ginza had been expanded tenfold, and the only people in had been the media, those invited, and the soldiers of two armies.

Distantly, the protestors yell at the very border of the security area had echoed. Echoed against walls, against glass, against heads.

"I've set up everything, by the way. Just in case." Itami chewed through his own packaged egg sandwich. What was unsaid, couldn't have been. It wouldn't happen. "Half to you. Half my mother's expenses."

One of Risa's bushy eyebrows raised. It was reassuring he had made sure but now…? "Heh, how much are you making nowadays?" She tried to lighten the mood.

"Hazard pay recently has been up there."

"Yeah… Hey, uh, you never tracked any of that radioactive stuff from back up North down, right?" There was worry in her voice. She knew better, but radioactive material was a concern nowadays, even down to the dirt on one's boots or the rain in the sky.

Itami shook his head once. "They sprayed me down for hours every time we went out. I'm clean. Probably sterile now to be honest." He laughed it off but it was a fear in every JSDF member who had gone into Fukushima to clean up the mess. He didn't mind, sans the crippling sickness. He took things as they came to him.

Risa spat at him, not that she was as well, as scary and heavy as that thought was between them, once husband and wife appropriately."As if you were ever concerned with kids."

"Hey. I love kids. I was once a kid and that was pretty fun."

"You love things that look like kids, I'll remind you very much."

It was very hard to describe the idea of lolis to Emerson, Itami recounted, a fact that Risa had been very fondly been able to remind him of as the social norms of liking cute girls was put on him.

"They look like they're twelve man."

"But they're not, and also it doesn't matter."

"…What?"

Itami had been distant for a second, remembering the young child he had picked up before they all retreated back into the Imperial Palace. She was the lucky one. The one that had been saved. Not trampled, not cut down because they were simply there that day. Had her parents survived? He didn't know, and it haunted him still. At the least, at the very least, if the worst came to pass, she wouldn't see her family as Emerson's man did. Tracey's family, all killed and dead. Two young daughters.

Children.

Other families around with the servicemember of their group had all been hugging tight and closely, saying last promises and good will in that last outing of Ginza as the last preparations for invasion were underway. The shadow of the Gate over them all. There was no such thing for Itami and Risa. They were too special people; jaded perhaps, but not really ones to want such a dramatic and emotional send off.

A quiet presence was, perhaps, all that they needed as they ate their breakfast and approached zero hour. Balling up their trash, they walked to a bin together, minutes away from the entire operation from being underway, families receded, cries and sniffles in the air as men and women parted ways with their beloved.

Goodbye was too dramatic for what Itami believed he was doing. Risa had something first though.

"If you see cute cat girls, please take pictures. I need the references." She was ashamed to ask, but it was a cover for something else, grabbing the fabric of his uniform, sling of his gun in the way. Her head was done, unable to look him in the eye until she found the courage to what she really wanted to say: "Stay safe… okay?"

One of the great things about the history of them was that there had been a base to all of their interactions that was stubbornly persistent. They had been friends. They had known each other since middle school. She, if anything, had known him since before the tragedy of his parents came to pass.

Her worry was sincere, and Itami knew that.

He could only return the sincerity in a hug.

He was tall for a Japanese man, so she was enveloped for the briefest moment in that chaste moment. The quiet before the storm. Patting her back through her hoodie he spoke in reassurances, of a familiar tone kept for her. "I don't know when I'll be back. Maybe I'll get leave for New Years. Maybe we'll be done by New Years."

"One of my Rangers. Our sniper. Specialist Annel. Her story's generational." Emerson spoke about all of his platoon. His family by creed and duty.

"Oh yeah?" Itami tilted his head as they hung out a quiet park one day.

Emerson nodded, closing his eyes, realizing he had started too casual. "Her father died in Iraq when she was a kid. She joined and went to Iraq too."

It had been over two decades since America started the Forever War. Long enough for a generation to have not only been born into it, but fight in it.

Itami wanted this to be done by Christmas.

It was with a stark, indistinct thought that he remembered this: He had been older than almost all of Hitman. All of them had been children of this 21st century.

Emerson was born in New York, which is why he asked one day:

"Kay, do you remember 9/11?"

Emerson had shied away, shaking his head.

"I was born in 2003."

The years had gone by so fast.

"See you around, Risa?" He had pushed off her and she had nodded.

"Youji." His name in return. What a funny relationship they had, he thought.


Going into formation in the middle of Tokyo wasn't something that anyone there would think they would do. The jingoism of military parades was beyond the thought; however, this was a special occasion. A special occasion for a "Special Task Force" to go to the Special Region. He had to form up with his unit in preparation for the affairs today and the eventual crossing, walking down streets crowded with, not tourists or locals, but soldiers.

Why was he going through? He was ordered. That was the explanation for most things in his life at this point as the slightly damp morning turned into a blue sky, late summer day. If things didn't turn out this way he would've been out here, in Ginza, attending the late summer conventions. For a moment he thought of how many releases were delayed for publication and sale because of the Romans. He let loose such a comment once with Emerson as they had lunch one day, off of their bases.

Emerson had only given him a stern look. He couldn't blame him. He lost more than a day when the Romans came. He lost a soldier, and his family.

"Hey! Lieutenant!" Out from an alleyway.

Itami had envied Emerson in a way. Hitman had moved so naturally together, been so ingrained with each other as far as movement and existing together, that it had set a high standard for what he was being asked to do. It was as if each member of Hitman had known each other for all their lives, which was why he had been surprised that that wasn't the case: They had only known each other for a few months.

So, on the flipside perhaps, as Emerson was very much shaping to be Itami's antithesis by his own regard, he had his own team.

Called out for a procession of three vehicles, tucked into an alleyway, waiting for the go over, had been his team.

Past the initial incursion and securing a FOB for the Special Task Force, there was a edict put by General Hazama: recon. Recon teams were organized, and Itami had the Third.

3RCT.

Recon Team Three.

He had damned himself that he had any command at all, but it was inevitable. He was an officer still.

"Kurata, awfully chipper, aren't you?" He had greeted one of his sergeants with a pont.

Takeo Kurata was someone he envied a bit as well. All of his enthusiasm for manga and anime, an otaku by any other name, was happily shared with Itami. The pain of losing that day in Ginza was too felt by the soldier. A younger man, barely into his twenties, short, spiky black hair and youthful dark eyes. A cut and paste image of a young Japanese man which, in the JSDF, was rare enough at a point. In the late 2010s the JSDF had an issue about age turnover, wherein a good amount of the JSDF was unable to be replaced by new blood, leaving a greying populace within its ranks unsure of where replacements could be found. Indeed, there was a time where Itami was called "young".

He was only 33, but right next to Kurata he had felt the decade difference.

Kurata shrugged in his kit, patting Itami's back as he approached, the figures of RCT3 appearing out of the alley's shadow to report. "Someone has to be. The briefing said that some of the locals might be, you know…" Kurata led off with a smug look on his smirk, hand imitating a paw. "Nyah."

Over his shoulder, an actual older man. Sergeant Kuwahara. Pops, by any other name. The rigids on his face had been like the trenches of battlefields older than him, bronze skin betraying a rather lively look about him. "Do you have any idea what he's saying, lieutenant?" Pops had landed a hearty slap against Kurata's back, the man making dramatic whining back to his vehicle to the chiding of the rest of 3RCT.

"I think he's trying to speak the Lingua Franca, Pops." Itami rolled out, and Pops had agreed in a sigh.

"How're you doing, lieutenant? You ready?"

"Well, I've got about my entire backlog downloaded on my phone."

Pops smirked. "Confident for you to assume that we won't be busy over on the other side."

Another tank rolled by behind them, but it was a different kind of tank, heartier, larger, more battle-scarred. Itami's answer was demonstratable as an American M1 tank rolled to its ready position, hidden for the affairs that would proceed shortly. Riding on its hull and turret, the US Marines.

The camo they wore had been as interested as the camo the JSDF had issued for the Special Task Force: The JSDF's camo had been modern, specially designed for Mediterranean environments. The Americans had dug out a camo nearly half a century old: M81 Woodland. The Marines had worn them atop greyed and dusty painted tanks. It was as if the Cold War had returned to Tokyo that day.

"I've got a feeling the Americans will keep themselves busy in our stead."

Pops had been taller than Itami, larger, looking down on the man with a certain pity of his ignorance. Though it was in good jest. "For our sakes, let's hope not."

"Perhaps." Itami considered. The American contingent of the Special Task Force had been only a third of the size of the JSDF dedication, and yet, they came with twice the weight. It was by design the MEU had such a broad mission capability. Earlier he had seen the American F-35s be wheeled out beneath tarps, the aviation element under strict guard. They'd be the first air support in region. "Are preparations set?"

"Aye." Pops nodded, gesturing to all of 3RCT and the vehicles. Three victors of varying shape and size. "We're just waiting for the affairs and the call."

"Honestly we should just skip all of that." The voice of a woman had accompanied the sound of someone jumping on the hood of an HMMV.

Pops had been more than willing to stern. He had been a drill sergeant on another base renowned for his bite. It posed no threat to the rifleman that had hopped on the hood of the HMMV however. "Sergeant Kuribayashi, settle down, the Gate isn't going anywhere."

She shrugged as Itami saw her. "Of course not. But I heard the Americans got some over there first. What if they're getting all the good action?" She spoke with a rough, and fighty, urban accent. Quick and blunt.

He looked at the Gate, thinking of that rumor. Pops had moved off, double checking the provisions and ammo list in the rest of the vehicles, leaving Itami to deal with Kuribayashi. "Eh. I don't think Kay would be the sort to go pick that fight."

"Kay? Who's that? Do you know the spooks they've got over there?!" She seemed surprised, nearly seizing his collar as she hopped off the hood.

Sergeant Shino Kuribayashi had been, as Masterson described her during observation, a firebrand.

"Seen my fair share of wild colts in my day. She looks like she kicks with the worst of 'em."

And what the Texan had meant was that there was more fight in her than anyone could possibly expect. She was a fighter, a brawler, a shooter. Shorter than most, but willing to fight just about anyone for the sake of a fight, the chip on her shoulder had been from a household of brothers and just barely missing the JSDF deployment to Korea.

New gloves. That's what Itami had noticed as he looked at her hands, resting at idle with her rifle. Oakleys. Popular with special forces.

"Those broken in, sergeant?" Itami had made a point to use his finger to gesture at them. He was wearing Oakleys too. The leather had been strained and nearly breaking, but they worked still.

Kuribayashi didn't notice, banging the shining polymer knuckles together, her brown, almost red bangs knocking free from beneath her helmet. "They will be."

"Right." He had looked to the HMV in earnest, seeing a form by its wheel. "As you were, sergeant." Moving asides into the shadow of an alley, there was something in the shape of another soldier, another woman of 3RCT. The rest of the recon team had been idly standing by, spending the last moments of peace they could get for the foreseeable future.

Mari Kurokawa needed all she could get, slumped in the dark.

"Sergeant Kurokawa." He had greeted the team's medic with a nod. She was a tall and slender woman, about as tall as himself, which had been quite unusual. Her dark black hair had, in the light, seemed a dark blue almost. "How're you doing?"

She had looked up from her dozing against the HMV's wheel, sighing, putting on her helmet as she nodded, and then saluted. "I'm okay."

Medics tended to be terrible liars. A lying medic was the last thing anyone needed when it mattered.

Her hair had been tied at the end with a single blue ribbon, the bags beneath her eyes unkind. The two had been acquainted long before this. She was one of the first out to Fukushima when it happened, and she had remained there still in her mind.

"Mm. I hear the voyage over is about half an hour long. You gonna be good with that?"

Mari had raised one her hands to her face, rubbing it harshly. "It'll have to be. Sorry. I tried to put in as much time up north as I could before I was dragged off and… and…" She sighed. "I'm ready."

No she wasn't.

Calm and reserved, and sharp tongued when strung tight, her tongue had been sharp more often than not recently. She was perhaps a warning about what Itami didn't want to be; the responsibility he had to bear if he lived out his abilities to other people. She was run down raw, and, despite this, she was called to invade.

She picked up her rifle and slung it over her shoulder.

"Are you ready, lieutenant?"

Itami had given her a hard, long look, and some of her weariness had been transferred to her. "Is there a way to be ready for this sort of thing?"


There was a way to be ready. Or, at least, there was a formality, a ceremony that had to be taken on. A civilized affair. The media, those that had lost someone, they had all come to Ginza as stands were put up in front of the Gate, and the memorial unveiled:

A blackened stone wall of marble and onyx, inscribed with the names of every single dead. A monument to something that had happened no more than three months ago. Monolithic, casting its shadow on the very street that the enemy once walked and were killed. Flowers were put by families who had lost that day, and even with several hundred people gathered it had been dead silent. Diplomats and foreigners too. A Swedish family, Nigerians, French and Mexican. Americans too.

Itami had seen Tracy first only by news articles, crazed in the photos taken of him at a hospital, and then official from his professional photo as taken by the US Military. Emerson had shown, with shame, the photo that he should've been known by: The one with his family. A Christmas card, last year that he had shared with his lieutenant. They'd been to Cairo last Christmas, the Pyramids in the background of their grandiose Christmas card. Two beautiful daughters.

Tracy was not there, and Itami looked as he had walked along that blackened wall and saw nothing but names and those that mourned.

A young girl, no more than six, stands with her hand wrapped by her weeping mother's. He cannot look away until, all at once, the call is made to get into formation.

He thought to himself of Isekai. It was a particular genre of media in Japan; most commonly it was a modern person being dropped off in a fantasy realm or the past, where their inherent knowledge leads them to have a presence of power by simply just existing. The gear he wore, the rifle and pistol he had on him now, he had to think about what Ginza would've been like if he, even alone, had been here like this. How much could he as one man with a rifle and the knowledge of how to use it would've made this wall shorter? Would he be on there though then, if he fought like he imagined?

It was something to think about as he found himself in formation, rows, in front of the Gate and a grand stage made.

Two columns, on the right: The JSDF. The left: The 7th MEU. Five wide, officers up front, NCOs and Enlisted along the back. This was who was going over.

"Hero of Ginza, eh?" Another lieutenant to his right had bumped his shoulder. Itami recognized him, at least casually. Same base, same training.

"Wasn't my choice for the medal."

The officer had straightened his back as he look down to his feet, making sure they were planted right: lead by example. "No, but you made the right choice back in the day."

Everyone told him he did a good thing. All he did was just tell people where to go it felt. And yet that had been so much.

It was like any ceremony of military merit, not too different than the one that had gifted him the medal. Being so up far front Itami had been liable to dip the lip of his helmet down to avoid eye contact with all those overbearing officers and generals who had patted his back and called him a good soldier after the fact. However, there was none of that good-natured congratulatory self-flagellation around here. This was military work. Purely the business of the military.

To the columns left and rights, media cameras had been set up, pointed at the stage: above it, a banner. "Special Task Force Deployment Ceremony".

Everyone who had been on that stage hadn't a smile on their face nor lacked a star or bar on their shoulders. They were dressed down in their kits, even Hazama, who had been sitting in that row of occupied chairs, speakers for today: the first had been himself, with the American Colonel Pierce at the end.

The shutters of cameras had gone off like gunfire as the last of the troops had aligned themselves and Hazama stood. A JSDF combat veteran. To think that there had been those type again…

Boots tightly laced, tucked in, the spitting image of a general as a Japanese man. Itami had heard of Hazama, even before they had met at Ginza. He was genuinely a man that cared for his men, but then again, he had also been a military general.

It was interesting the two main commanders of the task force had been so far away from each other, but he knew better than to count on the two of them to get along.

Hazama's podium had been of darkened wood, barely contained the man as he came to hold the surface of its table on either side, speaking out to the crowd, not through the microphone, but rather as if he was just using his voice alone.

"I am Hazama, your Commander!" The voice of a Japanese general yelling had tightened the forms of all the JSDF there as he spoke in Japanese. "Many scouts have entered the Gate in the past month, but nobody will know what happens to us in the Special Region. Thus, you must be prepared for combat to begin from the moment we cross the Gate. Is that understood?"

In one unified voice: yes. The JSDF, including Itami, had snapped and bellowed an affirmative.

Brief remarks. This was only for show. That was all Hazama needed as he deferred to none other than the current Prime Minister of Japan. Three months had been a long time, enough for Prime Ministers to change, and the world to revolve around it.

He started off with the formalities, thanking all involved, from the JSDF to the USFJ and the international community. "This bill calling for this deployment has been adopted thanks to the efforts of Former Prime Minster Houjou and the officials from all political parties. Now, at last, we are ready to deploy the men of the JSDF in concert with a deployment of the USFJ."

A few of the American officers still sitting on stage had given each other a weary look as the prime minister continued.

"All of you, the mission with which you have been charged is of grave importance to the state of Japan and its people. But we know we would want no one else to go into the breach today, on behalf of us all."

No one had wanted the Americans there today, that was what Itami had guessed made the American command staff cringe. This formality, flanked by the civilized buildings of Ginza as they wore gear they had gone to war in, dust barely beat off by cleaning, it made everyone anxious, uncomfortable. No one wore what they did there without the intent of combat. And yet the speech, the ceremony, still had to be gone through. It was what civilized people did: to speak, and give recognition of. The speeches from various political officials and officers went on, half-hours turned into whole, and the anxiety clashed with the somberness of the dead and the mourning watching from seating along the sides with the media.

Itami had felt their sorrow permeate, staying his feet and any misgivings they had about what they were doing.

This is what they had to do for them.

"Marines!" The Americans had slapped, ramrod straight, the sound of boots against concrete like thunder. It brought Itami out of his standing daze as he realized it was now Pierce's time to talk, to give his words to the ceremony. He had brought a paper with him in his hand, placing it on the podium as his voice echoed with the mic. He was addressing his Marines and Marines alone. "I know what we are being called for today was not something that anyone in this world would've imagined: We are currently engaged with a foreign enemy whose understanding of conquest and war overrides the civility as we understand it. There is a fundamental difference that has caused what happened here, in Ginza, what felt like a lifetime ago.

"I find no pleasure in what we are to do, but I find, instead, responsibility:

"We are called, not as avengers, not as the furious legion, but rather, as arbiters of justice. Where we go, we will bring justice. That is our oath as Americans, and our promise as United States Marines." Pierce had held a silence, looking up from his paper at the crowd, half Japanese, half American. "The Japanese are our allies, and they deserve nothing less than our full support and guidance as we proceed on this endeavor."

The same officer from before had whispered into Itami's ear stealthily, feigning a cough. "He doesn't seem too confident, does he?"

Itami didn't have any time to respond before Pierce had ended his speech: "May God Bless the Special Task Force, and may God have mercy on the soul of our enemies." It was at that moment, Hazama stood, his mouth open as if to command, but Pierce had been faster on the draw, and it had made Hazama pause and break his command. "Get to your vehicles. Zero hour is now."


And they dispersed, the civilians, the media all melting away as the Special Task Force was charged and continued on their orders. In that rush of men heading to their vehicles, of decorations being put away as reporters took in last minute statements from officers and politicians, Itami had noticed the Marines accrue around Pierce's second in command: Major Sevson.

In the shadow of a fast mart as he held a coffee by the American motorpool, the Marines had their own, private ceremony. "Marines!" Sevson had continued, the circled Marines somehow tightening their stances even more as, for all intents and purposes, their Jesus Christ was before us now: the man they had to listen to with religious reverence. Just how the battlefield worked. Sevson spoke in a language that might've been liable that day to be only heard and understood by Americans, but Itami had been spending too much time with one to not understand now.

"Today you do as our ancestors of Tripoli and Okinawa did! Even in a land as virgin from the soles the boots of our glorious Corps, we will walk in the footsteps of those before us! And not only will we walk! We will Run! We will Crawl! We will Kill! All while the ghosts of Marines of days of old watch over us! Oorah?!"

"Oorah!" The cry of maybe eighty Marines that had found themselves in audience to Sevson had sounded like a thousand, pausing everyone in those Ginza streets as it echoed.

"The people responsible for the men, women, and children whose names we have inscribed on this wall for all time, are beyond this. God. Forsaken. Gate. Japanese, American, their nationality does not matter to us at this point. What matters is the fact their lives was taken unfairly, and by the God given graces we will be fair to the upmost degree to whoever orchestrated this attack. We will be better than them. We will adhere to our morality, our ethics, the laws of war as dictated by the Geneva convention and the UN, but when push comes to shove and we are forced to deal with these uncivilized people, as they have demonstrated during the attacks three months ago, we will do one thing above all:"

He stopped and took a breath. This was a certainly better speech, said entirely in English, some of the Japanese struggling to understand, caught up in an impromptu speech, and only following the cues from the Americans. Some had tried to listen, others just went on their way as vehicles began to roar, coming alive.

Commander Hazama had given a look of odd distress to the Major from the JSDF motor pool. This wasn't what was rehearsed for the public, and yet it drew the attention of some.

"Marines!" There was such contempt, such grittiness in his address. Itami had looked to the JSDF around him as if to confirm what he was hearing. He was alone. "Kill on three!"

"One!" Itami had not reckoned with the fact he had been a soldier, a bonafide soldier, for so long. He had taken his first only three months ago, and it had changed him a lifetime… Or maybe, just maybe, the Americans did. That's what he told himself.

"Two!" He had taken in a breath, glancing left, to the civilians still left mourning their dead at a monument. There was a girl…

"Three!"

Itami's body had snapped away from wondering about who he had been looking at as his lungs brought in air and expelled them so hard it had made the windows shake, and the ground quake with the combined emotion of the United States Marines. He had joined in.

"Kill!"

"Again!"

"Kill!"

"One more time!"

"KILL!"


"You look winded, Lieutenant Itami?" Kurata had been more than willing to note as Itami found himself back to RCT3. Itami coughed, tightening the strap on his helmet as he loaded his rifle, getting into shotgun of the lead vehicle of his dedicated unit.

"It's nothing." Beneath his flak vest he felt for a pack of vice. He had good reason as a teenager to be particularly edgy, and like so many cigarettes had been an image booster. He had forgotten that certainly they did provide a certain relief to the stress of mind. Kay had put them onto him in some way; not overtly, but the man did puff from an electronic cigar from time to time. He stayed with what had been vaguely familiar.

He had stayed hands off with RCT3 in the weeks leading up to this. Not out of any malice, but he was still Itami. If he didn't need to, he didn't want to. Though there wasn't much need for him to actually get to know his men as intimately as some did. Pops had it well in hand, and he was in the back of the current vehicle they were in.

"Are we all good, Pops?"

The man had gruffed. "It'll have to do."

"We can only do so much." Itami agreed as at once, the radio net of the Special Task Force came on and the commanders of the task force began their brevity.

"M1s go first and the Type-74s are in staggard column behind us! Warlords I need you up, now!"

"Why didn't I get informed that Rolling Stone has a reporter with us? How copy?"

"Deal with it 2-3."

"We're staggered, you hear me?! Warlords first, then the Japanese armored, than us, followed y Jap infantry. Please confirm! We don't want a fuck up five minutes in."

The American Abrams had slowly, slowly, started to growl to life against the buildings of Ginza, and they had taken onto the streets in front of the Gate as guides with lightened sticks waved them into positioned. Passing by RCT3, they each had a name, written into their turrets:

Seoul Sister

Kingdom Come

NCC-1701-FU

The Sultan

In a block of four they sat in front of the Gate. Abrams. TUSK outfitted. Itami knew the type. The Americans were anticipating some close and personal. As the Type 74s passed behind them, apparently so was the JSDF. Outfitted with turret cages and extra armor, the tanks were dressed up to fight in urban environments.

But hadn't the immediate AO outside of the Gate been entirely hillsides and flatland? Itami's musings were cut down as the radio went up again.

"Hey can someone who actually speaks Japanese get on the horn with the JSDF. We're fighting to see who goes first."

"We're all supposed to understand Jap you mongoloid."

"I had to learn two new languages in three months how the fuck do you think that went?!"

Kurata had been driver and RTO, turning down the volume as the cascade of radio comms went on and on. "Americans being loud as usual, eh?"

"Oh, it is what it is." Pops had patted down the radio set. "I've cross-trained with the Americans for the last two decades."

"I'm sorry." Kurata pinged back.

"This is Colonel Pierce to all Special Task Force elements; I will be assuming the headquarters callsign of Sicario Actual. I will be referred to by this name at all times as head of the United States Force in the Special Region. All elements on this net, confirm." From the American Middle West, Colonel Pierce had been that sort of American: the familiar, the stereotype, his voice rang out across the entire Special Task Force. It centered everyone as Kurata started the vehicle.

"Assassin, condition green." The Marines. The infantry of the 7th MEU.

"Warlord copies all." The American armored unit.

There was a rather obvious theme Itami picked up. It was all numbers and common titles for the JSDF units.

Over the net, it was Hazama's HQ vehicle:

"RCT3 we need a readback on final checks."

Itami motioned for Pops to hand over the radio, and he did.

"RCT3. We're good." Itami confirmed.

"Copy. Standby."

The sound of air raid sirens had blared in the air as the giant metal creaking of the Gate's dome was split open.

The Gate itself was not touched past the first few scientific samples that did say it was indeed a mortal thing: of rock and marble and a particular funny looking gem on its crest. The Italian archeologists had been driven mad for it. The entire world had been driven mad by it and they were told to go in.

"We've got the call." Pops had confirmed over radio. "All RCTs move up and into position for insertion."

Itami nodded, raising one hand out of the window, making circles. Like an insect swarm, the vehicles of the JSDF emerged out of the alleyways of Ginza, lining the road, pointed at the Gate behind the tanks.

Like a roller coaster lining up for the ride.

Staring into the dark, this was the first time Itami had seen what the Gate actually looked like with his own eyes. It as Hitman that had stared right down the center of it, into the abyss. More than that, they had gone in first.

"Shit. We're going in there?"

One of RCT3 spoke up.

"Yes we are."

APCs and IFVs were all in line to roll in behind the tanks. Autocannons and MANPADS. A full military invasion. Asides from the Abrams the Americans had LAVs lined up with a majority of the Marines, artillery pieces by both sides being fielded as, at the very end, not due for entry until hours after the main incursion, the aviation and air power.

The seconds were being count down until, finally, the emissions from the tanks kicked up and the radio yelled out.

"All Special Task Force elements, we are underway. Commence Operation Odyssey Ultimatum."

"This is Warlord. We're moving through."

"Hey, close that window." Kurata had advised Itami as it had remained open. Itami had sighed, taking in one deep breath before he acquiesced.

"Might be the last bit of air from this world we get for a while."

The Abrams had gone in, one at a time, melting into the dark, setting the tone, the pacing, as one by one the tanks disappeared and the RCTs were at the front now, waiting for the signal from the traffic controllers to continue past the dome, into the Gate, and into another world.

Thirty seconds passed; no words exchanged amongst RCT3.

Private thoughts remained however:

I hope this is over soon.

Hope I can still attend my daughter's wedding.

The Americans shouldn't be there.

Will there be cat girls?

Please God, let me save as many as I can.

I wonder what it's going to be like? Fighting them?

Itami wondered if they would get the wi-fi connection set up soon over there; another issue of a doujin was due out next week.

"Our turn." Kurata had held the wheel, white knuckled grip beneath gloves. The traffic controllers were waving them through.

Dipping his helmet lid to cover his eyes, Itami had leaned back. "Let's go."

For the hundreds of JSDF and USMC soldiers who crossed the divide and saw what oblivion looked like on the way to another world, it would've been a moment in life that they had the rare knowledge that this was history. For Itami, it was the same either way as he closed his eyes and thought of a normal life he wanted to live. What was happening to him was just something that he couldn't help.

Pure silence save for the vehicles, the monotonous drone of driving forward. Onward into battle. Eventually they had made it.

Out to their front the twinkle, not of stars: but torches and camps. The ground beneath their vehicles wheels had been dirt again, and Itami opened his eyes.

Go time underneath the blue moon.


It was like exiting a toll road as unfamiliar troops directed and guided on foot the vehicles as they came out. In short order, one had come to Itami's window and he rolled down. An American, undoubtedly based on the gear; special forces. It could've only been one man.

"Hey Youji." Kay Emerson.

To Itami, Emerson was a bright young man. Despite the color of his skin, he glowed wherever he was as a regular man. It was his very presence that had calmed people, that had assured them. Regular guy was right for him, and, as Itami laid eyes on the Rangers, he couldn't tell one from another, the green and grey smear of their kit and uniforms sent his brain into an overdrive, trying to recognize the figures. Balaclavas and masks, scarves and keffiyehs hid all of their faces.

They were like the units on his gacha games, faceless from above, their designs imposing and dangerous, speaking to what they did.

They had gotten off their stomachs, manning their weapons as they directed tanks into their positions forward, pushing forward with them to the very rim of the hill's top. Despite the fact it was morning, their kits, their clothes, it had all soaked in darkness.

"We've got your positions marked follow our lead!" It was Emerson's voice that had been how the Special Task Force was greeted to the new world. "Welcome to the Special Region!"

Emerson hadn't even had his rifle ready, slung across his back. Hitman, in their special forces garb, had appeared in a rush as each vehicle and tank appeared out of the void, their arms up and directing them into fighting position, dirt on their elbows and hands as they had been busy erecting fighting positions.

Kurata immediately pegged the way Emerson had used Itami's name. "You know this guy?"

It was a question ignored as Itami asked another. "Any contact?"

Emerson shook his head. "A few clicks out. No movement. Daybreak is soon, get moving we'll talk later."

"Right."

As soon as he had appeared Emerson had gone as Hitman had made their presence known, talking to drivers of each vehicle as slowly, an armored perimeter was set and the new entries into the Special Region got their bearings: all of them situated north. The enemy amassing, seen by lamplight and fire.

Troops from both sides piled out of their vehicles, finding firing positions and trenches to dig into as auto gunners set up machine guns and the mortars locked down.

The rush of procedure, the military bravado that combat was coming, was soon, that this was why they were here, it rushed into the veins of the Special Task Force as each of them dealt with a question a Texan Ranger, there for hours already, had to reckon with himself.

Shortly, the HQ vehicle had rolled up through the Gate.

"Your number, Kay." Bannon had tapped his helmet as she rushed around, making sure positions were good, gesturing to the APC containing General Hazama and Colonel Pierce.

Before Emerson could rush up to it, the APC had let out, its passengers disembarking; most namely Hazama with a procession of JSDF officers and a pair of binoculars, seeing the enemy mass out in the distance.

He didn't report to Hazama however, he reported to Pierce with a report hours in the making in his head describing force composition, movements, and a plan of action that would make sure they would rout. He had begun with gusto, saluting the Colonel. Pierce saluted him down, but eyes were otherwise focused on Hazama.

"Our visual recon-" Emerson was cut short.

"Is not needed." Pierce had gestured behind Emerson, to the Type-74s. There was a vital piece of American doctrine that was not carried over at this moment. It was a doctrine made in the time since Iraq, since the recognition of a sane and comprehensible idea that, in order to be engage, you must be engaged.

But they had been engaged. Engaged since Ginza.

"Ears on." Bannon had ordered and the Rangers had put their hearing protection from their helmets down, looking away and moving away from the tanks they had helped put in place. The traversal of all their turrets out and forward, it spoke to something immediate.

"Sicario Actual. What's the call?" A call from one of the Warlords, the Abrams and their commanders poking out of their hatches back toward Pierce as he looked on from that hill and saw what Masterson saw hours before. Every vehicle had been in position, the coil primed to spring.

Emerson had thought Masterson would've needed this to happen, wanted this to happen, the second he had gotten over. But forward recon changed him immediately. It was no longer an attacking army, it was just people, sitting in place, defenseless.

This was who they were charged to kill.

If Pierce was ever going to say something, it was drowned out as the first 105-millimeter guns of the Type 74s had opened up, in sync. The bright stars of a tank round, red hot, flying down range was tracked by all those who could, all the way out, forward, disappearing into the ring of a Roman army accruing a mile and a half down and away.

The stars disappeared, only to bury themselves into the ground, and, in one fell swoop, explode.

The earth quaked, the ground was moved, the shockwave of an explosion came a second later.

To engage, you must be engaged.

Pierce shook his head. Better fast than longer. "All Warlords, you're free to engage." The quicker, the better.

Emerson had been left standing as Pierce just let it play out, left with nothing to do but stand there and see what the JSDF really wanted.

The Abrams had their command hatches popped as the TCs looked out, seeing what everyone else saw: the Japanese were engaging.

Every shot had felt of a punch in one's heart as the volley that kicked off the war on this side of the Gate began, and it was from the Japanese. Pierce's RTO had nodded over as they confirmed over comms. "We're engaged."

Yeah I can see that. Pierce had glowered.

The great roars had been of metal machines, not of dragons. Not of monsters.

Distant thunder, great looms of dirt and smoke, particles of people.

Hitman, Itami, all of them looked out into the dark and saw the flames of superior firepower so impersonally open up.

Emerson had ducked back into a trench with the rest of Hitman.

"What's the over under on each of those?" Immediately he was bombarded with questions. It was from Masterson.

Emerson sat down, holding his rifle between his legs. "Each of those what, Cam? Not like I know you to not use words."

Another round, another volley. The pumps of explosion beating into their bones.

Masterson continued, licking his lips, his leg bouncing as he sat braced against the trench. "That's about the same amount that came at Ginza. Took us two and a half days to clean up. How fast you think this'll be?"

Emerson could only pat his helmet down as he sat in his trench, looking out, and then away. He could give no answer as he thought back to a common Roman man who had come to fight them. He lost, and was captured. His name was Mercaius. He could've been any one of those soldiers out there, and so each and every one of them had been Mercaius to him as the explosions rocked and the JSDF invaded.


A conversation with the enemy. There was a question that needed to be asked. Not for practice, not for practical knowledge, but it was a complete and utter need. Something in Emerson's head echoed up and down, up and down, up and down demanding, begging, wanting something of him that was insanity.

It was insanity.

Heard not only in his head, but in the head of every single person in Hitman. In Masterson. In Bannon. In Loke. In Harris. In Valentine. In everyone.

Kill them all.

He had a .45 in his holster right now. Right between his eyes. Blow his fucking brains out.

Kill them all.

For my family.

He asked a question instead.

"Tell me, Mercaius, why did you attack?"

Mercaius had looked so thoughtful, hearing those words translated, and he answered truthfully. "Tell me, Kay Emerson. Are you not a soldier yourself?"

Itami rose his eyebrow as Emerson asked. It wasn't a question on the list they had prepared. Emerson would tell himself in the weeks after that it just was something he thought of on the fly but that was a complete lie.

He had been trying to translate the words to the question ever since the material had been out.

"I am." Emerson answered.

"Then, you know, orders are orders. They are the orders my father followed, and his grandfather before that. They are the orders of our Emperor that has built our home for my family. Why would I not follow them?"

"Because you killed the innocent."

"Is this not how one conquers? Is this not how militaries invade?"

Emerson had spoken. "No."


Haditha Massacre

A series of killings on November 19, 2005, in which a group of United States Marines killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians. The youngest of these victims was two years old. Killed execution-style in a neighborhood in Iraq, the Marines lied afterwards saying their actions were spurred on by combative fire that never happened.

None of the eight Marines ever saw jailtime.


"Then am I guilty of failing my family? Of the history that has created a life for me?"

Family.

For his family.

He continued, as if insulted. "I have, for five years, served in my legion without complaint, without disregard. I have been a father, for five years, and yet I have not seen my child. It was this campaign, my last campaign, that would be the one before Emperor Molt rewards me for my service and grants me the land for an estate. A place for my…" Mercaius looked for a word. "My future."

Mercaius believed in God. In loyalty. In service. Was he not a good man?

"The success of my Emperor, of our Empire, is my success. Is it not the same for the powers you hold yourself to?"

Why did you do it?

Because it was the right thing to do. A good thing to do.

All Emerson and Itami could do was sit there in silence, and wait for him to be taken away.