This time only the commander and the instructor in the dark robes was in the room when he came. Soji bowed to them, wondering what did he do now. He practically spent all his time in the kitchen.
“It has come to my attention that you have not been staying at the barracks at night, ice programmer Soji,” the commander said.
“My apologies, your grace,” he bowed. “It is easier for my duties in the kitchen that way.” That was not a lie.
“But you are a member of the brigade first of all,” the commander reminded him.
He felt himself getting drowsy quite suddenly. He glanced at the other man, the one in the dark robes, but the man had not raised a hand nor mouthed any words. “Yes, your grace, I am,” he managed to say. “You also said I am on standby.”
“Indeed,” the commander said, “but your standby status means you have to be ready to be called at any moment.”
He understood that, although his eyelids were beginning to fall. “Yes, your grace.”
“It is important that you are in the barracks as you are needed.”
Huh? But he only slept there, did he not? “At night, your grace? Are you certain?”
Now he saw the man in the dark robes raise a hand. But he became too tired, too drowsy, then too sleepy, to wonder why. He keeled over and knocked his head onto the commander’s desk.
“It pains me to do this to you, Soji of the meridian,” the commander’s voice wafted above him. “But the region of Selatan needs you.”
“It needs me,” he droned, unsure why, as he began to be dragged down somewhere deep.
You swore to us, Soji of the meridian, the other voice, the voice in his head said. All who go against the region will pay. By any means necessary.
“Yes…by any means necessary.” He continued to be dragged lower and deeper into darkness. He remembered those who took away his favorite beings, his mother. He swore to repay the favor.
Look well into this image.
In a dazed way he opened his eyes, saw not a room but a wide expanse, and immediately in front of him the image of secretary Kitama of overall defense.
He is an enemy of the cause. He is a traitor to our region. You shall take him down. By any means necessary. You shall liquidate.
-Liquidate. Liquidate.- He droned in his head. -Liquidate. Liquidate.-
He watched and listened quietly as he was given more specific instructions.
Exit brigade office. Proceed to overall defense building. Find cleaner’s uniform. Wear cleaner’s uniform. Take mop and bucket. Proceed to highest floor of building. Find third door. Open third door. Ask permission to clean room. Confirm face of secretary Kitama. Head behind secretary. Place hand over neck of secretary. Program for ice dagger. Liquidate. Exit room. Return uniform, mop and bucket. Exit defense building. Return to barracks.
He took all the instructions in without question. Even with eyes open he was surrounded by the thick darkness he was now acquainted with.
- Liquidate. Liquidate.- It was all he could say if he thought hard enough. He had to kill. He had to kill. No other thought. He had to kill.
All codes. Activate.
His eyes opened and he saw a room. He suddenly knew what he had to do, and he had to do it. His eyes were open, yet he was asleep, dreaming what he had been told, beginning with standing and leaving the brigade office.
He proceeded to the overall defense building. The sun was on its way down, but it was still bright on the main streets, still filled with people. He recognized no one, stopped for no one.
He circled the building, found the workers entrance as several of them entered a small door. He asked in a blank way where he could find the lockers, that he was a new worker. He was pointed to a hall and the first door.
He searched in a daze for something that looked like what someone carrying a mop would wear. He found it in the fourth locker. He found a mop and bucket in a closet.
He did not know why he had to do all this. But he had to. The deep darkness still filled him as he wore the cleaner’s uniform and grabbed the mop.
He walked the stairs to the fifth floor of the overall defense building. He reached the third door. He knocked.
“Permission to clean the room.”
“Oh. You may. Thank you,” a man at a large desk said. He looked at the man at the desk. Secretary Kitama, the name matched the face.
He approached, mopped and cleaned as he slowly reached the desk. The man said several things to him, but they were hazy, in the fog he was in.
He finally reached the back of the desk, the back of the man.
“I know what you are. I have heard of people like you,” he heard the man say. “Someday this government will be rid of tactics like this. I am sad that I will not see it. I pity you, young man.”
He did not understand any of it.
The man did not look at him, as he aimed his palm at the neck.
He shot an ice dagger at the neck, at the head, at the heart. The man toppled onto the desk, blood pooling in three points.
Absently he retrieved the mop and bucket and headed out of the room. He returned to the lockers, removed the uniform. He walked out of the defense building.
He did not know why he did all this. He just had to.
He reached his room in the fourth-floor barracks.
Perfect. Executed perfectly. Well done, Soji of the meridian. The voice in his head said.
He did not know what it was he did.
All recent codes, deactivate.
You serve us now, Soji of the meridian. Get used to it.
He was knocked out with a powerful whack of that darkness and quickly dragged into the depths of it, until he knew nothing more.
The whole kitchen was quiet when he arrived the next day. Two strange things already in one morning. He woke up in the barracks when he did not go there for the night, and now the kitchen staff were quietly and dutifully doing their work.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said to the head cook and headed to the vegetable area.
He placed himself beside Yoko to help her chop the carrots. “Why is everyone so serious?”
“The heads of the overall defense committee are coming here for lunch, after the funeral,” Yoko said.
“You mean you haven’t heard? Secretary Kitama was assassinated! In his office!”
He dropped the carrot. He actually liked the overall defense secretary, what little he knew of him. His mother knew Kitama from the earlier days. He was warm-hearted, cared for soldiers, his mother said. He wanted to improve services for soldiers and civilians, while improving defenses against Pendi.
Why was he assassinated? And who did it?