Prologue

I

t is New Year’s Day 1945 at Hiro Air Base in western Honshu, and Captain Yoshiro Tsubaki, Commander of the Fourth Fighter Squadron, has just called a special meeting. We have assembled in a mood of intense expectation. . . somberly, even furtively. Silence settles profoundly, accentuated by sporadic gusts of rain against the roof and windows.

We are called to swift, rigid attention as the Captain enters and commands us to be seated. For several seconds he stands before us, arms folded, eyes dark and glittering—unblinking, spearing each man to the heart. Then he speaks, sonorously: “The time, young airmen, has at last arrived. We are faced with a momentous decision.”

Again he pauses, but I feel it coming—the fear, beyond anything I have yet known. Momentarily the rain subsides, then returns with in­creased intensity as he continues. Death is there with us, gray tentacles, sinuous and inexorable, clasping at our throats. “Any of you unwilling to offer your lives as divine sons of the glorious Nippon Empire will not be required to do so.” I hold my breath, feeling my temples throb. “Those incapable of accepting this great honor will raise their hands.”

Once more, the silence is palpable, but the tentacles relax slightly. The rain subsides in a soft drizzle. Then, hesitantly, timorously, a hand goes up. Then another and another. . . five, six in all. Six members of

the Fourth Fighter Squadron have chosen to live. Our captain waits, one eyebrow arched eloquently. The decision is mine: I can choose to live or to die. Has not our captain just said so? Yet somehow. . . of course, of course, I want to live! But my hands remain at my sides trembling. I want to raise them, desperately want to raise them. Even my soul would have me do so, yet they remain at my sides.

“Ah so desu ka1” Captain Tsubaki transfixes those who have responded in his stare. “Most enlightening.” His eyes are devouring. “It is good to know in advance exactly where we stand.” He glances at the floor, nods, purses his lips. Slowly his gaze ascends as though evaluating the structure of the ceiling then returns to the gathering before him. Never, perhaps anywhere, has there been a more attentive audience. “Here, gentlemen,” he continues, appraising those who have responded, “are six men who have openly admitted their disloyalty.” Their faces blanch, turning ashen. For an instant his tone is ironically complacent. “Since they are completely devoid of courage and honor. . . .” He even shrugs but suddenly becomes menacing. “Since they are completely devoid of courage and honor. . . . it becomes my obligation to provide them with some. These men shall become Hiro’s first attack group!”

The breath, held so long within me, escapes almost audibly. I want to inhale, expel more air, obtain relief. But my innards clench, and something sears the inside of my chest like a hot, electric wire. Six of my friends have just been selected as Hiro’s first human bombs.

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