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Chapter 1: Sunrise
Tom, it's started
Boom. A large explosion near the apartment building smashed open the french doors. Shards of glass flew in all directions, scattering slivers large and small around the room. The armchairs fell on to their backs, their stubby feet pointing towards the open doors. The radiola slipped sideways, with the glow in the dial fading and brightening in a strange imitation of the warfare erupting in the harbour outside.
"Tom, Tom" Mrs Welsh called from the upturned armchair she huddled behind.
"Tom, are you all right?"
The morning dawned cold and grey. It had rained during the night, and the parquetry floor of the lounge glistened with water and broken glass. The rug was sodden. The chaotic broken furniture and strewn books, the damp flapping curtains, the clouds of smoke drifting past - all gave the room a feeling of violation, of something unspeakable having happened.
Mrs Welsh woke to the grey light falling through the broken window and across the rumpled bedding. Sometime in the early morning after the 'all clear' sounded she had crept from the bath into the bed. Now her eyes smarted and her mouth was dry. But she was awake. "It's begun" she said aloud, and began to hum. "Tom" she called. The other side of the bed was cold and empty. "Tom." She heard a muffled groaning from the bathroom. "Tom" she called again "see if the stove is working, I need a cup of tea". She climbed out of the bed, humming the tune of God Save the King. "Hmm, we'll see who saves who now. Tom have you got the kettle on yet" she demanded as she picked up her red candlewick dressing gown from the floor and put it on. "And turn the wireless on, we need to hear the news". She opened the door into the passageway, catching sight of the lounge room battle ground. "We'll need to clean up the flat too" she thought as she went into the kitchen. "Where is Tom, he hasn't even got the kettle on yet". She picked her way across the glassy lounge room and went out on to the balcony.
The happiness of tea
"Oh Tom", she whispered, "if only you were still here, if only you could see".
Mrs Welsh walked around opening the curtains in the flat. Low grey clouds drifted across the grey sky, and little white caps on the harbour reflected the cool breeze blowing in through the heads. "Just like it was back then, on this very day" she thought. Looking through the french doors she could vaguely see the holes and chips in the timber frame, long-ago filled with putty and covered in a thick coat of glossy dark paint.
In the distance the little tea house in Bradfield Park was being opened up to its patrons. "A busy day today" she thought, as she watched a woman folding back the wooden shutters, and smoke started to curl up from the chimney and into the shadows of the great bridge above it. The whistle of the kettle interrupted her reverie, and Mrs Welsh went back into the kitchenette and poured the boiling water into the tea pot. She covered the pot with one of the little red and white knitted cosies produced in large quantities by her Women's Guild branch. She took the pot and set it on the table, then placed a little cup and saucer of fine china beside the pot. It's satsuma pattern of pale pink cherry blossoms had always pleased her, and she kept it for special occasions. She sat down at the table, staring for a few moments at the mynors flitting in the bare branches of the plane tree outside the window, their dark little bodies silhouetted against the ashen sky. Mrs Welsh arranged the tea pot, cup and saucer around her, so as to be in just the right place. Then she picked up the sealed envelope leaning against the vase on the table. She caressed the envelope, feeling the indentations made by the pen on its surface, and the perforated edges of the stamp. Then she leant it against the vase again, and picked up the tea pot and slowly poured the dark, steaming tea into the little satsuma cup.
She picked up the envelope again and read the carefully inscribed envelope: Mrs Adela Welsh, Bridge Apartments, Karafuto Avenue, North Sydney. She turned it over and longingly read the sender's address: Welsh (T) San, Governor's Tower, Sidoni Nihon Machi. The mynor birds in the tree began squabbling, jumping from branch to branch until one of them suddenly whirled away into the sky, and the others began a jubilant chattering. Mrs Welsh picked up her ebony handled letter opener and prised the flap open. She drew out the folded sheets, and opened the pale pieces of rice paper. Mrs Welsh took a sip of hot tea, and finally began to read.
A son cherished
Tue., 29th May 2622
Mrs Welsh shuddered at the mention of Della's name. That girl. So ungrateful. So rebellious, So blind to what had been achieved, so completely self-centred. She took in a deep breath and then slowly exhaled, feeling her exasperation gradually dissipate with her breath.She looked out of the window again. The errant mynor had returned, and was again causing a disturbance in the flock. The angry chattering of the birds could be heard above the music of the radio, and again they began to attack the outcast, until it abruptly flew away.
Mrs Welsh looked back at the letter. "My darling okaa-san" she read again and smiled. She held the letter to her heart for a moment, then taking another sip of tea from the pink satsuma cup she read the letter again, and then again, each time stopping at the farewell and returning to the salutation without reading the 'P.S.' The clock chimed for 6.30, and Mrs Welsh sipped the last of the tea in her cup, stood up and took the tea things to the kitchen. She emptied the tea pot down the sink, rinsed it and the cup and saucer and left them in the dish rack to dry.
By 7.30 Mrs Welsh had showered and dressed, and was waiting at the little bus stop outside Bridge Apartments. Within minutes a city bound bus came around the corner and Mrs Welsh boarded. She didn't have to pay a fare, just show her pass stamped with its large Imperial mon. The driver cast his eyes down in deference, and she took her seat by the window just behind the driver. It was her favourite seat.
A daughter scorned
"Della, hello, are you still with us?"
The tall man with the brown hair and beard stood up.
The others looked at her. Della didn't feel well. The thought of seeing her mother again flooded her mind, and she suddenly ran from the room into the cool morning air of the tiny back yard and vomited. A yellow-eyed dog lying in the yard watched her, and sidled over to sniff at the mess.
A mother's pride
Several other people already sat in the end seats and the back row. They all sat quietly, not speaking, just watching the crowd that was filling the square. Mrs Welsh looked around. The red and white bunting blew gently in the breeze, and the GPO looked positively imperial in great swags of the Hinomaru and naval ensigns all emphasizing the huge portrait of the Emperor that now occupied the middle of the building's facade. An officer of the Imperial navy was escorted to the seat on one side of her, followed soon after on the other side by the wife of a local politician and her husband.
Several sparrowhawks began flying around above the crowd, screeching to each other above the noise. The military band that had been tuning its instruments suddenly snapped to attention. Three limousines drew up to the edge of the square, and the crowd began to fall silent as the band began its fanfare of arrival. Within a minute a small party of dignitaries had gathered. They walked along the red carpet towards the dais until they were directly in front of the Emperor's portrait. There they stopped and faced the great icon. The assembled guests on the dais rose and also faced the portrait, as did all the people in the square. As one the whole mass of standing bodies bowed deeply to the portrait, then straightened up again. Within another minute the dignitaries had ascended the dais and taken their seats. Mrs Welsh could almost feel the presence of her son who now sat behind one of the dignitaries, and only a few seats away from her. He didn't know that she was going to be here, and she thrilled to her little secret. "So tall and handsome" she thought" with all the best qualities of east and west and none of the bad, so unlike Della". She smiled inwardly, but had little time to think further when the precentor rose and moved towards the bank of microphones at the front of the dais.
The Green Arrow
Now there was no more time for thinking. It was time for action. "The Green Arrow is about action, not debating", East had reminded her "If you want debating, go back to your university and debate away your life with your Nippon professors. The arrow has to fly direct to be true, and today is the day for direct action".
They had all cheered him, and themselves, before setting out for Martin Place. Della tried to focus only on her allotted task. Her hands sweated, and she felt certain that she looked all too obviously like one of the 'wreckers' that the government (and her mother) never stopped railing against. But no one stopped her, and within minutes she was walking along George Street like any other loyal subject out to celebrate Awakening Day.A sparrowhawk sees the Emperor
"Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this auspicious day in our city where all is at one with the Emperor". As the precentor spoke into the microphones the grey clouds began to part. Patches of blue sky appeared and the light in the square began to brighten.
"Oh, auspicious sign of the gods" gasped the precentor. A sun beam had broken through the clouds, directly illuminating the Emperor's portrait. The dignitaries on the dais, including Mrs Welsh, rose as one and bowed deeply to the portrait. The crowd in the square also bowed. A sense of reverence rose from the assembly in its ordered obeissance.
The shrill call of a young hawk broke the quietness. People in the square looked up as the hawk swooped on a little fairy martin. The martin evaded and twisted, while the hawk tracked it through the air. The martin flew straight at the portrait, then at the last moment shot upwards, skimming the painted surface. The hawk, suddenly aware, screeched before crashing into the very face of the Emperor. Stunned, it fell down the facade of the building, landing on the carpeted steps with a feathered thud. The crowd, equally stunned, stood in a kind of horrified silence, unsure of how to react.
"Banzai" cried the precentor "Hail the Emperor who has faced every enemy many times without blinking, who remains the calmness at the centre of every storm. Banzai"
Tom looses his voice
Della begins to sweat
Della's uncertainty was giving way to annoyance at the spectacle. "That's right Mother, accept their baubles, fool yourself into believing that it means something. They don't really accept you, it's all a charade." She wanted to spit her disgust on to the ground.
Della looked around. She could see some of the Twenty nearby by, slowly converging on the dais. The crowd began clapping and cheering, and Della realized it was for her mother, who was now standing and acknowledging the crowd. Della pulled her hat further down over her face, hooding her eyes from the dais. The speechifying drifted in and out of Della's mind, heard but not listened too.
"...Greater East Asia is now ... peace for all ... friendship between our peoples ... eight corners under one roof ... Nipponese statesmanship ... Asians like ourselves ... His Majesty's greatness ... many thanks ..."
Della glanced up at the GPO clock. One minute to ten. The moment was almost at hand. Della felt her pocket, yes it was still there, hard, uncompromising, waiting. Her hands began to sweat. Any moment now. The crowd had fallen silent, anticipating the minute of silent remembrance they would observe at ten o'clock.
The clock strikes ten
A loud bang from the roof of the Oriental Bank building at the end of the square startled everyone. A brilliant red flare shot up from the roof, rocketing into the blue sky. The moment was at hand.
Tom wakes up
All is bared
Boom. A second loud bang from the roof of the bank building announced a second red flare rocketing upwards. Again the crowd and officials looked upwards, still in stunned silence. And again the flare reached its peak and began to splutter. Distracted eyes began to return to the square, and a muttering began. The twenty mooning arses were no longer to be seen. In their place sat two rows of ten little cigar-shaped canisters, each emitting an audible hissing sound. For the first time since ten o'clock, someone spoke" "Stink bombs. Strewth." The sickening flatulent smell began to rapidly spread through the crowd. People began coughing and cursing while covering their mouths and noses as they pushed and shoved to get away from the miasmic stench.
Mrs Welsh covered her nose with a delicate linen handkerchief. Then she held her breath as she soaked it with jasmine-scented perfume from a small bottle in her handbag, dabbing her brow and face before again holding it to her face like a nosegay. Suddenly Mr Tanaka appeared on the dais. "Come this way, please, this way." He swiftly herded the official party from the dais, past the hissing stink bombs, into the air-conditioned GPO building.
The crowd continued to disperse into the streets around Martin Place. The acrid smell clung to their clothes and their hair, and doggedly pursued them around every corner for several hundred metres. The official party, also affected by the clinging stink, was lead to the Postmaster-General's ante-rooms on the top floor of the building which had already been prepared for the official reception. As they peered out of the windows into the square below, they could see that the two rows of canisters, clearly visible from this height, narrowed and broadened at one end to form the shape of an arrow. The gas seeping from them had accumulated enough of a presence to lend a greenish haze to the arrow shape. "The green arrow" hissed Tanaka San beside Mrs Welsh "a shameful act that will be avenged". She nodded her head in vigorous agreement.
Tom begins to get his legs back
"No use looking out there cobber" said one of the other men in the ward "the wife told me that they're stalled at the Hawkesbury, haven't got across the river, but the fighting is mighty fierce, and no-one knows what is going to happen."
"They killed them all" another of the patients started yelling "bayoneted every one of them in their beds". Like all the men, Tom had heard the stories of the invasion, including the rumoured hospital massacre at Armidale. "Lies, all lies, hateful propaganda" his wife had insisted on her daily visits to the hospital "don't believe a word of it, you'll be all right".
"Killed them all" the man yelled again "and that's what they'll do to us. I have to get out of here." He tried to get out of his bed, but fell heavily, knocking over a bed pan that hadn't yet been emptied. Stinking shit and yellow piss seeped across the floor. "Nurse, nurse" called one of the men, but there was no-one around to pick him up, to clean up the mess. He just lay there in the hellish atmosphere. Tom pulled the pillow over his head to hide the nightmare. "When will it end?" he began secretly sobbing to himself.
Returning to the lair
A train came within minutes of getting to the platform. Della boarded and found a seat near the back of the carriage. She noticed one of the Twenty a few seats in front of her, but neither showed any recognition of the other. The stations passed by as rows of old terraces gave way to suburban blocks and onwards to the old county town of Parramatta. Della daydreamt of what was to come, of their exciting re-telling of the Action, the shadowy shuffling forward through the square, the fear-tinged thrill of baring their backsides, the setting of the stink bombs, the melting away into the crowd again. She smelt the strong coffee and the garam smoke. She felt the sticky plastic table cloth on her arms. She blushed at the thought of vomiting out the back "no, that won't happen again" she told herself. As the train pulled into Parramatta station, the image of her mother's disapproving face suddenly appeared in the window reflection before vanishing just as quickly. Della shuddered, then smiled at the thought of her discomfort. "Perhaps I should visit her soon", she thought "and brother dear".
5543 words at 17 January 2005