I thank Brian Daizen for his courageous book “Zen and War” that painfully illustrates how even the most peaceful doctrine can be warped beyond recognition and serve as justification for the worst of human behaviour.
Cover image: Wikimedia Commons File: Chiran high school students wave Kamikazi pilot.
As Oda slowly rode along the bike trail, he watched overhead, not quite trusting the warnings he would get to indicate cameras and surveillance. The glasses showed green for the path, with red where the cameras covered. It was early beside the Marybinong River with islands of mist on the water. The path wound slowly, following the curves of the river. Only ten metres from the houses, but he could almost have been riding hundreds of kilometres from Melbourne. Down below it was twenty metres wide, with the water surprisingly clear. The faster commuters heading for the city were polite, shuffling their way past.
Above him, around him, were all the sensors that should have tripped to his presence. When assembled they still had to follow that precept. What are we looking for? Without some guidance it is all just endless bytes. None so blind as those that will not see, Oda thought. We think of the eyes as cameras, taking in everything in the visual field. Not so, we are primed to search for stimuli. Too slow to be waiting for the sign of the tiger. Instead we search, anticipate, try to steal a jump on the tiger. Without this, we would not be here, he thinks. He was counting on them not expecting the tiger to take the form of a solitary bicycle rider with a backpack.
He slowed as the display on his glasses updated. It showed a map, and distances. At Footscray Road the bike path turned and headed for the city. His target was within a kilometre. Anxiously he scanned the path, and the surroundings. He slowed even more, checking the map, the timing. Breathe, he told himself, the timing is still feasible. He dismounted, and swung the bicycle onto the seat. He turned a full circle, looking for anyone watching. Especially a camera. On the other side of the road was the tyre place. It was a blank wall, and nobody was likely to see from there. Still, there was the car traffic. He inched down the bank so that he would not be visible.
In one motion, he pulled the drone from the backpack and placed it on the ground. Sitting on the ground, leaning back against the bridge wall, he placed the tablet on his knees, and waited for it to start. Priming everything. He didn’t want a commuter to come around the bend at the critical moment. He placed his finger on the screen, moved it. The drone stuttered slightly then took flight, to tree height.
Then there was only Oda, for all the world looking like a lazy cyclist who has stopped to send a message to his friend, taking in the early morning. Sitting with a finger lazily drifting over a tablet. His glasses getting the vision from the drone. It sat hovering about ten metres away, only three metres above.
The drone began its journey. It was only a short vertical ascent, then less than five hundred metres south across the river and the drone was sitting and waiting for its target.
Geoffrey Sutton listened to the radio headlines in the background. He glanced out the window at the early morning sunshine, and hesitated over the last of the coffee he was drinking. He took care over it, the selection of the beans, the grinding. It had to be just so. He was running late though, quickly tipping the last of the cup into the sink. He moved to the study, and gathered the books and equipment he needed for this morning’s class. How many years now? This was his fourth. Enough that he knew what he was doing as a teacher, finally. Not enough to become bored with it. Not enough to become familiar with the burnout he saw on his older coworkers. He had the enthusiasm of youth, and most of his hair still.
Instead of lounging in front of the television, the evening prior was devoted to working through the morning’s new class. He was proud of it, a blending of a mathematics exercise he had seen at a conference, together with his own Melbourne twists. Football, he knew, would communicate to every one of his students. Even though they were only eight years old, already they knew and had absorbed the football culture. It would get their attention where a dry exercise would lose them. The color, the movement. Yes, it would work. The large bag was needed to hold the counters, the cardboard images.
Standing in the doorway of the study, running through the day and making sure he had everything he needed. Quickly now turning off the lights and heading for the door. The apartments were only four levels high, with a small garden before the car park. It was only a patch of green, really, a pathetic hint of a garden. At least it was something.
The drone shuddered slightly, accelerating. It swung low in an arc, pausing only to get a full face image that it communicated to its pilot, sitting on a park bench.
Geoffrey was within ten metres of his car. Reached into his pocket for the keys, to open the door. Opening the rear hatch remotely to place the large bag in the back. The flutter of the drone above, stopping and looking up. It was the worst thing he could have done.
It dropped vertically, fast enough to almost look as if it was falling, uncannily like the swoop of a bird of prey, to be hovering directly above his head but slightly to one side. Still transfixed, he did not connect it with danger. Quickly it aligned itself with his shoulders. The worm drive expanded the diameter of the wire, making sure there was plenty of margin to pass over his head. No hesitation now, it dropped and the terrible chatter began. An insistent “clack clack clack” as the metal teeth pulled the wire. The worm drive doing its terrible work. It first jiggled itself to make sure that the wire was where it should be. There was a fleeting moment where he could have put his hands inside the wire, but it was simply too fast for him.
His neighbour, Elise Watts, chose this moment to exit her apartment and walk across the garden to the car park. She saw Geoffrey fall to the ground, for no apparent reason.He could not breathe. It was tight around his windpipe. He grabbed at the drone, trying to shake it off him. Trying to damage it, to just make it stop. Managing only to damage one rotor blade. One of four.
Then it was all over. The wire tightened, severing his windpipe, and a major artery. As Elise ran towards him, it spurted like a hose cut with a knife. A burst, then another. The drone having completed its mission let one end of the wire go. Flailing across the ground, struggling to gain altitude with only three rotors working it limped. In a matter of seconds it was out of sight.
She ran to his side. For a fleeting moment, she could see signs of life in his eyes. Trying to grab at his neck to stem the flow. So much blood. He looked as if he was about to say something, strained to hear. Then he was gone.
George Kostas had already been at the fun palace for two full hours. He liked to be the first in, to walk about the place while it was empty. Perhaps he had too strong an attachment to the physical expressions. It was new, it was magnificent. Moved to Docklands to take advantage of the space. A new headquarters built from scratch was a once in a century opportunity. So the thinking had been to be adventurous with the architecture, and the facilities. For the inhabitants, one compensated for the other. They were not concerned with the jokes about its appearance while taking advantage of the way it worked. Work it did. It changed the way they did everything.
George’s critics would say that the absence of any visible social life meant that he had nowhere else to go so it was no surprise that he was one of the first through the doors. Those who had promoted him saw instead the coupling of raw intelligence with a ferocious work ethic.
Only Alice and Steve were there. Alice Nguyen had been a detective only slightly longer than George. In a sense they were both outsiders, they shared an element of background. She liked to keep a very low profile, whereas George had already featured in the Sunday supplements. If you had to pick a way to piss off 99% of your colleagues, then having a public profile would do it. It wasn’t that George liked being public property, it just seemed to go with the trajectory. God knows the police could do with some positive publicity. They came early to match with George's schedule. They were all new, and they held together.
The call came in at 7.45am, and straight away it propagated onto the wall. Even as the emergency operator was talking it got flashed everywhere. The operator struggled to keep Elise on the line.
“So much blood. Oh my god, he’s dead. He’s dead. It’s awful. Please send somebody. Quickly.”
“Please speak slowly. Your location?”
“63 Moreland Street. Footscray.”
George glanced up at Alice. She was already moving in the direction of the door. Knowing that they could be there in about ten minutes. Down three levels to the carpark. There would be no conversation about who was driving. George hated driving, Alice loved driving. Any excuse to put the flashing light on and burn rubber.
Reluctantly, George put the glasses on. It would feed him the updates as they travelled. Nerdish, but effective.
“All that blood. Can a knife do that?” he spoke to the open mike. It was linked to Steve, Alice and himself. The system would page forensics, and they would join. Maybe before they got to the scene, maybe not. It was so close.
Alice swung the car around the circular up-ramp. The door at street level in Docklands was already open. Making maybe 80 kilometers per hour as she hit the street. George was hoping she wasn’t going to drive straight over a pedestrian. A bit like a flourish, she swung the rear of the car as they hit Docklands Drive. Left, then left again onto Footscray Road. Now with the lights and siren, she just floored it.
All the traffic was going in the opposite direction, into the city. George didn’t look at the speedo, he didn’t want to. He thought about commenting about the fact that the victim would still be dead when they got there, but decided against it. Instead he looked out across the waking city and tried to think it through. It looked like an execution, a very nasty execution.
“Who is he?” George asked.
“Geoffrey Sutton. Primary school teacher. On his way to school.”
It was as if they were up to flight speed and they were right there. On the windscreen display, the right arrow came up so quick. George couldn’t help but think that Alice would rather have the victim in Geelong so she could burn fuel.
They pulled up. No trouble finding it, there was just a local constable and a very distraught looking witness. Beside a figure sprawled on the ground.
“It just choked him. It was like it was alive. His throat. Who did he ever hurt? He was a primary school teacher for Christ’s sake. Shit. Shit.”
Alice looked at the constable. He was struggling with the scene. George was studying the victim. So much blood. It was like it had been sucked from him.
“I’m Alice Nguyen, Homicide” she said. Glancing across at George almost to say that she had it under control.
“I know it’s difficult. This is just awful. Please take your time. Is there anywhere we can sit?” she said
Elise looked at her like she had lost her mind. She brought her head up to look straight at Alice, covered her eyes, started sobbing. George was thinking that maybe there was a relationship here, but he not going to raise it.
There was a bus seat, within reach. Alice guided her in that direction. They both sat.
“Did you know him well?” Alice asked
“Not really. Just to say hello.” she said.
Alice didn’t want to push it. She gave her time.
“Take it very slowly. Just describe what happened. Start at the beginning.
So She went through it. She was clear at least. Alice didn’t quite believe what she was hearing, as the flight of the drone was described, low as it flew across the road in its deathly embrace of Geoffrey.
Alice left her in the hands of another local constable, and slowly walked towards George.
“Drone, with some sort of garrotte.” she said
“Jesus. A bit elaborate.”
He was right, it didn’t fit at all. Using a sledgehammer.
George glanced at the glasses, and talked to Steve.
“Gambling debts? He’s a bloody terrorist in deep cover. Anything?”
“Nothing yet. I’ve got his finances and there is nothing dramatic there. He’s been a teacher for about five years.”
“No. Just punters. No flashing red lights.”
He didn’t like it one little bit. As the new boy on the block, he was expecting something of the ninety percenters. Husband has one too many drinks, gets a bit excited. Throws his weight around. Something like that. Something to go on with. Establish a track record. Not this.
George turned to Alice.
“Anyone see the drone? Which direction it came from?”
“We’ll have more when we trawl around a bit. It was early.”
“Surveillance?” he said, looking around.
“Footscray road has a camera, but I doubt it will cover this far. It’s been planned. Not exactly a crime of passion.” she said.
He walked in the direction of the river. It was past eight and the traffic was still building. He could almost feel it. Earlier though, it would have been deserted. He returned to Alice.
“Single?” he said.
“Yes, as far as we can tell. Not married. Nobody else lived in the apartment. Neighbours have him as a quiet solid citizen.”
He asked Steve:
“A drone. Any sign of it on any of the surveillance cameras?”
“About the size of a large dinner plate, I think. One of those small ones, with the four rotors.”
“OK. I’ll get them onto it.”
Forensics arrived. Their van, and the following car containing Dr. Bin Deng. He was new, and George, who was also new, had only met him once before, at the induction. Bin was late twenties, and quintessentially nerd like. He looked like he worked out, but not for strength. Maybe he ran 10 km every morning. He smiled as he closed the car door and turned to George.
“George Kostas.” He said.
“Bin. We met...”
He didn’t waste any time, walking swiftly towards the body lying on the ground. George watched for a reaction, but there wasn’t one. He looked as if he was buying milk, or walking the dog. Maybe the non-reaction is a reaction he thought, he’s determined to look like he’s been doing this for twenty years.
Bin walked slowly around the body. Not touching anything at first. Just taking it all in. George stood back, and waited. After circling, he took out a small stick, and probed around the neck area.
“Lots of blood.” George said.
“Yes. It’s a big artery. He’s young. Heart pumps out at a fast rate.” Bin said.
“Yes. Within a minute or so, I’d say.”
“Cause of death?”
“Blood flow to the brain cut off.”
“Some sort of garotte?”
“Very sharp. Pulled with some considerable force, looking at the damage.”
“Hard to say. Sharp. I can’t see any residue. A drone?”
“Small. About the size of a dinner plate.”
He walked the perimeter of the tape. The victim was lying next to a garden bed. Bin and his assistant began scouring the garden bed. George pulled back, and waited. Another chance to talk to Steve.
“Any sign?” he asked
“Nothing definite. I’ve got them looking at the bridge. It has a 360 degree camera at the top. If we are lucky it may have a glance. That’s the best I can do.”
Bin pulled something out of the garden bed, and came towards George.
“Part of the drone.” he said
“What is it?”
“One of the rotors was damaged when it grappled with the victim. There may be other pieces here.”
It wasn’t much to go on. These things were sold everywhere. At least it might give them a make and model.
The tail end of the morning peak was lingering on as Alice and George made their way back to the fun palace. The new police headquarters building had acquired that name as a result of its Melbourne style architecture. Following on from Federation Square, the RMIT building, they had really excelled themselves with the new building. Perhaps nobody had bothered to tell them ‘serious work, serious building’, or more likely nobody had bothered to look at the plan or study the view. The occupants were so relieved that the internals of the place worked so well that they forgave the exterior.
As they turned into Docklands, the glasses showed a message from Noel, George’s boss.
“What do you make of Noel?” Alice asked George.
A dangerous question. Perhaps Alice might save the comment, and relay it back to him. ‘How do you feel about your boss?’ George glanced across. This was one of those moments where they set the ground rules. Are we going to play games, or are we going to communicate? George decided that life was too short.
“A knowledgeable dinosaur. He’s real.” George said.
A simple word, ‘real’. He wasn’t a game player, or a ‘stab you in the back’ or a ‘fit you up for the big jump’. He could be relied on.
It was a lonely ride up in the elevator to Noel’s office. The climb to heaven, or the higher realms. The more important you were the higher in the building. Maybe the thinning of the atmosphere was to bring on humility.
Space. The more power you had, the more space you commanded. Also you got a guard to preserve your space. A gatekeeper that kept the intruders at bay. George smiled at Noel’s assistant. She smiled back. Perhaps that was a sign also that he was new. He doubted that the frequent visitors smiled. More likely they seized upon her as a way of getting extra access.
Noel was late fourties. Totally bald, in a shaven way that completely hid the pattern baldness. His suit was expensive. A slight sun tan that indicated either some time under the sun lamp, or a visit to a location that was sunnier than Melbourne. He smiled, in a confident way, and offered the other seat at the small table. There were only two seats. So much of the office was just space.
“How are you settling in?” Noel asked
“Fine. Just fine. I’m enjoying it.”
He smiled again. George had the thought that he was overdoing it. When was the last time that somebody had said they were enjoying their work in this office?
“Sensational. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the need to keep things under control. To not let the press dictate...”
George could imagine Noel reading the paper with George splattered all over it. All the things he was not. Young, talented. Why on earth had he done it?
The conversation shifted to less dangerous areas. More of the bonding, the ‘team player’ topics. George was eager, keen to allay fears. It was all good, or at least for the moment.
He descended from the heavens, to the earth realms. As he made his way back to his desk there wasn’t much eye contact. Alice was the exception, watching him pick his way gingerly past the wall.
“All good with the gods?” she asked
“Seem to be happy as long as I’m not on the front page.” he said.
Steve didn’t ask for George to ask. He launched anyway.
“He doesn’t have any sharp edges. Nothing in the financials, nothing in the associates. Nothing in the family. No gambling debts I can find. No political affiliations. Nothing.”
“A couple of frames as it descended into the street.”
“It could have come from anywhere. Could have been flown from Sydney.” George said, clearly frustrated. This was looking both high profile and absolutely impenetrable.
“I doubt it.” Steve continued. “They don’t carry enough fuel for a long journey. Plus you have heaps of surveillance in the city centre. It would be all over the network.”
“So local, you think?”
“Within a kilometre I’d say. Once you get over the other side of the river, there are cameras everywhere.”
“The street coverage. Walking.”
Oda had a crystal memory. One that persisted. He was very young, in Cairns. He was sitting on a beach. Sand flicked up by the wind. As far as he could see, he was the only person there. He is looking out to sea, and there is a solitary figure in the surf. The figure is rising and falling, on a wave. A wave that is blue, with a streak of white, as it breaks. He is cutting back, riding the wave forward, then up as if he was going to break into the sky, to take off into the air.
He had few memories that went back as far. Perhaps he was only three or four years old. Yet he was not afraid, sitting on the sand. His link with the figure in the water was strong, seemingly unbreakable.
It was never spoken of. Fleeing Japan, to become like vagabonds. Working low grade jobs, serving in cafes or stacking supermarket shelves. Years later, Oda wondered at that trajectory. To leave your place of birth. How do you do that? He had never met his grandparents, had never been to Japan.
He remembered his first days at school. An oddity. Much later there would be a scattering of Japanese kids. When he started though, he was the only one. It only took a day or two for his name to be replaced by ‘stinky’. Adults don’t seem to notice these things. Perhaps they choose not to notice them. All the ruthlessness of the jungle. The pecking order. It was so easy to put him at the bottom of the order, and to keep him there. No juggling or negotiation needed. Here’s an outsider. The little things. His rice ball lunches attracted a crowd. A crowd to jeer at the strange food.
What prompted his parents to take the turn of the millennium as some sort of sign? A sign to get on a plane to Cairns? He never thought to ask them, and they never thought to tell him.