“JIPI-san.”

Kenji “JIPI” Yamasaki smiled. “Let me guess,” he said with a soft voice and light backcountry Hokkaido accent. “You are a Musjido fan?”

“Yes I am, JIPI-san,” said Mitsuko. “I grew up with it. Mother bought it for my older brother and it was mine when he tired of it. I credit that machine for helping me to become a databasse programmer.”

“Come in, come in,” said Yamasaki. “I always enjoy visitors, and I am always happy to talk about video games.”

The apartment was clean, if sparsely furnished. Original artwork from Musjido video games and posters decorted the walls, but most of the acoutrements were analog, save for an old Amiga humming in a corner. Someone–a daughter or son, perhaps–was watching a game show on a television in one of the bedrooms.

Mitsuko took a seat at the small kitchen table while Yamasaki made tea. His back was stooped and his fingers curled in from arthritis, but he still moved quickly and spoke clearly. For a man of 90, he seemed in excellent shape.

“You were one of the oldest people working at Musjido, weren’t you?” Mitsuko asked once the tea had brewed and was steeping in front of her.

Yamasaki lowered himself into the hard chair with a grunt. “Yes, I was in my late 50s when I started with them. Bunch of young kids, they always called me ‘grandfather.’ But I loved it all the same.”

Mitsuko leaned forward. “What was it about programming for video games that attracted you, JIPI-san?”

The old man clutched at his cup. “The order,” he said. “Absolute order. Everything in its place, everything following directions. Even the music I wrote. Sawtoothed sine waves without any ambiguity in their bits.”

“Order?” said Mitsuko.

“Order,” repeated Yamasaki.

Mitsuko reached into her backpack. “It is funny that you mention this, JIPI-san,” she said, “as it segues into the reason for my visit.” She removed a manila folder and laid it on the tabletop.

“What is this?” said Yamasaki.

“Something I discovered in my database work,” said Mitsuko. “I wonder if you’re familiar with the story of Kiyoshi Yamaguchi, the Beast of Borneo, who inherited command of a battallion when his superior was killed and orchestrated the massacre of 2000 Dutch prisoners of war and their families.”

Yamasaki said nothing.

“When asked why he did it–before he fled and disappeared, naturally–Yamaguchi was asked why he did it. ‘Order,’ he said. ‘Beasts of the old order, there was no place for them in the new.'”

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It is in times of war, when modern men and modern machines move into uncertain spheres, that the most such strange encounters take place. A few notable ones:

1879: South Africa
A cavalry detachment that was assigned the pursuit of broken Zulu formations after the decisive Battle of Ulundi. The number of men involved are unclear, but 12 men–British soldiers and Zulu warriors with British equipment–eventually appeared in Portuguese Mozambique and were interned there. Despite repeated requests they were never returned, and a perusal of Portuguese records suggests that all 12 were incurably insane and remitted to an asylum in Lourenço Marques. An official report was tendered to the Foriegn Office by the Overseas Ministry in Lisbon, but it was sealed by order of the Prime Minister until 2100.

1915: Egypt
A raiding party of Turkish troops penetrated the Egyptian desert during the larger assault on the Suez Canal. A British force was detailed to follow them. Only five survivors were found despite extensive searches of the high desert, far to the south of the combat near the Dashur necropolis. Reports of strange lights in the desert by Egyptians corresponded with wild tales told by survivors of vicious attacks by luminous beings that could not be driven off with gunfire.

1942: New Guinea
A detachment of Australian troops fleeing toward Port Moresby and pursued by a larger Japanese force disappeared along with their adversaries. In 1945, the remains of a joint Australian-Japanese campside was found high in the Owen Stanley range far from the combat zone. Papers recovered by the investigators reported encounters with shadowy “tribesmen” in the forest. The descriptions matched no known tribes in the Owen Stanley range or the Kokoda Trail areas. No survivors were ever found.

1970: Cambodia
South Vietnamese and American troops moving into the dense jungles of Cambodia reported the discovery of an unknown temple complex from the late Angkor period via radio. There was no subsequent contact aside from a garbled request for close air support that could not be fulfilled. Subsequent searches failed to locate either the temple or the soldiers, with 10 Americans in one squad and a further 50 South Vietnamese troops being listed as missing in action. Examination of North Vietnamese records from the period indicates that an opposing force of 150 troops was also officially unaccounted for.

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The sector of the Hürtgenwald that Lt. Col. Lindsay Elliott’s men attacked was the oldest and deepest part of the forest, one that had lain essentially untouched for centuries. The German defenders were dug in deep, though reports from prisoners indicated that they were deeply uneasy due to nativeHürtgenwalders telling them stories about a local legend.

They spoke of an inner sanctum of the wood called das Herzwald, “the Heartwood,” where the ancestral spirits of the boughs lay in quiet repose, unless disturbed. This had the effect of the German lines routing around the deep woods said to be so protected and creating a salient until General Model intervened and ordered the area to be occupied and fortified.

Lt. Col. Elliott’s men battered themselves against the defenses for a week, carving roads for their tanks through the deep brush. But on the seventh day, fire from the German lines snaking through das Herzwald stopped. Probing attacks found the positions deserted as if in great haste…but no bodies.

Elliott sent five patrols against the abandoned lines. Field communications were lost with four of them, and men refused to be sent in after them. His solution was as expedient as it was brutal: set the Herzwald alight with incendiary artillery strikes.

As it turns out, that was a major mistake.

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“Cooper, I want to have a word with you about your essay.”

“Yes, Mrs. Chandler.”

“As you know, the essay was about the causes of World War I, which began one hundred years ago this year.”

“Yes, Mrs. Chandler.”

“And yet you say here in your essay that the war began when the duck of peace was stolen and ended when it was reclaimed.”

“That’s right, Mrs. Chandler.”

“And you don’t see any problem with this? What about the Archduke Franz Ferdinand?”

“Well, as I said in the essay, Mrs. Chandler, he had been given the duck of peace to hold onto and the assassins stole it from him.”

“But how could that be when Austria-Hungary was the first to declare war?”

“The Archduke had left the duck of peace to the King of England, so when he died whoever had it wasn’t the right person.”

“And I suppose that means that all future wars had something to do with this ridiculous duck of yours?”

“That’s right, Mrs. Chandler. World War II started when Germany stole the duck from Poland.”

“How in heaven’s name did it get to Poland?”

“It migrated. That’s what ducks do, after all, Mrs. Chandler!”

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In 1917, war weariness and conscription had taken their tool on the morale of the British home front. As such, the Home Undersecretary beneath Sir George Cave hit on the idea of using wounded, furloughed, and reserve troops to stage a mock German invasion of the modest-sized city of Lowemouth in Yorkshire. The Undersecretary believed that such an exercise would help raise morale and generate the sale of war bonds, since the 1917 War Loan had performed only sluggishly.

The Undersecretary’s idea was to cover an “invasion” of Lowemouth by “Imperial German” troops dressed in uniforms borrowed and rented from filmmakers and theaters. The British public would be informed of the “invasion” through news coverage–which would focus on the brutality of the “occupation”–and could then “liberate” sectors of the town through the targeted purchase of War Bonds. It would, in short, serve as a cautionary tale of a Hohenzollern-occupied Britain and a powerful way to involve the home front in buying desperately-needed bonds more directly.

Preparations included a unit of “defenders,” mock entrenchments, and plans for staged battles in and around Lowemouth. Since most of the resources were under government control, and most of the personnel involved soldiers or auxiliaries, the projected costs were quite low, less than a thousand pounds to cover the expenses of printing propaganda materials and retaining journalists to cover the event. The innovative and frugal nature of the Undersecretary’s plan appealed to Winnipeg businessman J. D. Perrin years later, who organized the Greater Winnipeg Victory Loan organization to hold “If Day,” a similar event, during World War II.

Scheduled for 30 July 1917, “Hun Day” was hastily canceled by the Undersecretary on 28 July, less than 48 hours before it was scheduled to begin. All official mention of it disappeared from official news sources, propaganda materials which had been prepared were destroyed, and the soldiers gathered as both “defenders” and “occupiers” of Lowemouth were dispersed. Indeed, the Undersecretary tendered his resignation on 1 August–dated 30 July–and was remanded to a low-level job in the Foreign Office thereafter.

The aborted “Hun Day” and the mystery of its abrupt termination remained an obscure mystery for many years until a cache of Imperial German records was discovered in Berlin around June 1945. The Supreme Army Command of the Imperial German Army had been aware of the exercise at the highest echelons of command, as it happened; a frustratingly incomplete memo, damaged by fire, indicated an ambitious plan to take advantage of the situation:

An invasion at this point, and at this time…would provide an unprecedented opportunity…to seize and control…to draw out and destroy them piecemeal.

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Construction of a new airport on the small Japanese island of Musuko-Tō involved flattening a few small spurs of the craggy central highland peaks, and was begin in earnest in 1977. However, the project quickly ground to a halt when a subterranean chamber hollowed out of the rock was uncovered by one of the blasts. A team from Edo University was dispatched to investigate, with the authorities presuming that they had uncovered one of the fortifications collapsed by the Imperial defenders or the American invaders during the 1944 battle for the island.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

The Edo University team, led by Dr. Elizabeth Keiko Oshiro, discovered a very elaborate complex with a 1,600 cubic meter central chamber (with dimensions of 14 by 5 by 3 meters), complete with a 45,000 liter water cistern which caught freshwater from several mountain streamlets above. The subterranean chambers also included tunnels which led to a series of cunningly disguised observation posts overlooking the Musuko-Tō harbor, the old wartime airstrip, and other strategic locations. A portal which had once linked the new discoveries with the combat tunnels was also located: it had been bricked up and camouflaged to blend in, presumably to hide it from any Americans who might penetrate the defenses.

But it was the letters and personal papers Dr. Oshiro discovered that told of the real tragedy of Cave 97.

Written by two Kempeitai, 1st Lieutenant Ketsuo Nashimura and Sergeant Nobuoyuki Yakaguchi, the papers told of how the complex had been prepared once an American invasion was imminent, with volunteers literally sealed inside it with a supply of food and water. They were expected to use the viewports to spy on Allied troop and ship movements and report the same using a shortwave radio. The idea had been to leave them behind enemy lines as spies of a sort, to prepare for the inevitable Imperial retaking of the island.

Instead, the complex became their tomb. Dr. Oshiro determined that their shortwave antenna had been installed incorrectly, leaving it unable to send or receive signals. Unaware of this, and under orders not to commit suicide, the occupants had dutifully transmitted reports that were never heard until their supplies of food had given out in mid-1951 and the men had quietly stared to death.

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The partisan leader Artyom Ramanchuk was, to put it mildly, a legend. A printer’s assistant before the Great Patriotic War, he had taken up arms after a Nazi Einsatzgruppe had slashed through his village, executing his boss (a Jew) and his father-in-law (a commissar).

From late 1941, he’d forged a disparate group of Belorussians into a potent fighting force. They blew up railway lines, sabotaged Nazi supply convoys, and established broad “liberated” fiefs far behind the front lines, places where the invaders would only travel in great numbers and in direst need. Ramanchuk even founded a number of partisan collective farms in forest clearings and other unoccupied lands to provide food and meat for his growing force.

Always a dedicated student of Lenin and the Revolution, Ramanchuk used what spare time he had studying Marxist theory. Using his experience as a printer, he made and distributed several underground books in which he detailed a new form of collective farming based on the Jewish kibbutz and ways in which the Soviet government could adapt its large and unwieldy structure to become more responsive to the needs of its people.

Those books proved to be his undoing. When his area of operations in the Byelorussian SSR was overrun by Red Army troops in 1944, Ramanchuk expected his force of nearly 10,000 partisans to join them. After all, they had aided Operation Bagration considerably through behind-enemy-lines actions. Instead, the NKVD rounded Ramanchuk and his officers into a Minsk stockyard under the pretense of taking a snapshot.

The ranking commissar read a note declaring the men anti-Soviet reactionaries, and they were gunned down to a man by a heavy machine gun nest concealed, appropriately, in a nearby slaughterhouse. The remaining partisans and their families, including Ramanchuk’s common law wife Darja Maysenia and his daughter Tatsiana, were shipped to Siberia.