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Literature / Okuyyuki

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"Okuyyuki" is a short story by Military Science Fiction veteran Tom Kratman. More precisely, it is about a US Army captain and his ancient, sentient magical samurai sword alone together against the world, taking on the enemies of the land of the free and brave in The War on Terror and ending up in trouble with the said land's politically correct senior officer caste for it. Fans of Kratman's other writings will immediately recognize his characteristic themes and style, with traits of applied philosophy and Magic Realism. "Okuyyuki" was first published in the Baen Books anthology Forged In Blood (2017, edited by Michael Z. Williamson).

"Okuyyuki" uses the following tropes:

  • Anti-Hero: Reilly is the good guy, but with a modern military attitude, it's hard not to be one of these.
  • Archaic Weapon for an Advanced Age: More justified than in some cases, since Reilly's sword is literally magical.
  • Armchair Military: The evil general at the end of the story is a villainous example, who is far more concerned with politics than with the welfare of his men.
  • Armies Are Evil: Downplayed. The US Army is shown to have mostly good people in it on the lower levels, but the politicized leadership and military bureaucracy have ruined it from within.
  • Being Good Sucks: It's not easy being an honest, old-school officer in an increasingly corrupt and politically correct army.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Reilly defeated the enemy tanks and saved his friends, but died himself as a result. However, Audrey welcomes his spirit into the sword to share it with her own, so in a sense he will live on. Unless this was just a dying dream.
  • Blood Knight: After years chained to the computers, Reilly is almost desperate to get out in the field and be a real soldier. Even more true of Audrey, who has spent even longer cooped up in an antiques store and is bored to tears.
  • Cool Sword: Audrey is not only a genuine medieval katana, but a a sentient, talking magic sword as well.
  • Cunning Linguist: Reilly's buddies aren't surprised to hear him speak Japanese (which he learned from the sword). Usually, he comes up with weirder things than that.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Audrey's samurai values about honorable combat don't always translate well to modern battlefields. She is awed by the trench warfare of World War I—but by the honorable heroism of the millions who perished in no man's land rather than the sad waste of it. Reilly points out that most of them probably didn't share that perspective, but she replies that it's the deed itself that counts.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Reilly dies saving his fellows from the stay-behinds, completing his mission but knowing that he will only be vilified for it by the politically correct authorities, or else utterly ignored at best.
  • Empathic Weapon: Audrey claims that all weapons have a sort of spirit in the animistic sense, but few are sentient and articulate—especially with modern weapons, since spirits "grow up" very slowly, so most will be scrapped before they mature. She likens American tanks to dogs: loyal and well-intentioned, but not very bright.
  • Evil Weapon: According to Audrey, the spirit of a weapon takes on some of the character of its wielder(s). Thus, while American tanks are immature and gung-ho but otherwise rather nice, the enemy tanks Reilly faces are evil, with thoughts filled mostly with "bribes and buggery" and such things.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: Rather than destroying Reilly's Medal of Honor citation as he was ordered to, the general's aide clandestinely preserves it, trusting that it will be an inspiration to a new generation of officers in happier days to come.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Reilly isn't the most sociable of men. He usually manages to get along with his fellow soldiers, and that's about the best that can be said about it.
  • Good Is Not Soft: He doesn't go easy on the enemy, either.
  • Gratuitous Japanese: Audrey's dialogue contains a number of untranslated Japanese words and phrases. Fortunately, they are rendered quite correctly as far as spelling and grammar goes, with even long vowels properly marked out.
  • Guns vs. Swords: Or actually, T-72 tanks vs katana in this case. Reilly takes on four of them with only his sword. He wins, but is mortally wounded in the process.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The way Reilly goes down, sacrificing his own life to save his buddies from the insurgents.
  • Honor Before Reason: Audrey thinks modern artillery-based combat is weak and cowardly; real warriors fight the enemy in close combat.
  • Hungry Weapon: Audrey is a heroic example. Downplayed a little, since she isn't literally soul-eating, but she is very much a Blood Knight who wants to be used to kill people.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Audrey's reaction to the climactic battle scene.
  • It Has Been an Honor: The last words that pass between Reilly and Audrey, as he dies.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Even better than modern weapons. Somewhat justified when it's an overtly magical katana.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Reilly is cynical and even bitter at the corruption in the Army, but still determined that he, at least, should do his part as a soldier.
  • Magical Girlfriend: Audrey has traits of this, which become more explit toward the end of the story.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Audrey is a Blood Knight example, who urges on Reilly in his desire to see combat.
  • Meaningful Name: Audrey has a Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom that is quite descriptive. Reilly's is ironic: it's Celtic, and originally means something roughly like "Son of a Friendly Race," but Reilly himself isn't very sociable.
  • Militaries Are Useless: Reilly thinks the Iraqi Army is pretty much this. It's almost like they're not even trying to fight the American invasion. Subverted when he finally faces some stay-behinds who have some idea of what they're doing.
  • Mission Control: Audrey sort of works like this for Reilly, using magic sword empathy to guide him and give him better situational awareness than he would otherwise have.
  • Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: Audrey's real name is an archaic Japanese phrase that translates as Luminous and Dainty Blood Sipper.
  • Named Weapons: The sentient, magical Japanese sword Reilly picks up used to be a Legendary Weapon with an elaborate name, but has been forgotten by the world at that point. Having trouble with its Japanese name, he nicknames it "Audrey" instead.
  • One-Man Army: Reilly takes on a whole tank platoon and wins, though he is mortally wounded by the last enemy standing.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The ending. Did Reilly die, become a kami and meet Audrey's spirit, or did he just die, period, hallucinating that in his last moments?
  • Political Overcorrectness: The liberal politicians and media think it's a war crime to kill armed enemy combatants who are actually shooting at you.
  • Politically Correct Villain: The Pentagon general who covers up Reilly's heroism and destroys his CO's career for bringing attention to it, because this sort of red-blooded action will look bad for the Army with the media. Downplayed a little, in that he does not personally care much for the ideology, but he still adheres scrupulously to it because this is what his political masters demands.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Audrey jokes about cutting "the queer-as-a-five-gram-wadokaichin first sergeant" to pieces. Reilly doesn't appear very upset by this, his answer being along the lines of, "Don't tempt me."
  • Psycho Supporter: Audrey is even more of a Blood Knight than Reilly, to quite psychotic levels by present-day human, Western world standards.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Audrey thinks most of the modern military does not qualify as real men, since they operate artillery and such at a distance from the front instead of fighting and killing the enemy honorably face to face.
  • The Remnant: There are four fully equipped Iraqi tank teams left in the American zone as a stay-behind group, as well as various other Islamic volunteers and die-hards.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Sword beats tanks, in this case.
  • Sleep Learning: Audrey teaches Reilly to fight with a sword in his dreams, filling them with reminiscences of her ancient battles.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: Reilly has suffered through years of serfdom at Recruiting Command, and does not want to go back there again.
  • Spaceship Girl: Played with, since Audrey is not a spaceship, but she does have a "human" manifestation that works like one of these.
  • Straw Civilian: Reilly thinks the major media personalities and politicians are this. The officers at the Pentagon agree with him.
  • Talking Weapon: Audrey, though only Reilly can hear her.
  • War Is Glorious: Played completely straight by Audrey, due to her samurai ideals. Reilly is more ambivalent, but he too wants to see active combat, even though he knows that active wars are not always all that great.
  • War Is Hell: Acknowledged by Reilly, but he still wants to be in it.