It rained the day I was drafted into the Imperial Army. A Monday, monsoon season had just begun, and the droplets were hitting the ground at a force that seemed almost unreal. I had entered my final month at Jikei University's School of Medicine, and I was well on my way to achieving the job I had dreamed about from the tender age of seven. Becoming a doctor had been an unusual aspiration in my family, a family full of proud military history. My father had been a General in the Navy, my mother working in the factories when he was gone, just as her mother had done before her, and her mother's mother before her. When I had elected to go to university and study, it had been a shock to my family, who had all expected me to proudly enlist on my seventeenth birthday and follow in the family tradition of bloodily killing hundreds in the attempt to make a better life for ourselves.
I began to run towards the building in front of me as the raindrops threatened to drown me, ruining my new jacket that I had spent so much money on. Jikei University was a foreboding place, a futuristic build made almost entirely of glass and white material that almost seemed to shine as the rain cascaded down the sides, landing on the ground and creating great puddles of muddy water. Several others were mimicking my actions, headed towards the main entranceway in search of dry crackling warmth that filled you from head to toe. Monday wasn't usually a busy day, with few people electing to come in when there were no lectures or classes scheduled, but a memo had been sent out to almost every student in the school, telling of the guest speaker that would be coming to address the male population of the student body. Attendance was mandatory.
Amalgamating myself into the crowd already heading for the first lecture theatre, I smiled and waved out of courtesy at the few faces I could recall being in my class. I was never particularly popular, as I had chosen to spend most of my spare time in the library, rather than with the other students, but that was a sacrifice I had been willing to make in order to gain the best grades possible. It didn't bother me, not having many people to talk to. I was perfectly fine with sitting in the library, my nose stuck in a book, my hand scratching over the paper as fast as I could go until I had learned all that I could.
The lecture hall was almost full when I arrived. Grabbing the desk closest to the door, I swung my bag underneath the tiny table, glancing towards the front of the room. Several men dressed in the familiar mustard-coloured fatigues of the Imperial Japanese army were stationed at the front of the room, arms pinned to their sides as they glared menacingly at the chattering students, completely unaware that their life as they knew it was about to end. Once the general chatter had settled down, each and every person glanced towards the front of the room, suddenly noticing the military officials filling the stage. There was an air of uneasiness in the room, an uneasiness that seemed to engulf each and every person. The man standing on the edge of the line of soldiers stepped forward, the medals on his chest bouncing, his entire body seeming to fall forward before stopping at the edge of the stage I was so used to seeing our lecturers frequent. He continued to rock on the balls of his feet, almost as if it were impossible for him to stand still. He wrung his hands together mercilessly as he opened his mouth.
"Good afternoon, future doctors of Japan!" he boomed, the commanding voice a shock coming from a man of such slight stature, his face breaking into what I assumed was supposed to be a reassuring grin. "As you are all aware, we are currently at war. You have seen the pictures; you have heard the news reports. It is now your turn!"
The scattering of concerned voices that started up were quickly shushed by the lecturers, standing by each row, listening intently to the small, loud man dressed in forest green officer dress, a man who was now practically jumping up and down with excitement, smiling widely as he continued to address the room.
"You must all realise how much of an honour this is. You have been selected, as a class of exceptional intelligence and skill, to participate in an experiment, an experiment that has been devised to improve the welfare of Japan!"
The man now seemed to be animated, his speech continuing as he glanced feverishly from face to face. I was yet to know, but this was the type of man that would make the war; dedicated, patriotic, and completely bloodthirsty. The man I would later know as Officer Takahashi continued to speak, despite several hushed whispers coming from the back row of the room. Any regard for manners had gone out of the window; many of the men that were studying had chosen to do so to escape the clutches of the Imperial Army. Evidently, that was a task that would prove to be virtually impossible.
"Unit 731 is an initiative that the Empire has devised in order to research and investigate several key areas of warfare. Biological and chemical warfare are incredibly important to the war efforts, and that is where you all come in. We need young men with medical knowledge, young men like all of you, to help with this effort. Which is why we are here today; to have you all involved in helping with the war."
Any man that had not been speaking before did so now, the loud protests and terrified whispers almost overwhelming. More than a few now looked scared, and I was no exception. I could feel my stomach knotting. Fighting was not my forte, and the thought of standing in an abandoned field with only a gun and a helmet to keep me safe was not my idea of fun. Rather, it was my idea of complete and absolute hell.
"We won't be asking you to fight on the front lines. If you had wished to do so, you would have signed up many years ago. Rather, we would like to utilize your skills; to use you as the forerunners in the project. Our research facilities are the best in the world, and you will gain a lot of insight from working there. You will be paid a full military salary, with benefits for your family continuing long after you are gone. It is not mandatory to join us today; however, you should be aware of the prised that you will bring your family by enlisting. Any of the soldiers or officers on the stage just now will take your name if you wish to be considered."
Unsurprisingly, no one seemed to move. It was hardly surprising; most of us were more than intelligent enough to understand what we would be going through. Months upon months of gruelling torture that the government saw as work, all to help the greater good. Years of nightmares and flashbacks to what could only be described as the worst moments of our lives. As much as my father had tried to deny it over the years, I had heard the frenzied shouts and erratic screams that came from his room. I could hear my mother consoling him, telling him that he wouldn't ever have to go through what plagued him ever again. I knew that the memories of what he had done would never leave him. I saw it in his eyes; in the hollow look he would give me and my siblings every morning, his one and only attempt to keep us close.
After thirty seconds of pure silence, there was a screech as the metal feet of the table scraped against the hard flooring. A terrified-looking boy from the year below me had stood, and was now stumbling his way to the front. Face drained of any colour, he took the sheet of paper from one of the officers, and scribbled his name. A second man followed him, and a third, and a fourth. Soon, almost half of the room had stood, forming a snaking line down the stairs to the lecture stage, each expression a mixture of pride and regret. The remaining students, myself included, were subject to the stilted glares and whispered accusations of our lecturers.
It was a mixture of family history, and of a fear of letting my father down, that caused me to stand. In those days, turning down an opportunity to serve your country was the greatest act of dishonour, even worse than murdering somebody in cold blood. Each and every child in Japan was brought up with the ideas that serving emperor and country was the ultimate honour, that there was no better job than to sacrifice your own being for the good of the future generations. I kept repeating that, again and again, as I descended step and step further into sealing my own fate.
It didn't even register, as my hand flowed over the page, writing my name and contact details, that I had just signed my life away.