They call me ‘Colleague Inoue,’ or sometimes ‘Team Leader Inoue.’ We aren’t allowed to share our first names. Like most inmates at the Hokkaido Incel Gulag, I was a gamer. Ranked top five in VR Starcraft IV. And that was how they found me.
Incel was almost an outmoded term, used by the government more than the citizens. I hardly thought about it; I was absorbed in winning, game after game: the strategy fascinated me, the competition thrilled me.
My UBI, supplemented by my winnings, was enough to afford nearly any new AR waifu that came on the market. I preferred to run several at once. They surrounded me and cheered me as I played, like concubines of an oriental despot invited to beautify his war room.
That was then.
One day I received a letter from the local prefecture, congratulating me and inviting me to an award ceremony honoring the best gamers in the area. I hesitated, but a cash reward was promised to the attendees. The money would be enough to upgrade one of my waifus, so I went.
The instructions led me to a big gymnasium at a nearby high school. At first I thought the address was wrong: only a handful of young men were there, and an equal number of security guards. One of the guards met me at the entrance and asked me to remove my AR glasses.
I refused, but she insisted I would only receive my reward money if I followed the rules of the ceremony. I shut down three waifus. The last one was a short but generously proportioned girl with deep pink skin. She gave me a conspiratorial wink, and then disappeared.
I should have savored that waifu’s wink more than I did. Posed beside the stocky, testosterone augmented woman wearing a government security badge, she hardly seemed to belong to the same species. But I didn’t know then it was the last time I would see her.
I did know something was wrong. At the time I assumed it was an attempted identity theft. I could never have imagined the true scale of it, the secret city, the empty military base–the center of operations known as the Hokkaido Incel Gulag…
From there the abduction proceeded smoothly. Two more muscle-bound women led me into a small, brightly lit room and asked me to submit to a retinal scan, supposedly to ensure that the pending cash award went to the right Inoue. I consented. But then I pulled away.
In the last weeks of the VR Starcraft IV season I had hardly shifted from my chair. When I tried to fight back, muscle stretched thinly on my bones, like the string on a bow. Even without their government-standard testosterone injections, the women would have overpowered me.
They bundled me into a waiting van, and drove north. Somewhere behind its windowless walls, Tokyo was disappearing.
After I gave up resisting, their hostility waned, and they even offered me a soy bar. They hardly spoke while I nibbled at it, tersely promising to explain my capture when they had gathered more inmates.
As we rode they watched me with confident, stony gazes, harder and sterner than the normal demeanor of professional women on a testosterone regimen. I was conscious of my skinny kneecaps, which gangled up from my seat like the joints of a baby giraffe. And I was afraid.
Historical Note: In the 2030s, as men retreated from the workforce to the world of virtual reality, corporate women made increasingly frequent use of testosterone supplementation in order to hone an aggressive, competitive edge, without the obvious moral failings the hormone entailed when combined with protruding genitalia. By the 2040s testosterone boosters were considered part of the standard corporate benefits package for professional women with management potential.
We stopped at more high schools, and each time one or two young men were escorted, or shoved, into the van, until nine of us sat shoulder to shoulder. Most bore the telltale forehead callouses of long-term HD VR headset use; their eyes seemed to focus poorly on reality.
To my left, a chubby man in his late 20s wore a semen-stained vintage t-shirt reading ‘DOTA III World Championships (Staff).’ He bent to whisper in my ear, but excess saliva made the sound spurt out as if expelled from a gooey drainpipe. He was immediately gagged with tape.
One teenager tried to irk the guards by looking them up and down lasciviously, but they were unfazed, and by the quirk of their lips, on the verge of laughter. The bigger woman returned him a menacing glare until he began to snivel lightly, and thereafter he looked away.
We drove for a very long time, not permitted to speak. I wondered if I had met some of them online. Perhaps we spoke frequently in-game, or at VR hubs. But there was no way to know: their avatars were burly, heroic; here in this van, all of us seemed smaller than life.
Many hours later they stopped the van and tugged us back into the world: the sky was dim and we were very near a wharf. Some kind of military vessel was waiting for us. It resembled a ship I knew from Call of Duty 7; I found this familiarity strangely comforting.
We passed through a narrow steel corridor that ended in a mess-hall with all its benches screwed to the floor. It was already crowded with young men who shared the hunched, cross-eyed look of gamers: maybe eighty total. The ship began to move.
Then a broad-shouldered woman appeared in the door carrying a megaphone. I was in disbelief when she lifted it to her lips: the little hall only had a two meter ceiling. But she shouted into it with relish and her pitchy voice clanged off the metal walls.
When she was done speaking we were all deafened and none of us believed a word she’d said. Why would the government strip the top gamers in the world of their AR waifus and ship them to a forced labor camp in Hokkaido? It didn’t make sense: we all knew work was for women.
Historical Note: By 2055 the male employment-population ratio had fallen to 10%, and it continued to decline thereafter. Women dominated the corporate world and service industries, while robots and AIs were responsible for manufacturing, construction, and transportation.
The dinner they served disturbed us more still: it consisted almost entirely of red meat. We all knew meat could rapidly cause cancer in men, and thanks to the prohibitive meat tax, I had never been tempted to try it. Now I worried–did the Self-Defense Force want us dead?
I ate nervously but without argument, and, after the blood from that fat pink steak gushed through the interstices of my molars and slithered its way down my throat, I felt, unexpectedly, better.
We arrived on Hokkaido on a cold, overcast day, at an old Japanese military base surrounded by rusty barbed wire and barren fields. They led us down a weedy runway that terminated at an airplane hangar. Around two hundred young men had been corralled into its back corner.
They tossed our group in with the rest. Only a line of pylons held us against the wall, each connected by a loose chain–the kind you might use to guide cattle, or partition a parking lot. They knew we were afraid. Afraid of what was to come, but even more afraid to escape.
A woman in a khaki uniform decorated with a constellation of metals stood up on the podium situated just beyond the pylons, and a soldier handed her the megaphone, which she accepted with relish. The authority in her bearing reduced us to silence before she had even spoken.
“Boys,” she said, “I want you to remember that I vehemently opposed the Hokkaido Incel Gulag. I’m in command here at the express order of my superiors. As a soldier, I think it’s shameful to allow males near a military base. Look at you sniveling all over my airplane hangar!
“As far as I’m concerned this work camp is a sham that exists only for political reasons,” she continued. “The CEOs of Toyota, Yamaha, and Sony begged the emperor to give them back their salarymen, and blamed the sorry state of our country on your flight from the workforce!
“All ludicrous. Troubles in the Little Nigeria region of the main island began long after you were replaced by women! Government scientists have presented the public with irrefutable evidence that contamination of the soil is the root cause of civil unrest and decline.
“Nevertheless, the emperor consulted with the Ever-Victorious President Yang and received his permission to establish an incel gulag here on Hokkaido on an experimental basis, provided it be kept strictly secret, and Washington be regularly apprised of the results.
“Legacy males like the emperor and President Yang cannot allow voters to learn about this travesty. Just last year an anti-discrimination activist committed ritual seppuku at a military base near Yokohama after demanding we cull men from the imperial line of succession.
“Any attempt to share information about the Hokkaido Incel Gulag with the public, any attempt to escape, any laziness or disobedience to my orders, will be punished with an extremely harsh and altogether diabolical punishment, which our focus groups are even now concocting!
“But if you follow my instructions to the letter you will be permitted, on a once-fortnightly basis only, visitation time with a government-issue waifu,” she finished, almost cooing as she pressed her lips forward with a note of contemptuous generosity.
The last syllable of “waifu” left the megaphone in a shrill squeal of distortion, which echoed at length through the rafters of the empty hangar, like the wailing ghost of some fallen pilot from the Pacific War.
“Our ailing and confused emperor has designed a training regimen based on his memories of the salaryman era, supplemented with historical records which seem to me both offensive and fantastical. We will be putting this program into effect tomorrow,” she said.
Historical note: After Japan was formally dissolved into the American Empire, The Ever-Victorious President Yang appointed the emperor as its honorary governor, and allowed the Diet to retain control over local laws regarding traffic violations and vending machine maintenance.
They led us to an old barracks that must have been designed to prohibit comfort. I hardly slept that night. Someone nearby was snoring: his percussive exhalations resembled the sighs my limited edition dragoness waifu had uttered in altogether different circumstances.
The next morning we were compelled to engage in physical activities I’d only seen in women’s physical fitness classes: jogging, skipping, and a complex exercise that required us to jump while flicking a rope beneath our feet, which landed most of us on the ground.
In half an hour we were exhausted and could only lay on the field gasping while the throng of women taunted us. The General’s pose was that of a headmistress addressing a class of delinquents. Each time she gesticulated her medals tinkled like powerup chimes in a side-scroller.
The General permitted her soldiers to laugh at us from the side of the exercise field, which they did frequently. Sometimes I could even hear the chads chortling from their quarters, though they were never permitted to roam the base unaccompanied.
“Your pathetic failure will lose our nation so much face before the Ever-Victorious President Yang that he will trade Japan to the Chinese in exchange for Papua New Guinea!” She interrupted herself to shout at a tearful incel behind me. “There is no crying in this gulag!”
“Yesterday I warned my superiors that allowing men to participate in physical training would risk a revival of the biomccartneyist revolts that plagued the 2040s,” she told us. “But after this debacle, it’s obvious that you incel boys will never learn to act like real women.”
Historical Note: Biomccartneyism is a discredited ideology from the 2030s and 2040s, which held that organizing society to reward individual competence would increase human prosperity.
“Soldiers! Fustigate these boys, very roughly!” she cried, and pointed to a crate of stumpy rubber batons, each capped with a rounded knob, which they took eagerly. I curled on the ground while two women pummelled me. The sky was the color of a VR display, crashing on reboot.
Before we could recover they herded us into a makeshift classroom lined with desks cribbed from a local primary school. I squeezed into one painfully, like a mouse wedging himself into a trap. A bookcase against the wall held textbooks for all the legal disciplines of math.
Historical Note: The study of statistics was outlawed in 2037, after government researchers discovered a correlation between statistical literacy and support for dissident ideologies. Statisticians were required to retrain in anthropology before resuming any academic duties.
The lesson itself was generic. They’d brought in a teacher from some elite girls’ school, had her sign a non-disclosure agreement, and asked her to do the usual. I could tell she was uncomfortable teaching men advanced math; such classes had been phased out before she was born.
Worn out from exercise, I had trouble paying attention; I found myself ruminating. Supposedly this gulag was going to make us into supersalarymen who would rescue Japanese industry. But that didn’t add up: I knew from history class the original salarymen had held Japan back.
It wasn’t salarymen, but beneficial mutations to our soil bacteria caused by radiation from the atomic bombings, that were responsible for the incredible growth in the economy up to 1990. The explanation fit: soil contamination was now causing serious trouble in parts of Japan.
Indeed, salarymen were mainly remembered today for their powers of deception. They tricked women into believing they’d rather stay at home than work 80 hours per week for a multinational megacorporation. So why would the emperor bring them back? Perhaps as a propaganda unit?
After that first day, life grew simpler, if not easier. We slipped into a steady routine of exercise, math, and science, and slept in an old bunkroom from the war that had gathered dust for a hundred years. Despite the gulag’s army of robots, we were assigned to clean it.
We hated class, and hated exercise even more. All of us suffered serious game withdrawal. Tactics and command gestures from Starcraft IV would flash through my brain while the teacher was speaking; my eyelids twitched and watered from the effort of focusing on real objects.
I counted the days till my first fortnightly waifu visitation. It had been more than a week since I’d seen my AR harem, and I was starting to feel a little funny. We’d only be allowed a standard 105-55-95 government-issue waifu, but even that generic fare now sounded appealing.
Classes were slow—very slow. I tried to imagine new strategies for my favorite games, but without my headset they’d become meaningless abstractions. So I leafed aimlessly through a textbook. By bored accident, I discovered that geometrical proofs eased my withdrawal symptoms.
I developed a habit of working on a proof in my head at all times. Sure, compared to perfecting a sophisticated RTS tactic, geometry was a big waste of time. But it kept headaches away, and if I visualized conic sections on the teacher’s head I seemed to be paying attention.
When I was a child, I’d been unusually quick at algebra and geometry. But since it wasn’t appropriate for men to pursue higher mathematics, my teacher arranged for me to transfer (four years early) into a course on physical therapy for repetitive MMORPG gesture injuries.
Now I took advantage of this natural aptitude, and class went smoothly until the day before my waifu visitation, when anticipation nudged me into a blunder. While writing out the value for pi, the teacher made an error in the 27th digit. I corrected her without thinking.
She goggled open-mouthed, shocked a young male had caught her out. Then she responded in a decisive fashion that confirmed her academic credentials: “Your waifu visitation is cancelled! Instead you shall launder the faculty’s reusable hemp pads to atone for your disrespect.”
Historical note: Reusable hemp pads were an environmentally friendly replacement for the disposable product common in the previous century. While Japanese designs remained modest, Western pads maximized visibility, to advertise the wearer’s profound environmental sympathies.
I was furious, as if I’d delivered a click-perfect performance but lost the DOTA IV world championship in the final round because my support fed and ragequit. Okay—not that furious. But I was still upset. I kept quiet to avert an even more fearful and disgusting punishment.
For revenge I decided to steal an advanced math textbook from the teachers’ office. She’d be reprimanded when it went missing: our paper books were rare antiques the Emperor had collected to ensure the Gulag duplicated a 20th century salaryman’s education in every detail.
The following day we were scheduled to jog a complete circuit of the base at dawn—a bad joke, since none of us were fit enough to finish. I made sure to get well ahead of the other incels, then broke off toward the teachers’ office in the half-light. No one saw me approaching.
Lights off; empty. Trouble finding her desk—no nameplates. It was taking too long. At last I grabbed a book called Principles of Three-Dimensional Geometry, another with ‘Riemann’ in the title, then turned toward the exit. The lights came on. I had a terrible sinking feeling.
I’d rather not remember what happened next. But I do. I was condemned to sixty seconds of fustigation by rubber rod and six weeks with no waifu visitation. The punishment was executed publicly, to set an example; the soldiers didn’t hold back. In fact, their zeal was excessive.
My ribs were injured and I was in pain. But later I realized my wounds were a blessing. If they hadn’t sent me to the infirmary, I might never have met Dr. Shimamura. Dr. Aoi Shimamura—chief scientist, nurse, and the first human woman I ever fell in love with.