Great Saigô's Worms
By OnnaMusha

3rd Place - 2009 Samurai Fiction Contest

Genre: What If?



The Great Body was in stasis; the worm reservoir neither grew nor shrank. Systems normally hummed as the Great Body moved, thought and acted, but Nagako knew that stasis was not a condition under which she and her compatriots could thrive for very long.

It was 1859, a banner year for worms everywhere. The inadequacy of vermifuges in feudal Japan allowed the population to maintain itself in living systems in an easy fashion, as they ingested the water which nurtured the eggs and young hatchlings. But something happened in 1859 that upset Nagako in her comfortable niche inside the Great Body. The world had tried to end itself. What Nagako couldn’t know was that her world, the intestines of the Great Saigô Takamori, had suffered a calamitous shock, and the grapevine from the brain told her that he had brought it on himself, that he had initiated it and intended fully to end his life. Nagako was mortified; her community had thrived for years inside the Great Saigô. Not only had the partnership been amicable, but the realm had expanded over time until a great volume of resources flooded Nagako’s little niche. She was born, and her brothers and sisters thrived alongside her. Although there were occasional purges and times of privation, life was good in the warm stream of the intestinal highway; she knew she would live out her life in the land of plenty.

In the lean times, Nagako had to effect an unfamiliar sleep, and sometimes her brothers and sisters were lost in the famine conditions. But her fortunes would change soon enough this time, a tenuous, then solid re-awakening occurred. Messages from the brain became more hopeful, new excitement hormones made their way via breakdown products into Nagako’s niche, and she was alive again. The cycle began, and the Great Saigô even acknowledged them to the other Great Bodies, telling them that the worms were hard to bear but were part of him and he bore them dutifully, not allowing them to dissuade him from his Great Plans. She felt a rush of pride being one of the Great Saigô’s worms; she could have been taken up into an inconsequential peasant, but the vitality of this body made her happy and brought a hint of fulfillment.

The rush of exhilaration was short-lived, but there was a sense all around Nagako and her community that this was a body with staying power; his times of stress nourished them, and his times of manic and single-minded action lifted his spirits and allowed the body to renew itself.

As the Great Body aged, systems fluctuated, but Nagako did not feel the extremity she remembered from 1859, until one day the stresses did not give way to the great thoughts to which she had become accustomed but to an alarming state of despair. The brain sent an overload of signals to Nagako’s group, and the land of plenty became overwhelmed. Her little patch of intestine had aged predictably under the normal stresses she and her community brought, but now inflammation set in, the brain signals became desperate…until one day, the old exhilaration returned, an Indian Summer of the Great Body; a calm came over all channels, even Nagako could feel it through into the soft bed of tissue into which she had first laid her infant hooks so long ago.

The end was a revelation, a sudden flash of light and then a falling, as into space, the unknown. The Great Saigô’s nurturing intestines fell out of his Great Body with an immense and sudden *rip*, and Nagako saw the outer world in the limited way of the worm, the cold, dry, bitter smoky air that choked her as she fell with Saigô’s intestines, out of his body, just before the severance of the head that ended all transmissions from the traumatized brain. In her last seconds, Nagako sensed that the Great Saigô was sought after, even in the greater world of which he must have been one of the “worms.”

No marker for Nagako lies on the side of Shiroyama; in the life of the Great Saigô, she was but one of the nameless components which shaped history and were unknowable. But for Nagako and her siblings, would Great Saigô have become as great among his peers? The world will never know, and no historians remain among the worm population to chronicle it. Thus, only the legends of Great Saigô’s Worms live on to inspire future generations of worms to great deeds.

--Inspired by a defining short passage from the article: “Saigô Takamori in the Emergence of Meiji Japan” by Charles L. Yates, Source: Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Jul., 1994), pp. 449-474, Cambridge University Press. : “…there are two Saigôs…” I put forth that there are many Saigôs.