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(Meta) Commentary on 'Lost and Found'

11th February 2009 (00:17)

One of the most exciting aspects of studying history, for me, is chasing the thread of information from book to book; gleaning clues from different sources, puzzling over apparent contradictions, and then feeling the glow of satisfaction when you realise that if you turn this piece of data around, and read between the lines of that source there, and combine it with this apparently unrelated study here... then suddenly you can feel everything clicking into place and it all makes sense.

It's probably why I enjoy Season 8 so much. Who knew that a BA in modern history would give me transferable skills useful in understanding a comic book about an army of vampire-slaying teenage girls with superpowers. :-)

It was also why I chose to experiment with the form and structure of the story I wrote last weekend, which originated with an urge to explain how Satsu is now the proud owner of her very own submarine. Because we're dealing with matters of international politics and espionage here, I decided to write the fic in the way we - or the world's intelligence agencies - would also work out what happened. A series of apparently unrelated news reports, telephone calls, and other information which - when read carefully - turn out to be the pieces of a jigsaw that fit together to build up the whole picture.

Of course, since I wrote the fic I have inside knowledge of what "really" happened, and how each clue sheds light on the truth. Since my readers (both of them) don't have this advantage of being me, I thought it might be helpful and interesting to write a commentary on the fic explaining how each chapter can be slotted into the overall picture.

The original is here: Lost and Found.


Official Press Release

This is an publicity statement issued by the government of North Korea. It announces that a training exercise by ships of the Navy was successfully completed, and that the North Korean fleet has just been expanded by the addition of three more submarines. Add in some typical Communist rhetoric, fawning praise of Kim Jong-il and deep paranoia about foreigners, and it's complete.

Government press releases aren't always models of shining truth and clarity. Statements by totalitarian Stalinist regimes such as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea are perhaps less likely than most to be entirely honest. The next few items in my fic will cast light on exactly how many lies this press release contains.

Background - like its larger neighbour the People's Republic of China, North Korea doesn't have a separate navy. Instead, the Naval Force is a branch of the Army. The Naval Force is divided into the West Sea Fleet based at Nampo and the East Sea Fleet based at Toejo Dong. Vice-Admiral Yi is fictional, but I named him after a real-life 17th century Korean naval hero.

Jane's Defence Review 2004

Here we spot the first discrepancy in the last item... with a little checking of dates and some minor arithmetic. The press release said that North Korea now has 25 Sang-O class submarines, having just finished three... but the previous year, in 2004, they had 23. 23+3=26, not 25. So it looks like one of their submarines has gone missing, and the NK government is not openly admitting the fact.

Background - I always used to wonder why someone named Jane would be so interested in warships, but of course it's a surname: Fred T. Jane. :-)

I initially chose the Sang-O class submarine for this account because it's the smallest in the North Korean fleet, needing a crew of just 15 people. It has two torpedo tubes, like the one shown in the comic. It also has a conventional diesel engine for propulsion, backed up by rechargeable batteries for underwater use - I've seen a few people discussing the issue calling it a "nuclear submarine"... but neither North nor South Korea possesses any nuclear submarines (only five countries do: USA, Russia, Britain, France and the PRC).

However, further research revealed that the Sang-O is even more suitable for use in evil vampire plots or by Satsu's Slayers than I'd thought. Although it can be used to torpedo enemy ships, as shown in the comic, it's also a small and sneaky submarine whose main role is to smuggle spies, saboteurs and assassins into hostile countries, landing them on unwatched stretches of coastline. North Korean agents are known to have kidnapped several people from South Korea while using Sang-O class submarines for transport. And to make matters fit even better, nobody outside North Korea itself knows exactly how many Sang-O class submarines have been built, but it's believed that at least three have gone missing over the years!



More evidence that the "successful training exercise" was not all that it seemed. The North Korean Navy has to inform a family that their son has just been killed in a mysterious "accident"... an accident that apparently left no body behind. Possibly because said body is now a small pile of dust after an encounter with Satsu's stake? Reading between the lines, you might guess that 14 similar telegrams were sent out on the same day.

Background - although I don't go into it in more detail, I'm assuming that some vampires with Big Plans sneaked their way into the barracks, killed and turned the submarine's crew, and used them to sail the sub out to sea.

Ship's Log

There's a lot of jargon here which may make it hard to understand everything, but hopefully the gist of it was clear. An actual nuclear submarine - an American one - was cruising just outside North Korean territorial waters on a routine patrol when it observed the so-called "training exercise" at first hand. The course of events was as follows:

The US submarine is sailing northwards when it picks up the sound of ships to the east. It alters course and deploys a passive sonar boom - extremely sensitive listening devices in a pod that's trailed on a very long cable behind the submarine, so the sub's own engines don't drown out the sensors. Using this, the sub is able to identify that the contact is three North Korean warships.

Suddenly, the Korean ships start using active sonar - that's the submarine-detection system that makes those "ping" noises you might recognise from war films. Soon after they change course directly towards the American submarine and accelerate to full speed. Fearing that they might be about to attack him, the American captain orders battle stations and sends his sub deeper into the ocean. (In fact - unknown to him - the Koreans are actually chasing the Sang-O submarine with its crew of vampires, and have mistaken the US submarine for their own.)

A thermocline is a layer of water at a different temperature to the surrounding sea. It tends to reflect sonar except at close range, meaning that a submarine can 'hide' beneath it. When the USS Santa Barbara disappears from their sensors, the North Koreans start firing depth charges at random hoping for a lucky hit. Fortunately for the Americans - and by extension for the whole of North Korea - they head off in the wrong direction.

At this point the US submarine spots the Sang-O vessel, which was also hiding under the thermocline to make its escape. The vampire-crewed ship passes the US one close enough for the sound of its engines to be heard right through the hull. Half an hour later, with the Sang-O having vanished, the US ship checks that the North Korean warships are heading away and returns to its patrol.

Background - The Santa Barbara is not a real submarine; the name was chosen because Santa Barbara CA is the real-world analogue of Sunnydale. I've assumed it's a Los Angeles-class vessel, and the capabilities I describe are pretty accurate as far as we can tell from unclassified sources. "SSN" is the designation for Submarine, Nuclear.

NOFORN in the heading, incidentally, means that "NO FOReign Nationals" are allowed to read this document. If you're not a US citizen, please turn yourself in to the nearest US consulate, and thank you for your cooperation. :-)

Coastguard records

Here we have an account of Satsu's party of Slayers capturing the submarine. You have to feel sorry for the coastguard; nobody believed him when he started talking about mysterious black helicopters. Of course, the reason it didn't show up on radar is because everybody knows painting a helicopter black makes it invisible to anybody except conspiracy nuts. :-) Notice that this event takes place the night following the escape of the submarine as described in the last item.

The pink glow was Satsu's Wiccans using magic to force the submarine to the surface so that the helicopter-borne force of Slayers could then attack it. Whether they learned about the vampires' theft through magic, prophetic Slayer dreams, their own contacts in the espionage community, a North Korean sympathiser, or because Twilight tipped them off deliberately for reasons of his own is left unstated at present.

Telephone Log

This lists the phone calls made and received by the commander-in-chief of the Japanese navy the day after Satsu captured the submarine. It amused me that someone so senior would be phoning out for pizza for lunch (and then getting a call from the security office 15 minutes later to inform him the delivery had arrived). You could also assume that he called the Director of Naval Supply immediately after his lunchbreak to complain about the quality of food in the headquarters restaurant, which is why he had to order pizza...

Then at 3.00 pm he gets a mysterious call from an unknown number - and spends the next hour on the phone. He calls his civilian superior, the Minister of Defence; three minutes later the Foreign Minister rings him up in person (to ask "What the hell is all this about?"), then he calls the Prime Minister himself. And then, the decision made, he rings a public callbox in Tokyo's busiest shopping street to give his reply. Which, we can assume, was "Yes, you can keep the submarine - but if anybody asks, we know nothing about it." Finally, the Chief of Staff speaks to a representative of the Public Safety Commission before getting on the phone to the Yokusuka Submarine Base.

My assumption behind all this is that the Japanese government is more aware and active than most in fighting the supernatural - it's had to be, due to all the giant monster attacks Japan has faced since 1945. Section 9 of the PSC - a name I chose in homage to 'Ghost in the Shell' - is the secret organisation charged with fighting these threats. I also assume in this fic that they have a cooperative arms-length relationship with the Japanese Slayer squad. It's noteworthy that Satsu's and Aiko's team regularly fight open battles against demons in the streets of Tokyo without any government interference, suggesting less need for secrecy  and by implication a less adversarial relationship than in the US.

Background - Japan is banned by its constitution from having an army or navy. Instead it has a "Self-Defence Force", which to an outside observer actually looks remarkably like an army and navy.

The number 4 is considered unlucky in Japan because the word 'shi', meaning 'four', also means 'death'. So an identification code consisting of the number 4 repeated four times - death death death death - seemed appropriate for a group of Slayers, especially given Satsu's cheerful bloodthirstiness.

Supply Requisition

This is the consequence of the final phone call detailed in the last item. Notice the authorisation code PSC/9 (Section 9 of the Public Safety Commission) and 4444 (the Slayer squad). The naval base is handing over essential supplies for operating a submarine. The addition of an instruction manual was my tongue-in-cheek reply to the fan complaints about the implausibility of a group of Slayers knowing how to operate a submarine.

(Although given the standard of training in conscript forces from countries with a poor education system, like North Korea, I suspect their submarines are, in fact, deliberately designed to be as idiot-proof as possible.)


This ties up the submarine plot. The Japanese government is denying all knowledge of the missing submarine, while carefully not telling any actual lies. Notice that the letter is marked 'secret' - we can assume that North Korea insisted on confidentiality because they don't want to make it public that one of their submarines has vanished. The Japanese government has its own reasons for keeping things quiet, of course.


Now we jump forward in time to the day after 8.22 'Swell'. As promised, Kennedy includes a smiley face in her evaluation report to Buffy. I'm sure you can work out who "redwitch81" is - Kennedy is sending her a blind carbon copy of the email because officially, Willow isn't a Slayer and so shouldn't really get to see Satsu's confidential personnel records, but Kennedy knows she'll be dying to know what happened.

Also, if you're wondering; I'm sure Willow does have an official slayernet.org email address as well. But she's a hacker since way back, and I'm sure she has at least 20 email addresses all in different names and identities purely out of habit.

Papers in Satsu's purse

And here we have this fic's quota of character development and hot femslash. :-) The itemised receipt starts out with some fairly standard purchases, but the industrial strength hand cleanser is there because Satsu spent the last couple of days messing around on a greasy, oily submarine. The cinnamon lipgloss is still being bought in bulk at this stage... and she's getting tissues and Rocky Road ice cream because she was still secretly crying over Buffy at nights.

But all that changes when Kennedy arrives. After the final scene of the comic Satsu got a Metro pass to travel around Tokyo, and has receipts from several different shops. (Harajuku being the radical-trendy fashion area of Tokyo, and the cosmetics shop was where she stocked up on different flavours of lipgloss.) Then there's a nightclub, and she got someone's phone number... and there's also a single Metro ticket dated the morning of the next day, implying that she didn't sleep in her own bed that night...

And that's it: the decoded version of my fic. ;-)


Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 11th February 2009 00:42 (UTC)
Wild as the wind

Yay! I got most of it right, except I missed this one:

The number 4 is considered unlucky in Japan because the word 'shi', meaning 'four', also means 'death'. So an identification code consisting of the number 4 repeated four times - death death death death - seemed appropriate for a group of Slayers, especially given Satsu's cheerful bloodthirstiness.

Clever. So basically, they're four by four?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 11th February 2009 00:58 (UTC)

Congratulations! :-)

Also, groan. Which reminds me, one thing I didn't remark on is that Kennedy calls Buffy 'B' in her email; she does have a lot in common with Faith. (Canonically, they both call Willow 'Red' as well.)

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 11th February 2009 01:08 (UTC)

I love the idea that Japan has been more accepting (and less in denial) of the supernatural because they've had to be with all the monster attacks.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 11th February 2009 01:17 (UTC)

I know! (Although I'm not sure how much of that is 'Buffy' canon and how much is Andrew's joking...)

Posted by: Episkopos Rev. Alixtii O'Krul V, TRL (alixtii)
Posted at: 12th February 2009 02:47 (UTC)

That helps a lot. Especially since when I read the fic itself, my reading comprehension hat wasn't exactly on. Oops. :/

Thank you!

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