At lunchtime, the school roof served as a sort of student sanctuary; a place where they could act outside their teachers’ notice. The rainy season was in full swing, but this particular day happened to be clear, with a blue sky and bright sunlight that seemed to bleach the roof white.
Two people stood at one corner of the roof. One was a girl with short hair; her back was pressed against the fence, her gaze lowered, expression troubled. The other was a boy with long hair; he had the girl pinned between the fence and himself, a lit cigarette in his right hand.
“Come on, Noriko, tell me. You don’t like me, is that it?” the long-haired boy asked.
The girl, Noriko, looked up at him pleadingly. “O-Of course not... You know I... I love you, Mikio...”
“So what’s the deal?” he demanded to know. “Why won’t you go past first base? We’ve been dating for two months now.”
“Well, I’m just... scared,” the girl stammered out in reply.
Her boyfriend, Mikio, rolled his eyes and exhaled a jet of cigarette smoke. “What is this, middle school? C’mon, we should learn more about each other.”
“We can learn... other things about each other...”
“That’s not enough. I want to learn more about—”
Blam! His words were cut off by a sudden gunshot. Stunned, Mikio and Noriko turned to find its origin and saw the water tower, a gray structure jutting out against the blue of the sky. They peered at it curiously.
At the lip of the tower they could see a boy, lying on his stomach, holding a rifle. He had a sullen expression, which was punctuated by a tight frown; his gun was pointed at a corner of the schoolyard. Beside him were various cases of munitions and explosives, and things that looked like small green aluminum cans.
It was Sagara Sousuke from class 2-4. They knew him as a transfer student, recently repatriated after growing up in war-torn regions overseas... and also as a war-obsessed fool who stuck out like a sore thumb in a peaceful country like Japan.
He was looking through binoculars, probably at the target he’d shot moments ago. He hummed thoughtfully, sat up, wrote something on a clipboard, then loaded a new round into the rifle. He took aim at the corner of the yard once again, then fired. Another gunshot rang out, and Sousuke again checked the results with his binoculars. This time, he shook his head as if unsatisfied, and wrote something new on the clipboard.
It was only then that he glanced over at Mikio and Noriko, as if noticing them for the first time. “Don’t mind me. Continue,” he said as he loaded another round into the chamber. He seemed to have no interest in them whatsoever.
There was another moment of silence. Then, awkwardly, they resumed their conversation.
“L-Look... I just think it’s time already,” Mikio insisted. “Are we boyfriend and girlfriend or not?”
“Well... we are, but...”
“I really love you, Noriko.”
“I’m glad, but Mikio...”
“Isn’t it natural for a guy to want to get closer to the girl he loves?”
“It is, but...”
“Really? Then let’s do it. Tonight—”
“Tonight, my parents are—”
“Ah, screw it!” Too exasperated to continue, Mikio mussed up his hair and ran at the water tower. He took a drag off his cigarette, glared up at Sousuke, and shouted, “Hey, you!”
“What?” Sousuke asked distractedly.
“Do you mind?!” Mikio demanded. “Pack that crap up and take it somewhere else!”
Sousuke looked down at him, brow knitted, and seemed to think for a minute. “I can’t do that,” he concluded. “I need an appropriate distance for my sighting shots.”
“What the hell are you talking about?!”
“It’s approximately 300 yards from the roof to the corner of the schoolyard. I have a rifle that I recently purchased, whose accuracy I’m testing with a variety of cartridges. It’s a curious firearm; for some reason, it seems most compatible with rounds made in Egypt, so I decided to test its performance with my own propellant ratios—”
Sousuke’s explanation was thorough, considered, and completely over Mikio’s head. But before he could finish—
“Sousuke!!” The door under the water tower banged open, and a girl came flying out onto the roof.
“Chidori,” he acknowledged. This was Chidori Kaname, vice president of their student council. She was dressed a white and blue uniform, and had long black hair accented with a red ribbon.
She fixed her eyes on Sousuke and said, “I knew it would be you! People are studying for the big test in there! Who can concentrate with all that blam, blam, blam?!”
“It’s been raining so much lately... I wanted to do my sighting shots while I had a clear day,” he explained. “In just ten shots, I’ll be done with the Group A powder mixes. If you’d just let me—”
“Like hell!” she exploded. “Knock it off, now!”
“I said knock it off, you...!” Kaname yanked off her slipper and chucked it at Sousuke’s head.
“Ah...” Sousuke dodged, but the slipper bounced off his shoulder and hit one of the green cans at his feet. The lidless can toppled off the tower, scattering its contents... in the direction of Mikio, holding a cigarette in his mouth, below.
The cigarette was lit. The label on the falling can read: “black powder.” The two watched it fall, helpless to intervene.
Vwoosh! Mikio had just dropped his cigarette and turned around when the dull explosion occurred behind him. Flames and smoke roared up, and Mikio was blown onto his face.
“What the...” Mikio turned, then suddenly screamed. He started running all around the roof with his back ablaze, like the famous scene from The Farmer and the Badger. “Help!” he cried out. “Mommy!”
“Mikio!” the girl shrieked.
Mikio was now on the ground, rolling back and forth. Kaname ran up to him with a fire extinguisher. “Clear the way!” she yelled. She pulled the handle, releasing a spray of white powder that put out the fire immediately. Once the smoke had cleared, Mikio could be seen lying face-down on the floor, twitching.
Kaname let out a sigh of relief (with a little cough mixed in), and then wiped the sweat from her brow.
Sousuke crammed his things into his backpack, touched down lightly on the roof, then walked up to the collapsed Mikio. “It was extinguished promptly,” he said reassuringly. “You should get off with light burns.”
“I know this happens all the time, and he and I are partly to blame in this case, but...” Kaname prefaced quietly before slamming the empty fire extinguisher into the back of Sousuke’s head. Klonk!
“That was extremely painful,” Sousuke observed.
“Shut up!” she fumed. “Don’t bring explosives onto school grounds!”
“The rules don’t forbid it.”
“You want another smack?!”
Kaname brandished the fire extinguisher. Sousuke backed up slowly. They stared each other down like a cobra and a mongoose. It seemed like violence could break out at any minute, when...
Bi-beep. Bi-beep. Bi-beep. An electronic trill came from Sousuke’s chest. He held up a hand as if to say, “time out,” and pulled a small mobile phone from his breast pocket.
“Uruz-7 here,” he whispered. “Understood. RV at point echo at 1325. Roger that. I’m on my way.” With his conversation finished, Sousuke shouldered his bag and ran at top speed toward the entrance to the roof.
“Where are you going?” Kaname demanded.
“Something came up,” he told her. “Stay close to home.”
“Wait! You—” But Sousuke ignored her and ran out the door. “Oh come on, Sousuke!” she complained. “Did you forget the promise we made last night? Darn it...”
Kaname stared at the closed door for a while, then put her hands on her hips and let out a sigh. She turned back to the boy on the floor and his girlfriend, who was on the verge of tears.
“So, can... I help you to the nurse’s office?” she offered, weakly.