Full Metal Panic! - Volume 4 - Chapter 3.1

Chapter 3: Black and White  
October 20th, 08:10 (Japan Standard Time)  
Choufu-shi, Tokyo, Japan  
Jindai High School  
“Morning, Kyouko!” Kaname said as soon as she saw Kyouko at Sengawa Station, clapping her on the back.  
“Morning. You seem cheerful this morning, Kaname,” Kyouko mumbled sleepily through a yawn.  
“Yeah. Did something good happen?”  
“No, not really... or did it? There wouldn’t be anything that interesting, would there? Heh heh.”  
“Huh? You’re acting strange.”  
Kaname and Kyouko walked out to the street crowded with other students commuting to school.  
Unfortunately, it was raining that day, and the air was chilly. As she stood next to Kyouko and pulled out her umbrella, Kaname felt a little uneasy. Because her friend was so much shorter than her, the top of Kyouko’s umbrella was right in her line of sight.  
“Yesterday was a mess. Sagara hasn’t changed at all,” Kyouko said after they had walked for a bit. Kaname nodded.  
“I know. He hasn’t gotten better at all. No matter how many times I tell him, I’m just wasting my breath. I’m starting to wish that I could send an electric shock to his head with some kind of remote control, so that every time he does something careless, I could punish him. Who knows? It might be effective-”  
“Ha ha ha. But since he’s not a dog... by the way, what happened after I left?”  
“Hm? W... we went home. What about it?” Kaname pretended. She somehow felt too shy to talk about how she went out of her way to invite him over and give him a haircut.  
Come to think of it, hadn’t that been rather bold? She normally wouldn’t go that far to be nice to any of her other male friends... if everyone in class found out, wouldn’t they be curiously cold to her again...?  
...oh well  
When she met up with Sousuke, she would instruct him to make up a story about cutting it himself, and that would settle it. It wouldn’t be a problem...  
“Well, you seem to be in a good mood-”  
“Who is?”  
“You are.”  
“Heh? I-it’s just your imagination. Uh wa ha ha ha...”  
“Ah. You’re acting suspicious.”  
That was as far as that conversation went. They moved on to other topics, and during the climax of their talk about the Japan Series, the two passed through the main gate of the school. They then changed into their indoor shoes and went to class.  
Kaname laid her bag on her desk and looked around the room.  
Sousuke wasn’t there.  
I guess he hasn’t come yet...  
She glanced at her watch. It was 8:27. Class was about to start.  
What is he doing?  
She wanted to know what everyone’s reaction would be when they saw him.  
While she was talking with some of her fellow classmates, the school bell chimed. Bustling around, the students took their seats.  
Sousuke’s seat was still empty.  
Late again? Really, he’s such an idiot. It’s almost time for his make-up exams, too...  
Feeling a little disappointed, Kaname opened her book.  
Sousuke didn’t show up that period, or the next.  
He never showed up.  
♦ ♦ ♦ 
October 20th, 17:19 (Pacific Standard Time)  
Merida Island Base  
Tessa was looking over some documents in her office on base when the intercom on her desk buzzed. It was the secretary in the next room.  
“Madame Captain, Sergeant Sagara has arrived.”  
Since his direct superior, Lieutenant Commander Kalinin, wasn’t on base, he had come here to report back. The Lieutenant Commander was still at the Operations Headquarters in Sydney. He had remained there to discuss equipment related issues with the engineers from Ross & Humbleton.  
“...let him in.”  
“Yes Ma’am.”  
She put down the receiver and temporarily turned off the holo-screen projector displaying the documents she had been looking over. They were the test plans for a new submarine 
communications system- a VME bus receiver, and were still highly confidential. Sousuke Sagara was not qualified to read them.  
She felt depressed.  
The one who had given him the order to return to base had been none other than herself. It reflected the intentions of the Admiral and the Operations Department, so it couldn’t be avoided, but it appeared as if she had split Sousuke and Kaname apart herself. Since it was a fact that she was jealous of their relationship, she felt all the more guilty for it.  
If only Kalinin had come back... she thought to herself, and then was disappointed in her own weakness. She had been the one to issue the order, but she wanted to hide in the shadow of her subordinate. Wasn’t that enough to disqualify her as a captain?  
But how could she look at him when she saw him?  
She had been thinking about that ever since she had returned from Sydney, but no good idea had come to her.  
“Excuse me,” Sousuke said as he entered the room. He walked up straight in front of her desk and saluted her. She returned the salute, and he quickly put his right hand down and stood at attention.  
“Good work. At ease.”  
“Yes, Ma’am,” he said, and quickly stood at ease.  
Sousuke’s attitude towards his superiors was always like this, but she sensed he was being more polite than necessary today. It was as if he had just first come in contact with a commissioned officer, she thought... or was she just thinking too much...?  
They were both silent for a while.  
A long, long silence.  
Sousuke was not looking at Tessa. He stared straight at the large map behind her, bending back.  
Even though they were well acquainted with each other. Even though they were the same age.  
The very act of being overly polite seemed to be his silent protest.  
“Have you come to talk about being separated from Kaname...?” she said, breaking the silence.  
“...Yes,” he answered vaguely, adding, “Would you please explain?” while still looking at the map.  
Tessa clinched her fists with all of her strength, and began the beyond painful explanation.  
“...It was the decision of my superiors as well as myself. Now that the Tokyo Department of Intelligence is prepared, there is no longer any reason for you to remain with Kaname.”  
“I don’t believe so. The protection of the Department of Intelligence alone is insufficient.”  
“That’s not true. It seems that you are underestimating the importance of your position. But more importantly, I would be ignoring my responsibility as your commanding officer by allowing you to stick with a mission that is neither effective nor certain. You should be focusing on your other work.”  
“What work is that?”  
If there’s a mission more important that guarding Kaname, I want to hear it right away... was the look that he was giving her.  
“The Arbalest,” Tessa replied, and Sousuke’s mouth remained tightly shut.  
“I want you to give your undivided attention to taking care of that machine. The Arbalest won’t accept any other pilot except you.”  
“In the Shun On incident, your brain waves were recorded into the Lambda Driver. Actually, ‘imprinted’ would be more 
accurate... the entire system had been clean up until then, and the first time you used it, the Arbalest matched up with you and reorganized itself. The instant you piloted it, the quasi-nerve network that makes up the machine’s structural system copied your nervous system via the TAROS. Now that structure cannot be altered.”  
“I don’t understand.”  
“In other words, the Arbalest became your alter-ego from the first time you piloted it,” she said, making the back of her chair squeak. “Right now, Mithril does not have the power to build new ASes equipped with Lambda Drivers. In other words, you and the Arbalest are the only ones able to oppose enemy units like the ‘Venom’ and ‘Behemoth’. Now that we’ve handed the guard of Kaname over to the Intelligence Department, I want you to focus on mastering the Arbalest,” she finished explaining very patiently.  
Sousuke drooped his head and let out a small sigh.  
“Does that mean I have no other choice?”  
“I’m afraid so...” Tessa replied half-heartedly. “Please try to understand, Sagara.”  
“Is that an order?”  
When she heard those bitter words, Tessa felt as if she had been struck in the head with a hammer. He said it on purpose. He said that kind of thing on purpose to criticize me. Even though he came to me looking for an explanation, he has the nerve to say “Is that an order?” It’s nothing less than blatantly rejecting our relationship as friends.  
However, him being angry- well, it was her problem.  
“Yes, it is,” she said. Without noticing it, her voice grew louder. “If it means you’ll comprehend it, I’ll give you orders or whatever. Since doing so is only natural, of course. I never do you 
any favors at all. Even though it meant taking you away from Kaname, it was a necessary measure so I did it.”  
Sousuke looked slightly confused, but Tessa didn’t stop, and burst out all at once:  
“You don’t understand how things work up at the top. I can’t do anything alone, since, as you see, I’m just a little girl. But you don’t know about things like structure or politics or bargaining, do you!? It must be nice. You take it easy, because if you have a grudge against me you have the luxury of thinking about other things. But I can’t, because not only do I have to think about my own safety, but I also have to think about the safety of the entire crew!! Okay? Try thinking about that. You fought with Venom and Behemoth, so you understand, right!? M9s alone don’t stand a chance against ASes equipped with Lambda Drivers, do they!? And someone else might die the next time an enemy appears...! My subordinates! It might be Melissa, or Weber. There’s the danger that the entire landing force would be annihilated in an instant. But I cannot allow such a thing to happen!!”  
She could see Sousuke’s figure through an obscure haze. Her words had come spilling out like water from a ruptured dam. Her voice cracked, and went out of control.  
Ah, this is terrible. I’m crying. This kind of leadership is unheard of. It’s the worst. No matter how many times she thought these things, the flood of emotions just would not stop.  
“I see...”  
“What are you looking at? Can you think of nothing but her? Can’t you think about my feelings just a little bit?”  
“I... I’m terribly sorry, Captain. I am-”  
“Stop it!!” she yelled, her eyes burning. “You’re the worst. You pretend to be the kind, quiet type, but really you’re just selfish. 
You’re lying to me. Why don’t you just come out and say it? ‘I want to stay with her, so don’t get in my way’!”  
When she said this, Sousuke was suddenly taken aback, stunned. His eyes blinked, his neck trembled, and his mouth opened and closed while he was trying to think of what he should say. 
“Because... it would be better... if you just said that...”  
She couldn’t talk after that. She noticed that she had stood up without realizing it, and drained of her strength, she flopped back down in her chair.  
“I’m sorry... Captain. I will reconsider everything. My state of affairs... and... present circumstances... and something... my naïveté or what you called it... or...”  
Sousuke’s entire body had stiffened up, and as he tried to squeeze out one word after the other, the intercom on Tessa’s desk buzzed again.  
Wiping her tears off on the cuff of her sleeve, Tessa slowly picked up the receiver.  
“What is it...?”  
“Captain, Lieutenant Clouseau is here,” said the secretary, second Lieutenant Vilan.  
“Could you please... wait just a moment. I’ll call him in soon.”  
“Yes, Ma’am.”  
After she put down the receiver, Tessa took out some pocket tissues and blew her nose. Sniffling, she dried her eyes on her cuff again and resentfully muttered, “I hate you, Sagara...”  
“...I’m sorry.”  
“And I hate how you always apologize so quickly...”  
“...excuse me.”  
“I have nothing more to say to you. You’re dismissed.”  
“...yes Ma’am,” he said, and dejectedly left her office.  
When the door shut, she found herself yet again wracked by an enormous amount of self-guilt.  
She had gone so far as to snap at her subordinate, cut him down and scream at him. It wasn’t just indecent- it was downright shameful. This was the first time she had ever acted so disgracefully. It was only good fortune that no one else had been around to witness it.  
At any rate, she had said many horrible things very bluntly and without any reservation at all. It was possible that he hated her completely, now.  
Tessa regained her composure, taking a full three minutes before she was able to straighten herself back out again. After she glanced in the mirror to check her appearance, she called the secretary to let the visitor in.  
The door through which Sousuke had just exited opened again, and a tall black man came in and saluted.  
“Belfangan Clouseau reporting.”  
“Welcome to the Western Pacific Fleet, Lieutenant. I am the commander of the fleet, Teletha Testarossa,” she said without mentioning anything about the previous trouble, and returned his salute.  
“Your name precedes you, Captain. I’m delighted to make your acquaintance.”  
“I’m delighted to make yours, as well... have you already seen your new post?”  
“No. By the way... that Sergeant earlier- was he Sousuke Sagara?”  
He had probably encountered him while he was waiting in the next room, and was asking in order to confirm who he was.  
“...Yes. I guess it would have been better if I had introduced you.”  
“There’s no need, since I will be meeting ‘them’ soon enough,” he said with a grin.  
♦ ♦ ♦ 
“So... you’re saying that you made Tessa cry this time?” Kurz said, his eyes widening. He was sitting in the counter corner seat in the only bar on base.  
“That’s... affirmative,” replied Sousuke, who was sitting next to him. His shoulders were drooped, his head was hung, and he was staring vaguely at his glass of grapefruit juice on the counter.  
“You really have the talent for a gigolo, you know that?”  
“What’s that?”  
“Don’t worry about it. Besides... hmmm. Honestly. Nevermind.”  
He crossed his arms, overcome by emotion, and threw Sousuke a sidelong glance.  
“I guess you enjoy it...”  
The time before when Sousuke had made Kaname cry, Kurz had suddenly punched him. Sousuke didn’t understand the motives for his partner’s actions sometimes.  
“Nevermind. Do you think you were wrong?”  
“I... guess so.”  
“Then don’t worry about it too much. Tessa’s not a bad girl- she’ll forgive you someday,” he said lightly, and drank his scotch.  
The bar was crowded with PRTs (Primary Response Team) who had finished their training, as well as equipment team members who were able to finish their work. They were sharing their silly boasts and funny stories about the girls they picked up in 
Guam. Course laughter and various languages flew around the room, and the entire place was filled with a thick cloud of cigarette smoke.  
“I don’t compare with the Captain,” Sousuke said after a bit. “I didn’t understand anything about the heavy responsibility she carries. The way she was... it was my attitude that made her so angry.”  
“I don’t think that was the only reason she was crying,” Kurz replied sarcastically, puckering his lips up to Sousuke.  
“Huh? What do you mean by that?”  
“Nevermind, it’s too annoying to explain.”  
“You really don’t get it?” he said in a shocked voice, “See... that’s why she’s angry.”  
With that, Sousuke’s shoulders drooped even more.  
“I knew it... I really am an idiot. The Captain’s assertions were correct. There really is no reason for me to continue pointlessly guarding Kaname. When you think about who the right man for the job is, what they’ve done so far... it really is strange.”  
Kurz frowned as he listened to Sousuke’s monologue, but then shrugged his shoulders and said almost to himself, “It’s no use.”  
“Eh? What do you mean by that?”  
“Nothing. Just forget it,” he replied, then steered the conversation to agree with Sousuke.  
“Well, no matter how good of an SRT member you are, having to test a new model AS and guard a girl at the same time is nonsense...”  
“You’re right. However...”  
Kurz pressed him to continue, but Sousuke just gripped his glass and muttered, “No. It’s nothing,” and was quiet.  
Even though he was talking to Kurz about it, he couldn’t help it. He had been confronted by a personal dilemma. Orders, duty, her, his bad prospects for the future, this and that. Although he talked about them, no solutions were presenting themselves.  
But really, he wanted to tell everything to his colleague without reserve.  
Kaname trusted him. She didn’t depend on the Department of Intelligence, she depended on him. Now it looked as if he had readily betrayed that trust. He understood the necessity of the Arbalest, and that he and it were the only ones who could go up against Venom and Behemoth, just as the Captain had said. It was better to leave Kaname’s protection to the experts at the Department of Intelligence, however...  
He couldn’t be satisfied. Not with just those reasons. Not with just that rationale.  
No matter how many times he tried to solve this simple equation, he only got the same answer. The solution was tactically correct. But why did that correct answer bother him so much...?  
“What’s wrong? If it’s a complaint, I’ll listen to it. Just try me.”  
“No... it’s okay.”  
“ really are strange, you know that? Well, I’ve thought that for-” he started, but this time Kurz was the one who suddenly shut up.  
“What is it?”  
“Nu-thin’,” he said, and with a careless smile, he finished off his scotch.  
“...So, did you say anything to Kaname before you left?”  
“Mm... yes.”  
“Did she cry? I don’t think she would’ve been smiling.”  
“I... don’t want to talk about it.”  
In truth, he had not said anything to Kaname. Not one word- nothing about leaving at all. What kind of explanation could he give her after the kind of talk they had when she gave him a haircut? He just wasn’t able to gather up the courage to face her. He had gone ahead and sent the letter to the school about dropping out, but he had only moved most of his belongings to a place outside of the city.  
Because he hadn’t been able to make up his mind, he had left everything as it was.  
At a former battleground, he wouldn’t have worried about such things and would have finished it.  
“Ah, I see...”  
Kurz then quickly backed off to Sousuke’s surprise. He said “I’ll have another” to the barkeeper, and, joining in with the idle slander around him, he laughed out loud disinterestedly.  
Just then, the tone of the rowdy barroom crowd went down a notch.  
Suddenly the sounds of rude jeering and silverware banging against tables filled the room, singing and talking ceased, and the atmosphere of the room changed to that of vague animosity. It was very much like one of those squalid barroom scenes that you would see in an old western movie, but the hostility here was a bit different. First off, this wasn’t a place in which shady characters hung around. This was more of a response to casual, small occurrences.  
They soon understood the reason. An officer- one whom they didn’t know, had entered the bar.  
The officer was a black man wearing field clothes. There was a badge on his shoulder with the letters “FLT” embroidered on 
it. He was a Lieutenant. His shoulders were broad and solid, his physique looking almost like an upside-down triangle, and his legs were very long. Even from a distance he was a tall man, probably a good 10 centimeters taller than Kurz, who stood at 180 centimeters tall.  
“Haven’t seen him around. Wonder where he’s from?” Kurz mumbled. Sousuke felt as if he’d seen him somewhere before. Was he the man that he’d seen outside of Testarossa’s office earlier...?  
The man crossed the room, and pushing his way across the backs of Sousuke and the others, sat down at the very center of the counter right next to Kurz.  
“I’ll have a water,” he ordered, placing a five-dollar bill on the table. The barkeeper gave him a look of open discomfort.  
“That’s dumb. This is a bar, we serve alcohol- get it? Alcohol.”  
“Alcohol goes against the teachings of Allah. I’ll have a water.”  
“Then don’t be coming into bars, it’s stupid,” the middle-aged barkeeper said, but poured a bottle of Volvic into a tumbler and set it down hard on the counter. Taking the glass, the man gave a bold look to Sousuke and the others. After that it seemed he lost interest in them, and facing front again he drank his water.  
For some reason, he seemed to have an air of wisdom about him. His skin was brown, and in his eyes one could see intelligence without weakness. His lips were thin and drawn up tight. He looked as if though he had both Caucasian and Arabian blood in him.  
“Ah... excuse me, Lieutenant,” Kurz said to him, “I don’t want to say anything at the risk of sounding stingy since you don’t know anyone here, but could you move to another seat?”  
“Why should I?”  
“The three seats here at this corner of the counter are our humble SRT reserved seats, and you’re sitting right in the middle of them.”  
“Is that a corps regulation, I wonder?”  
He wasn’t directing this question at Kurz so much as to the barkeeper. The barkeeper just frowned and shook his head.  
“We just decided it on our own. Although the seats over at that table and the seats at the other end of the counter have also been claimed by members of other stations. We do that so those who come here are adequately assigned a place to sit.”  
“So it’s custom, then?”  
“That’s one way of saying it. It’s a relatively new one. But you see, the seat that you’re sitting in, you might wanna call it ‘reserved’.”  
“I don’t get your meaning.”  
“An officer who died used to sit there a lot,” Kurz said. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to have to kick a complete stranger’s ass.”  
“I see,” the man said, looking down. “And what was the call sign and name of this dead officer?”  
“Uruz 1. Captain Gail McAllen.”  
“Then there’s no need for me to move. He was a coward,” the man said with a cold grin on his face.  
“What did you say...?”  
Kurz leaned forward. Sousuke, who had been observing the argument beside him, didn’t miss as his partner powerfully gripped the shot glass that he was holding in his hand.  
“A coward? Did you just say he was a coward?”  
“That’s right. He was incompetent and petty, as well.”  
“Wow. Ha ha... those are some pretty strong words there. Hey, did you hear that, Sousuke? He said Gail was incompetent and petty. Well, it is true that when it came to that old man-” Kurz remarked lightly, but then suddenly took the shot glass and threw its contents in the man’s face, throwing a right punch at the same time. It was a feat that even Sousuke would have been barely able to stop. However, Kurz’s fist did not collide with the man’s right cheek. In literally a fraction of a second, the man had dodged the blow.  
The man was suddenly right next to Kurz, and hit him squarely in the jaw.  
He wasn’t able to see anything but that movement- but in the next instant, Kurz went flying backwards. It seemed he would collide with Sousuke, but instead went crashing into some chairs at a table a few meters behind him.  
There was a terrible racket as plates and glasses shattered on the floor. The barkeeper grimaced and shook his head, while the other patrons looked cautiously in the direction of the commotion.  
“Is that all you got, Sergeant?” the Lieutenant asked, wiping the liquor off of his face with a paper napkin. “I’d heard that there was a sharpshooter here, but is this some kind of joke?”  
“You bastard... let’s get on with it!” Kurz yelled, and grabbing the overturned table, he tried to get up. But just as he had stood halfway-  
His knees suddenly buckled underneath him. It was as if an invisible hand had hit him in the back of the head. He fell back on his hips, and collapsing, weakly muttered “dammit-”. He didn’t move. 
“Kurz...!” Sousuke said, and started to rush over to him.  
“Leave him alone. It’s just a slight concussion,” the Lieutenant called out to Sousuke’s back. “But I’m surprised that he took a hit like that and still stood up. It’s a good lesson to a fool who’d get drunk and strike an officer. A good one for him, for the dead captain, and for all the idiots of the SRT here. What a disappointment.”  
Sousuke turned to face the man, who wasn’t even trying to hide his contempt, and gave him a piercing stare.  
“What’s with that look?”  
“I don’t know who you are, and I apologize for my colleague’s behavior. But I’ll have you take back what you said about Captain McAllen.”  
Although he was normally not one to react to general abuse, Sousuke could no longer keep silent now.  
“That’s a funny joke, Sergeant. You giving me an order?”  
“What would you do if I said no? Try to hit a superior officer? You probably can’t. I just saw you; you’re a serious man. Or maybe you’re just a coward.”  
Sousuke clicked his tongue. It was as if the man had read his inner conflict.  
If he hit him, he’d be sent to the barracks. However, that in and of itself was insignificant. Even Kurz had thought that.  
The reason that Sousuke was hesitating right now wasn’t because of the threat of punishment. Basically, it came down to the fact that he was strongly opposed to the act of “breaking the rules” itself.  
Hitting a superior officer. Disobeying orders. If he did it just once, the world of order and regulation in which he surrounded himself would crumble to pieces- and that feeling of impending danger would halt his emotions. Always.  
That’s what I’ve been doing up until now. Why can’t I move...? he asked himself.  
“I think you won’t do anything unless you’ve been ordered to,” the Lieutenant said, “that’s why, Sergeant. Why don’t we play a little game, then?”  
“You want to protect Captain McAllen’s honor or whatever, don’t you? I was just getting bored. Follow me.”  
The Lieutenant then placed a hundred dollar bill on the counter and walked out.  
“Where are we-”  
“To the AS hanger. You’re qualified to pilot one, aren’t you?”  
♦ ♦ ♦ 
He did a good job of provoking me into this... thought Sousuke.  
Right now he was sitting in the cockpit of the ARX-7 Arbalest, riding the elevator up to the ground level of Merida Island.  
It was a simple yet enormous elevator, with its rusted steel showing through.  
Most of the facilities on the base were constructed underground. The living quarters, assorted communication facilities, weapons ammunitions, the Tuatha de Danaan’s maintenance dock, and so on... most everything. Most of what was above ground was as of yet untouched expansive jungle, but there were things such as the runway and communications antenna, which were cleverly disguised and hidden. You could almost fit 
the entire island into the area of Tokyo’s Yamate Line- sufficient to serve as the training ground for the landing force.  
The Arbalest had been restored back to white again. The dark gray paint had been completely stripped off during the fight that took place inside the ship in late August. The technical officer who had seen it said, “That’s proof that it was powered by the Lambda Driver.” The paint coming off seemed to have something to do with the mysterious force field that Lambda Driver generated, which made it to where regular paint would not adhere to the Arbalest’s armor.  
He checked the M9 using the same procedures as usual.  
Generator- normal.  
Control system- normal.  
Vetrononics- normal.  
Sensors, propulsion system, shock-absorption system, coolant system, FCS, warning systems- all normal.  
He had only one weapon- a training knife stored in the equipment hatch underneath his left side.  
The elevator reached ground level.  
He was in a 12-meter tall cage disguised to blend in with the foliage around it. Sousuke moved the machine out of the cage and onto the damp earth. Zu-don, Zu-don, the sound of the heavy footsteps springing up off of the mud reverberated throughout the surrounding area.  
The sky was crimson, the color of a subtropical twilight.  
The local birds, startled by the appearance of an eight-meter tall giant, emptied the area at once. Turning the switch on for the voice-activated control system, Sousuke said:  
<Yes, Sergeant.>  
The machine’s AI, ‘Al’, instantly replied.  
“I want to know the temperature and humidity level of the surrounding area.”  
<Temperature, 26 degrees. Humidity level, 83%.>  
“What’s the reading for the muscle package balancer?”  
<Check... 99. Highest level.>  
It was the emotionless and deep voice of a man. Sousuke was able to change the voice of this identification system as he chose, but had left it the way it was when it was first initialized. On the other hand, the AI in Kurz’s unit used a sampling of his favorite Japanese singers. 
Sousuke had left Kurz in the care of the barkeeper while he had come out here. Was he really okay? The maneuver that the Lieutenant had used on him, had he used the palm of his hand or what? It wasn’t normal to be able to knockout someone like Kurz with such an easy move. It was deeper than just an ordinary blow, probably some kind of Martial Arts.  
The elevator, which had descended back down, was rising again. The Lieutenant probably had an M9 in a different hangar from the Arbalest.  
That’s right- that black Lieutenant would be in an AS. And the fight with that AS was approaching. On the terms of taking back the slight against Captain McAllen in the bar.  
“If you’re scared of taking the machine without permission, shall I make it an order?”  
When he had said that, Sousuke didn’t hesitate.  
I don’t know who you are or what you want, but I’ll show you something. If you think I’m just your average rookie, you’ve made a big mistake. I’ve been piloting ASes since I was ten. When I was in the Afghani guerrilla force, we stole an Rk-89 from the Soviet Military. Hamdora and I reworked it so that even though we 
were kids, we could move it. Without the handicap, we crushed many of the latest models in those days- the Rk-92s.  
It was seven years later now. He had fought in many battles, and piloted everything under the sun. The weapon that was the AS was becoming a second body to him.  
I’ll make you regret this... Sousuke thought deep down.  
One thing after another had happened to him recently, and Sousuke was angry.  
He didn’t wait long before the elevator came up.  
“Thanks for waiting”, came the Lieutenant’s voice over the external speaker.  
He then stepped out of the cage. Sousuke’s eyes widened when he saw the AS, its form revealed against the night.  
It was the jet-black M9.  
It had more armor added to its upper arms and thighs. On its head were two shining sensors for eyes. Except for not having a “scroll” attached to its mouth, it was a spitting image of the Arbalest.  
The black M9.  
There was no mistake. It was the same unit they met during the operation in Sicily.  
“I haven’t introduced myself yet, have I? My name is Lieutenant Belfangan Clouseau, and I was transferred here from the Mediterranean Fleet’s Paltholon. I’ve been assigned to the Tuatha De Danaan’s SRT starting today. By the way, my call sign is ‘Uruz 1’.”  
Uruz 1. That meant that he had been assigned to fill Captain McAllen’s position, which had been vacant since the incident.  
“Sergeant Sousuke Sagara. I heard about you from Lt. Commander Kalinin, but you don’t seem like you’re someone 
superior to him in AS grappling. How ‘bout you show me what you got?”  
The black M9 then released the equipment hatch on its left side and pulled out the training knife.  
♦ ♦ ♦ 
October 20th, 18:43 (Japan Standard Time)  
Choufu-shi, Tokyo, Japan  
Sengawa Shopping District  
In the end, Sousuke never came to school.  
He had done the same thing during the tests, and school had been very quiet because he wasn’t there. It wasn’t like Sousuke walked around 24 hours a day brandishing weapons and causing riots, but once a day or every two days for unpredictable reasons, he was guilty of nonsensical behavior which often caused confusion or embarrassment for everyone around him.  
That given, school without him was quiet.  
That’s what Kaname thought, other students aside. For her, just chatting with classmates, making noise and laughing out loud was somehow unsatisfying.  
“I think I might have even caught his sickness...” Kaname mumbled as she and Kyouko were walking home from school, the area now completely dark. Kyouko just cackled.  
“What’s so funny?”  
“Well, it sounds like he’s some kind of weird illness or something when you say it like that.”  
Kaname had no clue what she meant, and gave her a blank look.  
“It’s okay if you don’t get it... but you know, you’re kind of a strange one yourself, Kaname.”  
“Yeah. How can I put it... I can’t tell if you’re more like an adult or more like a kid. At first glance you look like you might be in college, but there also seems to be something of an elementary school girl in you as well.”  
Kaname immediately started brooding over what her best friend had said. But as far as Kyouko was concerned, Kaname felt like Kyouko was exactly opposite of herself- she looked like a child, but occasionally she’d say adult things like a high school student.  
But that’s why Kaname liked Kyouko so much.  
Kyouko Tokiwa. When compared to Kaname, she was much smaller. But that didn’t mean that their preferences didn’t match up. Personality-wise, Kaname was strong-willed and Kyouko was laid-back, and Kyouko’s reflexes weren’t as outstanding as Kaname’s were. Just lined up next to each other as they walked, the two looked like polar opposites.  
But when Kaname looked at Kyouko, she often thought “She’s so much better than me...” She felt that way about what happened the day before as well as about other things. Sometimes she thought to herself, “Why does Kyouko just smile at me when I’m such an idiot, but still hang around me anyway?”  
Since she heard the differing stories about “a guard from the Intelligence Department” from Tessa and Sousuke, Kaname had thought “It couldn’t be Kyouko, could it?” many times. However, when she really considered it, it would be impossible. She had been to Kyouko’s house many times, and had seen her parents and siblings many times as well.  
“Ahhh, are you thinking about Sagara again?”  
“...N-no reason to, is there? Give me a break,” she said, laughing it off. As she did, she saw something gleam out of the corner of her eye.  
They were walking through the shopping district in front of the Sengawa Station. It was a road where it was rare for a car to pass through. Pedestrian traffic was heavy, and the shouting of the nearby grocers echoed throughout the street. Kaname was able to see a sharp light flicker from the roof of the stationary shop building in their path.  
Was that... the reflection off of a lens?  
Because it was nighttime, the roof was dark. It was also far away.  
But- Kaname saw it. It was faint, and melted into the rooftop, but she saw the dark shadow of a person quickly move.  
There was probably only one. She was able to get a glance at his face, and for just one moment, she felt as if their eyes met. Up close, it was a man with short hair, and eyes slit as thin as thread. His features looked inhuman. He reminded her of the man with a knife that she met up with on the submarine earlier that summer.  
Kaname thought that he smiled at her.  
Then he vanished. She came to a stop, staring fixedly on that location, but didn’t see any other movement except for that.  
“What’s wrong, Kaname?”  
“Hm...? Oh, it’s nothing,” Kaname answered, looking up at the roof.  
“Nothing at all, let’s go.”  
Kaname started walking again.  
What was that?  
She felt uneasy. She wasn’t sure how to describe it- she just knew that something was wrong. It wasn’t a feeling that she would be physically harmed, but hadn’t she felt some malaise just now?  
Yes. Malaise.  
It was malaise as if something that she was secretly frightened of had finally come for her. Always, always, she had thought “it’ll come for me one day”, and now she could hear the footsteps of the unspeakable reaper at her door.  
With only that white light on the roof of the building, Kaname remembered that.  
The pier in the blue ocean at the end of June.  
Inside the submarine at the end of August.  
The impressions she had felt in those places were resurrected in her mind.  
It was strange. Very bad. Like this- she felt terribly uneasy.  
No, it wasn’t that. She was scared.  
Ignoring Kyouko, Kaname retrieved the phone from her bag, and recalled the number that she used frequently.  
[Sousuke Sagara]  
His name was displayed on the phone’s LCD screen.  
It’ll be okay. It’s gone through recently. Even on Kyouko’s phone, the call went through. He’ll tell me “It’s not a problem.”  
This is crazy. Why am I so upset? Why am I bothered that the phone’s not ringing?  
Then came the sound of it picking up.  
“Hello? Sou-”  
“We’re sorry, the phone number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Please check the number, and try again. We’re sorry, the phone number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Please check the number, and try again. We’re sorry, the phone number you have dialed-”  
The voice somehow sounded cold and inhuman-  
To Be Continued in Part 2… 

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