Chapter 4: Her Problem
October 20th, 20:42 (Japan Standard Time)
She was just thinking a little too much.
In the end, nothing had happened, and after she returned home, Kaname thought this to herself.
She had gotten a fleeting glimpse of a strange person on the rooftop of the Sengawa shopping center- it was crazy to be as flustered as she was because of that one little thing.
Was it a warning? There was no reason to think that for certain.
She had not been able to reach Sousuke on the phone. But what did that mean? Hadn’t there been similar cases like this up until now? He would suddenly disappear from school for a day or two, and not come back. The longest he had been gone was three or four days. And then he always came back. And she was never able to get in touch with him, either.
“We’re sorry, the phone number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service.”
This had not happened before now. For her to get this kind of reply meant that Sousuke had contacted the telephone company and intentionally cancelled his service. After the customer cancels, if the phone company confirms, the line will be suspended for 10 minutes without being disconnected.
She shouldn’t have been able to reach him while he was overseas in the first place, right?
Bothering me when I’m so worried. Next time I see him, I’m going to let him have it.
Anxiety and irritation blended into drowning optimism, and her thoughts became fuzzy without dying out.
Since she didn’t feel like cooking, she ate instant curry for dinner.
She turned on the television and flipped through the channels. Commercial broadcast variety programs were on. The most recent popular comedian teams would come out. They would cause problems for the delicate newcomers and amateurs and knock them around. Because they would only point and laugh at this, the subject matter seemed trashy.
She turned on her game console and resumed a game she had been playing. It was an action game where you controlled one of the latest and strongest ASes in a multinational force, and crushed terrorists’ rooms. Until recently, she really hadn’t been interested in games intended for boys, but she wanted to know a little bit about Sousuke’s normal work- so she bought it.
But then, after she bought it, she realized that there had been no consultation for this kind of game. There were the obvious things, but the developer of this game didn’t know about things like the stress of real combat, the sounds of bombs detonating or the feel of the hot winds from the explosions. Or that... strained atmosphere. Or that boiling enthusiasm just before the dread terror. Those terrible things were things Kaname knew about.
She stopped playing soon after because she was bored.
She was feeling uneasy, and no matter what she did, she couldn’t concentrate. On the other hand, if she did nothing, she became restless from the boredom.
Why was she so nervous?
It would’ve been nice if Kyouko could have come over...
About once a week, Kyouko would stay over at Kaname’s apartment. Usually, Kyouko was the one who asked, “Can I come over today?” Kaname of course welcomed her, since it was lonely living by herself. They would make dinner, watch television, lay out the futons and talk about various things. Music, sports, dramas, rumors about friends, guys at school, the future...
The phone rang.
When she looked at the clock, it was past nine. It was seven in the morning in New York. Kaname remembered the face of her little sister, who would call once every few days from overseas before she went to school, and finally smiled. If she heard her sister’s voice, she might feel a little easier. She picked up the receiver and answered in the brightest voice possible.
“Hello, this is Chidori.”
She waited for a response, but no one answered. She could hear a small noise coming from the other end of the silent receiver.
“It’s Ayame, right?”
“...who is this?”
After a grinding noise, the phone cut off. Beep, beep, the empty electronic tone repeated over and over again. An irrepressible anxiety consumed her, and she called New York.
Her little sister answered the phone before she left for school, answering Kaname’s question in a confused voice, “Call you? No, I didn’t, but...”
“I see... never mind then.”
“Is something the matter? Are you okay, Kaname?”
“Hm? I’m fine, it’s nothing.”
“You wanna talk to Dad?”
“No, it’s okay... well then, take care,” she said as calmly as possible, and hung up.
She was really uncomfortable now. The silence of the room sank in.
She had had prank calls many times before. A complete stranger would call her cell phone and say “What are you doing now? Wanna play?” There had been one or two weird pick-up lines, as well. But that was all. But to get a prank-call tonight, at this time, of all things?
She felt helpless. She felt like someone was watching her.
She dialed his number again. And just the same as before, she received no answer. Calling him wasn’t going to work.
There wasn’t some other way, was there... soon after she thought this, she remembered that there was a radio transmitter in Sousuke’s apartment.
That’s right. That radio.
She didn’t know how to work it, but the way she was right now, she would figure it out somehow. The satellite line that Mithril used incorporated a widely-used spread spectrum method modulating process with a distinct quantum code. During the incident aboard the Tuatha de Danaan, Kaname was able to grasp a rough understanding of these detailed systems and the frequencies they used. If she tried playing with it, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to call Merida Island.
She wasn’t aware of how weird it was that she easily thought of this.
All right then...!
I’ll use that transmitter. If I can do that, I’ll talk to him. Soon.
Kaname put on an old zip-up jacket, grabbed her key chain and left her apartment. She had never used it before, but she kept a spare key to Sousuke’s apartment. “In case something happens,” he said, and handed it to her six months earlier.
Maybe it was because she was finally taking some tangible action, but her mood had become a little lighter.
Her old lady sandals going pata pata, she walked across the main street separating her building from Sousuke’s. In the middle of the fifth floor, room number 505. The surroundings were the same as ever. Before she opened the door, she knocked just to make sure.
Just as she expected, there was no answer.
That idiot didn’t set up a bomb or something, did he?
Oh well. If she got caught in some weird trap, she would return the favor ten times over by hitting him and chewing him out good.
While Kaname thought about this, she turned the key and opened the door.
There was no trap.
But that wasn’t the only thing that wasn’t there.
The combat boots that he always left in the entrance weren’t there. The bulletproof vest and submachine gun that he hid in the shoebox weren’t there, either.
When she flipped the switch beside her, the lights didn’t come on. Fumbling her way through the darkness, she entered the dining room.
The refrigerator was gone. The table was gone. The food, chairs and television were gone, too. The ammunition box, guns, various electronics equipment, the camouflaged clothes on hangers,
knapsack, belt, sleeping bag, the photograph of his old war buddies on the wall- All of it was gone.
No. There were several CDs on the hardwood floor. She had let him borrow them just the other day. That was all, but to her they were almost like a statement, stacked up in the middle of the room. The blinds had been removed and light from the outside illuminated the room through the naked glass door. It was a pale, desolate light.
She stood there alone in the empty room, stock still, for many minutes.
♦ ♦ ♦
Everything is gone. Kaname stands in the empty room from which Sousuke has disappeared.
October 20th, 23:35 (Pacific Standard Time)
Merida Island Base, Underground Dock
Shortly after they entered D-standby, the Tuatha de Danaan received orders to depart.
They loaded up various materials, performed a quick check, and stored the Arbalest and black M9- alias “Falke”, which were still being repaired. This time, Sousuke and his fellow colleagues on the landing force were ordered to board the ship from the onset.
On the starboard side of the de Danaan, which was now completely repaired from the incident two months prior, the remaining 200 crewmembers stood in formation.
“Everyone,” Teletha Testarossa said, stepping out in front of them, “as usual, we have a mission. The Tuatha de Danaan will be departing from here, and will proceed with all due speed to the naval operations area non-stop. I will inform you of the destination after we depart. This will probably be an all-night job, but please try to take care not to make any mistakes. Now let us pray.”
It was an address without a scrap of bravery in it, but it was this ship’s style. Tessa grasped the mike with both hands, and recited in a gentle voice:
“God, you are our strength. With your arms that reach to the bottom of the ocean, you protect and support us even in the deepest waters-”
Her voice was as sweet and delicate as a flute solo. The Christians clasped their hands in front of their chests, and the others prayed in silence.
“-night or day, in the silence and depth of the ocean as well as on the surface of the water, you are with us. God, amidst the confusion of our trials at sea, when we call out to you, you listen...”
She finished the prayer on a lingering note and said “Now then, please report to your posts.”
“You heard her! All senior officers and sailors, report to your posts!” the officer on duty shouted, and the crew came alive all at once, climbing aboard the small mountain that was Tuatha de Danaan.
They started the palladium reactor from an external power supply. The underwater radiation opening let out a faint, long breath. The mooring ropes and electric power cables were unfastened. The hydraulic rock bolts fixed on the ship revolved slowly as they separated. Every hatch buzzed as it shut, and the departure siren resounded throughout the large underground dock.
They closed up the front of the underground dock, and the enormous gates began opening with a thunderous roar. The scene was almost as if a building had started to move. Before the open gates was a huge cave reinforced by innumerable steel supports. The de Danaan’s path continued for several hundred meters before reaching the sea. The rippling water rising inside the cave reflected the lights from the mercury lamps.
Accompanying the vice chief, and with a brisk gait, Tessa entered the ship’s central command center.
“Good work. I will take over from here.”
“Aye Ma’am. Captain on the deck!” announced the officer on duty. Without sitting down, Tessa looked attentively at the display on the front screen. Over the intercom, every station reported the results of the final inspections. No problems. This was consistent with the display on the screen.
Mardukas gave a little nod.
“Everything confirmed, Captain.”
“Then commence departure. Normal propulsion. Ahead at 1/3 speed.”
“Aye aye, Ma’am. Normal propulsion, ahead at 1/3 speed!”
It was as if the ship were gliding through the water. Without betraying the enormous power hidden within the several thousand ton ship, they quietly and calmly set out to sea.
♦ ♦ ♦
October 21st, 12:40 (Japan Standard Time)
Jindai High School
The face of a completely exhausted woman reflected back from the restroom mirror.
There were dark rings underneath her bloodshot eyes, her black hair was scraggly, and her skin was firm. She also had a pale complexion and chapped lips.
This woman who looked to be in her thirties and to have led a tough life was wearing a high school uniform.
I look terrible...
She had barely gotten any sleep since yesterday. She spent the night crouched against the wall, the smallest sounds scaring her so much she shook. Because she couldn’t stand the silence of her room, she left the television on. There was something about the evacuation of the citizens in Hong Kong or something on the late night news, but since she wasn’t interested, she changed the channel. She watched an infomercial for some American product instead.
Today’s product is the revolutionary weight-loss tool, Fit X. It may look like just an ordinary chair at first glance, but with just 20 minutes a day, you can maintain a beautiful and healthy body. “Fit X was the best! You know, from just this one machine, you
can do 12 different types of exercise. Thanks to Fit X, when I met with my friend John who I hadn’t seen in a year, he said ‘Whoa! Are you really Danny? I don’t believe it. You look so different!’ I have to thank Fit X,” said Daniel, a computer technician. Fit X. Fit X. To order Fit X, call right now!
Kaname saw the smiling faces of Daniel and others as the sun rose.
“Weight loss, huh...” she said to herself as she stared in the mirror.
I might end up super thin before long even without the help of a machine, she thought.
It seemed that her classmates noticed that something was unusual with her. Kyouko and the others wore looks of concern on their faces, saying “You should go to the hospital.” Since there was no avoiding it, Kaname went ahead and told everyone “It’s just a cold.” She thought of explaining the situation and asking for help, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Really, it was impossible to tell them.
Tell them that Sousuke might not come back. That the war-maniac guy everyone knew was really an active and very, very elite soldier, and that his real purpose in coming to this school was to guard her. And that the one who was responsible for everyone getting involved in the serious incident on the fieldtrip was no one other than herself. And so on.
She couldn’t do it. She didn’t have enough courage.
The bell rang over the intercom throughout the school. Then came the voice of her homeroom teacher, Eri Kagurazaka, calling out Kaname’s name.
“-ame Chidori please come to the faculty room. I repeat: Will second-year group four Kaname Chidori please come to the faculty room.”
She thought about ignoring it at first, but then reconsidered. She stared into the mirror, but the bad feeling that she had kept getting worse.
Plodding along, Kaname made her way to the faculty room.
♦ ♦ ♦
“...are you okay?” Eri awkwardly asked as soon as she saw Kaname’s face.
“Yeah, I just didn’t get much sleep.”
“I see... you shouldn’t do that, you know? Even if you do live by yourself, you shouldn’t stay up all night.”
“You’re right. Ha ha ha...”
“Anyway, there’s a situation, but...”
Reaching into her desk drawer, Eri took out an envelope with the seal broken. The address on it was to Jindai High School. Kaname recognized the messy handwriting.
“It seems that this arrived for the office from Mr. Sagara. And... try not to act surprised when I tell you,” she said, keeping her voice down. “In the letter, he says he’s dropping out.”
“I know that he’s missed a lot of school recently, but... dropping out all of the sudden without any explanation? It seems they can’t contact him by phone, either... I’m not sure what I should do... I just kept giving him down the road recently for the car and for missing school without an excuse... perhaps I... no, I’m sure there are more complex issues at stake-”
Kaname didn’t hear most of what Eri was disclosing to her.
She wasn’t surprised. Ah, I knew it... was the only thing she thought.
She didn’t cry, either. The grief of abandonment, the anger of it ending so soon, even the amusement that stirred up memories, none of these came gushing out. Without feeling anything at all, she just stood still like someone senile, staring at the worn-out envelope on the top of the desk.
“-also... Miss Chidori? Miss Chidori?”
“Do you have any information?”
If this had been a manga*1 or something, about here would be the scene where she would yell out “I can’t tell you the reasons, but I believe in him. Sousuke will definitely come back!” as if it were her business. But as sad as it was, being a complicated being of flesh and blood- she wasn’t so simple a person to blindly believe such a thing.
“I don’t have any information.”
“...because I don’t know anything about it,” she answered in a monotone voice. Eri looked up at her with doubtful eyes.
“Have you two had another fight?”
“...if we can’t get in touch with him by tomorrow, the principal will have to accept his letter.”
“That’ll mean he’s dropped out?”
Eri didn’t say anything.
Kaname took this silence as an affirmation.
“I see. I’ll be going then...”
And with mechanical movements, Kaname turned about-face and left the faculty room.
Just give it up. He was just an illusion. Him saying “I’ll protect you” was just a lie. That was how reality was.
He just disappeared. He and everyone attached to him as well. There was no one she could depend on anymore. Would she have to continue living everyday in fear of the shadow she couldn’t see? The people targeting her wouldn’t show any mercy. Spies, terrorists, secret associations- those people.
She had to think of a plan. By herself. She absolutely could not involve Kyouko.
Am I one of those heroines trapped up in the top of a tower, just spending everyday sighing? A princess whimpering because her prince or valiant knight on a white horse had left?
She was completely different.
I’m going to act. Because I’m Kaname Chidori.
There was something in her biology- more than just the “Whispered” part, but something even stronger by nature, and it seemed to be strongly provoking her.
First, she needed information. She had to be aware of her surroundings and what might happen.
♦ ♦ ♦
October 21st, 19:48 (Pacific Standard Time)
West Pacific, Off the Philippine Coast
Tuatha de Danaan
Because they were ordered to board the Tuatha de Danaan, the training and meetings for Sousuke and the others were carried out on the ship.
The meeting for the SRT unit was over advanced technical matters. The platoon tactics using the M9 data link function, three-
dimensional maneuvers in limited efficiency, the organic hookup plays in complexity. Everything covered had the Venom in mind.
What’s more, the technician, Second Lieutenant Lemming, dragged out the explanation of the Venom’s weak points, using difficult terms and lots of diagrams.
“-as for problems with the Lambda Driver... other than engineering factors, there are also physiological factors. The function of the LD is greatly influenced by the pilot’s state of mind. When the apparatus was operational, there were very unusual brain waves detected from the pilot- right here. These fast waves from 30 to 50 KHz are called gamma waves. It seems that only when the steady levels of strength in the brain waves are exceeded can the LD expand the area of repulsion- please take a look at this data. The data so far says that the pilot himself can initiate these strong gamma waves, but that there is difficulty in continuing and raising them. Until recently, there was doubt as to its very existence. By administering the synthetically possible drug ‘Type Ti970’ only in the very confined chemistry plant, artificially, a similar response was drawn out- but this does not take into account the subject’s personality or the various negative influences present in his personality, such as memory defects, schizophrenic disposition, visual hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, persecution complex and the violent mania. In the short term, there is a decline in migraines and eyesight, as well as a loss in equilibrium-”
Starting with Kurz, the rest of the bored SRT members asked in unison:
“In other words?”
“That use of the LD for an extended period of time is probably impossible, with the exception of the ‘Behemoth’.”
“Then you should have said that from the start...”
After that, Clouseau dismissed the meeting, ordering everyone present to check their equipment and then get something to eat afterwards.
♦ ♦ ♦
After inspecting weapons with Kurz and the others, Sousuke went to the ship’s hangar by himself.
In the corner of the hangar where the ASes were kept knelt the Arbalest, just now finished with repairs. Because the ship was currently under noise regulation status, adjustment work could not be performed.
The Arbalest was surrounded on all four sides by poles and ropes, with the sign “Do Not Enter” hanging from one of them.
Before, up until it was used in the Shun On incident, this machine had been brought into the corner of the hanger in a container. Sousuke also had not known the contents of that container, and could only imagine that there had been an AS inside.
Stepping over the rope with the “Do Not Enter” sign, Sousuke approached the Arbalest.
It had frosted white, sleek armor that felt a little rough to the touch. But even gently brushing it like this didn’t stir up any feelings of affection for it.
Stepping up onto the armor, Sousuke agilely climbed up the torso. He opened the hatch, slipping into the cockpit.
Using reserve power, Sousuke started the machine’s control system. The display lit up. Gripping the stick and operating the thumb pointing device, he selected various modes.
Control Mode- Test Use. All Vetronics- Idle. All Sensors- Idle. The Machine Settings Screen. Main Menu. [AI] Chosen. The
AI Settings Screen. [Training] Chosen. The Training Settings Screen. [Other] Chosen. The Other Settings Screen. Change to [Conversation/Free]. Executed.
He pushed the voice input switch on the stick on the left-hand side.
After a small time-lag, a man’s deep voice replied:
<Check. Confirming Sergeant Sagara... yes, Sergeant.>
The AI, “Al”, didn’t say anything more than necessary. If Sousuke didn’t say anything, then it would stay like this forever. Even Sousuke had nothing in particular to talk about. He just wanted to try it.
He didn’t believe that just talking to the AI would dissolve his grudge against the machine, but he wasn’t satisfied just standing around in the waiting room. He had thought of maybe writing a letter to Kaname, but he didn’t know what to write. He was also reluctant to talk to Kurz and the others.
He wasn’t comfortable no matter where he went.
So he dared to come here. The place where he felt the most uncomfortable- this cockpit.
“...how are you?” he tried asking for the time being.
<The check performed at 1730 hours today was satisfactory. Check performed by Lieutenant Sachs, security record number 981021-01B-F-001. Do you wish to inspect the security record? Or perform another check?>
Since it was not a combat situation, it stopped at the details. When he was silent, Al continued:
<-in the case of a second check, the current settings need to be changed. End training mode, and after connecting the unit to an external power source, please execute the arbitrary check list.
Additional Items. This unit, starting from the total check at 1730 hours, cannot undertake another complete maintenance without engaging in a complete mission.>
“I only woke you up on a whim.”
<Training Message. Please explain the meaning of the world ‘Whim’.>
“Try guessing on your own.”
<Roger. Complete. Report results of guess?>
<The meaning of ‘Whim’. The most probable candidate- a concept similar to ‘Discretion’ or ‘Doubt’. Second candidate- a concept similar to ‘Zeal’ or ‘Diligence’. Third candidate- a concept similar to ‘Confusion’ or ‘Irregularity’.>
The next guesses after the fourth candidate were displayed in a row on the screen. “Idleness”, “Crisis”, “Ambition”, “Play”...
“Do you understand ‘play’?”
<Affirmative. That is the meaning of ‘whim’?>
“It’s close to ‘play’ and ‘irregularity’.”
<Roger. Thank you for the information.>
“Tell me the meaning of ‘play’,” Sousuke asked out of curiosity.
<Tactically, its action is meaningless, but strategically its action is beneficial. It is not an essential thing like eating or sleeping, but it comes next in rank of importance. Through this action, humans maintain human characteristics such as flexibility, expression, and vitality. Examples of ‘play’ are ‘songs’, ‘dance’, ‘poker’, and ‘Go’*2. Examples of words similar to ‘play’ are ‘hobby’, ‘joke’, and ‘love’.>
This was the first AI to give him that kind of reply. The AI of the M9 that Sousuke piloted before definitely would not reply like this. It was only natural. It was pointless for the control system
of an ordinary weapon to know what play was. It was a waste of storage cells.
“Who taught you that kind of thing?”
<Manager Bani Morauta, Sergeant.>
Sousuke remembered that name. He had died before the Arbalest was completed.
“The technician who made you?”
<Affirmative. He was the creator of the ARX system that was included in me.>
Al used the word “me” as a matter of convenience. An AI has no self-awareness.
“Tell me what you know concerning Bani Morauta.”
<Bani Morauta. Male. Assigned Mithril’s Research Department. ID number F-6601. Rank, Captain status. Wage class, MJ-3. Creator of the System ARX-7. Age, presumed 16. Height, presumed 166 centimeters. Additional Information. Registered in California High School and Geotron Electronics Company. Visited Copenhagen. Hobbies are Go and piano. Favorite singer is John Lennon. Favorite things are peace, Al, and Teletha Testarossa. Record blank dating February 16th of this year.>
Even though he was a little surprised when Tessa’s name came up, Sousuke pressed on.
“And his death?”
<Unknown. That information has not been enter->
There was a noise. Al’s voice paused, and the screen blacked out.
Even though the stick was operational, there was no response. He thought maybe the reserve power had been cut off, but the lamp below the screen was still green.
Silence. One second. Two seconds. Three seconds. Then, without notice, the terminal screen came back on.
<Check. SGT Sagara confirmed- training message. He is dead?>
This was a strange response. Even though other settings were still in the training mode’s free conversation, why was it retrying only his voice print check...?
“That’s what I heard... Stop rejecting each training message one by one.”
<Roger. Please tell me the source of this information.>
“I heard it from Second Lieutenant Lemming.”
<Please tell me about his death.>
This was definitely strange.
“...you think I know?”
<Please excuse me. I will assume you do not have that information.>
“Does it bother you?”
<Are you asking ‘Are you interested in his death?’>
<Affirmative. I have a comprehensive interest concerning the aspects of everything, from tactics to planning. Without Bani Morauta, completion of the ARX system will be difficult.>
“Are you saying that you recognize that you aren’t complete?”
<Affirmative. And that has been the primary problem for you, as well.>
Sousuke didn’t get mad at his mechanical partner, but he was surprised by this answer.
“...what did you say?”
<You are one piece of the ARX-7 system. Without your ability, the ARX system is not complete. Please tell me your
problem. If I can answer, I might be able to give some kind of advice.>
He couldn’t believe what the machine was saying. Sousuke seriously suspected that someone was remotely controlling Al and making it say these things.
“I don’t have a problem.”
<I don’t believe that.>
When Sousuke heard this, he suddenly felt ridiculous. He didn’t know whose prank it was, but someone made the machine say “intuition”. Clouseau, or Lemming, maybe. He wasn’t sure, but it seemed that someone thought he was fairly stupid.
“Then explain this ‘intuition’. And leave out the tricks.”
<Your order is nonsense. ‘Intuition’ is not controlled or an object of persuasion. It is something that comes from the depths of the soul.>
“What you’re saying is also nonsense,” he said, and tried to end training screen. He moved the free conversation mode cursor to ‘off’, but when he tried- it didn’t work. There was no response.
<I am sorry, Sergeant, but you are no longer able to alter that item.>
“What are you saying?”
After a short pause, Al said:
<Relaying Bani’s message. Please pay attention... ‘The flag has been raised. This is the worst case scenario concerning me personally, since it means that I am either dead or disabled. I decided to leave this device in case of that event for Al’s future master. He is no longer an ordinary AI. He is an existence with a symbiotic relationship with the Lambda Driver. He is still a
tottering child on unsteady legs, but he is able to learn even pleasure and sorrow. Please trust him as a partner.’>
<‘Perhaps present circumstances and your intentions are trying to move in different directions. You are probably irritated by it. But you are not powerless. The Arbalest is one possibility. Naturally, while you aren’t able to do anything, this strong machine becomes just a piece of scrap iron and could very possibly mean the end. That depends on you. Express yourself as your heart tells you. I pray this for you and the important ones you have to protect.’ ...that is all.>
The flag has been raised? Device? Al was not a normal AI?
Also- this defective machine was the “strongest”? This AS, that always fought a hard fight against a single machine, and then was barely able to scrape out a victory?
<Do you mean me? Or do you mean you?>
“If you’re mocking me, stop. After this, I’m-”
“Sousuke!? Are you there?” Mao called from outside of the cockpit.
Sousuke ended his conversation with Al and leaned out of the hatch. Mao was looking up at him from next to the Arbalest’s feet.
“What is it?”
“The Lieutenant Commander called for us. It’s a mission.”
♦ ♦ ♦
October 21st, 18:20 (Japan Standard Time)
When she went home that night, Kaname packed some clothes, a bath set and some other things into a Boston bag, and still wearing her school clothes, went out. She couldn’t stand spending the night in her apartment alone.
She walked along the road to the train station, feeling like she was being watched by someone, while at the same time feeling like she was thinking too much.
No, she couldn’t be thinking too much.
Someone was definitely watching her. Whether by the “Shadow Guard” that Tessa mentioned before, or some villain like that Gauron guy. At any rate, she didn’t trust either of them. Anyway, just their existence was significant to Kaname, since there was no changing the fact that the person who was sticking with her was her only source of information.
She would walk for a bit, then suddenly look back. She tried this several times, but there really was no point. It wasn’t like there was a shadowy figure in a trench coat standing behind a telephone pole. This guy wasn’t a clumsy detective from a television show; he was a pro.
Where should I go? she contemplated over and over.
What about going into a secluded mountain? It was two hours by train to Okutama. No, a mountain recess was no good. Her follower might be able to find her, and at the same time it might be difficult to give him the slip or outsmart him.
At any rate, if the person after her was really a bad person...?
A mountain recess was definitely out. If something were to happen, then she wouldn’t be able to call for help and there wouldn’t be any eye-witnesses. It was too dangerous.
A busy area would be good, but one far away from her apartment or school. Some place she wouldn’t normally go. A place where it would be difficult to attack or kidnap her, and hard to follow her.
For now, Kaname decided to go to Shibuya.
At the Keiou Line’s Meidaimae Station, when she changed to the Inokashira line going to Shibuya, she jumped off of the train just before the door closed. It was something she had used on Sousuke before, but she didn’t see a suspicious person panicking and trying to get off. There were only a lot of passengers walking in groups to the Inokashira platform.
There was no sign of someone at all. Without meaning to, she started to think that what she was doing was foolish. Like a child playing make-believe spies.
I’m not being stupid. I’m not being stupid...
She took the Inokashira line to Shibuya. Already the sun was setting, but the streets were still covered with people.
She ate at McDonald’s, then browsed through an accessory shop and boutique. She wandered through a CD store and a bookstore, strolled through Tokyu Hands, and went to a game center.
No matter where she went, though, she paid close attention to whether there were suspicious people in her surroundings, but to no avail.
They might be watching her from outside.
When she thought of this, Kaname went to a worker at the game center and said “A strange old man is bothering me,” and he let her use the back door. She went into the darkened alley, turning
around and taking a detour into a boutique not too far away. She hurriedly went up to the second floor, and from a window with a good view, observed the vicinity around the game center.
She couldn’t find anyone suspicious. There was too much pedestrian traffic. Even after carefully examining the area for more than five minutes, she found absolutely nothing.
No good, huh...
What would Sousuke do at a time like this?
She had no idea. Sometimes, with skill that only looked like magic to an amateur, he was able to see through enemies, pursuers, and all kinds of dangers. Of course, he had made many mistakes. That was always the cause of trouble. But at the same time, there hadn’t been one time that he had missed a real threat.
Battle sense, would you call it? She was keenly aware that it was something she lacked.
She didn’t know. She hadn’t found anything. Even though she had tried to be so watchful, she couldn’t feel any traces of someone at all. If she thought about it sensibly, it might be the perfect time to conclude “just as I thought, there isn’t anyone watching me.”
However, there was some utility value in her existence. There was no mistake about that.
She couldn’t oppose this reality no matter what.
Supposedly, she was being watched. And supposedly, she was being followed. They said that, but...
A sad melody was playing inside the shop. A piece from Dvorak’s “From the New World.” The sun sets into the far mountains, was what that melody meant. Somehow it was like a closed shop. When she checked the clock, it was already 9 o’clock.
She left the boutique. Still not having been hit by any particular ideas, Kaname wandered around through the middle of
town. She saw groups of drunken people, and the number of shops with closed shutters had increased.
It would probably be a while before the city would sleep, but without knowing where to go, she got lost.
In front of Hachiko*3, where people had just started to thin out, Kaname sat down while holding her bag.
She sighed. She had just decided what she should somehow do this afternoon, but she had quickly come to a standstill.
When she thought about it, there was no way that an amateur like herself could outsmart a professional tracker. The truth of the matter was that even when she had left the game center through the back door, he had probably been able to predict it.
No... but, isn’t it strange?
No matter what the situation, would he be able to see through her movements that easily? He didn’t have super powers. Was he using some kind of device...?
She no longer had the necklace with a transmitter on it that she had received from Sousuke and the others earlier. She had left it in her room. But what if there were something else other than that somewhere on her...? A device so small that she wouldn’t notice, hidden in an ingenious way...?
It was possible. If he had done that, then no matter what she did, she wouldn’t be able to outsmart him. It should be possible to make a transmitter that works within a 100 meter radius small and hard to see.
Maybe in her bag?
Or accessory case? Or the accessories themselves?
On her clothes? Or in her purse? Or wristwatch?
Or maybe it was something that she could easily see to start with?
As for temporarily inserting such a transmitter, there had to be a sneaky way of doing it, right?
Thinking. That was the only weapon that could help her right now.
A cold wind blew through Hachiko, whipping her hair around. It would be November soon. Tonight’s weather forecast said that the temperature would drop to about as cold as the beginning of December and that there would be rain. Unpleasantly chilly for someone wearing only a high school uniform.
Just then, someone called out to her.
“Hey, are you alone?”
When she looked up, she saw what looked like a business man standing there. He looked to be in his thirties. His tie was unfastened, his face was a little red, and he was giving her an oily smile.
“Are you waiting for someone?”
“No...” she answered honestly because she had been wrapped up in her thoughts. When she did, the man suddenly approached her, speaking in a coaxing voice.
“Heeeh, is that so? In that case, why don’t we go get something good to eat? My treat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You don’t say? Well, then, what about a drink? I know a place with a nice atmosphere.”
“I don’t drink...”
“I see. But you’re looking kinda lonely there. I can’t just leave you alone. You don’t have to drink alcohol, but why don’t you try telling me what’s bothering you? I’m sure you’ll feel better for it. Don’t worry, I won’t take you anywhere weird.”
Liar. He was planning on sweet talking her, getting wasted, then taking her somewhere shady to try something with her. Those types had tried picking her up many times before now, and she was a veteran of refusing their advances.
Kaname took a deep breath, and with a raised voice, started to say “Hey you...! I’m in the middle of something right now-”
But then she stopped.
A light came on inside her head. It was a crazy idea- but her companion would never be able to guess as much.
After staring at his face, she said:
“...hey mister. Why don’t we go to a hotel?”
♦ ♦ ♦
October 21st, 21:14 (Pacific Standard Time)
Off the Philippine Coast, Underwater
Tuatha de Danaan
There was one member of the PRT (Primary Response Team) in the empty briefing room other than Kalinin and Clouseau. He was a Chinese Private by the name of Wu. He was qualified to pilot an AS, and for the time being was in training to pilot an M9.
They were watching a news program on one section of the wall screen. It was England’s BBC. It was probably something they had intercepted within the past few hours. The place was Hong Kong, next to a park facing the harbor area. Beneath an orange street light, a Caucasian reporter was speaking very fast.
“-stationed troops on either side still have not made an announcement concerning the whereabouts of the unknown AS. These implications have meant that town businesses and street
vendors have suspended commerce, and the neighborhood of Mong Kok has become strangely quiet-”
Behind the reporter, there was a shot of a dark green armored car as well as an Rk-92 type AS on the other side from the thighs down. Those dangerous images matched well with the strained atmosphere of the street.
“He’ll be here soon,” Mao answered. Just as she did, Yang rushed in wearing a tank top and carrying a towel.
“Sorry I’m late...!” he panted.
“Okay, that’s everyone. Let’s get started,” Clouseau said to everyone. Somehow, it seemed he only had business with the four soldiers gathered here. If one observed, Mao, Yang, Wu, and Sousuke were all of Asian descent.
“...I think you all know by now, but an unknown AS has appeared in Hong Kong. It is believed that this unit will independently repeat its destructive activities, and is hiding somewhere in the city even now. The North and South Army are both receiving damage, and Divided Hong Kong is currently in a critical state of tension.”
Divided Hong Kong. That’s what today’s Hong Kong was often called. Several years before, with the Chinese coup that occurred, and the effects of a continuing civil war, this prefectural city was now under two ruling powers.
The continent and the adjoining peninsula of Kowloon was the Chinese Democratic Alliance- popularly called “South China”.
The southern part of Hong Kong was the People’s Liberation Committee- popularly called “North China”.
Even now these two groups had continuing skirmishes with the Hubei province among others, but Hong Kong in particular was under a pact that controlled every act of war. Both groups had
stationed a large number of battle forces in the provincial city, and they continued to confront each other at a distance the length of a rifle’s shot.
“This AS, is there really only one?” Yang asked, drying his wet hair with the towel.
“As far as we can confirm, there’s only one. But we can’t be certain because of complications with intelligence.”
“What type is it?” Mao asked, and Clouseau switched the screen.
It was a relatively clear picture- probably a civilian photograph- when Mao saw it, she gave a little groan. Sousuke also, without thinking, took a deep breath.
“That’s why we’ve been called, huh?”
The machine in the photograph was the same type as the Venom. It had a massive upper body, as well as linear but strangely distorted camouflage.
The location was a stereotypical Hong Kong commercial district. It was vaguely enshrouded by white smoke. The problem AS was violently twisting one of the numerous projecting signboards with its left hand, while at the same time leveling its Bullpup-style assault rifle at the right side of the screen. The picture was fairly close, like it had been shot from underfoot, and looked like photographer was worried immediately after.
“What’s the terrorist’s target?”
“Unknown. No one has claimed responsibility. If we had to venture a guess, it’s probably to revive the civil war or destroy the Hong Kong economy. Or possibly-”
“They might be issuing a challenge to us.”
They didn’t want to think about it, but it was very possible. Based on events that had happened so far, it was obvious that the enemies who possessed these machines were strongly sensible of the existence Mithril and the Tuatha de Danaan.
“This picture was taken in the Yamauti neighborhood, the town area on the side of the Kowloon peninsula. After the enemy AS destroyed one of the South China Army’s armored vehicles, it used a smoke bomb and disappeared. This was 26 hours ago.”
He continued by projecting an enlarged map of Hong Kong.
“Afterwards, the ‘Venom Type’ has appeared in various places throughout Hong Kong and Kowloon every 8~12 hours, indiscriminately causing destruction. It looks like 10 ASes in the vicinity have been destroyed and a large number of people have been wounded or killed. Neither army has been able to crush this machine, let alone gather information or find any trends. If we look at previous examples, this is probably because this machine is also equipped with a concealing function.”
“Then it can’t be found using the Chinese Army’s equipment...”
“They don’t have information about the advanced model ECS. They probably don’t guess that the enemy is becoming invisible and hiding.”
“Were they warned about that?”
“No. The higher-ups didn’t want to.”
“Granting that the results of temporary advice or technical support would be that both armies would be able to see this enemy AS- they still wouldn’t be able to oppose the ‘Venom Type’ with their equipment. It would only lead to more deaths. We’re the ones who deal with the extermination of pests.”
The point that Kalinin had brought up was quite right, but there was also a cold-hearted logic at work as well, Sousuke’s instincts told him. If they gave information about the latest model ECS to the North and South China Armies, then the scope of Mithril’s power would be evident, since they also used the same equipment. Mithril’s secrecy relied heavily on a practical new model ECS.
“Even though it’s Venom, we can’t carry out a full operation within 24 hours single-handedly. We will need a supply of ammunitions and simple adjustments for after battle. The pilots, too, will need some rest. First, we will calculate the ambush destination for that purpose, secretly surround it with one platoon of M9s, do a surprise attack and take control. There are no countermeasures, because there is no obligation to oppose it straight on. It is for that reason that I want you all to perform reconnaissance.”
“In cooperation with the Intelligence Department’s branch office in Hong Kong. Using the necessary know-how, locate the enemy’s hideout. We’ll surface sometime tonight, and then you’ll take a helicopter. You’ll fly one step ahead of us to Hong Kong.”
“Sousuke, as well?” Mao asked. In this situation, she probably thought it was normal for Sousuke to remain on the ship for the time being on standby with the Arbalest. Clouseau looked as if he were about to say something in response to Mao’s question, but before he did, Kalinin opened his mouth.
“It is the policy that the Arbalest will not be used this time. For those reasons- do you understand, Sergeant Sagara?”
“Yes, sir,” Sousuke answered in a dispirited voice. –
♦ ♦ ♦
Maruyamachou, Shibuya, Tokyo
“How’s this place?” the middle-aged man asked when they reached ‘Love Hotel Hill’ in Dougenzaka.
He was pointing to a hotel painted in chic colors with a “vacancy” sign lit up. The signboard said “Hotel Diversion”. Renting the room was 5500 yen for two hours, and 9000 yen per day.
The rain, which had been sprinkling since earlier, was gradually becoming heavier. Soon it would probably turn into a torrential downpour.
It wasn’t more than 100 meters from the business district, but this area was quiet and deserted. The only people they passed were couples (why is everyone either walking in small steps or half running?). There was almost no one walking by themselves. A single partner or a man by himself stood out.
“Ooh... that’ll do.”
Without thinking, she clinched her fists.
When he saw that, the middle-aged man- Kamoi, he called himself- looked a little dubious, but pulled himself together and put his hand on Kaname’s shoulder.
“It’s okay? Yeah, okay. Then let’s go. Alright? Alright?”
“Wait a second.”
She slipped out from under his hand, and trotting in front of the love hotel, she briefly checked out its exterior. She looked
around the surrounding area, and checked how it was situated in relation to the other buildings.
“Okay. Let’s go in.”
“Alright, Mizuki. I’ll try my best, ha ha ha...”
Mizuki was the alias that she had quickly thought up.
Sorry, Mizuki... Kaname thought apologetically to her friend.
Taking long strides and leaving the high-spirited man by himself, Kaname went through the entrance of the hotel. The cheap automatic door rattled open. The lights inside were dim. It didn’t have the large lobby like a regular hotel; the ceiling was low, and the pathway was narrow.
There was a reception desk, as well as a strange lit-up board across from a small corner. It was about half the size of a school blackboard, and it had pictures of 40 guest rooms lined up on it. Under each picture was the room number, a red light and a button, about half of which were lit up.
She thought blankly. As ideas of what it would be used for swam around in her head, Kamoi caught up with her.
“What kind of room would you like?” he asked.
Ah. In other words, you chose the room with these buttons. Pictures without the lights on probably meant that those rooms were “in use”.
She suddenly came back to herself.
Am I serious? Coming to such a place, it’s not the least bit decent. It’s not too late, I can change my mind. I can leave this kind of love hotel. No, no. If I do that, I won’t make any progress. Problems with morals or chastity are on a whole other level. Those words that he used often- “a security issue”. That’s why this might
be the breakthrough. Don’t chicken out. Use your head. Come up with something.
It was a short conflict. Kaname calmed down her feelings and checked one of the vacant rooms. After that she carefully scrutinized the structure of the love hotel that was on an “in case of disaster” sketch of the building next to the check board. The location of the room. The location of the window. Which way was North... good.
“Eh? There are better rooms, you know. That one looks a little small-”
“Then I’ll go home.”
“Ahh- I was joking, joking. I’m sorry, that’ll be fine. Okay? Okay?” Kamoi said, trying to pacify her. He had absolutely no dignity.
They pressed the button, took the keycard and headed to the second floor.
There was an elevator right next to room 202. As she halfheartedly answered her partner’s small talk of “Which school has that uniform you’re wearing?” and “It’s okay to just relax,” Kaname entered the room.
This is surprising. It’s not that bad after all...
She thought at first glance.
The lighting was bright, the furniture was new, and every nook and cranny was clean. There was even a large screen LCD television and audio set. She had thought that a love hotel would be more shabby and indecent.
But of course, the most prominent thing in the room was the huge double bed in the corner. Beside the bed was a tissue box and- ahh, that’s enough.
It works. Anyway, time to explain the situation to the old man.
“Now then, I have something I need to tell you-” she started to say as she turned around, but Kamoi was breathing heavily and coming near her. While taking his jacket off he unfastened his tie, and strutted towards her. There was a strange look in his eyes. He was definitely a different person now.
“We can take a bath afterwards.”
“You’re so cute, Mizuki.”
“Well, besides that I have to tell you-”
“You don’t have to be afraid.”
“No, that’s not-”
“Ahh, a high school girl’s uniformmm.”
“Now just wait a minute, first I have to tell-”
With almost enough energy to collide with her, Kamoi sprung and clung onto her. She about choked on his breath, which reeked of liquor. With the power of a tsunami, Kaname pinned him down with almost no resistance. An ordinary girl probably would have cried out. But unfortunately for him, Kaname was different. She had run through a barrage of bullets and shells flying all around her with Sousuke. Ruthless terrorists had pointed their gun at her. She had even gone one on one with that robust Sergeant John Danigan in a literal fight to the death.
Compared to that, this guy was a pushover.
Without becoming confused or excited, with her right hand she grabbed the 20-thousand volt stun gun that she had placed in her bag to be able to take out quickly. She calmly removed the safety, and with the intent to be no crueler than this, she accurately
pressed the pins up against Kamoi’s flank and jerkily pressed the trigger.
After he convulsed for a few moments, he stopped moving completely. His extremely heavy body was now pressing down on Kaname, who was lying on the bed face up.
With difficulty, she pushed her companion off of her. Then taking a deep breath, she muttered:
“I wonder who the victim was in this scenario...?”
After taking a few minutes to get her breath back, Kaname set into action. With a “pa-”, she opened up her overnight bag and groped through its contents. She pulled out two pairs of aluminum alloy handcuffs, tear gas spray, an ultra-strength flashlight, and another disposable stun gun. If you compared her to what you would call a standard female high school student, she was the heavy arms exception of all time.
These were weapons that Sousuke had forced on her a while back that she had never really looked over until now. The handcuffs were articles that she had confiscated from Sousuke. All of them were things that had been in the corner of a drawer covered in dust until today.
Putting the handcuffs between her teeth, and then grabbing the stupefied Kamoi’s legs, she pulled him into the bathroom. She of course staggered many times due to the adult male’s unexpected weight.
The bathroom was surprisingly magnificent. The Jacuzzi style bathtub was big enough to easily fit two people.
Ah... it’s actually made for two people... she realized curiously, and then she looked at a metal fixture next to the bathtub. It looked as if it were made to hold a towel, but its positioning was unnatural. It probably had some use extremely unfathomable to her.
Oh, well. It looked sturdy enough.
She handcuffed Kamoi’s leg to the fixture, checking its strength many times. That’ll do. He definitely wouldn’t be able to leave the bathroom. Even if he should start yelling for help, that’s the kind of place this hotel was. The soundproofing was excellent.
She violently shut the bathroom door, then looked around the wash bin. She grabbed the complimentary bathrobe and returned to the bed.
Putting her hands on her hips, she carefully looked at the clothes she was wearing. They were the same winter clothes that she was used to. But her guess from earlier- since she couldn't deny the possibility of a transmitter, she had no choice but to separate herself from all of her things at once.
She quickly began to undress. Her white jacket and blue skirt. Her blouse and ribbon tie. Her shoes and wristwatch. She removed everything.
Now in her undergarments, she deliberated once again. Pulling the elastic in her panties, she gave up on the idea that something could be hidden in them. What about the bra? Could modern technology make a transmitter that could be hidden in the cup area?
The answer- unfortunately, yes.
She sighed, then took off her bra and placed it on the bed. She felt awkward for dismantling her bra in order to ascertain the presence of a transmitter. Now only in a pair of white panties, she turned around several times in front of the mirror. She wasn't leisurely checking out her naked body. After she had made sure there was nothing else on her, she slipped on the bathrobe. She wrapped it snugly around her torso and tied the belt tightly.
She chose her weapon. The taser. It was the type of disposable self-protection tool that you could only fire twice. Using a high-tension current, it could stun a person from up to five meters away. And one more, she couldn't forget about the handcuffs. There was no guarantee that these items didn't have a transmitter in them, but if you considered that they had been neglected in a desk until today, the likelihood was low.
And with a clap of her hands, she got on with it.
She turned off the lights in the room, then opened the rectangular door in the north wall. Just as she thought, there was a window behind it. Fumbling around, she opened the window and saw the wall of the next hotel within an arm's length. Because the window that she had her face out of was facing an alleyway far from the street, there were absolutely no people there.
The rain had gotten stronger. In the veil of darkness, the cold-water droplets blew through the confined alleyway.
She looked down and saw a wire fence separating the two hotels. Because this was the second floor, it looked as if she could reach the top of the fence with her foot.
Putting her foot on the window frame, she leaned forward. She held the strap of the taser in her mouth. Clinging to the windowsill with both hands, she struggled to put one foot on top of the fence. The chest of the bathrobe opened up at once, and even though she knew no one was watching, she hurried up.
Her toe reached the fence. Now only a little further-
Just as she was wondering if she could jump, her foot slipped because the fence was wet from the rain. She scraped her right arm against the fence as she fell on the concrete. Her right
side went numb from the impact and the pain, and she involuntarily cried out.
Without being able to breath for the pain, she lay crouched on the wet concrete for a short while as the rain poured down on her. The taser was lying right next to her. On the other side of a puddle was the bathrobe, which had easily come off.
In the middle of an alley of a love hotel. Alone. Bare-naked. And soaking wet.
It wasn't a fitting scene. Very uncool. She was miserable.
All of the sudden she thought what she was doing was pointless, and the tears started coming out of pain and self-pity.
No, I can't.
I'm being a coward again. Don't think it's stupid. Believe in yourself. Now, keep moving.
Holding back the pain, she raised herself up. She had scrapes and cuts here and there on her skin, but luckily, no broken bones. Some bruises were about it.
Reeling in the belt of the bathrobe soaked in muddy water, she revised and firmly tied it back, then picked up the taser. She wanted to check it to make sure it still worked, but it would only fire twice before it stopped working.
Wobbling as she stood up, she started walking along in her bare feet.
She went around the outer wall of the hotel. She passed next to the backdoor entrance, and could hear the sounds of the television from the reception desk. Kaname climbed over the plants and shrubs, and moved to the back of the hotel street where no one would see her.
When she reached the back of a hotel almost three buildings down, there was an emergency staircase.
This is it...
Gripping the edges of the bathrobe tightly, Kaname looked up at those stairs. Rainwater dripped from the rough, rust-covered steel frame. This hotel, which she had scouted out earlier, was the tallest building in this vicinity.
First, she would check out the rooftop. From this rooftop, one commanded a view of the entire neighborhood and Main Street by looking down. More than that- it had the best likelihood that the person after her was hidden up there. It might be just an amateur's thinking, but it shouldn't be irrelevant.
She was breathing hard. Her toes and fingertips were extremely cold, but inside she was burning up.
Climbing over the iron bars attached to the gate, she carefully climbed up the emergency stairs.
She was almost to the sixth floor. The roof was close.
With her head just barely over the top of the steps, Kaname searched the roof's appearance. There were water supply and air conditioning units jumbled together in a labyrinth-type layout up there. There was no indication of anyone in the area she could see.
Kaname warily and stealthily moved onto the rooftop. Beside a compressor giving off a low rumbling noise, she continued along with her body so low to the ground she was almost crawling.
Hiding, she peeped at the area looking out over the main street. The streetlights made the silhouette of the rooftop edge dimly stand out. It was like a stream of light in the darkness. And on the edge of that stream-
She saw the figure of a man crouched down.
The man was on his knees on the edge of the rooftop with his back turned towards her and looking down over the main street.
He wasn't a large man. He was about the same height, or maybe a little taller than Kaname. He was wearing a light coat over his slightly stout frame, and there was a large attaché case at his feet.
There was some kind of electronic device in his hand. In this kind of rain, he didn't have an umbrella.
There was no mistake.
With her numb hands, she corrected her grip on the taser. She removed the safety- good. Taking one last deep breath, Kaname crept up on the man. Because of the sound of the rain and the fact that she was barefoot, she didn't make any noise.
He was still looking down over the main street as before. It didn't look as if he had noticed her.
Just five more meters.
Her heart was beating wildly in her chest, and she could feel the blood pumping somewhere around her throat.
Three more meters. She was close enough.
"Don't move!" Kaname shouted. The man's shoulders jumped in surprise, and he froze in that posture.
"I'm aiming a weapon on you. Put your hands in the air and turn around. Slowly," she said, remembering the phrase from the old movies she had seen, and her companion obeyed her orders. She could see his face. He was a middle-aged man about 40. He was wearing glasses and had a double chin, kind of like a businessman.
When he looked at her appearance- wearing a bathrobe, black hair disheveled and soaking wet, and pointing a taser closely at him- he let out a little groan.
His voice was a little high and hoarse.
"You have business with me, don't you? That's why I came here like this."
"...you noticed the transmitter, huh?" he said. He didn't have much of a facial expression, but she could see that he was trying hard to keep his composure.
"So you went to that kind of hotel with a man you'd never met before... it's seems you’ve made a fool of me."
"That's right. I'm sure you have a gun, right? Take it out slowly, and toss it at my feet."
"I’m with Mithril. I'm not going to attack you or anything."
"Hah, I wonder. I can't trust you," she said, her white breath showing in the air. Her body was involuntarily shaking due to the cold and fear. When he saw that, the man scoffed at her.
"Don't be so cocky. You think you've one-upped me with a taser? I can't kill you, but what about something to make sure you'll keep your big mouth shut? That would also be bad. For the past few days, someone other than me has been following you-"
"I said throw away the gun, you bastard!"
Just as she yelled this, a bullet hit the man in the chest. A small spray of water scattered from the impact on his wet shirt.
It wasn't the only one. There was a succession of bullets, over and over. His stout body shuddered each time. There was one to the head. A portion of his scalp was scraped and flew off. With an expressionless look of pain, the man who labeled himself as Mithril wobbled, then collapsed in a pool of water.
When she turned around, there next to the air conditioning unit about ten steps away from her stood another man.
He was wearing a simple jacket and jeans. He had a slender build, and his hair was cut close. She had never seen him before.
No, was he- the day before, was he the man she caught a glimpse of at the Sengawa shopping district?
"Found you," he said, pointing his automatic pistol at her. "Nihao, little missy. And goodbye."
And without any hesitation at all, the man fired.
That was her really good fortune. It could have been because of the abrupt surprise, or maybe because her body was numb from the cold, but- both of her knees fell out from under her. The bullet barely skimmed across her lightly shaking cheek.
Both Kaname and the man gave a look of surprise.
The sliding part on the man's gun slid back and stopped. Kaname remembered that this should mean that he was out of bullets. She had learned this from watching Sousuke draw a gun many times.
The assassin calmed down, and slowly began to switch out the magazine. He wasn't going to become disorganized by any means. That was certainly clear.
"There's no place to run."
That's right. She was standing on the edge of a rooftop. The air conditioning and water supply units were obstacles, and the only escape route was the emergency staircase behind the man. There was nowhere to run. Not at all. This sudden attack was absurd. And unshakeable despair grabbed a hold of her heart.
What's going to happen now? She didn't know.
Who is this guy? She didn't know.
Why did he have to kill her? She didn't know.
Was this her fate...?
The moment this word crossed her mind, an indescribable anger flooded her body.
Her legs, which were frozen in fear, reacted as if she had been hit with a whip. Without really thinking, Kaname made a mad dash to the right.
Fight it. No matter what. Don't let those things trifle with you. Give 'em hell till the end. Never give yourself up.
Would he be proud of her like this-?
He aimed at her again and shot. The bullet skimmed past Kaname's black hair. The edge of the roof was getting closer. She didn't even try to stop; she sped up instead. Kicking off of the concrete, and using the elevated edge as a platform- Kaname jumped off into the sky.
The alleyway spread out underneath her legs. She cleared the deep, deep chasm and landed on the neighboring building, which was almost two stories shorter.
There was a cheap storage room made of tin on the roof of the next building. Kaname fell on top of it, breaking through the tin roof, and landed on top of the garbage piled up inside. The noise was terrible. Plastic and pieces of wood danced all around her. The impact made her black out for a second, as well as knock the breath out of her, and she cried out voicelessly. Scratches, cuts, bruises, sprains- Kaname's face twisted in pain as it swept all over her body.
I'm alive. And I can move. That means the game's not over yet.
She tried to get up- and slipped. She tried again. She stood up somehow. The bathrobe was barely hanging on to her shoulders
now. She didn't know where the belt for it was. Even so, she had held on firmly to the taser in her right hand.
She kicked the wooden door, which opened more easily than she thought it would. She rolled out of the storage room, and looked up at the rooftop that she jumped from just seconds ago. She could see the man's silhouette. He was pointing his gun in her direction.
She quickly ran. She heard the muffled sound of a gun shooting from above her head. The bullet hit at her feet, and a large sheet of water rose up from the wet roof.
Kaname hurried to the stairway entrance. This building didn't have an external emergency staircase; instead you went into the building through the door in the short tower on one corner of the roof. That was the only way out. She didn't find any other places where she could jump off or jump to another building.
Out of breath, she rushed over to the iron door and grabbed the knob. Putting all her effort into it, she tried to open the door- but it wouldn't open.
She needed a key!
She tried pushing and pulling, but it was no use. The door would only shake with a "gatsun!" sound and remain firmly locked. No matter how she hit it or kicked it, cried or yelled at it, the door remained shut-
Her only way to escape wouldn't open.
Clinging to the door, she looked up again at the other rooftop. In the dim glow of the neon lights, she saw the slender body of the assassin casually jump down to the building she was on.
If he had the refined skills of an assassin, it wouldn't be a problem for him to jump down from that height. Much less one that an ordinary girl could fall and still be alright- some remarkable ability.
He landed like a large bird swooping down over the water's surface. There was an appropriate silence from the man by the name of "Feihung" [Flying Bird].
He silently stood up and started walking.
He couldn't see her figure from here. But even if there were places for her to hide, there weren't any places for her to run. There was no need to panic. He would just manage his job with the same reliability as ever. It was just like cornering a chicken and cutting off its head.
After he shot her to death, he would disgrace the body, take a picture and send it to Hong Kong. That was what that person wanted. There was no dispute.
Nevertheless, he had been surprised by the girl's resistance. Without begging for her life or giving up, even though both would be useless, she kept on running away. To him, that was just as distasteful.
He reached the entrance to the stairwell.
On top of the roof, besides the broken storage room, water and air conditioning units, there was a storehouse with small potted plants and gardening tools. It was a little squalid and obstructed his field of vision. It was also darkened because of the night rain.
Of course he was prepared. He also didn't feel like listening to her beg for her life. Next time, he would give that girl a quick death, since those were the orders he had received.
He soon realized where the girl was hiding. On the other side of the air conditioning unit were some large flowerpots that
had been left out and stacked up. In between- in a gap that you would miss if you weren't careful, he saw someone crouching down. It was a figure in a bathrobe covered in mud. It was huddled up like a trapped hare.
It seemed she thought he'd pass her by like that.
He moved in closer, aimed at his target and fired without mercy.
The flower pots that he shot up with his .45 cracked into pieces and fell down. The bathrobe jumped around in the darkness as each bullet hit it. Without making a sound, the girl convulsed and collapsed towards him.
It wasn't the girl.
The thing that had fallen over in the faint light was a piece of a flowerpot wrapped up in the bathrobe.
Then where was the girl-
From the top of a nearby water storage tank, Kaname looked down at the back of the man's head.
She was wearing only a pair of panties, and her drenched hair clung to her completely chilled body. Her face was as pale as death. She was down on her knees, and even in this situation, she was firmly covering up her chest area with her left arm, while aiming the taser with her free right hand.
She was about two meters away. That was close enough.
She was scared to pull the trigger. She felt like she would go crazy from the tension and the terror. Even though he might notice her at any moment, countless doubts weakened her finger.
Would she be able to hit him perfectly? Was this kind of weapon- this kind of self-protection tool recent? Had he really not noticed that he had fallen into her trap? What if he was only
pretending to have fallen for it? Could an amateur such as herself beat such a man in the first place? Would there really be such a nice story? Wouldn't it be smarter to plead for her life? Shouldn't she say something like "Put your hands up"?
Just then, those words that she had heard once came to her mind.
“Licking your lips in front of prey - Only third rate amateurs would do that!”
The one who had said those words wasn't here right now. But that memory, those words, gave her some final power.
She pulled the trigger.
Bang! The dry sound crackled through the air. From the explosive power of the gunpowder cartridge, a spike-shaped pin flew out, sticking into the man's shoulder. Instantly, the gun shot out several thousand volts of electricity running along the wire, causing the man's body to convulse violently. White smoke and electricity gushed out of the place where the pin was stuck.
After the several-second electrical discharge, the man dropped to his knees- but he didn't fall over. He had endured it.
She shot again.
This time the pin stuck in his back. She shocked him again just to make sure. The man let out a groan, dropped his gun and fell over.
He didn't move after that.
I did it, she thought. All at once she started breathing wildly and her whole body started sweating all over.
She dropped the now-discharged taser, and jumped down from the water supply tank. She cautiously walked towards the man, picking up the gun he had dropped and the bathrobe. The life-saving bathrobe was full of holes and in terrible condition, but she put in back on in relief.
The man looked to be completely unconscious.
It was only natural, when she thought about it calmly. He had been shot twice by a taser. Even if he were a professional assassin, it didn't change the fact that he was still a flesh and blood human being.
She beat him. With her own strength.
She didn't feel elated, though. She stood there, half in doubt, the rain pouring down on her.
Just then, she heard a new voice.
"Well, it seems you won- somehow."
Kaname looked around, and on the other side of the air conditioning unit in an area vaguely lit up by the neon lights, she saw three figures.
The one in the middle was a small, young man holding an umbrella.
No- when she looked closely, he wasn't exactly small. Because the two men to either side of him were eccentrically large, he just seemed that way. The two large men were both wearing dark green coats, with the hoods drawn so low over their eyes that she couldn't see their faces. The man on the right was easily carrying the corpse of the Mithril agent who had just been shot on his shoulders.
"You see-" the young man said in a refined voice, "-I believe that there are two types of girls in the world. Those who are like the rain, and those who aren't. You are without a doubt the former. I think if you could see yourself now, you might say 'Who's that?'"
"...is that sarcasm?" Kaname said listlessly, and she casually lowered the gun she held in her right hand. A cold wind blew past, whipping around her torn-up bathrobe and drenched black hair.
"I'm sorry, I meant that as the highest compliment."
"I see. And you are...?" she asked, and the young man took a few steps forward.
He was taller than she had thought. Maybe about the same height as Sousuke. For some reason, his demeanor made her feel as light as air. He wore black pants under a long black coat, a black vest and white shirt. With his calm brilliance, he appeared to be a high-class item.
"I am one of your kind," he said as he closed his umbrella. His features became apparent.
He wasn't Japanese. He had smooth, white skin, and bluish-gray eyes. Also- flowing silver-colored hair. If Kaname had been in a different situation, he might have stolen her heart a little with his noble looks.
His looks were vaguely gentle. Whether he was an enemy or ally, dangerous or not, his ambience made it to where she absolutely couldn’t tell one way or another.
"I came to rescue you... is what I would like to say, but the truth is that I did not. You were fine whether I helped you or not. The results probably would have been the same in any case. I haven't gotten down to the real business yet, but with regards to my motives concerning you, I came to make a proposition- that kind of thing."
"Fate or paradoxical karma. Or you could also call it a dilemma."
"This is tiring talk. Why don't you just come out and say it?"
"I'm not so sure about saying too many things directly, since language is such a transient vehicle. But perhaps that's your
charm," he said, and with eyes that looked as if he were enjoying an old tune, the young man smiled.
Kaname felt as if she had met him before. Maybe when she was in New York? No, that wasn't it. None of her friends in New York had been a knockout with ash blonde hair like this. Only in movies and photographs had she seen such a uniquely polished, ash-blonde-
All at once it came to her.
"Don't tell me, you're Tessa's...?"
Without answering, the young man walked past Kaname and looked down at the assassin still lying in a puddle of water.
"Get up, Feihung. You've woken up already, haven't you?"
The man stirred and lifted up his face, mumbling.
"...Mr. Silver. You were watching?"
"I didn't come for the full story, though. The girl is no match for you. Give up."
"I will speak up concerning the disregard for our organization's ideals. I want you to persuade your older brother on the rampage in Hong Kong."
"You think I'll obey? Or that my brother will listen to me?"
"Revenge is a useless thing."
"It's not revenge. It's what 'he' wants. He found us. As long as I'm alive, I will try to kill that girl."
"I see..." the young man said in an insincere voice.
"Well then, this is goodbye, Feihung."
"You're the one who's gonna die, Leonard Testarossa!" and in the next instant, the assassin jumped up into the air.
Both of his arms moved in a flash. Silver lights pierced the air, rushing towards the young man. At the same time right in front
of Kaname's eyes, the young man casually flipped out his coat- though he himself didn't really move at all. But the beams of light dashing at him- four assorted throwing knives- were stopped, or perhaps even repelled, by his coat, which moved like a living thing.
It wasn't just bulletproof clothing. The scene looked as if black wings were moving on their own to protect the young man.
The assassin made a rush like he was gliding over the surface of the earth. He took out another switch knife, and holding it in a backhand grip, he charged headlong at him.
The giant green man cut in front of the young man. Up until then he had just been standing there silently, but in an instant he moved in like a squall. He stopped the assassin's charge straight on with his body, the knife piercing right in the middle of his chest. But the large man, without even noticing, grabbed the throat of the assassin with an arm as big as a log.
With just one arm, the large man lifted the struggling assassin up in the air. He had tremendous superhuman strength.
He said in a mechanical voice.
"Reaction A1. Make certain, okay?"
Crack! was the horrible sound. His neck was broken.
The large man furthermore thrust his open left arm into the limp assassin's chest.
Bang! was the sound of a heavy gunshot. A large spray of blood gushed from the assassin's back, and there was a huge, gaping hole in his chest cavity. Because his spinal cord and
shoulder blade were shattered, his arms dangled down at unnatural angles.
A silver light runs through the empty sky, pouring over him. The moment that the blade pierces through that body, the boy calmly smiles.
<Reaction A1 complete. Designated threat completely silenced>
The large man reported, dropping the tragic corpse to the ground.
"Good work. Wait for orders."
The large man flapped his coat and passed by Kaname. Whenever his arms or legs moved, the joints made a low creaking noise.
Kaname was able to catch a glimpse underneath his hood.
There was an unpolished black mask. In the eye area, there were only long, narrow slits like ski goggles.
He's not... human?
Kaname, who had helplessly watched the sad slaughter, realized somewhere in the corner of her numb head.
"Plan 1211 Alastor. The world's smallest AS. It might be more appropriate to call it a robot by now, though. I think you understand by now, but having ASes act autonomously is rather difficult. There are also many problems with the miniaturization of the power source and control system," the young man- Leonard, explained without reason. But to the limit of Kaname's knowledge, these "problems" that he said were involved with technical difficulties that almost couldn't be tidied up.
"...well, just now was what I meant by my real business. I made you watch something terrible just now. I'm sorry."
"I... I don't understand what's going on, but-"
"You shouldn't... kill anything..." she said, her voice shaking. Leonard stared at her in complete wonder.
"But he just tried to kill the both of us, didn't he?"
"Yes, but still..."
"Besides that, I haven't killed has many people as your boyfriend has."
With just that, she understood he was talking about Sousuke. Instead of asking "Why him?" Kaname started protesting, almost reminiscently.
"Him...! He's... had to fight ever since he was little. He didn't... have a choice. Since his enemies were all bad guys... so he could save other people, people weaker than him. And he definitely doesn't enjoy it. No, actually, it really bothers him. So... anyway, he's... umm... this is different. He wouldn't... do something like this..."
Leonard listened with deepening interest as Kaname fumbled her words. After that he smiled mischievously, looking into her eyes.
"You don't seriously believe that line of reasoning, do you?"
She looked away in spite of herself.
"The act itself is essentially the same, either way. But you only blame me. You're very supportive of him, aren't you?"
"You love him."
"No, I don't."
"Look at me."
He took her completely by surprise. Embracing her shoulders tenderly, she suddenly faced him and in that instant- his lips pressed up against hers.
It was a cold, soft, and wet sensation.
It was so abrupt that her mind went blank. Where she was, who he was, even who she was- she forgot everything. She didn't even feel hatred. No, on the contrary- for just a moment, a sweet flavor even tried to overcome her heart.
Time went by.
Leonard didn't resist Kaname's slap. She slapped him hard across the side of the face, but he just staggered lightly. They probably considered that as aggressive behavior, because the two large men- no, robots- next to him quickly adopted a ready posture, bending down a little.
"It's okay. Wait for orders."
The two Alastors straightened back up.
Kaname touched her lips and leaned back up against the water supply tank, glaring at Leonard. She wanted to cry, but she definitely wasn't going to cry in front of him.
"What was that...?"
"A kiss to wake you up. Because I like you," he innocently laughed, stroking his cheek.
"I hate you. I loathe you."
"That's what I like about you. You, with your fleeting ferocity, vulgar sophistication, and elusiveness, just like water."
"Shut up!!" Kaname yelled, and he shrugged his shoulders as if to say "ooh, scary". He ordered something to the robots. One of them walked to the exit on the rooftop, the locked iron door, and with all his might, forced it open.
"I think we should move along while you're not trying to kill me."
The other robot, who was carrying the man from Mithril, laid the corpse down on the concrete. No- it wasn't a corpse. The man stirred a little bit, groaning in indiscernible words.
"That's right, he's alive," Leonard said. "This person is also involved with those who label me an 'enemy'- I wonder what I should do? You wouldn't mind if I eliminated him, would you?"
The inner part of the robot's left arm flashed, and he pointed a black gun muzzle at the man. Ch-chin, came a thick sound. It was a large mouth machine gun like the one that finished off the assassin.
"Wa-wait a minute!?"
"I... I had business with him from the start. Please don't kill him!"
"Hmm... but this person was extremely rude to you earlier. I thought you would violently protest something like taking his like to make up for it."
"That's for me to decide," Kaname said in a restrained voice. "I... I'll forgive you for what you did to me, so please, stop the killing."
"I'm surprised. For the sake of a guy like this? I didn't think you were this soft."
"Don't make me say it again. That's for me to decide!" she protested, and for a moment, Leonard was dumbstruck.
"You've surprised me again," he chuckled.
"I know. Now, you'll leave him here and leave, right?"
The robot withdrew his gun.
The other robot easily picked up the corpse of the assassin. Accompanying the two robots who had finished their work, Leonard walked in the direction opposite of the exit towards the edge of the rooftop. If he took one step forward, he would fall headlong four stories in the middle of an alleyway... but before he reached that point, he stopped and looked back.
"A few things before I say goodbye... I meant it when I said I liked you. I wasn't just teasing. I want you to believe that."
"Miss Kaname Chidori. You are still asleep. You will probably be able to see a new world finally come about, and those like you may be essential."
"Huh? What do you me-"
"Until we meet again," he said, and then jumping at the same time as the two robots, he disappeared from sight.
There was the sound of splitting asphalt. Kaname ran over and looked down in the alley. The dim alleyway was covered only in gray fog and nothing else.
She walked back to the Mithril man, who was lying in a pool of water. The man vacantly looked up at Kaname. The right side of his full face was completely ripped. The shape of his head, which was kind of like the anime character 'Anpan-man', had not changed, but there wasn't one drop of blood.
The ripped part wasn't flesh, but urethane foam. The face of the middle-aged man was actually a successful mask. His real face showed through the tear in the urethane.
She jerked the mask off.
The face of a young man with slit eyes appeared. No... was it a woman? She couldn't tell. He had the slender features of both, and didn't look to be older than 20. His appearance was haggard, and his complexion was terribly pale. She had a feeling that she had seen his face many times around her neighborhood- but the memory was vague, and she couldn't be sure.
"It's... a disguise."
"Yeah... it is," he said in his real voice. There was a cold feeling in it.
The places where the bullets had entered the chest and stomach fat that he was wearing weren't bleeding, since there was probably a bulletproof vest inside. But there was a little bit of blood where he was shot in the shoulder and thigh, leaking out and mixing with the rain.
"Can you move? Where are you hurt?"
"I don't know... that guy just now... he gave me... a shot of something..."
"Do you need any help?"
"No thanks..." he said in a pained voice, "I... still have my pride. This blunder... this mess... I would have been... better off dead..."
"I see," she said, and turning her back to the Mithril operative, she took a deep breath.
Too much had happened in less than ten minutes. All sorts of feelings and emotions jumbled together and burst in her mind.
Surprise, relief, doubts, humiliation, anger, anxiety.
And above all things, the unpleasant feeling of that kiss that no matter how many times she wiped away would not disappear. Even though it only lasted a moment, she felt wretched for how she forgot to resist and gave herself over to him.
It was a fast kiss. Strictly speaking, there was a time in kindergarten when she had a joke kiss with one of the other girls in her class, but excluding that, this was her first kiss. People these days may have laughed at her, but she had decided that she wouldn't do it unless it was someone she really liked. For example- no, in any case, it had to be someone she liked. That was very important to her.
But now, and in such a way-
She hit the water supply tank. Gon! it reverberated. She was either crying from the pain in her fist and all over her body, or persuading herself out of desperation.
All of the emotions that had collected since she had gone to the staff room snapped, and she started heaving violently. The strength that hadn't even wavered when an assassin was pursuing her had been crushed with just one kiss.
He was gone, and had she really not felt anything at all? Was she really as cold as ice?
It wasn't that... was it?
Why aren't you here? Is it your fault? I ended up like this because you weren't here. What would you do? You would hate this, wouldn't you? I hate it. Come back to me. Somehow. Say "it's not a problem".
She cried, but no sound came out. It wasn't as if an answer would come. No matter how she sobbed in this place all alone, nothing would change.
If only she could press reset. Rewind back to at least when she gave him the haircut.
She had known the truth. In front of that cute sleepy face, the sweet emotion and natural impulse that she felt. This was her punishment for disguising those. Even though that had been her last chance. If only she had said "Hey, let's kiss" in a sweet voice. But instead, she ran away. With a splash of water, she had run away.
Also, it hadn't been more than just a little touch, but even then it was important. And she had lost that one thing forever. After he left.
That's how I always am...
Even though she had someone all along, she had never tried to admit it to herself.
‘He might betray me. He isn't dependable. He'll only hurt me.
‘Like my mom.’
That's why she didn't rely on him. That's why she didn't get close. That's why- she didn't admit her true feelings to herself.
And only when she had lost everything did she realize it. What she could have done. What she just didn't have the courage to do.
It was the same way this time, as well, wasn't it? It had all ended without her being able to act, right?
She wondered to herself again.
Is this really it?
She stood sobbing in the rain, shoulders shaking, for no telling how long.
She stopped crying and lifted up her face.
Turning around, she walked back to where the Mithril operative was lying.
"Earlier you said you'd have been better off dead, didn't you?"
"What if I gave you a little more trouble? I'll do it. From now on. Forever."
1. Manga is Japanese comics (you know that by now, right?)
2. ‘Go’ is a traditional Japanese board game.
3. Famous meeting spot in Tokyo (a statue of a dog).