“There’s no way we could reject such an invitation, Ms. Tsuboi,” a few of the members sent from the Board of Education, along with several officers from the parents’ association, stressed to Principal Takako Tsuboi.
“Of course, we realize that this is sudden. But next year our second year students will have to prepare for examinations, so this will be the only opportunity they get. And if this field trip that has been so painstakingly arranged for them is spoiled, I’m sure the students would be very disappointed.”
“Ahh...” Principal Tsuboi said in a faint voice. She was a middle-aged woman over 50, and was wearing a simple suit. She seemed to have aged suddenly because of the waves of trouble that had hit her school ever since this year had begun.
“It’s an important memory for young people. And the hijacking. Honestly. The scars on the students’ hearts must be immeasurable. I express my sympathy once again.”
“Thank you...” Principal Tsuboi said for now. But to her knowledge, there weren’t any innocent students whose hearts had been wounded by the affair.
No one cared. In fact, they bragged about it to the seniors, juniors, and students at other schools. Instead of the original plan to tour of the Okinawa front, it ended up being like a ride at a strange theme park. Before worrying about the wounded hearts of the students, she wanted some compassion for her position of having those kids as students, Principal Tsuboi thought deep down.
The man from the Board of Education continued.
“Well, how about it? Mr. Kaneyama from the Mishima Memorial Education Foundation, who was grieved about the
incident, has made special arrangements. We want the Jindai High School students to have memories of a modest trip.”
As he said this, he laid a pamphlet on the reception table.
First she saw the picture of a beautiful, enormous boat. It was a cruise boat sailing along over a deep blue ocean, underneath a clear blue sky. There were a ton of windows, as well a complex tier of decks. Its streamlined bow was kicking up the white waves.
“It’s called the Pacific Chrysalis. This around-the-world cruise liner is planning to leave from Yokohama Port on December 24th for a short overnight cruise.”
“...this luxury liner for my students?”
“Yes. They have been invited. But don’t worry- even though it’s a luxury liner, it isn’t a formal thing. Recently, cruise ships have become popular all around the world. Wearing casual clothes is okay. Well- when you look at it, it’s a theme park on the ocean, basically. It’s the same cost per person as a domestic trip.”
“It’ll be enough if you just think of it as a trip to Tokyo Disneyland. And the departure place, Yokohama, is not far by train. Since there are no airplanes involved, it’s completely safe. How about it, Ms. Tsuboi? This is a great favor from the Mishima Foundation. I urge you to think positively about it.”
Of course, it really wasn’t a bad idea. And Principal Tsuboi had not heard anything bad about the Mishima Memorial Foundation, either. They were a legitimate organization that did a whole lot of charity work. Their efforts at international goodwill, medical support for poor countries, and cultural exchanges were well known, even in North Korea. When she thought about the country which had become the setting for the hijacking drama, receiving this kind of proposal didn’t seem all that unnatural.
This officer’s talk seemed to suggest the possibility that this invitation matter might be announced as a small article in the local news section of the newspaper. Even though she thought that her school didn’t need any more publicity, well, just that wouldn’t be too bad. And since it was true that the students were very unhappy about having their field trip cancelled without having anything to make up for it-
“Very well, we will consider the offer.”
“Good! I knew you would.”
“However, I cannot make the decision completely on my own. I have to discuss it with the faculty, as well as see how it affects the year event schedule.”
“Of course. Discuss it thoroughly with them. Please know that the Board of Education welcomes this proposal. The rest is up to the Jindai High School students.”
From the side, the quiet but genial members of the parents’ association each nodded.
“We are of the same opinion, Ms. Tsuboi.”
“Please enjoy yourselves by all means,” both the Board of Education and parents’ association urged strongly. Tsuboi didn’t know of any way to resist after that.
In a staff meeting several days later, the invitation to take the hopeful students on this trip was approved.
♦ ♦ ♦
The following week.
Before final exams, during homeroom for second year, class four-
“Oka-y! Is everyone ready? Okay, everyone read over it carefully” said their homeroom teacher, Eri Kagurazaka, after passing the printouts to the students.
“It’s sudden, but instead of a field trip, we’ve decided to do this. It overlaps with the last day of school, but it departs on the 24th. Because of the kindness of a certain organization, it seems our second year students have been invited on this ship’s Christmas cruise. Exciting, isn’t it!? Such a large luxury ship! There’s a smorgasbord of fine cuisine! There are also plenty of amusements, like a pool, sports facility, shopping center, game center, and much more. There will also be events like a concert or a musical, movie showings, as well as a present raffle. And it’s free, of course!”
“Oooh~” the students all exclaimed at the same time.
“Since participation is voluntary, fill out the forms I’ve given you thoroughly and get your parent or guardian to sign them. Okay, shall I explain the important points?”
Eri began the detailed explanation. They had until sometime the following week to prepare copies of their insurance cards, the consent forms from their parents, and the photographs for their on-board ID cards. Those wearing altered uniforms would not be allowed to board. People with chronic diseases or allergies should consult with their physician in advance- this and that.
Without really hearing any of the explanation, Kaname Chidori stared absent-mindedly at the handout. Kyouko Tokiwa, who was sitting in the seat next to her, whispered, “Hey, hey, Kaname- are you going?”
“Hmm? ...oh, that. Well, as long as it’s free. I’ll go, I guess,” she replied, keeping her eyes glued to the agenda for the cruise trip printed on the handout.
December 24th. That day would be Kaname’s 17th birthday.
Christmas Eve was her birthday.
Most people might think it had a romantic feel to it, but she only had memories of being at a disadvantage because of that date. Her parents would give her both her Christmas presents as well as her birthday presents together; on the other hand, her sister, whose birthday was in May, would receive her presents separately- when Kaname was a child, this was the beginning of many fights. These fights always ended the same way, with a “Kaname, you’re the oldest. Live with it.”
Now it seemed that her father and sister would be staying in New York for Christmas this year. Kaname was fine with not seeing her father, with whom she didn’t have a very good relationship.
While Kaname mulled over these thoughts, Eri topped off her speech.
“That’s all the details. Now, are there any questions?”
“I have one,” said the male student sitting in the chair by the window- Sousuke Sagara, as he immediately raised his hand. He had a serious look on his taciturn face. Out of all the students who were ecstatic over the spontaneous event, he was the only one wrinkling his brow and making a difficult face.
“Sagara. What is it?”
“There are some imperfections in these consent forms,” Sousuke said as he flipped through the forms he had received. “It does not touch on the subject concerning what to do in case of some kind of trouble during the trip... and there is absolutely no explanation as to how the school will respond in the event of terrorist activity.”
“What are you talking about...?”
“Just this year our school should have learned a harsh lesson.”
“Please don’t say such an ominous thing. Such a thing doesn’t happen two or three times! If people worried about every little thing, no school anywhere would ever be able to go on a field trip or outings!”
“It’s dangerous to underestimate,” Sousuke stated very knowledgeably. “Last time we were lucky, but the next time could end up a real tragedy. Do you remember the sea jacking affair of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985?”
“T-the Achille Lauro...”
“In that incident, one of the hostages was shot in the chest and head and thrown into the sea. Except for the one old man in a wheelchair, there was almost no resistance.”
“The terrorists made three of the hostages carry hand grenades with the safety removed and gather the remaining hostages in their area. Their fear was probably indescribable. If one of the people carrying the hand grenades had been just a little careless, who knows how many innocent people would have been brutally blown up. Pieces of brain and internal organs would have been scattered everywhere, peoples’ lives ending in agony... Fear and confusion. Those are the tools that terrorists use. We must not forget that.”
Before anyone knew it, a heavy atmosphere had settled over the room. The students, who had been so excited over the news about the extravagant affair, were as silent as if they had just been splashed by cold water.
“But don’t worry. As the aide to the student president in charge of the security problem, I will protect everyone without fail. I would like to request permission to bring along machine guns, C4
explosives, and directivity landmines. If we make good use of our weapons and tactics, we will completely exterminate any sea-jackers, and try to suppress the bloodshed-
Kaname had rushed over to Sousuke and kicked him over. Sousuke laid on the floor wrapped up in the middle of several desks.
“What are you doing, Chidori?”
“Shut up! Just when everyone was so happy- why don’t you use some common sense!?”
“But the warning signs of a tragedy are-”
“Don’t talk about warning signs or tragedies!!”
“But the Achille Lauro-”
“I said shut up!! Take that, and that!”
“Ouch. That hurts, Chidori.”
“You’re the one who’s the pain!”
Kaname charged Sousuke and tackled him using sumo maneuvers*1 until her classmates restrained her.