Chapter 1: The Prediction and Visit
[#title/The Pacif and a certain city school]
[#Even though there was the Pacific Chrysalis sea-jacking incident on the 24th of last month, the people around here have come to the conclusion that it has nothing to do with Shun On high jacking incident? It didn’t really get reported on because Bush’s son was blown up the same day, but there’s no way I can believe that it’s just a coincidence that the same school was involved in both]
[#That conspiracy theory again? It’s old news. Get over it]
[#It’s strange for you to get so serious about it. It’s definitely unusual when the same school is involved in two terrorist attacks in eight months, but there probably isn’t a reason]
[#Isn’t it obvious? It’s the intentions of the people running a certain country. They’re trying to kidnap a lot of our high school girls for love brothel(following omitted)]
[#Was that the particular wish of the last girl rescued from Shun On?]
[#She’s just a dog. Not worth knowing]
[#Oh really? The photograph in the paper was blurry, but I thought she looked pretty cute]
[#She’s got big breasts, too. I saw them with my heart’s eyes]
[#Careful, Echelon’s watching]
[#Looks like Echelon’s entered “big breasts” as a keyword recently]
[#Seriously, can someone tell me what that girl’s origins really are, and not what’s just in the news? I heard her dad’s an official in the UN]
[#Probably environmental high commissioner Chidori. But he’s not a high official. The scale and budget is completely different from that of the refugee high commissioner you hear about in the news all the time. It’s a new, small position. If they were going to take hostages, there are more valuable targets]
[#In other words, it’s OK to say that Chidori chick is a big-breasted beauty?]
[#I wish you’d upload that picture]
[#This is the first time I’ve replied here. I have an acquaintance from college who is a reporter for a certain newspaper. When we were drinking, catching up on old times, he complained about the story. It seems that the higher-ups were insisting that they take the victims’ rights into consideration and hold back on collecting data about the school in question. One of his colleagues that nevertheless tried to collect information about it was sent to some remote location in Tajikistan. There’s something in that school]
[#If there is something lol]
[#That’s what I’m saying! The people at the top want young high school girls! If they are opposed, then they’ll take the Tepodans, and(following omitted)]*1
[#I’m more interested in the picture of what they call an M9 taken by a student at Shun On. Isn’t that the latest high-efficiency AS?]
[#That picture’s been doctored. Since the M9’s still in the testing stages even in the US Army, there’s no way that they could use it for such a delicate operation. Besides, the monomolecular cutter it’s holding is way too big, and the head sensor and blade antenna is completely different from the M9 they’re testing now]
[#But in the initial M9 blueprints, weren’t there sketches of a similar-looking command machine?]
[#Oh, that. When it was taken, they were selling the 1/48 Itareri kit (out of print). Its name is also XM9. That plastic model is based on the sketches published by the Pentagon back in those days. But the Edge had a bad reputation for ‘gimme gimme’ lol. Right now the most accurate one is the Tamiya kit]
[#I remember an F-19]
[#Military geek. Go away]
[#My cousin goes to Jindai High, and he says it’s pretty weird. He’s a third year student, so he wasn’t involved in any of the incidents, but he said there’s always trouble around that girl. Violent accidents and small fires and stuff. And it’s all been ignored]
[#Just talk to a psychic about it. So that girl has big breasts?]
[#This is a serious conversation. That Chidori guy has been investigating the problem of illegal dumping of hospital waste, like all those needles in sacks marked ‘biohazard’ they discovered in the mountains in the Philippines and stuff. They say that certain Japanese companies and the government are all throwing away their garbage in Southeast Asia. Don’t you think that someone like that Chidori guy, who made a lot of enemies during the NGO era, is being threatened by some kind of power?]
[#So highjack the plane and ship his daughter’s riding? That’s a little far out on the logic]
[#That girl’s an alien. She receives electromagnetic waves from the planet Vega to bring forbidden technology to Earth. Arm Slaves and stealth fighters, all of it’s technology from Vega]
[#Electromagnetic waves idiot. Go away]
[#Either way, that girl is strange]
♦ ♦ ♦
It was sixth period in the gymnasium. The candidates stood on a podium in front of the not-very-enthusiastic student body, speaking warmly about their own ambitions.
“-Whereas! I can declare to you that the closed manner in which the current student council runs is only protecting the interests of a portion of the clubs and committees! If I am elected, I will implement a more liberal student council, and I promise a bright school life. So please, vote for me, Tarou Yamada!”
Sparse applause. The second year student, wearing boyish glasses, raised his shoulders up and down, bowed, then walked briskly off the stage.
“Thank you. Next up is Ryouichi Sugiyama from 2nd year, class 5 to give his pledge-” the soft female voice of the student council secretary reported from the mike in the wings. A member of the music club, wearing an acoustic guitar strapped over his shoulder, passed beside her and headed up on the stage. It was the student who had placed the bet with Sousuke in the flirting battle for the clubroom some time ago.
“What’s up? I’m Sugiyama, and I’m announcing my candidacy. If I’m elected, I wanna have a concert in the gym once a month.”
Half-interested hooting came from a portion of the students.
“Alright, then. I’ve prepared a song for everyone today. I’d like you to listen to it.”
The candidate strummed the guitar and began to sing enthusiastically.
The teachers looked on grimly, but couldn’t cut in. It had been agreed that there was to be “no interference with the contents of the speeches” for the sake of a democratic election, but there had been no exchange between the current student council president and the teachers’ camp.
Kaname Chidori, who had been listening to the amateur’s boast from backstage, just sighed.
“...he’s using this more as an opportunity for a solo than to give a speech.”
“Is that so?” said Sousuke Sagara, standing beside her. He surveyed the assembly hall carefully, then whispered into the radio in his hand, “Headquarters to Alpha One. Is there anything unusual?”
“This is Alpha One. There’s nothing unusual- I think,” replied the first year student in charge of equipment over the radio.
“‘I think’ is problematic. Your report should be definite.”
“Stay on alert as you are. Over and out.”
Sousuke turned off his radio, and Kaname gave him a sideways glance.
“...what’ve you been sneaking around since earlier for?”
“Security. Because of the election of the student president. There’s no guarantee that someone hasn’t plotted the assassination of an opposing candidate.”
Sousuke was given the questionable post of head of security/aide to the student president by the student council. To say it plainly, he was responsible for security, but in reality it was a way to keep him busy with odd jobs. But whenever there was an event like this, Sousuke would try to fulfill his duty, and do more than was necessary.
“Although naturally, I had wanted all students to oblige to a hand bag check and metal detector inspection.”
“Oh, god, not this again... there’s no way that someone’s plotted an assassination, is there? If we were to do such a thing, how many hours do you think it would have taken to get everyone in the gym?”
“That’s why I gave up on the idea.”
“I can’t tell whether or not that’s progress...”
It had already been nine months since Sousuke had started school here. Indeed, the number of overblown disturbances that had taken place in the beginning had dwindled as time passed.
“It’s my last job in this current student council. I wanted to do my best,” he said in a tone of such candidness that Kaname was denied her fretfulness.
Kaname, who served as the student council vice president, wasn’t announcing her candidacy in this election, because she would soon be a third year student, and would have to take exams.
From the start, the student president and vice president would customarily assume office as a first year student, then pass through most of their second year. The current student president, who was in his third year and would be graduating soon, was a bit of a different case.
The music club member’s performance continued. It was just the right bit of savviness.
There was Japanese love mixed in with that snappy, Yutaka Ozaki-like melody. The lyrics were quite amateurish.
“Everyday I spend with you shines brightly
Just like I’ve seen the sun
Just like that smile you gave
But time passes, and we can’t go back
All of the sadness, anger and love”
The winter air in the gym was cold. In particular, the area backstage was, for some reason, freezing. Even though they were only about ten meters from the cluster of several-hundred warm students.
“I don’t like this song,” Sousuke suddenly muttered. Since it was rare for him to express such an opinion about these kinds of things, Kaname was more than a little surprised.
“Yes. It’s unpleasant.”
“You think so? Well, I guess it’s just your common, run-of-the-mill emotional song.”
“But I don’t like it.”
Was it possible that he was in a bad mood? Kaname thought, and started to casually move a half-a-step away, when Sousuke uttered, “It was just a thought. Don’t worry about it.”
The performance ended. The music club member left the stage amidst applause.
“How many people are left?”
“Four, I think. We’ll run a little late, but that’s okay.”
The next candidate, a female student, started to move towards the platform during the announcement. She was a first-year student that had been helping out the student council, and was a member of the swim team as well. For now, it looked like she was using a sex-appeal strategy because, despite the fact that it was freezing inside, she was wearing a racing swimsuit. Her slender shoulders were trembling slightly. Her tightly-tensed bottom looked cold indeed, and her lips appeared to have turned purple.
“Umm, are you alright?”
“Of course I am, Miss Chidori!” the girl answered Kaname with a smile as she clenched her fists. Flames of something burned brightly within the depths of her large, round eyes.
“You just kind of look like you’re shaking.”
“No, I’m just shaking with excitement, because I’m going to be the successor entrusted with the future of the student council! I’m completely calm so that I will be elected!”
“I-I see. Well, good luck, then.”
“Thank you! Just watch me, because I will win for sure! ...allll right!” she yelled, getting into the fighting spirit and slapping her cheeks with both hands. She then energetically jumped up on the stage.
“Hellooo! My name is Yui Morigawa, and I’m running for the next student council *star*
“It’s a little embarrassing, but since I’m in the swim club, I thought I’d come dressed like this *star*”
Suddenly the assembly was filled with roaring and cheering. Kaname watched the scene with half-surprise, and Sousuke said lightly, “She looks like a person I saw at the school festival.” Indeed, her performance closely resembled the performance Kaname had seen during the “Miss Jindai” contest at the school festival.
“...what’re you saying?”
“Nothing,” Sousuke feigned ignorance and reached for his radio.
♦ ♦ ♦
It took over six hours on the day that they counted ballots for the results to be determined.
It was quite dark-looking beyond the window of the student council room. In front of Kaname, the members that comprised the student council, and the consulting teacher, the second year election committee student read the results of the vote out loud.
“-Kaoru Takasaki, 157 votes. Ryouichi Sugiyama, 214 votes. And... finally, Yui Morigawa, 249 votes. There were 128 bad votes.”
The management committee member cut him off.
“...very well. It looks like the 54th student council president will be first year student Yui Morigawa. The vice president will be first year student Hiromi Sasaki, the secretary will be first year Kashi Sogata, the treasurer will be first year Hiroshi Kurata, and the auditor will be second year Ren Mikihara.”
“Thanks for all the hard work, everyone.”
“Good job, good job.”
All present gave a polite round of applause. Those who had been elected were student council regulars and people who had held various posts until now, but because they were candidates they were not there.
“Okay, that’s all,” the supervising teacher, Eri Kagurazaka, said easily, then turned her gaze on the student council president, who was sitting in his official chair.
“Well, didn’t this go exactly as you speculated, Hayashimizu?”
That student, the 53rd student council president, Atsunobu Hayashimizu, looked down and shrugged. He was a young man with clever looks, a tall figure and pale skin. He wore elegant glasses on his long, slit eyes. The bridge of his nose continued straight down.
“What I speculated and who the students voted for are unrelated, Miss Kagurazaka. This was always a democratic election,” he said in a very calm voice.
It was well known that Hayashimizu, who possessed far more bargaining power and ability to make use of talent than an underhanded politician, had recommended Yui Morigawa for the position of president. The swimsuit fan service at the assembly had certainly been effective, but it was a fact that a number of the students had chosen based solely on Hayashimizu’s recommendation.
Policies and budget management weren’t that difficult to discuss.
Virtually everyone in the school had fond memories of the two years he had served as the council president.
He had improved the equipment and facilities of every club, had accrued petty championships in all ballgame tournaments, athletic festivals and art contests, and had done away with many various regulations concerning the programs at the Culture Festival. He had brought music magazines and fashion magazines into the library room, increased the selling scope of the bakery and added a full menu, and made it possible to go into the upstairs area that had been shut off in the old days. He had also opened up the gym, grounds and pool for health days. And starting next year, the
students would be given a large say in regards to the destination for the school field trip.
The total sum of all this was very valuable.
“My intention is to just be free to graduate.”
When Eri Kagurazaka heard Hayashimizu’s words, she grinned cheerfully.
“That’s rather ominous. Your name as a reputed statesman will remain in history! What do you think about that?”
“That’s quite an honor. If that does happen, then I will try to refer to you as my teacher in the autobiography I write in my last years,” Hayashimizu replied in a manner that neither indicated joking nor seriousness.
“Thank you. But we mustn’t make fun of adult society, right?”
“I will take that to heart.”
“Okay, then, we’ll post the results of the election on the bulletin board. Thanks for everyone’s hard work,” she said in closing, then Eri left the student council room. The election committee members and several others went home. As Kaname made her preparations to follow suit, she said to Hayashimizu, “Well, well, it’s all over, isn’t it?”
“You’ve done very well, too, Miss Chidori.”
“Thanks. You, too,” Kaname grinned.
Kaname, who had, since her first semester of first year, kept an eye on and argued with President Hayashimizu, helped out with this and that for the student council, and finally ended up serving as the vice president- also had many things come to an end that week for her, as well. The fate of about a half a year. Naturally, she felt very strongly about it.
“Sagara, I want to thank you, as well.”
“Not at all, Mr. President,” Sousuke said, standing straight up.
“Mr. President, huh? But what will you call me after next week, I wonder? I’ll just be a normal third year student,” Hayashimizu said, to which Sousuke replied without any hesitation, “Previous Mr. President. And after next year, I hope you will allow me to call you Former Mr. President.”
Hayashimizu gave a pained smile.
“Well, so that I don’t disrespect that honor, I will have to conduct myself accordingly in my life hereafter, it seems. However, for the time being, just call me ‘Sir’.”
When the two of them talked, Kaname always felt a little isolated. Their relationship was different from a simple friendship, or the bond between a boss and subordinate. Probably the best word to describe it was “sympathy”. There was something that ran through the foundation of these two, whose upbringings and personalities couldn’t be more different- the standards for behavior and values- not feelings, but a fundamental part that understood one another.
They respected each other.
If, by some chance, either one of them lost that respect, then, at that moment, their relationship would probably end.
Sousuke’s relationship with Hayashimizu was essentially like that of his with Kurz Weber, Melissa Mao, Andrei Kalinin, and everyone else in Mithril. It was different from his relationship with his classmates like Shinji Kazama, Tarou Onodera, Kyouko Tokiwa, and his homeroom teacher Eri Kagurazaka. Of course, it wasn’t as if Sousuke despised or shunned his classmates, but it was different from “trusting” them. He “depended” on them as innocent
friends, but he didn’t “trust” them. When push came to shove, he didn’t try to rely on Shinji, Kyouko or any of the others.
But Sousuke trusted Hayashimizu. He might even rely on him. Hayashimizu also trusted Sousuke. Kaname knew that because of all the strange disturbances that had taken place in the past nine months. That meant that finding a person like Atsunobu Hayashimizu in this type of school society was an exception to the exception.
I guess that makes him a strong comrade... she thought vaguely.
If that was so, then what did that make her?
“Huh?” Kaname came back to herself when she heard Sousuke’s voice.
“What is it?”
“Oh, it’s nothing... speaking of which, Hayashimizu. I know it was a conversation you had with Miss Kagurazaka, but do you really have your aim on politics?”
“Hah hah. Of course not,” Hayashimizu shook his head at himself. “Between 1,000 opponents and one hundred million opponents, the liberties one can take are much too different, although there were times in middle school when I considered such a path. Many things have happened to change that since then.”
“...and that means what?”
“I was interested in people. People with an entirely different meaning from politics and the like.”
Kaname suddenly remembered the picture of his old girlfriend whom he lost.
“I think I will try out different things in college. There are a limited number of recommended public institutions out there, but
another has an assistant professor who wrote a book that I’ve had my mind on, so I’m going to try and take the exams to get into there. I was going to try and take some sham examinations on the side, but- well, those won’t be a problem in the first place. Unless I end up in a traffic accident on the day of the exams.”
From how Hayashimizu talked, passing was probably most certain of the two.
“Ugh, it’s annoying that you have all that free time. I’m going to be studying for the next year.”
“Really? But when it comes to subjects like science and math, I thought the same thing applied to you, as well.”
“Uh...” Kaname choked on her words for a moment.
“I heard about the term test rankings. I also read the second year exams. The evil tricky questions were left alone, but- even I couldn’t have gotten such perfect scores.”
There was no jealousy or sarcasm in Hayashimizu’s tone. Kaname knew very well that he wasn’t such a small man to be led by those kinds of motives. His way of speaking suggested that it was out of simple interest and doubt to test and see how she would respond.
“...no, I’m sorry.”
He probably guessed at the somber look in her eyes, and Sousuke’s subtle tension.
Hayashimizu looked a little regretful, cast his eyes downward and waved his right hand.
“Well, anyway, you should treasure your abilities.”
“Ah... okay. You’re right. Ah hah hah hah,” she forced a laugh and scratched the back of her head. “W-well, I should be getting home. Sousuke, what about you?”
“Yes. We should be going.”
“No- Sagara. I have something I’d like to talk to you about,” Hayashimizu got the better of Sousuke as he started getting ready to leave.
“What is it?”
“It’s just a simple thing. Would you stay for a bit?” he said, and looked out over Kaname, the treasurer and everyone from the election committee. Everyone other than Kaname had exchanged glances, muttered “good job” and left the student council room. Hayashimizu’s gaze rested on the remaining Kaname.
Somehow, she was in the way.
“Yeah, yeah, I get it- it’s a guy-thing. Then I’ll wait for you in the entranceway, Sousuke,” she said kindly at last and shrugged.
“Sorry, Miss Chidori.”
Leaving Sousuke and Hayashimizu behind, Kaname walked out of the student council room.
Hayashimizu waited a bit after Kaname had left, then said, “Do you think she can hear us?”
“No,” Sousuke replied after concentrating a little bit.
“Let’s go to the roof just to make sure.”
Hayashimizu rose from his official chair and grabbed a bunch of keys hanging in one corner of the student council room.
The two of them left the student council room. The ballot-counting operation had taken many hours, so the school was already completely dark and no one was there. The corridor seemed frozen by the winter air. They walked silently, up the stairs and out onto the rooftop of the south building. The sound of opening the rooftop door lock echoed very loudly in the silence.
The stars twinkled in the cold winter sky. It was already night time. The muffled sounds of car engines passing back and
forth on the nearby metropolitan streets resounded throughout the area.
Standing next to the air conditioning unit, which was making a muddled, clunky sound as it ran, Hayashimizu said, “Sagara.”
His loose hair was blown around by the compressor’s gentle breeze.
“What I’m about to tell you is just my nosing about. Just think of this as advice from a naive friend who doesn’t know any of the details.”
The soon-to-be retired student council president was silent for five, six seconds; then he broke the ice with, “I don’t think you can carry on like this anymore.”
Those words carried pain. Those words carried weight.
Those expected words of Hayashimizu felt as if they had hollowed out the inside of Sousuke’s chest. Of course, he hadn’t told Hayashimizu about Mithril, himself, or Kaname’s history. Such a conversation had never taken place. He had avoided it.
It wasn’t as if this clever young man wouldn’t realize the various problems relating to it.
It wasn’t as if he wouldn’t notice.
“You’re not the problem. If you tried a little harder, you might become a somewhat ordinary man. You’re already learning enough to compromise with our society. In time I think you’ll settle down into the level of just ‘your average eccentric person’. I know this because I’ve watched you put forth the effort. However-”
Hayashimizu then looked in the direction of the main entranceway. That was where Kaname was supposed to be waiting for Sousuke.
“-the problem is her.”
The dark look on his face as he said this was something that Sousuke had never seen before.
“I don’t know what it is she has. I’m not going to try to make any guesses or suppositions. But I can vaguely imagine the reason why you are here, as well as the reason why a number of incidents have taken place. And what is that? Her. Everything centers around her. It’s not just the high jacking or the sea-jacking, either. In the truly serious incidents, everything, without exception, has centered around her.”
If he did a little investigating- and listened to the students’ stories- he would soon understand.
It wasn’t like he wouldn’t notice.
“At first, I thought it was probably because of her father’s position in the UN. But it’s not, because that wouldn’t explain everything. And there was another element that came out of the events she was involved in- your invariable absence, and the armed forces of unknown affiliations.”
“That’s all I know. I refrained from being too nosy, but it’s something that I have even felt so far. It’s only a matter of time before other people start making a fuss... and after next week, I’ll just be an ordinary student. Then next month I’ll be gone. I will no longer be able to accommodate you out of simple courtesy, and neither will Morikawa or any of the others elected today. Not only will she not have that kind of power; on the contrary, it’s possible that she could become your enemy. She and the others may even try to exile you from this paradise which I have prepared for you. Why? You understand, right?”
“...because if Chidori and I were gone, this place would be safe.”
“It’s unfortunate, but true. It’s probably not your fault, but when I heard about the Christmas incident, I really regretted my attitude so far. What if students had been hurt? What if they had been injured and died? I-”
Sousuke’s jowl stiffened.
“I... it was supposed to be a safe mission.”
He couldn’t hold it back. Hayashimizu was the one person he couldn’t help but want to vindicate things to. It didn’t matter if
it was confidential. Sousuke repressed his own confusion, and arbitrarily started explaining matters furiously.
“We... we needed a clue as to who was targeting her. That was what the mission was for. We had always been on the defensive up until then... we wanted to do something. If we eliminate their colleagues’ positions and money, then the interference would stop. We have to do something. Then it should be safe. That’s why the Intelligence Department and Research Department are collecting analyses. It will only take a little longer. That’s all the power that my unit has. If we only had some more time-”
“I told you already. Your time is almost up.”
It was the first time that Sousuke had ever heard Hayashimizu speak in such a dark tone of voice.
“I don’t want to say ‘That’s why you should leave.’ Like I said at the start of this conversation, this is just advice. However- it’s not hard for someone like me who doesn’t know the details to imagine this ending painfully... and now that my successor has been decided, my last concern was about you and her. I wanted to go ahead and tell you about the situation. I think you should discuss it with her,” Hayashimizu said in the serious voice of a prophet with a melancholic look in his eyes as he leaned against the fence.
“If you don’t leave, you’ll be tortured by regret later.”
“I... I like it here.”
“So do I. Everyone’s so innocent. They’re naive and virtuous, but- they are human, after all. If they get scared, they become anxious. They also can become-”
He exhaled a cloud of white breath.
For a moment, an image froze in Sousuke’s mind.
The animus looks of those in their class, the student council and others. Hostility, mixed with terror, and without a shred of compassion- that sinister hatred. Unpleasantness, persecution, and resentment. And the figure of the girl who would be bearing the full brunt of it all.
It was a terribly frightening image.
Hayashimizu must have read the look on Sousuke’s face, because he then gave a little shrug and, returning back to his usual, carefree tone of voice, said, “But this may just be a problem of pessimism. In the end, this is only a school. Just a route.”
“They’re forgetful. Life goes on. Even many years from now... here.”
Hayashimizu handed Sousuke the keys to the roof.
For some reason, that key ring felt very heavy.
“I’m going to go first. Someone’s been waiting for me. Please put the keys back for me.”
Hayashimizu walked towards the roof exit alone. The secretary was waiting in the doorway. She didn’t look as if she had heard their conversation.
“Sorry to make you wait.”
“Not at all.”
“You knew I would be here, didn’t you? You looked for me.”
“Yes. Well, just a little... he he.”
The black-haired girl gave him a refined smile. She gave a small nod over to Sousuke, then following after Hayashimizu, disappeared from the roof.
♦ ♦ ♦
Sousuke was mostly silent on the way home from school, only making half-hearted responses to Kaname’s gossip.
What did he and Hayashimizu talk about? Kaname thought, but kept her questions to herself for some reason. Something about the atmosphere coming from Sousuke told her to.
“...and you know? Shiori’s boyfriend just all of the sudden said, ‘I wanna break up’.”
“Is that so?”
“Isn’t that weird? And they seemed so lovey-dovey recently, too. I’ve even met him several times, but he seemed like such a serious person. But Shiori was already steaming mad. She just didn’t understand, and ended up calling my place at three in the morning.”
“So, I thought that it would be better if I just knew the reason, so when I called her boyfriend to hear what he had to say, god, it was so funny. It seems that there was some kind of misunderstanding, and while they were at the movies during all of this, Ono D, who was with them, was... hey.”
“Is that so?”
“Oh, never mind.”
They got off the train, which was packed with people because of the evening rush; and after they had walked a little while from the station, Kaname got fed up, stopped where she was and groaned.
“What’s wrong with you? You’re acting strange. Well, you always act strange, but...”
As he drew closer to the exasperated Kaname, Sousuke eventually blinked his eyes as if he had finally heard her voice.
“Mm. Is it because you’re sad about your job in the student council ending?”
“No, it’s not really that... I’ve just been thinking a little.”
When she asked him this, Sousuke’s lips knotted up as he started to say something- but in the end, he just shook his head.
“It’s not nothing, is it?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
The two of them began to walk again.
The nighttime shopping district was bleak, and the people on their way home were naturally walking fast.
How long had it been before they could walk home side-by-side like this? In the beginning, Sousuke had kept his distance and it had felt like he was following behind her. Gradually- really, one day at a time, that distance had slowly narrowed, and before anyone knew it, it had become natural for them to walk next to each other. And when had it become so that their sleeves sometimes touched?
Suddenly, Sousuke opened his mouth and said, “Chidori.”
“What is it now?”
“Let’s hold hands.”
Kaname doubted what she had just heard.
“Huh... hands... what did you say?”
“I said let’s hold hands.”
What’s he doing? I don’t understand at all. Earlier he wouldn’t say a word, and now this all of the sudden? Something’s definitely strange. And-
“Do you not want to?”
“N... no, it’s not that I don’t want to...”
“Then it’s okay.”
Sousuke reached out with his right hand and softly took her left hand. Cautiously at first, then tightly. They had held hands many times before during emergencies, but never like this before.
Her ears grew hot.
Kaname felt awkward, and unthinkingly buried her face in her scarf.
“I... I don’t understand. Why all of the sudden...”
“I don’t understand, either,” Sousuke said, pulling Kaname’s hand because of her stilted way of walking.
“This is kinda strange...”
“Strange? I guess so. It is strange.”
Neither of them said anything else after that.
There was a small yakitori shop*2 on the outskirts of the shopping district. As they passed by it, they could hear a song coming from inside. “Yagiri no Watashi”*3. It wasn’t the right mood, but for some reason it left a strong impression.
It was like they were engulfed in a sense of security.
His hand was large and warm. Yet at the same time, some kind of helpless feeling threw itself upon her. She didn’t know why.
The time after that passed before they knew it.
The two of them left the shopping district, getting closer to the apartments where they lived. The two buildings were separated by the main road. It was the same old scenery, but somehow even that looked different to her.
Normally, this is where they would break up and go to their own apartments, but- unlocking hands would be extremely lonely.
"Chidori. Let's hold hands." Kaname's ears turn hot at his sudden words.
“Umm... do you want to get something to eat?”
Even as she said it, she was surprised at herself. With this kind of atmosphere, wouldn’t saying something like that be, well, dangerous?
Sousuke also seemed surprised.
“...would that be okay?”
“Uh... well, yeah. A kind of... end of everything wrap party, for today.”
“Yeah. That kind of thing... is alright, I think.”
Sousuke gave a little nod, and after tightening his grip on her hand, they walked in the direction of Kaname’s apartment.
They said nothing as they went up the elevator.
Because something might happen.
It was scary. But exciting.
It felt as if her world had shrunk. She could hear her heart pounding in her chest. She could feel the palm of his hand gradually becoming sweatier.
They walked down the common corridor.
And arrived in front of her place.
She floundered around with her keys so that she wouldn’t have to let go of his hand.
“It’s okay. Maybe we should let go for a minute.”
She put the key in the hole, and opened the door.
They stepped into the entranceway. After slowly taking off their shoes, they once again joined hands, and getting close together, turned towards the living room.
Then at that moment- Sousuke moved.
He grabbed Kaname’s shoulder and forcibly pulled her towards him, hidden behind his back, and withdrew his pistol from behind his hip. His entire body froze and tensed for a reason completely different from before.
Finally, she realized why. In the middle of the darkness, a young man was sitting on her sofa.
He was wearing an all-black suit.
And he had flowing, silver hair.
The young man, Leonard Testarossa, looked as if he had grown tired of waiting, and stretched a little.
“Welcome home, Miss Kaname Chidori.”
His own carelessness- Sousuke couldn’t think of anything but that.
How on earth did the silver-haired man leisurely sitting in Kaname’s living room manage to sneak in?
Sousuke had set up numerous security systems and traps in order to sense, or possibly repulse, anyone who trespassed into Kaname’s apartment. That meant that this guy had gotten past all of those.
There wasn’t a feeling of any kind of trouble like having to get past anything. This guy had a feeling more like, “I was inconvenienced because I had to turn the key”. Sousuke was overcome by such skill.
And, this guy.
Sousuke already knew this young man.
He was the older brother of none other than his own commanding officer, Teletha Testarossa. He had encountered him when he had gone with Tessa to visit her parents’ graves, and
Tessa told Sousuke about him on the way home. He worked for Amalgam, and was more than likely the designer of the enemy AS Codarl series, which had caused a lot of trouble for Sousuke and the others.
Why was he here? What was he after?
Why go to the trouble- of coming to Kaname’s apartment?
Despite the seething sensation welling up in his chest, Sousuke pointed his gun at Leonard. Using the laser sight, he aimed squarely at his chest.
“Don’t move. Slowly raise your hands and stand up. If you don’t follow these orders, I’ll-”
Leonard shook his head wearily.
“The same old diplomatic courtesy. Let’s stop this. I don’t want to have to say the same thing.”
“What do you mean?”
There was a slight movement on the balcony at the back of the living room. Sousuke’s sense of hearing and smell, as well as that sixth sense peculiar to a soldier, was just barely able to pick it up.
There were two of them.
Crouched down, and without completely lifting their heads, they slowly stirred. There was a slight indication- a feeling that they weren’t ordinary humans.
They were large. And they weren’t human.
Threats without any murderous intent at all. Machines.
An ambush with those robots...?
He hadn’t forgotten. It had been these robots, very small life-sized ASes, which had surrounded and fought them on the Pacific Chrysalis. They were called Alastors. They probably made
the slightest move at Leonard’s will. It looked as if he could see through this and presuming that Sousuke knew about their existence, Leonard said, “You’re nevertheless thinking that you can shoot me between the eyes before my ‘guards’ move, aren’t you?”
“It’s impossible, Sousuke Sagara. You seem to be quite an excellent assassin, but-”
Without listening to his opponent’s words, Sousuke pulled the trigger without hesitation. Just as Leonard had said, Sousuke was an “excellent assassin”. He wasn’t going to take the time to listen to his enemy talk. He hadn’t thought of anything except that he was Tessa’s brother.
However, at the same time he shot, shadows jumped in front of Leonard’s eyes. The bullets that should have hit him right in the middle of the head were scattered into sparks and disappeared. The black coat he was wearing had moved like a whip to stop the bullets.
Was it a kind of shape memory polymer? Or some kind of “active” bulletproof clothing that could somehow instantly detect a moving object and respond? If so, what kind of firearms could it protect against? Would it work against hand grenade fragments? Fire? Impacts? Rifle bullets-
“Sousuke!?” Kaname yelled in a way that seemed to condemn him for shooting without listening. To Sousuke, her response was more surprising than the unknown bulletproof clothing.
“See? Even she thinks that was a bit rude,” Leonard said, smiling. The smell of gunpowder drifted in the air. It felt like
Leonard was sneering at his and Kaname’s relationship, and the back of his neck burned.
“I don’t know why you’re here, but I want you to get out of my apartment now.”
Leonard looked exaggeratedly wounded by Kaname’s threatening attitude.
“The reason I’m here is to have a talk with you tonight. If it’s okay with you, could you have your watchdog restrain himself a little?”
“I’ll show you who’s just a watchdog...”
His grip on the pistol tightened. He had already worked out his second and third move in his head based on the bulletproof clothing.
“Stop it, Sousuke.”
“This man is the enemy.”
“But he’s Tessa’s brother.”
“That has nothing to do with it.”
Why is she blaming me?
Sousuke’s irritation was already growing.
“My sister is an unnecessary consideration. But what about bloodshed in this room?”
“I won’t tell you to lower your gun. I just want you to hear me out.”
After a short silence, Sousuke said, “Speak.”
“Thank you, uhh... Sergeant Sagara, isn’t it? I’m Leonard Testarossa.”
“I know who you are.”
“I see. Well then- Miss Kaname Chidori. My business is simple. Pack your bags and come with me to my place.”
Kaname was speechless for a bit.
“...what did you say?”
“I want you to throw away the life you have now and come with me. You don’t have to worry. Of course, since I guarantee your hospitable treatment, I promise you a prosperous life to do as you please. An institution has been prepared just to fulfill your intellectual interests, and first and foremost- it is completely safe.”
“I don’t get what you’re saying.”
“You don’t? And I thought that would be enough.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Fine, I’ll go into more detail.”
Leonard gave a little sigh. He swung the leg that was crossed over the other, and outside the window- he looked at something far off.
“My organization has become serious.”
Those words resounded in Sousuke’s head like the ones that Hayashimizu had said- “I don’t think you can carry on like this anymore”. Just like that time with Hayashimizu, Sousuke was attacked by an uncomfortable feeling from somewhere in his stomach.
“What do you mean?”
“Mithril has gone too far. Especially the Western Pacific fleet. Why don’t we name the machines of ours that you guys have destroyed so far? Seven Codarl types. One Behemoth type. Thirteen Alastor types. They’re stolen, but twelve Mistral 2s... when you think of it like this, it’s amazing. We’ve been completely taken by you guys.”
“And then there’s the Pacific Chrysalis. That was really bad. The value of that ship is no longer that high, but... even so, there was a lot of information that we handed over to you. Next
you’ll be exposing the countries, businesses, terrorist organizations and mafias connected to Amalgam. If you did so, then it would be a great inconvenience.”
“Of course it would. This ‘inconvenience’ will make you sorry.”
“I told you that kind of attitude has been bad for you. Up until now, Amalgam hadn’t placed much importance on the existence of Mithril. Since they knew roughly what it was comprised of from the start, they knew what it could and couldn’t do. When that power grew, they thought about cutting off its branches through moderate measures.”
“You mean the trap at Perio Islands?”
“That’s right. Your submarine, the Tuatha de Danaan, has proved to be a rather efficient weapons system. It would be a meaningless piece of equipment in a regular army, but- well, when it comes to what Mithril is endowed with, one might say it’s ideal. However, that white AS... umm? It’s become the ‘ARX-7’, right?”
“There’s no need to answer you,” Sousuke said.
“Well, isn’t just the name okay? Its nickname? It’s the name of some mediaeval weapon, isn’t it? The name of the failed 6 was called ‘Halberd’.”
Sousuke remained stubbornly silent.
“What a shame. It seems like you and I won’t be able to be friends.”
“If you plan on continuing this nonsense, then this conversation is through.”
“I get it. Anyway, that’s how it is. At Shun On and Ariake, the power you guys displayed was beyond my organization’s expectations. Therefore, we tried to ‘leave’ you guys in a more ideal shape. When we thought we had finished it at the Perio
Islands, you guys managed to overcome it. There we were betrayed by our management. Mister Iron- or Gauron- caused the incident in Hong Kong by his own actions. Even our organization seemed confused by what happened there. Thanks to that, we lost six of our Codarl-type ASes. He was a man that caused trouble to the very end.”
“Did you know him?”
“A little. It seemed like he really liked you. He said he it pleased him incredibly to see you in Shun On.”
“Don’t mess with me.”
“But it’s the truth.”
Leonard’s eyes narrowed. He had the same, sweet smile as a girl. Sousuke could barely resist clicking his tongue. This man enjoyed irritating him. Earlier, he had made a face like he had only somehow remembered Sousuke’s name, but it was all in jest. He knew about Gauron, so it wasn’t like he wouldn’t at least know his name.
“Ahh, well... then there’s also the matter of that luxury boat. You guys finally took the initiative. It passed the stage of ‘leaving’ you guys in a more ideal shape to that of ‘restraint’. The conclusion drawn from that was simple. Crush the enemy. Snatch Job*4.”
“Her code name. You don’t have to worry about it.”
“Wait a minute,” Kaname said, “in other words... you mean destroy Mithril, and take me?”
“That was the course decided just the other day,” Leonard nodded.
“We would just watch you for a while... was how it was until now, but it can’t be that way any longer. The organization doesn’t mind using rough measures, and is already thinking about
going ahead and securing you. You understand, right... what I mean when I say rough measures?”
It was obvious. It wouldn’t be a roundabout way of doing things like it had been so far, but more direct- something that could shed blood depending on the situation.
“That’s enough, isn’t it? My explanation as to why I’ve gone to all this trouble to bring you back like this?”
“You came to persuade me in advance, then...?”
“Yes, because I love you.”
Now Leonard gave her an angelic smile. Sousuke felt the urge to fill that smiling face, which totally disregarded his own existence, with bullets.
“You damn insolent...”
“Just wait, okay!” her voice smacked into him, and his index finger stopped from pulling the trigger. As Kaname softly pushed the tip of his gun down, she said in a calm voice to Leonard, “...I understand, and I thank you for your kindness. But since I have school, I like the life I have now. Furthermore, there’s no way I could go with you. I’ve said it I don’t know how many times before, but I hate you.”
“So, hurry up and get out of my room!” she said without even responding to Sousuke. Leonard sat there expressionless for a little bit, then finally gave a little shrug and slowly stood up.
“Of course it is.”
“Are you still upset about that?”
“Even though I told you to forgive me.”
“Did you not hear me? Get out!” Kaname yelled as her face turned red. As he listened to this exchange, Sousuke was still confused about a completely different meaning.
About that? Forgive him?
What were they talking about?
“I’ll only say it once more.”
Leonard turned his back to them. He gave a light wave of his right hand, and the Alastors hidden on the balcony slowly got up.
“Why don’t you just accept it? You’re one of the chosen; already greater than a genius. And yet people can only think to use us by deceitful flattery. Is it your wish to be pushed around by them?”
“You should have noticed it by now. The stupid things the people around you do out of hopeless stupidity.”
“Their slowness really grates on you, doesn’t it?”
“Get out!!” Kaname yelled, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Very well, then. I warned you. I don’t want you to blame me for what happens after this... oh, and Mr. Sagara,” Leonard turned back around after opening the glass door to the balcony. “Earlier, while I was waiting for you guys, I watched the news to kill some time. It said on there that they had caught a man suspected of being a mass murderer in England. It seems he killed 35 people.”
“What about it?”
“Well, from my simple investigation, you’ve killed more than three times that many people.”
Kaname held her breath and shuddered.
“I wonder why. Despite this, a lot of people still like you. So does she. Someone like you, who’s killed more than a hundred people. I wonder if everyone would still hang around you if they knew that... I don’t think it’s fair.”
It was a dirty trick filled with malice- leaving something regretful and complex, Leonard disappeared from the room.
For a while, the two of them just stood in the pitch-dark living room. Kaname’s shoulders were trembling slightly. Unable to leave her unsupported figure alone, Sousuke reached out and softly touched her back.
She suddenly jerked her upper body away. A moment later, she stared at Sousuke as if she were looking at a monster. Then she shook her head a little, and forcing a laugh, said, “Uh... I’m sorry. I-I’m alright, okay? Umm... why don’t we just forget about what that guy said, okay?”
Sousuke couldn’t say anything else after that.
♦ ♦ ♦
At the command center of the base on Merida Island, Lieutenant Commander Andrei Kalinin received the report from Sousuke and soon replied, “Understood. Do what you can to hold out until tomorrow morning. We’ll send out a transport helicopter.”
Kaname would be much safer if they transferred her from Tokyo to the Merida Island base- was what Sousuke judged, and therefore made the request to do so. She also reluctantly agreed with him.
“Tomorrow morning?” Sousuke said, his voice tinged with anger. “If you use the prescribed route, you should be able to pick us up faster. If you take into consideration how that guy Leonard was able to break through our defenses, then-”
“That’s precisely the reason, Sergeant. It’s better that we don’t use the escape plan that we prepared. We have to allow that they’ve anticipated everything.”
“And you’re SRT. That in and of itself is enough provision, isn’t it? Use it.”
It wouldn’t be as if Sousuke had been idly passing his time in Tokyo. Without permission from Mithril, he had probably used his own channels to prepare several vehicles and disguised weapons vehicles, a safe house in which to hide, false permits and identification papers. Any SRT mercenary would have done so. They specifically wouldn’t ask about it; Kurz and Mao had probably done the same.
You protected yourself.
The organization was, after all, only a tool. Loyalty was important, but you couldn’t rely on them.
“Understood. I will try.”
“You know this already, but be very careful about being followed. As far as the girl goes, after you return, the Captain will have a talk with her.”
“After this we will keep correspondence to a minimum. That is all.”
After Kalinin had ended the transmission, Tessa- Captain Teletha Testarossa, who had been listening to the conversation in silence, sighed.
As usual, she was in her uniform and her ash blonde hair was in a braid. She had a look of deep concern on her brow.
“I thought that a time like this might come, but... this is somewhat beyond my expectations.”
“I understand, Captain. However, there should be understood measures.”
“You’re right. I wanted to go ahead and respect her wishes.”
“Besides... I don’t understand what he’s thinking.”
Tessa’s older twin brother, expressly showing up in Kaname’s room- and his telling her, “Come with me”, was more than a little astonishing. What kind of margin was there? It was possible that the enemy wasn’t monolithic, but she could believe that they were laying some kind of trap.
That’s not it. There shouldn’t be such a thing...
That was it.
Her brother was seriously trying to get his hands on Kaname. Not just her body, but her heart as well. Since he was motivated to do just that, he thought he would be able to. It looked incredibly foolish from Tessa’s point of view, but he didn’t see it that way. Her own attempts at meddling with those two- what boiled down to her own make-believe love-affair, even more than that, what her brother was trying to do had even more of a serious and dim feeling about it.
Would a transport helicopter be enough? This was her brother they were talking about. Wouldn’t he simply think that they would pick the two of them up and take them away? For example, even if he had planned on leaving them be, he should be able to easily read their intentions. There was no guarantee that he wouldn’t tell this to his organization’s detached forces.
“We’ll send the Arbalest with them,” Tessa said, and Kalinin raised his eyebrow.
“Why? This is only a secretive operation to pick the two of them up-”
“Just in case this situation goes bad.”
“If something were to happen, wouldn’t it be safer to have an AS to secure the landing zone? The enemy has those robots- the Alastors.”
“An M9 would be sufficient for that.”
“They would also think the same thing, so it’s possible that the enemy has prepared those Codarls.”
“In the city?”
“Isn’t that what an AS equipped with ECS invisibility is for? In any case, without Sergeant Sagara, the Arbalest is nothing more than an ordinary M9. There’s no point if it’s unwilling.”
Kalinin seemed a little hesitant, but soon nodded his head.
“Understood. If we do, it will be necessary to refuel mid-flight. Your permission for takeoff?”
“Of course. Please hurry.”
He nimbly gave the necessary instructions to his subordinates in the command center. When he finished that, Tessa mumbled, “Mr. Sagara said, ‘The enemy’s gotten serious’, didn’t he? Should we try and hurry?”
“I don’t know, but there are grounds to. We’ve taken enough action to upset them.”
“That’s true. However-”
Tessa waved the tip of her braid over the end of her nose.
“This enemy might be the type to try and put an end to that.”
1. The Tepodan was a short-range missile in Korea.
2. Yakitori is grilled meat- a customer can get all kinds of grilled meat or vegetables on a stick at a place like this.
3. “Yagiri Ferry”. A ferryboat that has been crossing back and forth from Shibamata to Shimoyagiri on the banks of the Edogawa River for more than 380 years since the beginning of Edo era. In the hit song “Yagiri no Watashi”, a couple in impermissible love in Edo, embark from Shibamata on a cold rainy evening for anywhere they can marry and live together.
4. As in the biblical figure Job.