Volume 1 – Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, Sono Ichi
Chapter 3 – The Correct Way to Steal a Moped I (Part 1)
For a reason that was all too easy to understand.
For this reason, Asaba Yuuko, then in Elementary Five, refused to get into the bath with her elder brother, who was a year older.
After that, they no longer played with each other.
Nor did they go out of the house together.
She also refused to use the room she had shared with her brother up till then, threatening to run away from home if their parents did not allow her to have her own room.
As it was, her brother could not fathom what led to this abrupt change of heart. He got yelled at whenever he invited her to play with him, got ignored whenever he asked her if she would like to go outside with him, and would get things thrown at him whenever he slid open the paper sliding door to her room without knocking to tell her the bath was ready. Days like these continued for a while.
Asaba Yuuko could only sit in her room by herself as she cursed her elder brother who never seemed to grow up.
She always seemed to be down on luck. Since her family name was “Asaba’, if there was nobody else with a family name starting with ‘A’ in her class, she would be seat number one. Nothing good ever came of being seat number one.
Be it vaccinations against viruses used as biological weapons, or the vaulting box (that was set too high on purpose, she was sure), she would always be the first person in class to face whatever challenge that came. She never had time to brace herself, never had a shoulder in front of her to lean on. Things had always been like that for her.
It wasn’t fair.
He was her elder brother, and a year older, too.
Days like these continued for a while and eventually, Asaba started to leave his sister alone. She rose to Elementary Six, while he became a first-year student at Sonohara Middle School. Although they no longer shared rooms, they still saw each other at mealtimes. Thus, even with the way she treated her brother, Yuuko knew that he was in the Journalism Club and had a slightly unusual senpai called Suizenji.
Sleeping in different rooms and going to different schools.
In hindsight, those might have been the most peaceful days she had ever known.
An uneventful year came and went, and Asaba Yuuko of Sonohara First Elementary School, Class 6-3, seat number one, became Asaba Yuuko of Sonohara Middle School, Class 1-1, seat number one. It was only when she began commuting to the same school as her brother did she notice how much her brother looked like an obsequious follower of Suizenji Kunihiro, who was paralleled to none in the school for his eccentricity.
Yet again, it was impossible for her to say something like “That goldfish shit over there is my elder brother”. It was a delicate period for her as she was still making new friends in a new class in a new school. She might just be ostracized if everyone found out that he was her brother.
At least that dimwitted brother of hers was somewhat aware of this and there was a period of time which he, of his own accord, pretended not to know her in school, presumably in a bid to preserve her honor and dignity. Despite his efforts, Yuuko put him under very, very strict orders. This was her extremely dimwitted brother she was talking about. She had to clearly verbalize her request to bring across her message and make doubly sure that he understood before she could put her mind at ease.
—do not ever, under any circumstances, speak to me in school.
She had believed, foolishly, that such desperate measures would not be in vain. Even though her school was in a rural area and did not have a very large enrollment of students, she had believed that she would be able to carry this secret to her grave.
However, there were many ways in which a secret could become public knowledge.
One month had passed since the opening ceremony, and one day during lunch break in her classroom:
“Is Asaba-kun here?”
Of all the ways her secret could have been made public:
“Special Correspondent Asaba Naoyuki’s younger sister, Asaba Yuuko! My family name is Suizenji and my name is Kunihiro. I am from Sonohara Town Ritsuenbara Middle School, Class 3-2, Solar System Radio Wave Newspaper, and I have come to call on you and offer my greetings! Asaba Yuuko-kun! If you are here, do raise your hand, no need to be shy!”
Her logical side told her that it was unreasonable to put all of the blame on her brother.
However, since that incident during lunch break, Yuuko would refuse to speak to her brother if she had no good reason to, not only in school but at home as well.
The first semester ended and summer vacation arrived.
Her brother spent his entire vacation out in the mountains somewhere building secret bases or something like that.
With Suizenji, of course, and he most certainly did not do his homework.
She heard that he was hunting for UFOs.
On the last night of the summer vacation, as Yuuko was leaning backward in the bathtub, which was not very large, with the scented bathwater right up to just below her nose, she thought of the last time she had soaked in the bathtub together with her brother.
At that time, her brother was in Elementary Six.
At that time, her brother did not have hair.
Her brother might still be like that for all she knew. She might just have to continue walking on by herself, as she had done so all this while. She didn’t think that a time when her brother walked in front of her would come.
Summer vacation ended and the second semester began.
Just two days later, during the Sonohara Middle School’s monthly air-raid drill, Asaba Naoyuki became embroiled in the maelstrom that was whipped up in the aftermath of the incident, now better known as the ‘Incident at the Shelter’.
That was the reason Yuuko went up to the second floor without uttering a word of complaint when her mother said “I need to put the dishes away, so go wake your brother up for breakfast,” a very rare occurrence indeed. Her mother, who asked her to do so with nothing to lose, looked on wide-eyed with a dishcloth in her hand:
“—I wonder what happened to her.”
Beside her, without even looking up from the Sunday newspaper, her father went:
“—what’s wrong with that? Can’t a sister go wake her brother up?”
“Not that she can’t—but you know, just two days ago, when Naoyuki forgot his lunchbox again, I asked her to bring it to him but she said ‘No, not in a million years.’”
Her father sniffed. After contemplating it for a while, he concluded, with a single nod and grunt:
“Well, they’re at a difficult age after all.”
Without lifting his eyes from the newspaper, he reached across the low dining table for a packet of Lucky Strike cigarettes and a 100-yen lighter, which her mother swiftly grabbed from under his fingers before slipping them into her stain covered apron pocket. Her father grunted once but did not look up.
“Estimated 2000 dead. Maybe there’ll be people ready to roll up their sleeves for a fight this time.”
“Where is it? Show me,” said her mother as she leaned sideways to press her cheek against her husband’s, peering into his paper as she looked for the article on the aerial bombings. The scene was a peek into the past of how they behaved in their youth. Their mother would occasionally show her softer side when Naoyuki and Yuuko were not looking. Their father continued reading the article, his hands continuing to search the top of the dining table for a packet of cigarettes that wasn’t there, like they always had.
“Maybe we should increase the size of our stockpile,” she said.
“Canned food, toilet paper, and the like. Just in case something happens. Oh right, did you hear? Just recently, there were talks of spies being seen around Sonohara Air Base. Yoshida-san’s wife was saying that after that, a huge bunch of policemen appeared and set up checkpoints. They performed checks on every car that passed by, causing a lot of trouble for everyone.”
“Spies have to report for work every day without rest, don’t they? They must have it hard.”
“This isn’t something you should be joking about—jeez. It’s all because of that military base. The spies must have come into this area because they wanted to keep an eye on Sonohara Air Base, don’t you think? Seriously, I wonder why they built such a large compound in the middle of the countryside…”
“It’s precisely because we’re in the countryside. They couldn’t have built a compound that large in the middle of the city. Air bases need landing strips which require them to be that size.”
“But aren’t there other rural areas to build on? I wish they went somewhere else.”
“Even if you say that, a lot of them drop by our shop, don’t they? Those people from GI.”
“No matter how profitable it is for our shop, it’ll all come to nothing if we lose our lives. Kiyohara-san’s wife was saying that those spies might plant some sort of virus around the base, and that the people living around the base might get entangled in the conflict and lose their lives as well, or at least, that’s what she saw in a special TV program…”
“That’s why they’ve been destroying those factories producing bioweapons like those by dropping bombs on them, haven’t they? Those planes from the Sonohara Air Base.”
“When was it again? Remember that time when they bombed a factory they thought was making viruses but discovered that it was just a normal factory producing rice wine or something like that? Many politicians were forced to step down. That might be something those people over there claim, but the situation might be much worse than we think…”
“You mean the Rangrim Bombing this April? No, that factory really was a rice wine factory.”
The mother’s eyes grew round.
The father scratched at his son’s old jersey vigorously to get at an itch on his rather scrawny behind.
“You could make bioweapons in a rice wine factory, you know. You could just say that you need some strains to make bioweapons for scientific studies, and you could buy them at a price of, say, Naoyuki’s allowance. Level 4 bio-safety airlock chambers and explosive aerosol labs are huge and cost tons of money, but you only need them for research and development. You don’t need anything that extravagant for mass production. Bioreactors nowadays are smaller than refrigerators, and you can hide one of those anywhere. It’s still fine if those people use rice wine factories as a cover-up for their operations, but, sooner or later, they might start using places like elementary schools or kindergartens.”
The mother turned to face her husband who was right beside her, a glimmer of respect in her eyes.
“You seem to be very well-informed,” she said.
“Like I said, a lot of them come by our shop. Those people from GI.”
The phone rang just then and the mother half-rose to her feet as she answered, “Coming, coming.” But, the phone rang only twice before suddenly falling silent, with the ‘line busy’ light flickering on. Yuuko probably answered the phone using the extension phone on the corridor on the second floor. Her mother remained standing as she stretched her back, remembering that she should put away the dishes.
Out of the blue, she wondered out loud:
“If they really do start making bioweapons in kindergartens, I wonder if they’ll drop bombs on the kindergartens, too.”
Their father had finished reading most of the articles in the Sunday newspaper. The paper rustled as he folded it up untidily. With another grunt accompanied by a nod, he concluded:
“Well, these are difficult times, after all.”
Then, he looked hard across the top of the dining table and finally realized that his cigarettes and lighter, which were most definitely there before, had disappeared.
Yuuko climbed the stairs to the second floor and hovered in front of the paper sliding door to her brother’s room, not knowing what to do. When the extension phone hanging on the wall rang, her face showed a relieved expression as she hurried to pick it up before it even rang three times.
“Hello, this is Asaba speaking.”
A highly-strung voice that was bursting with far too much energy for a morning this early answered:
“Oh, by that voice, you must be Asaba-kun!”
It was Suizenji.
On an unrelated note, Suizenji usually addressed Asaba Naoyuki as ‘Special Correspondent Asaba’, so ‘Asaba-kun’ would refer to Asaba Yuuko.
However, Yuuko didn’t feel happy about being called ‘Asaba-kun’. She didn’t feel too happy about being called anything else, either. She didn’t want to hear Suizenji’s voice to begin with.
It had been such a nice Sunday morning up till then too.
However, as far as Yuuko knew, Suizenji had never made a call to her house before. She heard from Asaba that Suizenji disliked phones because “there is a constant danger of our phones being bugged and someone listening in to our conversation,” as if he was playing some childish secret agent game.
“If you’re looking for my brother, he’s still sleeping.”
“I thought as much. My apologies, but would you rouse him for me? Special Correspondent Asaba has a very important mission to accomplish today.”
A very important mission.
Yuuko hadn’t expected Suizenji to call her house, especially if his ‘mission’ involved chasing after ghosts or aliens or something like that.
“—but well, Special Correspondent Asaba being a sleepyhead is bothersome, isn’t it? I can almost imagine him to be the type of person who would get all nervous and excited for a school excursion and be unable to sleep a wink the night before. And when morning comes, he would be completely limp with exhaustion but still force himself to go on the trip. Halfway through the trip he would throw up in the most magnificent way possible, thereby earning for himself the nickname ‘Puke-yuki’ from his friends or something along those lines—hello, are you listening to me? Asaba Yuuko, please respond!”
Yuuko chose that moment to press the ‘hold call’ button, cutting off Suizenji’s voluble speech. It was almost painful to continue listening to Suizenji’s voice, but, somewhere inside her heart, she also felt just a little impressed. Even if it was just for a guerrilla group, it seemed like he wasn’t calling himself an editor-in-chief just for show. He really did pay a lot of attention to people around him. How else would he be able to guess her brother’s nickname correctly?
With the extension phone in one hand, Yuuko stood in front of the paper sliding door to her brother’s room.
She knocked it but received no reply.
She tried knocking it again, harder than before, but still, there was no reply.
Taking a deep breath and steeling her resolve, she slid open the door as hard she could. In a room that was six tatami mats large, Asaba lay crooked on his bedding on the floor, sleeping in a position that would bring to mind a refugee who ran out of stamina and collapsed on that spot.
Yuuko tried poking her sleeping brother with a finger.
Her brother didn’t wake up. He didn’t even stir.
She peered into her brother’s face, which was on its side as he lay sleeping on his stomach. As she continued to look into the face of someone completely dead to the world, Yuuko, for some reason, became extremely irritated.
She suddenly grabbed his ear and pulled, shouting into it:
She intended to say, “Onii-chan”, but perhaps it was because she spoke with a bit of a lisp, when she raised her voice, it sounded a little different from what she intended.
In any case, Asaba leaped out of his bedding. Blinking sleep from his eyes, he saw his sister’s glowering face right in front of his and could only stare at it in blank amazement.
He couldn’t understand what was going on. What was his sister, who usually refused to even speak to him, doing in his room?
Also, for some reason, his sister, who stood before him, thrust a phone at him and said:
“A call from your crime syndicate leader.”
Asaba wondered who this crime syndicate leader she mentioned was as he took the phone from her and pressed the ‘hold call’ button. Not quite awake, he murmured sleepily into the phone:
He could hear the Mission Impossible theme song playing from the other end of the line. It sounded as if someone was playing music from a small tape recorder of sorts and holding it near the receiver. Oh, it’s just Chief, thought Asaba. Feeling sleepy again, he flopped back on his bed and covered his face with his arms, shielding his eyes from the morning sun.
“Good morning, Special Correspondent Asaba. Well then, your mission today is…”
Asaba made an involuntary sound of alarm.
He remembered now. Any trace of sleepiness vanished as he leaped out of his bedding once more and started crawling around. Where was his clock? Where was the alarm clock that was supposed to be right next to his pillow…?
“Rest easy, Special Correspondent Asaba. The time now is 9:32 AM, so if you make haste you could still make it with much time to spare. I have already counseled you yesterday regarding important points to take note while carrying out your mission. Do you remember them?”
Asaba had been so nervous that he was unable to sleep last night.
The more pressure he put on himself to get some rest for tomorrow, the more awake he felt. While he tossed and turned in anguish, the night sky turned bright, and by the time his alarm clock, which he had set to ring at 7:00 AM intending to get up early, finally started to ring, he remembered feeling a mix of despair and resolve. It’s no use now, he’ll never be able to get up on time even if he were to fall asleep now. There was no other choice but to get through today without sleeping the night before. The very moment he decided to do that, he relieved himself from the pressure of ‘I must get some rest’ and immediately began to feel drowsy. No, I mustn’t sleep, I most definitely cannot fall asleep, he thought to himself but his consciousness broke off somewhere about there. The next moment, his sister was pulling his ear and trying to get him out of bed.
The nervousness that was tormenting Asaba the entire night before came rushing back.
Instinctively, his grip on the extension phone tightened as he rummaged through the memory bin in his head. Important points to note regarding his mission, the counsel he received yesterday…
“—w-what were they, again?” he implored Suizenji.
“Check if your nose hair is sticking out, check if your fly is unzipped, and check if you are wearing a fresh pair of underpants. Three points, that’s all. Repeat after me.”
“Nose hair, fly, fresh underpants.”
“Excellent. Well then, please make your preparations with haste. I pray for your success.”
Suizenji hung up right after that.
Asaba threw down the extension phone and stood up, thinking that he should probably get changed quickly. He was just about to pull down the pants of his pajamas along with a rather old pair of underpants at the same time when a scream suddenly rocked the room.
“Stupid! Idiot, idiot, idiot! Pervert!”
His sister hurriedly turned her back on him before letting loose a string of verbal abuse.
Oh, she was still here, Asaba thought, as he went:
“W-What is it?”
His sister went quiet for a while. Then,
“Mom says you should hurry up and eat your breakfast.”
Under normal circumstances, his sister would never deign to enter his room just to tell him something like that. He was certain of that. There must be something else, he decided.
His sister fell silent once more. Her back was turned, but it was radiating curiosity, as if she had something she would very much like to ask him. Shortly after:
With those parting words, his sister left his room. She gave him one last glare before flinging the paper sliding door across her, slamming it shut with enough force to make Asaba flinch away from it.
Asaba was dumbfounded. What on earth was that about?
He then came back to his senses. This was not the time to be worrying about things like that. As he ransacked his closet, the first outfit he managed to get his hands on was a T-shirt that was worn thin and a pair of jeans which he had been wearing for a year. It looked like something he would wear to go out in the middle of the night to buy juice from a vending machine nearby, but he no longer had the time to worry about things like that.
His alarm clock, which was sitting pitifully in a corner after rolling there, seemed to look at him accusingly as it showed just how quickly and mercilessly time was ticking away for him. It read 9:35 AM. After stuffing his watch, purse, and bicycle keys into his pocket, Asaba rushed out of the room. Grabbing the handrail of the staircase, he slid on it all the way down to the first floor before stomping along the entire length of the corridor. He burst into the washroom only to find someone else already there: his father, wearing his jersey and running vest.
His father smoked, so whenever he stuck a toothbrush into his mouth to brush his teeth he would dry-heave again and again, so loudly that it sounded like thunder. He had always done that, which is why no one in the house paid him any heed when he did.
“Oge, Oeee! Uuuuoooeeeee! —oh. Morning, Naoyuki.”
Asaba, without saying anything, forcibly wedged himself beside his father, and while bumping shoulders with him proceeded to brush his teeth, wash his face, and—
“You going somewhere?”
Asaba jumped upon hearing that question. He had been fumbling about with his hair, wondering if there was anything else he could do for it.
He answered, “Club activities.” It wasn’t a lie. At least, not really.
His father replied, “Sounds rough.”
Nose hair, check. Fly, check.
He then ran out of the washroom with his laundry basket in his arms, passing by his mother on his way out.
“Naoyuki, what about breakfast?”
“I don’t need any!”
“Wait, where are you going?”
He stopped for a moment to peek into the sitting room. The pendulum clock in it, which was older than the house itself, urged Asaba along. It read 9:46 AM.
“I’ll be home late today!” said Asaba as he glided to a stop at the kitchen door to put on his shoes. The shoelaces on his high-cut sneakers annoyed him to no end.
His father’s voice rang out from the washroom.
“If you’re going out, spin the barber pole in front for me, will you!”
Asaba did not deign to reply as he left the house through the kitchen door.
He tiptoed past the empty crates of beer bottles while pushing his bicycle around the house to the front. When he shoved the plug for the pole into its socket, red arteries, blue veins, and white bandages started to turn round and round in a helix of colored stripes on the barber’s pole. There was a tag hanging on the door that said ‘CLOSED’. Asaba turned it over so that it read ‘OPEN’.
Straddling his bicycle and putting his feet on the pedals, he was just about to push off but thought better of it. He decided to bring his face close to the large window in front of the house which still had its shutters down behind it just so that he could take one last look at his nose hair. The reflection of Asaba’s face as he ogled at his nostrils looked strikingly like a monkey sticking his face into the window. Overlapping that reflection were two words, written in fluorescent paint:
It was the first Sunday of the second semester.
The one and half month long summer vacation was merely a period of time that people of this world defined to suit themselves. Summer had yet to end. The sky that stretched out above Asaba Barbershop today and the sky during the period which Asaba didn’t need to go to school were both the same vast expanse of blue, cut into sections by wooden telegraph poles and the electric cables that hung, sagging, from them. The cicadas were warbling, and cargo aircraft and fighter jets were flying overhead in a summer sky which might just be carrying UFOs, too.
Asaba only had ten minutes to reach the bus terminal in front of Sonohara Station.
Sweat poured off his brow, and his bike chain threatened to break off as he worked the pedals.
Let’s rewind to a day before, the first Saturday of the second semester.
Lessons ended at midday, and lunch was a rice ball from the school co-op. Asaba Naoyuki was in the Journalism Club’s clubroom, twirling a pair of scissors like the actors did with guns in Western cowboy films. This pair of scissors were different from the ones you saw around; it was a pair of hairdressing scissors that his father had decommissioned, but it could still cut fairly well. Suizenji was sitting with his back to Asaba, with hair repellent cloth draped around him. The official name of this cloth was ‘salon cape’, and its Japanese name was karinuno.
As always, Asaba would still ask, just for the sake of asking.
“How would you like it done?”
“I’d like it longer than it is now.”
“I can’t do that.”
“I’ll have the usual, then.”
Suizenji was the sort of person who could dress to kill if the need arose. If there was none, he couldn’t give a rat’s ass about something like his hairstyle. His ‘usual’ haircut just referred to trimming his entire head’s worth of hair and tidying the ends of his bangs. To Asaba, a job like that was nothing.
He muttered, “Got it,” and began to snip away with his scissors. He seemed to be quite at home with using it.
One haircut was 100 yen.
At first, he was simply a machine that mass produced buzz-cuts for boys from sports clubs.
However, he always charged 100 yen, no matter what his customers asked for. This meant that his customers could do whatever they wanted with the money they had wrangled from their parents for their haircuts, minus 100 yen. Lately, his pool of regular customers had expanded to include not only boys with buzz-cuts but others as well.
Asaba was rather confident in his hair-cutting skills, so he thought that 100 yen for any sort of haircut was a very cheap price to pay indeed. However, he continued to provide his services not so much for the profit but for the pleasure he derived from trimming heads.
“How has business been doing lately?”
“It’s doing alright.”
Even the banter was stuffy, like the kind one would exchange with a barber.
“Ah, but I think it’ll get a little busier from now on. I mean, most sports competitions are held in September, after all.”
“Nevertheless, Special Correspondent Asaba, doesn’t your family run a barbershop, too? If you trim your classmates’ hair for a price so low that it is almost akin to dumping1, doesn’t that mean you are stealing customers from your family’s barbershop?”
“It’s okay. Our classmates won’t come to our shop anyway.”
“Maybe they’d be too embarrassed to, I don’t know, ‘go to that person’s house to get a haircut from that person’s father’? Especially if my house is in their neighborhood or if they knew me by sight. I understand how they feel, since I won’t really want to buy things at a shop run by my friends’ parents, too.”
So that’s how it is, mused Suizenji.
Asaba took up a pair of thinning scissors and some of Suizenji’s jet black hair fell with each snip of his scissors. If he had to say who had the healthiest hair amongst the people he serviced, Suizenji would be an easy pick. Perhaps it was because he usually didn’t use hairstyling products or a hairdryer. Plus, he ate well and seemed free of any stress whatsoever.
“—about what we spoke about earlier, is there anything that can done about it?”
Asaba tried to play dumb.
“What was this about, again?”
“About Special Correspondent Iriya. Ah jeez, I didn’t think she was a girl that would be quite so ungenerous in spirit.”
“—I don’t think that she doesn’t want to help us. I’m sure there’s some sort of rule in place that disallows outsiders from entering the base, and well, given the current situation…”
“But then again, a loophole must accompany such a rule. Can’t she, for friendship’s sake, do something about—“
“Friendship? We’ve only just gotten to know her.”
“Still, she needn’t have turned us down so brusquely. She could have gone, ‘I tried asking someone even though I knew it was impossible, and as I expected, their answer was a no.’ But she refused us on the spot, you know, like right off the bat—”
Iriya had said, no.
Suizenji had moved to acquire Iriya because she lived in Sonohara Air Base, hoping that Iriya might be able to show them the inside of the base. As per his wishes, Iriya had acquiesced to his invitation and joined the club. The first time Iriya showed up in the clubroom was two days ago, on Thursday, and Suizenji had made his request straightaway. Special Correspondent Iriya, I heard you stayed in the living quarters of Sonohara Air Base, by all means—
“Hmm, like I was saying, she must have said that because she didn’t want to help. Special Correspondent Asaba, is she always ‘like that’? If she, despite being a transfer student, acts like this, won’t she have no friends in her class?”
Well, it’s true that she doesn’t have any, and even if she had to decline, there were more amicable ways to do so. Such thoughts did cross Asaba’s mind. However, he also knew that it was unreasonable to expect Iriya to be affable. She always was ‘like that’, after all.
That was why she had no friends.
He felt like speaking in her defense.
“Perhaps someone had already warned her in advance, that she was not to bring back any friends.”
Asaba’s hands stopped as he considered something else.
This was a likely outcome but— if Iriya continued to refuse Suizenji’s demands, what would happen? Suizenji would never see having more girls in the club as a good thing. The moment he realized that there was no hope of getting what he wanted, he might tell her to leave the club.
He’d say something like, we don’t need the extra headcount.
“—then again, she’s still manpower we could use,” said Asaba, as his hands started moving again.
“Perhaps if we ask her again after she warms up to us, she would do something to help us. Furthermore, it isn’t polite to keep bringing up the fact that she stays on the base, you know. Oh, please look down for a bit.”
“Why isn’t it polite?”
“Because. She happily joined our club because you invited her to, but you keep going ‘bring us into the base, bring us into the base’. Wouldn’t that sound like you thought she was only good for the fact that she lives in the base, and that you didn’t expect her to be of help in any other way? No one would be very happy to hear something like that all the time.”
Mmf, Suizenji grunted.
“I see. You have a point there.”
“Right? That is why, if you take the long view…”
“In other words, you are saying that we should find a better way to ask for her help without hurting her feelings. And it’ll be best if we could induce Special Correspondent Iriya herself to rack her brains to figure out how we could enter the base, am I right?”
“Hello, Chief? Erm, that wasn’t what I said—“
Chief disliked tactical waiting, or camping, as some would call it. Asaba could almost feel the cogs in the head he held in his hands start to turn.
It was not as if he didn’t understand why Suizenji wanted to rush things.
Sonohara Air Base was large, had both the US Air Force and the Japanese Self Defense Air Force stationed in it, and was the base of many offensive operations. That was why it was also a base shrouded in secrecy, and also why spies frequently appeared around the area. Asaba had heard that even the mass media had difficulty securing interviews or site visits. Perhaps it was the strict security that fuelled rumors such as ‘the Sonohara Air Base might be launching UFOs’.
Therefore, even if they did not find the remains of a UFO or alien carcasses, as long as they could enter the base and write a report on their findings, the article they’d publish would most definitely be an unprecedented journalistic scoop for a school newspaper. The chance to do so appeared right in front of them in the form of Iriya, and it was natural that she had Suizenji bouncing on the balls of his feet in excitement.
Asaba could have sworn he heard something like a chime of a doorbell.
Suizenji had thought of an idea. Asaba could distinctly feel it pop into his head with his fingers.
“Since it has come to this,”
Asaba readied himself for it. It was probably another one of his nonsensical ideas. He usually verbalized them after starting his sentence with “since it has come to this”.
“Special Correspondent Asaba, this is an order from your editor-in-chief. Go on a date with Special Correspondent Iriya.”
Asaba’s hands came to an abrupt stop. Suizenji nodded furiously, with his head still in Asaba’s hands.
“It’s a good thing that tomorrow is a Sunday. Why don’t you start the date by going for a movie? Then you could head to a café and then to a karaoke box and then to a hotel and then go as far as there is to go. How does that sound? If you need a car, I’ll lend you the mini pickup.”
Asaba’s head was making rumbling noises. His brain was suffering from indigestion.
Why would Suizenji think of something like this?
Suizenji continued, “I mean, it goes without saying that the date is meant for you to get on intimate terms with her as soon as possible. She won’t be able to squarely refuse a ‘someone who weighed heavily on her mind’ if he asked her something like ‘Can I see your room’, will she?”
His brain began to suffer from diarrhea instead, and it proceeded to relieve its bowels via his mouth.
I mean, there was no need to go so far as to do something like that, is there?
Suizenji continued speaking, “You can’t not do it. We can’t be waiting around for her to warm up to us. Although it is true that Sonohara Air Base prohibits outsiders from entering their compound, the point is to get Iriya to do something about that for us. This is a ploy often used by spies. If all goes well, she’ll go to you herself and say something like ‘there’s no one at home now’, you know.”
And, when that time comes, do you intend to be there as well?
Suizenji turned to look at Asaba over his right shoulder.
“Special Correspondent Asaba, you can do it.”
Feeling like he was being driven to a corner, Asaba said:
“W-What! No! I can’t do something like that!”
To which Suizenji raised his eyebrows theatrically, and then shrugged.
“I see. Then I’ll do it.”
Suizenji was smart and handsome. He was good at sports and tall to boot. He did not have the slightest interest in women but would stop at nothing to get what he wanted.
Yes, Suizenji was that sort of person.
“I understand, I’ll do it!!” Before he realized it, Asaba had shouted that out loud.
Suizenji looked slightly taken aback as he said, “Ah, but you needn’t force yourself to do it.”
“No, I will do it! Please let me do it!!” Asaba was at his wit’s end.
Suizenji gave him a sideward glance before grinning widely.
“Then I shall leave it to you. I’m counting on you, Special Correspondent Asaba, to successfully bring to light the mystery that is hidden in Sonohara Air Base!”
Upon these words, Asaba woke up from his bout of insanity. He turned pale, realizing that he had agreed to take on an outrageous task.
To take Iriya on a date.
He didn’t know if it would go well. He thought that it probably would not.
In the first place, he didn’t know if she would agree to one. He thought that she probably would not.
“E-Erm, but I have never taken anyone on a date before.”
There was the sound of the doorknob turning on the door to the clubroom.
“Don’t worry. Neither have I.”
“Harh?! Then what was that self-assured attitude from just now?”
The door opened, and it was immediately shut.
Suizenji continued light-heartedly, “No need to lose your head, Special Correspondent Asaba. She’ll be ours if you manage to kiss her, you know. Just one kiss.”
Unable to bear the mounting anxiety and stress and wanting to blame someone for it, Asaba lashed out at Suizenji in his frustration.
“What do you mean by ‘just one kiss’? In the first place, if you haven’t even been on a date with a girl before, what basis do you have to be saying something like that?”
“What are you doing?” said a voice behind him, and Asaba answered:
“Shush, we’re talking about something important now!”
He whipped around and found Iriya standing there.
“Special Correspondent Asaba it’s poking me, your scissors are poking into me and it hurts, it hurts very much indeed Special Correspondent Asaba please respond, please respond!”
Asaba hurriedly pulled back his scissors, and Suizenji went “Ow, that hurt,” while rubbing his head.
Iriya stared at Suizenji sitting on the chair looking like one of those paper dolls children would make as talismans for good weather2 and then at Asaba standing frozen in place, scissors in hand. Her eyes were wide.
He was beside himself with worry, wondering if Iriya had been listening in from the very beginning.
“When did you come in?”
And once again, she asked:
“—what are you doing?”
Suizenji answered her for him.
“It’s just as you see it. I am getting my hair cut by Special Correspondent Asaba. Asaba is the son of a barber, and cutting hair is his specialty. Oh right, according to a source I have, when Asaba was still in elementary school, he would put his little sister to sleep on a barber chair, then he would play some extremely filthy game that involved performing remodeling surgery on—“
Asaba jabbed his scissors to Suizenji’s throat and forced him to be quiet. He then started to move his hands once more, focusing on the job of trimming the ends of Suizenji’s hair.
Or rather, he tried to focus.
There are things you can do on this Earth, and there are things you simply can’t.
He sneaked a peek at Iriya and found her leaning in and staring at him work with her mouth half hanging open. When their eyes met, she quickly looked down.
What was that, Asaba wondered. Perhaps a person cutting hair was a rare sight for her.
He felt something bump into his stomach. When he looked down, he saw that Suizenji had nudged him with an elbow, presumably to urge him into taking action.
Despite that, Asaba couldn’t find his resolve. He tried to preoccupy himself with his work and his scissors, but his mind drifted elsewhere. What would he do if she refused? Suizenji then started to clear his throat like a bad actor hamming it up in a TV drama. Hey, Iriya. Are you free tomorrow? If you are, would you like to watch a movie with me or something like—
“—is this length okay?”
Asaba held up a mirror he had pilfered from the gym toilet to reflect the back of Suizenji’s head.
“Mmf. Well done.”
Suizenji stuck his right hand out of the hair covered sheet to flick a 100 yen coin at Asaba with his thumb, and Asaba caught it from somewhere behind his left ear. Even whilst he stood, stretched, and dusted off stray hairs from his shirt, Suizenji kept giving Asaba looks that said, “Go, go!” every time their eyes met. Asaba, not knowing where he should start, decided to pick up the broom and dustpan to sweep up the hairs that lay scattered on the floor.
Three things happened, almost at the same time.
First, Suizenji lost his patience with Asaba’s cowardice. In a loud voice:
“Special Correspondent Iriya, I have something important to discuss with you! How is your schedule like tomorrow—“
Second, Asaba took a deep breath, and:
“Wahhh! Please wait, Chief!”
Third, Sudou Akira burst into the room.
“Sorry I’m late! I got caught by Kawaguchi.”
Akiho threw her bag down on the table and wiped the sweat from her brow. Upon realizing that Iriya was in the room as well, her expression changed to one that plainly said: “What, you were here too?”
“—what are you all doing?”
Perhaps spotting something that was extremely telling, Akiho immediately sensed the conspiratorial atmosphere that hung over the clubroom. She scanned the room suspiciously, like a bomb waiting to go off. Asaba, who was sweeping up hair on the floor, wouldn’t make eye contact with her for some reason, and his hairdressing tools were out on the table. Iriya was standing there like a statue, with her bag still in her hand. Suizenji, whose hair looked neater than it did when she happened to see him in the morning, was drawing some sort of schematic on the whiteboard—
“I have something important to discuss with you for tomorrow, Special Correspondent Iriya, so listen up. Number one! We will capture our target by conquering three things, namely, the handle lock, the main switch, and the immobilizer! The usual brute force methods for overcoming the handle lock and main switch still work, so all that remains is the immobilizer! The immobilizer is simply a device that stops the supply of fuel and prevents the vehicle from starting if a digital lock is not discharged by a key. Furthermore, they sometimes work in tandem with alarms outfitted with vibration sensors, so if you trigger it by carelessly shaking the vehicle too much, an alarm will sound at full blast—“
“Yes, Special Correspondent Sudou.”
“What are you doing?”
“It’s just as you see it, Special Correspondent Iriya’s induction course. This is to help her become a fully-fledged journalist as soon as possible.”
“—erm, like I was asking, what on earth is this all about? You’ve been talking about switches and sensors and whatnot since just now.”
“The topic for today is ‘The Correct Way to Steal a Moped’.”
“How is that supposed to be an induction course for a new member of our club?!”
“What are you saying?! How can a fully-fledged journalist be unable to figure out something like this! Look, the quest for a scoop is accompanied by a certain degree of danger, no? You might have to shake off violent interview subjects or unsympathetic government officials, so this is a skill you would most definitely need to—“
Suizenji paused and threw Asaba a fleeting glance followed by a brief wink.
“—oh right, I remember now. Special Correspondent Sudou, could I have a few minutes of your time? I have a very important favor to ask of you.”
“W-What’s this about?”
“Oh no, we can’t have that discussion here. I’ll need to speak to you privately.”
After that, Suizenji moved so quickly that no one had a chance to object.
“Alrighty. Well then, Special Correspondent Iriya, my lecture for today ends here, but please go over all the points again when you get home. It’ll be even better if you could get some hands-on training.”
Swiftly, he opened the door in front of him. Akiho looked like she still had something to say, but Suizenji, pushing her hard on the back, left the room with her.
Just before the door was shut, a right arm stuck itself back into the room to give Asaba an exuberant thumbs up.
It’ll bring me nothing but trouble if you do that, Asaba thought.
Asaba decided that he should just finish sweeping up all the hair on the floor before doing anything else.
Emptying the contents of the dustpan into a makeshift trash bin, a cardboard box, and putting away the broom into its locker, Asaba finally let out a sigh.
What a close call.
If Akiho had caught wind of the fact that he was going on a date with Iriya with the aim of getting her to bring them into the base, she would be absolutely livid, no doubt. Furthermore, she seemed to dislike Iriya very much. It was natural that she would be disliked by all the girls in his class after that “go away” remark of hers, and as long as Akiho was also one of those girls in his class—
Yet, something didn’t feel quite right.
He thought that Akiho usually didn’t react this way.
Someone called out to him.
“Yes?” he answered absentmindedly as he stretched his back muscles, with the locker in front of his face.
“How many digits are there in the cipher to the immobilizer?”
Asaba turned around to find Iriya looking very hard at the whiteboard, and he, too, stared at the wiggly lines on the schematic that Suizenji had scrawled on the board in water-based ink.
“—ah, it’s okay really, you don’t need to bother about Chief. This is probably something he said off the top of his head. Oh, by the way.”
His courage crumbled.
“Why don’t you put your bag over there?”
Iriya obliged, and placed her bag on the table.
“Are you free tomorrow?”
He said it.
Iriya’s eyes grew wide again, like she was suddenly asked a question she hadn’t been expecting.
Her reply went like this.
And expect the worst answer he could receive.
Asaba willed himself to speak. He could no longer look at Iriya’s face.
“If, if it is okay with you, would you like to see a movie? With me.”
1 Dumping (in economics): Wikipedia link here. (Holy moly. They’re 14 and 15-year-olds, right?)
2 Teru Teru Bōzu: Wikipedia link here. See picture. Suizenji probably looked like one in his salon cape.