Volume 1 – Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, Sono Ichi
Chapter 3 – The Correct Way to Steal a Moped I (Part 2)
Let us return to the first Sunday of the second semester, the morning of the date.
When people in Sonohara said “Let’s go to town” or “Let’s take a look around town”, ‘town’ referred to an area in the middle of Sonohara Town which encompassed the Municipal Building, government buildings, public facilities and its surrounding areas.
Certainly, it was a place that seemed like a ’town’. Everything was brand new, clean, and fancy-looking. The roads were wide and generously lined with trees, and on pavements sat the occasional avant-garde sculpture.
But when one took into consideration the countryside that surrounded it, this ‘town’ can be considered somewhat of a ‘distortion’.
Why was the ‘town’ like this? It wasn’t very difficult to see why.
Enomoto, sitting on the passenger’s seat in a light station wagon parked at the road shoulder of the bus terminal in front of Sonohara Station’s South Exit, could sum it up for you in one sentence.
“It’s because of us.”
Shiina Mayumi had her arms crossed over the steering wheel and was resting her chin on it.
“By us— you mean Sonohara Air Base, right?”
Enomoto put his seat into a half-reclining position and leaned heavily on the backrest. He let out a huge yawn.
“There’s this huge military base and it comes with so many staff members and soldiers. This town prospers because those fellows spend money here. Is that what you had in mind?” Shiina asked.
“That’s more or less true, but there’s a larger inflow of money coming from somewhere else. You’ll understand if you take a look around the area. Those with money aren’t the local residents, but the local government.”
“What do you mean?”
Enomoto remained lying on his back against the backrest. A thin sigh escaped from his nose.
“To put it plainly, our upper-ups went, “We apologize for pressing such a large, dangerous, and fucking controversial military base on you” and bestowed heaps of money on this township for the inconvenience. That’s why Sonohara Town is disproportionately wealthy. The public facilities are so complete and perfect that it’s almost ridiculous. Do you know how many libraries there are in Sonohara Town alone?”
Enomoto answered his own question:
“Can you believe it, four! Of course, there isn’t a soul in those libraries. What will you find just down the road over there? An enormous civic hall. It’s a hall so well-equipped that you wouldn’t feel embarrassed inviting a world-class orchestra to perform in it. At first, the hall was used as a venue for absurdly large-scale events. Now all it does is host the annual Bon Festival dance in its needlessly spacious car park.”
Enomoto gave his watch a brief look while Shiina Mayumi turned to look at the bus terminal’s clock. They confirmed that both displayed the same time, 9:50 AM.
“This area does get busy in the afternoon, but since the shops close early, even the main street becomes almost pitch black at night. No one would be walking along it then. Imagine, the trees along the road rustling in the wind, strange sculptures on the pavement looking at you from the shadows, sporadic flashes of light from the road… It’ll almost feel like you’ve wandered into another dimension. Furthermore, bad people gather in groups when it gets dark. You might meet snatch thieves, molesters, bike gangs…”
Enomoto stroked his chin to check that his stubbly beard hadn’t grown too long.
“—I heard from someone in the Third Section that rumored sightings of UFOs, ghosts, monsters or stuff like that are much more common in Sonohara Town than other precincts. Perhaps the reason why Sonohara Town is such a hotbed of rumors is this particular avenue of streets.”
He yawned again; a large, gaping one.
“I’m sleepy,” he said.
“—what. I’ll slap you if you fall asleep on me.”
“Don’t say that. It was really tough, you know, to think of possible locations they would go to, predict the course they would take, and to ‘drain the swamp’ in all surrounding areas. Fuck that Asaba… We almost died between yesterday and today.”
“Isn’t that your job? Why am I getting dragged into this, anyway? I finally got an off-day today, and I had plans to do the laundry, too.”
Shiina Mayumi then sat up with a start, like she suddenly recalled something important.
“They issued one yesterday, didn’t they? A Level Three Stand-by Alert.”
“When was it lifted?”
“Oh… erm. Around five in the morning, according to what was communicated to me.”
“Then, what time did Kana-chan sleep?! She, she’s been waiting there since six in the morning, hasn’t she?”
“No, there was a point of time in the middle of the night when the Standby-Alert dropped to the Level Four, so she should have been able to catch some shut-eye then. For about two hours, I think.”
“Enomoto. Why didn’t you stop her from coming here? If it was a long duration standby order without a sortie1, then it’ll be the exact same situation we had at the shelter! Didn’t I explain it to you then? The drugs we kept administering to her during the standby period weren’t depleted, and because they remained in her bloodstream—“
Enomoto, with both hands flung across his face, croaked wearily:
“That’s why I dragged you out here.”
“Fine, go. If you really think she shouldn’t have come, go stop her. It won’t be long before Asaba turns up, but you can still make it.”
“She intended to hide today’s appointment from us, you know, and she still thinks we don’t know. How was I supposed to say to her, oh, since you’re meeting him at ten tomorrow morning, you should get some sleep?”
“I understand that she could be biting off more than she could chew. She does, too. We’ll just have to prepare ourselves for the worst, won’t we? If nothing happens, all of us will shout hurrah, but if Iriya faints again then all of us will just swoop in on her. I’ll have to rely on you when that happens.”
A sigh, followed by: “—I got it. Two more questions. Some guys from the North have been seen loitering around here again lately, haven’t they? Will Kana-chan be okay? Is she armed?”
“She is. With a 9mm caliber pistol with two rounds missing from its magazine. Nothing turned up during the ‘swamp-draining’ operation we conducted late into the night yesterday, so with respect to that, she should be fine.”
“I have one last question for you. Why, is she wearing her school uniform?”
“I found that strange as well. Couldn’t ask her about it, too. But well… Probably…”
“—ah. I might be wrong, though.”
“I forgot which paragraph it was in, but I believe there was a rule that said ‘it is preferable that you wear the school uniform when you go outside of the school compounds’ in the Sonohara Middle School rulebook.”
“You must be kidding me. I’ve never seen any of those kids walking around in their school uniforms on a non-school day before.”
“Yeah, but you get them sometimes, don’t you? A school rule that nobody obeys, and the teachers won’t scold you even if you don’t follow it because no one remembered there was such a rule in the first place. You’d only find it there if you read the student pocketbook carefully, in black and white.”
“I can’t think of anything else. She probably agonized over it herself, too, but decided to wear the uniform in the end because she didn’t want anyone to think she was some sort of juvenile delinquent.”
Both of them had been staring very hard at the same corner of the bus terminal from the other side of the windscreen.
The public buses in Sonohara were almost always empty. That was because the bus services were very frequent even though there weren’t very many passengers. That being said, at this time on a Sunday, one would be able to see a fair number of people getting on and off buses at bus platforms 1 to 8 in the bus terminal. According to the bus route on the bus terminal signboard, buses coming from Sonohara Air Base will make their stop at Bus Platform 8, which was at the other end of the roundabout. According to the timetable for Bus Platform 8, the first bus was due to reach the bus terminal today at 5.50 AM.
And waiting there since 5.50 AM, at Bus Platform 8, was Iriya, who stood there motionless throughout.
In her school uniform.
While holding on to a black, oblong-shaped tote bag with many pockets on it.
Even though there was an air-conditioned waiting room with glass windows right beside her, she chose to stand there instead, without moving a hair, her eyes never leaving the exit of the train station. She didn’t even look up at the clock. This probably attracted the attention of passers-by; since 5.50 AM, three people had approached her.
The first was a middle-aged man on his way to an early morning session of Japanese croquet. “Which platform should I take the bus from if I want to go to Tonoyama Sports Park?” He asked Iriya, but Iriya completely ignored him.
The second was an elderly woman who was making her usual visit to her orthopedist at Sonohara Community Hospital. She thought that Iriya might have been lost and unsure of which bus to take, so she took it upon herself to give her directions. “Young lady, where do you need to go?” She asked Iriya, but Iriya completely ignored her, as well.
The third person approached her just thirty minutes ago. It was a young American soldier from Sonohara Air Base. It was in the nature of the U.S. troops to extend a hand to a party which they have arbitrarily decided was in need of their help, even if that other party didn’t ask for any. He attempted to do roughly what the elderly woman had done while ignoring the fact that he didn’t speak a word of Japanese. “Hey you lost girl over there, please rest easy knowing that I, this dashingly handsome soldier from the Fourth Squadron, is here for you. Where are you going?”
Primly enunciating her words, Iriya only offered two words to him in reply.
The fourth person to approach her showed up at 10.04 AM.
This person parked his bicycle at the bicycle parking area on the other side of the train station and ran through the connecting underpass towards the bus terminal, bobbing his head in apology to everyone he bumped into in his hurry. He was practically falling over own feet as he ran up the staircase to the underpass exit. Iriya immediately noticed his figure as he emerged from the exit—
“Ah, Kana-chan is having a nosebleed again.”
Shiina Mayumi instinctively lifted herself off the driver’s seat to lean over the dashboard for a better look, and Enomoto restrained her with an arm as he quickly said:
“It’s okay, it’ll be fine. Asaba will have a handkerchief on him, at least.”
Enomoto rose and briskly grabbed the wireless transceiver that he had thrown out on the dashboard.
“Men, we’ll be starting now. There is no change in protocol but I’ll repeat myself once more. Kakizaki and Miyajima will be in front, Nagae and Taguchi will be at the back, and we’ll start with Sekiya at the side. I’ll leave the timing of manpower rotation to you. In the unlikely event that you lose sight of them, do not send out a signal to Asaba’s bug. I repeat, do not, in any case, use Asaba’s bug to track him down. Iriya will notice it at once. Station squad and ground squad, send a status report.”
The ‘ground squad’ reported all-clear.
The ‘station squad’ reported that they had a bit of a situation on their hands.
“—harh?” Enomoto squawked into the phone.
Shiina Mayumi, who was starting up the engine, asked, “What is it?”
After listening to the report from the ‘station squad’, Enomoto instructed them to check back with him again in two minutes. Turning to Shiina with a bewildered look on his face, he said:
“They said they noticed someone on Asaba’s tail.”
He had been acting strangely since last night.
If you were to ask her to pinpoint exactly what she had found strange about his behavior, Yuuko wouldn’t be able to put it clearly in words. What Yuuko had felt was a subtle feeling that something was out of place. She wouldn't have noticed that slight difference in demeanor if she hadn’t lived with Asaba under the same roof since she was born.
Her brother wasn’t his usual self.
You know, you usually don’t even want to talk to him, but you sure pay a lot of attention to your Honii-chan, don’t you— one should not say something like that to Yuuko, for she would turn bright red in her displeasure. She might even raise a hand, or even a leg at the offending person.
When her mother asked her to go up to her brother’s room to wake him up, she thought that she had fielded a great opportunity to obtain more information. That phone call from Suizenji confirmed her suspicions that something was up with her brother, and that something had nothing to do with aliens or ghosts.
What on earth was that ‘important mission’ that Suizenji was talking about?
After saying that and leaving her brother’s room, Yuuko had gone back to her own room, but her ears were pricked. As she listened to her brother’s footsteps running along the corridor to the washroom, she made up her mind.
Walking softly on her toes, she re-entered her brother’s room without his permission.
Her heart was beating wildly.
Like a police officer inspecting a crime scene, she swiftly scanned the room. She wondered where he was in such a hurry to go to. His alarm clock had rolled to a corner of the room, manga and novels lay scattered around his pillow, but Yuuko, with a jolt, realized there was a single magazine in the pile.
A porn magazine, perhaps?
It wasn’t. It turned out to be a town guide to Sonohara Town, the kind that was sold in convenience stores. It was lying face down, open at a particular page, and Yuuko picked it up and turned it over. On the ‘Movie Information’ page was a line that was circled in red with a ballpoint pen:
Teikokuza Movie Theatre, Mukidō Musume [The Reckless Maiden]: 10:30 – 12:15
It can’t be, she thought.
Yuuko threw that notion straight out of the window.
That brother of hers will never attempt something as large as this.
She found something else that was of interest around his pillow: a Japanese dictionary that could be used as a fermentation weight. She remembered now, it was a dictionary that their father had bought when he entered middle school. It was out of its case and lying flung out across the bedding.
He might have been using it as a cure for insomnia.
However, it would have been difficult to hold up such a large dictionary while lying on one’s back. Yuuko started to leaf through the pages while holding on to the thick cover of the dictionary.
Since Yuuko wasn’t seriously looking for anything, it was simply her good fortune that allowed her to stumble upon it. If Asaba had stuffed it between pages nearer to the end of the dictionary, she might never have noticed it. Hidden between pages 140 and 141, at the page marking the end of all words starting with the ‘a’ sound and the start of words starting with the ‘i’ sound, was a slip of paper.
It was a photocopied form, folded twice.
Yuuko unfolded the heavily creased slip of paper to find that it was a Club Application Form. The person who filed this application was called Iriya Kana, and the club she wanted to join was the Journalism Club, and her reason for wanting to join was—
The notion she threw out of the window came flying back, along with jaw-dropping evidence.
But, what was this supposed to mean?
Her panicked thoughts raced about her head like a scream echoing around a room. She didn’t understand what was going on. Since the Journalism Club was a guerrilla student group, an application form like this won’t mean a thing. Although the line for the teacher-in-charge’s seal had a stamp that said ‘Shiina’, there was no teacher in the school of the name Shi—
Wait. Shiina-sensei from the infirmary? But why?
Above all, the question that grated on her nerves the most was, who on earth was this Iriya Kana? There was only one female member in the Journalism Club, someone in the same class as her brother, called something Akiho.
Her brother had finally gone soft in the head. Perhaps he had spent too much time under Suizenji’s influence and finally became someone who would get lost in wild fancies. Perhaps her brother had filled in this form himself and ‘Iriya Kana’ was, in her brother’s mind, the only member of the fair sex in a group of five super-humans that would restore peace to this Earth.
That would be more probable, Yuuko thought.
“If you’re going out, spin the barber pole in front for me, won’t you!”
Her brother would disappear any moment now. If she were to make that decision, she would have to make it now.
What will her brother do today? What will become of her brother today?
She wanted to know, no matter what.
Her brother was flying along at a breakneck pace on his bicycle, and it was really hard to keep up with him.
That aside, it wasn’t very difficult to tail him at all. Her brother didn’t look to his side nor look back as he worked the pedals, so he might not have noticed her even if she was right behind him. Anyway, even if she were to lose sight of him, she could lie in wait for him at the Teikokuza Movie Theatre as she could expect him to be there at 10:30 AM. However, she could not be absolutely sure that he would turn up, thus she thought it would be better to be tailing him from the start till the end.
There Asaba Yuuko stood, riveted to the spot, as she came face-to-face with the reality that she had found extremely hard to accept.
In front of Sonohara Bus Terminal, her brother met with a girl.
The girl was wearing the school’s uniform. She had long hair, but that was all she could make out. One reason for this was because Yuuko was somewhere rather far away. She was observing them from the underpass exit’s shadow, and there was about a pool’s length between her and them.
Another reason why her eyes couldn’t take in anything else was because something rather unbelievable was happening between them at that very moment.
Upon seeing Asaba, that girl, of all the things she could have done, burst into tears. Her brother then ran over to her and offered her a handkerchief in a bid to comfort her. Both of them were standing at the platform and the sight of her brother circling her awkwardly while she hung her head with his handkerchief pressed to her mouth was attracting a fair bit of attention from around them. She couldn’t tell for sure without taking a closer look, but she wondered if that girl was crying in such a way that was particularly attention-grabbing.
Her head was spinning.
The situation that she was so sure her brother wouldn’t get into was taking place right in front of her eyes.
Yuuko came out of the underpass exit onto the pavement and slowly started walking along the roundabout towards Bus Platform 8.
She thought if she didn’t go close enough for them to see her face clearly, they would never know she was there, but, just in case, she pretended to look at shop windows while looking at them from the corner of her eye. Her brother had been fretting over her just now, but he seemed to have calmed down somewhat. Perhaps that girl had stopped crying.
Yuuko wondered if that girl was that ‘Iriya Kana’ in question.
She couldn’t be sure about anything yet, so she decided to call that girl ‘the girl who cries a lot’ for now.
Yuuko turned and risked a glance at ‘the girl who cries a lot’ for a few seconds. She must be from Sonohara Middle School given the uniform she was wearing, but Yuuko had never seen this girl before.
The girl was pretty, too.
At least, Yuuko did not have any recollection of such a person amongst the first-years, and the girl didn’t look like she was in her senior year. Does that mean she was, like her brother, a sophomore?
Then again, her uniform.
Why was she wearing her school uniform on a Sunday?
She didn’t think there would be anyone who would wear their school uniform to a date.
Perhaps she had been too hasty and had jumped to conclusions. It was possible that this wasn’t the romantic situation she had been imagining. Perhaps ‘the girl who cries a lot’ was simply a new member of the Journalism Club, in other words, Suizenji’s new underling, and they were going to some place to collect information for an article which required her to be dressed neatly in her uniform. Perhaps her brother was an assistant or someone who was showing her the way to that place, which was why he needn’t be in his. That would also explain Suizenji’s phone call this morning. Besides, even if her brother circled something in red on a town guide, it didn’t mean that he had planned to go there today.
The problem was, they could very well be on a date, and the argument would still hold.
Her brother and that girl started moving and Yuuko thought she should follow them. There were many people coming and going so she was able to tail them closely. ‘The girl who cries a lot’ was carrying a black, rectangular bag, probably made of nylon, with many zippers on it. It looked rather heavy, and even though it had a shoulder strap, the girl had chosen to carry it in her left hand. Yuuko thought the bag looked like one of those bags that thieves and spies used to hold their tools, and that it didn’t seem suitable for a girl on a date.
As she walked, ‘the girl who cries a lot’ looked curiously all around her like everything was a rare sight to her, and she didn’t look like she was crying just a few moments ago. She would frequently stop to take a closer look at something. Yuuko wouldn’t have found it strange if it was to peek into the shop windows. However, the girl showed interest in everything; a child passing her by, posters on a telegraph pole, signboards with a slightly unusual shape. Despite this, the girl did not seem like the talkative sort. Yuuko could tell, just by looking on from behind them, that her brother was trying his best to fill the silence by talking about this and that.
She decided that ‘the girl who cries a lot’ shall be called ‘the girl who looks around’ instead.
From the direction they were heading, Yuuko concluded that they were going to Teikokuza Movie Theatre after all.
Just one more turn and they would be able to see the signboard in front of the movie theatre.
It was then that ‘the girl who looks around’ stopped in her tracks, like she had suddenly recalled something important she had yet to do. She spun around to look behind her, and Yuuko was completely caught unaware.
Their eyes met.
In a trice, Yuuko threw herself into the pachinko parlor right next to where she was standing.
—did she see me?
Yuuko tried to assure herself that it would be fine, since it’s not like her brother had seen her. However, her hiding place wasn’t a very a good one. The front of the shop was made entirely out of glass, thus if she didn’t go all the way to the back of the shop to hide, she would still be in plain view to someone on the streets. ‘The girl who looks around’ might come back with her brother to find out who she was, but Yuuko was afraid of venturing any further into the parlor. The parlor was modern and tidy-looking, but the inside of the parlor was noisy and clamorous, and the adults who sat in front of the machines looked, to Yuuko, like bank robbers or kidnappers. Her father did not go to pachinko parlors, so Yuuko was of the opinion that the adults who did were all hoodlums.
She jumped up in fright.
“What are you doing here?”
It was someone staffing the parlor. He looked like a university student, and he also looked like he was completely unaccustomed to the black uniform he was wearing.
“Are you hiding from someone?”
Yuuko hadn’t quite recovered from the shock she got from being spotted by ‘the girl who looks around’, so she couldn’t get her brain to come up with a workable excuse on the spot.
“Would you go out of the shop for me to see if those two people on your right are still there?”
The parlor staff knitted his brows. “Ah?” He said.
His tone frightened her, so she instinctively lowered her head as she begged him, “Please.”
With a bewildered look on his face, the parlor staff asked, “—which two?”
“Middle school students, a boy and a girl. The boy is wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and the girl is in her school uniform.”
The parlor staff stared at Yuuko for a short while before running his eyes along the entire length of the parlor to ensure that his boss wasn’t around. Stepping onto the welcome mat at front of the automatic sliding doors, he stuck half his face outside the parlor and peered to his right.
“—are they still there?” Yuuko asked as she leaned towards him.
The parlor staff whispered, “The girl is on the phone.”
With his gaze still fixed on something on his right, he waved Yuuko over. Yuuko timidly went over to him and attempted to look outside from between his legs, as he was of a considerable height, but he suddenly jerked his head back into the parlor and pushed Yuuko’s head down with a rather large hand.
“Wait. The boy is looking this way.”
About ten seconds later, he peeped outside again, and Yuuko did the same.
“That one, right?”
Just below his chin, Yuuko nodded, once. ‘The girl who looks around’ was in telephone box about 10 meters away from the pachinko parlor with her back turned. Her brother looked bored.
She decided that ‘the girl who cries a lot’ should be called ‘the girl on the phone’.
“Who are they? Are they bullying you?”
If she were to give him an honest explanation, it would be a very long explanation indeed.
“No. No, but I can’t be seen by then. For certain reasons.”
Mmf, the parlor staff grunted.
“—but, that’s really strange,” he muttered.
“That phone over there breaks down rather often. Just now, I tried to call a friend using that phone but that phone swallowed my card. I was pretty pissed off then… Maybe it’s been fixed already.”
Mmf, whispered Yuuko.
“Ah, we have a phone like that in our school. There are three public telephones in front of our main entrance, and the one on the extreme right always breaks down too. Gii, who is from my class, said that they do it on purpose and that it was some ploy by the telcos.”
‘The girl on the phone’ placed the receiver back on its hook and left the telephone box. She then walked off quickly, with her brother at her side.
Yuuko probably could continue tailing them without any problems.
“I need to go.”
The parlor staff simply said, “Oh-kay.”
“Thank you,” said Yuuko, as she ran out of the parlor. Spinning around in a little dance, she bowed once before speeding off again. It seemed that there were adults in pachinko parlors who weren’t hoodlums, after all.
Weaving through the crowd, Yuuko made a quick turn and came out to the widest street in the route she had taken today but her brother and that girl were nowhere to be found. The signboard was already right in front of her, and if they were heading this way then there was no doubt that their destination was the movie theatre. She tried to figure out what time it was but cursed herself upon realizing that she had forgotten her watch. Even so, she guessed that it would have already been 10:30 AM and that she couldn’t see them because they were in a hurry to be in time for their movie.
Yuuko decided that she should hurry, too. She looked up to the signboard as she ran past it. Mukidō Musume [The Reckless Maiden] was being shown in the West Theatre, and its movie poster was an action scene depicting a hoard of young people fighting with each other. It didn’t look like a very wise choice for a date.
Even though it was a Sunday, there weren’t very many movie-goers in the theatre. A number of ladies somewhere between middle-aged and elderly, with age spots all over their cheeks, sat in the waiting area in front of the ticketing counter, dozing off.
Yuuko paused for a second to take deep breaths and wipe the sweat from her brow, before running to the ticketing counter.
On the other side of the reinforced clear plastic panels was a clock so old that one would think they dug it out from ruins dating back to the Jōmon period. The clock needles pointed to 10:32 AM.
And like two voices singing in harmony:
“One middle school student ticket!”
Both of them recognized each other’s voice.
Both of them, while still leaning over the counter, turned to face each other.
“Oh, Asaba-kun! What a coincidence!”
It was Suizenji.
He received confirmation over wireless radio.
“It appears that,” Enomoto said, “there is a huge conspiracy underway here, and it had nothing to do with us whatsoever.” He looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself.
“Perhaps it was a situation we could have foreseen.” Shiina Mayumi pointed out. “After all, weren’t you the one who told me that there was a two-person team monitoring Apron Number 4 from halfway up the Tonoyama Mountains during summer vacation? Those two were Asaba-kun and Suizenji-kun, right?”
“But ya know, the ‘kun’ suffix doesn’t suit Suizenji at all. Doesn’t he look around twenty-eight? The cheek of him to go ‘one middle school student ticket’ while looking like that! If I were the person at the ticketing counter I would definitely not believe that he was still in middle school.”
“How mean. He might secretly mind, you know.”
Enomoto scratched his head vigorously, and flakes of dandruff fell off his scalp. Truth is, he hadn’t showered in three days.
“—naw. It’s half a compliment, actually. He’s smart enough to outsmart twenty-eight-year olds nowadays if they aren’t careful. I heard that Suizenji wrote ‘CIA’ on his career questionnaire and had the entire staff room thrown into disarray. CIA isn’t someplace great to work at anyway, he should have just given up on it.”
“At least CIA is a little better than where we are now. When it comes to career counseling, you have to respect the students’ wishes, don’t you? Oh, by the way,”
“Why didn’t you remove them? When those two set up camp in the Tonoyama Mountains.”
Enomoto looked at her like he was staring down at an inferior living thing.
“You women are all the same.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“How can you be so tactless? It’s a secret base deep in the mountains we’re talking about, you know. Spending the entire summer keeping watch on the mysterious Sonohara Air Base, going to the nearby fields to steal watermelons, throwing firecrackers at cars with couples having a wild time in them, and giving food to wild badgers… Their schedule was jam-packed with activities like these.”
“T-Those two were doing things like that?”
“I really wished they’d let me join in the fun. I have to admit, I couldn’t quite hold myself back and was ready to go join them sometime near the start of August, but that idiot Kimura stopped me from going.”
“…I’m fine being a woman, then. And an idiot, to boot.”
Shiina Mayumi’s face turned serious once again.
“Nevertheless, wasn’t it risky? Suizenji-kun can be sharp at times, and Apron Number 4 isn’t in a condition to be watched right now. What would you have done if they had taken photos or videos?”
“There were no slip-ups on our part regarding that. Anyway, what did you think that Ticonderoga-class aircraft carrier was doing off the coast at the promontory, at that time?”
“—h-hang on. What?”
“Ah, but around the end of July, just once did a missile carrier make an emergency landing at the Number 4. It was very early in the morning, and it didn’t seem like they noticed.”
“You called an aircraft carrier over just for those two?!”
“Yeah, that I did. And we moved the entire Manta fleet over there.”
“Are you an idiot?! You must be out of your mind!!”
“—but, ya know.”
Perhaps the Sandman had decided to pay him another visit; Enomoto’s voice had lost its strength. He leaned back on his seat and closed his eyes.
“At that time, the Skunks were saying that they wanted to run tests on the Torch. If those two hadn’t been in the Tonoyama Mountains then, we might have turned that request down—anyway, it’s true that there was such a discussion at that time.”
“What is this ‘Torch’ that you speak of?”
Enomoto opened his eyes into slits.
“What was its official name again? I can’t remember. It was some sort of navigation device that allowed the Manta to land on the aircraft carrier from extreme altitudes. It was an improved version or a new model or a bug fix or something like that. The only thing I remember rather clearly was that it was some shit that I didn’t need to remember.”
“The Skunks have been working on nothing else but that lately.”
“But yet again, they were the ones who created the Manta.”
“I really pity Kana-chan. She made a really good guinea pig, didn’t she?”
Enomoto let out a thin sigh, and Mayumi Shiina could almost hear, in that sigh, him saying to her: “What are you saying now, after all this time?”
The voice over the wireless transceiver introduced itself: “Kajiwara here,” and Enomoto sat up like he had been whipped.
“What is it?” He said.
“—erm, you did say to contact you if things got steamy between them, so.”
Right, I did say something like that just now, Enomoto thought. Hearing of Asaba Yuuko’s and Suizenji Kunihiro’s forced intrusion had put him in a rather playful mood just now. It must be the high from sleep deprivation, he decided.
However, there was a glint of excitement in Shiina Mayumi’s eye. Snatching the wireless transceiver from Enomoto,
“What do you mean by ‘steamy’?”
“Er, you know, if she rests her head on his shoulders and—“
“Can I go in?”
Shiina could hear Kajiwara’s wry laughter over the transceiver.
“—you could, I guess. I could get them to secure the west-facing back door.”
Watching Shiina Mayumi gleefully removing her seatbelt, Enomoto simply said:
“If they see you, you’ll put the kibosh on our plans.”
“It’ll be okay!”
“Even if no one else notices you, Iriya will.”
“But, don’t you wanna look?”
Enomoto was a picture of extreme weariness as he remained on his back against the car seat. After a short pause,
“I wanna look.”
1 Sortie: military dispatch or deployment: Wikipedia link here