Volume 2 – Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, Sono Ni
Chapter 2 – 18:47:32 I (Part 2)
When Akiho left the school by the foyer and came out onto the grounds, she found that it looked more like a construction site. Drawing herself up to full height, she frowned down upon her surroundings. Humph, she snorted. This atmosphere was not bad at all.
Enormous papier-mâché sculpture construction, painting works; operations which cannot be carried out inside the school building were taking place all around her. Right in the middle of the school grounds was a bunch of students in stiff-collared jackets in a desperate struggle to set up an enormous timber scaffold that was high as a tower, a yagura. Every time they did something they would burst into rousing shouts of “Fight on!! Fight on———!!” to motivate themselves.
Needless to say, these were people from the Committee of the Rising Sun, and the operation underway was the preparation for the ‘Firestorm’. At 6:45 PM sharp on the second day of the festival after all scheduled activities have ended, the Head of the Committee of the Rising Sun will light the fire on the yagura himself, and all students would join hands and dance a folk-dance around the fire. Of course, participation was optional, and a good day would see about one-third of the student body performing the dance. The most common pattern observed was that the remaining two-thirds of the students would watch the dance from a vantage point of their choice. It must however, be added that the most important thing was not to participate in the dance but to enjoy the festive atmosphere with everyone else at that point of time. As it would seem, the ‘Firestorm’ was an important if embarrassing event; one that was suitable to be touted as the ‘finale’ of the Festival of the Rising Sun.
Walking quickly, Akiho cut across the grounds as she made her way towards the row of clubrooms. When she walked past the yagura, her eyes met with those of a Committee member. When she greeted him with a nod, he immediately returned her greeting with “Fight on———!!” in an extremely hoarse voice, while stretching his back muscles with his arms behind him. As one would expect, it was a little embarrassing.
Akiho walked away from him like she was running away. When she reached the clubroom that the Journalism Club had unlawfully occupied, she found a notice that said: “No Entry – Authorized Persons Only” pasted on the door. Her head tilted in puzzlement. There was no such notice on the door just yesterday.
Well, it shouldn’t matter, she decided. She was an ‘authorized person’ after all. The moment she opened the door however, she was greeted by a powerful smell. She froze, aghast.
“Wha-! Hey, what are you all doing?!”
It was the smell of organic solvent.
The clubroom had undergone a spectacular change over the span of one night. Strewn across the floor till there was no place to walk, were paint cans and every single kind of tool one could possibly think of. Right in the middle of the mess was an unidentifiable object, sitting like a deity next to an ambiguous diorama.
“Special Correspondent Sudou, close the door quickly.”
Said Suizenji without looking up, as he continued his tussle with the diorama. He was kneading paper clay into the shape of a mountain ridge. Sitting on the floor next to him was Asaba, and he was picking up box after box from a pile of empty snack boxes beside him and cutting them open with a pair of scissors. Akiho surmised that he intended to use the cardboard as material to build something else. Two fans fought an impossible battle to chase the heat and paint fumes out of the open window at the far end of the room.
“Erm, won’t air circulation be better if I just leave the door open—”
“This is to maintain confidentiality.”
That again. However, Akiho had long given up on trying to argue with him on that topic.
“But what is this? I didn’t see anything like this in the room yesterday—”
Asaba shrugged laughingly.
“I was surprised when I saw it, too,” he said. “Seems like Chief skipped school for the whole of today to do this.”
Akiho closed the door behind her. Suizenji skipping out on school wasn’t something particularly surprising. Her eyes came to rest on a sleeping bag, convenience store plastic bags and toiletries scattered about in a corner of the clubroom. Since he probably stayed over the night before and had been working on the diorama since yesterday up to now without attending any of his lessons today, it would be troublesome for him if he met any of his teachers now. The ‘No Entry’ notice on the closed door wasn’t just part of his usual secret agent game, it was probably to prevent teachers from coming in. Yet again—
“—what is this?”
This time, she directed the question at Asaba. Asaba pointed with his scissors first to the object, and then at the diorama. “These is a Foo Fighter, and this is the Sonohara Air Base. We are making this visual display piece for the school festival.”
“Special Correspondent Sudou. We, the Journalism Club, would like to hold an exhibition of our investigation reports on UFOs. The theme of the exhibit shall be ‘The Foo Fighters of Sonohara Air Base’.”
What do you think it’s a great idea isn’t it lavish some praise on me for it, was written all over Suizenji’s face.
Needless to say, Akiho’s face clouded with displeasure upon seeing that look on Suizenji’s face.
“What is it?”
Akiho took a quick breath. In one breath, she said:
“Why did you decide on something as important as that all by yourself?! Are you saying that you do not care about what Asaba and I might want to do for the festival?!”
Asaba and I. Why is Iriya missing from the picture? Asaba had a feeling that Akiho would only get angrier if he pointed that out, so he kept his mouth shut.
“Let’s listen to what you’ve got, then.”
Suizenji didn’t even flinch.
“Tell me, Special Correspondent Sudou. What were you thinking of doing for the school festival?”
Akiho was momentarily at a loss for words. Truth was, she hasn’t come up with any concrete ideas yet. In anguish, she turned her glare on Asaba.
“Why don’t you say something, too? Don’t you have anything else you’d like to do for the school festival?”
Whoa, it’s coming this way now, Asaba thought.
“I-I don’t have anything in particular that I, I mean, if there is something that everyone wants to do, then I’ll be fine with—”
“You’re pathetic! Don’t you have any opinions of your own?!”
Suizenji forced his way in between the two of them.
“When Special Correspondent Asaba says that he wishes to leave the planning of the activities for the festival to someone else, it is in itself an opinion as well, don’t you think? You have no right to fault with him for what he thinks.”
“A-Anyway! That is not the point here! What I meant to say was, you’re being too pushy by deciding on the activity our club would do without discussing it with any of us beforehand!”
Suizenji’s frown was almost theatrical. After a moment’s thought:
“Answer me, Special Correspondent Sudou. Aren’t you getting the wrong idea about something here?”
“Wouldn’t that be you, Chief? Don’t you think that you are being unreasonable by forcing your opinions on us while saying that ideas would be accepted on a first come, first serve basis?!”
“No one’s saying anything like that.”
On Suizenji’s face was a look that said that he finally knew where the snag was now.
“There is no rule that says that one club can only do one activity. If you would just look around you will see that there are many clubs which have multiple activities planned. I don’t mind if you have a different idea, we could do yours as well. What do you think? You won’t have any problems with that now then, will you?”
Akiho simply looked confounded, like Suizenji had pulled a fast one on her. She had probably thought that Suizenji would object to whatever she said or do. It was almost as if she had come at Suizenji with a raised fist but was smoothly sidestepped, and she could no longer find a place to land a blow.
Asaba chose this moment to ask:
“Akiho, what then would you like to do for the festival?”
She found one.
“Oh would you shut up about that! I’ll think of something and tell you by tomorrow, alright!!”
“Please think of something as soon as you can,” he said.
He then returned his attention to the paper clay mountain. Akiho watched him as he solemnly shaped the paper clay into a winding L-shaped valley, moving the stainless steel spatula the way a veterinarian would handle his scalpel.
Just now, Asaba said that it was the diorama was of the Sonohara Air Base.
“Hey,” she said.
Asaba who had shrunk a little smaller after being yelled at, timidly said: “Yes?”
“What is the scale of this model?”
“Huh? Er, I wonder what the scale is, uh—”
“It’s a 1:15000 model,” answered Suizenji as he wielded the spatula. “Rather than saying that this is a diorama of Sonohara Air Base, it’ll be more accurate to say that this is a model of the base and 30 kilometers out on each of its four sides.”
Akiho took another look at the diorama, which was still far from completion. Insofar they have only managed to crudely replicate the topographical features of the areas surrounding the base. However, even at this stage Akiho could most certainly tell that they had faithfully strove to recreate even the finest of details on the landscape. Even Akiho, who was rather unskillful at working with her hands in this manner knew that the diorama, when completed, would be a truly remarkable sight indeed.
The model was about the size of two tatami mats lined up side-by-side. Right in the middle of the model on a space wider than two palms, was a flat area on which complicated looking geometric patterns had been drawn in pencil. The straight lines were probably a sketch of the landing strips, and that area was probably where they planned to construct the air base.
Akiho voiced a doubt she had.
“—how accurate can you make this model?”
“Harh?” squawked Asaba, sounding like an idiot. He did not understand what Akiho was getting at.
“Erm, in other words, what did you base this model on? I mean, since, you know—”
Without warning, Suizenji roared: “Excellent question!!”
He thrust his spatula deep into a ball of paper clay as large as a person’s head and ran to the wall with the whiteboard on it, before slapping a red sticker on the ‘Sudou’ column on the ‘Good Job!’ Chart.
“Good of you to ask, as one would expect of Special Correspondent Sudou! Special Correspondent Asaba did not notice it, but you did!”
Asaba still did not get it. “Notice what?” he asked.
“Think about it. One could look at maps and construct an accurate model of the landforms and buildings in the areas surrounding the base. However, how can you do the same for Sonohara Air Base, which is the most crucial part of this model? Of course, it’ll be easy if we had a couple of aerial photos that captured the whole of the air base, but do you think we could simply go, oh, could I have one of those please, and be able to get our hands on photos like that?”
Asaba finally understood.
If one were to look at maps of Sonohara Town, the spot where the base was located would be empty. Not just that, even civilian maps they could obtain from places like bookshops was deliberately made inaccurate; the maps would not show some bridges or roads in the town that were critical to military strategy. Of course, this was to ensure that the information does not fall into the enemy’s hands. Asaba once heard that visitors from outside the town often get lost in the exact same areas of the town.
“It would be impossible to fly a civilian plane over the air base. You’ll get a warning just by trying to enter the airspace around it, and if you disregard the warning and continue on they really might shoot you down. This means that, aerial photos of the entire base will never be found outside of the base.”
Asaba picked up the stack of print-outs that were lying next to him.
“—then, how did you get your hands on these drawings?”
“My attempt to collect data was victorious. For the whole of the past week, I have been making frequent trips to the base with a digital camera and a video camera, and I took many pictures of the inside of the base.”
“But you can’t see the inside of the base from the roads around it, can you?”
It was as Asaba said. There was a tall fence along the perimeter of Sonohara Air Base, and inside the perimeter were strategically placed bits of forest and earthen walls that blocked the compound from view, making it difficult to know what lies inside.
It would seem that they did not simply surround the base with a tall wall. The trees and earthen walls reduced the intimidation factor of living near a military base, and created a buffer zone that absorbed or reflected the sounds of planes taking off and landing.
“That is true, but people have found some holes in the cover. Sonohara Air Base is a place that attracts aircraft maniacs and UFO maniacs, after all. Places from which you can see in that have been trending recently would include ‘Kinoshita Mart Roof’ and ‘Takaza Mountain Ridge’. Of course, the base is aware of such places, so we have been playing cat-and-mouse with them: the efforts of those who wants to peep versus the countermeasures undertaken by the base.”
Asaba was hit by a sudden realization.
“Then, when Chief and I were in Tonoyama Mountains during the summer vacation,”
“That was a hole within a hole in the cover that I found. It’s an advantage of being on the home team.”
“Ah, then I won’t tell anyone about it. I’ll keep that place a secret.”
“I’m okay with you telling people about it, really.”
Akiho said, “Won’t you get a scolding if you were found taking photos of the base?”
“As if you can get off with just a scolding! You might if you were simply looking in with a pair of binoculars or something, but if you were caught taking photos or video footage or any sort of recording of the inside of base, you would be put under arrest.”
Akiho stared at him, appalled that he would say such things so calmly. Asaba turned pale as he realized for the first time the degree of danger they were in when they were in the mountains during the summer.
With a fair amount of pride, Suizenji said: “Data collection is a difficult process indeed. We set up camp underneath a canvas thrown over the back of our light pick-up, and after much difficulty we were able to take so many pictures of the base that we could hardly get all of the data to fit into one MO disk. I fed them into an image processing program which used the intensity of the shading on the pictures to convert them into 3D data. The drawings you have in your hands now, Special Correspondent Asaba, are the images I got after I inserted the map of the surrounding areas of the base and scaled it down 15000 times.”
Asaba fell silent. He had a feeling they were doing something that was very, very risky. Will they really be okay doing this for the school festival?
“We will showcase this diorama with a display panel which we plan to make as well. On the display panel would be actual case studies along with photos, of the Foo Fighters witnessed around Sonohara Air Base. We intend to indicate the positions of the Foo Fighters according to the witnesses’ accounts relative to each other on the diorama.”
Akiho had a look on her face which said, “I understand now.” Topic aside, his methodology for presenting information was a pretty solid one.
“Then, what about that strange-looking papier-mâché model over there?”
Akiho pointed at the unidentifiable object which was sitting next to the diorama. It was still under construction like the diorama, but unlike the diorama Akiho was unable to imagine how it would look like when it is complete.
“What do you mean by, strange-looking? That is the centerpiece of the exhibition, you know.”
“That, is a model of a Foo Fighter. We created an artist’s impression of how the Foo Fighters would look like if we combined photos and information from all visual accounts thus far.”
Now that he had said that, Akiho thought the model did look like some sort of stealth aircraft.
However, the model also resembled a very large stingray. If you put it less kindly, you could also say it looked like a deformed set square. It wasn’t very clear where the cockpit or the engine was, and if you were to judge the model based on how the typical aircraft looked like, you would get the impression that it was rather poorly made. Yet again, it could have been the result of the omittance of some familiar parts of the plane since revolutionary technology rendered them unnecessary, or it could have looked the way it did simply because it was still under construction.
The entire model exuded the sort of inelegance that is inherent in artist’s impressions. There was no way to hide this ungainliness, and even Akiho, who knew next to nothing of the Foo Fighters, had a feeling that the model would not look very good even after it was complete.
This was why she said:
Suizenji seemed to be aware of how it looked, too.
“That is because this is an artist’s impression. We can’t take the liberty to add in our own details to make it look better, too. In all honesty, the lack of photographs of the Foo Fighters is a hindrance. We could probably bluff our way through if we only needed to make an illustration, but when we tried to create a 3D model I have no choice but to admit that we simply do not have enough information. There are just too many things about the Foo Fighters that we do not know. I believe that eventually, we would have to cross the information we have with science fiction in order to push this to completion. By the way, I am hungry.”
He suddenly shifted into a stance to play Rock Paper Scissors. Upon seeing this, Akiho also raised a fist to the side of her ear, as if to say she did not object to his challenge. Asaba sighed. There was no way he could beat those two at Rock Paper Scissors.
The two fans whirred as they continued to turn this way and that, and the setting sun shone through fumes of paint.
This one was of the rare few times Suizenji lost, with Paper.
“A ham sandwich, a pork cutlet sandwich, an egg sandwich and orange juice, alright? Plus one cup of instant yakisoba, along with anything with spicy mayonnaise on it.” She paused for thought before adding, “And bananas, too.”
“Bananas?! The school co-op doesn’t sell things like that.”
“I think the convenience store opposite the video store would have some. Either the convenience store, or Marui Supermarket.”
Suizenji can only blame himself for his lack of foresight. He had thrown Paper against her Scissors, after all.
“Argh alright, I got it!! What about you, Special Correspondent Asaba?!”
“I-I’ll just have Oolong tea.”
“Damn it, damn it,” Suizenji grumbled as he stepped out into the light of the setting sun, leaving her alone with Asaba in the room. Akiho suddenly became acutely aware of the feeling that she was out of place, so she looked down at a dirty smear of oil on the floor and rubbed the toe of her indoor shoe in it. She then glanced at her hands, with her arms crossed tightly against her chest.
“I need to cut my fingernails,” she muttered.
Almost as if he was answering her, Asaba said: “This might be a first.”
Akiho was momentarily thrown off guard. In confusion, she stammered, “W-What is?”
Asaba had on his face the same foolish smile he always wore. He hands still formed Scissors, but he flipped his fingers up to make a V-sign in a weak looking gesture of victory.
“I think this might be the first time Chief lost at Rock Paper Scissors. This is something worth recording in a diary, don’t you think?”
“—hey Asaba. Shall I teach you something really useful?”
Asaba expression turned quizzical.
“Shall I teach you the secret to winning Rock Paper Scissors?”
“—is there even such a thing?”
“It doesn’t work all the time. For example, it wouldn’t have worked just now. The prerequisite for this secret method to work is that you have to suddenly call a game of Rock Paper Scissors, without giving your opponent a chance to think about what to throw.”
Asaba nodded warily. He probably suspected she was making a bad joke with a punchline that came at his expense.
“You can only throw Rock, Paper or Scissors, correct? However, the most difficult one to throw amongst the three in the spur of a moment is Scissors. This is because the hand-sign for Scissors requires more complicated finger movements as compared to Rock or Paper. In other words, if you were to suddenly call a game of Rock Paper Scissors, it is safe to say that there is a low probability that your opponent would come up with Scissors. Now, your opponent may throw Rock or Paper, but when a person is required to respond immediately without time to think, it is likely that their personality would manifest in the shape of their hands. Stubborn people are more likely to throw Rock, while those who are absent-minded are more likely to respond with Paper.”
Asaba was impressed, but then again, he was easily impressed. He nodded eagerly as he continued to listen.
“Since we have assumed that no one would throw Scissors, the three-way relationship of Rock Paper Scissors would have fallen apart. That is why if I threw Paper in the first round, there is a good chance I would not lose, at least. If my opponent throws Rock then I would win but if he throws Paper then it’ll be a draw. If we go for a second round, the probability of my opponent coming up with Scissors is still relatively low for the same reason, but if you assume that he would not throw Paper again, then he is left with Rock. In short, if you suddenly challenge someone to Rock Paper Scissors, throw Paper twice in a row. You can win most of the rounds just by using this principle.”
Asaba sat thinking about her theory for a while with his arms crossed after listening to her explanation. In a surprisingly calm tone, he spoke his mind: “It’s starting to sound a little far-fetched now.”
This was unexpected as in times like this, Asaba usually remained in a daze. Akiho thought that that part of him was not particularly endearing. However she herself knew that her theory was a tad implausible. Suizenji would not have paid her any attention at all.
“Shall we go for outside for a while? It stinks so badly in here that my head hurts.”
“Ah, but I need to finish this.”
Asaba sat himself back on the floor and picked up his scissors and resumed his dissection of the snack boxes. The sight of him earnestly working on those boxes annoyed Akiho to no end. She would have helped, if he would just ask.
“Are you really okay with this?”
“Okay with what?”
“The activity for the school festival. Are you really satisfied with doing Chief’s bidding? If there is something else you want to do you should say so.”
Asaba hands stilled. He gazed into thin air with a thoughtful look on his face.
“I wonder if I would call this doing Chief’s bidding. I do think this could be interesting too, you know.”
“Why did you even join the Journalism Club in the first place?” she blurted.
It had come out of nowhere, and this flustered Akiho. She had not intended to ask him something like that, but the question had already rolled off her tongue.
Asaba shot her an uncertain look.
It was too late. She could no longer take back what she said, and the only way to break out of this situation was to pretend it was nothing.
“I mean, Chief’s eccentricity is well-known. It’s hard to think that you would not have known about him before you joined. You did, didn’t you?”
Asaba’s expression turned pensive once more.
“—hm. I wonder why, too.”
He twirled his scissors round and round in his hand. It was a habit of his, and he often did this when cutting his customer’s hair.
“I knew about Chief, of course. I knew, but—at that time, I mean at first,”
“On second thought, I’m good. I don’t want to know.”
With that sentence, Akiho cut off the rest of his story. Asaba looked a little put out, but Akiho did not want to hear about how the relationship between Suizenji and Asaba began nor the story of how Suizenji was able to win his affection.
“Anyway, go think of some other activity for the school festival by tomorrow, okay? I’ll come up with an idea, too.
“I got it,” Asaba muttered under his breath. Stupidly enough, he continued, “Ah, right. I’ll tell Iriya about this, too.”
He could not have stepped more squarely onto a land mine.
“Iriya hasn’t been to the clubroom lately, and even today she was summoned by one of those announcements and had to go home. Perhaps I’ll tell her about this tomorrow morning, or—”
Land mines take on various forms, and there are mines that do not immediately go off after being stepped on.
“It’s fine, you don’t need to!”
“That won’t do, she’s—”
“There is no way that girl would want to do anything for the school festival anyway. It’s fine, so leave her alone!”
The pair of scissors which had been twirling about his hand came to a dead standstill. Even Asaba had realized by now he had stepped on a land mine, albeit rather belatedly. Despite knowing that, he said:
“You’re now saying something different from what you were earlier.”
“Why do you speak up for that girl?!”
“That is not the point here. Just now, you confronted Chief and told him that he should have discussed his plan with everyone in the club before deciding on what we should do, didn’t you? Yet, why do you seek to leave Iriya out of the discussions?”
Akiho answered flatly:
“That is obvious. It’s because I don’t like that girl.”
Asaba stared at Akiho with a slack jaw. Akiho derived some sadistic satisfaction from the look of foolish surprise on his face.
“What’s with that look on your face? Isn’t it natural that I would not like her? Everyone else in class doesn’t like her either, and no one wants to be friends with her.”
She couldn’t stop now. All she felt was the high she got from letting loose everything that she had been suppressing in her gut. Her powers of reasoning had vanished, and she was so riled up that her legs were trembling, but Asaba did not notice. At this point, her only concern was that he would notice how affected he was.
“That girl doesn’t put in effort to do anything! It’s her own fault if we leave her out of things. She can’t communicate with other people very well and probably has her own set of circumstances to deal with but everyone has one or two complexes, don’t they? Everyone is afraid at first when trying to become friends with someone they do not know. Yet, she doesn’t try to do anything about it by herself, instead, she simply looks up and opens her mouth and wait for something to drop in like some useless living creature! If she’s expecting us to look out for her, well, she’s really pushing her luck!”
Asaba tried to put up a desperate fight.
“—but, but, you know. If you would only talk to her yourself, Akiho, you will know that Iriya is not—”
“Even if she tells me to go away? And if she does, why do you suppose I should swallow my pride and try to get along with her?”
Asaba fell silent.
“This might actually be what that girl wants. I can only imagine that she does what she does because she doesn’t want any friends. This isn’t kindergarten you know, if she wants to be accepted by everyone she needs to put in at least bare minimum effort. I won’t say that this is a good thing, but this is how it is in the classroom, and in reality, so shouldn’t she try to work something out for herself in the reality she is in? She could, for example, at least try to smile when somebody talks to her, and if she can’t even do that then she shouldn’t have stepped in a classroom in the first place, because she’ll only cause us trouble. She’s an eyesore, just by sitting there. Even if she does not try to get along with anyone, that’s fine too! There are times when two groups of friends on bad terms turn on each other, people sometimes get into fights, and everyone has had days which they did not feel like going to school. Yet if I were to give her special treatment while brandishing the ideal that ‘everyone should get along with each other’, then I would be nothing more than a hypocrite!”
Akiho had finished saying all she wanted to say, and her breathing had become ragged. She glowered at Asaba, like she was challenging him to refute what she just said.
After a short while, she turned on her heels.
“I’m going home,” she said.
When Suizenji returned with a Marui Supermarket bag dangling from his hands, the sun was already halfway down.
“It’s dark! It’s really dark here, Special Correspondent Asaba! Switch on the lights, at least!”
When he heard that Akiho had gone home, he didn’t seem particularly angry. In fact, he looked almost pleased to find that there was now one less mouth to feed. He then turned the bag over and dumped its contents out on the floor. Out rolled a large number of rice balls and sandwiches along with almost an entire bunch’s worth of bananas.
“Special Correspondent Asaba. Would you like a banana?"
Asaba shook his head, and Suizenji shrugged. He plucked a banana from the bunch and happily started peeling it, as Asaba watched absent-mindedly. Chief and a banana. What a surreal combination indeed.
“Fight on———!! This is the Committee of the Rising Sun, Firestorm Preparation Section!! I will now perform a mic test! Fight on, fight on———!!”
A loud, hoarse voice, made even louder by an old, worn-out amplifier, boomed through the speakers placed all over the grounds, reverberating through the mountains surrounding the school. The complex-sounding echoes could be heard throughout the town, which was now enveloped in dusk.
While still cramming banana in his mouth, Suizenji muttered, “Must they go ‘Fight on!’ too when doing mic tests?”
“Good job everyone, and thank you for your efforts! There is eleven days remaining till the Festival of the Rising Sun, but please do not neglect your schoolwork! Please continue to observe the school rules and ensure safety is priority number-one!! Committee members, at attention! Give me three cheers of ‘Fight on’!!”
From all over the grounds, answering cries of “Yessir!” could be heard. Mixed in amongst the low, earth rumbling chants of the boys were the bright yellow voices of girls.
“Fight on———!!” went the speakers.
“Fight on—!!” they answered.
Their cheers bounced around the school grounds, much like the rowdy shouts from a crowd on the side of the team that had just scored a goal.
Asaba slowly stood up. He opened the door and leaned outside to have a better view of the grounds. There was a breeze blowing, and it felt cooler than the inside of the clubroom. The school building had but completely sunk into the night, but the sprawling grounds were protected from the darkness by bright lights on all four sides. A good number of students had remained behind, and the scene unfolding before Asaba’s eyes was that of a construction site of a Pyramid, plied by numerous slaves.
Just beside the row of clubrooms, volunteers from the neighborhood’s Women’s Association were distributing cooked food. From the speakers which had roused everyone’s spirits with the cheering the folk dance music began to play. Asaba was unable to immediately recall the name of that song, but he eventually did.
When he looked back into the clubroom, he found Suizenji sitting with his legs crossed on the floor, stuffing his face while watching the news on a portable television. In contrast to the pallid brightness of the lights from the grounds, the yellow light from the fluorescent tubes made the clubroom looked dimmer and gloomier than before.
And in that gloom he found a certain kind of solace.
“Chief, will you do the folk dance when during the Firestorm?” Asaba asked, with a teasing smile. He thought that Chief might say something like, “Of course I’ll do it”, but he had a feeling that Chief may say “I don’t have time for something like that”, instead.
Suizenji, who was fiddling with the tuning knob on the television, stopped to glare at Asaba. Huffily, he said: “Why should I?”
So it was the latter. Asaba decided to probe further.
“But Chief, you’d be so popular with the girls if only you wouldn’t open your mouth. There are quite a number girls in our school who would love to do dance with you, I think. Ah, I have an idea. What about doing ‘Erotic dancing with our Chief, 100 yen per round’ for the festival? I’ll hold the placard for you.”
“Please stop this nonsense—seriously. We aren’t cavemen, so why should we reduce ourselves to dancing a silly little jig around a fire?”
He then stopped to listen to the song playing from the speakers on the grounds.
“Pray tell me why they had to pick ‘Mayim, Mayim’, too,” he said, in disgust.
“Isn’t ‘Mayim, Mayim’ the usual choice for a school folk dance?”
“Who decided that it was to be so? Do you even know the meaning of the words, ‘Mayim, Mayim’?”
“Do they even mean anything?”
“Of course they do! ‘Mayim’ is a Hebrew word, and it means ‘water’.”
“—well, that is rather glib of you, Chief.”
“It’s true!! If you think that I’m lying, go look it up in a dictionary!!”
Chief seemed to have taken his teasing very seriously for once, and Asaba couldn’t decide if he found it unsettling or funny.
“Listen here, Special Correspondent Asaba. ‘Mayim, Mayim’ was originally a song sung by Jewish farmers who started cultivating land for the first time after returning to their homeland in Israel. They would sing it when they found water in the desert, and those dance steps were supposed to an expression of joy upon finding a precious resource! Why then should we dance the same dance at the end of a school festival? I find it quite hard to understand!”
Suizenji looked away in a huff, and Asaba’s lips twitched with mirth. It would seem that Chief had some sort of trauma regarding folk dances.
“I would like a banana too, please.”
“Won’t give you any.”
When he was finally able to fight down the urge to laugh, Asaba crawled over to where the Marui Supermarket bag lay and picked up the can of Oolong tea which had rolled out. Suizenji Kunihiro was a truly ‘high-spec’ guy. He was from Class 3-2, student number 12, 175 centimeters tall despite being only 15 years of age, his standard score for the national trial examinations was 81, and he could run the 100-meter in 11 seconds without any exertion showing on his face.
He was a person that was like Superman, Asaba thought, as he pulled the tab off the can.
It is, perhaps, as Akiho said. Everyone has had days which they did not feel like going to school. Even that Suizenji Kunihiro was no exception. Chief must have fought to overcome those days to reach this day called today.
If Chief had heard her, he might have said, “Don’t put me together with the likes of you,” and he might be right about being different as well. Asaba felt that all he had been able to do thus far was to barely avoid embarrassing himself every single day.
“—Chief, where are you going?”
“I’m gonna take a leak.”
“Ah, I’ll go too.”
Asaba left the clubroom and followed closely behind Suizenji as they plodded towards the washroom at the corner of the grounds.
“By the way—”
“If Iriya said she wanted to join in the activity you have planned for the festival, do you think it would be okay?”
“That goes without question. But Special Correspondent hasn’t shown up in the clubroom recently.”
“I’ll ask after her tomorrow.”
“I’ll be counting on you. By the way, Special Correspondent Asaba, I was just thinking about, but—”
“—have you ever fallen after slipping on a banana peel?”
“What’s with this, all of a sudden?”
“Naw, we were eating bananas just now, so.”
“—I haven’t, I think.”
“I haven’t, too. If you would just think about it really carefully, it is unthinkable that someone would slip and fall on something like that. However you would often see expressions like that in manga and the like. Why, I wonder?”
“Even if you were to ask me why—I don’t know, either.”
“This requires an investigation. Will people actually fall after slipping on a banana peel? How and when did this expression become so widespread in manga and in other kinds of narrative work? —mmf, it might be good to display our findings as part of the exhibition, too.”
“Huh? As in, for the festival?”
“That goes without question.”
“The Foo Fighters of Sonohara Air Base, next to banana peels?”
“Would that be strange?”
“Rather than saying that it would be strange, I would call it—erm, in other words, you mean—”
Suizenji looked dead serious.
Asaba imagined that in Suizenji’s head right now, the Foo Fighters of the Sonohara Air Base and a banana peel really were next to each other, side-by-side.
This person might actually turn out to be Superman after all, he thought.
Alright. There was no one in the clubroom now. Two fluorescent tube lights threw light with a yellow tinge across the room, and two fans struggled to keep air moving as they usually did. In a corner of the room sitting amongst items strewn messily about on the floor, the portable television which Suizenji had forgotten to switch off sat across the model of the Foo Fighter, and read the evening news to it.
Suizenji and Asaba stood next to each other, and both of them unzipped their fly. Just as they locked onto the deodorizer block in their respective urinals, a lone cicada flew into the clubroom via the open window.
It was probably attracted to the light from the fluorescent tubes. The cicada flew into the room, seemingly unconcerned by the headwind from two fans, only to go into overdrive and slamming itself onto one of the fluorescent lights on the ceiling. With a soft thud and a single jarring buzz, the cicada fell onto the floor, and for a short while remained motionless, like it was dead. Then, it suddenly came back to life and took flight once more, after which it boldly attempted to perform a Split S1 in the air. We don’t know what it was thinking, but the cicada charged straight at the model of the Foo Fighter and landed on a wing (if it really was a wing, that is) that stuck out at an angle from the body of the model. There it clung, seemingly satisfied.
Right now, the portable television seem to be reading the news to the cicada, which had parked itself on the wing of the Foo Fighter. This portable television belonged to Suizenji, and it was of an extremely dated model. The colors on the peace-sign stickers that were stuck on the television in various places had all but faded, and its antenna was slightly bent. Perhaps signal reception was poor, or the television was getting too old and rickety; blowing wildly across the screen were fuzzy, multi-colored vertical bands, and behind the newscaster, who was dressed like a mother going to a school’s Class Observation Day, was carrying three ghost-like people on her shoulders.
“—and specialists remain divided on this issue. During the press conference held yesterday, both the Japanese Self Defense Force and the U.S. Armed Forces has made it clear that as long as the naval blockade in the aforementioned waters is not lifted at once, they would continue with their hardline approach, and tensions remain high. Currently, the purpose of the 38th naval blockade by the Northern Forces remains unclear…”
It would seem like today was a rather peaceful day. It would have made a far more newsworthy story to cover if a junkie riding a drug high had hit someone on the streets with a metal bat, or if a policeman had gotten himself arrested for sexual assault. However, the cicada on the Foo Fighter’s wing didn’t seem particularly dissatisfied with the news. It looked like it was listening carefully to newscaster on the screen.
Asaba and Suizenji had not yet returned to the room.
The yellow tinged light from one of the fluorescent tubes flickered, just once. The two fans were still engaged in battle, but their true enemy was the summer night, the bluish-blackness that spread far beyond the open window.
“—and in support of the view that the Northern Forces have rolled out a large number of combat-type nuclear submarines, in Kure at dawn today, seven navy fleets including one U.S. Navy mother ship were put on high-alert standby mode allegedly in response to such movement by the enemy. According to multiple sources, negotiations are currently underway in an underwater location to remedy this situation, and it would seem that the outcome will remain uncertain for a good while yet. —well then. Many of you would think that cats and dogs will not get along with each other, yes? However, please take a look at this! This is not a nurse but a nurse-cat! It is adorable, don’t you think?”
On the screen that was crackling with static and ghostly people, a plump cat with patches on its fur snuggled up next to a rather skinny looking mongrel and started to lick the bed-sores on the dog’s paws. According to the newscaster, the owner of these two was a vet who lived in the Yasukuni Precinct in the Imperial Capital. The dog had met with a traffic accident half a year ago and has had difficulty moving about since, and the cat, which shouldn’t have gotten along with the dog, had been taking care of it while it healed. How wonderful, the newscaster cooed. I wonder if the cat got it from its master. This is love that transcends species, don’t you think?
Today was a good day, and tomorrow would be good, too.
1 Split S: Wikipedia link here. An air combat maneuver often used to disengage from combat.