The Summer UFOs in Iriya’s Sky – Volume 1 Chapter 3 –How To Steal A Scooter Part 1

There. Was. Hair.

It was that simple.

This was why, at that point in time, the Lower Grade 5 Asaba Yuuko implemented a veto on her one year older brother. Denial of mutual bathing privileges.

And they didn’t play together anymore.

And they didn’t even leave the house together anymore.

And she threatened her parents with running away from home if they didn’t give her a separate room.

In the meantime, her brother did not understand the reasoning at all. When he came to her to play, she got mad, and when he wanted to go somewhere with her, she ignored him, and when he heard the stream of bathwater running and slid the door open without knocking, he received a bunch of stuff thrown to his face – this continued on for quite a while.

In her own separate room, Yuuko was alone, and she cursed her perpetually juvenile brother.

It was always like that. She was an ‘Asaba’ kid after all, and if there weren’t any other people in the same ‘A’ bracket, then she was placed as the first seat on the register, and being the first seat on the register had not one single benefit. Whether it was receiving bio-weapon immunization shots or facing a maliciously high vaulting box – it was Yuuko, above all others, who couldn’t run away. It was always like that.

But,

Her brother was unfair.

In spite of being the elder brother. In spite of being the older one.

Those days lasted for quite a while, and even her brother left her alone – she was Lower 6, and he was a Sonohara Middle School Year 1 student. Although they were in separate rooms, they met up for dinner. Her brother had entered the Newspaper Club, where the somewhat eccentric senior Suizenji also was – that much she knew about.

Separate rooms, and separate schools.

Looking back, those days could have been seen as an extremely tranquil period.

The tranquil year passed away, and Sonohara A Lower School Year 6 Class 3 Attendance Number No.1 Asaba Yuuko became Sonohara Middle School Year 1 Class 1 Attendance Number No.1 Asaba Yuuko. And then, once again linked up in the same school with her brother, she saw it – the school’s No.1 peerless eccentric oddball Suzenji Kunihiro, and the brother that had been reduced in stature to his flunky.

No, that did not exist. The entity denoted as ‘my lower-than-goldfish-shit brother’ did not exist. In a new school with a new class with new friends – it was the only delicate matter – and if anyone in class found out, the ostracism was a terrible thing.

But it was much like her stupid brother to have something of an awareness of the situation. Considering the matter of Yuuko’s prestige, he decided to voluntary affix a facade in front of any strangers. Nevertheless, she pushed for it – and tyrannically imposed her command. When it came to her dumb brother, if she had neither expressed her will clearly, nor double check his understanding – she would have no peace of heart.

Never EVER speak to me EVER in school!

Taking such great pains wasn’t useless at all – that was what Yuuko foolishly believed. Though, in a country school with no large amount of students, it was hard to hide whoever was or wasn’t brother and sister.

And, there were many different possible cases when it came to that kind of exposure.

A mere month since entering – a certain day in the Class 1-1 classroom.

During lunch break,

“Is there an Asaba here?!”

Out of all possibilities,

“Yes! Asaba Yuuko who is the Sister of Correspondent Asaba Naoyuki! Pleased to meet your acquaintance! Asaba Yuuko! The editor-in-chief (Year 3 Class 2) of the Sonohara Middle School (of the Sonohara Municipal) Galactic Radio Wave Newspaper – family name Suizenji – but you may call be Kunihiro! I have come with fresh greetings! Asaba Yuuko! If you’re around – don’t be shy! Raise your hand proudly and acknowledge your existence!”

Rationally speaking – saying everything was her brother’s fault was definitely irrational.

But, from that lunch onwards – not just at school, but at home as well – if there was no special reason to talk to him, she didn’t even bother to open her mouth at all.



One semester passed. It was summer break.

Her brother had, for the whole summer, vanished into the hills in order to play secret base or something.

Of course – it was with Suizenji. Of course – he didn’t bring his homework.

Looking for UFOs – it seemed.

On the night of the last day of summer vacation, soaking in a bathtub that was neither large nor wide, submerging into the foamy water all the way to her nose level – Yuuko thought about the final bath she had with her brother.

At that time – he was still a Lower 6 student.

At that time – he had no hair.

And now, her brother was probably going to remain in his current state. He would probably continue walking by himself – never straying. It seemed as though that was what was going on up till now, and from here on out – never staying in her presence, ever again, maybe.

Summer ended. The second semester began.

And, during the monthly air raid training exercise, Asaba Naoyuki was caught in the maelstrom of the so-called ‘Shelter Incident’ – after only two days.

And so, when her mother requested her to wake her brother up before she finished preparing breakfast, and Yuuko didn’t even grunt a single complaint – that was a considerably rare thing. Her mother, who had expected resistance, was shocked – and held a dish-cloth in one hand while she stared with large dish-size eyes.

“I wonder what’s going on with her…”

At her side, the Asaba patriarch didn’t even raise his face from his Sunday paper.

“Is there anything? Didn’t she just go up to wake her brother?”

“It’s not that – but, for example, just the day before… when her brother had forgotten to bring his lunch and I asked her kindly if she could go – she was all in a huff about it.”

Her father made a small sniff as he contemplated, and then nodded with a huff. He concluded:

“Well, that’s what they call a ‘difficult age’.”

As he returned his gaze to the newspaper, he reached out his hand onto the dining table. The packet of Lucky Strikes and the 100-yen lighter that was previously in front of him had been whisked away into stain-spotted apron pockets of the Asaba matriarch. Without raising his head, he uttered a single “hmmm”.

“Predicted casualties – 2000… even now, who knows what those bastards are hiding up their sleeves?”

She bent over by his side with a “Lemme look! Lemme look!”, and, close to his cheek, read the news on an aerial bombing incident. That kind of gesture they had held during their youth – it was a scene that only appeared in the gap when neither Yuuko nor Naoyuki were around. While he was reading the news, his hands were still fumbling on the table-top. The pack of smokes were still missing.

“Should we increase our supplies?”

“Supplies?”

“Canned goods, toilet paper… the usual. There might be something going on. Haven’t you heard? Just the other time a spy was snooping around the base. Policemen came to ask about it, and there were those cars that were patrolling around investigating who knows what matter – at least that’s what I heard from Yoshida’s wife.”

“They’re being chased round and round without a break – being a spy must be pitiful.”

“Please don’t make it a joke… dear. Really – it’s all that huge army base’s fault. It’s because there’s things going on in there that you have spies popping up here and there – isn’t it? Why is there this huge base in this peaceful countryside anyway?”

“It’s because it’s the countryside – who would build a huge base like this in a city? A runway is… quite a huge thing – right?”

“But there are countrysides everywhere else – and they had to build it here, rather than elsewhere – of all places.”

“Well, I’m not complaining. We get so many GIs as customers…”

“It’s not like profits mean anything if you’re dead… Those spies are probably spreading around strange bacteria, and all the people around here will get sick or something – that was on some special program on TV. Kiyohara’s wife told me about it.”

“It’ll probably get smashed by aerial bombing. That sort of factory. Sonohara has planes after all.”

“But, when was it… there was some bacteria factory thing and they were mistaken about it, and then they bombed… some sake factory or whatnot. Then a whole lot of politicians went on the chopping block. I think it may have been just some hearsay though – if it was real, that would be really terrible…”

“You mean, the Rangrim Mountain bombing? That was in March. That was really a sake factory.”

Her eyes widened.

“It was?”

He was wearing his son’s old shirt. He scratched at his rear a bit.

“Even something like bacteria can be made in a sake factory. In fact, if we’re talking about laboratory grade germs, you could probably even use Naoyuki’s kiddie allowance to buy it. A bio-safety level 4 air-lock, or an explosive aerosol lab – actually those kinds of huge and expensive equipment would only be necessary in the research stage, but not if you’re manufacturing. Nowadays a bioreactor is about the size of a fridge. You could hide it anywhere. Using a sake factory as an excuse is seriously possible. But, those kinds of bastards have probably started using primary schools or nursery schools already.”

Staring straight at his face from the side, a kind of admiration floated up in her eyes.

“That’s quite detailed…”

Staring straight at her face from the side, he replied with a serious look.

“Heard it from those precious customers of mine – GIs.”

At that moment, the phone rang. She stood up with an “I’ll get it!” – but the phone made two rings before the ‘in-call’ light blinked on, and then fell silent. Yuuko had picked it up from the second floor. Her mother stretched herself fully with a “Right.” – and decided that she might as well go tidy up the laundry.

And then, suddenly – began to ask:

“But, if there was really bacteria in a nursery school… or even a bomb…”

As he finished, and began to roll up the newspaper, clumsily – he made a “hmmm” – and then nodded as he came to an answer.

“Well, this would be what they call a difficult period, wouldn’t it?”

And, as he looked over the tabletop, he finally realized that his cigarettes and lighter were missing.



On the second floor, as Yuuko hesitated in front of her brother’s room, the phone rang. Making an ‘I’m saved’ kind of face, she picked up the handset from the wall as it rang for a third time.

“Yes, this is Asaba.”

In the morning – a blood-pressure heightening voice.

“Oh – is that Asaba?”

It was Suizenji.

Incidentally, since Suizenji referred to Asaba as “Correspondent Asaba” regularly – whenever he just said “Asaba” – he meant Yuuko.

But, she wasn’t happy to be called that. She wouldn’t be happy no matter what she was called. She didn’t even want to hear Suizenji’s voice.

Especially on a Sunday.

But, for Suizenji to call the house directly was, to her knowledge, a first. Suizenji hated the phone after all. A phone had the perpetually possible danger of being bugged – he held that kind of childish ‘kid playing spy games’ reasoning in his head. She had heard that from her brother before.

“My brother’s still sleeping though.”

Suizenji made a few chuckles.

“That was exactly what I was thinking. A small favor – would you kindly wake him up for me. Correspondent Asaba has a truly important duty to carry out.”

A ‘truly important duty’.

That kind of duty was usually something to do with ghosts or aliens – whatever kind of assjob story they had to chase – but since Suizenji had called directly, she was wondering if it was really that.

“But… if he’s still knocked out like that, it’s going to be a bit of trouble. Wasn’t he the type of kid who would get all nervous and fidgety before going on a school trip to the point of insomnia? And, in that zomboid state he’d force himself on the trip until he started churning and spewing all over the place – and then his friends would give him a nickname like “shit spewin’ Nao” or some stupid thing like that… Hello – are you listening? Asaba Yuuko are you listening? Answer now Asaba Yuuko!”

And Yuuko had pressed the on-hold button, cutting off Suizenji’s spiel. His voice was starting to cause her physical pain. But, well, in her heart there was a kind of admiration. Despite being a guerilla club, his ‘president’ handle wasn’t just for boastful show. He totally understood his men. How did he even manage to get knowledge of that stupid nickname?

With the phone in one hand, she stood in front of her brother’s sliding door.

She knocked.

There was no answer.

She knocked again – this time, harder.

Still no answer.

With a deep breath, in an instant’s resolution, she pulled open the screen with all force. In the middle of the six-tatami room, spread out sideways on top of a futon – was her brother – slumped there like a fatigue victim and fast asleep.

Yuuko poked her brother with the tip of her toe.

He didn’t wake up. Not even a budge.

Staring into his semi prone face. With that completely sound-asleep look on it – she felt extremely irritated.

All of a sudden grabbing his ear, in order to scream “Brother!” into it.

Blahdder!”

 

Actually, she planned on saying it normally. But there was kind of a lisp. During the moment that she shouted it – that was what came out.

Somehow or another, Asaba Naoyuki got up. With a sleepy eye, having to face the monstrous looking sister in front of him with a dumbfounded gaze. He had no idea what was going on.

The sister that had ended communications with him for so long – why was she in his room?

Boss – on the phone.”

Who’s my boss? – he thought, as he grabbed the extension and pressed the button. With a half sleepy tone of voice:

“Hellooow?”

From the phone, he heard the ‘Mission Impossible’ Theme. A mini tape recorder or something must have been placed over at the receiver, and music was coming from it. So it’s the prez… thought Asaba. His drowsiness returned. He flopped down on the futon, using his arm to shield his face from the rays of sunlight.

“Greetings Correspondent Asaba! Well then, about today’s duty…”

He instinctively gasped.

It came to him. Drowsiness flew away, as Asaba once again rose straight up – on the futon – and turned around. The clock! – That alarm clock he had left next to his pillow.

“Be at ease – Correspondent Asaba! Current time check – 0932hrs – which makes it just in time for the meeting if you hurry! For the execution of your special duty, do you have yesterday’s pointers in mind? Can you remember them?”

He didn’t sleep last night – he was too tense. He had ordered himself to succumb to sleep for tomorrow’s sake, but that impatience left a pressure that pushed him more and more to wakefulness. In endless circuits of worry, he had rolled around on his futon until the night suddenly turned back into bright, and the early alarm he had set for 7a.m. blared off, causing him to change to a new despairing resolution. This is bad… if I sleep now I’ll never wake up… and in that condition he decided he had no choice but to weather the day ahead. Yet, his intentions were foiled, as that determination relinquished him from the pressure to go to sleep, and so – he fell asleep. I can’t fall asleep… I can’t fall asleep – and his consciousness was cut off at that moment, only to return when his sister blared her own loud alarm into his ear.

The tension that had tortured him the whole night came back again.

In his muddle, he intuitively attached himself to Suizenji’s voice. His head started rummaging through its contents – execution…special duty… yesterday’s pointers…

“W-what were they?!”

“Let no nose go unplucked, no zipper go unzipped, and put on a new pair of shorts! That is all. Repeat!”

“Nose hair, trousers zippers, new underwear.”

“Good enough – and so, continue your preparation in all haste. Good luck, and god-speed.”

Click – the telephone cut.

Throwing the handset down, and rising up, he quickly began to change. He stripped off his pajamas pants and un-new underwear in one go. And, a great shriek erupted behind him.

“Idiot! Idiotidiotidiot! Sicko!”

In a fluster, his sister turned away from him and started releasing a barrage of abuse. So she was still here­? – he thought.

“Wh…what do you still want?”

A disagreeable silence. Then, with her back still turned

“Breakfast. Now. Mom’s orders.”

This was not his normal sister – what was she up to? She would never have stepped in his room. Never. There had to be something else.

“And…anything else?”

She fell silent once again. Her back had this kind of ‘what the heck are you even…?’ atmosphere. And then:

“Idio~~~ttt”

With that parting remark, she left his room. In the last moment she gave him a sharp glare, and with a huge slam, she shut off the sliding screen as he gave a confused shrug.

Asaba was taken aback.

What’s up with her?

Calm down. No, that was out of the question. He reached into the closet, and the first thing that came to hand while he was feeling around was a light T-shirt and a one-year old pair of jeans. This felt like something that you’d wear to buy juice at some nearby vending machine at night, but there was no time to ponder about it. The alarm clock that had rolled to the corner of the room due to his cruel kick was cruelly ticking away, and the time was pitilessly and mercilessly etched on its clock-face for him to see. 0935hrs. Wristwatch and wallet and bicycle into the pocket, and flying out the door. Catching onto the staircase, and sliding down, and noisily rushing down the corridor for the bathroom. But, there was a previous person. Decked in Asaba’s jersey for running gear, was his father brushing his teeth, and due to his smoking problem, he was undergoing thunderous retches in repetitions. It was a normal thing in the household, and no one gave any mind.

“Uuuuue – uuuuuurgg – urrrrrp! Oh – Naoyuki. Good morning!”

Without a word, Asaba thrust himself next to his father, shoulders knocking, and started to brush, then washed his face.

“Where’d you be up to today son?”

While wondering if there was any something-or-other to be done, Asaba fiddled with his hair, but was startled by his father’s random question.

“Club.”

It wasn’t exactly a lie. At least, that was his public stance.

“What a great bother…”

Nose hair check. A-Ok.

Out of the bathroom, and brushing past his mother with a laundry basket.

“Nao? Breakfast?”

“No bother!”

“Wait, where are you…?”

One pit stop to peer in the living room. The grandfather clock older than the house. Naoya stopped and stared. 0946hrs.

“I’ll be late today!”

Saying that, he scooted out the back. High cut sneakers. Shoelaces. Irritating.

“Nao!”

Father’s voice.

“When you’re leaving, spin the pole!”

No answer, but he was already past the backdoor. Tripping on beer cases while getting to his bike, he pushed it to the front. Sign-plug in socket. Arterial red and veiny blue, bandaged white – all three stripe colors spun, while he swapped the CLOSED to OPEN on the door. He was ready to kick off, but stopped for a thought, went up to the large storefront windows (with blinds backdrop) and did a final nosehair-check. The window reflected a monkey-ish long-faced ogle, and, overlapping, were huge fluorescent words done up with a writing brush. They read:

“Barber Asaba’s Haircut Shop”

The first Sunday. The new 2nd semester.

What was the one-half month holiday but the lower bound? Summer had yet to end. There was no school, and so that barbershop’s sky just the same as the blue that had stretched out above him back then. Telephone poles and their slackened telephone lines. Cicada cries. The soar of an attack plane. And the perhaps-UFO in the maybe summer sky.

Sonohara Bus terminal was his goal. 1000hrs was the cut-off point.

All at once in sweat, he cut the chain and pedaled off.

Let’s turn back the clock to the first Saturday of the 2nd semester.

Lessons ended in half a day. He finished his lunch of School store Onigiri x1. Naoyuki was in the newspaper club clubroom spinning a pair of scissors like a Western cowboy. It was no ordinary scissors. An old worn pair from his father’s shop, but it was still a splendid pair of barber shears. Suizenji sat in a seat, back facing him, covered in all parts with cloth except for his hair. It’s official name – Cutting Cloth. Shortform: CutClo.

He asked the standard question.

“How’d you want it?”

“Make it longer.”

“Out of question.”

“Then, the usual, if you please.”

Suizenji was the type that spiffed himself up when necessarily, but when not, he didn’t give a damn. His definition of ‘the usual’ was to cut it all short while evening out the fringe, and this was a trifle to a barber’s son. Asaba muttered “Roger” and proceeded on. He was used to it.

100 yen a pop.

At the start, he was the barbering machine for the spiky heads of the fitness club.

But, then again, it was only 100 yen. With regards to the customers, they could claim standard haircut money from their parents and use the rest of the cash for themselves. Beyond the fitness heads, Asaba had gained proficiency in many styles. He held his skills with strong regard, and perhaps 100 yen was really too cheap. Even then, more than the cash, he found the work itself fun.

“How’s business so far?”

“So and so…”

He replied like a wizened old barber.

“Ah, I just remembered. It’ll probably be busy later. August has the sports meet, and that’ll cause work to pile up.”

“But if I may ask Correspondent Asaba, with your own family running a business… and for you to carry out ‘dumping’ like this at such a fee, would it not be considered illegal undercutting of competition?”

“It’s okay. People here don’t go to our shop anyway.”

“And why is that?”

“Probably because it’s embarrassing? Like a ‘my bro’s dad is cutting my hair’ kind of feel. Especially since it’s the neighborhood, and I know them. So… all the more. I totally understand that feel. I mean, I don’t even buy stuff at their stores as well.”

So that’s how it goes – Suizenji muttered. Asaba changed over to a thinning scissors, and Suizenji’s black hair fell in bunches. Regarding the quality of hair, Suizenji seemed to have the shiniest among his customers. Probably because he normally didn’t use hair products or dryers. Furthermore, he had no stress or eating problems.

“Shall we return to that previous topic?”

Asaba feigned ignorance.

“Topic?”

“The matter concerning Correspondent Iriya. What a stingy little missy she’s turning out to be!”

“… I don’t think you should call her that prez… It’s a place with stiff regulations after all… It’s a military base after all… it’s our national army after all…”

“But surely, Correspondent Asaba, the rules are made from their loopholes. And what’s a loophole among friends?”

“You don’t even know her that well…”

“But surely, Correspondent Asaba, a denial should not be taken in such swiftness. To say, for example, ah it’s probably not going to work, but I’ll ask anyway, and then to come back and say, well, sorry, I tried… would be okay. But that was absolute veto, my friend. It was absolute!”

The one who said No was Iriya.

The reason Suizenji wished to acquire Iriya was because she lived in the base, and he had a little expectation that she’d let him take a peek. And, with that expectation on hand, he invited her to join the club. She stepped into the clubroom on Thursday, and he promptly dealt his proposition: Correspondent Iriya, I have heard by chance that you are apparently, by mag-ni-fi-cent coincidence, living within the residential area of the Sonohara Army Base, and perchance another time we might…

No.

“My, she’s certainly and without-a-doubt stingy. Is she such and such on a regular basis, Correspondent Asaba? And for a transfer student to be like that, is rather anti-social, isn’t it?”

Well, certainly, if she were a little courteous it would have been better. He had something like that in mind. But, Asaba knew that it was a tall order. Iriya was really, normally, ‘such and such’.

Thus, she had no friends.

He wanted to defend her.

“Someone probably hammered it into her beforehand, that she couldn’t invite anyone.”

At that moment, Asaba paused.

A thought. Iriya was, probably, due to that, constantly rebuffing Suizenji’s advances from back then. Suizenji wasn’t the type to care about a ‘gratuitous female presence’. The moment he saw no hope in her, he’d probably throw her out.

Too many cooks spoiled the broth – that was probably it.

“Well… she’s still a capable resource, isn’t she?”

As he went back to cutting, he said that out loud.

“If you were more sincere about your request prez, she’d probably cave in later. Anyway, talking to Iriya about nothing other than the base is rude. By the way, lower your head.”

“Why would that be?”

“For one, when she came in, you were nothing but lemme see the base lemme see the base. That’s kind of like saying that that’s her only worth to you. Like that’s all that she is to you. I don’t think that kind of speech’s going to be amusing to anyone.”

Hoooo… went Suizenji.

“Ah. I see your reason.”

“Don’t you agree? We have to think long term here.”

“To sum up, to get on her good side you must butter her up! And then we’ll get what we want. Then she’ll think – what could I possibly do to get my cherished friends into a top-secret army base? Surely, that would be the best-case scenario!”

“Earth to prez… Earth to prez… that’s not what I…”

He was a man that hated to wait. With his head in Asaba’s hands, he began to ponder this or that plan.

Asaba sighed.

It’s not like he didn’t understand Suizenji’s haste.

Sonohara Base was a large one that contained both America’s and Japan’s planes, and it had a great offensive capability. That was why it was a highly confidential base. As a result, spies frequently appeared on the circumference, and as a result, there were also plenty of UFO rumors. He had also heard that they had an absolute restriction on the Media’s entry.

Therefore, regardless of whether there were really any alien bodies or UFO wreckages there, if a person had managed to enter into the Sonohara base to do a report, even if it were a school newspaper – it would still be an extraordinary scoop. With that opportunity falling right in his lap in the form of Iriya, Suizenji was understandably restless.

“――!“

At that moment, there was the audible flash of light-bulb turning on in Suizenji’s head.

Whatever he had thought up, Asaba felt as though he could feel it in his fingers.

“Well! Now that’s it’s come to this!”

Asaba prepared himself. It was going to be something bad, no doubt about it, and the ‘now that it’s come to this’ made it even worse.

“Correspondent Asaba. This is a Presidential Order. Commence the Iriya Dating Plan.”

“…what?!”

Although he was expected not to move about, unexpectedly, Asaba felt Suizenji’s head nodding in his hand.

“Tomorrow. Sunday. How’s two tickets the movies sound like? And then afterwards coffee, and then karaoke, and then hotel, and then, wherever and wherever you wish… how would that sound? If you need a car, I can loan out a light pickup.”

“Er…ermm…”

A rumbling in the head. Mental indigestion perhaps.

What was with this sudden proposal?

“Of course, this is merely the fastest way to get on her good side. Especially since going ah my paramour, may we visit your sweetest abode – ma Cherie – is, quite frankly, not an option!”

This was mental diarrhea. Brain tissue was spilling out of his upper rectum.

Surely… there wasn’t any need to do this.

“Certainly it’s tough. We simply can’t afford to dawdle around and wait for some change of heart. For certain, Sonohara Base imposes a restriction on outside entry, and that is why Iriya herself is most indispensable for this. Merely the standard espionage. If the stars are right, you can expect a… nobody’s home sweetheart… would you like to come over… or anything of that sort.”

And, are you going to be there as well?!

Suizenji looked over to Asaba from his right shoulder.

“Correspondent Asaba. You are the perfect man for the job.”

He was cornered.

“That’s plainly impossible!”

Suizenji raised an eyebrow.

“Then I guess the mission falls to me…”

――!!

Brainy and handsome. Brawny and tall. Though he had not a whiff of interest in the opposing sex, he was more than willing, if it was for the sake of his own goals.

Suizenji was that kind of guy.

“I accept! I accept!”

Before he knew it, he had shouted these words.

Suizenji gave a dubious face.

“If you deem it impossible, then it’s no trouble at…”

“I insist.”

Suizenji smiled smugly. He gave a sidelong look, straight at Asaba.

“Then I leave you to it, and may god grant you well, Correspondent Asaba. The secrets of Sonohara Air Base shall be ours to seek!”

And this point, Asaba was back to his senses. He had just accepted something absurd. The moment it dawned on him, he turned pale.

A date with Iriya.

Was it a good thing? He had no idea. It probably wasn’t.

In the first place, would he even receive an OK from her? He had no idea.

“Erm… just for the record… I haven’t even been on a date before.”

The sound of the doorknob turning.

“Have no fear. Neither have I.”

What?! Then what was with that confident attitude?”

The door opened. The door closed.

“No need for fluster Correspondent Asaba! All that a maiden needs for her fall is a kiss…a splendid kiss!”

Suizenji said that with glee. Strong anxiety and tension flooded Asaba, and he directed his full anger and distress to the source… “What’s with you and kissing? And what the hell sort of basis do you have to say that if you yourself have no experience!?”, “What the heck is wrong with you?”, “We’re talking serious business here!” and then he turned, to come face to face with Iriya.

“Ah, correspondent Asaba it hurts it hurts, correspondent Asaba, owowow – please respond, please respond, please respond…”

Asaba hastily withdrew his scissors. Suizenji patted his head with an “ow…”. Iriya looked over to Suizenji’s blanket-ghost form, and then over to the scissors-wielding Asaba who was standing stone still. She stared intently.

“Er…erm…”

Had heard everything from back then? Asaba didn’t want to dwell over that thought.

“When did you…”

“Just now.”

Iriya answered, and then returned.

“What are you up to?”

Suizenji answered:

“As you can clearly see, Correspondent Asaba is cutting my hair. As the son of a barber, Correspondent Asaba is well-studied in the ways of the blade. Yes, yes… as I have heard through certain ‘pipelines’, when he was young, he would plant his sister on the barbershop chair and play dirty little ‘remodeling surgification’ games with her.”

Prez ~~~”

Due to a scissors poking against Suizenji’s neck, he fell silent. Once again, Asaba continued his work, and concentrated on trimming the fringe.

Or rather, he wanted to.

But there were things in the world you could do, and those you just couldn’t do.

A stealthy glance. Iriya’s direction.

Mouth slightly open, her body leaned slightly forward, slightly down, slightly embarrassed, looking over at his work.

――?

Was a haircut really that interesting? Strange.

He felt a thump in his belly. Suizenji had nudged him from the arm rest. He felt flustered. He couldn’t do it. Asaba merely & determinedly continued his cutting in silence. He was moving, but his head was blank. What if he was rejected? Then Suizenji would harrumph like some third-rate soap opera actor, slide in, and go – Iriya bay-bee, how about the movies some ti…

Absolutely No.

“How’s this?”

Asaba raised the mirror he had plundered from the gym toilet up behind Suizenji’s head.

“Very good. You’ve done your job well.”

From the hair-covered sheet, a hand came out. Thumb-flip. Asaba caught the 100-yen coin that shot past Suizenji’s left ear. Standing tall, with all the hair falling from his shirt, Suizenji gave Asaba a look that read “go on…” “go on…” – but with no means to approach, all Asaba could do was sweep up the bits of hair with a broom.

And thereafter, three things happened:

Firstly, Suizenji felt rather irritated at Asaba’s cowardice and bellowed:

“Correspondent Iriya. I have a matter of great importance! Regarding tomorrow’s plans…”

And Asaba took a large gulp:

“Hold on a minute! What are you…”

And Sudou Akiho suddenly burst in the room.

“Ah… I’m late, I’m late. I got caught by that damned Kawaguchi…”

Akiho dumped her bag on the table and wiped the sweat off her brow, then, noticing Iriya, her face changed into a conspicuous “What is she doing here” look, and then:

“…what… are you guys up to?”

Pure Instinct. There was some kind of plot going on, and she could feel it in the air. She stretched her gaze across the room with a face like a readied grenade. Why was Asaba withdrawing his eyes away and silently sweeping the floor, and why were his barbershop tools on the table, and why was Iriya standing like a statue with her bag in hand, and, why was Suizenji, who had significantly more hair that morning, now over at the white-board doing up some kind of circuit-board looking thing?

“This is important – so listen close Correspondent Iriya! The key points for tomorrow! Three points of capture – namely, the handle lock, main switch, and immobilizer! Despite the existence of brute-force procedures for the lock & switch – the immobilizer has always been a bigger issue! This device kicks in when the original key isn’t used to cancel the electric lock, causing the fuel supply to cut – and to make matters worse, this can be coupled with an electric sensor! Unnecessary shaking is a serious No, or you’ll find your eardrums blown up by the mega-volume alarm!”

“President Suizenji.”

“Correspodent Akiho…”

“What the hell is this?”

“As you can clearly see, providing Correspondent Iriya with training is of the greatest importance. Thus, from a lowly greenhorn, shall she now step upon the path of a True Journalist.”

“Question… it sounds like you’re doing that… but what was that about some kind of switch… or sensor…”

“The lesson plan for today! Correct Methodology: How to Steal a Scooter!”

“What type of True Journalist is that?!”

“Hold back your tongue! She who does not know the true standard of Journalism… how shall she face the perils of the day? Listen here, the scoop is a matter of great peril and urgency. How else shall one shake off the violent investigation-resistant unreasonable authorities if one is not prepared?”

And then, Suizenji diverted a quick glance to Asaba.

“…ah, I remembered something. Correspondent Sudou, I will need to borrow your presence. There is an important matter that needs discussing…”

“Wh-what kind of discussion…”

“No… this has to be between the both of us… the walls have ears…”

And, afterwards, with swiftness of action, he left no room for response:

“Well then. Correspondent Iriya, today’s lecture is at an end. Kindly continue your studies back at home. And remember, putting theory to the test is always the best!”

He opened the door, while pushing the still bewildered Akiho out of the room with a few prods.

Just before the door closed, a right hand popped back in. Thumbs-up.

That was a troubling thing indeed.

For the time being, he decided to finish sweeping up.

He dumped the dustpan’s contents into the dustbin-converted cardboard box, and dumped the broom into the locker. Asaba finally gave out a sigh.

What a dangerous spot.

An espionage mission with the pretense of a date. If Akiho had heard something like that, she’d surely get mad. In addition, she seemed to hate Iriya somewhat. Although, when Iriya had chased everyone away on that first day, she was the sole exception…

But, there was some kind of dissatisfaction.

If it was the normal Akiho, he felt as though she would have had a different reaction.

“Asaba.”

With his name suddenly called, Asaba instinctively straightened up in front of the locker, replying with a “Yes!”.

“How many bits is the immobilizer cipher?”

Huh?

When Asaba turned around, Iriya was staring at the whiteboard. He scooted up next to her and followed her gaze. She was staring at the strange circuit board that Suizenji had scribbled in a water-based marker.

“Oh. You shouldn’t care about that. It’s probably some nonsense prez came up with…”

His courage crumbled.

“Maybe, you should put your bag there…”

She did as he said, and placed it on the table.

“And… maybe… are you free…tomorrow?”

He said it.

A strike out of left field. As though she didn’t expect it, her eyes widened.

“Why?”

She said.

And he expected the worst answer.

But he forced himself, while avoiding her eyes.

“Perhaps… you’d like to watch a movie… maybe…just you, and… me.”

Returning to the present. The first Sunday of the 2nd semester. The morning of the date.

Whenever a resident of Sonohara City said something like “I’m in town” or “Let’s go to town”, the ‘Town’ that they were usually referring to was the central part of the city – which contained a stretch of public facilities that included the City Hall.

Truly it was a place that felt like a ‘town’. Brand new, clean, and stylish. The streets were wide and brimmed with trees by the side, and the sidewalks were full of Modern Art Installations.

But, if you were to consider the rural feel on the circumference, this would seem like some kind of ‘distortion’.

Why this was so, there was one clear reason.

In the south-entrance of the Sonohara Station bus terminal, in a wagon parked alongside the road, Enomoto muttered the reason from the passenger seat.

“It’s all our fault.”

Resting the arm on the handle, and her chin on the arm, was Shiina Mayuumi, who replied:

“This ‘our’ of yours, would be the Army Base?”

“Exactly.”

Enomoto’s seat was in partial recline, and he gave a large yawn while he lay back.

“A large base, and tons of troops or personnel – so you’d want to profit from that… is that it?”

“There’s that, but… well… you can see it flows from somewhere else as well. Just look around closely. The people with the money aren’t the citizens, but the local government.”

“Why’s that?”

In his reclining seat. A thin breath.

“In other words, imagine them going we deeply apologize for this huge-ass noisy-ass dangerous-as-fuck base – and so the city’s been given this heap of cash beyond their means by those guys up high. The level of amenities in the area has already gone beyond pure idiocy. You’ve seen it too – how many libraries do we have?”

He immediately answered his own question.

Four. And you can hear the crickets chirping every day. And if we’re going to keep talking about this, there’s that city hall that’s huge beyond ridiculous. They even had that shamelessly loud elite orchestra and all that. But that event was only… that one time. Now, at the very most, they’ll only use the huge car park for any kind of festivals.”

Enomoto stole a glance at his wristwatch. Shiina Mayumi looked at the terminal clock. They both did a time check. 0955hrs.

“This spot is bustling around the day, but they close up early, and it’s totally black at night. Nobody comes here. Those tree-noises at night, and the weird statues that seem to look at you from the dark, and those randomly sparse spots of lights in the streets… it feels like some kind of alternate dimension. The dark also attracts those types… like thieves and perverts, and motorcycle gangs… all of those types.”

He rubbed his chin, to check how bad his stubble was.

“And some guy in the Third said that… like this place was a place full of UFO sightings, and ghost walkings, and those mysterious people shit. It’s on a different level from all the other towns. A hotbed of rumors. And all that kinda stuff is probably due to a sort of street like this.”

And, Enomoto yawned again.

“I need sleep.”

Hey. I’ll slap you.”

“Don’t… say that…I got it the shittiest… Checking route… course planning… … holding a… ‘clean out’ of the area… that Asaba kid’s going to be the death of me.”

“That’s your job. And I was on my leave too~~ I had a beautiful laundry day ahead of me…”

At that moment, Shiina Mayumi had a momentary thought come to her head.

She straightened up.

“Wait a mo…”

“Ah.”

“Wasn’t it… third alert… last evening…”

Ah…”

“When was it off?”

“When I got in contact… 5 in the morning.”

“Then… then how long did our precious little Kana sleep!? Wasn’t she here… at six?!!!”

“I mean… she came down. Four. Maybe. And she probably napped then… so… around one hour?”

“And you didn’t stop her?! Long alert without rest – but you didn’t stop her?! Do you want this to be like the shelter incident? Didn’t I explain that that was due to the drugs left behind in her body by the alert?”

Both arms covering his face, Enomoto spoke in an exhausted voice.

“And that was why I called you.”

Silence.

“If you want to go, then go. If you don’t think it’s worth it, then go stop it, right before Asaba gets here. There’s still time.”

Silence.

“In the first place, she didn’t aim to tell me anything. So would you go up to her and say… he’s coming at 10, so go sleep awhile?”

“It’s impossible. She also knows it. And we just have to have our bellies in knots about it. And if nothing happens then we can all go Banzai, but if something does, and she goes all eye-white again, we’ll all be there… and hopefully you too.”

A sigh.

“All right. I get it. But two questions. Firstly, aren’t there those guys from the North loitering about? Will she be okay? Does she have weapons?”

“She does. We’re missing a 9mm with two magazines. And the all-night ‘cleaning’ also went all right, so it should be all clear.”

“Okay, but… why is Kana in school uniform?”

“I thought that was strange too. Didn’t hear anything about that. But. Probably…”

“Probably?”

“Although I may be wrong…”

“About what?”

“I forgot which article, but I think the Middle school had something about ‘wear your uniform outside, if possible’… or something along those lines.”

“Seriously? I’ve never seen a student in uniform on a holiday though…”

“But that’s how it goes. Although no one bothers to follow it, and the teachers don’t even care, they probably don’t even remember it exists… but if you read the guidebook, well, it’s there.”

“…then…”

“I can’t think of anything else. And I bet she’s all worried about it too, but she just doesn’t want to seem like a bad girl.”

Through the windshield, both of them stared at the corner of the bus terminal.

The Sonohara Transport buses were always empty. There were little passengers, but too many buses. Even then, on a Sunday, at this time, you could see some people getting off or going up at boarding points 1 to 8. According to the bus information guide, the buses from the army base stopped over at boarding point 8, located on the farthest end of the rotary, and if you looked up on the timings for point 8, the earliest bus came at 5.50 a.m.

And at that spot, from that time until now, was the still figure of Iriya Kana.

She was wearing a Sonohara Middle School uniform.

Both hands carrying a black rectangular bag with many pockets.

Although an air-conditioned waiting room with a glass window was nearby, she didn’t move and continued to stare at the station. She didn’t even look at the clock. From that perspective, she was conspicuous, and from then until now, three people had talked to her. The first was a middle-aged gateball player who asked her – which bus do I use to get to the Tonoyama Sports Park – and she completely ignored him. The second person was an old woman that was headed to the Sonohara Public Hospital for orthopedic surgery, who asked her – are you perhaps lost, and you don’t know which bus to take… do you need a guide to give you any help? – and she was also completely ignored by Iriya. The third person talked to her a mere 30 minutes before, and it was a young foreign soldier from the Sonohara base. This was the type of foreigner that liked to meddle with other people’s business even though they didn’t ask for help, and he, unmindful of his bad Japanese, had the same general intention as the old woman that came before. Hei lost girly, iz fourth flying squad damn-cool here to of helping Much – no fear! Where heading you girly?

Iriya spoke, with refined pronounciation, a single sentence.

“Get. Lost.”

And the, there was the fourth. He came at four minutes past 10.

Stopping at the bicycle parking area opposite the station, and passing through the tunnel, and running through the exit, and bumping into various people, tumbling, running.

And, she noticed him.

“Kana’s nose is bleeding!”

Shiina Mayumi instinctively rose. Enomoto stopped her, and rapidly continued:

“It’s okay. Asaba has a towel.”

Leaning forward, he threw a radio transreceiver on the Dash.

“Battle Stations you bastard Hounds! No change to plan. I repeat. No change. Kakizaki & Miyajima on Front. Nagae and Taguchi – back. Sekiya at the side. The rotation timings are your own discertion, but if you lose them – do NOT signal to Asaba’s bug. I repeat. Do not try to trace Asaba’s bug at all. Absolute no-can do, especially with that girl by his side. One last area sweep before all is GO. Get back to me on the Station & Chikyuudou Shop. STAT!”

Reply: Chikyuudou clear.

Reply: Station… slight problem.

Huh?

Starting the Engine, Shiina Mayumi asked:

“What’s up?”

After ordering a double-check, Enomoto turned back to her with a ‘what kind of fuck?’ face.

“Asaba is… being tailed.”



It was definitely strange

Since last evening. She had though that.

How exactly was it strange? – she had asked herself, but Yuuko could have no clear conception. What she felt was the sense of something she overlooked, especially with someone that she had lived under the same roof with for so long. It was a subtle unease.

He just wasn’t normal.

She didn’t hear that directly from him, but with regards to her ‘Blahdder’, she could see it extremely well. No, you couldn’t say that to her. A sentence like that would make her mad. Fists would fly. And legs.

Her mother’s request that morning was a good excuse to scout it out herself. Suizenji’s phone call… there was an unmistakable something, and it wasn’t for a matter regarding aliens or ghosts that her brother had woke up to do. That was what she thought.

What was that important ‘mission’ of Suizenji’s?

“Idio~~~ttt”

After that line, she returned to her room. Her ears pricked up. She heard his frantic bathroom-rushing state. She came to a decision.

Stealthy steps. Uninvited entry.

Heart beating fast.

Area search. She scanned the room with swift judgmental eyes. A messy futon, and fresh imprints from her brother’s sortie. Why was he in such a rush? Alarm clock kicked to the corner. Scattered manga and books at his bedside. And within, she discovered one magazine. Shock.

A porno?

No. A town guide bought from a convenience store. Left overturned, open to one page. Movie column. And a section circled in red pen.

Empire House Cinema: “Go West, Reckless Girl!” – Showtimes: 10:30 – 12:15

Could it be?

Yuuko crushed that theory.

That kind of brother. No way.

At the bedside, there were other things of note. A dictionary that could easily have substituted a pickle-press stone. She remembered her father bought it when her brother started school. It was out of its hard case, and dumped down by the bedside.

Perhaps, a sleeping aid.

But such a book was hard for bedtime reading.

She grabbed the thick cover, and flipped through.

It was pure luck that she saw it. She didn’t even need to search it thoroughly, and if it had been placed further in, it would probably be unnoticeable. Page 140 – 141. Ending of Hiragana あ and starting of い. A single sheet wedged in between.

Folded into four. A copy paper.

She opened it up. It was a club form. Potential member: Iriya Kana. Club: Newspaper Club.

Reason to join…

Her eyes widened. The theory she had discarded was resuscitated right before her eyes, with this amazing evidence.

But. Why. This…?

Her thoughts started shrieking. What the heck was this?! A guerrilla club like that didn’t need this kind of form anyway! And which teacher was that ‘Shiina’? Her seal was stamped there, and within the school…

The nurse, Shiina Mayumi? Why?

And, the most aggravating thing of all…

Who was this – Iriya Kana – anyway?

The Newspaper had only one female member. Same class as Asaba. Sudou Akiho.

But, could it be…?

Could it be my brother’s turning weird in the head?! Could it be that too much Suizenji exposure is making him nuts?! Could it be that this entry form was written by him, and this so called Iriya Kana was, in his mind, the token female from some five-man Earth Protection Force?

“Nao!”

That kind of thing, might have actually been better.

“When you’re leaving, spin the pole!”

Wherever he was going, now was time to act.

Today. What was he up to? What was he wrapped up in?

Whatever it was, she wanted to know.



He jumped onto the bicycle and went off at a ridiculous pace. It was hard to follow.

But actually, apart from that, it probably wasn’t a hard tail. The way he was pedalling, looking neither right nor left, made it possible to stick close without the person himself noticing. Furthermore, even if she lost him, she could just go around to the Empire at half past ten for an ambush. But, there was no absolute proof he would appear there, and she wanted to see it with her own eyes.

And. On this very day. Asaba Yuuko was frozen before the reality that she was confronted with.

Sonohara Bus Terminal. He met with a girl.

She was in school uniform.

She had long hair.

Yuuko couldn’t see the other features clearly. Firstly, this was due to distance. Hiding in the shadow of the tunnel’s entrance, it was about a pool’s vertical length away from the pair.

And the other reason was that something completely absurd was happening between the two, that made it hard to see anything closely. That girl, of all things, had to cry upon seeing her brother, and he drew up to her to comfort her with a handkerchief – something like that. Since both where at the boarding point, and she was looking downcast with that handkerchief, and he was all flustered, it was really attention-grabbing. You couldn’t see it properly unless you were close, but the surrounding people were giving strange looks.

Dizziness came.

The thing that she never expected to happen, was now in front of her.

Yuuko went from the tunnel to the path, and went around the rotary to approach the 8th point. Although she knew that she wouldn’t be discovered as long as she kept her face out of sight, for further caution, she pretended to look at a display window while glancing sidelong at them. Her previously frantic brother had seemingly calmed down. The girl wasn’t crying anymore.

Was she the aforementioned Iriya Kana?

It was too early to judge, so, for now, Yuuko decided on ‘crybaby girl’

She took the dangerous step of turning around to look, for a few seconds more.

Sonohara Middle School uniform. But a face she didn’t recognize.

But, on top of that, extremely pretty.

At the very least, she didn’t see the girl in her grade, and neither among the third graders, so was it her brother’s grade?

And that uniform.

Despite it being Sunday. Why did crybaby girl have a uniform on?

Who would wear a uniform on a date?

A hasty conclusion? It probably wasn’t something as salacious as that. There was this scenario: she was a member of that club, and also an underling of Suizenji, so were they doing something like investigating a place where that attire was mandatory? Her casually attired brother was just an escort to guide her along, and the places circled in that magazine weren’t necessarily places to visit today – Suizenji had probably relayed the information on the phone.

But, then again, that itself wasn’t incompatible with dating.

Furthermore, it also didn’t explain why she cried.

They started moving, and so, she decided that she had to do so as well.

The area was crowded with pedestrians, so it was an easy tail. Crybaby girl had a black rectangular bag with lots of zips. It was probably nylon. It also looked pretty heavy, since she had a shoulder strap but she still held it with her left hand while walking. It was like those bags that spies or thieves kept their seven tools in. It was totally unfitting for a girl’s date.

While crybaby girl walked, she loitered here and there to look at things. Compared to her crying form, she was now staring in wide-eyed amazement at everything like she couldn’t help it. Walking a bit, pausing, walking a bit, pausing. It was understandable if it was just window shopping, but she stared at kids, and at telephone pole stickers, and at unusual looking billboards – all out of unrestrained curiosity. And yet, she didn’t say much, and it was her brother that tried to prevent awkwardness by jumping into the fray with all sorts of rambling conversation topics – that much she could see. Change of name: “OCD girl”.

Based on the direction, Yuuko decided that they were definitely headed towards the Empire.

Just one more turn before the cinema’s signboard appeared, and it was at that spot. As though remembering something important, the OCD girl stopped, and turned around. Yuuko was caught off-guard.

For a moment. Eyes met.

Yuuko dived into the nearby Pachinko shop.

Was she caught?

No, her brother didn’t see…so it was okay. She told that to herself. But the place she had leapt into was bad. The parlour’s front was glass, which meant that she could still be seen from the street if she didn’t move further in. OCD Girl could drag her brother over to check. Probably. But, going further in was scary. The décor was trim, but the noises were deafening, and the adults sitting at the booths looked like bank robbers or kidnappers. Dad didn’t Pachinko. Pachinko adults were all bad men. So she thought.

Hey.”

Jolt.

“What’re you up to?”

Shop assistant. His black attire was totally unfitting. Around university age.

“Hiding.”

Being spotted by OCD girl had shocked her, and her head still couldn’t process the thought to lie.

“Look to the right. Are those two still there?”

Knitted brow. The shopkeeper gave off a scary ‘Haaaaah??’. Yuuko immediately bowed down with a “please help me!”. He was taken aback.

“…those…two?”

“Middle school… guy and girl. He has a tee & jeans. She’s in school uniform.”

The assistant gave her a weird look. He glanced inside to see that his boss wasn’t around, and then he walked out to the door mat. About half a minute. Checking the street.

“Still there?”

Bending next to him, she asked that.

He replied:

“She’s phoning someone.”

Still fixing his gaze out, he beckoned her. She approached timidly. Squatting below his tall body, she peeked. Suddenly. Face grab. His huge arm restrained her head.

“Wait. He’s facing here.”

10 seconds. He looked out again. He let her go.

“Is it that?”

Below his chin, Yuuko nodded. OCD girl was 10 meters up front, in a phone booth, back facing them. Her brother was loitering outside with nothing to do. Change of name: ‘Phone Girl’.

“Who’re they? Bullies?”

Honestly, it would be too long an explanation.

“No… it’s not like that, but I can’t get caught. Special reasons.”

Huh, he grumbled.

“But. That’s weird.”

“What’s weird?”

“That phone should be totally dead. A friend of mine had his phone card eaten. Pissed him off. But looks like its fixed now.”

Huh. This time, it was Yuuko.

“Damn. There’s still one at school that’s like, the same. 3 at the entrance, but one on the right is broke. Some chick from my class said it’s some phone company plot.”

At that moment, phone girl put down the phone. She quickly ran back to his side.

It looked like it was all clear to go.

“I gotta…”

“Sure,” the shop assistant replied briefly.

“Thank you.”

She ran out, shooting back that word of thanks. There weren’t only bad people at a Pachinko Parlour.

Weaving through the crowds, past the bend, and she came to a somewhat larger street. They were gone. But the cinema was in sight, and if they had come all the way here, then that was surely their goal. Checking the time. Cursing at her forgotten watch. But, it was probably half past 10 soon. They had probably rushed into the theatre since they were late. She rushed as well. Looking up at the board. Go West, Reckless Girl. Looked like some kind of movie that alternated between youth and action. A stupid choice for a date movie, so she thought. It was Sunday but customers were sparse, and the ticket booth had this old person in it with spots all over her cheeks (you didn’t know whether to call her ‘auntie’ or ‘grand-auntie’) taking a quick nap. Yuuko stopped. A breather. Wiping off sweat.

Rushing to the counter. Behind the reinforced plastic was an old clock that looked as though it was dug out from some Jomon Ruins. 1032hrs.

And. She shouted. And. He shouted. Harmoniously.

“Student Ticket please!”

Together. A familiar voice.

Mutually. They glanced at each other, while bending over the counter.

Oh my word! Could this be Miss Asaba?”

It was Suizenji.



Confirming by radio.

“So it seems…”

Enomoto spoke. Happily.

“…that we’re stuck right in the middle of some big plot that no one was aware of.”

“Shouldn’t you have predicted this sort of thing?”

Shiina Mayuumi criticized.

“If I remember, when there was that thing about two people camping halfway up the Tonoyama mountains and observing the fourth apron. Those two idiots were Suizenji and Asaba, weren’t they?”

“I have always wondered what was up with that guy’s physique. Isn’t he 28 years old already? And yet he was still going on about that ‘Student Ticket’ shit. If I was the seller, I’d roll my eyes.”

“That’s mean! What if he’s like secretly bothered about that?”

Enomoto scratched his head, causing a tumble of dandruff to fall. In truth, he hadn’t bathed for 3 days.

“…come on, I’m also half praising him. If his brains weren’t working right, you wouldn’t be able to call him 28 years old. And he’s the type of guy that would write “I wanna to join the CIA” on his career guidance sheet and cause the whole staff-room to fall into chaos. Seriously. CIA. What the hell.”

“Tons better than here. Guidance counselling is all about respecting whoever’s wishes you know. And… by the way…”

“By the way?”

“Why didn’t you throw them out? Those two idiots?”

Enomoto shot her a look of disdain.

“That’s the problem with women…”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Saying something like that. Listen here. It’s a secret mountain base for god’s sake. Wasting your entire bloody summer trying to stake out an army base for god’s sake. And stealing watermelons from the field and throwing firecrackers into the cars of damned couples and trying to catch wild Tanuki for god’s sake! It’s what you call an event!”

“Those two… did all that?”

“Ah shit, I wanted to join them myself! Honestly, to confess, for the whole August I couldn’t bear it! And I would have joined them too if it wasn’t for that bastard Kimura! That idiot…!”

“You know what… you can stop now… I’m a woman and an idiot after all…”

And, Shiina Mayumi returned once more with a serious look.

“But, isn’t that bad? Suizenji’s pretty smart too, and he was staring all at the Fourth apron all the while. What if he had videos or pictures or whatever?”

“I’m not that stupid. In the first place, why do you think that Ticonderoga cruiser was milling about just off the coast?”

“Wait a moment… what…”

“Oh, just a little thing that happened in July. A missile carrier was needed at the Fourth. It was at dawn. They totally didn’t notice.”

“Don’t tell me… you called over a missile carrier for their sake?”

“Oh, that’s not all. I also changed the timings of the Manta takeoff.”

“Are you an idiot?! Are you a total idiot?!”

“But, well…”

Drowsiness returned, and Enomoto’s voice grew lower, as he leaned back and closed his eyes.

“Those guys at the Skunkworks wanted to test the Torch, or something. If those two weren’t at the mountains, I would have refused… well, that’s how it went anyway.”

“What’s ‘Torch’?”

Enomoto opened his eyes, slightly.

“What was it? I forgot the official name. Something like a navi-device to help Manta pinpoint aircraft carriers from up in the high sky, and that thing was a bug patch of an improved version of a variant, something or the other…I don’t really care, so I can’t remember much…”

“Those skunk guys are really up to these sorts of things nowadays…”

“But, they built the Manta too.”

“I feel sad. My precious Kana is being used as a lab rat.”

Enomoto breathed a soft sigh. Shiina Mayumi had the brief thought of ‘what’s up with you… at this late hour’. And then the radio beeped a “This is Kajiwara” which caused Enomoto to whip up and lean forward.

“What’s up?”

“It seems… something good has popped up. At least. That’s what I’m told.”

Wasn’t that what he thought back then? Suizenji and Yuuko’s entry into the scene made things just a bit more exciting. Now he was wide awake.

Shiina Mayumi’s eyes lit up. She grabbed the radio from Enomoto.

“What’s this ‘good’? Comeon, I wanna know!”

“Head on shoulder. That kind of ‘good’.”

“CAN WE GO?!”

On the opposite side of the radio, there was the sense that Kajiwara was giving a muffled laugh.

“Sure. West backdoor.”

Shiina Mayumi cheerfully undid her seatbelt, and Enomoto shot her a few words.

“Stop it…”

“WHY?”

“If we’re caught, we die.”

“It’ll be a-okay!”

“Even if others don’t know, Iriya will. And if she throws herself off the roof of the school in shame, you’ll be at the bottom to catch the fall.”

“But… but… don’t you want to see??”

Enomoto leaned against his seat, exhausted. Shortly:

Of course.”



She was brought in. Coerced.

Furthermore, in her haste, she had forgotten an extremely important thing, other than her watch.

Her wallet.

And so, Suizenji paid for the ticket cost. And, for whatever reason in his mind, he also bought cola, and popcorn, and a pamphlet for her. “What are you planning” asked Yuuko, and Suizenji turned to her with a hehehe and replied: “This is all part of the disguise, my dear.”

Thus, Yuuko entered the empty theatre and sat at the far-left corner with a sullen hmmph! And Suizenji sat to her right. The preliminary newsreel about the condition of the North had just ended, and the movie was starting to play on the screen. Suizenji wasn’t watching it, but he took out some tiny binoculars and scouted out the two heads sitting together, directly in the center.

Not only had she been brought in, but she was also watching a movie together with him.

I can’t get married anymore… – she miserably thought in her head.

What kind of ‘coincidence’ was this? You could say he knew about everything already. Her brother, and that phone girl were headed for the Empire. They would come at half past 10. He knew all that already, and he was just waiting at the ticket area to tail them. And when the two appeared, she had just been an extra ‘gift’, sticking to them.

“Hey…”

While looking through the binoculars, Suizenji replied with a “Hnn?”. Yuuko whispered:

“How much do you know?”

Suizenji replied with the same tone.

“Trading information? There can be no lies. So, you first.”

“Why me?!”

“You definitely have less information, so there will be a shorter transmission duration.”

Yuuko, huffily:

“That my bro’s been a weirdo since last night, and in his room there was this magazine circled and this Iriya Kana entry club form thing. And my bro went to the station and met with crybaby girl, and crybaby girl cried, and then she became OCD girl, and then she became phone girl, and then… that’s it.”

Putting down the binoculars and looking at her.

“Confirmation check. By ‘girl’, are you referring to Correspodent Iriya?”

In the darkness, her eyes widened. She pointed over to that center head.

“So that person… is Iriya Kana?!”

“Keep your voice down.”

Deep breath. Unconsciously lowering her head, then peeping out again at the seat.

“Your information is certainly very interesting. This is the first time I’ve heard of a club application form, and for Correspodent Iriya to cry, is quite a surprise. A thing like that is hard to believe.”

“Your turn.”

Suddenly, eyebrows knitting, he turned back to his binoculars.

“Hey… your turn.”

Shh.”

“That’s cheating!”

“They’re talking.”

As he said that, he presented to her a pair of earphones, and at this moment she first noticed it. The cable was joined up to the seat next to Suizenji’s, disappearing inside his bag.

Headphones on.

There was no sound. But it was different from a power cut. It felt like a silent phone call.

“What the heck is this…”

“Live streaming.”

Suddenly, her brother’s voice burst into her ear.

Sleepy?

And, in front of Yuuko, the head next to her brother’s shook left and right.

Suizenji gazed over at the amazed Yuuko, and gave a smile like a gossip.

“Indeed, before today’s commencement of the Iriya Dating Plan, me and Correspondent Asaba went to the Restaurant Shimizu for a top-secret strategy meeting. Materials involved includes those magazines that you found inside his room. But, that meeting had a certain alternative objective. Simply put. It is with great deft of skill that I managed to carry out one of the most foundational tactics of espionage – wiretapping.”

“But, does he know about the bug…?”

“Of course, espionage cannot involve the target’s knowledge. If it did, it wouldn’t be called espionage!”

That’s so horrible Yuuko thought in her head. Screwing around with a date like that.

If you’re sleepy, you can take a rest…

Her brother’s voice again.

Looking up, the head next to her brother was shaking left and right once again, but then, it started to droop lower and lower. Nodding off. Eventually, there was no more movement. But, like a magnet attracting a piece of metal, the resting spot of that head was in his direction.

“Oh My.”

Suizenji raised his voice.

Yuuko watched, mouth half open. The sleepy Iriya Kana had her head, of all places, attached to her brother like a leech. Even though she couldn’t see much but the head, she was certain that a significant portion of the body was also stuck.

And at that moment, like a coach to a boxer in a corner, Suizenji clenched his fist and began to eagerly whisper:

“Correspondent Asaba. Go for the kill! For the sake of our future!!”

But. No movement.

It seemed like a long period of time. Within Yuuko, a raging surge of a who-knows-what kind of feeling ran all throughout her at the sight of her brother’s inaction. This was, for him, a tremendous conflict of life-or-death. Neither sounds nor images from the movie could enter anymore.

She knew that, but.

Could he do it?

Would he really do it?

She wanted him to do it.

But, a part of her didn’t.

That point in time. The sound of the door quietly opening.

Light from the outside shone in, but then dissipated. Yuuko turned. A new couple had arrived, and they were sitting in the last row at the very right. It was too dark to catch any features or details.

That’s weird.

Some slight thoughts:

The first thing that was weird. This was a movie that was most likely marketed to a primary audience of youths or teens. The only people around were either middle or high school students. But, those two were adults. Furthermore, a couple. What kind of weird adult couple would watch a film like this?

The second thing that was weird. The place was empty, and there were many seats in the middle, but why did they go to the farthest corner at the farthest back row out of their own free will? It was exactly the same as her own spot, and so it was most likely that they had other shady intentions than watching the film. In other words, that couple wanted to do those things.

A bunch of perverts in the dark.



(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)
(⁄ ⁄>⁄ ▽ ⁄<⁄ ⁄)(⁄ ⁄>⁄ ▽ ⁄<⁄ ⁄)KYAAAAAAAA~~~~~!!!(⁄ ⁄>⁄ ▽ ⁄<⁄ ⁄)(⁄ ⁄>⁄ ▽ ⁄<⁄ ⁄)(⁄ ⁄>⁄ ▽ ⁄<⁄ ⁄)
(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)

The loud squeal that burst into Enomoto’s ear from Shiina Mayumi was overbearingly happy. She even pointed at them outrageously with her little finger.

(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)
AWWWW~~!!!THEY’RE ALL STICKY & GOOEY TGT KYAAAAAA! (⁄ ⁄>⁄ ▽ ⁄<⁄ ⁄)(⁄ ⁄>⁄ ▽ ⁄<⁄ ⁄)
(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)

“Shut up! Legs going up and down like that… I’m gonna pretend I don’t know you!!”

“BUT THEY’RE LIKE THAT… AND THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I’VE SEEN KANA SO QWWWUUTTE
(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)(❤ω❤)

“She’s just sleeping…”

Shiina Mayumi’s tone suddenly grew calmer.

“As I thought… could it be that?”

Small nod. Enomoto continued clearly:

“There’s no way she’ll pull off some cunning facade. She doesn’t have that kind of sense.”

“Well, who cares anyway. It’s good to be lovey-dovey.”

“But, that Asaba kid. He’s seriously watching the movie…”

“Is it bad to watch a movie in a movie-watching place?”

“Idiot. The movie is secondary. If it wasn’t, why would they come to this kind of empty and dark place for?”

Eeh? That sounds kinda wrong. In the first place, this place was empty by chance. He pro-ba-bly didn’t foresee this kind of situation.”

“That kind of excuse is unforgivable. Didn’t foresee, or whatever… who cares about that! Goddamn kid, when the girl is moving on you, you have to do your best! Go for the kill Asaba! Go for the mouth gouging French kill!”

“No way. Just look at him! But, sure is nice to be young isn’t it…  and later they won’t care about where they do it, on the train, or in a park… Awww. It’s so pure…”

Enomoto’s shoulders slumped down, crestfallen. With a sigh, he looked to the dark ceiling.

“Well, in the end, it’s the pot calling the kettle black… I still remember it quite well…”

“Big Sis hates lies you know!”

“No, I’m serious.”

“I’ll let you in on a little something then. Apparently, there’s this group of people from general affairs, and accounting, and marketing – victims that is – forming together as plaintiff for a civil lawsuit towards a certain someone I happen to know. That’s very interesting isn’t it? I hear that it may even be the first death sentence ever passed for sexual harassment.”

“Do you seriously believe that kind of crap coming from Kimura! In the first place, I had a period in my life when I was Asaba’s age too!”

“Impossible. When you entered the world, you were born with that black heart since day one!”

“You. When did you first kiss a guy?”

In the darkness of the cinema, Shiina Mayumi’s face turned bright red. Although the light on the movie screen was flashing too far away for anyone else to see it properly.

“Erm… actually…”

“Or, even if you don’t say it, I’m still going to confidently declare this: I did it later than you. My first kiss. I’ll never forget it.”

Hey! Wait just a minute… is this the type of thing you really want to…”

“26 years old. Autumn.”

After a difficult silence. Shiina Mayumi:

“Hm-mmh?”

Said that, and immediately:

“But, at that drinking party after we were done with Kana’s transfer, and you said in front of everyone – all that narcissistic stuff about how well-liked and popular you were?”

“Huh, so you remember that sort of thing, but, that wasn’t a lie. I was definitely popular beyond popular…”

“Your honor! I submit that the defendant has presented an inconsistent statement! For the sake of covering up his past crimes with shitty lies…!”

“About that… I definitely received a lot of confessions, and I definitely received a lot of love letters. But I ignored them. And even for those that I didn’t, I wasn’t into it. At that time I thought that having some girl clinging all over you was just uncool. But that was just an excuse because I lacked balls.”

Shiina Mayumi still had a doubtful look in her eyes.

“Lacking balls… but if the girl confesses, that doesn’t matter, does it?”

“That’s what you call too much self-consciousness. It was the country, and whoever the hell you walked back to school with – that kind of thing would be the next big rumor. Your friends would diss you straight. And that just sucked. And that was why confessions were always so scary. If you rejected them, they’d cry. But then you reject them too much, and another weird ass rumor would pop up. Oh, this Enomoto guy is totally different from all the other sleazebag skirt chasers, I wonder who he really likes? It’s a bloody joke, because my mind was the type that would peel them naked in my dreams.”

Although it was a tragic past, he retold it with a strange delight. Enomoto’s lips were curled into a smile.

“Well, it’s not like I didn’t have any one or two that I particularly liked. But whenever I looked back at her, at the back of the class, she’d always be spending her lunch break comforting those clingers that I shook off. And when it came to me confessing, I couldn’t do that, so, in the end she got swiped by some other guy. It was seriously troubling. What did this kind of shit happen, or why did I have to go through something like this? And that kind of vicious cycle causes you to think things like ‘I’m just too cool to fall to the chicks’ – that kind of shitty pride turns into a stronghold. It was really fucked up at that time, and I couldn’t even shake off the curse when I got into uni.”

“Where was your university?”

“Local U. My parents were only willing to pay for that.”

“So, what kind of goddess saved you from your suffering?”

“Ahhhh… she was super cute.”

Who was that? What was her name? – was the question, but Shiina Mayumi swallowed those words before they reached her lips.

So far, in his recount, he never left any concrete details.

In other words, what he was saying was true, and there was really a university student named Enomoto that had a huge complex in those days. But it was different now. Today, Enomoto was one of the most dangerous guys in Asia. He had received many marks on him, both foreign and internal, and even the North knew about the nature of his existence. And, she too was closer to the ‘real shit’ than Enomoto, in some areas. Should she know the name of Enomoto’s beau, and fall prey to some truth serum or some other weird injection, there might have been a happily married mother with two kids living in the Kamishiro district of the Yahata ward of the capital city (3-65-2), maiden name Komatsu Yukiko, who, upon preparing dinner one day, would open her fridge and find, stuck in the vegetable compartment, a nice present of 4kg of C4 – or something like that. You never knew what to expect when working in this type of job, and it was all the more so recently.

“When you first enter, there’s no one you know. It was different from middle to high school, like it was a class change on a nation-wide scale. And so you had the feeling that you had to change your life. In the foundation seminar I talked to this girl sitting next to me, and eventually we made plans to go who-knows-where some other day. For this kind of first date in your life, finding a dating spot to make her happy was like completely a matter of life or death. But, since it was local, I knew that there wasn’t any kind of decent place to take her to. No car either. So I had no idea exactly what the hell I was supposed to do, and on the day itself I was all in a mess, which meant that I had to fall back on my favorite place… and that’s where I took her.”

“Which was?”

“Fish pond.”

Pfft!

“You could fish carp.”

Heeh.

“Unexpectedly, it was a hit. At first she didn’t want to touch the bait, but in the end she was ridiculously happy when she caught two. And we went back stinking like pupa powder, but she wanted to come again. Perhaps, she didn’t even think it was a date in the first place. But, that was what I thought, and I wasn’t going to deny that achievement.”

And then, for a while, they silently watched the movie.

“…but, that kiss at 26. What kind of person was she?”

“That’s a totally different story.”

“And, by the way, why the heck were we talking about this in the first place?”

“It was your fault. You didn’t believe me when I said I understood why Asaba was pussying out. Remember this! Even a person like me has had this blood-stained struggle with female relations. No one can tell it better than I can. Go for the kill Asaba! Go for the mouth gouging French kill!”

At that exact moment, the movie was still playing on the rather small screen, and the main heroine Miyamoto Kyouko was screaming. From the old speakers, that scream was like some kind of banshee shriek. It spread to all four corners of the theater.

Her head twitched. Iriya’s.

As though jumping back, she separated from Asaba.

“Look, she’s already awake.”

Enomoto leaned back with an ‘I don’t need to hear that from you’ kind of look. Iriya seemed so shy that she sunk into her seat until her head couldn’t be seen. Asaba seemed to be eagerly saying something to her.

“What’re they saying?”

“It’s not the movie that’s interesting, but you – or at least that’s what should be said.”

Enomoto, who had already shoved his own stuff to the side, gave a light giggle as he said that.

“Ah, right.”

He grabbed the black bag at his feet and placed it on his knee. Opening the zipper, he pulled out the contents one after another. Portable radio, notebook style computer, connection cable, and two earphones.

“Hey. What are you doing now?”

“Just look, but don’t move your head. 10 o’clock. Three from the back. Two from the left. Suizenji’s over there.”

Shiina Mayumi made a leaked out a small ‘ah’. She had been too captivated with the sticky and gooey forms of Iriya and Asaba that she completely forgot.

“I see. Then that little kid next to him must be Yuuko?”

“Only in comparison to Suizenji. In fact, she’s around the same height as Asaba.”

Enomoto worked quickly. Earphones in his ears. Radio connected to computer, as well as a tuning tool.

“Didn’t you hear before? Kajiwara said there was a strange signal.”

“But you said to forget about that, or something.”

“That’s because it’ll be bad to disturb it. Probably, Suizenji’s. In Asaba’s bag there must be some kind of bug used for tapping. So… let’s give it a free ride.”

Kajiwara gave the frequency. UHF 398.605. Normally, commercial wiretaps used at most six channels, and this was one of those types. Suizenji was usually more thorough in his preparation, but this was too soon for him. There was no time for large preparations, so commercial devices were the best he could marshal. And he had also spent the whole of last night pulling an all-nighter. Enomoto smirked as he thought that.

Asaba’s voice was clear through the earphone.

I guess, you also sleep a lot in class too huh?

“Bingo.”

“Lemme hear too! Lemme hear too!”

When Enomoto passed her the earphones, Suizenji suddenly stood up. Both of them hid their faces. Suizenji headed in the direction of the toilet and disappeared through the door. Soon, he came back.



Her brother was talking.

It is cuz of part time work? I mean, at such a late hour… ah… no, I don’t think it’s bad or anything… although they don’t allow it… but I know some guys who do…

Chin on the front seat, she stared at her brother’s face, while absentmindedly listening to his voice. Suizenji returned from the toilet. Yuuko was blocking the way with her body leaning in front. She decided only to move if he told her to shove it, but he remained where he was and sat on her left instead.



Enomoto took action immediately.

“Lets go. He noticed.”

“Eh? What – wait…”

He closed his notebook quickly, but was blocked by Shiina Mayumi from removing her earphones.

“Wait… why?”

“Suizenji changed his seat. Before that, he was sitting on Yuuko’s right. After coming back, he’s now sitting left.”

“So?”

“It’s weird. It’s not normal. And I don’t like not-normal.”



“Asaba, grab the bag from that seat.”

Yuuko ignored him.

“Asaba.”

“Do it yourself.”

“Hurry up. And do it as non-chalantly as possible.”

Yuuko was dubious but she grabbed the bag strap with an irritated expression. But, it was so heavy that she couldn’t lift it with one arm. With the strength of both arms, and in as non-chalant a manner she could muster, she handed it over.

“What the heck is inside?”

“Radio. Spare radio. Palm-top. CCD camera. Memory-stick Voice Recorder. Booster mic. Night vision goggles. Infrared projector. And a modified general purpose Lithium battery. Seven items… and, perhaps, other things.”

Repositioning himself in seat. Slow movements. Computer from bag. Connect cable to radio.



“You’re thinking too much. In the first place there isn’t any particular reason, is there? So what if the seat changed?”

“It’s more like, what’s he up to now? If he shifts to the left, Yuuko will block him, and we won’t be able to see what he’s up to.”

“Then I’ll have to ask. What do you think he’s up to, moving like that?”

“How would I know? But when I know, it’ll be too late. And even if he didn’t notice, we’ve been in the area too long. Now’s the right time…”

“Waaaait… 5 minutes? Please please please 5 minute? They’ve just started talking too! Isn’t it our job to listen?”



“There was an abnormality last night.”

Hiding his palm-top computer on his knees, Suizenji tapped away at the small keyboard.

“In the neighborhood, there was a peculiar encoded signal going about. It had a strong scramble, and it moved from multiple sources, but it was weak. It felt like there wasn’t much exchange going on as well. At around 0700, it suddenly stopped. At 0900hrs, it restarted bit by bit. 1000hrs. Sudden increase. In other words, the time when Correspodent Asaba and Correspondent Iriya met up.”

“And so?”

“They’re being watched. And not just by us.”

“But…”

That was no coincidence. An encoded signal from some unrelated radio-maniac, suddenly picking up at around 10 – that wasn’t probable.

“And another. During the summer, I was investigating the mountains behind the base with Correspondent Asaba, and at that time we were constantly intercepted by some strange encoded signal as well. Thus, I can say that we were being monitored at that time by some team. And the current situation seems to be precipitated by them as well. This time, the target is the both of them.”

What the heck was this? What kind of strange world was he residing in?

Ah.”

The strange couple.

Not only were they adults, but they were hiding in a corner.

“You mean… those two…”

“Don’t look.”

She was about to turn 4 o’clock, but Suizenji’s sharp tone stopped her. Holding her with one hand, he gave her a sidelong grin.

“So you’ve noticed. Truly a worthy trait Miss Asaba. Truly you are a perfect member for the club, but, then again, it may be slightly confusing to have two ‘Correspondent Asabas’ running about. I wonder what I should do about that?”

“What should we do…?”

“Brother Cool and Sister Cool are right out, but Nao-Nao and Yuu-Yuu might work. Truly it is a name inspired by the cuteness of a certain type of panda…”

“No! I mean what about those two?”

A single sentence.

“We blow them up.”

That wasn’t a joke.

“If those two are the kind of people I suspect they are, then they must surely be aware of our existence, and also of the fact that we have tapped into Correspondent Asaba’s current conversation. So I feigned going to the washroom to get a quick snipe at their condition, and it seems they were rummaging around with something from their bag. Most likely, we’ve already been breached. Our wiretap is now unsafe. Thus we shall have to teach them a lesson, not merely intercepting, for that would be showing our hand, but also rendering the precious wiretap that they’ve secured completely useless. That is all”

He thrust his hand into his bag, and the power to the radio cut. Yuuko’s earphone made a small beep and went silent.

“This shall be our plan. On that same channel, I shall send a strong electrical output to fry the devices of those bastards. The result will be twofold: a great noise, and a burst of flame. If the two should suddenly be surprised, then we shall consider it a ‘great victory’. Listen here Yuu-Yuu. This shall be your task. Keep an eye on the ground. See if there are any other ‘flies’ buzzing about when the shock runs through. Thereafter, we shall commence withdrawal. Collect everything you can in the bag, and flee from the door. Head to the opposite café. We shall make that our rendezvous point. Should I fail to appear in 30 minutes, you are to convey this message to Correspondent Asaba: “The letter shall be at the usual spot”. That is all. Any questions?”

“Stop calling me Yuu-Yuu.”

“Request Confirmed.”

“If there’s a large boom, wouldn’t my bro notice?”

“I have considered that possibility. But it’s no problem if they’re the ones who are discovered. It shall be worse if that happens to us. For that reason, I shall demand we move fast.”

“You keep leaving everything to me. What are you going to do?”

That, shall be our surprise.”

In the darkness of the theater, Suizenji grinned. A daring grin. He took a small camera out. It had flash and auto-focus. Battery check. Film check. Both confirmed. Both ready.

Sonohara Radio Wave Newspaper. That was the armband he slapped proudly on his arm.



It was a while before Iriya nodded. Her face was still red.

Because there was too much of an interval, he completely forgot what was that he had last asked her. He tried to remember.

“Ah… erm…”

Right. Part-time work.

“So you do work? What kinda work?”

The reason he wanted to know that was, of course, because he wanted to work there as well. Working hours didn’t matter. Neither did salary.

“Army base work.”

She replied like that. An extremely stiff expression. But he didn’t catch it. Asaba wasn’t the time that could perform well when talking to a girl in such close range. Could it be that we’re too noisy, and maybe we’re annoying other people… but, actually, it didn’t matter to them, because there was no one sitting close to them in the first place, but he still had all those nervous thoughts.

Army base work.

 

He tried thinking of other things to calm down, and Suizenji’s face floated up.

“Maybe… I could do that as well?”

He asked that, but it wasn’t for Suizenji’s sake.

“I reject.”

She replied.

“I absolutely reject.”

Doubly certain.

It was awkward now. Why she was so absolutely certain, he did not know. Because he didn’t know, his mood shriveled up. Did I do something wrong, or did I offend her or something? – was what he thought. Losing sight of conversation. Losing courage to continue, and falling silent. This silence cornered her as well. Staring sidelong at him. Biting her lip. Both hands complexly intertwined on her lap

What did Iriya want to say?

At that moment, the screen changed to a night scene, and it became darker.

And, at that moment, as though the timing were perfect – a scream erupted.

It was no horror movie scream. It was the scream of one caught unaware. It wasn’t tense, nor was it loud. In truth, of the little moviegoers on the ground, only about half of them turned, and neither Iriya nor Asaba were included. The half that turned didn’t expect much. Perhaps some molester grabbed had someone’s chest, or some klutz spilled coke over someone’s lap.

But, for those half of the theater, they saw something surprising.

Firstly, the darkness of the cinema. Then, the light projected from the booth.

Inside the darkness, there was a man.

There was also a woman.

Both were leaving their seat, and he was grabbing her, pulling, all the way to the left rear exit.

And, there was also a second man.

He was six feet. A large guy. An object big as a blackboard eraser, that he aimed at the two, crossing the empty seats in bounds, rushing forward in a charge.

And actually, there was another woman. More accurately – a ‘girl’, hugging a bag close to her chest, tumbling to the right rear door and jumping out. No one noticed. The second man’s eccentric actions, like a soldier rushing a battlefield, had captured their attention with its impact.

His noisy footsteps drew the attention of the other eyes in the venue. They turned back.

Such an extraordinary runner was he. When Iriya and Asaba turned to look, he had already reached his prey, ready to pounce. He leapt over the final row and aimed that object straight at the fleeing couple.

It was a camera.

Successive flashes purged the darkness.

Delicate timing. One step already out the door, but the second man continued to click the shutter, whilst positioned in all kinds of impossible stances. As to whether the camera captured them properly, the man himself had no idea.

The projector backlighted that strange affair.

And the strength of the flash blinded those eyes that had already gotten used to the dark.

Asaba closed shut his eyes, and when he opened them, all actors in the incident had vanished. It was the normal darkness of the cinema, and grains of dust sparkled in the projector beam. One extra point. The left rear door was lightly swinging.



“What was all that about?”

He looked at her.

Iriya replied with a “Who knows?”, and tilted her head in slight puzzlement.

Noises from the ground, suddenly. Someone shouted “it stinks of something burning!”

The projector stopped. The light returned.

End of Chapter 3