Chapter 1: To Come Home One Day.
Thanks to JFreeman for the pictures!
The usual morning announcements were replaced by the sound of firing cannons. What a sound to wake up to. “Good morning, Chiba,” I thought to myself.
Outside, a large bridge spanned across Tokyo Bay. An armored train ran across the tracks laid on top of it. Its wheels shrieked as the train ran, and its attached revolving turret made some rustic sounds. Surely, the battle was about to begin. Actually, no… To say it was about to begin was incorrect— the battle had never ended.
The war constantly dragged on. Soldiers fought before I went to sleep, fought as I dreamed, and fought as I woke up. This conflict really had no foreseeable end. It was a conflict where war couldn’t be distinguished from peace, where weapons would never stop being used, and where the chime would ring without knowing who it was for.
The snipers headed towards the battlefield— their war cries echoed with the gunshots. A single voice in the midst of the troops pierced through the explosions. It belonged to the leader, still young in age, and perhaps the sole reason why there were so many girls in the troops. The voice was filled with ambition, but also had a tint of complacency. From the tone of her voice, they probably did not lose the battle. However, they did not win it, either. It was a never-ending war to defend against the capture and recapture of the city and the sea.
The enemies were called the <Unknowns>. They were humanity’s sworn enemies that had long ago driven humans to the brink of destruction. Encounters with these creatures always ended up in conflict— there was no compromise. These conflicts were so routine now that they seemed to come out of a game, rather than be rooted in reality.
In fact, only the sounds from the battlefield were realistic. The ammunitions were fired with unique noises that echoed through the air. These sounds were so perfectly orchestrated on the battlefield that if judged from the fundamental sounds alone, then this orchestra would get a full score. However, there were a few reasons why that might not be the case: One was that this battlefield really didn’t need to be orchestrated. Another was that the sounds were all over the place. Most importantly, however, was that the real battlefield wasn’t in the front lines, but rather at the back with the logistics of managing all the weapons and ammunitions.
“Hey…” he said as he tried to get my attention. I looked blankly outside the building. The continuous sounds of phone rings, email notifications, and computers seemed to drown out the noises far off in the distance. “Chigusa, you know…” he added.
I instinctively gave him a dead fish response as my name was being called, and turned towards him. I was standing upright in front of his desk, but he was sitting down in front of me with his arms folded. He had slick black hair and was sporting rimless glasses. In the background, I could hear the windows clattering because of the wind. There was another source for all the clattering, though. It was not the sound of him using the touchpad as one might imagine, but rather, it was the sound of his foot tapping against the floor. I suppose that this is what’s known as the restless leg syndrome.
He kept prodding. “Are you really listening?”
“I really am,” I responded, exhausted.
With his thick voice and at this distance, I absolutely had to have heard him. But this boy, Tatsuki Urushibara, simply sighed deeply at my response. He exhaled, and his slender build became even more slender. Looking worried, he adjusted his glasses and raised his eyebrows. As he did, I was able to see the scar above his right eyelid and his nose pretty clearly. From what I could see, his nose didn’t look out of place. His face as a whole, actually, was relatively symmetrical. His nose was long, and his almond shaped eyes were clear, though they were a bit cold. However, his twitchy eyes showed his nervousness, so his manliness was toned down a notch.
His fashion sense was relatively good as well. Tight collars popped out of his black jacket, and a gold watch peeked from underneath his sleeve. Equally gold earrings pierced his ears as well. If he were in his tank tops, not only would his biceps show, but also his proud tattoos that were a cut above the rest. He was also the epitome of average heights. In any case, his description was something of that nature. He was smart, yet at the same time, wild. If I had to describe it in a phrase… it would be something like an educated gangster.
“Hmm, that’s not really true, right?” he said as he shook his head. “You were only listening. But I’m actually asking whether or not you understood what I just said?”
So that was why he looked displeased. Reading between the lines was pretty hard, and I wasn’t one for compassion.
“Look, I’m really not saying this just because I want to, you know.” Urushibara took off his glasses, and started wiping the lenses with a cotton handkerchief. “Yesterday I told you to report the results of the outer businesses to the section chief, right? Even today you haven’t done that at all, Chigusa.”
“You were keeping an eye on me, huh…” I responded. Why would he do that? Was he one of my fans? “If you got time to keep track of what I was doing, then do some work yourself!” I thought as I grumbled softly. Urushibara gave me a sharp look.
“Hahh?” he said, looking confused.
“It’s nothing…” I responded quickly. A threat from the educated gangster was really scary…
“Why haven’t you given your report yet?” he said. “I won’t get mad, so tell me.”
I felt that whenever people had to say that they wouldn’t get mad, they were already plenty mad.
“I did email my report earlier…” I murmured, but he wouldn’t have any of it.
“Well I wouldn’t know about it if you emailed it, right? I never did say to only send it to the section chief. We do things as a team, after all,” he said. “Why, then? Why just only send it to the section chief? Did you think it was okay not to tell me?”
He still looked stern. “It’s not like I want you to apologize. I just want you to tell me why, so this doesn’t happen again in the future, okay? Tell me.”
I looked at him, amazed. “Umm… I mean I did cc you in that email…”
“No excuses!” he shouted.
The hell was he talking about? I responded with my reason just like he had asked, but he continued to scold me.
“Why won’t you just take responsibility for your mistakes?” He snapped at me. “Just apologize and reflect a bit and I’d be fine with it.”
What the hell? Didn’t he say earlier that he didn’t want an apology? Wow, this guy… Not only were his words usually different than his actions, but right now what he said was different than what he meant. Well, this did happen from time to time, so I couldn’t let it get to me. I needed to be more of a smartass, I think. Like if I was asked, “Is the food ready yet?” I would respond with a smile and say, “Wow, you already ate last month and you want to eat even more now? You pig!” In other words, I needed to give off a snarkier impression. If I only had this kind of spirit, things would have been quite different.
“In any case, I don’t remember seeing such an email…” he said as he fidgeted with his antique computer. He took off his glasses and blinked two, no three times. He then put his glasses back on with a really unpleasant look and sighed deeply, perhaps just for show. “I mean, since you were so close, why didn’t you just tell me directly? Did you not think that maybe I could have overlooked the email? Haven’t you learned the proper way to report and consult? We move as a team, so communication is a must. Am I wrong? Do I make sense?”
I couldn’t answer— he was indeed making sense. A person like him making sense… now that was a bit strange.
“Are you listening, Chigusa?” He was still making a big fuss. He loosened his already loosened necktie even more and cracked his neck.
Wait a second, I thought. This can’t be happening. Last time I reported it to him directly, Urushibara forgot about it completely, and we ended up in an endless debate of whether or not I reported it. That’s why this time I sent it by email… after all, he was the one who ordered me to do it this way!
My thought process was interrupted after he hit his desk with a bang and shouted, “Chigusa! Chigusa Kasumi!”
“Yes, I’m listening, I’m listening,” I listlessly responded.
“Then, why didn’t you respond to me? I asked whether I was making any sense, right? It would then be proper to respond, wouldn’t it?”
Yes. I understand. Roger that. Acknowledged. Certainly. Will do… No matter what I responded with, it’d be the same thing. Urushibara would keep at it until I answered in a way he deemed acceptable. That’s why it’s the same whether I answer or not.
“Yes,” I finally ended up saying. Even knowing all that, I answered anyway, out of courtesy. There’s be a meeting elsewhere this evening, so I wanted him to finish up quickly. Urushibara, however, seemed to want to talk to me even more.
“Please. It’s already been half a year since you came to the manufacturing branch, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, but in my view, it’s been only half a year.
“I don’t know how they did it in the military branch, but the way you do things now is unacceptable,” he continued.
“Um, but I wasn’t even active in the military…”
He looked unfazed. “Well, that’s no surprise. You probably dropped out early, huh,” he said as he sighed heavily again. He shook his head and gave a tsk. “In any case, since you are in our branch, you need to do things our way.”
So he says, but I don’t recall even being told how they do things here. Thanks to this mysterious system called OJT (On the Job Training), I was thrown into the workplace without an ounce of training. They assigned me to Urushibara, who, instead of teaching me anything, told me to learn by watching what others did. Despite Urushibara only saying things like, “Don’t think, feel!” I would somehow manage to complete my work. He would also make me stand at attention in front of his desk and scold me harshly, but I got used to that long ago.
Because of that, this became a very common sight around here. No one really cared at all, though. Even now as things heated up, no one really paid us any attention. The office continued to be filled with the sounds of phone rings and email notifications. Every so often, the schoolgirls working at their desks would go, “…………… Hah… tsk.” They would repeatedly press their keyboards with a click clack, then sigh and smack their lips together repeatedly.
“My apologies. I’ll manage until the scheduled delivery. Yes, my apologies. I’m doing my best. No, it’s my bad. I’ll manage somehow. Yes, yes, I’m sorry,” said the boys. They seemed to have it rough, since they were holding their stomachs and wiping their already sweaty foreheads.
Suddenly, I heard another voice. “The person in charge on your end said it couldn’t be done, but if you’d hear me out, that’s a lie. Even if he says it can’t be done, just do it. And once you’ve completed it, it’s not impossible anymore, right? In other words, he’s lying,” he said, grinning. I bet he thought he said something extremely thought out. After all, he would often say things in that way to me as well. He looked old, and if I remembered correctly, his name was Watami.
Everyone was frantically doing their own work that nobody seemed interested in me being scolded at the corner of the office. Ughh… Looks like nobody’s coming to get me out of this. Rather, I thought maybe I should be the one helping others, as this workplace desperately needed some assistance.
In fact, the ones who needed the most assistance were probably the few people who seemed out of place in this kind of environment. This girl, bringing in some tea right now on a tray, was one such person. She probably made some tea for both me and Urushibara to help soften the tension between us. After all, she did look quite worried while she listened to Urushibara talk. She nervously walked as if she had lost her bearings.
“U-Umm…” she said nervously as she called out to Urushibara, approaching him.
“What is it??!?” snapped Urushibara as he turned around. But when he saw who it was, he relaxed his stern face. “… Ah, it’s just you, Renge,” he said so pleasantly that it starkly contrasted with his strict demeanor earlier.
Renge… Tsutsujigaoka Renga. She was my age, 16 years old. She had big pupils and flexibly stretched out her arms and legs like a little girl. She wore knee high socks that wrapped around her toned legs. Within all the Chiba students, there were a lot of people who lazily wore their designated uniforms, but Tsutsujigaoka wore hers stylishly. The front of the jacket was closed up, and her ribbon tie was tightly tied up. And even with all that, she wasn’t overly stiff or formal. Perhaps that was due to her constantly soft and gentle demeanor. Her slightly teary but wide opened eyes wavered for a split second. Her pale skin looked as if it were transparent. Her lips, never having lost her smile, had the color of blooming cherry blossoms. She had long and black hair that ran down her face, and it looked soft to the touch.
Urushibara smiled and continued. “What’s up? Is there anything you don’t understand, Renge? It’s only been half a year since you came here, so if there’s anything you need help on, let me know!”
I’ve only been here half a year too, so I too wanted to ask about things I don’t know… Tsutsujigaoka and I both came from the military branch at the same time, but why was I the only one being treated so harshly? If I was the one who went up to ask, he would answer, “Why can’t you think about it yourself? Do you always need to rely on others?” But, if I didn’t ask about things, he would then say, “Why didn’t you ask me about it? Did you think you can do it without asking me?” It was pretty much a lose-lose situation for me. Most of the times it was pretty obvious why I came to him too…
Well, the reason for this divide was pretty clear cut: Tsutsujigaoka was a girl. A pretty reserved girl, but a cute girl, nevertheless. On the other hand, it would actually be bad if he wasn’t mean to me. If Urushibara was nicer to me than he was to Tsutsujigaoka, then I would think he would be trying to manipulate me. With that in mind, I’m actually kind of okay that he treats me pretty harshly… But wait a second… I have to be careful… If he’s suddenly nice to me, then he’s probably up to something. I can’t let my guard down.
I caught myself— all these thoughts just seemed unnecessary. Urushibara was not a manipulative person, he was just an asshole. Most people who are labelled manipulative are just assholes in the end. He did give off the, “Hahaha! Alright, Papa will teach you anything! Haha!” vibe as well.
He turned his chair around rapidly and cheerfully said, “Please let me know whenever you are in trouble.” He smiled at Tsutsujigaoka.
“Ah, umm, sorry! About the business report earlier…” she said.
Urushibara gave a smug smile and responded, “Oh, about that. That was actually all on Chigusa here. I’m still telling him all about it now, about how to not do things through email. I’m nice enough to help him change his ways, haha.”
He was pretty much saying, “Yeeesh, what a pain.”
Tsutsujigaoka teared up in response and muttered, “Umm, I’m so sorry. I also did things through email…”
“Oh. I see…” Urushibara said as he looked at Tsutsujigaoka. She looked as if she was about to cry. Urushibara also got a bit quiet even after all the things he flamboyantly said earlier. But, as expected of Urushibara, he quickly responded with a nod. “Yes, yes, I understand,” he seemed to say. “Well, it’s certainly important to have a record of things rather than a he said she said scenario. So, thanks for that, Renge.”
It was painfully clear what he was doing. In fact, his kindness was actually disgusting.
“I’ll be careful next time. Sorry!” responded Tsutsujigaoka as she quickly bowed her head. As a result, she almost spilled the tea she was holding. To prevent that from happening, she tried to balance herself as she took a few steps.
Ah! Aah! Ooh! Ahh! Hahh! Hahwah!
She tried her best, but her best wasn’t good enough. In the end she was unable to balance herself. She made some awkward noises and fumbled over, spilling the tea all over herself. She cried out in a daze, “Oww… Oh what!?!” The front of her school uniform and the hem of her skirt got all messed up. Her tea soaked blouse clung on to her skin, and once she noticed that it was starting to turn transparent, she quickly tried to adjust it. But, everyone in the office had stopped what they were doing and silently turned towards Tsutsujigaoka. Then, all at once, they all burst out laughing.
“That’s actually perfect.”
“Renge is such a klutz, isn’t she.”
The boys were laughing so hard that their stomachs hurt. Watami started the wave of thanks, and Urushibara reached out to her with a smile. The girls who were typing so rigorously earlier stopped and looked over at her. They gave a look that mirrored the way people would look when their daughter or sister messed up, a look of “Ah, there’s no helping it, isn’t there?” They came over to her with a cloth to help clean things up.
“Seriously, Tsutsujigaoka… look at the mess…” said the girls, who were almost too helpful as they helped her clean up.
Tsutsujigaoka was totally flustered. “Sorry! I’m so sorry!”
There was a battle going on far off in the bay, but this was quite the heartwarming sight to see. Even in this depressing workplace, Tsutsujigaoka was one of the few people who could make us laugh like that; she was like an angel. But, if something trivial like this cheered us all up, perhaps this workplace wasn’t as depressing as I thought. Speaking of which, why was this workplace depressing in the first place? Was it because we were forced to work and get along together?
I continued my thoughts, but I suddenly heard the sound of footsteps coming my way. The pace didn’t sound particularly large, so it must have been someone small. From the sound alone, I assumed this person was also quite restless.
With a bam, the door was flung open and a little girl appeared in the doorway. In her hand were things like a tablet, binder, clear file, and other such materials. Her imposing stance actually felt quite dangerous as she shouted, “You guys are too noisy! School is still going on!”
“T-Tsurube. How are you doing?” Urushibara responded immediately, as if he was used to it. He smiled nervously and rubbed his hands together. His demeanor changed so much that he definitely was not the same person who had scolded me earlier. I couldn’t believe this is how he acted — it seemed like he couldn’t go against her at all. It is said that the weak are sometimes strong, and the strong are sometimes weak. Even if Urushibara was strong at times, he certainly wasn’t at this moment.
“Don’t call me Tsurube. It’s Asagao,” she said, scowling at him.
Urushibara was at a loss for words. He quite cleverly avoided looking in her eye.
Tsurube Asagao also seemed quite clever. She had smooth and pale skin. Her small eyes, nose, ears, and mouth complimented her small build well. Her front bangs didn’t cover her smooth forehead, and her arms and legs stretched out like a fawn’s. At a glance, she looked quite childish and immature, and seemed as fickle as the wind. I mean, she was 16 years old, like me, but she looked much younger. However, her strong gaze reflected upon her unyielding spirit. Just from a glance, you could see traces of her inner strength, and she showed maturity far greater than her actual age. Urushibara even looked up to her!
“This time of year is really damn busy, so what are you guys doing? I’m sure you guys know this, but if you don’t finish up your work, there will be consequences,” she warned, and the lighthearted mood of the office turned heavy and dull. “Human resources will rate you lower.”
Tsurube Asagao was the only one able to speak about this rating from human resources, and just by mentioning it, everyone reacted nervously.
Indeed, Tsurube Asago was the boss of this manufacturing branch. In middle school, she successfully developed a product that increased the value of the department significantly. She also singlehandedly opened up trade routes to the inner and other cities. With this, she was able to build up a solid reputation for herself. Soon thereafter, she became the youngest ever leader in South Kanto’s City’s provisioning management group as the head of the manufacturing branch.
She may be small physically, but she was headstrong and cunning in management.
She stood at the top, a prodigy that produced amazing results through her hard work. Her refusal to compromise with anyone made this branch the toughest to work in. She exercised absolute control: she was the demon king and the workplace was her realm.
This demon king glared at the angel.
“Renge… again?” she said, disgruntled. Her wrinkles began to show.
“I-I’m sorry…” Tsutsujigaoka responded, frantically wiping the floor with the cloth. She looked so scared as she kept on apologizing.
In response, Tsurube Asagao rubbed her own forehead as if to help alleviate the headache caused from all this. The surrounding people just stared on with their mouths open in suspense, until Tsurube finally broke the silence with a sigh. She reluctantly said, “Well, it can’t be helped, huh?” The corners of her lips seemed to make out traces a smile— it was clear that she wasn’t too angry. Tsutsujigaoka and I, along with everyone else, breathed a sigh of relief.
Tsutsujigaoka pumped up a fist. “I’m sorry, Asagao. I’ll learn this up quickly! A-After, I’ll remake the tea!”
Tsurube laughed lightheartedly. “How about no for the tea. If you spill it again it’ll be more troublesome,” she responded.
“I-It’ll be okay! I’ll bring it in a bottle!” Tsutsujigaoka said, reassuring. They sounded like two close classmates talking to each other.
“By the way, can you get me a cup? A paper cup, not my favorite one.”
“Sure, I got it! Wait, why? I won’t break your favorite cup, I promise.”
“You sure?” She looked at Urushibara. “What’d you think?”
“Hahaha, I guarantee she’ll break it,” said Urushibara cheerfully. “The other day she broke my cup into a billion pieces.”
Tsurube smiled, and the other people also smiled and laughed. I myself unintentionally grinned a little. Ahahaha, Urushibara’s cup was broken all this time, huh? It’d be great if his cold front was also broken more often.
In the midst of this, Tsutsujigaoka, her face still red from embarrassment, nodded. While looking at her calmly, Tsurube clapped her hands together and said, “Alright everyone, back to work. After you finish cleaning up, Renge, come with Urushibara to the meeting room. I need to ask things about your team for some evaluations.”
“O-Okay!” responded Tsutsujigaoka as she nodded.
She then looked in my direction. “Chigusa… you too as well,” she said softly as she left for the meeting room without so much as to wait for my response.