Chapter 2: Resignation.
The wind blew fiercely on me.
In Tokyo Bay, especially in the Chiba area, there weren’t a lot of places that provided shelter from it. Everything was reduced to debris, so the wind flew freely upon the lands. In fact, some of the debris had been further reduced to mere pebbles. Thanks to that, the manufacturing branch office, a small but tall building inland of the bay, stood in plain view of the sea.
Around thirty years ago, that very place was known as the new urban center, where multi-storied buildings and large-scale event facilities once stood. Businesses in the city had flourished, and the city itself had been quite active. Back in the day, one could have easily guessed that this new urban center was expected to become the next capital just by hearing people talk about it. Well, even if it wasn’t technically the capital yet, many considered it to be one. When talking about it, that forehead girl, Tsurube Asagao, would probably say something like: As expected of my Chiba… Staying superior even from way back. Chiba was always at the top, truly the best! However, the glory of Chiba, and even the world itself, had long since crumbled away.
It was all due to the war. Radiation, intense blazes, blood, and corpses— everything imaginable came raining down, and the coastline began to change. The bay started to protrude more and more inland until many places eventually ended up beneath the sea. It is said that in the rubble underneath the sea, the relics of human history lie dormant.
The accomplishments of humanity were burned away in the crimson flames, and the memories of them were reduced to mere pieces of dust, only to be blown away by the same wind I currently felt.
Eventually, when this nightmare was finally over, the <World> awoke.
Right before the war began, the technology for “cold sleeping” was developed. Children were put into a hibernation-like sleep and stowed away. Those children would soon become the boys and girls we are today.
Twenty years ago, humanity suffered great losses but temporarily won the war. The unknown enemies, cleverly dubbed <Unknowns>, were repelled away, and humanity arbitrarily declared that the war was over. A period of false peace soon followed. However, humanity did not know whether or not the <Unknowns> acknowledged this peace. They were unable to communicate with them, much less achieve mutual understanding with each other.
Although we didn’t know much of what happened during the period that followed, except from some hearsay, the fact that there were still battles to this day meant the war was definitely not over.
So, that’s why we’re here. The defense cities of Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Chiba were built by the temporary government in order to enclose the Tokyo Bay, where most of the <Unknowns> had appeared. And the ones who fought there -who could fight there- consisted only of the boys and girls who had woken up from the cold sleep.
A side effect of going into this cold sleep was the manifestation of supernatural powers. These supernatural powers, called the <Worlds>, saved humanity from their inevitable destruction. They included pyrokinesis, telekinesis, telepathy, flight, and even supernatural strength. At the same time, there were also powers that had nothing to do with the battlefield. For example, there were some with the ability to brew delicious coffee, instantly know how much change they needed when shopping, or know tomorrow’s weather. In other words, <Worlds> also included some useless abilities.
People who possessed these useless <Worlds> capitalized on their skills in non-military branches, and they too helped build the foundation for humanity’s continued existence. Unfortunately, they were like replaceable cogs, or even the lubricating oil for those cogs that were used and thrown away. Without having the chance to use their abilities to the fullest, they continued to support the never-ending war from the back lines.
I was one of those replaceable cogs. As a single cog in the system, as the horse pulling the carriage, I continued to work every day.
Before meeting with the military branch, I waited for Urushibara to arrive in the company van. I gazed out at the sea while I waited.
The seagulls cried out far in the distance. Catching sight of any animals in the city was pretty rare. The defense city of Chiba was home to many food manufacturing plants and held the food for pretty much all of the South Kanto region. Consequently, sanitary conditions were strictly enforced, and in general, animals were not allowed inside the city. To register a pet, people had to fill out numerous application forms, and the pets were required to pass medical inspections. Since the process was extremely troublesome, most people didn’t bother with it.
The seagulls cried out in unison, and I gently listened to them. All of a sudden, however, I heard some footsteps from behind me.
I heard a voice saying, “It’s been a while since I’ve met with Natsume…”
“Me too,” I replied without turning around. “Haven’t met her since she told me I was transferring out.”
I didn’t have to look to see who it was. There weren’t a lot of people who called out to me in such a kind voice, especially outside. But, it wasn’t as if she was an angel calmly swooping down to save me from the depths of hell. I figured she wasn’t even particularly interested in holding a conversation with me.
“Though, that time shouldn’t have even counted as a meeting,” I added on.
Tsutsujigaoka Renge walked up until she was side by side with me, firmly stepping on the grass underneath us. “Haha, I guess you could say that,” she said in an extremely self-deprecating voice. “From the time we were in the military branch, we’ve been low rankers in some non-essential groups.”
In response, I turned my gaze towards her— she tried to brush it off with a smile. Her long hair swayed with the wind, and her black hair glistened as it gently reflected the glow of the sunset. It was as if she had a halo, and without thinking I averted my eyes… I don’t like angels. They were unconventionally beautiful and phenomenally amazing without a hint of despair in them.
I recalled some words being said to me long ago: I’m your angel, Kasumi. Got it? Until you can hear my voice, no matter what happens, do not move, okay? Just like the kings and prophets, my words are absolute!
The sky was the very definition of red itself. The sunset was repulsively beautiful, as its very beauty seemed ominous. In contrast, her dark, black hair seemed to be like the night sky spreading its wings. Even now, her cheeks were tinted with the afterglow of the sky. Her hair seemed to fade away into the night, with the color similar to that of a raven. With this, she had the light in front and the darkness behind, so she stood right in the middle of these two extremities. She was like a different being, not bearing the slightest resemblance to anything, and looked as if reality was mixed with illusion.
Though, the person from my memories did not have her smile.
“By the way, thanks,” said Tsutsujigaoka.
I shook my head a little bit and looked at Tsutsujigaoka once again. “For what?” I asked. This time I looked at her completely, without glancing away.
She tensed up and let out a nervous laugh. “I feel you are always looking out for me, always sticking up for me. It’s a bit shameful to be a transfer too, right?”
“Is it?” I questioned. Well, I was no doubt shameful myself.
But, I think compared to me, Tsutsujigaoka was better off as a transfer. She wasn’t getting threatened constantly by Urushibara, the other girls looked out for her, and she’s friends with our boss, Tsurube Asagao. Watami treats her nicely as well, without showing her his bad side. With that being said though, it seemed like Tsutsujigaoka didn’t think that way.
“It really is,” she said depressingly as she looked downwards. “Everyone’s saying all sorts of things.”
I wondered who she was referring to. It could be the people from the manufacturing branch, or other branches as well. It could even be the people from the military.
The military branch was by far the most disconnected out of all the branches, as they were an elite group that only allowed in a certain percentage of people from the overall population. They exercised distinct power and authority with their utterly violent weapons. People felt all sorts of things about them— jealousy, envy, good will, fear, terror and hatred were all but a small portion of those feelings.
That branch was a completely different beast compared to the rest. They alone stood at the top, and they alone flaunted their successes. That’s why they interacted only with each other and held contempt for others. On the other hand, the other branches were mere plebeians. They together stood at the bottom. They were jealous of the military, feared their might, and revered them.
I’ve always wondered which place was best suited for the people who were transferred out of the military branch. After all, they were once people who stood at the top. The military may have been completely different than the rest, but transfers were different even within the military itself. Even so, this fact alone did not make them similar to those below.
It was indeed evident that Tsutsujigaoka Renge and I were irregulars in this city. Even if our military affiliation was forcibly ripped away from us, the humiliation and disgrace continued to be carved in our bodies. After all, people who transferred out of the military were branded as pitiful little sheep— we were the baby birds who were unable to stay with the flock, unable to fly onwards. That’s why, the “everyone” Tsutsujigaoka was referring to was probably actually everyone and not a specific group of people.
“That’s why I’m really glad that you are here, Chigusa. That’s why… I have to say my thanks,” Tsutsujigaoka said as she smiled. “You paired up with me in the military, and this time we’re in the same team. I feel much more relieved being near you.”
Indeed, Tsutsujigaoka and I sure shared a lot of experiences together. It’s been about a year since we worked as a sniper-spotter pair in the military, and from there, we pretty much followed the same path. But, even if we did follow that same path by doing the same things, our destination would ultimately end up being different. No matter how far we went together into the future, fundamentally, we were two different people.
I scratched my head and looked away from Tsutsujigaoka. “That’s just saying stuff in hindsight,” I said. “Even if it wasn’t me, even if I wasn’t there, you’d still be loved by everyone, Tstutsu… Chutsujiga… Tstsukakushichuchujiga… Chuchu… saying your name is too hard.”
I fumbled my words, despite finally saying it properly in the end. I rarely did say her name, so saying it was still quite difficult.
She laughed nervously, blushing. “I-It really is! Sorry!! It’s sometimes tough for even me to say…” she said as she coiled and uncoiled her hair with her finger. She then looked straight at me. “T-That’s why you can just call me Renge! Renge is fine! Actually, please call me Renge!”
“Renge, huh? It is easier to say, and I won’t have to worry about fumbling my words again,” I said, speaking quickly to hide my uneasiness. I’m not used to addressing girls so casually, after all. In fact, I didn’t even recall calling anyone by their first name.
Renge had a big smile on her face. “Yes!” she exclaimed. And with that, she fidgeted around nervously for a little bit. She embarrassingly glanced upwards at me and continued on. “Can I call you Kasumi then too?”
“Feel free to,” I replied.
She reached her hand out timidly. “Then… Then… Kasumi it is!”
I couldn’t stop looking at her long and slender fingers, her smooth skin, and her delicate wrist. I hesitated a little bit because of that, so I was late in shaking her hand. As I reached out to shake her hand, I heard someone honk their car horn. I turned around and saw a box car revving up, with its front and rear of the car modded excessively. Blue LED lights hung everywhere around the car, and from a distance, the car could have easily been mistaken for a fishing boat. This vehicle would have probably been considered a relic even in the past.
“What an interesting company car…” I thought to myself.
I heard someone call my name. “Chigusa! Hurry up and get on!”
“Okay,” I replied. Renge turned around as well, just as Urushibara stuck his head out of the window.
“Well then, let’s go,” I said. I raised the hand that I previously reached out with and pointed my thumb at the car.
“Yeah!” she responded cheerfully as she smiled.
The two of us went into the company car… Well, I’m sure there’s still plenty of time in the future for us to properly shake hands.
The car frequently shook around as Urushibara drove. After driving some ways alongside the coastline, we finally reached the military’s Kisarazu base.
The “gate” that most <Unknowns> came from was in the ocean in front of Tokyo Bay, so the defense city of Chiba designated that Kisarazu be the center for military deployment. Once the presence of <Unknowns> was detected, the alarms would go off, the turret train would be deployed, and a strategic forward base would be set up on the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line. This place, and this place only, was the front line that protected the world.
We parked the car horizontally to the base building and got off.
“Well then, Urushibara. I will go speak with Natsume and you will get these two settled in,” explained Tsurube as she pointed at Urushibara. “Remember, we can’t meet their demands, so make sure we refuse whatever things they try to bring up.”
The meeting was about supply logistics for the next term and onwards: the military demanded a 20% increase across all its supplies. It’s only been a short while since I was transferred, so I didn’t know too much about the inner workings of the manufacturing branch yet. So, if the boss said that it’s impossible to meet their demands, then I’ll take her word for it. Urushibara’s serious expression also made it painfully clear that we had no choice but to refuse their demands.
“Alright. Hey, Chigusa, let’s go,” he said harshly as he tensed up and glared at me. He then smiled at Renge and softly said, “Renge, you can leave this to me.”
He was really blunt about his favoritism, but I didn’t think he would take it this far. He was no doubt a multi-faced man with many expressions.
The four of us walked into the building as I continued to think about that. We checked in and continued into the hallway. As we did, there was a loud group of people who walked towards us from the opposite side. I instinctively moved to the side of the hallway to make some room for them to pass, but when they were near us, I distinctively heard a tsk sound. I turned around and saw that Urushibara had an extremely sour expression. Wow, was this another one of his many expressions? His range of expressions was truly wide.
“Woah!! If it isn’t my little Uru-uru?” I heard one of them say once he noticed our presence.
“What’s up bro?” said another.
The first boy had blond hair that was slightly gelled upwards. He was tanned and had a piercing on his nose. The second had dreadlocks with tattoos on both arms. The two turned around and approached us. A silver haired boy followed closely behind. He had close-cropped hair and was sporting some sunglasses.
Urushibara scowled and mumbled, “This looks pretty troublesome…” It seemed that Urushibara and this tanned guy knew each other. After all, the guy called him “Uru-uru,” a name that seemed fitting for a mascot, but not an actual human.
“Who are these guys?” I asked. Urushibara looked extremely bitter.
“You were in this military branch so you should know, right?” replied one of them. “We are the top elites, man.”
I looked at him. “Huh… Well I was barely in the front lines, so…”
“Me too…” added Renge.
The majority of missions assigned to both Renge and me dealt with supporting from the back. That’s why we weren’t that familiar with those in the front lines. So, without saying anything more, I just gazed onwards. As I did, the tanned, pierced blond jumped towards Urushibara with a shout and wrapped his arm around Urushibara’s shoulders.
“What the hell, Uru-uru? It’s been soo long hasn’t it?” he asked teasingly.
“Don’t talk to me,” Urushibara said, looking annoyed. “I got work to do.”
However, the tanned, pierced blond didn’t move an inch. He leaned in on Urushibara with his arm still wrapped around him.
“Work? Hey, Uru-uru what do you even do now? Actually, we’re about to go to a mixer with some kids from engineering class. Wanna come with us? It’s gonna be wild!”
“With engineering students?”
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, wait a second. Pietro, today’s actually with the kids from econ, right?”
“What? Leo, yesterday was with the econ people. C’mon, bro.”
“Are you serious? I actually can’t remember!”
Leo, who apparently was the blond, tilted his head and fidgeted with his hair as he contemplated. What a name Pietro was though… He looked Japanese, but was he actually from overseas?
In any case, it seemed these people were quite popular. They were, after all, at the top of the elites in the military, born and raised in Chiba. After graduating, some were even able to go inland. There were no doubt a lot of people who wanted to associate themselves with these punks. Well, even from way back, I suppose punks were quite popular. In any case, I’m really bad at dealing with these types of people, because they made for an environment that was hard for me to be in.
I stared at the group. I couldn’t deal with any of them… Leo, Pietro, and even Urushibara. Tsurube looked a bit curious as she too stared at the group.
“Engineering, huh?” mumbled Tsurube. “Urushibara,” she then said, calling out to him.
Urushibara responded immediately. “Yes, Asagao?”
“Change of plans,” she said sharply. “I’ll watch over these two, so you go on ahead. Make sure it goes well.”
Wow, that’s surprising— she seemed a bit encouraging. Being able to go to mixers without working was pretty much everyone’s dream job.
Urushibara’s face tensed up and he nodded. “… Got it,” he replied, exhaling deeply. He definitely did not seem to be the carefree type that went to mixers. With his eyes wide open, he suddenly laughed. His white teeth contrasted with his darkish skin, and the scar on his forehead twitched. Honestly, it felt a bit weird looking at it.
The educated gangster called out to the group. “Wait, wait… Leo, you serious about me going?” he asked, smiling. “It’s been such a long time since I went!”
Woah…. He sure did a 180 quickly. Then, what was that quiet and nasty expression he had on earlier? Leo and his group seemed to pay no attention to his quick change in expression.
“Yeah man, we have to go,” said Leo with a smug face. “I brought some liquid capsules and eyedrops and everything.”
“Oh shit, that’s sick! No doubt about it!” responded Urushibara as he clapped. Pietro leaned in on him.
“Hey, yo! This is the comeback of the clubber, Uru-uru! You gotta show me how the Uru-uru do things, man. ”
“Uru, let’s do that again! The Six Sonic Stitches of Blood and Ashes! It’s hilarious; all the girls will get driven away!”
“Ughh! Pietro and Mars, you guys are intense! I can’t do that!”
Urushibara formed traces of a smile as even the silver haired boy slapped him on the back. He kept saying, “No way no way,” but the three closed in on him even further.
“You will, won’t you?” asked the three together. Urushibara suddenly went quiet, but the three wouldn’t allow it. They took one step further in. Now, they were so close that their faces might have bumped into each other. A single drip of sweat flowed down as Urushibara clearly felt the pressure. His lips trembled a bit, and the scar on his forehead continued to twitch around.
The three were persistent and asked again. “You will, won’t you?”
“Alright, alright!” replied Urushibara, shouting. “Today I’ll do up to eight stitches! Hooray!”
“Hooray!” mimicked the boys. They hit Urushibara on the shoulder while laughing boisterously and took off.
“Rough life, Urushibara,” I thought to myself.
Tsurube watched until they were far off in the distance. “In business, you need to be able to do those types of things, heh,” she said, nodding. “Plus, having that scar on your head is quite the honor. Hmm, indeed.”
If I had to guess, the Six Sonic Stitches of Blood and Ashes probably injured you one way or another. Seriously, I’d rather go jobless than get hurt like that…