Owari no Chronicle:Volume12 Chapter 18
Chapter 18: Riddling Moebius
A train raced along below the afternoon sun.
The two-car train was passing through a farming region. The rice had long since been harvested and the drying stands were covered only in straw.
The silver train was decorated with blue lines and it shook as it followed a river along the land.
It would occasionally enter a mountain, run through a rocky river bank, pass through a city, or cross the river.
At the moment, most of the passengers were students and they sat in the long seats on either side or the shorter seats that faced each other. Some of them closed their eyes and slept, some read a book, and some looked out the window.
A similar scene was found in the opposing seats at the back of the second car.
A boy in a suit had a boar-like animal on his head, a girl with long hair had a small stone on her head, and they were both working on something.
The boy was operating a large PDA and the girl was typing on a laptop.
As the scene outside changed from a mountain to a river, the girl suddenly looked up.
“Wow, the scenery just opened up. …We’ve come down a good ways. You could only see the mountains before.”
Her impressed voice led the boy in the opposite seat to look out the window as well. The window provided a view of the western sky.
“That would be due to Shikoku’s geography. Shikoku is a treacherous land. The Shikoku Mountains even contain Mt. Ishizuchi, western Japan’s greatest peak. We are taking the Tokushima Line which drops by about four hundred meters before reaching the ocean to the east.”
“I see.” Shinjou nodded, turned to Sayama, and looked at him and the PDA in his hand.
“Are you talking with Wanambi? I hope so, since we went to all the trouble of taking a seaside route through Shikoku because 8th-Gear’s reservation used to be there and the familiar air might make it easier to speak with him.”
Her laptop responded to her question.
A chat window opened.
“Can I talk?” “I can talk.” “This is Wanambi.” “This is Wanambi?” “This was Wanambi.”
Wanambi had previously figured out how to speak with her via wireless LAN, but Sayama’s PDA was the primary means of communication and they had learned quite a bit already.
Their first surprise had been about Wanambi’s very existence.
…He only exists in terms of heat and data.
The Messengers of Wanambi were made up of stones and sand, but Wanambi was a thermal information life form that existed as data within them.
Wanambi was the common factor created by the shared minds of all of 8th-Gear’s residents, so to obtain a portion of him…
…You need enough of the Messengers of Wanambi to allow him to exist.
This Concept Core had no real form. It naturally appeared in the shared minds of the 8th-Gear residents when several of them were gathered.
Wanambi was inside the PDA because several of those residents were contained inside it. The left grip of the PDA contained a clear portion much like a test tube and it contained a group of moving sand.
They acted as guides to transform the PDA into a container for their shared consciousness.
That was how Wanambi could manifest himself in the PDA.
Normally, Wanambi would have vanished after they moved a certain distance from the Messengers of Wanambi in Izumo UCAT, but the one on Shinjou’s head acted as an antenna to link the 8th-Gear residents in Izumo UCAT with the PDA.
…It’s like they’re electronics or something…
But as they had spoken with Wanambi and the Messengers that were a part of him, they had realized 8th-Gear’s thoughts were not digital. Instead, they were based on the senses.
For example, they loved playing shiritori, but different Messengers would choose different words.
Wanambi would generally choose similar word patterns, but he would occasionally produce an unexpected word or mistakenly choose a word ending in “n”.
Their thoughts were quick, but unlike automatons, they actually made mistakes.
And that was why they produced heat.
The primary concept of 8th-Gear seemed to make heat into life.
Interestingly, when playing shiritori with Wanambi, repeatedly giving him hard letters to start words with caused Sayama’s PDA to gradually heat up.
“It is strange how he exist as heat itself.”
“Strange?” “Is it strange?” “It is strange.” “That is Wanambi.”
He would provide multiple reactions to a single word because his thoughts came from all of 8th-Gear.
A glance over at Sayama’s PDA showed an icon above the chat window.
It was a rainbow-colored double helix with a black border. That represented Wanambi’s presence and he claimed Shinjou Yukio had supplied the image.
Shinjou Kaname had taught him to speak and Yukio had given him a form.
And just earlier, Sayama had told him about the Leviathan Road.
Sayama had explained the threat facing the world, how they planned to handle that threat, what had happened thus far, and that they intended to gain Wanambi’s cooperation by responding to whatever demands he might have.
However, Wanambi had only been talking about the past and jumping from topic to topic.
That was continuing now as the train slowed in its approach to a station.
“Long ago.” “A mountain near here.” “Monster.” “Field.” “No.” “There was a reservation.” “Our reservation.”
Wanambi’s words were displayed in the window.
Shinjou typed a question back.
“Why did you leave your reservation and move to Izumo UCAT?”
More words followed that first one.
“Top-Gear.” “Top.” “To not be taken.” “Wanambi.” “This is Wanambi.” “Shinjou and Sayama.” “Go with.” “Went with.” “Came with.” “So.” “That is why.”
“You did it so you wouldn’t be taken by Top-Gear?”
…There was a nonaggression treaty between Top-Gear and Low-Gear, wasn’t there?
Nevertheless, Wanambi claimed to have gone with Shinjou and Sayama out of fear of being taken.
That generation’s Shinjou would have been Yukio.
“Did my mom take you with her? Or did you go on your own?”
She received an answer right away.
“On our own.” “Yes.” “Didn’t know.” “What will happen?” “The future.” “But.” “However.” “Wanted it.” “This is Wanambi.” “Called fearful.” “Called cowardly.” “Told it would be fine.” “But.” “Avoided the possibility.” “Didn’t want the possibility.” “Sayama and Shinjou.” “Went with.” “Low-Gear.”
A short pause followed.
“Once.” “Long ago.” “8th-Gear.” “When we left.” “When it was destroyed.” “Told it was okay to go.” “Given permission.” “Said could stay here.” “So.”
“Shinjou and Sayama.” “Shinjou.” “Am here.” “Don’t want to go elsewhere.” “Coward.”
Shinjou once more saw something she had heard during 4th-Gear’s Leviathan Road.
And this time, the names Shinjou and Sayama were in the reverse order.
She typed a response to Wanambi.
“You aren’t anywhere, and yet you were told to go to Low-Gear, weren’t you? So you happily went there. But in the reservation, your concern over Top-Gear grew, so when my mom went to Izumo UCAT, you relied on her and moved there.”
“Exactly.” “Yes.” “The other Gears.” “Tried to take us.” “Took us.” “But only a portion.” “For work.” “For calculations.” “But not just a portion.” “Wanambi is the whole.” “Didn’t tell.” “Didn’t inform.” “But.” “Shinjou said.” “Come.” “With Wanambi.”
“Remember.” “I remember.” “This is Wanambi.”
“Taught.” “Learned.” “Game.” “Shiritori.” “Way to kill time.” “Shinjou.” “Kaname.” “Had a child.” “The same as that child.” “The same.” “Was the same.”
“Kaname-san taught you shiritori just like he had his child?”
“No longer cold.” “Could think.” “Could create.” “Heat.” “Warmth.” “Time.” “Created.” “Felt.” “Can feel.” “Learned.” “Learned to wait.” “Was no longer cold.” “Had heat.” “Waited.” “Waited.” “Waited.” “Waited for Shinjou.” “For Shinjou to come.” “Happy.” “Delighted.” “Joyful.”
Shinjou felt a similar joy at reading those words.
Shinjou Kaname’s child would have been her grandfather. Around when that child had been born, Low-Gear had contacted Wanambi in 8th-Gear and interacted with him much like teaching language and games to a child.
The other Gears had sought Wanambi’s ability to perform calculations before that, but none of them would have taught him language, culture, games, or anything else unnecessary.
The 8th-Gear residents had lived in an empty space where they would enter a state of hibernation if they did nothing and cooled, so what happened if they were taught a “game” that allowed them to produce heat even when they had nothing to do?
And after waiting for someone to play with them, what would they think when that person showed up?
…They’d be happy, wouldn’t they?
Wanambi had given that same answer with a few synonyms.
At that point, the train came to a stop.
The station’s name was related to studying, so students preparing for entrance exams would apparently buy the station’s tickets for good luck.
It was a long stop and a few of the doors closed to keep out the winter air.
Even so, the chilly air made it inside and Shinjou became more aware of the train’s heater.
Meanwhile, text scrolled along her laptop’s chat window.
“But.” “Didn’t come.” “Shinjou.” “Shiritori.” “Long.” “Long.” “Long time.” “Remembered.” “Words.” “Wait.” “Always.” “Waited.” “For Shinjou.” “And.”
“Then Sayama-kun’s grandfather came, didn’t he?”
“Yes.” “Correct.” “Confirm.” “Indeed.” “Was told.” “Was said.” “Shinjou.” “In Low-Gear.” “Not lost.” “Always there.” “So.”
Shinjou remembered seeing Sayama’s grandfather from behind as he sat alone in 4th-Gear’s past.
…So he was everywhere and yet nowhere, was he?
The surname Shinjou had been passed on and the surname Sayama had been passed on, so even if those two from the past were gone…
…A lot remains at UCAT, IAI, and the school.
“Do you have memories of Shinjou Kaname, too? Will those memories be around forever?”
“Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.” Yes.” “Yes.”
Suddenly, Sayama spoke up.
“Shinjou-kun, what did you just ask him?”
She looked forward and saw shimmering heat rising from Sayama’s PDA.
It had undergone intense heating and the heat was caused by her laptop’s chat window.
The word “yes” continued over and over again so quickly it did not seem to be scrolling at all.
Sayama peered down at it from above.
“Are these the responses of all the 8th-Gear residents making up Wanambi?”
The log file quickly grew into the gigabytes and their roll-call of a response ended only after eating up more than half the HDD.
Shinjou checked the meter showing the remaining space on the HDD.
“Wow. How many Mega Shocks in a gigabyte, anyway?”
“Heh heh heh. Nothing to worry about, Shinjou-kun. Although the next time you ask a similar question, the chat log between you and Wanambi could very well blow out the HDD.”
“I need to be careful,” she sighed while relaxing her shoulders.
She had learned one thing from that answer.
“You will follow the surname Shinjou, won’t you?”
“Together.” “Is here.” “Because here.” “Was here.” “So be patient.” “Was patient.”
Wanambi answered her question.
“Yukio.” “Left.” “Went away.” “Left us behind.” “Life is nothing but farewell.”
Shinjou was speechless.
Oh, that’s right, she belatedly remembered.
…My mom went to Top-Gear.
“I wonder why.”
“Don’t know.” “Do not know.” “Didn’t know.”
“Sorry about that.”
“Don’t apologize.” “Must not.” “Sadagiri.” “Different.” “No apology.” “Wrong to apologize.”
The text continued from there.
“Promised.” “So.” So.” “So.”
Shinjou had definitely seen that word.
She had previously come across that word in a similar context.
The plant creatures had mentioned it in 4th-Gear.
And so she worked her dumbfounded mind.
…Did they have a similar promise?
After that thought, something deep in her heart warned her of danger.
Her experience was subconsciously telling her to be wary of this situation.
…What is this anxiety?
What about this situation was dangerous?
Wanambi seemed to adore the surname Shinjou and she sensed no hostility.
Sayama looked up. Wanambi’s side of the chat was displayed on his PDA, so he understood the situation.
But he said nothing.
That increased her confidence in her sense of danger.
He was leaving this to her.
And she once more thought about how similar this was to the situation with 4th-Gear.
Back then, Sayama had carried out the Leviathan Road to fulfill the promise.
So what about this time? she asked before realizing something.
…I’m doing the Leviathan Road here.
She then thought about the word “promise”. When thinking in terms of the Leviathan Road, were these promises only between Wanambi and Shinjou or only between 4th and Sayama?
She thought and remembered. She thought about the pasts she had seen over the course of the Leviathan Road, about the present, about everything, about everyone, about every world, and about every nation.
…We promised to make them all equal. And…
“We said we would walk side by side.”
At the same time, the train’s doors closed.
After a single shake, the train trembled and the scenery out the window began to move.
As they picked up speed, Shinjou asked Wanambi a question.
“What promise did my mom make? What did she promise you when she left?”
“Talked.” “Told us.” “Lots.” “A lot.” “The past.” “Concept war.” “Concepts.” “What she saw.”
“Taught us.” “Games.” “Gave us.” “New problems.” “For thinking.”
“New problems? Like a quiz?”
“Yes.” “Called them.” “Riddles.” “When standing.” “White.” “When sitting.” “Becomes red.” “What is it?”
Sayama frowned at the sudden question and he wiped sweat from his brow.
“I would expect no less of your mother, Shinjou-kun. What a lewd and adult quiz.”
“No, the answer is the sun.”
“Correct.” “Well done.” “Wonderful.” “Cheers.” “Hooray, burnt noodles!”
Shinjou listened to those words of praise and imagined her mother sitting in a chair and asking the stones riddles.
She had spent her time with children in the orphanage, so playing games like that with the stones may have been a nice diversion from her work.
“So was the promise a riddle?”
Shinjou asked what kind of promise it had been.
“Riddle.” “Quiz.” “Left with us.” “Job.” “Think about it.” “Think and wait.” “Then.” “Surely.” “Come to see us again.” “To tell us the answer.” “Shinjou.”
“You mean… If you continued thinking about the answer, the surname Shinjou would come to see you?”
“Leave with you.” “Want to leave with you.” “Riddle.” “Quiz.” “Already met again.” “Return.” “Riddle.” “Could not answer.” “Unanswerable.”
Oh, thought Shinjou. Wanambi did what Shinjou Yukio told him.
He had been told the surname Shinjou would come to meet him if he thought about the answer. He had never found the answer, but…
…He continued waiting.
By returning Shinjou’s unanswered riddle to a Shinjou, he was trying to return to how he was before.
He was trying to return to being by Shinjou’s side without having to wait.
So Shinjou asked a question while thinking this must be her Leviathan Road.
“If you give me that riddle and I give you the answer, will you stay with us?”
“Condition.” “Continue to wait.” “Waited.” “The riddle’s answer.” “Waiting.” “Canceled.” “Removed.” “New Shinjou.” “Go with.” “Stay with.” “Possible.” “Discard old condition.” “Not a problem.” “Will work.”
She had permission.
“Waited.” “Continued to wait.” “So.”
After a while, Wanambi continued.
“Erase it.” “The condition for leaving.” “Please erase it.” “Can’t find an answer.” “Give the answer.” So we no longer must wait.” “Answer the riddle.”
“Okay,” said Shinjou with a nod.
She knew it had to have been tough waiting and constantly thinking on that question for over a decade, but she also wondered if she could answer it herself.
…I need to answer it!
With that thought, she spoke.
“Please give me that riddle.”
“Now, then,” said the text as if Wanambi had been waiting to say this. “Time for the next question.”
He gave a proper introduction.
“What does this Gear have.” “But.” This Gear does not have?”
Sayama saw Wanambi’s question on the PDA.
…What does this Gear have yet not have?
Those words reminded him of the past they had seen in Izumo UCAT.
Specifically, something Shinjou Yukio had mentioned.
…There is something valuable that Low-Gear has but the other Gears do not.
She had said she did not know what it was.
But a possibility presented itself.
…Is that the same as this unknown thing that Low-Gear both has and does not have?
Had she searched for it and found it? And had she then gone to Top-Gear?
While he wondered about all that, he heard a hesitant voice. It came from Shinjou’s mouth ahead of him.
She frantically parted her bangs and briefly glanced his way.
However, her expression was not a troubled one.
He made sure to always check her expression, so he knew this was not caused by worry.
…She is hesitating.
She was not struggling to find an answer to this question. She was hesitant to answer it.
He wondered what this meant and Shinjou typed on her laptop.
“Are you sure?” she added to the chat.
“?” “??” “???” “Sure?” “Are we sure?”
“Yes?” “Shiritori? “Sand.” “Dust.”
“Ah, no not that,” said Shinjou aloud.
“Shinjou-kun, you have to use the chat.”
She blushed, faced the monitor, and resumed typing.
“Are you sure I only have to answer that riddle?”
“This.” “This is it.” “This.” Yukio.” “Gave it to us.” “Promised.” “Until solved.”
“Then you’ll come with us if I answer that riddle, right?”
Sayama looked up when he saw that text.
…Could it be…?
Based on what she had said…
“Shinjou-kun, are you saying you know the answer?”
“Hm? Oh, sorry. No, I don’t. But…I think I’ve figured it out.”
He wondered what she meant by that and watched her blush and smile.
“This will be really embarrassing if I’m wrong, but I think it’s right. For one thing, it was my mom that asked. …Sayama-kun, do you remember a certain something that happened between us concerning the Leviathan Road?”
“Something that happened between us concerning the Leviathan Road?”
He thought back to the massive amount of information of the past.
The Kyushu hotel. Night swimming in the Seto Inland Sea on an isolated island. That evening in the dorm before May. The bathhouse during the spring.
He remembered a lot and he used his hands to recreate the respective curves in the air, but he soon realized something.
…I am imagining a lewd Shinjou-kun!
I must not disgrace her in my mind for my own convenience. Only do that when it is necessary!
But he could not think of a reason why it was necessary here, so he remembered her more serious times instead.
…Yes, like when she studies at the window-side desk each night.
He recalled how she sat there in the shirt she wore instead of pajamas.
…I can always glimpse the skin of her inner thigh below the shirt. After taking a bath, her skin has a way of drawing in my heart.
“Yes, just like a butterfly.”
“You do not understand?” he asked while standing up without thinking. “This means you are lewd even when you are being serious!! To describe it in a single word, you are lewdrious!!”
“No one would think that meant ‘serious’ too! And how in the world did memories of the Leviathan Road end up there? Honestly.”
She sighed and gestured for him to sit back down.
“Do you remember what Gram said?”
He sat down with the PDA in hand.
Once he settled down, he recited the words in his memory.
…That was right after we had activated Gram, wasn’t it?
“Gram checked to see if this world was governed by Low-Gear and said he had slept for nineteen years. And he went on to say we would see the development of history that began with us and ends with ‘that girl’. He called it the history of how everything came to an end or the ending chronicle.”
“Yes, that’s what I remember too. Thanks. I’m glad I could check on that.”
“No need to thank me. You are the negotiator at the moment. But…is that it?”
He had partially realized what her answer was, so he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “What do you think about this idea? Nineteen years ago, my mom was researching the Concept Cores and she would speak with any of them she could, teaching them about Low-Gear. And Wanambi helped her and had also helped the other Gears during the Concept War, so he had a lot of knowledge and my mom would discuss her questions with him.”
“I see. It sounds plausible. …So what happened then?”
“My mom said Low-Gear has three things Top-Gear does not, right?”
He gave an expressionless nod and realized she had stepped up onto the same stage of thought as him.
“Continue,” he said and she gave him the words she wanted.
“One of those was the one thing that Low-Gear has but the other Gears did not, wasn’t it?”
She spoke slowly and chose her words carefully.
“Isn’t that a lot like this riddle? And…do you think my mom found the answer to that riddle on her own?”
“We cannot know that yet.”
He realized Shinjou had lowered her head at some point.
The way she hung her head and desired an answer reminded him of Wanambi.
Not receiving an answer must have felt a lot like being forsaken.
So he did not hesitate to speak his heart. Because without this answer, the person before him would not have been there.
“I think she did find it. I think your mother found that answer and the value of Low-Gear.”
“I wonder if she really did.”
Shinjou gave a small smile and hung her head further.
“I want to believe she did.”
She finished speaking and typed on the keyboard instead.
She typed without hesitation and the words appeared on the display.
“The answer is me.”
Shinjou thought while typing her answer.
…I don’t know.
She did not know if this answer was correct.
For one, when her mother had given this riddle, she had yet to go to Top-Gear. That meant Shinjou had yet to be born and her mother had yet to marry.
So this was not the answer, but it was an answer.
Shinjou typed and spoke aloud.
“Because of my body, I had always thought I was strange for a human of this Gear. But…if my body didn’t change, I thought I would be exactly the same as a human from this Gear.”
That had left her hanging between the two categories.
“I always thought I both was and was not a human of this Gear.”
“I believe I will continue thinking that way.”
“I want to stay with this Gear.”
“Am I not enough?”
“Am I not enough of an answer for my mom’s riddle?”
Shinjou had asked a question of her own related to the question she had been asked.
After that, she waited ten seconds.
When nothing happened, she waited another thirty seconds, but still nothing happened.
Did that mean her answer did not work?
…Is he cutting off all contact?
There was no reaction on the chat and she felt a chill in the bottom of her heart.
Was I wrong? she wondered. Maybe I should have expected that to be wrong.
Was she not allowed as an answer since the riddle predated her?
Was Wanambi shocked that she would try to give that kind of answer?
She felt a beat in her throat and she reloaded the chat screen, but there was still no reaction.
…Was I wrong?
She wondered what to do. This Leviathan Road had been left with her and she had taken Sayama’s place, but she had made the other side completely ignore her.
Just as she began asking what to do, she sensed some heat.
The heat came from overhead. She reflexively reached out and grabbed the Messenger of Wanambi.
The Messenger was trembling a little.
Wondering what that meant, she looked up.
She saw Sayama leaning back with his arms spread across the back of the seat.
She held the heated stone in both hands and tilted her head.
“I haven’t gotten the result yet, so it’s too soon to congratulate me.”
A moment later, a sound reached her.
It was a warning from the laptop. It came from the mail software and she read it aloud.
“The incoming data is too great, so it is has been left on the server.”
The amount of mail had gone beyond just gigabytes and it was being sent from…
“It is from my PDA, Shinjou-kun.”
She peered over and saw a few letters of the alphabet in the mail’s title field.
Sayama then held out his PDA for her to see. Seemingly handwritten letters were dancing around the screen.
They looked like they were dancing with joy, but they also spelled out words.
“This is Wanambi.” “Starting now.” “From now on.” “Never have to wait.” “This is Wanambi once more.”
Shinjou responded to those words with thanks. Her thoughts had gotten through to Wanambi.
Meanwhile, the train entered an open field.
Past the field, a city could be seen below the setting sun. And beyond it…
“Look, Shinjou-kun. The ocean. That is the Seto Inland Sea.”
Beyond that inland sea was Sakai.
As he looked that way, Sayama opened his mouth to speak to her.
“There, I am sure we will see where your mother ended up in the past. …We will find the ultimate answer in relation to Top-Gear’s destruction.”
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