Owari no Chronicle:Volume8 Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Morning of Conversation
What are words?
If someone asks that
Is it made of words?
One special skill of Heo Thunderson’s was the ability to sit still for long periods of time.
At the moment, she was inside a small apartment filled with the morning sun, but it belonged to a boy she did not know. He was two years older than her and had spoken in English to introduce himself as Dan Harakawa.
He was the savior who had taken her in when she had collapsed.
She observed him while exchanging a few words with him.
Based on his skin color, she guessed he was Japanese with some Latin blood.
He sat across a table from her and the table contained a breakfast of bread, a light salad, and a fried egg.
She had woken to the unusual smell of that breakfast. She had no parents and her great-grandfather always went out to eat, so she was not used to smelling breakfast in the morning.
He had greeted her and given a quick explanation of the previous night’s events, but he had not asked about her. That was why Heo had asked a few questions and told him some things on her own.
She now spoke while looking into the coffee cup she held in both hands.
“And at some point, all the people vanished from the cars and buildings. O-oh, and all the lights went out. Yes, even the traffic lights.”
“I see. So it turned into a ghost town.”
“Yes. And my great-grandfather told me to leave, but he had sprained his ankle in the taxi and he told me to run away ahead of him.”
Heo did not miss that Harakawa frowned. It was true that “run away” was not a commonly used phrase, but she nodded because the truth was the truth.
“According to him, it was a something-or-other space. Then he gave me a watch and told me I could leave the space with it.”
The watch she had worn on her left wrist had been placed next to the futon’s pillow when she had woken up. It was now next to her fork and knife on the table.
“Can I see that?”
After asking for permission, he took the wristwatch and held it up in front of his eyes.
“It’s pretty old.”
“It’s supposed to do something if you mess with the stem.”
But she did not remember the exact process. She thought she could prove the events of last night that way, but telling him everything came first. He handed the watch back to her and she put it on her wrist.
“My great-grandfather then pulled a spear out of his pocket and had me leave. I just kept running and the city suddenly regained its light. I wondered what that meant, but I was completely out of breath and I approached the building in front of me to call for someone.”
Harakawa would know the rest.
Feeling better for having told him everything, Heo thought about her great-grandfather.
…He has to be okay.
He was healthy and he was the representative example of “strong” in her mind.
She convinced herself he was okay and tried to steady her trembling breathing.
As she did, Harakawa nodded.
“Where are your other relatives?”
“My great-grandfather was my only family. If he doesn’t show up where he told me to meet him, he said to visit IAI in Okutama and have them show me to an organization called UCAT.”
“I see.” he stood up and turned his back. “You have money, right? Then the first thing you need to do is get a place to stay. If you head north from here, you’ll quickly reach a railroad. The station is only a hundred meters west from there and you can find somewhere to stay near there.”
“I have to get to school. Leave the key in the mailbox. It’ll probably take time for your clothes to dry, so you can stick around until then. …But you had better leave.”
“You aren’t going to ask about anything?”
“I’ve heard enough.”
He vanished into the kitchen and she sighed while listening to his footsteps.
…He’s being cautious.
She hung her head as she wondered what to do.
She then saw the men’s pajama top and bottom she wore and belatedly realized a certain fact.
After leaving Heo and entering the kitchen, Harakawa placed his forehead on the white plaster wall with a serious expression.
…This isn’t good. And I thought the only strange part was the name Heo.
He felt he had taken in a landmine of a person.
He had three reasons for this.
First, everything she said was complete nonsense.
Second, she fully believed everything she was saying.
And third, she had no relatives.
On top of that, he was well acquainted with the Okutama region thanks to making motorcycle deliveries for the American base and he had even gone to IAI several times.
…But I’ve never seen or heard of a group called UCAT.
His danger gauge had shot into the red zone in only a few minutes.
Last night, he had called the police to ask what to do, but the officer on duty had laughed and told him to stop making jokes. He now wished he had worked harder to convince the officer instead of making a sarcastic comeback.
On the other hand, a hospital might be a better choice here than the police, but it would be a different kind of hospital than the one his mother stayed in.
…The world suddenly became a ghost town and her great-grandfather pulled out a spear? Even cheap novels and manga are more sophisticated than that.
Don’t worry, he told himself. Dan Harakawa, you did nothing wrong. You didn’t know there was anything wrong with her brain last night. You did a wonderful job of saving someone.
At any rate, he had to think about what to do today. His school attendance was pretty bad and preparations for the athletic festival were beginning, so he could stay until lunch to get his attendance marked and then skip out on the preparations.
“I guess I’ll go to school.”
He whispered an alteration on what he had said while standing up, he removed his head from the wall, and he nodded.
Someone was standing in the kitchen entrance.
He turned around and saw a slender body standing there. Her skin looked a bit pale, so he guessed she had yet to get over her exhaustion from the previous night.
“What is it?” he asked with a frown. “Did you want some water now that you’ve woken up? You did sweat quite a bit last night.”
“No, that isn’t… Well, actually I would like that, but…um…”
She held the neck of the pajamas she wore.
“Why am I wearing this nightwear? Does that mean…?”
He could easily imagine what she was going to say next. She was going to protest that he had changed her out of the clothes that were soaked with sweat.
…Yeah, that’s got to be it.
He did not particularly care what complaint she made here. The girl before him was someone who had to leave here and he had not wanted her to dirty his futon, catch a cold, and end up staying here even longer.
In fact, he would be glad if she grew to not like him and left without relying on him any further.
He also felt that was the best option for her. She would probably feel helpless at first, but if the embassy found a relative working somewhere, she would feel relieved to have that support.
And so he answered bluntly.
“You were covered in sweat, so I changed your clothes. I’m not interested in your body, so don’t worry about it.”
As soon as he said that, she objected with her teary blue eyes.
“Will you take responsibility?”
“Wait! What the hell kind of curveball is this?”
“B-but I thought Japan had a custom of marrying the first person you let see you naked?”
“What kind of bizarre custom is that? There’s no responsibility for seeing someone naked.”
More tears filled Heo’s eyes and she finally took in a breath and gave a shout in Japanese.
“I was seen naked for nothing!! I demand compensation for my loss!!”
“Where did you learn that kind of Japanese!?”
She began to cry as if answering his question.
A vast enclosed space was filled with green.
The space was two hundred meters square and the green surrounding it was vegetation. The ground was formed from countless plants gathered together as if bathing in the light of the sunlamps hanging down from the ceiling.
Also, that ground covered the walls and even the ceiling from which the sunlamps hung.
There was a clearing in the center, but a forest covered the rest of the space’s six surfaces while centered on the walls and ceiling.
This gave the area poor ventilation and the small river flowing along the green ground brought high humidity.
It was a hot and stuffy space and a crooked sign stood from the green ground at the entrance to the central clearing.
The sign read “4th-Gear Greenhouse”.
The clearing currently contained two people.
Sitting on the thick lawn were Sayama in his suit and Shinjou in her dress.
They both held handheld game systems. Sayama’s was a compact white model and Shinjou’s was an oblong black model. The two systems were connected by a cable.
“Yay! I beat you for the third time in a row with that mounted punch!”
“Shinjou-kun, could you play a proper round of mahjong? Or maybe some other game?”
“But the rule that allows a sudden reversal through physical force is the special feature of Lovely Mahjong – Punching Edition. And this is the only IAI game that works on my latest system and the one you borrowed.”
Sayama tilted his head.
“About the ‘latest system’ you received last week…”
“Yeah, I got it from Ooshiro-san. Look, it’s a handheld, but it has color. Because the monochrome one was called the Game Lad, this one is called the Game Dad. The main downside is that it takes six batteries to run.”
She smiled, but then she saw the battery light on the screen in her hands.
“Ah, the batteries are dying! S-Sayama-kun, let’s play another round. This game has a super special attack you can only use when your battery light is red!”
“Calm down, Shinjou-kun. You should only play an hour of video games a day.”
“Eh? Oh, right. That is the saying, but… Ah.”
Her handheld system’s battery died and she lowered her shoulders in a sigh.
“Phew. I haven’t been able to play with you in a while.”
“Still, it is disappointing we have not been able to do more than that.”
She could only give a nod to that. She had not shown it while playing the game, but she was looking weak.
…We have been pushing ourselves hard since last night.
The party to welcome the inspector from American UCAT had been cancelled.
The corpse of Richard Thunderson, the guest of honor, had been brought in and it was now in the morgue of a hospital near IAI. The opinion at the time was that he had been attacked by the same mechanical dragon that had attacked the IAL passenger plane.
…And they predict it is from 5th-Gear.
They did not even know its name, but it was huge, it had great mobility, and it had shown no sign of being destroyed even after being fired on by G-Sp2 and kicked by Susamikado.
Hiba and Mikage had returned in Susamikado and were now sleeping in the nap room.
Kazami had gone to recover Izumo from the ocean, but he had apparently been swept away by the current and they were having trouble finding him. That was nothing but an annoyance, so Sayama had declined to receive further reports on it.
…We have too little information.
Not only did they not know the identity of that dragon, they also did not know the identity of the man who had fought it. He had gotten Kashima to steal the IAL plane’s passenger manifest, but there had been no records of any foreigners on the flight.
Someone had gotten there ahead of them. As he was wondering who, Shinjou spoke up.
“Are you thinking about something?”
“Yes, about a lot of things.”
“I thought so. But you haven’t slept, so don’t force yourself. I got a nap, but you haven’t slept at all, have you?”
“Do not worry, Shinjou-kun. I can go about a week without sleep. I was trained by my grandfather when I was younger. We would have week-long fights around the house with rules saying we could hit the other when they fell asleep. If I had only realized that damn old man was sleeping while talking with his eyes open, I could have hit him another five hundred times.”
“By any chance are you sleeping right now while using that secret technique?”
Shinjou set down the handheld system and sighed. She then looked around the area.
“To change the subject, I didn’t expect Ooshiro-san to suddenly tell us to begin the Leviathan Road with 4th-Gear.”
“Yes. It certainly was not my first guess when he handed us the key to this place.” Sayama crossed his arms. “It is a strange action. I feel like he is hiding something. Last night, the American UCAT inspector named Thunderson was killed by a mechanical dragon thought to be from 5th-Gear. American UCAT says they have sent temporary inspectors, but they will not say what those inspectors are doing. And now the old man is telling us to carry out the preliminary negotiation with 4th-Gear in this greenhouse and then to take an afternoon flight to the 4th-Gear reservation in Kyushu.”
“He seems to be rushing things ever since that Thunderson man died.”
“There is probably something behind this, so we should be on our guard.”
“Yes. The issues of adults can be trouble. Anyway, we came here, but no one else has shown up. Does 4th-Gear have people? Are they plant people or something?”
Sayama tilted his head at that.
“I am not quite sure what you mean, but do you think plants can speak with people?”
“Eh? Don’t you hear about that every once in a while? Something about plants reacting to emotions.”
“Are you referring to the controversy that was popular in America during the late sixties? The one where a researcher hooked a lie detector up to plants and used it to read their supposed reactions?”
“I see.” He nodded as Shinjou rubbed her eyes sleepily. “That controversy continued for about a decade in America, but no one was able to reproduce the reactions. And after a while, the same researcher announced that he found emotion-like reactions from something else.”
“Eh? What was that?”
“Instead of plants, it was yogurt. The electrodes detected its emotional reaction to having milk poured into it. All of the newspapers there immediately stopped reporting on it because they found it disturbing.”
“So in other words…there was someone like you?”
“Ha ha ha. Sleep deprivation makes you say the strangest things, Shinjou-kun. But at any rate, plants talking with people is nothing more than a delusion of people like the old man. You aren’t thinking of using that idea for your book, are you?”
Shinjou shook her head and Sayama nodded.
“The way I see it, plants are plants. If they are able to express their will, they must be something similar yet different. Confusing the two comes from the pride of another type of being.”
Sayama watched Shinjou.
She was looking back, but her head suddenly drooped before she quickly lifted it back up.
“Oh, s-sorry. What was that? For a bit now, I’ve been feeling drowsy like my exhaustion is being taken from me.”
“We can discuss it later, Shinjou-kun. I can handle the preliminary negotiation on my own, so you can sleep.”
“Okay. …But will the people of 4th-Gear think I’m lazy if they show up? A-and no doing anything weird while I’m asleep. Really. I mean it. For real.”
After making a triple insistence, she lost her balance without realizing it and tried to catch herself on her elbows as she slowly fell backwards.
Something like a chair back supported her.
It was the ground. The grassy ground had risen up diagonally to support her back.
The vegetation slowly moved to form a U-shape that pushed up and supported her back.
A creature made of vegetation slowly formed from the risen ground. It was a meter long creature with a head and six legs. It stood up very slowly and its silhouette was reminiscent of an anteater or a bear.
The plant creature then lay down to act as Shinjou’s chair back.
Sayama watched as she shrank back from it.
“S-Sayama-kun, is this…?”
“I think it wants you to lean against it.”
She looked at the plant creature’s belly.
It raised its head-like portion, turned toward her, and tilted that head.
Seeing that, Shinjou glanced toward Sayama and nodded. With a resolute look, she leaned against the creature’s stomach.
With the sound of rustling grass and leaves, her thin back sank into the creature’s body. It was much like collapsing into a thick down blanket.
“Wow. It’s so warm.”
She narrowed her eyes and the plant creature raised its head toward her. It had no mouth, but it did have eye-like gaps. Sayama guessed those were its sensory organs.
When Shinjou thanked it, the creature shook its body once.
“Sayama-kun,” she said with a smile. “Um, you know how I was feeling sleepy? I think it was this thing’s doing. It’s absorbing all of my exhaustion.”
“Does it use some sort of concept to absorb the excess heat from other animals?”
Rather than a voice, he heard a reply in the form of an audible thought.
The voice seemed to awkwardly line up the necessary sounds.
He faced the plant creature supporting Shinjou’s back. Shinjou also turned toward it, so he must not have been the only one to hear it.
“Was that voice you?”
The voice repeated itself and he could sense no directionality in the thought voice.
This time, the voice brought movement. Similar plant creatures slowly stood up around Sayama and Shinjou. In all, there were around a dozen of them.
But then Sayama noticed more of the creatures rising up within the forest, on the walls, and on the ceiling.
They all tilted and shook their bodies as if troubled and asked the same question with the rustling of grass and leaves.
And so Sayama replied.
“By any chance, is the Sayama to which you refer Sayama Kaoru?”
He could only imagine that to be the case. He had never been here before and his grandfather had been in charge of 4th-Gear.
However, he received no answer. The plant creatures merely spoke while gathering together and lying down.
“Sayama is Sayama.”
“Shinjou is Shinjou.”
Shinjou gave a sleepy sound of confusion while partially curled up.
Sayama used a hand to tell her to calm down.
“They must be a race that can distinguish between categories but cannot distinguish between individuals within a category. The voice we are hearing is likely the collective consciousness of them all. They view me and my grandfather as the same Sayama and they view you and the Shinjou of the National Defense Department as the same Shinjou.”
“Then that means…”
“Yes. They know my grandfather and the Shinjou of the National Defense Department, so they must be the residents of 4th-Gear.”
The plant creatures then called to them. They began with Sayama’s name, but then said the following:
“Go with Sayama.”
“What?” asked Sayama.
As he wondered what they meant by “going with” him, they all raised their heads and spoke a single word.
The JR Chuo Line’s rush hour continued from seven to nine in the morning.
Any train one boarded from any station along the Chuo Line would be crowded. Even the trains leaving Tokyo would leave one inundated by a wave of people if they did not secure a seat upon departure.
One train was travelling west to Kanda, the first station after Tokyo Station. This express train had left Tokyo Station just past eight and was on its way to Oume.
After passing Kanda, the number of passengers exceeded the capacity. Most of the passengers were office workers or students and they were securing enough space to stand on their tiptoes.
However, some did not fit those categories. In the fourth car from the back, two foreigners in suits stood in the space closest to the exit. One was a tall elderly man and the other was a young man with glasses.
Whenever the train shook, the wave of people surged and threatened the crush the two of them.
The elderly man frowned and spoke in English.
“Roger, Roger. What kind of torture is this? Who can I complain to?”
“Colonel Odor, this is a travel ritual called Sankin-Koutai that has long been practiced in Japan. When the shogun ruled a form of government known as the Edo shogunate, the lords of the local governments were ordered to travel to Edo, but that ritualistic travel brought an unnecessary number of people to Edo Castle. We left from Tokyo Station which is near the Imperial Palace where Edo Castle used to be. In other words, Tokyo Station is the birthplace of this ritual.”
“I see, I see. So should I interpret this as a bizarre Japanese custom?”
“Testament. Please maintain a tolerant heart. Also, I had to put up with these rush hour crowds every morning when I lived in Japan.”
“Roger, Roger. That is about you. It has nothing to do with me. Also, I said I wanted to observe the working situation in this country, but I do not recall saying I wanted to experience it.”
“Is that so?”
Roger lowered his shoulders and sighed.
“Anyway. Anyway, Roger. Start by telling me about the target we must search for. You knew her father well, didn’t you?”
“Testament. Heo Thunderson’s father, James Thunderson, was American and yet a member of Japanese UCAT.”
The train shook as they arrived at Ochanomizu Station. The train’s speakers played an announcement, people moved, and the density of people grew once more.
With a heavy lurch, the train began to move and Roger spoke within the surging wave of even more people.
“James was a mechanical dragon pilot. At the time, Japanese UCAT had a department for developing mechanical dragons, but they did not have a decent pilot. They tried to have one sent from American UCAT, but…”
“We refused. Yes, we refused them, Roger. I know what happened on the American end during the late eighties. American UCAT was the only one with mechanical dragon technology and we weren’t about to hand it over to someone else.”
“But one pilot went to Japanese UCAT while essentially defecting. That pilot was James Thunderson. He was young for a mechanical dragon pilot and he was our chief pilot at the time, but he suddenly left American UCAT, stole a mechanical dragon that same day, and headed for Japanese UCAT.”
“Why? Why would he betray America?”
The train shook to the left and the wave of people tilted while Roger pushed his glasses up his nose.
“It was his grandfather’s influence. His grandfather had come to Japan as a part of American UCAT and helped destroy 5th-Gear. James was proud of that fact. However, his mother was adopted by his grandfather and he apparently only learned of that in high school. I would guess that played a role in why he wanted to learn more about his grandfather,” explained Roger. “American UCAT acted to cover up this scandal. James Thunderson was transferred to Japanese UCAT and the Gulf War was used to send other young members who wished to defy the higher ups to the American UCAT forces stationed in Japan in the name of ‘assisting’. We are on our way to Yokota which, with the Gulf and the time afterwards, will be my home for the third time.”
Roger lowered his head slightly to hide his expression from Odor.
“Also, he is no longer with us. He died on the scene of the Great Kansai Earthquake which I also visited. He and many others who I can surmise were my friends never returned from that place. Afterwards, I personally erased all of the records.”
Odor gave a small snort of either laughter or contempt.
“Roger, Roger. Try to remember. Japanese UCAT is our enemy now.”
“I understand that. They were unable to protect the hero that was Richard Thunderson and they are selfishly continuing the Leviathan Road which affects the fate of the world. That will be our official reasoning, won’t it?”
“Yes. Yes, it will, Roger. American UCAT will not allow them to ignore everyone else as they set the world in motion.”
The train shook as they arrived at Yotsuya.
The wave of people surged over and somewhat flowed out the door. Familiar with Japan, Roger avoided the current.
However, Odor was not familiar with the country and he was caught in the current and swept onto the station platform.
“Roger! Roger! Do something!”
While thinking of a way to pacify his distressed superior officer, Roger stepped out onto the platform while preparing himself to be late to Yokota.
Sayama communicated with the plant creatures.
They seemed to share their thoughts, but the individual creatures seemed to make individual decisions for their actions. The one in front of him was currently tilting its head while swaying as if in the wind.
“Sayama long time. Long time since Sayama.”
Sayama listened to that audible thought.
…They said “go with Sayama”, but does that mean they want to go with my grandfather?
He felt a slight pain in his chest as he asked a question.
“I am glad we could meet ‘again’ after so long. But let me ask you one thing. Why are you ‘going with Sayama’?”
“What is this promise?”
“Do you know what was promised?”
“Promise is promise. Go with Sayama.”
He was making no progress and he wondered if this conversation counted as the preliminary negotiation.
…I suppose that depends on what I say.
They said they would go with him, but as seen with 2nd-Gear, the Leviathan Road was meant to correct their current situation. If they had some complaint or request, he could not cast it aside and simply use them.
He recalled the details of 4th-Gear.
4th-Gear’s Concept Core was possessed by the Tree Serpent Mukiti, so he needed these creatures to help him reach a negotiation with that serpent.
He wondered if he could find a way to do that and asked another question.
“Can I meet the one named Mukiti?”
“You do not know? Do I need some form of qualification before I can meet him?”
The same word was repeated.
…Everything is sealed by the word promise.
They seemed delighted to meet him and Shinjou, but they were satisfied with that and shut the door. The key to that door was the word promise.
…Most likely, my grandfather made some sort of promise and 4th-Gear promised to go with him in return.
When he had asked about a qualification to meet Mukiti, they had spoken that single word.
…When the promise to go with Sayama is fulfilled, I can meet Mukiti.
That pointed to a certain fact.
“Was my grandfather unable to keep his promise?”
4th-Gear’s residents gave no answer. When he saw the plant creatures merely tilt their heads, he smiled bitterly.
…This may be one of the problems between 4th-Gear and Low-Gear.
There was a mystery here.
If Mukiti was in Low-Gear, it should have meant Sayama’s grandfather had kept his promise and the residents of 4th-Gear had “gone with Sayama”.
However, the plant creatures were in Low-Gear and yet they said that they would “go with Sayama” and that a “promise” was needed to meet Mukiti.
Had his grandfather kept the promise or not?
Why had the people of 4th-Gear “gone with Sayama”? And if they had, why did they still require a “promise”?
He did not know, but he did know one thing.
“You are waiting for me to fulfill that promise, aren’t you?”
“Go with Sayama.”
He took that as an affirmative, so he did not give up.
…I will reveal the identity of that promise.
“What will happen when you go with me?”
“Are you going with me even though you do not know?”
“Why did you make that promise?”
He was making no progress. What mattered to them was that they had made the promise and they did not seem to question the reason they had done so, the details of having done so, or the future it would lead to.
…What an amazingly pragmatic race.
It was possible they would not complain even if they were deceived and destroyed because of it.
While thinking about that, Sayama suddenly realized something.
…My grandfather would have thought the same thing.
His grandfather had gone to 4th-Gear, so he would have met these creatures. And as the Concept War continued, what would he have thought of them?
The left side of Sayama’s chest hurt. Shinjou was usually by his side, but she was now curled up and sleeping on the belly of a 4th-Gear creature. He welcomed the pain if it meant he could avoid interrupting the peaceful look on her face.
“Do you remember the Concept War?”
They may not have taken an active role in that war. It was even possible they had not even known of its existence.
Sayama decided it was both. He suspected the other Gears had not taken any direct action against them. As for why…
“Was your world filled with nothing but you?”
“Lots but the same.”
“In other words, your body was split many times over, but you were ultimately a single body and mind?”
“I see. So even when other Gears visited, they realized they could not fully destroy you. You had great vitality and a near inexhaustible ability to regenerate, but you had no ability to fight and they did not know where among you Mukiti and the Concept Core were. That is why they decided to leave you until the end and allow the time of destruction to take care of you.”
“Don’t know, but Mukiti knows.”
Sayama’s eyebrows moved when the creatures brought up Mukiti on their own.
“What kind of person is Mukiti?”
“Here but not here.”
Sayama replied with another question.
“In other words, Mukiti is you, but he is not you?”
He received a thought of silence in return. That response meant they did not know.
Sayama began gathering his thoughts on this Zen dialogue of a conversation. He began with what the plant creatures had just said.
…That means Mukiti is with them but not with them.
The comment contained a contradiction which was why he had asked his own question.
…Mukiti is you, but he is not you.
That also contained a contradiction, but it had been met with silence.
He knew that there was a contradiction that received a response and one that did not.
He removed only the similar contradiction from the two questions and was left with a single word.
That word gave Sayama something to say.
“Mukiti lived in symbiosis with you who can be called the world of 4th-Gear, but he was a second individual who was distinct from your mind, wasn’t he? He was like a parasite on that world.”
“Mukiti is here but not here.”
They did not deny it.
That meant Mukiti possessed the Concept Core and lived in symbiosis with the 4th-Gear residents.
In that case…
“Was Mukiti a control system that symbiotically managed 4th-Gear?”
Sayama had begun to lean forward a little, so he straightened up.
He took a breath and lowered Baku from his head. A nearby plant creature seemed to take interest in Baku and approached.
The two creatures relaxed, lay on their bellies, and stared at each other without moving.
…This is a generally peaceful world.
Sayama let Baku make a friend and asked a question of the creature in front of him.
“Where is Mukiti?”
“Here but not here.”
He felt he understood the creatures words more clearly now.
“Here but not here” was not a contradictory question from a Zen dialogue.
“Yes, he is with you. As your controller, he is watching over all of you no matter where you are. However, his true form is not here. Where is it? The 4th-Gear reservation in Kyushu?”
“Far away place?”
“It is. It is cut off by a world, after all.”
“Then there. Mukiti is there. Promise. Promise with Sayama.”
I see, he thought. It is funny how much of this is pure speculation.
However, he had no other choice but to keep his mind moving. If his thoughts were not way off base, his grandfather had also spoken with these plant creatures and met Mukiti.
…And they promised to go with him.
If Sayama could persuade Mukiti, their controller, he could move all of the plant residents of 4th-Gear and find a use for their environmental changes.
He then realized he was walking in his grandfather’s footsteps.
…I hope for this to be the only way in which I grab at that monkey’s short tail.
He asked another question as if to cast aside that thought.
“Can I…that is, can Sayama go meet Mukiti without keeping the promise?”
“No. Keep promise.”
He received a powerful rejection when it came to the word promise.
“If I do not keep the promise, I cannot meet Mukiti?”
“Promise. Sayama’s promise.”
Sayama then realized his misunderstanding about the meaning of the promise.
…It is not that I cannot meet Mukiti without keeping the promise.
That was the promise 4th-Gear had made. “Sayama’s promise” was something different.
He gave voice to his realization.
“I made a promise myself to not meet Mukiti unless the promise was kept, didn’t I?”
“Promise! Sayama’s promise!”
He could hear joy in the audible thought and that thought gave him a smile.
They were surely rejoicing that their words were finally getting through to him.
He too was relieved that they were communicating properly and he went over the problem.
“I see. First, I made a certain promise and then made a second promise to meet Mukiti once that promise was fulfilled. And you then made a third promise to go with me when that happened. Is that it?”
“Yes! Promise! Promise with Sayama! First promise! First! First! First!”
“I see. So the first promise made with another in 4th-Gear’s history was made with Sayama.”
“Sayama told us. Important. Promise is important. Promise will never disappear. But Sayama is different.”
The thoughts came all at once.
“Sayama is different. Sayama is not promise. Sayama will eventually disappear.”
Inside, he was surprised. 4th-Gear’s people were close to immortal as long as the world was not destroyed, but this meant…
…They understand the concept of death.
His grandfather had likely taught them that.
The creatures had said that promises will never disappear but that Sayama would.
Sayama asked about the concern that would bring.
“While you have a collective consciousness and will live for close to forever, we will disappear. When my grandfather died, his promise should have died with him. While you will wait for the promise to be fulfilled for eternity, my grandfather’s life was finite.”
“Why do you view me and my grandfather as the same?”
At first, he had thought they were unable to distinguish between individuals because they did not have individuals themselves, but that was not the case.
“You clearly understand that we have finite lives, but you still view me as the same ‘Sayama’. Why is that?”
“Told Sayama would come again. New Sayama.”
The plants’ thoughts filled the air.
“Promise will not disappear. Sayama will come. Keep promise. Sayama will come to keep promise.”
I see, thought Sayama while sighing inwardly.
…My grandfather once negotiated with them and made their first promise with them.
But for some reason, he had not fulfilled that promise.
And yet for some reason, they had come here.
…Most likely, he was fine with not having fully upheld his promise.
“You still desire the promise because you want to have that unfulfilled promise carried out, don’t you? That will mean both sides kept their promise and are equal.”
The word “debt” came to mind.
In terms of the Leviathan Road, 4th-Gear had already given their conditions for the negotiation.
…They came here unconditionally.
In that case…
…Fulfilling the promise is well worth negotiating over.
To reconfirm that, he asked a question.
“I can meet Mukiti again by fulfilling that promise, correct?”
“Keep promise, so go with Sayama.”
Sayama crossed his arms and looked at the plant creatures that shook their bodies together.
…What was the first promise my grandfather made with them?
They knew, but they were not telling him. Their collective consciousness viewed Sayama’s promise as belonging to Sayama and they would not intrude on the territory of another’s thoughts.
This is an assignment from my grandfather, he thought. I have to answer what it is they want.
“It is true that is the foundation of negotiation.”
…What did he promise them and what do they hope to gain from it?
Land? Peace of mind? Some kind of power? There had to be a hint.
For example, 4th-Gear already had a reservation and this place as well.
As for peace of mind, this room made it clear any fear of external enemies had been resolved.
And as for power, not only did this race not desire to fight, but they seemed unable to fight.
…Then what is it?
He realized he was leaning forward again, so he straightened up.
To give himself a change of pace while gathering his thoughts, he took a breath, leaned back, and placed his hands on the ground.
His fingers sank into the plants as if digging down. It’s all plants, he thought.
Similar to his discussion with Shinjou about communicating with plants, these 4th-Gear residents just so happened to have bodies constructed from plants, but they could exchange thoughts, try to keep promises, and liked independence.
They were not something to protect or to look down on.
…They must be the same. Even if they desired protection, they would not view us as superior to them.
Since his grandfather had negotiated with Mukiti who controlled them, it was possible they had actually had the superior position.
What did it mean to be equal?
1st-Gear had desired to recover their past pride and have a place to live on their own.
2nd-Gear had desired to accept their own power while also living in Low-Gear.
3rd-Gear had desired to clear away their own crimes yet continue to use the power that had led to those crimes.
All of them contained a common factor down at the bottom.
…The desire to live in Low-Gear using their power.
Sayama thought on the word “power”.
“My grandfather must have negotiated to give you a place where you could use 4th-Gear’s power to live in Low-Gear and have peace of mind. That would have settled any debt.”
In that case, what was 4th-Gear’s power?
He thought and came to a certain possibility.
…4th-Gear’s power is their vitality and their ability to heal others.
But in that case, what had his grandfather attempted to do with their power?
Sayama thought about using it for a hospital but then shook his head.
Even in the postwar times, the world had not advanced enough to accept life forms from another world. Even if they could heal and save people, it would cause a commotion if people found out about these thinking plants.
…Was he going to have them heal injured UCAT members?
No, he realized.
If they had become UCAT’s healers, this greenhouse would be much more open and used as a medical room.
Also, he thought before asking his next question.
“Why does 4th-Gear not work as healers for UCAT?”
If they had come to Low-Gear to use their healing ability, 4th-Gear healing would be a major part of UCAT.
He looked forward while he wondered why, but the plant creature only lay on its belly and tilted its head.
“The promise, hm?”
What had they promised to use their power on?
He continued to think, but then…
“Could it be…?”
He recalled two facts from when the plant creatures had shown up in this large greenhouse.
First, they had known a name other than Sayama.
Second, they had used their healing ability.
“And they did so by wrapping around Shinjou-kun.”
He looked to Shinjou on his left side.
She was curled up on the stomach of the plant creature bent in a U-shape.
And she was asleep. Her black hair moved a bit and her expression was one of peace.
He then looked around himself, but none of the plant creatures made any attempt to remove his own exhaustion.
They had chosen Shinjou over him.
He remembered a section from the National Defense Department documents that Kashima had sent them during the summer and that they still could not read the entirety of.
“My grandfather took over working on 8th-Gear in place of 4th-Gear. And he did so because 8th-Gear had been assigned to Shinjou Kaname who had fallen ill.”
The plant creatures looked up.
“Yes, that is correct. Shinjou-kun. Is Shinjou-kun the promise?”
The collective consciousness responded to that.
“Promise! Shinjou! Promise!!”
He nodded and looked to Shinjou who slept while clutching her black binder.
“I do not know what kind of person Shinjou Kaname was, but my grandfather spoke with Mukiti, came to an understanding, and made a promise, didn’t he? He asked if you could save Shinjou-san who had fallen ill. And if you did have the power to save him, he asked you to come to Low-Gear where your power could be used elsewhere. That way, he could prepare a place for you even if 4th-Gear was lost.”
He took a breath.
“He promised to let you meet the person named Shinjou, didn’t he?”
If the promise had not been upheld, it meant they had not met Shinjou Kaname.
However, they had come to Low-Gear.
He did not know if that had been his grandfather’s or Mukiti’s desire and he did not know why they had done it. Whatever the result, he would look into that from now on.
And he would fulfill the promise as well.
The creatures’ thoughts rang loudly.
“Meet Shinjou. Mukiti is waiting. Sayama keeps promise.”
Sayama gave another deep nod.
“Yes, I will go with Shinjou-kun to meet the one who watches over you.”
“Promise! Promise! Promise!!”
“Yes, that is a promise. It is a testament.”
“That is the latest way of referring to a promise.”
As the thought voice rang out, Sayama raised his head.
At the same time, someone appeared from beyond the trees.
It was Ooki. She may have just woken from a nap because she wore pajamas and looked at the swaying and rustling plant creatures.
“Oh, my. How lively.”
“Do you think you can fit in here as a tree spirit, Ooki-sensei?”
“I don’t know…”
She smiled and her long ears seemed to stand up as if reacting to the surrounding thoughts.
She shook those ears and spoke.
“Excuse me for a moment, Sayama-kun, but I have to get to school. With the athletic festival preparations, I have to at least show up by lunchtime.”
“Oh, is that so? And I thought the one who takes attendance would have to be there in the morning.”
“Sayama-kun, why are you always so mean to your teacher?”
“I merely stated the obvious. Do you perhaps have a persecution complex? And when have I ever been mean to you, tardy teacher?”
After shouting out, she sighed.
“Listen.” She placed a hand on her forehead and groaned while the surrounding plant creatures looked up at her. “How about we settle for this? Harakawa-kun has been absent a lot lately, so if he isn’t in class today, please go to his home and get him.”
“Ha ha ha. I understand what you are trying to say. …You are making no sense. Go yourself.”
“But his apartment’s landlord has started recognizing me lately. I got some leftover dinner last time I went, but I can’t return the dish it was in because I haven’t washed it yet.”
“Oh? Which do you think would make a better nickname for you: filthy teacher or lazy teacher?”
“Hmm. I have pretty stringent standards for elegance, so I don’t think either fit me.”
All of the plant creatures tilted their heads at that.
“Wh-what a rude collective consciousness.”
Sayama ignored her and shook Shinjou awake.
They had to travel to Kyushu that afternoon, but now they had an extra job to take care of.
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