The Longing Of Shiina Ryo:Volume2 Prologue

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Reikoku-sensei is serious.

That might sound kind of obvious because anyone should have probably already noticed that she is serious by now, but I don't mean it that way. Well, maybe I do but that’s certainly not the point I’m trying to make here. I'm not talking about her attitude because, honestly, the way she acts grows weirder every minute, like she’s trying to follow the second law of Thermodynamics.

Heck, I'm not even talking about her looks; she does seem very serious and reliable when she is dressed like a teacher and not in my home wearing pajamas, eating my food and talking passionately about those over-the-top and older-than-steam gory horror movies she is so addicted to. Maybe I didn't express my thoughts properly the first time (although not for the first time): she is serious, but what I'm trying to say here is that she is truly serious about something in particular, and on the top of that it's something that particularly bothers me. Big. Time.

She is serious about making that monster/strange phenomenon hunting team thing Ryo suggested last week. The solid proof is standing in front of me right now, so close I cannot deny its existence. Unless I'm a governmental alien studies-related agency or something like that, you know.

"Excuse me but just what on Earth is this?" I ask, only mildly aware of the unfortunate implications an answer to this particular question might bring.

My peripheral vision captures unreasonably fast movement from a person standing on my left side, someone that probably desires to get closer to my heart, but not for the reasons one would like to have a girl doing so; in my humble opinion, the apparently emotionless fashionista is just trying to position her weapon of a body in the best spatial coordinates for a direct fatal attack.

“These certainly look like paper to me.”

I admit it: my heart froze when Kouma Yon’s dangerous arm moved and grabbed one of the three sheets standing on Reikoku-sensei’s desk by the tip, but shortly after that I noticed I was being silly and decided to lower my defenses and play her game.

“You know, that kind of ironic comment isn’t that funny anymore. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t very good to begin with.”

The girl I had fought both against and alongside not recently looked directly at me as if my poorly-thought counterattack had deeply offended her.

“It might sound ironic to you, but it’s a very important and nearly defining character trait for me. Therefore, I’d rather go with the adjective ‘iconic’ as it fits much better.”

My best friend joined the conversation exhaling a cuteness so intense it burned me inside soothingly… could someone be a darling and please stop me before I think anything even more ridiculously embarrassing?

“Positronic. There are a few things that need to be clarified about the misusage of that particular word. People often associate it with robots, mainly because of Asimov’s stories. The thing is its true meaning is completely unrelated to what those people assume: a positron is the antimatter equivalent of an electron, a subatomic particle with the exact same mass but a positive charge. It doesn’t take much to search the Internet for this info, yet people still insist on inserting this nonsense into their works of fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against trying to come up with ‘cool names and concepts’ because if people really wanted to get proper facts they certainly wouldn’t be reading fiction or even popular magazines for that matter. I just miss the days where science fiction was about science and it made honest mistakes by trying to be ahead of its time instead of walking straight into pits blindfolded by option with the foolish intent to simulate the writing of those who were born blind in the past. Pitiful, just pitiful.”

I don’t think any of us was ready for a rant like that so early in the morning, especially coming from Ryo.

“Hm… basically, you’re saying ‘positronic’ is not related at all to robotics.” I tried to pick my words carefully, as cautious people usually do when confronting someone who just delivered a massive amount of information in the shortest time possible to them. “Is that correct?”
“Yes, close enough.” She took a breath, but it wasn’t quite as deep as I expected. “By the way, ‘robotics’ is another term coined by Asimov, although the word ‘robot’ is not.”
“…then how is it related in any way to Kouma’s speech?”

Probably noticing how strange bringing up that topic was, Shiina Ryo stopped moving completely and stayed like that for a few moments as if she was trying to imitate our reaction to her information overload, only with an incredible time delay.

“Well, it actually isn’t. I just needed to get it off my chest, that’s all.” She seemed to be as puzzled as I was, except she was not. To be completely honest I don’t actually think anyone was puzzled as I was. “That unscientific science fiction term has been annoying me for a while.”

Needless to say, silence followed.

“If you kids are done with the information dump moment, I would like to explain why I’m handing these pieces of paper.”

Our teacher had her hands tightly clasped in front of her slender face, the fingers crossed like an evil ambassador or a certain fictional commander of an organization that has the purpose of defending the Earth with complicated semi-biological humongous mechanical weapons. Yes, I’m pretty sure you got the idea because you watched all the episodes and movies. “Anything else you would like to add? No? Excellent: allow me to begin explaining what those… sheets of paper with words printed on them represent. My only condition is that you don’t interrupt me while I’m talking. Do you all agree to that?”
“Yes, we do.” In the face of such an argument, Ryo probably felt the urge to reply verbally to our teacher while Kouma and I just nodded.
“That said, I don’t want any of you suddenly coming up with extremely long sequences of sentences that, while usually initially related to the topic, end up taking the conversation to a completely different place and then bring the textbook example of awkward silence we just witnessed: in other words I don’t want any of you to stop my speech to add countless unneeded explanations and witty remarks that clearly came from the database of several online encyclopedias. Once more, to make my intentions as crystal clear as they could possibly get and avoid further issues: I do not want any of you talking about the process of producing paper with fibers such as those derived from wood or grass and I certainly don’t want to hear about its origins, size, thickness, weight, durability, usage, materials, how edible it can be or even a single word on the endless ‘sulfite versus recycled’ discussion. So, no mindless pretentious faux-intellectual rambling on any subject of any kind allowed.” Reikoku-sensei finally paused to breathe and the mild expression on her face implied a glorious moment of hypocrisy-fueled epiphany. “Oh, terrific; this is contagious.”
“I was going to warn you about that…”
“Are you interrupting me, Koukishin-kun?” My first impulse was to answer her question but it didn’t took me a long time to realize that I was about to make a huge mistake that would only grow exponentially bigger. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that when it comes to Reikoku-sensei, the first thought that comes to your mind is not the right one. Nor is the second, for that matter. “Good. I’m afraid we don’t have much time left to discuss this before the room gets crowded with students, so I’ll try to keep it short. As I said while we were talking after the event last weekend, there was the necessity of discussing the idea of making a task force to deal with... you all know what. After some pondering it dawned on me there isn’t anything to discuss on that subject.”

The warm glow that came through the window and illuminated her desk slowly moved closer as if deliberately trying to touch her face. Sunlight really should know better.

“Then why did you want to talk to us before class start-”

I really should know better, because I only realized my reflex action was like stepping onto a nuclear mine when I met her sinister glare and felt the cold breathing of my female friends on my neck. It was a mistake on the level of ‘bringing a sword to a gun fight’, and yes, you read that right. You can always find a neutral ground between swords and guns, anyway; unbeknownst to many, hybrids have been available since the 16th century. What I’m telling you is that you don’t need to be a video game character that looks exactly like a certain Japanese singer to get your very own pistol sword. Isn’t that nice?

And yes, I am trying to avoid the inevitable. Can anyone honestly blame me for that, considering it’s me against Ms. Entropy here?

“A friendly warning: you’re going to pay for that interruption.”

I don’t personally consider myself an expert on threats (especially because you’d expect an expert to at least remember how many threats he, she or it has received), but how on Earth was that friendly? Even soccer games between sworn rivals such as Brazil and Argentina could easily be considered friendlier than that.

“You know what? I’ve had more than enough of this: just take the individual club member application formularies and fill the blanks with your information so we can forget this morning even happened. Talking to you is too tiring.”
“…individual club member application formularies?”
“Do you enjoy repeating things that much? I believe anyone should fully understand the situation by now.”

And I did, and that’s what scared me.

“You honestly expect us to make a supernatural entity hunting school club? Who would do that?”
“You would, or at least they are going to.” Our teacher pointed to my friends with her long index fingers, almost looking like she was imitating a cowboy holding guns. “While you were busy looking shocked, they started filling their respective formularies.”

Much to my dismay, the beautiful yet not-so-responsible woman spoke the truth; my friends were already furiously pressing pens into that mischievous contract, a deal with the Underworld. The real ones were not exactly like that, but they came pretty close.

The worst part of it is that even if I don’t take part in this bizarre experiment, I’m not sure I can talk Ryo or Kouma out of this. Ryo takes an interest in oddities because she thinks she is helping me this way and she probably sees this as a form of escapism, something she seems truly in love with. Kouma would stay by Ryo’s side 24/7 if she could and because of Ryo’s frail body condition she often acts as her bodyguard. I’m not trying to look all macho here, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have made it without me last time (especially because we barely made it even with the three of us).

Judging by the look on Reikoku-sensei’s face, this outcome was planned all along: everyone is going to take part in this because they want to protect someone else and the ones who see through her plans are still forced to follow them because whether we choose to research and hunt those entities or not, there are more of them and they are here. A place that has no cops is not the same as a place that doesn’t need cops; au contraire, if there is anything a utopia like that needs is people to make sure crimes are being prevented or punished.

I understand exactly just how deep this is.

It’s only a matter of time before something weird happens to someone and involving others in this situation would be stupid and selfish, so I don’t even get to question ‘why us?’ Maybe it was sheer causality or an honest-to-God example of synchronicity but for someone who had a life like mine to find himself into a situation like this, it’s just too weird. Almost as if everything that happened before was just training for this, or as if all those things gravitated around and towards me. Since blaming Fate is a terrible cliché, I’d rather stick with Gravity, who is at least it’s an enemy I’m already familiar with.

Still, my pride wouldn’t allow me to surrender so easily.

“Now, even if we were decided on giving up our perfectly normal lives…” At that exact moment, all of them coughed nervously. How predictable. “…without a proper reason and hunt down those monsters, and I’m definitely not saying we will do such a thing, what would be the point of making a school club to perform this hideous activity?”

Ryo touched her small chin and gave me one of her trademark smiles.

“The money, obviously.”

Raise your hands if you were expecting that sentence to come out of that pretty mouth of hers. That’s right, you can’t, and to be honest, you’re not the only one. Especially after that hug scene at the end of the event… I’m not sure whether I should feel disappointed or intrigued by that twist.

“Wait, what?”
“As a registered club of this school, we’ll receive a room and a small yet considerable allowance to buy products to help with club activities or its research.” Kouma said without looking away from her paper. “Having a reasonable amount of funds is necessary for starting any kind of business.”
“A business? What are we, the Teenager Ghostbusters? You might as well use those funds to buy us a van and a talking dog.”
“Vans are quite expensive but I already own a cat, if that is any help.” Unlike her childhood friend, Shiina Ryo not only stopped writing but also looked directly into my eyes when replying. It was like watching Fire and Water being best buddies. “He doesn’t talk, though, but he stares an awful lot and reminds me of Yon-chan.”

Even children could see the connection between the two things in Ryo’s innocent remark, and that’s what made it so amusing to me. Still, I couldn’t get carried away; they are still trying to drag me back to the dark waters. Laughing was not an option.

“What would we need that money for, anyway?”

And then something inside me clicked: it was the feeling you get when you ask a computer technician or a car salesman an innocent question. When you realize you shouldn’t have asked that and now you’re probably going to regret it all the way home.

“Bandages aren’t free.” Kouma Yon said.
“Nor are warehouses’ rentals.” Ryo followed.
“And school chairs.”
“Desks, too.”
“Once in a while someone’s clothes are going to be completely ruined.”
“Stake-outs take time and food on the streets can be expensive.”
“It certainly would be cheaper and a lot more practical to cook our own Taiyaki instead of interrupting the meetings to go outside and buy it.”
“We could eat something else, once in a while.”
“Or we could eat Taiyaki.”

Thankfully, this dialogue ended prematurely thanks to one of the greatest wonders of Science: the fish-shaped cake Kouma loved so much. Considering those two were talking, I know it could have gone for hours. Especially if someone decided to discuss Nietzsche or Freud, who would obviously find their way into the conversation. They always do.

“Good morning!”

As should be expected after all the time we spent talking, the other students were finally arriving. Still, for some unknown reason, all of us seemed surprised by their sudden appearance. Perhaps we were all hoping they would have the decency to wait for the main cast of characters to finish the plot-related dialogue before entering, which they sort of did, in a sense.

“Now go and sit down before anyone finds this suspicious and questionable or worse than that, clarifying and answerable.” Our teacher said in a low voice that didn’t suit her. “Hand me the papers before you leave for lunch.”

And that’s what we did: first we greeted the others (which means I did, while my antisocial friends just went to their places) and then after calm and affably boring lessons, we left our papers on Reikoku-sensei’s desk right before going for another lunch on the rooftop. Other than the small commotion caused by the announcement another student of the class, Morimoto Ayaka, suddenly transferred (and even that commotion was below my expectations, as if the class was already used to things like that happening) there were no events in between and not a single irregularity after lunch; just a lazy nice day at school, how they are supposed to be.

When we’re about to go home, our teacher calls me over, an obvious invitation to a one-on-one talk. Knowing my teacher, I told Kouma and Ryo to go without me with the promise of calling later or something like that; hoping for this conversation with Reikoku-sensei or its consequences to be resolved in just two minutes would have been utterly foolish of me.

I really should have seen this coming.

“Sorry about accidentally sending your application formulary to another club. Oh, I feel so-o clumsy today.” Her words sarcastically pronounced in monotone made me extra suspicious. “Not only that, I am especially busy and I don’t have free time to pick up your application form; you’ll have to run to this club's room and get it back yourself.”

Almost immediately my eyebrows rose; there was absolutely no way I could have seen a dojikko impersonation coming.

“Is this about the interruption?”
“The possibility exists. Now go and retrieve it.”
“Why would I?” Despite whatever she planned, this time the upper hand is mine. “I don’t think I have a reason to get my application form back from a club I don’t know to join one whose activities I’m not fond of. If I bring it back I’ll start searching for aberrations that I otherwise probably wouldn’t meet. If I don’t, the worst thing that can happen to me is receiving notices for not attending club activities. Honestly, there isn’t a single reason for me to go there and get that paper for you.”
“And that would be very clever of you if it wasn’t for a small, but not insignificant, detail.”

The cerulean sky out the window did not dare to move.

“Really, what that would that be?”
“I am not the teacher responsible for every club. When you start skipping club activities, which I assume you will promptly do regardless of the club’s activities and areas of interest, there is a good chance the assigned teacher will pay you a surprise home visit. Now, I can relate to your situation because of my personal experiences, but I’m not sure if another educator put into the same situation would choose to stay quiet about an unemancipated minor living on his own. Then it would have been much easier if you never filled that formulary in the first place, wouldn’t it?” And there it was: blackmail in paper-thin disguise, just as expected from a person such as my teacher (although for the well being of the world I hope there aren’t many of those). It doesn’t take much to see that staying next to her is like kissing a flame, like being between Scylla and… the other monster whose name I cannot recall right now. Anyway, merely going to school can be considered extremely dangerous.
“…I think I hate you.”
“No, you don’t.” She gazed down on the several papers on her desk as if they had the intention of running away if she stopped watching. Honestly, I could relate to the poor fellows: despite coming from trees and everything, I don’t quite believe any entity, living or dead, have Reikoku-sensei as a personal warder. Now that I think about this matter, maybe the people who claim disasters can unite individuals of different races and species are not completely wrong; when it comes to my teacher, there is a great chance the paper suffers just as much as I do. “Now hurry.”

Without having anything clever to say in reply, I ran.

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