It’s said that a man may only be popular three times in his life.
If that tall tale is true, then one of those three times must be happening at this very moment in my second year of high school.
Lunch break the next day, Kurisu-chan paid a visit to my classroom.
“How’s your arm holding up? I’m not too good with healing, so I’m worried that…… Eh? That was just a dream? Ahaha. You’re quite right about that, but please do be careful. Ah, I weaved a misanga bracelet for you, but if you want, please put it on. A-ah, not like that! Please put it on your right arm, not your left… yes. You have a point. You’re free to choose whichever side you put it on, but… I’ll be very happy if you put it on your right. That misanga is imbued with my magic, so once your wound’s fully treated, it’ll break off on its own—indeed! I am definitely talking about a manga.”
So anyways, just like that, she gave me a red misanga. A geometric magic-circle-like formation was depicted on it, and it boasted exquisite craftsmanship.
I was honestly overjoyed with Kurisu-chan’s kindness, but I’d prefer it if she chose the right location. If she did something like that at the entrance of the classroom, I’d be killed by the folks in class.
And on lunch break the next day,
“Is there a guy called Kagoshima here?”
Kagurai-senpai paid a visit.
“There’s a game Gakuta demanded I go buy… ah, wrong, that’s wrong. There’s this game I want to buy for my little brother, so could you go out with me sometime? I’m not very knowledgeable about this era’s… I mean, the newest games, see. I can’t really talk with Gakuta when I’m outside. Yes, that’s right. You think I can just break into ventriloquism in the middle of the street? Yes, that’s why it’ll be a huge help if you could teach me a few things.”
So as you can see, in short, she invited me out for a date.
The class boys branded me with the mark of the traitor.
Why do the good looking girls never notice they’re drawing attention to those around them? Whatever the case, with this and that, the world was boring. Being acquainted with a beautiful senior and a cute freshman wasn’t anything great enough to shake the world, but in a world of boredom, you could say it was a sufficient impact.
After class one day.
Orino-san and I held a study session in the school library. Even if I call it that, I was just one-sidedly having her teach me. Ever since we’d both been appointed class reps in April, we got to know each other well enough, so I begged her.
Orino-san was the wielder of high-ranking intellect in the grade. Despite her many tardies and early departures, I think she could keep her position as class rep through her wonderful grades and compassionate personality.
“To calculate the surface area between a line and an arc, you use the curvature of the arc and…” Rapidly racing out notes with her pink mechanical pencil, she continued on in round letters. “And that’s how you get this.”
“Oh, I see.”
Orino-san’s teachings were concise and easy to understand. Perhaps she was better at teaching than the school’s actual teachers.
“But Orino-san, you’re calculating things way too fast. Just using your fingers and head, do you have some sort of trick to it?”
“I’ve undergone training to increase my mental operating capabilities so, to be blunt, working out problems on this level is child’s play—I mean, nothing of the sort! Umm… I did abacus a lot when I was young, so I’m good at mental arithmetic!”
“Abacus, eh. I should’ve picked it up. Once upon a time, my mother suggested it, but it was a pain and I stopped going.”
“I-I see. Ahaha.”
We held a pleasant chat as we continued our studies. Eventually, the topic of conversation turned to those two.
“Kagoshima-kun, you’ve become quite popular lately.”
Said Orino-san, lightly puffing up her cheeks.
“It just sorta happened.”
“What do you mean by just happened? Just what sort of technique did you use?”
“You’re making me sound like the bad guy. It really did just happen. We coincidentally started getting along.”
“Hmm. I wonder if there’s something up with those two…?” she dubiously narrowed her eyes before letting out a breath of resignation. “Well, whatever. Beauties and secrets go hand in hand.”
“Does that mean you’re hiding something too, Orino-san?”
I tried saying something snobbish, expecting a cutesy response like, “Oh you, I’m not that pretty,” or, “You won’t get anywhere, flattering me,” but instead,
“Whoaah! Ah, I… I-I’m not hiding anything!”
She was extremely flustered.
What she looked like she was clearly hiding something, since she said she wasn’t, I guess she really wasn’t.
Orino-san suddenly raised her voice. She reacted as if the phone in her pocket set to silent had begun to vibrate. And in the shadow of the desk so I couldn’t see it from my position, she moved her hands as if opening it up to check.
“I-I’m sorry. My stomach just started hurting a bit… so can I go?”
She made the grim look of someone who received a message saying ‘get here ASAP’ from their superior. Her stomach must be in excruciating pain.
“Yeah, got it. Then you’d better get to the bathroom quickly.”
“Wha! I-I’m not going to the bathroom!”
“Huh? But doesn’t your stomach hurt?”
“… That’s right.”
“I’m not a kid who dreams that girls don’t have to use the restroom, so don’t worry about it. It’s a physiological phenomenon. You don’t have to be embarrassed.”
“I really don’t have to use the restroom!”
“Oh? Are you constipated?”
“Wrong! I eat well and go just fine! Just this morning—ah, what are you making me talk about…”
Orino-san held her head in self-loathing.
“Anyways. Um, I think it’ll take a while, so go home without me.”
“A while? So it hurts that bad… do you want me to take you to the infirmary?”
“… Your kindness, it hurts me.”
I really am fine, she said as she left with swift feet.
“… Was she about to leak?”
I hesitated a while over whether I should continue studying or not, but eventually decided to put away the notebooks and textbooks spread out over the table.
I’ll go home and continue my game or so. Level grinding had become a real chore, but since I bought it, I might as well play it to the end. I stood from my seat.
Next to the chair Orino-san had been sitting in, what looked like a telephone card had fallen. I picked it up and inspected it.
‘World Unified Parahuman Research Facility
The jet-black card spelled it out in white. Like a license, a portrait photo was included, and on it was Orino-san making a serious face.
It would be bad if she lost something important so I’d better return it to her soon, I thought. I called her a few times, but perhaps her battery had run out as it wouldn’t connect. Even if I wanted to deliver it to her, I didn’t know her address.
There’s no helping it, I’ll do it tomorrow.
I gave up with dignity, walking the path home alone as I always did. At the crosswalk before the residential district, all of a sudden, my right arm grew hot. On close inspection, the misanga at my wrist was emitting a slight glow. As if responding in kind to someone’s magic.
“Ah, what’s this? Must be because of the sunset.”
That went without saying. The white letters caught the light at an angle, causing it to look like it was glowing. The heat in my right arm was also muscle pains or something.
But I somewhat got into the mood for a detour. As if led by an unseeable something.
What I arrived at- as if pulled along on a thread- was a middle school, outside the city, shut down before I was born. A schoolhouse of rotten wood, and a schoolyard overgrown with weeds. The place was set to be demolished next month. A structure of the past.
“… What did I come here to do, I wonder.”
I muttered as I placed a hand on the rusted iron school gate.
“—To he unforgiven, grant hellfire eternal. Blacker, black, and blacker still—”
A young, lisping aria I had heard before.
But when I heard it was in a dream.
“《Fallen Angel’s Prayer》”
The wind suddenly picked up, the school gate began to clatter. I instinctively guarded my body with my arms. It was too strong to be a sudden gust from the mountains and its temperature was rising. I could feel a sinister power from beyond the gate, the skin all over my body was astir.
After waiting for the atmosphere to calm down, I opened the gate and entered.
Inside the schoolyard was Kurisu-chan, a white robe over her body. But as if she had just overcome a great battle, she was raising and lowering her shoulders in breath.
When I called out, her small shoulders twitched as she timidly, timidly turned around.
“Kago… shima… senpai… why, why are you here…?”
A mix of surprise and sorrow spread across her young face. And her eyes moved towards my right arm. “… Ah…” she let out an understanding, yet resigned voice.
“… I see. The spell I just chanted, and the spell in that magic band reacted to one another… well I’ll be. I only just learned 《Fallen Angel’s Prayer》, so… my hands were full with controlling it, and I had completely forgotten about Kagoshima-senpai…”
Ahaha… Kurisu-chan gave a powerless laugh.
“You saw all of that, didn’t you??”
“… Yeah, I’m sorry. I saw everything.”
Giving some consecutive nods, I slowly started walking.
Kurisu-chan tensed her lips, cowering like a small animal.
There was no helping it. When she was witnessed in such a state.
“I know exactly what you were doing.”
All the pieces finally fell into place.
The strange bits here and there in her story, and the happenings within my dream.
“You were practicing the finishing move from your manga, right?”
“… Excuse me?”
“No, you don’t have to play dumb. I understand. You’re in an abandoned school building, crying out as loud as you can, right? I get where you’re coming from, those feelings. When I was a kid, I would practice the Kamehameha with all my might.”
Right. I knew everything. Surely Kurisu-chan was a considerable manga otaku. To the extent where her magic jargon would slip its way into the midst of normal conversation, meaning a so-called cringe-fest…
“Ah, you don’t have to give excuses. It’s not like you’re doing anything wrong, you can hold your head up with confidence. You left town, and came all the way to a place like this so you wouldn’t bother anyone.”
For a moment, the image of a compassionate hero who ran far from town to contain civilian casualties while subjugating monsters crossed my mind, but that had absolutely nothing to do with the current situation.
“Err… so you didn’t see, Kagoshima-senpai?”
“That bear-like monster I was just fighting.”
“I see, so that’s the setting you’re going with.”
She’s really into it. I’m impressed.
“Wait a second… um, when did you spot me?”
“Right after I heard you cry out the name of your finishing move. 《Fallen Angel’s Prayer》, was it? After that, a hot wind blew, and then I saw you standing in the center of the schoolyard.”
“Meaning… he didn’t… see?”
Thank the heavens, she muttered as she plopped her bottom down on the ground.
What was I not supposed to see?
I got an ample eyeful of Kurisu-chan’s cringe compilation.
“That robe you’re wearing is also that, right? That cosplay thing.”
Kurisu-chan opened her eyes wide.
“Kagoshima-senpai, there are some things you just don’t say! This is a robe I inherited from mama, it’s been passed down in our family for generations, and you call it cosplay!? It boasts a massive defense against both magic and physical attacks, and you could buy yourself a small village with what it’s worth!”
“So it’s not cosplay?”
“I-I-It’s cosplay… yes, of course it’s cosplay. I bought the cloth and snipped it here and there to make it.”
“Hmm, so you made it yourself. You’re not half bad. Like those complicated seams over here…”
I said as I reached my hand towards the robe.
“Y-you can’t! Please don’t touch it!”
She hit away my hand with all her might.
My god, Kurisu-chan hit my hand.
What should I do… it’s seriously depressing. The other day, Kagurai-senpai used
Gakuta-kun to brush me away, but when it came to Kurisu-chan, it was a different story.
To think such a nice-looking girl would hit my hand away, I must be…
“… I’m really sorry. I’ll be… careful next time…”
“T-that’s not it! Don’t apologize with a face as if everything you knew was a lie! This robe is meant for battle, so its embedded with a sequence that rejects the touch of anyone apart from me. If a person with no resistance to magic touches it, they’ll be severely injured.”
“Aah! Please stop cringing when you look at me! I’m telling the truth. I stated it out of concern for you! It’s all true, I’m telling you!”
“Eh? It’s all true?”
“…… I’m sorry. I lied. I am a deluded cringefest. An eighth-grade syndrome setting-obsessed creepy girl who needs to wake up and smell the roses…”
“You don’t have to deride yourself that much… you’re not bothering anyone, so it doesn’t matter if you’re embarrassing.”
“… A-ahaha. That’s right… It’s fine if I’m embarrassing, right.”
Her cheeks stiffly twitching, Kurisu-chan gave a lighthearted laugh. The fact it looked like there were tears in the corners of her eyes was probably my mind playing tricks on me.
But lately, whenever I talk to girls, by the end of it, I get the feeling they get pushed into desperation more often than not.
Yeah. Are my conversation skills lacking?
A schoolyard lit by twilight. At a bench in the corner, I sat beside Kurisu-chan.
“Huh? What happened to your robe?”
“It’s in this gem– I mean, I put it away in my bag.”
“When did that happen?”
“I’m fast at changing.”
We held such an exchange, and Kurisu-chan was in her uniform.
“Hey, Kurisu-chan,” I tried asking. “What’s the title of that manga you like so much?”
Her eyes darted up and to the right, as she took a pose as if to think up something on the spot.
“It’s called ‘Kuria’s Grand Adventure’.”
Right after muttering that, she covered her face with both hands, as if to say now that one was going too far, in reproach for her own lack of naming sense.
“I don’t think I’ve heard of that one. Could it be an old work?”
“T-that’s right. You’ll never be able to get it in this day and age, you hear me? You’ll never find it anywhere. No matter what you do, don’t even think about reading it.”
That was a shame. If it was a manga Kurisu-chan loved to such a degree, I wanted to give it a read by all means.
“But you have a copy, right? Would it be possible for me to borrow it?”
“T-that’s… I pawned it at a used bookstore the other day…”
I was shocked. She liked it enough to cosplay, so what did she think she was doing.
“If it’s so rare, then doesn’t that mean you’ll never be able to get it back…?”
“Don’t worry. Kuria’s Grand Adventure will always remain in my heart.”
“But Kuria’s Grand Adventure, huh… come to think of it, it’s got the same name as you. Is that what led you to like it so much?”
“… Well, something like that.”
“Since I can’t read it, can you tell me what that manga’s about?”
A breeze came in from the mountain, swaying the weeds lit up by the twilight. After taking a light breath, Kurisu-chan gazed out into the madder sky. She smiled. Her youthful facial features looked just a little more mature.
“It’s the story of a girl who goes to the next world to chase a villain who ran away.”
According to the story, next to this world was another one where magic existed as simple fact. The main character was a girl skilled in fire magic, and that girl was dispatched to another world as part of her job.
“The greatest country on the eastern coast of the Claure Continent, its name is Lughstoria. In the imperial capital of Rhulein, the protagonist lives with her mama and papa. Mama had always lived in the world of magic, but Papa was a man who came from a world without magic.”
“So the protagonist is a half-blood too.”
And with that name, the protagonist shared a lot in common with Kurisu-chan.
“Mama was a competent witch in Rhulein. In the combat force under the king’s direct command, she had combat prowess that would rank her either first or second, but ‘It’s not my style to be tied up by authority’ she would say as she got by running something like a store. I heard she met papa in the middle of an accident.”
Speaking brightly, Kurisu-chan’s expression was serious as if she was talking about herself.
“And then a certain incident occurred. It was quite complicated, but it was the sort of large incident where she had to go all over the country… if you want me to give a broad explanation, Mama did this and that and ended some evil organization.”
“Now that is broad…”
What sounded like a battle with the country’s existence on the line was summed up with ‘this and that’.
“And wait, so mama went and ended them? Then the story’s over. Where’s the main character’s turn?”
“It’s coming, it’s coming. The remnants of the organization the protagonist’s mother did away with went and fled to this world.”
“My oh my, this mama’s shoddy with her work.”
“I have no excuse… it seems she said something cool like, ‘Hey, as long as you’re alive, you can start over as many times as you need to’ and didn’t land the finishing blow. So the bad guys just normally ran away…”
What a cool mama. And what a hopeless villain. Was it a work with a deep and dark theme of once a failure, always a failure?
“And there, I, her daughter… I mean the protagonist went out to settle her parent’s problem.”
“Hmm, that’s a good spirit.”
“Well if you say so.”
It was like the promised play of straight man and jokester. I was surprised to see Kurisu-chan playing the comic relief.
“So now, the main character has to defeat monsters summoned using the lifeforms of this world as a catalyst.”
“I see. I get the general gist.”
“Umm, so what do you think of it?”
Kurisu-chan timidly peered up at me. Staring into her moist eyes, I grew a little nervous.
“Was it… interesting?”
Her voice was tense. She held her breath as she waited for my answer.
I waited a bit before honestly stating what was on my mind.
“Cliché and boring.”
Kapow. An immense shock ran through Kurisu-chan. I could almost see a black background with lightning running across it. As if I had denied the world she lived in to its entirety.
“… What do you mean by cliché… it’s not a rip-off or anything… and wait, you’ve got a whole genre called fantasy that’s a blatant rip off of our world…”
She mumbled complaints as she started drawing a spiral beside her.
Yeah, maybe I was too forward. Okay, for now, let’s follow through.
“Oh, but mainstream fantasies are fine from time to time.”
“I-I know right?”
Her face abruptly glimmered like the sun. What should I do? This girl was way too simple.
“It’s nice that the protagonist is female. She sounds like a good girl, and I think I’d like reading about her.”
“Oh senpai. What are you saying all of a sudden, you sly dog.”
Then came the promised laughter. Perhaps Kurisu-chan loved laughing more than I thought.
“Ah, could it be the design on this misanga is also from that manga?”
“Yes. At present, your right arm is being sustained by my magic. You can’t tell by looking, and I don’t think you’ll get any symptoms, but it’s still being treated. That ‘magic band’ is there to absorb my magic and prevent it from entering any other part of your body, so you definitely can’t take it off… there was an episode like that in the manga, so I couldn’t help but… yeah.”
So it was designed based on the manga after all.
How should I put it, it suddenly started feeling a bit embarrassing to wear. Since she went out of her way to make it, I wasn’t taking it off, but…
“I feel bad to keep receiving things from you, I have to do something in return. Kurisu-chan, is there anything you want me to do?”
“Eeh? You don’t have to do that… when you boil it down, that was my fault for failing to check that there was no one around.”
“Don’t be like that. I’m saying I want to do something in return.”
For some reason, I got the feeling I held an immense debt towards Kurisu-chan.
A ‘you saved my life’ class momentous debt.
“… Then can you teach me geography?”
Geography? I parroted back and, yes… she bashfully nodded.
Come to think of it, Kurisu-chan was bad at geography.
“That world has something similar to math and science, and Japanese and English are… umm, I’m a bit of a cheater, but to make matters fast, let’s just say there’s a magic out there that works like a ‘babel fish’… In history, I can draw parallels between this one and that one, so that’s fine. I’m just no good at this world’s geography … the places here get all mixed up with the other ones…”
“Kurisu-chan. It’s good to be able to say what you’re bad at, but I’m not so sure about blaming it all on manga.”
When I said it strongly as a warning, “I-I’m sorry…” she sounded a little dissatisfied as she apologized. I wonder why. I was sure I said the right thing, and yet it felt like I was making a grand misunderstanding.
“But sure. If you’re fine with me, I’ll teach you.”
I couldn’t call geography my strong point, but I knew my way around. I’m sure I could teach most of last year’s material.
“Thank you. That’s a huge load off my shoulders!”
Kurisu-chan smiled out of genuine joy. Each of her expressions and gestures warmed my heart to watch. Rather than liking her as a member of the opposite gender, I felt like I’d want a little sister like her. The sky was finally growing dark, and thinking it was about time to leave, I stood from the bench.
“Huh? Kagoshima-senpai, you dropped something.”
What Kurisu-chan held up was Orino-san’s card.
“Ah, this is Orino-senpai’s. Why do you have it?”
“I picked it up. Ah, come to think of it, you’re friends with Orino-san too. In that case, do you know anything about that card?”
“Not in the slightest. What’s this about a facility and test subject number…”
“That’s a shame. I want to get it to her quick, but it looks like Orino-san’s cell phone is dead right now.”
Is that so… she muttered, and after hesitating a while she gave a nod.
Picking up a fallen wooden rod, she began drawing something on the ground. Her drawing took on the shape of a magic circle-like design of circles and stars. In the very center, she placed Orino-san’s card.
“What are you doing, Kurisu-chan?”
“Umm… I-I’m doodling!”
“… Why now?”
“Aah! Kagoshima-senpai! Over there! It’s a beautiful babe in a swimsuit!”
Faster than the speed of sound, I turned in the direction she pointed.
Where, where is she. Where’s the babe in bikini!?
From behind, “Someone who actually fell for something so by the books is calling me cliché…” I heard a fed-up voice, and felt a light as if someone was using a search magic, but now was not the time to care about something like that. Where’s the girl in a swimsuit!
I focused my eyes to the very limit as I looked around, but I couldn’t spot a single soul.
“Dammit, in that case… hup!”
To see just a little further than before, I jumped up onto the bench I had just been sitting on. But as expected of an old bench. Receiving the impact of the jump, it raised a grating shriek. I felt a terrible premonition—but not affording me the time to escape, the bench split right in two.
I hit the ground back-first. I received considerable damage.
“… What are you doing on your own, Kagoshima-senpai?”
As I lay belly-up, Kurisu-chan peered down at me. No, perhaps she was looking down on me. Her pupils were filled to the brim with pity.
“Umm… when you’re trying so hard, I really must apologize, but it does seem the woman in a swimsuit was just my eyes playing tricks on me. I’m sorry.”
“… What’s with that.”
Unable to hide my disappointment, I unsteadily stood to my feet.
Maaan. My back hurt, I broke a bench, and there was no babe. When it rains, it pours.
Err rather, breaking the bench was definitely bad. Even if the place was set to be demolished next month, it was still public property, for argument’s sake.
As I began planning how I would cover up a broken bench, Kurisu-chan handed back the card.
“To atone for my mistake, let me tell you where Orino-senpai is.”
I raced my bike down the unpaved mountain path. The curtain of night had fully come down, the rustling sound of the black forest lending an eerie atmosphere.
“… Is Orino-san really in a place like this?”
The place Kurisu-chan indicated was halfway up a mountain on the edge of town. It was a bit of a distance by foot, so I returned to my house to take out my bike. By the way, Kurisu-chan helped out, and we somehow managed to put the bench I broke back together. It was fine with the both of us sitting on it, so as long as it wasn’t treated to roughly, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Even setting the gear to the lowest setting, the mountain path was harsh.
If Kurisu-chan’s wrong about this, I’m going to hold a grudge.
I peddled hard enough my thighs screamed out, finally riding out into an opening. I could see an old factory. From the ten-odd abandoned cars littered around, I could tell it was a decommissioned automobile factory.
In that space surrounded by mountain on all four sides, naturally, signs of human presence were… there.
I could feel a vague presence.
I wonder what it was, that uncanny sensation.
Stepping down from my bicycle, after mulling a few moments over whether I should go on or turn back, I chose to move forward. Pushed on by my curiosity, I made for the factory. One step, another, I put my best foot forward—
The factory exploded.
The explosion rattled my eardrums. A grand uproar spread through the forest trees.
The blast wind hit me head on. My body floated around thirty centimeters off the ground, before depositing me hard on my bottom. Thin roof and glass shards danced through the air, falling around me on the ground. In the factory where only the fortified steel frame remained, a brilliant flame blazed to light up the nearby forest.
“Go to heeeeeell!”
A few tens of meters ahead, a person came flying alongside their scream. Calling it a landing would be an understatement, they collided with the ground. But that human figure stood as if nothing had happened.
It was a woman in peculiar clothing.
Stuck fast to her body, it took on a shape similar to a rider suit. Her left hand was furnished with some mechanical part. Her upper arm looked bare, giving off an impression that she had bought matching gloves with a sleeveless jumpsuit.
“To be caught in a dust explosion… those blasted terrorists really thought this one through.”
She muttered in a husky voice and clicked her tongue. Her hair was brown and cut short. She wore glasses, and the eyes behind them were sharp as a knife. Aged likely somewhere in the early twenties, her body was toned, but not to the point I would call it muscular. Owing to the clothes she was wearing, I could clearly make out the lines of her body.
Hearing the woman cry out, a response came from above. It was a voice I was familiar with. Immediately after, a woman in a similar suit landed beside the glasses woman. While I didn’t want to believe it, I focused my eyes.
“… As I thought.”
It was Orino-san. She was a bit far, but I could tell. On her face lit by the flames, was a seriousness that made it hard to compare her to her normal self.
“Scanning for the location of fleeing foes. I’ll give orders, so use your psychokinesis to throw me in that direction!”
The glasses woman closed her eyes as if to direct her concentration towards herself.
“… Bastards, they all went in different directions. They really did think it through. We’ll have to catch the closest one to draw out some information. Orino! Two o’ clock, 42 degree angle!”
“Got it! Here we go, Kugayama-san!”
Apparently, the glasses woman’s name was Kugayama.
Orino-san held her hands towards the sky. Matching her movements, Kugayama-san shot up into the air like a rocket. Weaseling into the darkness of the night sky, she positioned herself such that I could no longer follow her with my level of eyesight.
Gunfire. Impact. A shriek. Various sounds spilled out into the air.
When I thought the sounds were over, this time, a man came falling down. Awkwardly colliding with the ground, he leaked cries of pain as he painstakingly lifted himself.
“Godforsaken… lab dogs…”
The man started off towards the trees.
“You’re not getting away!”
Orino-san lifted her hand. A single abandoned car floated in the air.
As she swung her hand down, the car pierced into the ground to block off the man’s means of escape. At the feet of the man who lost his escape route, a single line was drawn from the night sky to the earth. With fearsome momentum, the meteorite made impact.
“Aight. That’s a wrap.”
The identity of the meteorite was Kugayama-san. Taking on a blow that utilized the momentum of her fall, the man showed the whites of his eyes and lost consciousness.
“A Team, take this man away. B Team, erase our traces and put out the fire. C Team keep searching for the ones on the run.”
Kugayama-san disinterestedly issued orders, and right after, a large number of black-clad people appeared from the forest. With no wasted movements, they each set out to fulfill their own roles.
“Good work, Kugayama-san.”
As Kugayama-san took a seat on a stump, lighting up a cigarette for a puff, Orino-san approached her.
“Do you think that man will obediently confess the hiding places of his comrades?”
“If he doesn’t, the interrogation will just change to a torture session.”
“… Why did Masaki-san do something like this…”
“No unnecessary thoughts. That guy’s a traitor… don’t make that face, Orino. It’s all part of the job, nothing we can do about it.”
“… You’re right.”
“Let’s pray the man we caught hasn’t undergone anti-mental-interference training. Then we can just use Saijou’s ability to get all the info we need.”
“Saijou-kun, heh… right. For a telepathic special like him, that much should be a midday snack.”
“But rather than the man we caught, looks like there’s another trouble we have to deal with.”
After breathing out the smoke, Kugayama-san directed her sharp hawk-like eye—towards me.
“I can ‘see’ you. Yes you, brat, cowering in the shadow of that tree. Get out here.”
Apparently, I had been completely seen through. I had considered ignoring her to run away, but I got the feeling I’d be caught in no time, so I decided to go out and apologize.
“… W-why Kagoshima… kun…”
When I emerged from the shadow of a large tree, Orino-san looked at me in disbelief.
“Orino. You know him?”
“Y-yes. He’s a classmate from high school.”
An Orino-san who couldn’t conceal her bewilderment, and a blatantly displeased Kugayama-san.
“… Kagoshima-kun. Why are you in a place like this?”
“I wanted to return this to you…”
I took the card out of my pocket and delivered it to Orino-san.
“This is my ID card… I see. So you had it with you.”
“Orino. You dropped your card?”
“Oh, um… yes, I’m sorry.”
“And because of that, a civilian made the trek all the way here… good grief.”
Kugayama-san gave me an evaluating glare. She had a bad look in her eyes, it was honestly terrifying. It felt like I was being held up by a thug. A while later, she breathed an uninterested breath.
“We’re taking him over to Saijou. His memory’s going poof.”
“K-Kugayama-san! Please wait a second. That’s way too high-handed.”
“Even if it’s high-handed, rules are rules. You can’t put locks on human tongues, so erasing memories easiest and quickest. Better than silencing him, isn’t it?”
“But that doesn’t mean…”
Orino-san’s face was tinted with bitterness.
“It’s fine. Saijou-kun’s good at his job. He’ll only erase all the inconvenient stuff.”
“But if you use telepathy to erase his memory, then that’ll delete everything related to today’s incident. And then all of Kagoshima-kun’s memories with me will–”
“Be erased, most likely.” She said matter-of-factly. “Even if they’re not erased, they’ll be influenced for the worse, in some way.”
“I don’t—want that.”
“Don’t be a baby, Orino.” I couldn’t think it came from a woman, that low voice like the growl of a beast. “Don’t mix private matters and work. It’s not like we’re taking his life, just accept it.”
“There are some things I just can’t do.”
“… Oy. You’d better listen to me while I’m still kind.”
Kugayama-san swayed to her feet and—disappeared.
In the next instant as if she had teleported, she appeared behind Orino-san.
What were those movements? Did she move while I blinked?
“You get it, don’t you?” Kugayama-san placed her hands on Orino-san’s shoulders, putting in strength until they grated.
“I don’t get it.” But Orino-san didn’t pull back. She was being stubborn for once.
Kugayama-san clicked her tongue and, “Hey, you,” she looked in my direction. I panicked when the talk was suddenly turned towards me, but I managed out a, “What is it?”
“When did you start watching?”
“From around when the factory exploded…”
“Then you’ve got the general idea of what’s going on, right?”
I nodded. While I only had bits and pieces of info enter my head, I grasped enough to get the whole image. The words ‘Research Facility’ printed on the card. Psychokinesis, telepathy, the psychic jargon being tossed around. So Orino-san was—a member of that sort of organization.
“You saw what you shouldn’t have. So your memory will be erased. Any complaints?”
“Ah, no… um, no matter how you look at it, isn’t this a bit sudden? I’ll need some time to prepare my heart, so if possible, could you give me a moment…?”
“You see how Orino is. If you make her stick up for you any more, her position will go down the drain. You okay with that?”
“Oh, then I’m all yours.”
I answered at once.
“Please, just go and do away with my memory.”
Both Kugayama-san and Orino-san opened their eyes wide in surprise.
Huh? Did I say anything that strange?
“… Kugayama-san. I really am against this.”
“Even if you say that–”
Orino-san suddenly turned towards me. Her eyes were the epitome of seriousness.
“Please calm down and listen.”
After a deep, deep breath, Orino-san gave a soft smile and spoke.
“This is a movie.”
“At this very moment, we are filming a movie. We just thought we’d try teasing you a bit. Threatening to erase your memory and such.”
“… Oy, Orino. Do you seriously think that…”
“Oh, so it was a movie.”
I believed her. I believed without the slightest hesitation.
My brain was not furnished with the function to hold Orino-san in doubt.
“We really had you for a minute there. Ufufu.”
“You got me good. Ahahaha.”
I see, so it was a movie. That explains everything.
You see explosion scenes in movies all the time.
Flying through the air and such, that was all wire action.
The card Orino-san dropped was a prop.
There were plenty of other things I didn’t really get, but, well, that must’ve been CG or something. I heard CGI’s amazing these days.
“I’m helping out with this college movie club, you see, and they’re making an independent movie.”
“An independent movie with an explosion scene!?”
What sort of deep-pocketed comrades do they have? Did they properly get permission?
“… Oy, what’s with this retard?”
“He is a man who knows the wonders of believing in people.”
“Sounds like he’d get conned penniless three steps out the door.”
The two quietly whispered about me. I’m pretty sure they were praising me. Yeah, let’s leave it at that. Eventually, Kugayama-san shifted her sights to me.
“Oy, you, stick out your head for a second.”
“Eh? I don’t want to.”
I thought she was going to smack me, so I firmly denied.
“Ah, you’re a real pain. I’m not hitting you, just get over here. Chop chop.”
Hearing that, I reluctantly leaned forward. Kugayama-san touched her hand to my forehead.
“… I thought you were just arbitrarily getting your story straight, but this guy seriously thinks we’re making a movie. He’s got quite a merry head on his shoulders, this one.”
Unveiling a line as if she had read the contents of my head, she returned to her seat on the stump.
“Huh? Come to think of it, Orino-san. Isn’t it strange that you’re still called Orino while filming? If it’s a movie, shouldn’t they be calling you by your character’s name?”
Orino-san made a troubled face as if she wanted to say, I never expected him to question the finer details.
“In the script, Orino isn’t a last name, it’s just my name. Orino, see. It just happened to be the same by pure chance. Truly, it’s an amazing coincidence.”
“A wonderful coincidence. Then what about Kugayama-san? I doubt two people could have the same names as their characters by coincidence…”
“Um… now, now, Kugayama-san. Your real name, if you will.”
“Hell if I know.” Said Kugayama-san (stage name) looking too fed-up to say anything else. Groaning an urrgh, Orino-san looked up at the sky for salvation. And as if hit with a flash of inspiration, she clapped her hands and turned back to me.
(TL: This loosely translates to Starrysky Sparklepants)
That sounded like the name of an idol from a bygone era. First we have Kagurai Monyumi-senpai, and now this? Are there really so many people with pitiful names out there? My Akira is actually starting to look decent.
“Orino! You think this is a game, do you!? No matter how you cut it, that’s not going to fly!”
“I-I’m sorry. I couldn’t think of anything on the spot.”
“You don’t have to be conscious about it, Kirako-san!” I frantically went around to follow through for her.
“I think it’s a splendid and individualistic name!”
Kugayama—I mean Kirako-san made a face as if she was chewing on something sour. After clicking her tongue in what seemed like displeasure from the depths of her heart, she turned her back to us.
“Not my business, not going to deal with it. Orino. You take responsibility and do something about that man.”
Leaving those words, she walked off with long stride. She headed to where the movie staff were stationed, and exchanging words with those people, she hopped aboard a sturdy-looking truck. I’m sure the camera, and lights, and other filming equipment were inside it.
“… She’s really putting her all into that role, that Kirako-san. It truly does feel like she’s your commanding officer.”
When I said that, Orino-san lightly muttered, “I’m really sorry, Kugayama-san…”
Around ten minutes after Kirako-san and the rest of the film crew left, “And wait, they just left us here! What about my clothes!? They made off with them!” Orino-san gained an awareness of the dangerous situation she was in. Apparently, her change of clothing was in the truck. Calling them back at this point didn’t seem wise, which meant we would be climbing down the mountain on foot.
Pushing my bike along, we walked side by side down the gravel path.
I asked about the movie. Orino-san seemed to be putting considerable energy into the project, so I thought the topic might be able to liven her up. But Orino-san just made a dubious smile I couldn’t put into words. It was the sort of smile furnished with the strength and kindness and wish to keep someone uninvolved with the matter.
“To summarize it…”
Research on psychic powers was carried out in secret, in a certain research facility. Its scope reached around the world and its main branch was in America. Based on the results of their research, superpowers were merely something obtained when those genetically predisposed were faced with a trigger that awakened them. The facility constructed a system to select those with the talent and was developing a process to awaken their latent abilities and train them. But the training method was in name alone, truthfully all they were doing was restructuring their bodies.
The training method was divided into two patterns, special and general.
“This is kinda sounding like the parameters in a training game. Like do you want to make a power type or speed type, or perhaps even a balanced type.”
“A game, huh… right. Maybe the researchers just see it all as a game.”
Orino-san’s expression darkened, she gave a self-deprecating laugh.
“I’m a psychokinesis special. I can’t use any other powers. I can lift items up to five hundred and sixty-three point two kilograms. The radius in which I can use my abilities is within one hundred and three point four meters—is my character.”
Those were some considerably specific numerical parameters she was given. Would that really come into play in the movie’s main story?
“Kugayama-sa… I mean Kirako-san is a general. Psychokinesis, telepathy, teleport, clairvoyance, etc. She can use most abilities equally. The output of each individual power isn’t that high, but she’s got more ways to apply them, and no weaknesses. My commanding officer—is her part.”
The two of them were superior and subordinate—was the setting, apparently.
But there was something bothering me more than those detailed plot details.
“… Is the work you’re producing fifteen plus?”
“Mn? Why are you asking?”
“No… I mean, that suit is…”
When I pointed it out, Orino-san’s face turned red as she hid her body with both hands.
“T-this ‘Drive Suit’ is a culmination of the latest advancements in scientific technology! It’s made in the form most easy to move around in, and the microcomputers embedded all over it measure its wearer’s brainwaves to provide support tailored to everyone’s individual abilities—is the setting…”
It’s a movie, so they should be more accommodating. I’m sure the one who designed it was a man. Even so, Orino-san’s bust was larger than I thought: wasn’t the full destructive power of her bulge only emphasized further by that drive suit something or another?
I couldn’t tell when she was in uniform, but was this that so-called hidden valley trope? Exquisite.
“Erk… in battle—no, I mean, when filming, the adrenaline is pumping, so you don’t notice it but… now that I’m looking at it, this suit really is quite embarrassing, isn’t it…”
“I think you look good in it.”
“… That doesn’t make me happy.”
A woman’s heart is complicated.
I was only half-listening to the rest of the summary she gave, so it didn’t really remain in my head. A psychic who fled the facility gathered comrades to form a terrorist cell, and in order to hunt him down, the facility threw them into live combat or something; to put it roughly, it was something like that.
I’ll be blunt, it wasn’t my sort of movie.
“I just like mysteries and romances more than action.”
“… That so.”
I wonder why Orino-san clenched her fist as if holding back her rage.