Chapter 2: Love Letter
“It’s so obvious,” Asaba thought to himself.
“She’s an alien. The President was right, after all. Sonohara Base is a UFO base. It’s a place where UFOs from the outer reaches of space come to land in secret. Aliens and government bigwigs are talking at the same table. No doubt the government bigwigs are hell-bent on getting their hands on advanced alien technology, in order to prepare for the impending outbreak of war. However, the aliens respond, in a voice that sounds as if they had inhaled helium gas, with something like, ‘The moment humanity abandons war and achieves world peace, all of our technology will be provided to you, and Earth will be welcomed as a member of the galactic community.’ It’s the same in every book. For some reason aliens really care about peace on Earth. No doubt the aliens are having that very same conversation with the bigwigs up North too. That’s also the reason why we always seem to be on the brink of war, and yet it never comes. For both sides, alien technology holds the possibility of becoming their decisive ace in the hole. Both sides are thinking that if they’re going to start a conflict, then they’ll do it after getting the technology. After a drawn-out deadlock, the aliens have finally made their move. They’ve dispatched countless agents disguised as humans to every possible corner of human society. They have one mission: to confirm directly with their own eyes humanity’s true nature. Is humanity a peace loving and intelligent race? Or is it a barbaric race completely absorbed in killing one another? If the result of the investigation turns out to be the latter, then Earth will instantly be smashed into atoms by the UFO’s super weapon. That’s definitely it. That girl, introducing herself as Iriya, is also one of those agents.
The one in charge of ‘middle school students.’”
It was like he couldn’t remember a thing that went on during class.
The second period bell rang, Iizuka returned to the graveyard, and the mess of numbers on the board was wiped away by the blackboard eraser. However, Asaba was unable to pull himself from his swamp of thoughts. He stared at the white nothingness of his blank notebook, which he had opened but ended up not writing a single letter in. Carelessly holding his cheap mechanical pencil, he remained unable to move. Alone, Asaba felt removed from passing period and from reality. He was glued to his chair beside the window, like a poorly made collage. No matter what he did, he couldn’t erase the words, “Iriya Kana,” that were now engraved upon the blackboard of his mind.
“Hey, Asaba!” Someone poked his forehead. Hanamura appeared before him. Sitting backwards in his chair, he overdramatically leaned forward and giggled, peering at Asaba’s face from below. “What’s with you, spacing out like that? Could it be that? Are you interested in the new transfer student?”
Well, Asaba couldn’t really say that he was entirely wrong. But it wasn’t the type of interest that Hanamura was thinking of. “S-Shut up.”
Nishikubo suddenly placed his hands on Asaba’s shoulders. “Well, whatever you do, don’t get too carried away. You’ll get stabbed by Sudou if you do something like invite her to the Newspaper Club.”
Asaba became even more flustered. Shaking himself loose from Nishikubo’s hands, Asaba responded, “A-Akiho isn’t—“
Hanamura propped up his chin with his hands. Grinning faintly, he eyed the back of the room with a lewd expression. “Nah, no way. She’s not the Newspaper Club type, let alone the ‘Sonohara Radio Wave’ type.”
Nishikubo followed Hanamura’s gaze, and muttered, “Well, I guess so.”
Asaba secretly summoned up courage from the depths of his stomach. He raised his face, and slowly turned around to the back of the classroom.
There she was.
He looked to the far end of the classroom, to the second seat from the side facing the hallway. Next to that seat, there was a “third seat from the side facing the hallway” that didn’t exist up until just an hour ago. Iriya was sitting there. She was neither a dream nor an illusion. She was just sitting there. She wasn’t doing anything. There wasn’t anything on her desk, yet she stared intently at it, hardly blinking at all. She had an aura of an animal that provided no resistance upon being captured, yet never became accustomed to its captors.
“My name is Iriya Kana.”
“Ahh, everyone, listen to this surprising story. Iriya-kun is a returnee student1,” 35-year-old bachelor Kawaguchi Taizou stated, standing next to Iriya. In a flat tone of voice that sounded like he was performing an autopsy, Kawaguchi provided a thorough explanation of Iriya’s past. He explained how her parents had already passed away, how she was living together with her brother who worked with the JASDF, how because of that she lived in an overseas military base for an extended period, how she took the opportunity to return to Japan when her brother transferred to Sonohara, and how they currently live in the residential zone in Sonohara Base. “Oh, that’s right, I forgot. There’s no desk for her. Hey, class monitor, run down to the supply room and bring back a chair and a desk. Ahh, and that’s how it is, so there are things that Iriya-kun will still not be used to in a Japanese school. I’d like for everyone to give her plenty of advice and encouragement. Understood?”
Asaba didn’t understand.
Kawaguchi’s explanation didn’t sound like a complete lie to Asaba. However, his explanation didn’t fit at all with the incident last night at the pool. The terribly noisy sirens of the patrol cars at the beginning, the image of Iriya’s slender shoulders as she gazed intently at the surface of the water, the appearance of the mysterious man who introduced himself as her brother, the group of men dressed in black surrounding the pool, the gap in his memory concerning what happened after that,
And, now hidden by wristbands, those silver—
‘You want to lick it?’
“I wonder if electricity tastes like anything when you lick it.”
Hanamura and Nishikubo glanced at each other after hearing Asaba’s mumbling, and responded at the same time, “Haah?” “Huh? Ah, umm…”
From behind, with both hands, Nishikubo pushed open Asaba’s hair where it was parted. “Yo, you sure your brain didn’t get fried too while you were up there in the mountains?”
Shaking himself loose from Nishikubo’s hands, he answered, “Knock it off, you idiot.”
At that moment, Hanamura said, “Whoa, check it out. What class are those guys from? Are rumors spreading around already?”
A group of male students from some other class were peeking in from the entrance of the classroom. They were eyeing Iriya intensely with longing eyes.
Hanamura snickered, “They look like they had the wind knocked out of their sails.”
Upon hearing that, Nishikubo suddenly remembered something. “I see, so that’s what it was. I just remembered. Those guys are probably from Class 1.”
Asaba and Hanamura both had puzzled expressions.
“I mean, they really did have the wind knocked out of their sails. Do you guys know this guy named Mogami from Class 1? I’m a friend of his.”
Asaba shook his head. Hanamura answered, “Don’t know him.”
Nishikubo continued quickly, “Before summer vacation he was bragging about it. About how there would be a girl transfer student coming in after break ended.”
Hanamura reacted before Asaba did, and said, “Wait. So Iriya was actually supposed to be transferred into Class 1?”
“Probably. Just earlier, Kawaguchi didn’t have her desk ready and had to send the class monitor to go get one. If they really did plan on having her transfer into this class, don’t you think they’d normally prepare at least a desk in advance? There’s definitely some kind of reason that caused them to change their plans.”
“What kind of reason?”
“How should I know that?”
‘Some kind of reason.’ Those four simple words felt incredibly heavy to Asaba right then. His head hung under the immense weight, and again, horrifying notions planted themselves within his mind. A sickening sweat silently crept down the middle of his back.
“Maybe the reason was the pool incident last night, after all,” Asaba thought to himself. “If that were the case, then maybe I was designated as Iriya’s ‘number one vital research subject’ because I was ‘the first middle school student that she met,’ or something like that. Every single move I make might control the fate of humanity. Oh man, what should I do? If they have to do research, I wish they’d do it on someone else. On someone like Nishikubo. Maybe not on Hanamura though. If the President were chosen to be the research subject, humanity would be annihilated in less than five seconds.”
Nishikubo and Hanamura, ignoring Asaba’s plight, stared at Iriya and commented, “She’s kind of a strange girl.”
“She’s cute, so it’s no problem.”
“Maybe she’s not too good at speaking Japanese.”
“She’s cute, so it’s no problem.”
“W-Whoa. Hey, check it out. They’re going for a full frontal assault. As expected of the Class Rep-sama.”
Asaba couldn’t ignore what was going on. Instinctively turning around, he saw an allied fleet of four friendly girls, led by a flagship commanded by Nakagomi Makiko, Class Representative of Class 2-4, boldly advancing towards “Iriya Island” through the sea of desks, chairs, and whispers. Iriya keenly picked up on the emergence of the “enemies.” She suddenly raised her head when they broke past the three desks between her and them, and fixed her gaze directly upon Nakagomi, with a completely unreadable expression. Yet despite that, Nakagomi didn’t falter. Everyone around them followed the transpiring events from the corner of their eye, lowering their voices as to not miss a moment of the conversation. The din of passing period melted from the classroom. Asaba looked on apprehensively, mumbling to himself, “Cut it out, Nakagomi. What do you think you’re doing to our planet Earth?”
Nakagomi stood in front of Iriya. She began to speak, “U-Um.” She stalled. Nakagomi quietly took a deep breath, and put on a smile that felt considerably forced. “I’m Nakagomi Makiko. I’m the Class Rep, so if there’s anything you’re unsure of, feel free to ask me.”
Iriya remained completely silent.
Even Nakagomi wavered. The other three girls frantically tried to follow up. In a makeshift attempt to recover, they began introducing themselves one after the other and attacked in waves. “Where did you used to live?” “I’m really bad with English. Can you teach me?” “I also transferred here when I was in elementary school.” “Is your brother a cool guy?”
Iriya cast her eyes downward.
It was as if seeing that fanned the feelings of “we need to do something” within Nakagomi’s group, and even more words flew forth in rapid succession. Despite that, Iriya remained reticent. The four of them only talking to Iriya left long moments of silence where they didn’t know what to do, so they soon began conversations among themselves, occasionally turning to Iriya to ask her, “Right?” But every time they asked her, Iriya fled deeper and deeper into the trenches. Nakagomi’s group, in pursuing her, soon lost sight of when to quit. It felt like an eternity. But in reality, the time slowly ticking by was about the same length as going to the bathroom and coming back. Much like the feeling in the pit of your stomach when you watch something cringeworthy, Asaba felt like watching this was causing his hair to turn completely white.
Finally, Iriya raised her face.
The Nakagomi group’s conversations ceased. The entire classroom was very conspicuously observing Iriya’s next actions. Iriya shrank from the silence and intense stares. Iriya’s eyes were like that of a drowning child, and she desperately searched around the classroom. Before long, her eyes stopped when she found the seat by the window.
The classroom began to stir.
It was obvious to the entire class.
Iriya was clearly staring at Asaba, her eyes practically begging for help.
“Hey,” Hanamura muttered quietly. Nishikubo looked at Asaba from the corner of his eye.
But Asaba remained silent. Putting down the mechanical pencil that he had been holding since second period, he quietly pulled out his chair and slowly stood up. Standing right in the middle of all of the attention that had shifted to him from Iriya, Asaba declared, to no one in particular,
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
1. 帰国子女: person who has returned to his/her home country after spending time overseas.