Chapter 2: Love Letter
Asaba screamed. Iriya dropped the rifle that she was holding out. In a panic, Asaba looked around frantically, and noticed for the first time that there was a phone fixed to the inner right wall. A red lamp was flashing in sync with the telephone’s ringing. Iriya simply stared at the blinking red lamp, with her eyes wide open. Left with no other choice, Asaba picked up the cordless telephone receiver.
Asaba expected to hear, “Surrender now,” in crappy Japanese, but contrary to his expectations, the man on the other line spoke proper Japanese. Moreover, the other person immediately guessed his name just upon hearing Asaba’s voice.
“Oh! Asaba!? It’s me, it’s me. Enomoto.”
“Enomoto?” Asaba thought.
It was an unfamiliar name; but it was a familiar voice.
The other end of the line seemed to be at a boisterous location. Asaba could hear a commotion in the background, like the kind a huge crowd makes when they complete a difficult task. Someone yelled out in the background, “Nami-saaan, we got through, we got through! Maann, great job guys. Got it, got it, I’ll take you out, treat you to whatever you want.”
“Heey. Hello, Asaba? Can you hear me? We forcibly connected to your line using our emergency lines. Say something.”
“Uh, um, who are you trying to reach?”
“Huh?? Hey, what’s with that? Remember? We met at the pool two nights ago, right? Did I not introduce myself back then?”
“No, you didn’t,” Asaba thought.
He immediately remembered. That mysterious man that suddenly appeared by the pool at night, who introduced himself as “something of an older brother,” and told that story about that angry old janitor. He had droopy eyes, and had a face that looked like he was the type to tell dirty jokes and laugh out loud at them by alone. That face began to grin in his mind.
“Maaan, we were completely stumped. We were so surprised when the system over where you guys are suddenly had its root code altered. Then Shiina contacted us. Iriya mistook the drill siren for a real Level One warning and forcibly dragged you along, right? You okay? You still a virgin?”
Asaba felt his body go limp. He was so relieved that his vision started to dim.
“It was a drill, after all. There’s no way that war would break out,” he thought. “Akiho, Nishikubo, Hanamura, the President… everyone’s safe.”
“Sorry for all the trouble. I mean, Iriya’s lived in the base ever since she was little, and trained professionals would never set off something dangerous like a Level One warning in the first place, even for drills. Can’t really blame her for being completely shocked at that.”
“Oh.” Asaba’s mouth wasn’t functioning very well. “It’s really, really a drill, right?”
“Yup. The world is completely at peace. Everyone over here is alive and kicking.”
“‘Over here?’ Where are you?”
“At the Sonohara Command Post. Hey, we did everything we could on our end, but Iriya went and locked down the bulkhead, so you’re gonna have to hang tight there for a little while. Sorry about that. But you don’t really mind, right? You got food, booze, and smokes. Put Iriya on.”
Asaba turned around. Iriya was standing directly behind him.
“It was a drill after all,” Asaba said.
Iriya silently took the telephone receiver. Her conversation, which consisted of her quietly repeating, “yes, understood,” over and over, lasted about three minutes. From where Asaba was standing, it seemed more like she was just one-sidedly receiving instructions. She quietly returned the receiver to the phone.
Then, Iriya crumpled to the floor.
Asaba thought that she was so relieved that she wasn’t able to remain standing.
“Thank God it wasn’t really war though, right? I thought it was all over earlier—” Asaba began.
Iriya was crouched down on the floor. Her shoulders were trembling.
Iriya was crying.
Asaba was instantaneously taken aback. He had no idea why Iriya was crying, nor did he have any idea what he should say. All he could do was pace back and forth restlessly.
“U-um, Iriya, hey, are you okay?”
Iriya’s voice was barely audible. She was quietly crying. Her tears dripped down onto her skirt. For every tear that fell, Asaba panicked and wanted to do something, but he had no idea what he should do. He thought that patting her on the back once or twice would help comfort her, and reached out his hand. However, right then, he saw the automatic rifle slung over Iriya’s shoulder.
Iriya spoke quietly. “If only it was a real airstrike,” she said. “If only everyone died. If only we lost.”
Asaba opened his mouth several times, but in the end, he was unable to utter a single word. Time slowly ticked by.
Asaba wasn’t aware of her circumstances. “Even if I ask her, she probably won’t answer me,” he thought.
He simply stood there. He was facing a girl who couldn’t stop crying, who was muttering, “if only everyone died,” with the sling of an automatic rifle digging into the shoulder of her middle school uniform. He had no idea what was going on, and felt like he shouldn’t lightly say things like, “it’ll be okay,” or “cheer up.”
Asaba stood stone-footed. He had no idea what to do. Iriya was hugging her knees. Time was slowly ticking by.