Chapter 4 - Land with a Sundial
It was springtime. A lone motorrad was making its way through the mountains.
On either side of the road were forested hills, standing one behind another. They stretched as far as the eye could see, beautiful green curves against the blue daytime sky.
Branches were slowly beginning to overgrow with green with the coming season. They cast still bony shadows upon the narrow mountain road they covered.
The motorrad, laden with traveling gear atop and on either side of its back wheel, slowly made its way forward, scattering light and shadow in its trail.
The rider was a young human in her mid teens. She was wearing a black jacket, a hat with flaps over the ears, and a worn, silver-rimmed pair of goggles.
Around her waist was a thick belt, and over her right thigh was a hand persuader. Inside the leather holster was a high-caliber revolver.
The motorrad crawled up the firm dirt roads and spoke to his rider.
"That's right. It's important not to go too fast on the mountains. If we happen to make just one bad turn, we might go flying right off a cliff. We were really lucky just now."
"I'm sorry." The rider apologized, embarrassed.
"Anyway, Kino, about the country we're going to… Does it really exist?"
The rider called Kino, looked straight ahead and answered, slightly confused.
"What are you saying, Hermes? We're climbing this mountain to get there because it exists."
"I guess I'm trying to say I don't know if the country they told us about could really exist." The motorrad called Hermes replied.
"I get it."
Kino nodded, and slowed Hermes down even more. They edged past a left turn bordering a steep downward slope, then sped up again. The uphill road continued to twist up the mountain for some distance.
"A land with a sundial, huh?" Kino mumbled. "It's still pretty unbelievable. I can't imagine how an entire country would be one gigantic clock."
"Maybe we've been had?" Hermes asked. Kino did not look concerned.
"That doesn't matter. We'll visit either way, and if the rumours weren't true…"
"Then it'll be time for some good food!" Kino answered immediately.
"I knew it." Hermes muttered.
They rode through several mountains. The sun was now set lower than the brim of Kino's hat.
Kino and Hermes rode all the way to the top of a long incline and stood upon a crest--the peak of the mountain.
They looked down at the country and let out a simultaneous cry of astonishment.
Kino stopped Hermes and shut off the engine. She took off her goggles so that she could get a good look at the sight before them.
On the other side of the ridge was a vast hollow filled with lush green trees. Their destination was at the centre of it all.
Like most countries, this land was encircled by walls. The sheer size of the hollow made it look rather small in comparison, but up close, the size of the enclosure was enormous. Though humans probably could not climb these walls without a great deal of effort, from afar they looked like tiny bricks around a small garden.
In the middle of the country was a circular dome. It looked rather like a large switch situated at the centre of the country.
And jutting out from that dome was a long, thin, triangular structure that pointed northward.
It was angled at about forty degrees from the ground. The long thin shape made it look rather like a measure. It was white, and there were no decorations or designs upon its surface. The tip of the triangle was jutting out slightly from the country's walls.
From the size of the country, it was plain that the structure was on a different scale from mere buildings--it was the size of a small mountain.
The circular walls and the triangle looked uncannily like a sundial one might find at a park. A shadow was cast over the interior of the country by the setting sun.
"Kino, they were telling the truth."
"Yeah. It really does exist…"
"That's one big building. I bet thousands of people could live inside it. Though there aren't any windows."
"What is it for…? Is it really a sundial?"
"Why not? It's angled in line with the latitudes."
"I really want to see it up close. And I'd be even happier if I could get an explanation." Kino said, putting on her goggles again and starting the engine.
It was a long ride from the mountain to the country.
Kino and Hermes made their way to the bottom of the hollow and began riding through a flat patch of forest. The great white triangle began to loom over them more and more from beyond the branches that canopied over the road.
By the time the sky was dyed red by the dusk, Kino and Hermes had finally arrived at the easter gate. They could no longer see the great triangle, which was hidden behind the high walls.
Kino stopped Hermes and greeted the guard who came out of the checkpoint.
The guard, who was holding a rifle, carefully looked over Kino and Hermes, then searched their belongings.
He made sure that Kino was not carrying enough explosives to level a building, wireless communication devices, or visual recorders, and spoke.
"We will grant you permission for a three-day stay. However, as long as you are in our country, you must be accompanied by our guide and do as they say."
Kino agreed to the terms. She was granted entry to the country.
The gates opened, and the guard accompanied Kino and Hermes inside.
Directly inside were fields used for farming. They were desolate, not a single thing growing from the soil.
Beyond the fields were houses. Beyond the houses were large buildings. And beyond the buildings was a gigantic triangle, which was blocking out most of the sky to their right. The sun was setting behind it.
"So is it really a sundial?" Kino wondered.
That was when a small rusted truck that had seen too much use drove up and stopped in front of them.
A young woman in a business suit disembarked. She greeted the guard and addressed Kino and Hermes. She introduced herself as their guide around the country. The woman wore glasses, her beautiful features locked in an expression as cold as ice.
Kino greeted her back.
"I will lead you to your quarters. Please load the motorrad onto the back of the truck. We must hurry--the sun is already setting. You must have a lot of questions, but please wait until tomorrow morning." The woman said mechanically.
Kino nodded, and pushed Hermes onto the truck via a folding ramp. She secured him tightly with a length of rope so he would not topple over.
Kino sat on the passenger seat on the left side of the truck as they drove into the country on smooth paved roads. As its exterior made clear, the truck itself was old and uncomfortable. But there was a large monitor attached beside the driver's seat.
The guide said nothing all throughout the drive. Kino also kept quiet.
By the time the sun set and darkness began creeping into the sky, Kino and Hermes arrived at a hotel on the corner of a large street lined with buildings. the great triangle was sticking out of the ground to their west.
"I will return tomorrow morning. There is a curfew in effect, and so you are forbidden from leaving the hotel form this point forth. We will not be responsible if you step outside and are arrested. I'm afraid we cannot provide you with dinner due to the time. If you'll excuse me." The guide explained coldly, and left.
The hotel room was large, but plain. It was furnished with only the bare essentials. Kino unloaded the luggage from Hermes.
She chewed down her portable rations, which had the consistency of drying clay, and spoke with Hermes.
"Did you notice, Kino? All the houses and buildings here are basically mass-produced copies."
"Yeah. It felt like we were going through a full-sized model, or a looping street. Except for that." Kino said, looking towards the shut curtains.
"They didn't put a lot of effort into the buildings in this country. Except for that." Hermes said.
"We'll have to ask about it tomorrow. I think I'll just go to sleep for today. Good night."
Finishing her dinner, Kino lay down on the cheap bed framed in iron piping and fell asleep.
"You know, Kino, they say going to sleep right after you eat turns you into a bug." Hermes advised, but Kino did not answer.
As her quiet breathing filled the room--
"That's exactly what I'm talking about!" Hermes said to himself.
The next day, Kino woke up at sunrise.
After doing some light warm-ups in her large room, she practiced shooting with her revolver [Cannon]. She then took it apart to clean it.
The water in the shower was lukewarm. Kino was a bit disappointed, but washed herself anyway.
Kino opened the curtains. At that very moment, the sun rose over the hills and shone upon the great white structure. The light reflecting off it instantly illuminated the room.
"It's so bright, Kino."
"It is. But it's not too bad. It spared me the trouble of trying to wake you up."
"I wonder what that is."
"Me too. I'm looking forward to finding out.”
The bellboy brought Kino breakfast. Her meal consisted of a small, hard piece of bread, and a very watery bowl of soup. It was practically prison food.
"I'm terribly sorry, traveler, but please understand that we're not discriminating against you. Currently, all of our citizens are subsisting on these meals." The Bellboy apologized.
"I see. I noticed that the fields were in a rather unfortunate state. A bad harvest this year?"
"I'm afraid not. I can't tell you myself, so let me just say that it's all for a greater cause. Our guide will give you a clear explanation. I'm sure you'll be floored. Please look forward to it." the bellboy said, leaving the room.
"I guess this is edible." Kino said, eating her humble breakfast.
She was just about finished eating when someone knocked on her door again.
"Good morning, Miss Kino! Did you sleep well last night? Look! Today is going to be a wonderful day! Right this way!"
It was the ver same guide from yesterday, but on her face was a beautiful smile that made her look like a completely different person. The tone of her was bright and cheery.
Kino said nothing.
"Um, who are you?" Hermes asked.
Kino loaded Hermes onto the back of the guide's truck and climbed into the passenger seat.
The sky was a clear blue, but there was a strong wind blowing in from the west. Great grey clouds loomed overhead in that direction.
The guide started the old truck. There were no other vehicles on the streets that morning. In fact, there were no people walking on the streets at all.
"It's very quiet." Hermes said from behind the window that opened into the back of the truck.
"Yes, and I'll explain to you just why that is very shortly!" The smiling guide said cheerfully.
"Where will you be taking us?" Kino asked.
"I'm sure it's quite obvious to you. Right over there!" The guide answered. Kino looked ahead, towards the great white triangle glowing in the morning sun.
"Are you going to tell us about it?" Hermes asked from the back.
"Absolutely! The President has just granted us permission to disclose the truth! Now we can declare its purpose proudly. You're quite fortunate that you only arrived yesterday!"
"That's amazing. Clap clap clap." Hermes sounded out his applause.
"So what is that triangle?" Kino asked. The guide glanced at her.
"What do you think it is?" She asked proudly.
"The hand of a large sundial."
"I see… so it really does look that way to you? We've heard the same from other travelers who visited us in the past."
The guide visibly trembled with excitement at Kino and Hermes' answer.
"Ohhhhh…!" She shook, squeezing out her voice as though no longer unable to hold back her joy.
"So we haven't been found out yet! Excellent! This is marvelous!"
"What do you mean?"
"That large triangle is, in fact, not a sundial! We've actually been spreading misinformation among travelers and merchants visiting us, telling them 'This is a sundial used in a traditional ceremony in our country'! For fifty years, since we first began construction! It seems like our plan was a success! This is wonderful!"
"I see… So what was the reason for all this secrecy?"
"And what is that thing?"
"I'll get to that now! We're here."
The truck stopped at the southern part of the large dome at the centre of the country. A great many people were gathered at the city square, built in a semicircle around the dome. All kinds of people, from elders and young people to men and women were there, all dressed in ragged work clothes.
"No wonder the streets were empty. There must be tens of thousands of people here. Maybe even hundreds of thousands." Hermes said.
"That's right. The entire country has gathered here for this historic moment."
Security officials led the truck through the crowd. They stopped before the large podium and stage set up in the square.
Behind the stage, where a line of microphones were set up, was a broad street and a multitude of people. And behind them all was the great structure.
From the south, Kino and Hermes could see that the structure's width was surprisingly thin, much thinner than its side made it seem to be. Even still, it looked to be about as thick as most other buildings around it.
"Look! The inauguration ceremony's starting. Watch carefully!" The guide said, still sitting in the truck.
As Kino and Hermes watched from the passenger seat and truck bed respectively, the ceremony began. The band played a fanfare as the crowd cheered loudly enough to shake the ground. Soon, an elderly man in a suit stepped up to the podium.
"Here, you can see better this way." The guide said, turning on the monitor by the driver's seat. The screen crackled for a moment before blinking on to display the man at the podium. The Emcee spoke.
[Now, for the President's speech.]
The President quieted the crowd with a wave of his hands and began his speech.
[Everyone! This is a historic moment!] He began, and continued for a very long time. He spoke of the greatness of this country's people, the hard work undertaken by the citizens, and the great sacrifices they endured. The speech went very slowly thanks in part to the fact that the crowd cheered at the end of each of his sentences.
"I'm bored." Hermes said quietly, making sure he would go unnoticed by the guide, who would occasionally take off her glasses to wipe the tears from her eyes.
[And now, for the moment you've all been waiting for! This is the fruit of our efforts! The key to our bright, shining future!]
An even louder rumble of cheers shook the air as the crowd turned away from the President, all looking in the same direction. Before their eyes was the great white triangle.
There was another rouse of fanfare, and a dramatic pounding of drums.
"We now officially reveal…"
"Ooh, what's going to happen?"
[Behold!] The President said, and the drum stopped.
The white triangle split open.
The triangle opened up like a set of curtains, before Kino's eyes. Great white outer walls came off the sides of the triangle, leaning east and west.
The object hidden behind the walls emerged into the sunlight.
Protected by the walls was a long, thin, cylinder. It stuck out of the dome diagonally, pointing at the sky. Though the shape made it seem otherwise, the cylinder was actually rather thick--about as wide as a two-lane tunnel. And just like the walls, it was white.
The cylinder had segments that jutted out from its form, looking rather like a bamboo stalk. At regular intervals there were short sections where the cylinder was about twice its regular thickness. There were about thirty of these segments in total.
Under the cylinder were dozens of thick pillars built provide steady support.
The outer walls that had been encasing the cylinder and the pillars silently tilted over. They cast their shadows over the buildings and houses underneath.
"Huh? What about the houses under the walls?" Hermes asked.
"They'll be crushed, most likely." The guide said nonchalantly. At that very instant, the two triangular walls fell over sideways and crushed the buildings underneath them in the blink of an eye.
There was a deafening roar, followed by a great tremor, followed by an even louder roar of cheers.
The great dust cloud produced by the impact covered them. soon, a powerful breeze carried the dust away towards the east.
"Is this all right? Many people must have lost their homes."
"Absolutely. I'll explain why soon."
As the crowd roared in excitement, Kino looked at the image displayed on the screen. She looked upon the profile of the mysterious cylinder and spoke to the guide.
"So this is what you were hiding…"
"Yes! Can you tell what it is?"
Kino looked at the cylinder, back at its image on the monitor, and thought for a moment.
The cylinder jutted into the sky at an angle, longer than the radius of the country.
"…I'm not sure." Kino surrendered.
"That's not surprising!" The guide beamed, and looked behind her at Hermes. "What about you, Hermes? I get the feeling you might know what it is."
"Actually, I just figured it out. But is it okay for me to tell Kino?"
Kino looked at Hermes. Hermes revealed the answer.
"Kino, that's a cannon."
"A cannon? As in, it shoots projectiles into the distance? Are you sure, Hermes?"
"Hermes is absolutely right! This is our country's pride and joy, an ultra-large cannon! We've poured all of our resources into this weapon--the key to our bright future!"
The guide used the same metaphor as the President as she spoke as though giving a speech.
All around them, the crowd sang a song praising their country, overcome by emotion.
"Our country has been unfairly discriminated against." The guide said, the tears in her eyes hidden behind her glasses. The chorus of the crowds continued behind her.
"Is it because we are in the middle of nowhere? Other countries around us would not even look at our land. Even though we are the greatest country in the world, made up of the greatest people in the world, the rest of humanity refused to acknowledge us."
"Oh… of course."
Kino and Hermes agreed with her idly, not asking what was so great about anything.
With the grand chorus serving as a background, the guide continued with a tone resembling a stage actor.
"And so, our country decided to exercise our right to avenge ourselves upon the world that refused to face us!"
"Oh… of course."
"And in order to create a plan, we selected talented people from among us to scout out other countries. Many of them did not return--perhaps they were captured as spies. But! One group in particular managed to bring back magnificent data from the ruins of a country in the south! This was exactly fifty-one years ago!"
"And the result is that cannon?"
"That's right! They had brought back the plans for this ultra-large cannon! The plans said, 'This cannon can hit any point on this planet'. Isn't it a magnificent weapon? At the moment of its completion, the rest of the world will have no choice but to bow down before us!"
"So that's why you built this cannon?"
"Absolutely! It became a top-priority national project, taking precedence over everything else. Our people abandoned all leisure and entertainment, and worked as one for the country! It took a very long time--our grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, and mothers gave their entire lives for the country! Many people endured all kinds of pain. Houses were built with the bare minimum of necessities, and excess of any sort was outlawed. We ended up minimizing our agricultural sector so much that we went into a dire food shortage. Many people passed away of illness. Our average lifespan also went down. Even still, we persevered in the face of hardship!"
"That's why my meal was…"
"I get it."
"However! Now that the cannon is complete, that is no longer relevant! From now on, our country is free to do whatever it pleases! After all, we can demand everything we ever want from the world that looked its nose down at us so! The riches of the world will be brought to us! All we have to do is relax and give orders! And fools who try to resist will be faced with justice!"
The chorus ended just as the guide finished her speech.
As the crowds applauded, the President spoke from the podium.
[Everyone! I now reveal to you… the projectile!]
The crowd roared once again as ten trucks approached the square. They were so large that the truck that Kino and Hermes were on looked like toys. The ten trucks were driving side-by-side in a straight line, pulling behind them one large wagon.
On the wagon was the shell for the cannon. It was a black cylinder with a pointed end, shaped no differently from its brethren. But its size was enormous. It almost looked as though the trucks were transporting a lighthouse.
The shell soon passed by Kino and Hermes, followed by its shadow.
"That's huge!" Hermes cried.
"How will you launch something so large? If the shell is too heavy, there won't be enough force generated to propel it all the way. Even my persuader has such a limit." Kino said, pointing at [Cannon] holstered over her right thigh. The guide grinned.
"There's no such worries here. After all, we followed the plans to the letter. I'm sure you're worried that your homeland might be destroyed, but perhaps you should pray that your country wisely decides to obey us." She said condescendingly.
"Even a shell that big won't be a problem for that cannon, Kino." Hermes said, relaxed as can be. "That cannon uses multiple propellant charges."
"I'm surprised you know so much!" The guide said, astonished.
"What's that supposed to mean, Hermes?" Kino asked, honestly confused.
"To put it simply, when they launch the projectile, this cannon repeatedly propels the projectile with multiple ignitions. Kind of like having multiple cartridge chambers."
"?" Kino tilted her head.
"Your [Cannon] only ignites once per round, right? And when the liquid gunpowder ignites, the explosion it causes propels the shot out through the barrel and towards the target at really high speeds. That's how all persuaders and cannons work, on a basic level."
"I know that much. So if the projectile is heavier, or if I want to increase its speed, I just have to increase the amount of liquid gunpowder I use… But after a certain point, [Cannon] won't be able to take the pressure and it’ll break."
"Right. That's why, if you want to launch a projectile really quickly, or really far, you need to have a really thick and large barrel. That's why they came up with the idea to use multiple propellant charges. This cannon ignites gunpowder over and over again to add speed to the projectile."
"That's right. The projectile is propelled outwards by the first ignition. The cartridge chamber is where the ignition takes place."
"There are multiple cartridge chambers next to the barrel, either on the left or the right. Whenever the projectile passes by a cartridge chamber, it's propelled forward even faster by another ignition. They repeat this over and over."
"Oh… I think I get the gist of it. Instead of propelling it forward all at once, they carefully time it so they can continuously push it forward."
"Yeah. See those thick rings around the cylinder? Those are probably the cartridge chambers. I bet it can shoot that huge shell really, really, really far. That's all from me."
"That was amazing, Hermes! Thank you for the explanation!" The guide beamed, applauding. She then supplemented his explanation with her own.
"That cannon can be rotated up to 360 degrees around this dome. We can aim it anywhere! We can adjust the distance by controlling the amount of explosives we use!"
"Because we followed the blueprints very carefully, this cannon is capable of shooting at any point on this planet. No country is safe! In other words, we can rule over this entire world!"
"That's amazing. Maybe you should think about asking for a citizenship here, Kino." Hermes joked.
"With effort, you could probably join the ranks of the Second Class citizens--who are obligated to do labour, of course." The guide said condescendingly. "We'll be having our test shot this afternoon, so I'd recommend staying to watch."
"I see. Where are you shooting at?"
"No one knows the specifics."
Hermes repeated his question. Kino silently looked at the guide.
"The target of our test shot was indicated on the blueprint, along with all the necessary measurements. It said, 'If you plan to use this cannon for conquest, be sure to test the cannon with the instructions provided. These calculations are for the maximum firing distance, and therefore must not be neglected'. It gave us a complex formula into which we were to plug in the position of the moon and the stars, the date and time of the launch, the weather, the temperature, and the humidity. With this we would find out the exact amount of explosives to use and the right timings for the ignitions. With our knowledge, it is impossible to tell where this shot will land. Of course, since the instructions are for the maximum distance, we assume it will hit some point on the other side of the planet."
"Once we have completed the test shot, we will begin firing practice shots at nearby countries in order to get a good grasp of using this weapon."
"Miss, can I see that formula of yours? And the blueprint?" Hermes asked.
"Of course. Maybe you could figure it out, Hermes." The guide said, pressing several keys next to the monitor. Images of what seemed to be the cannon's blueprints flashed by, followed by extremely complicated calculations scrolling down before Hermes' headlight. It took several dozen seconds for the calculations to scroll down completely.
"What do you think? It would be helpful if you could tell us. If you can, we could recognize your assistance and easily grant Miss Kino the rank of Common Citizen. We can guarantee you a life of comfort and delicious food every day." The guide said.
"Um…" Unusually for him, Hermes trailed off. "I can't do it. I'm sorry, it's just too complicated. I give up."
"Is that so? I'm sorry to hear that."
"Well, Kino's a traveler. She doesn't really have much to do with world domination or anything."
"I understand. In any case, why not join us for the viewing of the test shot? Aboveground is dangerous, so we will have to watch on a monitor in an underground bunker, of course. Celebrate with us! Afterwards, we will hold a party to commemorate this event. The entire country will, for the first time in half a century, partake in a luxurious meal!"
Replying to the guide without hesitation was not Kino, but Hermes.
"Sorry, but we'll have to decline. We actually have to leave immediately."
Kino glanced at Hermes.
"Come to think of it…" She said. As the guide looked at her, confused, Hermes explained from the back of the truck.
"We were originally going to stay here three days, but we remembered something really important last night."
"Hm? What might that be?"
"In Kino's homeland, there's a ritual called the 'Belzechamondanez Prayer', where you have to spend one day a month fasting and cleansing yourself in the river. She can't skip out on it even during her travels." Hermes said, making up a bald-faced lie. Kino continued where he left off, calm and plain as ever.
"I'm sorry about this. We're obliged to be in the forest by tomorrow. It was such a long journey that I mixed up my dates."
"I see. You were the first outsider to learn about the cannon, so we were hoping you could stay to watch the glorious shot and the beginning of our valiant history, but…"
"Well, I guess we can come back after the ritual."
"Of course. What will you do now, then?" The guide asked.
"I'll be returning to the hotel to pick up my luggage, refuel Hermes, and stock up on supplies. And then I'll have to leave immediately."
It was nearly noon. The clouds approached the country's airspace, blown over by the westerlies.
"Thanks for everything."
"We'll visit again once you've taken over the world."
Kino and Hermes left the country through the west gate.
As traveler and motorrad departed, the cannon behind them, a guard spoke to the bespectacled beauty.
"Is this really all right? They know about the cannon. Isn't it possible that they changed their plans so suddenly because they wanted to warn a neighbouring country? What if they're spies?"
"There's nothing to worry about. After all, what can one traveler do? By the time she reaches the nearest country, we'll have fired the test shot. We are unstoppable now." The guide laughed.
The gates slowly closed shut.
Kino and Hermes made their way through the forest path. And the moment the gates disappeared behind the thick cover of trees, Hermes yelled loudly.
"Kino! Full speed!"
Kino pulled the gas lever.
As Kino and Hermes rode through the forest at breakneck speed, she shouted over the sound of the rumbling engine.
"Setting that 'what-was-it Prayer' aside, what's going on, Hermes?"
"I'll explain later. But right now we have to hurry! We have to get as far away from that country as quickly as we can. Just take care you don't turn too fast and drive us off a cliff, okay?"
Kino and Hermes were on the mountain path, the hollow behind them. She slowed down when she approached a turn, and sped up as much as she could when the road was straight. They climbed over several large peaks, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake.
Soon, they arrived at a particularly high point in the mountains, from which they could see the hollow.
"This should be far enough. Stop at the hilltop over there, Kino."
"Finally. All right."
Kino let go of the gas lever and stopped Hermes at the top of the hill.
Kino sighed. They had driven so quickly through the mountains that there was sweat running down her face.
Kino dismounted and took off her goggles. Wiping her face with a bandanna she took out of her pocket, she looked back at the hollow.
"We can still see it from here." She said.
Beyond a green hill in the distance, low-hanging clouds covered the sky. And underneath, they could see the giant cannon. It looked rather like a toothpick sticking out of a field of cabbages.
"They're going to launch soon, so let's watch from here. It's going to be really loud, even form this distance."
Kino took out a water bottle from the case beside Hermes' back wheel, and took several gulps.
"Oh! I get it, Hermes. You think the force of the shot might cause a shockwave that might destroy the country. Is that why we had to leave so quickly?"
"Nope. You're right, though. The force of the shot is going to be strong enough to break all the windows in that country. And depending on the place, even rooftops and walls might get blown apart. But everyone's going to be safe underground."
"So… is that cannon going to explode? Is there something wrong in the construction?"
"Wrong again. It looks like it follows the blueprints perfectly."
"Then what is it?"
"You'll find out soon. It's almost time."
Kino looked towards the east. She could see the cannon in the distance.
Kino and Hermes were surrounded by the sound of wind rustling through the leaves.
And several seconds later, they saw a flash of light coming from the tip of the cannon.
A small red light disappeared into the sky in the blink of an eye, its afterimage streaking behind it. It punched a hole through the clouds covering the ground, giving Kino a clear view of the bright blue sky.
A blast of dark smoke flared from the cannon, followed by slow wisps of white smoke. It disappeared in the wind.
"So they shot it…"
"Perfect. It's following the blueprints to the letter. In some ways, I think this country is really advanced. They're sure to hit their target now."
Kino looked around at Hermes.
"…You know where that shot is going to land, don't you?"
"Yup." Hermes said simply.
At that very moment, a sound like a thunderclap and a powerful sonic wave rushed past Kino and Hermes.
It was the delayed aftershock of the launch. They could hear its sound in a dull echo from the mountains.
"I bet the people there are as happy as can be. Toasting their success and partying." Hermes said.
"Although I didn't get to eat with them."
"It's better that way. Let's go, Kino. I think we should get further away, just in case."
"Never mind, come on! Full speed ahead!"
Kino, though feeling slightly lost, climbed on and started the engine.
They made it over about eight more mountain peaks, as Hermes continued to say, "Not yet, not yet".
And until he gave her permission, Kino quickly rode through the mountains as fast as she could.
The cloud-covered skies went even darker as the sun set. It was evening.
"This should be good enough, Kino. Let's stop here and look at that country again. Make sure you set my side stand on properly, okay?"
Kino did as she was told and stopped Hermes at the top of a hill, just as she had done so earlier. She lowered Hermes' side stand and dug it slightly into the ground.
Kino wiped her face again, and looked eastward.
It was impossible to see the cannon with the naked eye. Kino took out a sniping scope from her bag.
In the round frame, Kino searched for the cannon.
"A little to the left. There. A bit lower."
She moved the scope according to Hermes' instructions, and set the white cannon between the crosshairs.
"There. I found it."
Kino took her eye off the scope. She could finally just barely see the little white pin in the distance.
"It's just about time, so I'll answer your question. Kino. Why did we have to rush out of there?"
Kino looked around at Hermes, waiting for his explanation.
"Keep your eye on that country, Kino."
Kino looked back to the east. Hermes began his explanation.
"The people who made those blueprints long ago must have been afraid that the 'cannon' might be used for the wrong purposes. so they made a safety device."
"A safety device?" Kino asked, her eyes fixed on the tiny cannon.
"That's right. If they fire the test shot like the blueprint tells them to…"
Hermes trailed off mid-sentence.
Although Kino was confused, she kept her eye on the east.
All of a sudden, something shone from out of the corner of her eye, low in the southern sky.
The moment the light shone, it turned into a glowing line.
The line of light pierced the clouds in the south and struck the green lands with the little white cannon.
Everything in the vicinity of the white toothpick was incinerated, as it rose up into the air like a waterspout.
"Right on the mark."
As Kino watched, a tiny red orb of light covered a point in the green woods. The orb suddenly expanded outward like the rising sun, scattering the clouds overhead, before disappearing in the blink of an eye. A huge cloud of smoke rose up through the hole in the sky, blossoming up like a mushroom.
The earth shook.
The sudden earthquake forced Kino to the ground. It was soon followed by a monstrous sound--a great roar, similar to the sound of the launch but hundreds of times more terrible. The sound became a sonic boom that crashed over them like a wave. Countless leaves were shaken off the trees.
Kino and Hermes yelled, but their voices were drowned out entirely by the roar.
After several seconds, the sound dissipated, leaving only an echo behind. The earth suddenly stopped shaking.
Hermes, who had just barely managed to keep from falling over, spoke nonchalantly.
"They were right on the mark."
Kino shook off the leaves sticking to her head and turned around.
"That's right. They were shooting for the maximum distance, right? And if they can fire at any point on the planet, that must mean the longest possible distance is-"
"The shot… it circled back to the country?"
Kino, lost for words, looked around at the scattering mushroom cloud.
"It must have been destroyed."
"No, that entire hollow."
"They'll probably start calling the hollow a crater from now on."
"What about the people…?"
"That shot must have destroyed the entire hollow. Underground bunkers can only do so much. That was their final meal."
"Good thing we rushed out of there, huh?"
"Yeah… you saved us. Thank you, Hermes."
"You're welcome. Now, let me teach you how the Belzechamondanez Prayer works. First, you have to fast for an entire-"
"I'll have to decline."
Kino took off her hat with her right hand and put it over her chest.
After a brief moment of silence, she opened her eyes and put her hat back on.
"You know, Kino, that thing wasn't actually a cannon."
"Then what was it?"
"It's something called a 'mass driver'. It's used for shooting things into outer space. Though, I guess the only difference between a mass driver and a cannon is what you use it for."
"I see…" Kino said, fingering [Cannon], which was holstered over her thigh.
"So in the end, we never got to see a sundial or have a delicious meal…"
Just as Kino made to get back on Hermes, he spoke up.
"Huh? That's surprising. There's a car coming up ahead."
Kino looked down at the sloped path leading west.
Three cars were driving through the forest, the fallen leaves swirling in the wind.
They were four-wheel drive vehicles packed to the brim with traveling gear. Kino fingered [Cannon] for a moment and pushed Hermes to the side of the road.
The car at the head of the team drove into a straight stretch of road leading up to the hill. The driver noticed Kino waving at them and blinked his lights on and off.
The three cars stopped a slightly ahead of Kino and Hermes. Three men and women, all with rifles slung over their shoulders, climbed out of the car. They were of varying ages between twenty and forty. The trio signaled their friends in the cars further back and approached Kino and Hermes.
"Oh! A traveler!"
They extended their greetings.
"Good evening." Kino said. The man who looked to be their leader spoke first.
"That earthquake just now was something else, eh? Are you all right?"
"I'm doing fine, thank you."
"We're from a country far to the northwest. A traveler told us about a strange place where the entire country is a sundial! We're on our way to go see it for ourselves."
"You're coming from the east, right? The country must be in that direction. Have you seen it, by any chance?"
"Yes, I did. But it's not there anymore." Kino said honestly.
"What? What do you mean?"
"I can explain, but it's a very long story."
"That's fine by me. By all means, tell us! In exchange… how about this? One of our members here used to be a chef. We just caught ourselves a deer, and we have fresh fish and vegetables. We'll have you over for a scrumptious dinner in exchange. What do you say?"
"By all means!" Kino said immediately.
"Of course." Hermes groaned.
Continued in Chapter 4.
Continued in Chapter 4.