Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Mew Mew! -Crazy Cat's Night- Chapter 3

(Download the updated version in PDF/epub format here.)

For those who missed the announcement in the previous post, I am going overseas for a month in late October. I'll try to finish Mew Mew! before I leave, and take a break from Etsusa Bridge while I'm gone before starting Garuguru! once I come home in late November. Lillia and Treize will be on hiatus until then, but I will be translating non-spoilery side stories from the Allison series while I'm gone.

Enjoy the update.

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Chapter 3: Miss Unlucky & No Fortune


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Misaki Yasojima was born unlucky.

At least, that was what she decided to think.

After all, most people could endure any suffering if they excused it with misfortune.


She had come to the island three years ago as collateral for the debt her father went into at an underground casino in Tokyo.

Sold off as collateral in this day and age? Which historical drama is that from?

When she first received the news, she thought it was a bad joke. And even if it was possible for someone to be sold as collateral, she thought the chances were one in ten million, at least.

But she was that one in ten million.

The word ‘collateral’ did not hold any meaning at first. She had grown up not speaking much with her father in a so-called ‘family without communication’. And at the time, she had been planning to get by on part-time jobs once she graduated from high school.

“A friend of mine says he’ll introduce you to a nice part-time gig.” Her father had said.

Misaki questioned him further. Supposedly it was a job working at some sort of amusement park. The pay was a staggering 2300 yen per hour, which was enough for her to dive in without a second thought. But how could she have known that 1500 yen of her hourly wage would be set aside to pay off her father’s debt?

“Right. That was my fault for not paying attention to the details. So I have nothing to say to that. That’s why I decided that I was unlucky. Then I thought, why did I have to be so stupid? It must be because I’m unlucky.

I know. I know this is just a stupid excuse. So I’m just telling you this, Jun, because you’re my friend. …Yeah. To be honest, I wanted someone to get angry at me like that, but… I think I wanted to energize myself. But when you get angry, I can’t tell who’s getting angry at who… Huh? Umm… wait. Wait, wait wait that was a joke. I was just lying to you. I’m reflecting on my thoughts, so please not the chainsaw, Jun—

When she discussed her situation with Jun, she often received lectures at chainsaw-point until the fuel ran out.

“You’re being too shrewd, Misaki! Every time something happens, you give up and say that you just weren’t doing your best!”

She would raise her voice as she revved her engines.

Jun was not wrong, and Misaki really had no excuse—but life on the island was too difficult to manage without using the luck excuse as a crutch.

The first mistake, at least, was her own fault—but Misaki had indeed been involved in incidents that could only be described as ‘unlucky’.

She ran all kinds of odd jobs at the Eastern District’s casino. At first she wondered why such a job would be worth 2300 yen an hour, but within the first month she understood completely.

In the span of one month, the casino was held up five times.

In two of those cases, she was taken hostage.

That, perhaps, was worth the pay. But as she lived on the island, she was assaulted by bad luck in one incident after another.

She was caught up in four shootouts.

She was caught up in six brawls that did not involve gunfire.

She was mugged thirteen times.

She was hit by the Buruburu Airwaves van twice.

And other incidents, big and small.

For no particular reason—other than being there, if she had to say—she was often dragged into things.

The worst of her luck by far was six months ago, when she spotted a Western District executive she admired near the bridge entrance.

The moment she began running toward him, the wall between her and the executive had exploded and caused the construction material at the bridge entrance to collapse—she was nearly buried alive.

The explosion was supposedly the work of a terrorist targeting the executive, and in the end the executive disappeared after the blast.

Misaki could barely leave the house for days afterwards, thinking that perhaps her bad luck even influenced the executive.

It was Jun Sahara, captain of the Eastern District’s Guard Team, who encouraged her.

Jun was essentially Misaki’s only friend and fellow commiserator in times of distress. Part of it was because Jun was the only girl her age who worked near the casino, but it was more because Jun was the one who often saved Misaki from her many misfortunes.

When Misaki was taken hostage, or when the casino was attacked, it was Jun and the Guard Team under her command that saved her. Jun had personally saved Misaki many times, and so Misaki felt that she owed Jun her life.

Which was true. If not for Jun, Misaki would have died five times over by now.

The only joy in her life of bad luck was her meeting with Jun.

That’s why I’m so grateful, Jun. If not for you, I would be rotting in this city before I could even make excuses to myself.” She had said to Jun, once her chainsaws had run out of fuel.

Jun was half-crying then, as she hung her head with the reply, “N-no, not at all…”. Though Misaki knew how Jun changed in the presence of running engines, she could never get used to her personality shifts.

Her misfortunes were all because she was unlucky.

She had no luck. So there was nothing she could do about her miserable reality.

As long as she told herself that, continuing to shoulder her misery, she might be able to scrounge up tiny scraps of happiness.

At least, that was what she believed.


▶︎


Neither good luck nor bad luck actually existed.

That was what Nejiro—Nejiro Kanata believed.


Thursday afternoon. In a ramen store in the Eastern District.


<All right, ladies! Gents! Young masters! Grannies! Lemme pull back all your ears with some sweet airwaves, straight to your hearts! You know what I’m plotting? These airwaves are gonna make your lunch taste even better. If you got no business here, get out! Plug your ears with rice! The guest on today’s ‘Twelve o’clock Huzzah’ also showed up on ‘Buruburu Airwaves on the Street’ half a year ago! Introducing Yua Kirino the mapmaker!>

The DJ raved through the speakers, her voice piercing through Nejiro’s ears as he ate alone.

The unusual voice echoed from every speaker in the city.

It was an unsettling sound for newcomers, but the radio broadcast, too, was part of life on the island.

Sōsei Airwaves—known as ‘Buruburu Airwaves’ to locals—was a local radio station that had taken over the island’s broadcasting system. Its incomprehensible programming continued day and night, and was a familiar part of the locals’ lives.

‘Twelve o’clock Huzzah’ was a simple talk show that invited a new guest every day to share a recipe.

The radio station had a countless connections at its disposal. Gitarin, the most powerful man in the Eastern District, had personally graced the radio over a dozen times.

Today’s guest, however, was a girl who had just turned thirteen.

“Yua Kirino, huh…”

Yua Kirino. The name was not unfamiliar to Nejiro.

She was the one who was working on a map of the labyrinthine island.

The island was designed with a complex system of corridors to begin with, but once the illegal modifications began it was difficult to match the island to its original blueprints.

The girl named Yua was personally exploring the island, discovering and recording every last detour to create a complete map of the island.

I bet she doesn’t have parents, either.

Nejiro had heard about her before. She was a little younger than he was, and had lived on the island with her parents before they were murdered.

“So she was dragged here before she lost her parents… that’s no different from being abandoned.”

Nejiro’s fingers froze. He looked up at a speaker, eyes narrowing.

“…Just like us.”


The Rats—a group of boys and girls led by Nejiro.

They were not delinquent children of island locals, and they were not a gang that had drifted in from outside. With no parents or guardians to speak of, they had an independent community centered around Nejiro. However, the children did not live a communal life. They did not communicate with each other any more than necessary, merely efficiently dividing up the food and work they received from the locals.

The Rats did not accept just anyone into their ranks. Every member had something in common. That commonality was also the chain that bound them together.

The Rats were neither born on the island nor there of their own free will.

They had been abandoned on the island by their parents or guardians.

When Nejiro was eight years old, his own parents had brought him to the island, leading him by the hand. And before he knew it, they were nowhere to be seen.

In his backpack was a veritable mound of portable rations and bottles of water. Not realizing what had just happened, he assumed that he was merely separated from his parents. He sobbed and wandered the city.

He was kicked by a group of thugs on the street for being so loud, but no one tried to comfort the crying child. There were no police or centers for lost children on the island. He might be able to find his parents if he could reach Niigata or Sado, but either way he had to traverse 10 kilometers on foot. And there was no way for a little boy to even get to the bridge entrance from the island, which had already become a sprawling labyrinth.

For several days he aimlessly chewed on his rations as he walked, calling his parents’ names. But then he saw something he was never meant to see—or, perhaps, something he had to see.

One of the squatters had dragged his television outside to watch.

The news happened to be on at the time, and to Nejiro’s shock, his parents were on the screen.

He rushed over—the newscaster was saying something about how he had been kidnapped.

At first, he did not understand. But even an eight-year-old like him soon understood what had happened.

He had come to the island with his parents. So why were they saying, <He disappeared at the park when we took our eyes off him>?

It was all a farce.

At the time, he did not know the word—and even now, he had no idea why his parents did what they did.

But even at the age of eight, there was one thing he understood much too well.

That his parents didn’t need him.

At that moment, the boy lost a place to be.

He could have escaped the island somehow to ruin his parents’ plans, perhaps. But what then? With emotion, not logic, the boy found the answer to that question. That no matter how much he struggled, he would never be able to have his old life again.


It had been seven years since.

Over time, he met other boys and girls in the same position.

The police don’t investigate if a child is abandoned on the island.

That rumor must have spread on the mainland, as parents who did not care for their children began to come and drop them off, one after another. Although Nejiro heard that the economy was worsening on the mainland, he was not affected in the least by the fact that so many parents were abandoning their children.

There’s nothing strange about this. After all, it happened to me.’ He thought, and as someone who had been abandoned earlier, he began to teach those abandoned later how to live on the island.

When he saw the children gathered around him, Nejiro realized that their presence was a sort of power.

Before he knew it, he began to want to return. To the world that abandoned them.

If they knew nothing, perhaps they would have been satisfied with the island. But, being a dump, there was just too much information there—be it magazines, internet, or television.

He didn’t care about his parents. But he could not forget the heavenly world that remained a hazy memory in his mind, the one he saw on television. And as though the island was a sinking ship—not a real world at all—Nejiro called his group ‘Rats’.

To return to the world that abandoned them. Or to take revenge on that world.

Or… to flee as far as possible from the sinking island.


Remembering his decision, Nejiro started on his bowl of ramen.

It was delicious; but there was no smile on his lips.

This place is just a fake world to us. So there’s no need to show any more emotion than necessary in a place like this.

The interior of the shop was nothing like the typical ramen place. There were only two seats at the counter, and a wall-mounted TV had been forcibly driven into the wall. Under that hung a warning sign that read, ‘Do not down chili oil’. Although Nejiro doubted anyone would do such a thing, there were many strange people on the island. Everything seemed unnatural to him.

He was not alone. His fellow Rats also understood that the island was unnatural, and were repressing themselves.

That was the only natural reaction for children abandoned by the real world, he thought. Perhaps only their rage would grow stronger with time, eventually turning them into thugs just like the ones roaming the city—

But the girl on the radio was completely different from the Rats. There was something so human in the way she laughed. As though she didn’t feel burdened in the least about living on the island.

<My plot today is to learn to make Tonkotsu fried rice from Yua and share it, just the two of us! If you’re too hard up to even dream about lunch, you can listen to us eat and let that fill up your gut!>

<Well, this is one of the items on the menu at Iizuka’s Restaurant, which is where I live!>

<Because you’re part of their family, right? Which means this is a taste of good ol’ home cooking? Heehahaha.>

I wonder if things would have changed a bit if someone had taken me in. Then maybe I wouldn’t be living such an awful life. Maybe I would have found happiness of my own on this disgusting island.

No. That’s enough. Asking questions like that just dulls my edge.

Am I just unlucky? If I were lucky, would I be able to act just like that Yua girl? Smile like a human being on this rotten island?

No. Luck has nothing to do with this. I’m in this place because I was too weak. The moment you blame your misfortune on luck, you surrender. You excuse yourself with luck and forget to grow—forget to crawl back up.

And so, Nejiro denied luck.

So that he would never forget his resolve.

So that he could gain power that could not be shaken by petty things like bad luck.


“…Thank you for the meal.” Nejiro said, leaving half the broth undrunk. He left exact change and made to stand.

But the low voice of the owner suddenly fell on his tiny head.

“You don’t need to pay if you didn’t like it, kid.”

“Um… not at all. It was good.”

“…I see. Thank you. You just look like you’re pushin’ yourself too hard.”

Feebly, Nejiro put on a fake smile and left the shop.

He’s right. I am pushing myself.

Nejiro, who hated the island, had no choice but to push himself if he wanted to do anything there.

To eat his meals, and even to smile.

He felt emotional about his position—was it anger or sadness, he did not know. But he quietly began to walk.

To push himself a little further, that he could achieve his mission.

To eliminate the people of the two organizations in the East and West, the root of evil that controlled the island and the cause of all the misfortune.

That was the mission given to him and the Rats.

It’s so much easier.

So much easier than accepting this island. Than accepting that this island is our everything.

The people they killed were part of the island, too. If he just thought of the killings as the act of helping the island to sink, his conscience felt absolutely nothing.

Yes. We’re going to sink this island.

We’re not running because it’s sinking. I am sinking the ship with my own two hands so I can escape somewhere else.


▶︎


Thursday evening. Somewhere aboveground in the Eastern District.


A sharp yell shot between the trees and branches.

“You asked for it, you little shit!”

A man in a grey suit kicked the hand of the child in front of him.

“Ah!”

The boy, who seemed to be in his mid-teens, cried out. The grey gun in his hands was flung out of the grove.

“Shit… let my guard down… can’t believe it… a kid like this?”

The man panted loudly and glared ay the crouching boy, who was cradling his hands.

There was a dark stain on the man’s side. He seemed to have been shot several times.

But the man refused to let pain or anger sway him. Slowly, he twisted the boy’s arm upwards.

“Kid… who hired you?”

Holding back his pain, he began the most basic of interrogations. But—

“No one hired a kid.”

A voice seemed to materialize next to him. And,

There was an impact near the man’s temple. The pain, the anger, and the light were robbed from him at once.


Like a doll the man flopped to the ground. Nejiro muttered,

“He hired kids.”

From the white gun in his right hand, smoke of the same color was rising.

“I told you to aim for the head.”

“Thanks, Nejiro.”

Nejiro and the boy exchanged words, both equally expressionless.

“You’re welcome. Your gun?”

“I think it got knocked over that way.”

They turned their heads in unison at the same direction.

A woman in a dealer’s outfit was standing there, but the moment her eyes met those of the children she immediately turned and ran off someplace where there were more people.

The most troubling thing was that there was a small grey object in her hand.

Nejiro held up his gun without thinking, but she was already too far out of range for the Rat.

“…This isn’t good.”

They had been seen. They had only put their plan into action when they saw that no one was around, but she must have wandered there before anyone noticed. That alone would be no cause for concern, but Nejiro recognized the woman’s uniform.

That uniform… it’s from the Eastern District’s casino.

Though he was worried, he did not let it show. He knew that there was nothing to be gained from revealing his anxiety.

The boy next to him showed no emotion as well, but that was probably because he had no opinion at all.

“…Were we just unlucky?”

“Luck has nothing to do with it.” Nejiro said as though to himself, and took out his cell phone.

“We failed to kill him before someone showed up, and we even lost a gun—we were just weak, that’s all.”

Noting that it would be difficult to chase down the witness, he called his employer.

“Mr. Kanashima? We have a problem.”


▶︎


It was the day before the casino would reopen.

Misaki Yasojima had been told by Inamine, the manager of the casino, to speak to the Eastern District executive in charge of the re-opening.

If she were to be honest, she did not feel up to the job—but there was no arguing Inamine’s glare.

But it was still a less stressful job than serving Gitarin and Yili the previous day, so in spite of her worries Misaki accepted the job with a smile.


She just had to greet the executive and go over tomorrow’s proceedings.

That was all she had to do.


But a man died in front of her eyes.

The man was a member of the organization that controlled the Eastern District. He was also the one in charge of the casino re-opening tomorrow.


I just came to do my job! How did this happen?


When she went to the office to meet the executive, she was told that he had gone to a park behind the office.

“Oh… by himself?”

How could he be so careless, when organization members were being killed one after another?

“It’s fine. He’d never drop his guard, and no goons’d get near him. He’s just gone to feed the cats in the park out back. Apparently they’ll run off if we go with him.” Said one of the members remaining in the office, but Misaki’s fears were not assuaged. Perhaps it was thanks to the leader’s influence that the people of the Eastern District were so laid-back.

“He feeds ‘em at a different time every day, so no one’s gonna be waiting for him out there. And it’s not like he’s on a 24-hour watch. We just have to wait in here.” The member had said, but Misaki decided that she’d prefer to go look for the man at the park rather than remain at the office teeming with gang members.

And so, she had gone to the deserted park—


“You asked for it, you little shit!”

She flinched when she heard the shout. She reflexively turned—

And something flew toward her from the trees and fell at her feet.

“Huh?”

It was a grey mass shaped like a gun. It looked like a toy BB gun to her eyes.

Without thinking Misaki picked it up and turned to the source of the sound.

Inside the artificial forest, just out of the way of the footpath in the park, was a messy grove. And between the foliage she could see two children and a man between them—the executive she was supposed to meet.

At that moment, sparks seemed to fly from the hand of the boy in white, accompanied by a dull noise. A red flower bloomed by the executive’s head.

No way.

Immediately, she realized what she had gotten into.

Others might not have understood. Someone from the mainland might have been frozen with shock after seeing a middle school-aged child shoot a man to death. They would not have believed.

But this was the island, and she was Misaki Yasojima.

It was much too familiar for Misaki, who had been caught up in countless incidents in the past. And on this island, it was not unusual for children to kill people.

That the murder weapon was a gun was surprising, but that shock was not enough to paralyze her. As soon as she understood the situation, she commanded her every cell to flee.

Her pulse quickened. The energy in her blood was fed into every muscle in her body.

The moment her eyes met those of the boys, her body went into full overdrive as she left the scene.


▶︎


She ran. And ran. And ran.

The girl in the dealer’s uniform ran for her life by the light of dusk.

She must have sprinted a full twenty minutes.

She knew that her legs were a mess. She knew that, even though her head thought she was running, she was actually moving more slowly than she normally walked.

But Misaki could not stop. The outrageously casual murder that took place as she watched seemed to chase after her like an icy chill.

And to escape that fear, Misaki Yasojima continued to run.

She was not running without purpose. She was heading straight to the only person she could count on at a time like this—Jun Sahara, the captain of the Eastern District’s Guard Team.

She could see the entrance to the theme park. She just had to get past the gates.

When she turned, the boy in white was nowhere to be seen. But she could not let her guard down. That would be as good as suicide on the artificial island.

It was as though the children walking by the park could be the boy—or his friends.

Shaking off those delusions, Misaki finally entered the theme park. Her caution began to dissipate as she tried to come to a stop at the office door.

But her exhausted legs did not do as she wished, pushing her into a stumble as she leaned against the doorknob.

“Jun… Jun—!”

Normally, she might have screamed for help. But Misaki hated herself for always relying on her friend. And now she was trying to drag her into a mess she wasn’t even part of.

‘How could I be so selfish?’ Misaki thought, but she had come all this way without being able to solve her problem on her own.

Opening the door with every ounce of strength she had, Misaki pulled up the words she had been preparing all this time.

“Jun! I’m sorry!”

There were five or so people on standby at the office, and the girl with long bangs was also there. Everyone stared at Misaki in shock before running over, their expressions grave.

Misaki crumpled at the entrance and realized that tears were running down her cheeks.

“—sorry… sniff… Jun… I’m so sorry… sorry…”

Her throat seemed to tighten the moment she found herself safe. Misaki could barely speak.

Jun, who was first to reach Misaki, pulled her by the shoulders into a hug.

“It’s okay, Misaki. It’ll be fine! Calm down, okay?”

Though she was not even holding a chainsaw, Jun beamed as she tried to encourage her friend.

Jun must be trying her best to encourage her, Misaki realized, and sobbed again.

I’m such an idiot. I have such a wonderful friend, and I still call myself unlucky. How long did I not realize how lucky I was that Jun was by my side?

Misaki raised her arms, too, and put them around Jun—


And felt a gentle impact on her right hand.

“Sniffle… huh?”

Misaki looked up. A very tall man dressed in black was holding her right hand. He twisted her fist out of its iron grip.

‘Ow.

Her fist—tight with fear—was forced open. And at that moment, she realized that she was holding something.

What’s happening? What did he just take from my hand?

With tears in her eyes, she looked up at the tall man—Greatest Zhang.

His lips were pursed as he shot her a glare.

A brown-skinned man—Carlos—glanced at the object in his hand and raised his voice.

“Whoa! Bingo. This baby’s a Rat! I know it!”

Huh…? What?

“Man, you don’t see this model in Japan yet. It’s got a short range and not much power, but it’s small enough to be a cell phone charm and has almost zero recoil! Hey, where’d you get this? The Pits?” Carlos wondered, shaking his head as he knelt beside Misaki and Jun. “I’ve got a great idea, señorita. Just tell the boss that the exec tried to hurt you. He’ll let it slide ‘cause he’s tolerant—nah, because he’s a softie. I’ll testify for you too, if you agree to go on a date with me. Just one date, and I guarantee you’ll be head-over-heels!”

‘Wait. Huh? What?

Not understanding a word out of Carlos’s mouth, Misaki felt her tears quickly go dry. As her vision cleared she realized what Zhang was holding.

It was the grey gun-shaped object she had grabbed without thinking when she fled. It was so small and light that she had completely forgotten about it.

“Hey. We’re tying her up.” Zhang said. Jun shot back.

“This must be a misunderstanding! Misaki would never betray us!”

“But, well… she’s been apologizing over and over to us for a while now.”

Huh? Whaaaaaaa?

Misaki began to understand what was happening. She spotted a woman in bondage gear making a phone call in a corner of the room. Her senses were so stretched by the stress that the woman’s words were clearly audible.

“Yes, boss. We have her. From her possession of the weapon, we suspect that she must be the culprit.”

Whaaaaaaaaaat?!

She finally realized what she had gotten herself into and let out a silent scream.


She had indeed been abandoned by God, Misaki thought. She was born unlucky.


▶︎


Thirty minutes later. The theme park office in the Eastern District.


As usual, Gitarin came to the office with a beautiful woman on each arm.

When asked if they should call in the other executives, Gitarin claimed that that would make things difficult and had come alone.


“So. Let’s figure out our left from our right here.”

The boss of the Eastern District sat on an office chair and spun, his legs crossed like a model and his index fingers pressed to his temples. His awkward spin made him look even more foolish than usual.

“Let’s start with you, then.” Zhang grumbled, and sent Gitarin flying—chair and all.

“…I think you need to remember who’s really in charge around here, Zhang.”

“As if I care, dumbass.” Zhang replied as Gitarin remained in a heap on the floor.

“Tch. That attitude is exactly why you’re wanted by the mafia back in your homeland.”

“Shut your trap. You planning on giving the bounty hunter gig a shot?”

The most powerful man in the Eastern District was silenced by the thug cracking his knuckles. As though proving that power that was not protected by the law was bound to fall easily to violence.

A heavyweight of the city was being treated like a screwball clown. Yet the unusual(not quite so unusual in Gitarin’s case) scene did little to put Misaki at ease.

Her gaze was wandering everywhere, and the teeth she thought she had clenched chattered uncomfortably loudly.

Jun looked on in worry, and the other Guard Team members watched in concern.

But Gitarin ignored the atmosphere. He sat in his chair and began to joke around, hoping Misaki would relax.

“Heh heh heh. I understand you must be tense, but not to worry. Our very own underground pro wrestling champion, Greatest Zhang, will now perform tricks to cheer you up!”

“No.”

“Wh-what?! Why not?”

“You’re surprised?”

As Gitarin caused Zhang one offense after another, Misaki found her breathing beginning to slow. It was not Gitarin’s efforts, but the passage of time that adjusted her body to the tension.

She began to worry that the Eastern District would not believe her. And if they did not, the man before her could eliminate her.

Then perhaps she should just do what Carlos had suggested; claim that she was the one who killed the executive, and make up an excuse that might justify her actions.

But she instantly set that thought aside.

Her improvised lie was not likely to work, and even setting that aside she was repulsed by the idea of admitting to a crime she did not commit.

Above all else, to do so would be an act of betrayal to Jun.

Since the moment Misaki stepped into the office, Jun Sahara had been vehemently defending her from Zhang. If she made the false claim now, it would be a worse act of betrayal than if she had actually been the killer.

Steeling herself, Misaki decided to tell everything as she had seen.


“A child.”

Gitarin listened to everything Misaki had to say and closed his eyes.

So he doesn’t believe me after all…’ She thought, closing her eyes. But then the boss of the Eastern District spun back around and spoke.

“The chances of you lying and us believing everything you say is a straight fifty-fifty. Half and half. Then I believe it is worth listening to what you have to say based on the fact that there is at least one person on our side who believes in you.”

It was a roundabout way of saying, ‘There’s nothing to lose by believing in you’. Misaki—and Jun, who stood next to her—swelled with hope.

“I’m just saying fifty-fifty ‘cause it’s a nice round number, but that’s not the real percentage I have in mind. After all, if this Ginga Kanashima character is the one who bought these guns, he has no reason to hire someone like you. He would be better off buying off some punk from the streets.”

Gitarin pressed his fingers to his temples to think, then released them and swung upright.

“Guess I’ll just consult our informant.”

They… don’t suspect me anymore?

“What I mean is that we’re just going to look into things. There’s still the chance that you’re our culprit.”

“No…”

Jun’s protests came before Misaki’s sigh. She was soft for being a Guard Team captain, and she was only captain because she won a rock-paper-scissors contest, but her subordinates did not look particularly displeased with her attitude.

Her complaints went in one ear and out the other. Gitarin calmly began to explain his plans.

“In other words, Misaki, until our suspicions are cleared, we’ll have to keep you on constant surveillance. But there’s also the chance that those children target you next. Frankly speaking, the easiest way for us to do things is to lure them in with you as bait and catch them in the act.”

Gitarin leaned back on the chair and spun once more. Zhang must have had enough, because he had given up on kicking him.

“And speaking of which, now that one of our executives is dead, us bigwigs are too scared to do anything. Although I guess we can do most of our work through email and phone.”

The Guard Team exchanged quizzical looks. What was the boss talking about?

“And because we don’t leave the house, they don’t get a lot of work.”

Snickering like an impish child, Gitarin looked around the room.

“Our Guard Team, I mean.”


▶︎


Night. The streets aboveground in the Eastern District.


Night came to the island.

The artificial island should have been a splash of brilliance over the pitch-black sea. And though only a fraction, that intention had been fulfilled.

All the energy on the island was essentially stolen from the massive windmills around the island, or the generators run by solar or tidal power. If that wasn’t enough, individuals could bring in personal generators—which meant that, if they were lucky(and though they were committing a crime), some people could enjoy an even better life on the island than on the mainland.

Whitish fluorescent lights shone from the half-finished or illegally modified buildings, and between them were blinding bursts of light from naked lightbulbs or halogen lamps.

The lights seemed to scream with their entire being on the surface of the white island.

Like a swarm of fireflies gathering around a dim light.


Misaki and two men walked down a dark corridor aboveground.

“Our boss is a real rogue. Don’t you think, señorita—no—mi amor? Don’t you worry, though. My orders come from a fickle rogue, but I will do everything in my power to keep you safe. FYI, my specialties are cooking and laundry. Call me multitalented.” Carlos rambled nonchalantly as he accompanied Misaki home.

“Never thought we had an idiot on our team who hits on the person he’s supposed to be protecting.” Zhang spat nervously, walking on the other side of Misaki.

“Hey hey hey. Ever watch ‘The Bodyguard’?”

“Not worth watching.”

“This is why I can’t work with guys like you. Too self-righteous for entertainment.” Carlos remarked. Zhang shot him a glare.

Walking between the unfriendly men, Misaki thought to herself—

I really am unlucky.

As per Gitarin’s suggestion—no, his official commission—Misaki was placed under the protection of the Eastern District’s Guard Team.

Under the pretext of watching a suspect, of course.

There were no police or courts on the island, and therefore no official investigations or suspects—but with this pretext they could at least convince the other members of the organization.

Her escort was also partially a way to protect her from retaliation by subordinates of the murdered executive.

Because the subordinates were highly suspicious of how Misaki arrived just before the murder, they would not back off so easily even if Gitarin told them to stay away because her guilt was not certain.

Because the Eastern District’s organization was so laid-back, it lacked the discipline of the Western District.

The independence of individual members made them a very flexible group, but in cases like this that very asset was a disadvantage.

When Gitarin explained the situation to her, Misaki fell even deeper into despair.

“I’ll go ahead and survey the place.” Jun had said as she left, but the absence of familiar faces was nothing but immense pressure on Misaki. Being accompanied by men who clearly lived on the wrong side of the law, she even began to imagine becoming involved in yet new conflicts.

To make things worse, her two guards were not on friendly terms.

People often said that arguing was a sign of closeness, but did the saying apply to these men? Misaki could not tell.

Whatever the case, the most important thing was to get home safely. Then everything would be all—

At that very moment, engines began to roar from the direction of her building.


Brrrrrrrrrrm. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm.


▶︎


A little earlier.

Jun had headed to the destination just ahead of Misaki and the others.

She stood in front of her friend’s building and looked up.

Illegal structures made of all kinds of materials were crowded together on the concrete ground. It looked almost like piles of rubble had been forced into the shapes of buildings, but from the looks of the people in the area, security seemed to be decent.

Misaki’s room was on the top floor. Jun entered the building and began to climb the narrow stairs.

Walking up one step at a time, she remembered the past.

When she was taken in by the man who would later become her employer, her only friend had been her chainsaw.

The engine-powered chainsaw, so very tiny as it lay abandoned on the construction site.

Having found a shadow of her family in the engine, she had refused to let go of it. When she heard the engine roar, it felt like life coursed through her veins. When she held it in her hand and felt the vibration with her body, it even began to feel like she was controlling the engine itself.

Even though, in reality, she was the one being controlled by the engine.

She knew that, too. But she did not care.

A local who decided to live on the island had to forge a way of life. Those who could not would fall further than the Pits and sink deep into the sea.

Even her life as a guard, Jun chose for herself.

And even when she chose that path, she held something in her hand—not a gun or a knife, but an engine she could hold in her hand. Her chainsaw.

Gitarin was hesitant at first. But eventually he gifted her with a pair of chainsaws.

They were a brand-new model, so unbelievably lightweight for their length that even Jun could wield one singlehandedly with ease. He had them custom-made so she could do everything from start the engine to adjust the RPM singlehandedly.

At that moment, her ‘present’ was decided.

The witch of the Eastern District with a devilish grin who tore her foes to pieces with a pair of chainsaws.

Once the rumor spread, almost no one ever dared to approach her.

The Guard Team did not treat Jun differently despite her unusual personality. But other people—especially her peers—either kept their distance to begin with, or drifted away after seeing Jun wield her chainsaws.

I don’t need friends. As long as the Guard Team and my chainsaws—my engines—are around…

It was around that time, when she was telling herself lies, that a girl stepped into her life.

Misaki Yasojima. When Jun first rescued her from a casino hold-up, Misaki was probably as scared as anyone to see her swinging her chainsaws with a smile.

That was what Jun thought, but the girl in question seemed to be extraordinarily unlucky. She was caught up in one incident after another, and Jun had to rescue her each time.

Jun was a hero to Misaki.

And so, even knowing about how Jun let herself go when holding her chainsaws, Misaki showed no qualms about befriending her.

That was something Jun could be happy about.

After all, though until then she had thought that engines were her life and world, for the first time a driving force called a human relationship was created in her heart.

For Misaki, Jun could start her engines without worry.

She could become a demon or a witch with nothing to hold her back.


And so, at this moment, she started the two engines in her hand.

After a very long climb she had arrived at the top floor.

And in the hall in front of Misaki’s room squatted a man.

The door was definitely Misaki’s. And the man had put a thin piece of metal into the keyhole, clicking and clattering with the lock.

Jun stared. It was clear he was trying to open the door.

Only then did her eyes meet those of the would-be intruder.

And at that moment—

The narrow building was overwhelmed by the sound of two chainsaws’ worth of engines.


▶︎


Brrrrrrrrrrm. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm.


“What was that?!”

Misaki trembled. But she quickly recognized the sound.

“That’s… Jun’s chainsaws?” She muttered. At the same time, a foolish scream echoed from her building.

“GYAAAAAAAAAAH!”

The building entrance was already in sight. A man rushed out the doors, his face pale.

He seemed to be in his mid-twenties, and was wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt. The primary colors were clear in the muddled grey backdrop.

A second later, Jun appeared on the rooftop.

“Why is she—”

The moment Misaki began, Jun leapt off the roof.

“Wh-whaaaaaaat?!”

As Misaki gaped in confusion, Jun added another layer of incredibility.

She forcibly drove her chainsaw into the galvanized iron wall of the building. The wall put up no resistance, like a piece of tofu against a knife.

At that moment, as the chainsaw viciously shrieked throughout the area, the man in the Hawaiian shirt stopped to turn.

Jun and the chainsaw were supported by the wall.

The spinning chain slowly ate away the wall as it descended straight down like an elevator.

When the concrete ground neared, Jun drove her other chainsaw into a nearby wooden wall and kicked off the walls as she climbed down the battered building like a cliff face.

And finally, she landed without a scratch.

“…Outrageous as ever.”

“That’s what makes her so great.”

Zhang and Carlos made nonchalant remarks, and Misaki blankly wondered if the repair fees would be subtracted from Jun’s pay. She was too confused to think of anything else.

“AAAAAAAARGH!”

The man in the Hawaiian shirt screamed when the roar of the engines landed right behind him, and took off without looking back.

Jun’s engines also screamed as she rushed low toward the man, holding her chainsaws close to the ground. She moved with relaxed fluidity, but she was slowly catching up to the sprinting man.

It was like a scene out of a monster movie, when a desperate victim was eventually caught by the slow-moving monster. The chainsaws in the pursuer’s hand were just icing on the cake.

Misaki did not know what to do as she watched the scene, which had come straight out of a splatterhouse film. But Zhang and Carlos were already on the move.

Carlos drew a gun from his belt and took aim at the man, who was running in their direction.

He carried himself like someone who might hold his gun sideways, but he held it in a steady two-handed grip.

The fleeing man was so focused on his pursuer that he never noticed Carlos’s aim on him. All he did was run in a straight line through the alley between the illegal buildings.

Because of the conditions on the island, locals tended to wear shoes with thick soles, like hiking boots. The man was no exception; his shoes had 2-centimeter soles—

And a bullet was driven into one.

“Wha-”

The man lost balance immediately and fell forward.

A trail of white smoke rose from the muzzle of Carlos’s gun. Instead of aiming for the man, he had shot the tip of his foot as he ran from Jun—Carlos had waited for the man’s shoe to hit the ground and shot just his sole.

Though they were not very far, considering how fast the target was moving it was a terrifying show of skill. But Carlos himself did not seem particularly tense. There wasn’t a drop of sweat on him.

The man in the Hawaiian shirt, meanwhile, gaped silently.

He swung his arms helplessly as he fell. Then, Zhang’s powerful arms reached him.

Before anyone knew it, Zhang had gone right up to the man and hooked his right arm around the man’s neck—and was throwing the man into the air as though performing a Lariat.

“————!”

The man in the Hawaiian shirt didn’t even have time to scream. His body returned the way he came, and landed hard on his back.

And waiting for him there was—

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm.


As the man lay spread-eagle on the ground, his world was consumed by the sound of engines. A young woman carrying a chainsaw in each hand knelt by his head, and looked down at him with the chainsaws still on.

Her hidden eyes finally became visible.

The tips of her eyes were slanted upwards, and her enlarged pupils glinted with the sharpness of a blade. There was madness and ecstasy in her gaze, like she was looking into another world altogether.

“Heh heh heh… Ahahahahahaha!”

A deranged laugh escaped her lips, but the sound was quickly sucked into the sound of engines.

“Hey, hey hey hey. Why? Why did you try to get into Misaki’s room? Why did you run when I talked to you? Why? Why?”

In each hand she held a trembling chainsaw. Dual-wielding her unusual weapons, she was high on the sound of engines filling her ears in stereo.

“Why? Why? Please tell me! Are you an enemy? Are you?”


Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm.


“What?! I can’t hear you at— grk. W-w-w-wait. H-help! Calm down—”

The man’s pleas were mercilessly drowned out.


Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm.


“Pardon?! Aww, I can’t hear you at all!”


Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm.


As everything—even the sound of Jun’s voice—was erased by the engines, Jun twirled her chainsaws and grinned.

‘Excitement’ was no longer an adequate word to describe her state. With the chainsaws active in her hands, she was a different person altogether.

“Man, Jun’s off in her own world now!”

“What?! I can’t hear you!”

Carlos made a comment in the noise, but it did not carry to Zhang.

The echoes of the engines layered together on top of one another, piling up all around like stagnant air. Eventually, the sounds might even take on color and become visible.


“W-wait, Jun! Calm down!”

The one who finally stepped up to stop Jun was Misaki.

Most people would stay as far as they could from a woman wielding two chainsaws, but Misaki had been saved countless times by Jun in this state. The first person who rescued her when she was taken hostage at the casino was Jun, who was acting just like this. The shock of the encounter made such a big impression on Misaki that she could barely recognize the ‘normal’ Jun when they met again later.

Naturally, Jun had scared her at first. But the woman who leapt in madness and ecstasy as she wielded her two chainsaws was Misaki’s hero, who had come just as she was about to give in.

That was why Misaki could reach out to her without fear.

“Jun! Jun! Who is that man?”

Naturally, her voice did not reach. So she stood where Jun could see her and desperately waved her arms. After all, if she carelessly approached her or grabbed her arm, she might be cut instantly.

“Ahahahahaha… hah?”

Jun spotted her friend and stopped her hand.

“Misaki! Thank goodness you’re okay! I’m just about to take care of— huh? I can’t hear you! One sec, let me lower the noise…”

As the engines slowed, sanity returned to Jun’s eyes.

“…Huh?”

She was back to wearing the face of a small, terrified animal. Her bangs floated back over her eyes, no longer supported by the wind of the engines.

“…Umm… I, uh… this isn’t… Oh no, I got carried away again. I’m sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing, Jun?”

“But… if I run wild in front of your house, I’d get you in trouble…”

Shutting down her engines, Jun slowly stood and hung her head. But Misaki smiled and slapped her on the back.

“You don’t need to apologize. It’s all right! And you’re my only friend, so it’s not like I can’t hate you or anything!”

“That’s pretty sad.”

“You poor soul! Then let me become your new friend—no, let me become your new mi vida!”

Misaki ignored Zhang and Carlos’s interjections and helped Jun as she put away her chainsaws. Though Misaki did not touch them herself, the heat from the blades was warm on her skin.

“Be careful, Misaki…”

“I told you, it’s okay.”

Watching the heartwarming scene from below, the man lying on the ground muttered to himself.

“I… I’m alive…”

Quietly getting up to flee as though nothing had happened was obviously impossible.

“For now.”

“You’re in for a living hell.”

Restrained by the arms by Carlos and Zhang, the man in the Hawaiian shirt could do nothing but chuckle bitterly.


▶︎


Somewhere in the Pits.


Though it was fully lit, it seemed like a dark place. That was the Pits.

There was a place there where even less of the light reached.

Enveloped by hazy darkness in the truest sense of the phrase, dozens of children stood around one boy.

“…Yes. Of course. Yes. …Yes.”

The boy in white looked at nothing in particular as he took a phone call, standing in the midst of other children.

The children wore all sorts of faces, from smiles to anxiety to pursed lips. But there was no emotion in any of their eyes.

Even the thugs in the Pits scattered at the sinister looks of the children.

Naturally, many children on the island had no parents or guardians. Most of them had lost their parents after coming to the island, and many of them had formed communities of their own. But no such community was a match for the Rats in their dead eyes.

Some children had been born on the island itself, but because the island was so young none of them were over the age of ten.

The children who were abandoned on the island learned to live from Nejiro. And as they did so, they slowly forgot how to think for themselves.

There was nothing Nejiro couldn’t do. He could find food and places to sleep; he could take care of anything. For the children, who had lost educators in their parents, Nejiro was their friend and the teacher who showed them how to survive in the city.

And so, they learned how to live.

They only needed to know one thing.

‘Do as Nejiro says.’

Some children were rebellious at first, but over time even they were broken. The reality that a child with no connections could not survive alone on the island was broken into their souls.

And soon, they also came to realize the truth.

That they needed Nejiro.

Even the children who did not agree with him had to follow him in order to survive. And eventually, even they stopped thinking.

Because that was the way of survival they had chosen on the island.

Nejiro also knew what his friends were thinking.

But that didn’t matter to him. He didn’t need to care about anything.

He also suppressed his own emotions. He locked away any unnecessary thoughts and calmly pressed on toward his goal.

“I understand. …We Rats will never betray you. …Yes. Kanashima will be useless to us when the time comes.”

With that, Nejiro stared into space.

Drinking in the murky air, he spoke into the receiver.

Though his emotions had been suppressed to the limit, he enunciated clearly:

“We Rats swear eternal loyalty to the Western District.”


-----


Chapter 4.


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2 comments:

  1. "At that very moment, engined began to roar from the direction of her building." (engined > engines)

    Thanks for the translations and good luck on your trip!

    ReplyDelete