* * *
Chapter 6: The Safe Country
-For His Safety-
A road ran along the lakeshore.
So large was the lake that the opposite shore was out of sight. The wind sent small waves rippling towards the gravel beaches. A little further inland was the dirt-paved road, which went on seemingly without end.
Trees reached high up into the air, densely packed together and lit by the morning sun. The snow had melted completely.
The road crossed several rivers that flowed into the lake.
In the woods, a short distance from one such crossing, was a motorrad. And a person, standing next to it.
She was in her mid-teens, with short black hair, large eyes, and fair features. She wore a black jacket and a thick belt with pouches. Hand persuaders were holstered on her thigh and back--a revolver and a slender automatic model respectively.
She drew the revolver and fired it from waist-level. There was a deafening noise and a puff of white smoke—the shot had hit a metal plate hanging from a tree a slight distance away. Birds took into the air.
“Perfect,” said the motorrad.
The human smiled. This time, she brought up her arm and fired off five more rounds. Each shot struck the metal plate.
“Still as good as ever, Kino,” said the motorrad.
Kino replied, “Thanks.”
“Anyway, can we get going now?”
“One minute,” Kino said, taking apart her persuader and replacing the empty cylinder. Then she put it back and holstered it.
Going up to the metal plate, Kino pulled it off the tree and hung it on another branch many times further away. Then she returned to the motorrad, and unholstered the persuader secured behind her back.
Kino expertly disarmed the safety and took aim.
“I’m counting on you, Hermes.”
“Yeah,” Hermes replied.
Kino opened fire. There was a quieter gunshot, and a small casing leapt into the air.
“Perfect. That was a bull’s eye,” said Hermes.
Kino pulled the trigger again.
“A hit. Slightly to the lower left.”
Each time Kino fired, Hermes told her where the bullet had struck.
Two magazines’ worth of shots later, Kino loaded a third magazine into the persuader and armed the safety. Then she holstered it and went to retrieve the metal plate.
“Good job, Kino. Even Master couldn’t scold you for this performance,” Hermes said when she returned.
“Thanks,” Kino replied. “That’s all for today.”
Kino took out her earplugs and put them into her pocket. Then she picked up the scattered casings and started Hermes. The roar of his engine resounded across the lake.
As for the metal plate, Kino put it in the suitcase lying next to Hermes. She put the suitcase on his luggage rack and secured it tightly with an elastic strap.
“By the way, Kino? Is the next country really that dangerous? You’ve been practicing nonstop since yesterday,” Hermes wondered.
“Hm? I don’t know,” Kino replied, hands still busy at work.
“I really don’t know what to expect. I couldn’t find a lot of information about that country. But it’s never a bad idea to be prepared. We could end up like in that other country if we’re not careful. …All right, let’s go.”
Once Hermes was fully loaded, Kino looked around to make sure she hadn’t left anything behind.
She put on her long brown coat and wrapped the ends over her thighs. She also put on her hat and goggles.
When she climbed atop Hermes and leaned forward, the stand came sliding up automatically.
They finally went back on the road. Leaving the forest, Kino and Hermes traveled with the sun behind them.
It was afternoon when they reached the country on the lakeshore.
“Good day, Traveler. Welcome to our country,” said the immigrations officer at the window by the gates.
“Hello. My name is Kino, and this here is Hermes. I’d like to request a three-day stay for tourism purposes.”
The officer’s gaze fell on Hermes. “Er…do you mean to include your motorrad as well?”
“Of course,” Hermes said. Kino nodded.
The officer thought for a moment before responding. “I don’t mean any offense, but…I’m afraid I cannot allow Hermes to enter the country unless I receive a written declaration from you swearing that you will not turn on his engine while in our country. Riding a motorrad is forbidden by law here.”
“What? Then how do you get around?” Hermes asked from behind.
“Our country provides an automated public transit service, free of charge. Think of them as cars that you can order around. They’ll take you wherever you would like to go, and are large enough to easily fit Hermes as well,” the officer explained apologetically.
Kino briefly fell into thought and answered, “I understand. I promise not to ride my motorrad during my stay.”
“We don’t have a choice, Hermes. When in another country, do as the locals do.”
Hermes begrudgingly agreed. “All right. I guess it’s better than that weird country where you had to put on that funny outfit to go inside.”
“Don’t remind me,” Kino mumbled.
“Thank you,” said the officer. “Now if you’ll give us a written declaration.”
He handed Kino a form and a writing utensil—a slender brush. She was taken aback.
“We use brushes for writing in our country. Here is the ink.”
Kino wrote, ‘I will not ride Hermes while in this country’ on the form and signed it. The officer read it over.
“Thank you, Kino. We’ll begin preparations for opening the gates shortly. By the way, you wouldn’t happen to be in possession of any persuaders, would you?”
“I am,” Kino said, unholstering Cannon and holding it by the barrel, with the grip pointed upwards.
The officer leapt out of his chair and scrambled to the corner of the room. He dove behind a locker, trembling. “I-I’m terribly sorry, but p-persuaders are not permitted here.”
“The law forbids civilians from possessing persuaders. Only members of the national defense forces may use them. I’m terribly sorry, but I cannot grant you permission for entry while armed. Please try to understand,” he said from behind the locker, sounding even more apologetic.
“So that’s how it is, Kino,” said Hermes. “What’re you gonna do?”
“This is a bit of a pickle. I have to go in there unarmed?” Kino mumbled, looking down at Cannon.
“Do as the locals do…the locals…the locals…” Hermes echoed.
“Fine,” Kino grumbled, and showed Cannon to the officer. “I understand. What would you like me to do? I have another persuader here with me—will you be taking them into custody until I leave?”
“N-no, I don’t need it, thank you very much! I, er…pardon my manners. I’m afraid of persuaders, you see. Agh! Please don’t show it to me!” the officer shrieked, taking cover.
In the end, Kino had to completely take apart her persuaders and place them in a safe prepared by the officer. He ensured her that the safe would be taken to the western gates before her departure.
It took the officer a long time to write up the forms. “Thank you for the wait. Now let me open those gates for you… Ah! By the way, would you happen to have any blades in your possession? The law forbids civilians from possessing them.”
Without even blinking, Kino nodded. “Yes. I have many. I’m sorry, but could you give me a list of everything that is forbidden in this country?”
“Finally,” Kino grumbled, pushing Hermes through the gates.
“I’m tired,” Hermes agreed.
Kino had submitted all her knives into the officer’s custody and filled out the forms. He went on to explain what else was illegal—sharp implements, and for some reason, the rope Kino used for her tent. She left it all with him.
The country was lit by the glow of the setting sun.
The lands were vast, lined with many low buildings in orderly rows. The wide roads were paved to perfection and well-maintained. Not many people were out and about because it was evening.
Kino took off her coat and hung it on top of her luggage. She glanced at the empty holster on her thigh.
“Looks like I’ve managed to lose weight. Now, then…”
She looked out at the road. A vehicle came gliding in complete silence, stopping in front of Kino and Hermes. It was equipped with several seats, but no one was inside.
“Please board the vehicle,” said a voice from inside, and the door slid open. Some of the seats folded in and formed a flat freight bed. The chassis descended so that the floor was almost level with the road.
“This must be one of those self-driving things,” said Hermes. Other similar vehicles were gliding along the roads.
“Yeah,” Kino mumbled, loading Hermes onto the vehicle. She took a seat in one of the chairs.
“Please state your destination,” said the vehicle.
Kino asked for a hotel and gave a detailed list of conditions.
“Understood,” the vehicle said, and it was off. Slowly, at about a person’s running pace.
“I see,” said Hermes, “I don’t need to move here at all.”
Kino leaned back. “This is so comfortable.”
When they finally reached the hotel that matched all of Kino’s conditions, they were welcomed inside and led into their room.
The room was large, but almost alien in structure. The furniture was all very close to the ground. Everything from the bed to the dresser to the sink and the desk was no more than knee-height. The bathroom had no tub.
“I’d love to do some sightseeing, but I need to get some rest for today,” Kino said. She ate dinner, showered, and went to bed.
The next morning, Kino rose at dawn. The weather was pleasant.
She began with light warm-up exercises and looked for her persuaders, but remembered that she had left them with the officer at the gates.
So Kino ended up doing more hand-to-hand combat practice than usual.
A little while after breakfast, she woke Hermes.
Kino put on her jacket and pushed Hermes outside. She rolled up her coat and tied it to Hermes’ luggage rack.
Outside, they spotted several people in a line. Someone explained that locals occasionally had to wait in line for vehicles during rush hour.
Kino pushed Hermes to the back of one of the lines. In front of them was a woman in her late twenties.
“Hello. Are you a traveler?”
“Yes. Good morning,” Kino said.
The woman pointed at Kino’s right thigh. “Is that a holster for a persuader? I’ve seen it in the movies.”
“Yes, that’s right. But I’ve left my persuaders at the gates.”
The woman’s expression darkened. “You own persuaders.”
“I do.” Kino nodded.
The woman’s expression darkened even more. She said slowly, “In our country, it’s illegal for civilians to own persuaders.”
“I’ve been informed, yes.”
“Do you know why?” asked the woman.
“I don’t know anything about your history, so I can’t say I do.”
The woman shook her head firmly. “It has nothing to do with history. We forbid persuader ownership because persuaders are very dangerous.”
Kino glanced at Hermes, then looked back at the woman. “I see.”
“That’s right,” the woman said. “Persuaders exist to harm people and animals. So owning one makes you want to shoot other people. To hurt others. If everyone had persuaders of their own, they would eventually develop the urge to shoot. Persuader crimes would run rampant. Our peaceful, harmonious lives would be shattered. Which is why they’re such dangerous things. The more persuaders there are in the world, the more our lives are threatened. That’s why we ban persuader possession. Persuaders shouldn’t exist at all.”
Kino listened, making sure to nod on occasion. Then she said, “I need a persuader because I sometimes find myself in dangerous situations on the road.”
The woman did not seem convinced. “And when that happens, you’ll open fire. And if the other person has a persuader too, you’ll shoot at one another until someone is dead. But if you don’t have a persuader, they won’t kill you, either. You’ll have a chance for peaceful dialogue, for a chance to find a solution without resorting to violence.”
“I wonder,” Kino said soullessly.
The woman continued, “I don’t know what brought you here, but maybe it was fate. Take this chance to learn about how we make everything safe for people in our country. Goodbye.”
Watching the woman leave, Kino said indifferently, “Of course.”
Once she had caught a vehicle, Kino ordered it to take her to the center of the country. The words ‘TO COUNTRY CENTER’ appeared at the front.
The vehicle moved at a leisurely pace. When it hit an intersection, it came to a full stop and only passed through once the vehicles that had come earlier had had their turn. The vehicle also maintained a consistent distance from the others on the road.
“This is so slow. I’m falling asleep,” Hermes mumbled.
That was when they stopped. “Please make room for fellow passengers,” said the vehicle.
A man waiting in line stepped inside.
“Ah, a traveler. It’s nice to meet you. We almost never get outlanders in these parts,” he said, sitting across from Kino.
“What do you think of our automated public transit service?”
“It’s very comfortable,” Kino said.
The man nodded proudly. “Isn’t it? It’s one of our country’s finest achievements. Everyone can get where they want efficiently, safely, and comfortably. I can’t imagine life without this system, especially considering how large this country is.”
“Do people ever drive these vehicles?” Kino asked without thinking. The man furrowed his brow.
“Drive? Did you just say ‘drive’? As in, do we operate these vehicles ourselves?”
“Yes. I was wondering if people wouldn’t want to take themselves to their destinations,” Kino replied.
The man paled. “That’s much too dangerous! People driving vehicles…it’s absurd! It’s a recipe for disaster.”
“Yes, really. A vehicle is essentially a large, heavy object that can be moved at high speeds. Sometimes with the same level of energy as a persuader shot. We all know what would happen if one of these things barreled into a person.”
“I suppose so.”
“People are not perfect. We make mistakes. Certainly not intentionally, but we make bad judgements all the same. That includes when we are operating vehicles. If we allow people to drive, someone, somewhere, is bound to get into an accident. They could damage property, hurt people, or even cause death. This is why our country does not permit civilians to operate vehicles. Driving is a barbaric act from a bygone era, when cars were first invented. We now have automated vehicles that take us safely to our destinations, so why would any sane person think about driving at all? Ah, I didn’t mean any offense. But really, driving?”
The vehicle came to a stop. The man rose from his seat.
“Please don’t even think about operating something like this, Traveler,” the man warned, and left. At the same time, an elderly man stepped inside and sat across from Kino.
When the vehicle began moving again, the old man gazed out the window and muttered to himself.
“Ah, it’s been a long time since I last heard someone say ‘driving’. Back in the day, I’d use a steering wheel and step on a pedal to accelerate. But those were dark times, yes. Horrific crashes every day. My dear uncle was run down while crossing the street. Died the next day, still young, with a wife and children left behind. And there was that young driver who decided he could speed a little more than usual and missed his turn. Hit tiny kindergarten children standing in a line. A distracted truck driver crashing into the car in front of him. One tragedy after another, day after day. All the rules in the world can’t stop people from making mistakes. And don’t get me started on the non-mistakes. The bad apples. One criminal takes off in a car, and suddenly everything on that strip of road is in danger.”
“I see,” Kino said indifferently.
“Cars are killing machines. Weapons. Certainly not for us to drive around. Thank heavens for machines—now we can get around comfortably and safely. This is what cars were supposed to be, when people first thought them up. Who knew I’d live to see the day?”
The old man’s eyes never once left the distance as he spoke.
The entire country was dotted with low buildings. The roads never once stopped being perfect.
“There’s nothing interesting around. All these buildings are boring,” Hermes complained.
“Where to next?” Kino wondered, pushing Hermes off the vehicle.
“Hold it!” someone said from behind. It was a shrill female voice.
Kino turned. A plump, middle-aged woman was sprinting towards her. To Kino’s relief, she stopped just short of crashing into her.
“I thought I was a goner,” Hermes whispered.
“Are you traveling on this?” the woman demanded, pointing an accusing finger at Hermes.
“Yes, but I’ve signed a—” “Do not! I swear, you are going to die on this thing!”
“I—” “Motorrads are dangerous! Think about it, where is the protection? If you happen to slip and fall, you’ll get thrown clear off! There’s nothing to keep you secure!”
“That’s—” “Your life is precious! It’s valuable! So stop this foolishness immediately! You’re too young to die. Just think about how your parents would feel!”
“I understand, but my—” “There! So do try and think more about your safety! I hope being here gives you lots to think about. Good day!”
The woman took off in the blink of an eye and disappeared on her vehicle.
A moment later, Hermes said, “I take it back. It’s not as boring as I thought here.”
Kino nodded. “Let’s do some shopping.”
They got back in their vehicle and headed for the shopping district. There they found a large mall, with a pathway down the middle lined by shops. Kino pushed Hermes along.
Spotting a hardware store nearby, Kino stepped inside. Pots were on display on the low, wide shelves. The employee, who was working on the floor, looked up.
“Welcome! You must be a traveler. Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“Yes. Do you have any knives in stock? I’m looking for one with a blade longer than my palm, double-edged and sharp. I’ve been looking for ages.”
“Pardon me?” asked the employee. “What do you… Ah, I suppose you must not know. You see, possession of blades is forbidden by law here.”
“What? You mean there are no knives here? Not even in other stores?” Hermes asked, pretending to be shocked.
“No. There is a blanket ban on blades in our country.”
“Why?” Kino asked.
The employee replied, “Because blades are dangerous.”
“Yes, really. Knives are tools for cutting and hurting people. Anyone who would want one has no respect for the sanctity of human life. A potential murderer. We must keep knives out of the hands of anyone who could use them to hurt others. A society where the average civilian has access to knives is no society at all. Just thinking of the perfect knife control laws in our country brings tears of pride to my eyes!” the employee said, eyes watering.
“What if you need to sharpen a pencil?” Kino wondered.
“We have machines for that,” the employee answered immediately.
“What about for crafts? Or cooking?” Kino asked.
“All crafting and cooking materials are processed to perfection before reaching the shelves. This is a civilized city. We have highly-trained professionals like butchers, who wield knives for us. Knives are their tools of the trade, but even these people only use blades for work. Outside work hours, they store their knives in safe lockers. Just thinking about putting a knife in a civilian’s hands gives me the chills. Just suppose…”
Kino and Hermes waited for the employee to continue.
“Imagine there was a country where anyone could get their hands on a knife. There would be stabbings and slashings day and night! People driven into a corner in life, reduced to a frothing rage and rushing into the streets with a knife from the store, stabbing anyone who happens to be there! Who could live in a country like that? It’s the stuff of nightmares…”
“I see. Thank you for the information. If you’ll excuse us.”
Kino and Hermes left the employee to tremble with his head in his hands.
As they walked through the quiet shopping district, Kino mumbled, “I’m amazed.”
“I can see his point,” Hermes admitted. “Someone crazy tried to kill you with a kitchen knife before. And it’s true that knives are dangerous. There’s a reason they have the saying ‘like a hot knife through margarine’.”
“...You mean butter?”
Hermes fell silent.
Then he said, “Now what?”
“Let’s at least stock up on the bare essentials,” Kino said, looking around.
“Didn’t you say the strap on your bag came off?”
“Right. I should look for heavy-duty adhesives.”
Kino asked a passerby for directions to a general store.
Inside the store, they found yet more low shelves. And a middle-aged manager.
“Good day. You’re a traveler, I see. Welcome. Can I help you find anything?”
“Hello. I’m looking for some heavy-duty adhesives.”
The manager seemed a little surprised at first, but replied, “I’m afraid not. You won’t find them anywhere.”
“What?” Hermes said. The manager held up his index finger.
“Allow me to explain. In our country, it is forbidden by law for a civilian to possess or use a heavy-duty adhesive.”
“…Why is that?” Kino asked. Hermes quietly whispered, “We already know the answer.”
“Because they’re dangerous, of course. What if you end up sticking your fingers together? If it gets into your eyes? If a child were to swallow some? It would be a disaster. It’s only right to regulate material that can put people’s lives in jeopardy. If you need something fixed, I can offer you this instead.”
The manager held out a colorful glue stick. Kino took it and examined it.
“How long does it take to dry?”
“Not long. Only half a day or so.”
Kino put the glue stick back on the shelf. “I think the glue can wait. What about strong thread and some needles for repairing leather?”
The manager replied, “We do carry thin thread. Although anything over 10 Pull Resistance is forbidden by law.”
“What is 10 Pull Resistance?” Kino asked.
“It means that the thread will not break for three seconds after bearing the weight of this country’s average 10-year-old.”
“Why is anything stronger illegal?” asked Hermes.
“Naturally, to prevent hangings and strangulation. Strong thread can be used as weapons.”
Kino said nothing. Hermes said, “So you don’t sell rope, either.”
“You’ll find the threads on that yellow shelf over there. We don’t stock any needles, however. It’s forbidden by law for civilians to possess them.”
Kino nodded. “Because they could prick themselves, correct? And broken needle ends could enter the bloodstream and injure the lungs.”
“Precisely. There is a blanket ban on needles and other sharp implements. Like compass tips, ballpoint pens, and fountain pens. As for pencils, anything with a tip measuring more than 120 degrees is against the law.”
Kino was silent.
“But we do have needles for sewing machines, which can only be removed by licensed professionals. You’ll need a sewing machine license and an ID card bearing your current address, and a criminal record check, which will take two weeks to process. Afterwards, you must take the needle to the nearest police station to register the manufacturing number.”
“That’s a lot of work,” Hermes said, exasperated.
“All for the public’s safety,” the manager said proudly.
Kino asked, “So sewing machines aren’t illegal?”
“Not at all. Anyone can obtain a license. You just need a doctor’s note testifying that you are medically fit to operate a sewing machine, and a clear criminal record check. Then you take the documents to the nearest police station for a written test, then take a sewing machine education course and a practical examination. Then you can receive a sewing machine purchase permit. If you bring the permit to the store, you will be allowed to purchase a sewing machine. Afterwards, you must bring the machine to the police station to register it. You also need a locker and a key for storing the sewing machine in your residence. The locker must be securely bolted down to the residence. If you are living with family, you must also receive doctor’s notes and criminal record checks for them as well. Then you are cleared to use a sewing machine at home. You will be free to make dishcloths, skirts, children’s clothing, whatever your heart desires. Of course, you must renew your registration once a year—the police come to check that your sewing machine has not been illegally modified to make the needle removable. We have textbooks to help you prepare for the written exam, if you’d like.”
The manager picked up a dictionary-sized book from one of the shelves.
Kino sighed. “No thank you. …Please excuse us.”
After lunch, Kino headed to a park by the lake. The sun was at its peak, and the waters were a clear blue. Long clouds floated by over the horizon.
Kino stopped Hermes on the grass. She got off to sit down—
“Hello, Traveler. How do you like our lake?” someone said from behind.
Kino turned. It was a man who had been taking a walk by the shore. He was about thirty years of age and wearing a lab coat.
“Hello. The view is wonderful,” Kino said.
The man chuckled. “Isn’t it? It’s part of the reason our ancestors chose to settle here. The beaches get packed with people in the summer.”
“I see. It must be hard to swim in the lake with so many people,” Kino remarked.
The man’s expression darkened. He took two steps towards Kino. “Swimming? Not a chance. It’s forbidden by law,” he said coldly.
“That’s right. Do you have any idea how dangerous water can be? People have drowned in shin-high water.”
“But swimming is fun.”
The man exhaled loudly. He put a finger to his temple and shook his head. “Fun? …Look, there’s no sense in risking your life for a moment of entertainment. You’re underestimating the dangers of water. In any case, our country has a blanket ban on civilian swimming, whether in rivers or the lake. Maybe you’ll wise up once you’re older. Go ahead and swim, for all I care. It’s your life, not mine.”
“Right,” Kino replied soullessly yet again. “By the way! Is that why there aren’t any bathtubs here?”
“That’s right. You can get special permission for tubs for babies and very young children, but any bathtubs and large containers that can hold water are illegal. Don’t want any children or elders drowning. I’ve heard of countries that make those death traps mandatory. If they could see our country, they’d see sense. They’d see what it’s like living in real civilization.”
“You’re lucky to have seen all this, Traveler. When you return to your homeland, tell them about all the great things our country is doing. And don’t be shy about it. I’m sure you’ll surprise them all. But don’t go on the motorrad; you might kill yourself on the way. Goodbye.”
Once the man was gone, Hermes asked, “What do you want to do now? Go back to the hotel?”
“Maybe I’ll take a nap here.”
“Isn’t it a bit cold for that? You’ll get sick.”
“Really? I guess naps are more dangerous than I thought.”
The hotel lobby was furnished with low shelves and sofas.
A round fishbowl was fixed to the shelf. Inside were several goldfish, some with red and white splotches, and others with bulging eyes.
Kino squatted on the floor, watching them, when a passing bellboy noticed.
“Aren’t they cute? They’re practically our mascots. Goldfish are all the rage in our country.” He pointed at the fish with bulging eyes. “This one’s especially rare. It’s purebred, very expensive.”
“I see. What other kinds of pets do you keep in this country? Dogs?” Kino asked.
The bellboy seemed taken aback. “Not at all. It’s forbidden by law.”
“Really?” Kino asked, rising.
“Yes. Think about those fierce, sharp teeth. They could easily hurt or kill someone. I can’t imagine a world where people kept dogs as pets. Logically speaking, a pet should be completely harmless to people.”
“What animals are legal, then?”
“Let’s see…” the bellboy trailed off. “Goldfish, other small fish that are no more than 20 centimeters long when full-grown, plankton, and…some types of jellyfish. They’re all very adorable.”
“What else? Maybe like carp?”
“Too dangerous, I’m afraid. Carp need to be raised in ponds, and ponds are a drowning hazard.”
“Cats?” Hermes wondered.
“Of course not. What if it scratched you and you contracted tetanus?”
“Small birds?” Kino asked.
“They were legal until three years ago. Then they found that the dust from their feathers could cause respiratory problems, so they were banned. All bird owners at the time had to turn in their pets to the government.”
“Turtles?” asked Hermes.
“No animals with a bite force of more than 0.5 Pencil Hardness. Like snapping turtles, for instance.”
“What does 0.5 Pencil Hardness mean?”
“That’s how we measure bite force. 1 Pencil Hardness is enough force to break a pencil within one minute. In other words, animals that can break a pencil with their bite in less than thirty seconds are forbidden.”
“That’s harsh,” Hermes said.
The bellboy proudly stuck up his head. “All for a safe, humane society.”
The moment the bellboy turned to leave, Kino asked, “I have one more question. Why are all the shelves so close to the floor?”
“In case something falls off. In our country, shelves higher than the height of an average toddler are forbidden by law. That’s also why our rooms are so large. This is what it means for a country to protect its people. …By the way,” the bellboy said, pointing at a low bookshelf in a corner of the lobby. It was filled from end to end with thick books, numbering at about fifty. “The latest edition of our law books, published just this year. You’re free to borrow them as you please.”
The next day, Kino rose at dawn.
As usual, she started off with warm-up exercises before heading down for breakfast. Then she smacked Hermes awake and left before the morning rush hour. The unmanned vehicle took them to the western gates.
At the window outside the walls was a young immigrations officer about twenty years of age. When he spotted Kino, he rolled in the safe containing her effects.
“This is yours, correct? Thank you for your cooperation.”
Kino began by packing the rope and other implements. Then she put her many knives back in their places. The officer watched with rapt curiosity.
Then she took her dismantled persuaders and put them back in the blink of an eye. The officer looked on without fear.
Once Cannon and Woodsman were safely in their holsters, Kino jumped up and down lightly as if to check their weight.
“Much better. It feels like getting my hands and feet back,” she said.
The officer, who had been watching in silence, finally said, “Traveler, may I ask for some of your time? I wanted to tell you something.”
“What is it?” Kino asked, turning. The officer hesitated, but finally worked up his courage.
“I’ve never talked about this with anyone in our country before, but…I think there’s something wrong with the way we think. How we ban anything that could possibly pose any harm at all. Maybe it’s because I interact so much with travelers.”
“What do you mean?” asked Kino.
The officer continued. “I…I mean, motorrads, knives, persuaders, cars, and even adhesives are all just tools. I thought that maybe…maybe they’re only dangerous if we mishandle them. If we use them right, they could be just useful things for daily life. So…”
“Go on,” Kino urged. The officer looked her in the eye.
“So I thought that maybe…humans are the most dangerous weapons of all. Human will, I mean. If an object happens to hurt someone, it’s not because it had a will of its own and attacked someone. It’s because a person used it to hurt another, or whoever was using it didn’t have enough experience to wield it properly. There’s no such thing as ‘dangerous things’ in our world. Only dangerous people. So I thought that maybe we could remove the ban on these things—just teach people how to use them right, and teach them the rules for handling them. Don’t take away these things because they could be dangerous, but teach them that tools can be both useful and harmful, depending on how you use them. And make sure more and more people become aware of all that. Then maybe life will become more convenient. More fun, richer. I’m sure there will always be some risk, but it’ll be worth it for all the new opportunities.”
The officer looked around to see if anyone was listening. Then he lowered his voice.
“Traveler. You have a motorrad. Knives and persuaders too. And you use them all. So tell me. Am I wrong? I’m the only one who thinks this way in this entire country. Is something wrong with me? Please be honest with me; you’re the only one who can answer my question.”
The officer was at a genuine loss. Kino looked aside and fell into thought.
Finally, she broke her silence.
“Let me be honest with you. The answer is ‘yes’. Something is wrong with you.”
The officer’s eyes widened. “Oh. Er, but…”
Kino continued. “I can see that your country has given serious thought to the issue of safety and made many wonderful rules to protect its people.”
“What? But I…”
“And thanks to the rules, people live in peace and comfort. And they are happy. Do they seem sad and deprived to you?”
The officer was at a loss.
“I would love to live like you, if only it were possible. Your country is incredible. So I think something must be wrong with you to think that something is wrong with this country. It’s a good thing you haven’t told anyone else about it.”
“Yes. So try and have a little more faith in your country’s policies. Hold your head high.”
The officer’s shoulders drooped. “I see…”
“Please excuse us, then,” Kino said, starting Hermes. The roar of his engine echoed against the wall.
“Thank you. …Take care,” said the officer.
“The same to you,” Kino said, looking ahead. She put on her goggles and set off.
“…I see…” the officer muttered, watching the motorrad disappear into the distance.
“It’s been a while since we let loose. Feels nice,” Kino said.
Kino and Hermes raced down the lakeshore road. The forest flowed rapidly past to their right, and the sun was shining radiantly over the lake to their left.
“You can say that again. It’s not right for a motorrad to get a ride. He’s gotta run on his own wheels,” Hermes agreed.
Kino did a drift as she turned. Pebbles went flying.
“Say, Kino?” said Hermes.
“About what that officer said. Didn’t Master say the same thing?”
A smile came over Kino’s face. “Yeah. It was kind of nostalgic to hear that stuff.”
“I knew it. So why’d you shoot him down?”
“For his safety,” Kino replied. “If they get rid of dangerous things, they’ll do the same for dangerous people.”
“Wow. I guess living safely with other people is hard work too.”
Kino pulled the brakes to slow down, avoiding a large rock in the middle of the path.
Then she accelerated again.