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Chapter 1: The Country that Causes Trouble
-Leave Only Footsteps!-
A motorrad was propped up next to the creek, its luggage rack fully laden with travel gear.
The creek was narrow enough for a child to hop across. It cut across the flat plain at an unhurried pace.
The plain was situated between two mountain ranges.
The rugged stone mountains on the north and south went on as far as the eye could see. Their peaks were still capped with snow.
The vast, flat plain between was green with trees and plants, adding a dash of color to the monochromatic world.
Across the creek from the motorrad was its rider. She sat on the grass with her feet forward and hands supporting her as she looked into the sky. Overhead was a warm spring sun and several clumps of clouds.
The rider was in her mid-teens with short black hair and fair features. She wore a black jacket, a thick belt, and a holstered hand persuader secured around her thigh. Behind her back was a second persuader, an automatic model.
“Phew,” the rider sighed, looking up.
“Well, Kino?” asked the motorrad. “Have you decided?”
Kino shook her head. “No. I haven’t.”
“Then what?” the motorrad asked.
Kino rose with a standoffish look, shaking herself off. Blades of grass fluttered to the ground. “For now, Hermes…” she began, going up to the motorrad. She opened one of the compartments hanging off either side of his rear wheel and pulled out what looked like a long, wound rope.
“Well?” asked Hermes.
Kino picked up her hat off his luggage rack and went to the nearest pair of trees.
“I’m going to try and think of something by…”
Kino unfolded the object in her hands—a net hammock. She hung up either end on either one of the trees and unfastened the holster behind her back.
Without a word, she stared at the persuader. This model had a rectangular barrel, which was almost completely exposed even when holstered. Kino called it ‘Woodsman’.
She put on the holster again, this time over her stomach.
“The weather’s nice, and it’s warm. I don’t see any harm in napping.”
Careful not to let the hammock flip over, Kino sat in the middle and pulled up her feet. The hammock shook slightly and stopped.
“I’m counting on you, Hermes,” she said, covering her face with her hat.
“I don’t believe this,” Hermes groaned. Kino was already fast asleep.
Near the creek was a small puddle. The little pool of water framed a tiny piece of the sky’s reflection.
The reflection trembled. Small ripples came together at the center of the puddle. The sky shook.
“Kino!” Hermes yelled.
Kino fell from her hammock, making a controlled landing on her hands. She lay on her stomach in the grass, her hat falling next to her. “What’s happening?” she whispered, scanning her surroundings.
“The ground’s shaking,” Hermes said matter-of-factly.
“Really?” A moment’s confusion later, Kino fell silent. And she furrowed her brow. “I don’t feel anything.”
Picking up her hat, Kino shook off the dirt and grass from her clothes. She placed a hand on the persuader at her side. “Is it an earthquake?”
“No. You can feel the tremor getting stronger.”
“What does it mean, then?” Kino wondered.
Kino turned to the southwest. Nothing was out of place.
“Like what?” she asked.
“Dunno,” Hermes replied.
The answer soon drew near.
“You’re right, Hermes. I can feel it too,” Kino said, eyes locked on the ripples on the puddle. Hermes urged her to look at the forest to the east.
Kino rose, turning. And she spotted the source of the tremors.
A country like any other, surrounded by towering grey walls. There were no gaps in the walls, but otherwise they were completely ordinary.
But the country was moving. Kino stared in awe at the east.
The tops of the walls emerged and disappeared several times past the treetops. And slowly but surely, it came closer. The tremors grew stronger.
“Mystery solved,” Hermes declared.
“Yeah,” Kino replied. “But what in the world is that thing?” she wondered, eyes wide.
“Probably a country,” Hermes said nonchalantly. “It’s going to run us over if you don’t move.”
The moving country was headed straight in their direction. Kino could hear something like a low wind. She scrambled to take down her hammock, roll it up, and put it back into its compartment. She put on her hat and goggles and started Hermes. They made their way to the right side of the country, trying to avoid it, but Kino stopped right next to its projected route.
She observed the walls from up close.
The walls went around in a large circle, and were topped with guard towers at regular intervals. The country was not very large—she could go all the way around it on foot if she wanted. But it was moving, with a deep, thunderous roar that echoed from the distance.
Kino slowly raised her head and her voice. “Wow. A moving country… I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Yeah,” Hermes agreed. “Well? Want to ask for a ride?”
Kino looked at him. “You might be on to something, Hermes.”
“What if they start shooting at us?”
“It’ll be a gamble. But let’s give it a shot. Right now, this country’s our best chance.”
Stepping out of the shadows of the trees, Kino waved at the passing country.
The country drew even nearer, snapping trees under its house-sized caterpillar tracks. Trunks turned to chips under the weight.
Soon, the country was covering part of the sky, cutting off Kino from the sun and casting a shadow over her.
“It’s like a moving mountain,” Hermes muttered.
That was when, amidst the deafening noise, a male voice spoke.
“Are you a traveler?”
The voice seemed to come from right next to Kino. She looked around, surprised.
“Ah, pardon me. I’m speaking from inside the country. Let me ask again: are you a traveler? Are you seeking entry into our country?”
Kino waved again. The man responded.
“Then please wait a moment.”
Soon, the noise and tremors began to die down. As Kino and Hermes watched, the country came to a stop with a loud thud.
Kino and Hermes stood before a set of gates at the front of the country. They swung outwards and were thick and heavy enough to dig into the ground. Inside was a ramp that led into the country proper.
A small truck came down the ramp, engine whirring pleasantly. Inside was a nondescript man about forty years of age, wearing a button-down shirt, tie, and a light green work jacket.
“Good day, Traveler. I am a civil servant here. I serve as an immigrations officer, guide, police officer, and more. Civil servants have many different duties in our country, you see,” he said, stopping before Kino and Hermes.
“Er…is this a country?” Kino asked, after introducing herself. “Where are you going?”
The guide nodded. “Yes, this is a country. My fellows and I live peaceful lives inside, always on the move. We’re currently headed west down the plains.”
As was her usual custom, Kino asked if she could visit the country for tourism purposes.
The guide granted her permission wholeheartedly, exclaiming that visitors were always welcome. “How long will you be staying?”
Kino looked at Hermes, and turned back to the guide. “Five to ten days.”
“Look over there, Kino. Our country’s engine. We use steam generators to produce electricity, which powers the caterpillar tracks and our day-to-day activities inside,” the guide explained, pointing at the massive device beyond a thick pane of glass.
Kino was in the passenger seat of the truck, and Hermes was secured to the back. The truck was stopped in the middle of a large road surrounded by walls and glass panes. The entire space was faintly trembling with a low roar.
The guide pointed at several monitors positioned above the glass windows. They displayed people working on the device, all dressed in clothes that covered their entire bodies.
“The engine is self-operating, so all we have to do is keep an eye on it. And one load of fuel lasts for centuries, which means we have no need to resort to backup power. We mostly keep busy maintaining and cleaning the caterpillar tracks and the motors. Now let’s be off, shall we?”
The truck started again. Kino asked, “How long have your people been living here?”
“Ah, are you curious about our history? Truth be told, we’re not sure. Maybe our ancestors happened across a moving structure and made it their home. Or maybe we’ve always been here and simply can’t remember. But since we have no way of knowing, we don’t worry ourselves about it too much.”
“Are you going to keep moving around like this? Not gonna settle down if you see a good place?” Hermes asked.
The guide gave two reasons for continuing to move with the country. “The first issue is with our engine system. Once it stops completely, it takes too much effort and energy to start it again. Not only that, if we stop moving for a long period of time, the energy—the heat—that would have been used to power our movements would build up in the system. That is why we always consume the energy by continuing to move, if only at a walking pace.”
“I see.” “Hm.”
The guide smiled. “The other reason might be familiar to you. We love seeing new things and visiting different places. Our entire country is traveling together, in one sense.”
“That sounds wonderful. Do you have a course planned out?”
“No. But we’re always moving across the continent. Sometimes through deserts and sometimes through fields, and even through mountains, in spite of all the difficulties. We almost never visit the same place twice, at least not in living memory. We are always on the move.”
The truck continued down the road, which emerged into the country proper. Two-lane streets crisscrossed the country, dotted by crossings and signals.
The truck made a U-turn onto an incline. At the top of the slope was a blindingly bright exit that led to the very top of the country. A round, green area surrounded by low walls. It was a large park, complete with dirt, grass, and forests. Some of the trees were big enough to be well over a hundred years old. Kino even spotted manmade creeks and a small lake.
The park was no different from any Kino had seen before. It was filled with people, whether strolling, exercising, napping on the grass, or enjoying a boat ride.
“Welcome to the top level. The only place in our country where you can enjoy real sunlight. It’s where our people come to rest. We try to uphold the spirit of equality here, which means even the president must live in the lower levels, which don’t receive any sunlight. We do have windows to look out of, though.”
The truck continued upwards, this time to the road that made up the top of the walls. The road was narrow but lined with short, sturdy guardrails. To their left was the green park, and far below to their right was the green plain.
“Must be hard to live here if you’re afraid of heights.” Hermes said.
The truck soon reached the east side of the wall, at the back of the country.
“Wow.” “Amazing,” Kino and Hermes exclaimed. The country had left a clear trail behind it to the east.
The caterpillar tracks had left deep marks in the ground. Trees and plants were pummeled into the earth. The ground had been churned. A thick brown line of tracks led into the distance, between the two mountain ranges on the north and south.
“This is one thing we can’t help,” the guide said remorsefully. “It pains us to leave such destruction in our wake. And we know that we are harming nature through our travels. But isn’t it the same with a person traveling on his own? Each step leaves behind a footprint. We can’t change that fact. All we can do is hope that new trees and grass will spring up in this land someday.”
The room was small but tidy.
It was furnished with a bed, dresser, nightstand, folding chair, and table. Everything was bolted to the floor.
Not a single window adorned the wall. A large screen was displaying the world outside, half dedicated to daytime and the other half a live feed of the sunset outside.
Hermes was parked at the entrance, and took up about half the space in the room. He was on his side stand and secured down with a belt for good measure. He was completely spotless.
Kino stepped out of a door on the side, wearing a set of blue pajamas labeled with the number 41. She gave her hair a cursory wipe and hung her towel around her neck, and sat on the edge of her mattress.
“I don’t remember the last time I could use all the hot water I wanted.”
“Yeah, but they recycle it all. You might end up drinking your shower water tomorrow,” Hermes warned.
“I don’t mind. Better than filtering muddy river water for tea.”
“That’s true. Where’d you get the pajamas?”
“They let me borrow them. And all the towels I needed, too.”
“Huh,” Hermes replied. At that moment, the room began to shake like in a mild earthquake. “You think we ran over a rock, Kino? …Oh, it stopped. I guess they crushed it.”
“I still can’t believe we’re moving.”
Kino hung up her towel and took out Woodsman from its hiding place under the pillow. Pulling it out of its holster, she stared at it for some time. Then Kino put it back.
“You think things’ll work out?”
“We’ll find out in a few days. For now, I just want to sleep.”
Kino lay down in bed and pulled up her sheets.
“Save it for tomorrow, Hermes. Good night,” Kino said, and added, “What was it again…? ‘Power’, ‘Full shutdown’.”
The lights and the screen all turned off in unison.
“A clean bed…white sheets…” Kino mumbled in the dark, and fell asleep.
The next morning, Kino woke up and turned on the lights and the screen. The live feed showed a forest lit by the light of dawn, and the mountain range to the south.
“Good morning, Kino,” Hermes said.
“You’re up early, Hermes. Did you sleep well?” Kino replied, heading to the bathroom.
Hermes said, “About what I was going to tell you last night—”
The moment Kino disappeared into the bathroom, she yelled.
“You know you’ll get really bad bed head if you don’t dry off before you sleep.”
“Nope. Machines do all the work here. And he even got angry and said they couldn’t make a visitor do work for them. He told me to just relax and take it easy.”
Kino and Hermes were under the blue sky. She pushed him to the park entrance and propped him up. Kino was wearing her usual jacket without her hat and goggles, having even removed her holstered persuader.
“Then I guess you have nothing to do. Take a nap, maybe?” Hermes asked. He was loaded with nothing.
“That sounds good.”
Kino pushed Hermes into the park.
Sunbathing locals spotted Kino and approached her. They explained that the news reported their arrival the previous night, and welcomed her to their country. The people were surprised to hear that Kino was traveling alone by motorrad, and encouraged her to get some rest during her stay.
Kino did as she was told and borrowed a folding chair. she lay down next to Hermes and watched the clouds pass by. Around lunchtime, food stands rose out of the ground. Kino ordered farm-grown vegetables and chicken.
After the delicious meal, children around ten years of age began gathering at the park entrance. Once a dozen or so children had arrived, they all disappeared into the walls with a chaperone.
Kino asked where the children were going. Someone replied, “They’re going to paint a mural on the wall. It’s a special event we hold for kids finishing primary school.”
“That’s right. They go outside on a rig and all paint a big mural on the wall.” The local added that Kino should go and see for herself.
“Are we going, Kino?”
“It’s not like we have anything better to do. And it sounds interesting, too.”
“All right. We won’t need a truck to get up to the top of the wall, right?”
Kino started Hermes, left the park, and climbed up the ramp. The wind was a little stronger at the top of the wall.
About halfway around the country, on the north side of the walls, they spotted a large truck equipped with two cranes. The cranes were secured to the guardrails at the edge of the wall, and from them hung a long basket. Children wearing helmets and harnesses stood inside, looking both excited and nervous as they listened to their chaperone.
Kino asked a teacher for permission to observe, and stopped Hermes at the edge of the road. She secured him to the guardrails, and borrowed a safety harness for herself.
The children were slowly lowered along the walls. They took up large brushes and began to paint, following a large outline that had been set up earlier.
“I can’t really tell what they’re painting from up here,” Kino said.
The teacher showed Kino and Hermes a screen displaying a feed from a camera set up just off the wall. The mural depicted large, snow-capped mountains with a tropical forest before it, and herds of wild animals. The animals were large enough to be life-sized. The children were almost finished, with only a bit of the outline still visible.
“The students decide on things that impressed them the most along the way during their time in primary school, and paint it together. It’s been four years since we passed by the area they’re painting now. It was very beautiful. Everyone just stood at the top of the walls, watching the world pass by for hours. The mural will be finished in a few more days. I remember when I was in primary school. We painted a large volcano we passed by in the desert.”
“What happens with finished murals?”
“We take photos of it, and coat it with a protective layer. The murals stay on the wall for 500 days, until the next batch of students leave primary school.”
Kino took a seat on Hermes and relaxed, watching the mural become complete.
Evening finally came, and the sun began to set.
Kino and Hermes watched the sun disappear into the forest between the mountain ranges, all from the comfort of their room.
The next day. It was the third day of their stay in the country.
Kino rose at dawn. The sky displayed on the screen was overcast, rainclouds almost bursting overhead. Hermes was channel surfing.
That was when a special news bulletin interrupted the broadcast. “Today’s mural-painting session has been put on hold,” it said, displaying a picture of the almost-complete mural. “In related news, the traveler currently staying with us seems to have taken quite the interest in our tradition.”
The screen showed footage of Kino and Hermes watching the children at work.
“When did they shoot that?” “Wow.”
As usual, Kino started off the day with light exercises. She then did persuader drills and maintenance. First up was Cannon, the revolver, and second was Woodsman, the automatic. Kino oiled, loaded, and holstered them one after the other.
Afterwards, she took out a rifle-type persuader she kept dismantled in her suitcase. She put the two pieces together, maintained it, and checked that it was in working order.
“Are you going to need that?”
“Who knows?” Kino said, cleaning the lens of the scope before taking the persuader apart and putting it back in her case.
Kino showered and headed for a restaurant with Hermes. They found one just across the street. Passersby greeted them along the way.
At the restaurant, Kino propped up Hermes next to the table and secured him to the floor. Breakfast consisted mostly of vegetables, everything served in unnecessarily deep bowls that could be secured to platters. The platters could also be secured to the tables.
The civil servant who welcomed Kino to the country asked for permission to sit with her. He asked Kino how she liked the country, to which she responded honestly; the guide gave a cheerful laugh.
Kino and the guide relaxed over tea and rose from their seats when an alarm went off, screeching against their eardrums. Red lights on the walls lit up and began to spin.
“What’s happening?” “Is it a fire?” Kino and Hermes wondered.
“All citizens, to your designated locations! No running or pushing,” said the civil servant, carrying out his duties as a policeman. “Kino, Hermes. This warning means that we’ve spotted a country in our path. As a diplomat, I must head to the command center. Would you like to come and see?”
The alarm was soon replaced by relaxing music, and an announcement ordering all citizens to return to their residences.
Kino and Hermes were driven to a room labeled ‘Operations Command’. It was the bridge of the moving country they were aboard, with people seated at multi-level operating panels, and large monitors displaying the country’s surroundings.
Among the identical uniform jackets was an older woman in a soft chair. She looked at the civil servant—who now acted as a diplomat—and smiled. “You’re here. I leave the rest to you. And good morning, Traveler. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I am the president of this country. Don’t let my presence bother you; make yourself at home.”
Kino greeted the president, then took a seat and buckled herself in as instructed. Hermes was secured next to her.
They looked at the screens lined up in front of them. The smaller ones to the sides displayed the situation outside the walls, with some focused only on the murals. The largest of the screens, positioned at the very center, displayed the course straight ahead.
Like the previous two days, under the cloudy sky was the forest and the mountain ranges that sandwiched it. But this time, there was a country beyond the trees.
“This is…troublesome,” said the guide, visibly surprised. “It certainly is,” said the president.
The wall was made of stone, like with most other countries. However, it stood in a straight line instead of in a circle around the country. The wall began at the mountain range at the north and ended at the mountain range at the south. It blocked the plain like a dam.
“It seems that entry is forbidden,” said the guide. The wall on the screen drew nearer.
The camera zoomed in towards the soldiers on the ramparts of the wall, scrambling to set up their cannons. An arrow on the screen stopped over them. The diplomat picked up a microphone and spoke to the men on the wall, requesting to speak to a superior if they had a radio.
A moment of static later, the radio transmission came in. A man identifying himself as a general demanded to know what the moving country was doing. The diplomat explained that his country was constantly on the move, saying, “We are currently headed westward. We would like to ask your permission to cross your country.”
There was a brief pause, before the general replied that he could not grant entry.
“I knew it,” Hermes muttered.
“But your wall is blocking off the plains entirely. Our country cannot go around it,” said the guide.
The general replied that his country had toiled for years to expand their borders this far, and that it was not another country’s business to interfere. He threatened to take any further approach as an attack on his country’s territorial sovereignty.
“We have no intention of fighting a war. It will not help anyone. We simply ask you to let us through. Please show us a route through your country.”
The general was furious. He howled that he would never allow the moving country through.
The diplomat turned to one of the people on the operating panels. “The dome. Prepare two cameras, one to the rear-left flank and the other inside.”
A small monitor displaying the country interior showed the center of the country splitting open. From the gaps emerged several claw-like metal plates, which came together on top of the walls to form a giant protective dome.
The general on the wall responded, saying that their hand had been forced, and that they would resort to violence in order to protect their own country. He followed up with an official declaration of war, which was immediately followed by a volley of cannon fire.
“This is troublesome,” the diplomat muttered, as the screens displayed cannon shells landing on the walls and the dome. Smoke and explosions obscured the area. When they cleared, the walls and the dome were none worse for the wear, save for some singe marks. The command center had not felt even the slightest impact.
The moving country pressed forward, meeting the barrage head-on.
“This should be enough. Cameras, please.”
At the diplomat’s orders, part of the country’s walls opened, spewing two round orbs of black and white. They flew in arcs, wires trailing behind.
One landed in the woods, and the other went clear over the wall between the mountain ranges. It smashed a small wooden hut to splinters, bounced off the ground, and landed in a farmer’s field.
The cameras in the orbs sent live footage to the screens in the command center.
One of the feeds showed the moving country from behind as it slowly approached the wall ahead amidst the barrage of cannon fire.
The other showed the country ahead from inside—the inside of the towering wall, the soldiers busily transporting cannon shells, and the wall on the other side of the country, faintly visible to the west. Further north was a town with stone houses and high-rises, but the rest of the country consisted mostly of fields and plains.
Soon, a group of soldiers approached the camera and opened fire, and set grenades on it. The image on the screen shook.
“Madam President, I believe we will be able to minimize property damage if we pass through the farmlands.”
“Excellent. Please do that,” the president said.
The diplomat said into the microphone, “We will now be passing through the fields on the south side of your country. It shouldn’t take more than half a day at full speed. Please do not let us bother you.”
The general roared that he could not let that happen, and that even if their cannons failed, the wall would protect them.
The diplomat did not bat an eyelid. “Cut through the wall, please. The left side, where they haven’t installed any cannons.”
A blinding yellow beam materialized on the screen. It was pointed directly at the wall ahead.
Kino watched in shock. Hermes explained, “That’s a high-power laser. It uses the same technology as Woodsman’s laser sight.”
The laser moved down, then left and up. It cut through the stone wall like a hot knife through butter.
The general anxiously demanded to know what was going on. A section of the wall slowly came loose and fell forward. Stones began falling from the top of the section before it collapsed whole in a pile of dust.
“We have a way,” said the diplomat.
The president nodded. “Let us proceed.”
The moving country stopped going forward, instead crawling left. The rear camera showed the moving country, cloaked in black smoke, as it resumed its march amidst the cannon fire.
There was another transmission. This time, the general’s voice carried a hint of pleading. He said that the moving country was being unreasonable, and that it should pay a toll for passing through.
“A toll, you say? I’m terribly sorry, but we have nothing to give you. Please, we will stop troubling you soon,” the diplomat said.
The moving country coiled back its two cameras, and rolled into the gap in the wall. The gap was just large enough for it to pass through, without enough space between it and either cross-section of the wall for a car to pass through.
Emerging past the wall, the moving country headed for the farmlands. The screens displayed the soldiers as they stopped fire and stared up in awe.
The country in the plains was vast, carpeted with endless tracts of green fields. The moving country accelerated slightly and carved its tracks into the ground at a walking pace.
Directly in the moving country’s path was a large stone farmhouse. Next to it was a silo for storing grain.
“Oh, a residence,” said the diplomat.
The general immediately demanded that the moving country stop.
“We apologize, sir, but please tell the occupants to leave the house. It’s dangerous in there.”
The moving country did not slow down. A truck drove up next to the house and brought out the people inside. One of them, an elderly woman, refused to board and began shouting desperately at the moving country. She threw a rock at it—which hit nothing but the ground—and collapsed where she stood.
“This is troublesome,” the diplomat muttered, and said to the outraged old woman, “Please move out of the way. You will be crushed if you do not move.”
She refused to budge. The moving country slowly drew closer. The diplomat asked an operator to point the arrow on the screen at a nearby soldier. “Excuse me, sir, but you have a duty to keep your countrymen safe. You must rescue her.”
It took several soldiers to lift the woman off the ground and hoist her onto the truck. It zoomed away in a hurry. All the while, the soldiers on the ground fired on the moving country through the open windows.
The moving country ran over the silo, the barn, the farmhouse, the garage, and the large tree next to it, and passed by without so much as a scratch. The rear camera displayed the scene behind the country—there was no sign that a farm had ever existed there.
“We should be able to pass through without any trouble. What a relief,” said the diplomat. He relaxed in his chair and took a sip of tea someone had served. Kino also received a mug.
The general said that the moving country was abusing its powers and privileges, and that they were inhuman for not considering the lands they destroyed and the lives they ruined.
“Do you believe this, Kino?” Hermes remarked.
“Let’s pretend we didn’t hear anything,” Kino replied.
Around the time the western wall came into clear view, one of the operators said to the diplomat, “Sir, they’re launching missiles at our flank. At the murals, of all places. The Ministry of Education and the parents are requesting immediate action.”
The diplomat sat up and looked at the screen, which switched to a feed of the mural on the right side. Part of the mountain was peeling away. Another screen showed several military vehicles, each loaded with two anti-tank missiles. One launched a missile trailing black smoke and a guide wire. It landed on the mural. There was a small explosion.. The elephant lost its lower body.
“This is intentional. How could they be so heartless? The children will be very upset. Shall we use the laser on the trucks?” the diplomat asked the president.
The president thought for a moment. “Couldn’t we simply disable the launchers?”
“I’m afraid that will be difficult. The laser’s output is too strong, even at minimal levels.”
“I’d rather avoid any unnecessary bloodshed. I suppose we should let them attack. The walls will hold, and I can explain this to the children later.”
The diplomat turned back to the screen, dejected.
“What about a persuader?” Kino asked.
The diplomat looked up. “Snipe them, you mean? That is an excellent idea, but no one here has the expertise for it.”
“I would like to volunteer,” Kino said.
“This is very dangerous, Traveler.”
“I’ll be fine as long as they don’t use the cannons.”
“But we couldn’t impose like this—”
“It’s the least I can do to pay you back for your hospitality.”
Kino and the diplomat were on the road at the top of the country, just above the mural. They were still in the shelter of the dome. Next to them stood the truck they had taken there.
Kino was in her black jacket and hat, holding her rifle. The rifle was an automatic model she called ‘Flute’, equipped with a nine-round magazine. Kino loaded the first round.
“Their assault is not yet finished. It seems they are sending in several missile launchers at once. The launch cars stop before they attack,” the man said, showing Kino the feed. Four-wheel-drive cars came driving in a line, stopping and taking aim in unison.
“I’m ready,” Kino said.
The man pressed a button, and a small person-sized door opened in the dome. Kino slipped outside with Flute, and lay on her stomach on the road with the persuader in hand. The diplomat gave her a safety harness.
There was a slight breeze outside. Kino crept to the edge of the wall and slowly pointed Flute between the guardrails.
“They’re ready to fire, Kino,” said the diplomat. Kino took aim. Through her scope, she could see a soldier peering into his launch mechanism. She disarmed the safety.
Several gunshots pierced the air.
With each shot, soldiers taking aim looked up in shock. The lenses on their launchers shattered one after another.
Kino started from one end of the line, disabling their launchers.
But the final one in the line managed to launch before she could shoot. Two missiles flew at Kino, trailing black smoke. She sat up.
The camera displayed a feed of Kino half-lying on the ground, taking aim again. Because there was no microphone, the command center could only tell that Kino was opening fire by the recoil from her persuader and the empty casings popping out of Flute. Another screen showed two missiles flying at the camera exploding in midair.
Two walls stood parallel to one another between a pair of mountain ranges, framing a country inside.
A straight brown line went from one of the walls to the farmlands in the south, far from the crowded city center. At the front of the line was a large, slow-moving dome.
The dome fired a laser, cutting a hole in the western wall. The wall fell without resistance.
The moving country drove over what was once a proud rampart, and continued on. The diplomat took the microphone.
“We apologize for the trouble. Please excuse us.”
The general was trembling with white-hot fury. He demanded restitution for the damages they caused, claiming that his country had the right to demand payment. He ordered the moving country to stop and enter official negotiations.
“I am afraid that your country is the one who declared war first, and as we have not lost, we see no reason to agree to your demands. Please do not be too upset; we will not be passing through this way again. Sow seeds on your land and live in peace. Good day,” the diplomat said, and cut off communications.
The next day.
It was the fourth day of Kino’s stay in the moving country.
The country was once again moving at a walking pace, with the rising sun behind it. The dome had been taken down. The mountain range to the south ended, giving way to an endless plain. Wispy clouds floated by overhead.
“You could conquer and destroy countries with that kind of power,” Kino remarked. She was in her usual black jacket and hat, with holsters on her right thigh and behind her back. Her goggles were around her neck. Hermes was fully loaded.
“I suppose that’s true,” the civil servant replied. They stood on a road inside the moving country, with a truck behind them. “But that is not the life we want. We are perfectly happy with what we have. We live without fear of going hungry. It would be foolishness to risk this comfort and turn the world against us. But we do encounter strong resistance once in a while, like yesterday. It may not be entire countries, but we end up having to drive over roads, levies, or cemeteries.”
“But you’re still going to travel?” Hermes asked.
The man nodded. “Yes. We’ve resigned ourselves to that. After all, who can live without causing trouble for others?”
“Thank you for your hospitality.”
“We’d love to have you stay longer, but I suppose there’s no changing our heading. I wish you all the best. We’ll stop and open the door for you soon.”
The man asked Kino one final thing.
“I realize this may be a rude question, but are you interested at all in becoming a citizen of our country, Kino? You are very welcome to join us.”
“I’m sorry, but Hermes and I would prefer to travel on our own,” Kino said firmly.
The man gave a resigned smile. “I see. Take care, then.”
Kino thanked the man for the fuel, ammunition, and rations. He thanked her in turn on behalf of the children.
An announcement played on the PA system, warning that the country was coming to a stop. The door slowly opened.
Kino thanked the man once more, said goodbye, and pushed Hermes out the door. Once she reached the ground, she turned back and saw the door closing on the man as he waved.
Starting Hermes, Kino headed westward.
The country made a 90-degree turn and went south. Kino saw the slightly-damaged mural and the children above it, wearing safety helmets and waving to her.
The motorrad continued westward on the plain. Birds took to the air, spooked by the noise.
“It’s been too long.” “Yeah. I prefer this, too,” said Hermes and Kino.
“That was an interesting country. It caused so much trouble, too.”
“Which one?” Kino asked with a chuckle.
“Both. The one that wouldn’t let people in blocked off the plains on purpose so they could rip off the travelers passing by.”
“Yeah. I might have considered it if they’d asked for labor instead of Woodsman, though.”
“They must be rushing to put their walls back up.”
“Maybe,” Kino said, smiling. “I wonder where the moving country will go now.”
“Who knows? But I know one thing’s for certain.”
“Yeah?” asked Kino.
Hermes replied, “In a few hundred days, a bunch of kids are going to paint you and Flute on that wall.”
“That’s…kind of embarrassing.”
“Aww, you don’t like it?” Hermes teased.
“I wouldn’t say I don’t,” Kino replied.