The Mecha Monogatari, Chapter VI
Posted by Doug on December 7, 2008
“Yeah, everyone else’s titans were virtually undamaged,” Hijū said in between mouthfuls of ice cream. After engaging the Eschatos on the southeastern coast of Chiba, Hijū and Inoue’s titans had been completely disabled, and with only four still operational, the Hayabusa team pulled back to Sodegaura, leaving the Kuroguma team, which had only been lightly damaged, to defend the coastline.
That was almost eighteen hours ago. It was now four a.m., and the alert had long since been rescinded, but Hijū did not feel the least bit tired, and apparently, neither did Benkei or Seki, who had come over to Hijū’s apartment to hear what had happened. “You’re lucky,” Benkei said as he tried to straighten Hijū’s living room. “You should have waited for the missile strike to break their attack, and then led an organized withdrawal.”
“No, they’re the lucky ones,” Hijū countered. “Sakamoto-nii wasn’t badly damaged at all. The only reason he went down was because he’s starting to go asynchronous. If it wasn’t for that, we would have linked up with Kuroguma without any problems.”
“You can’t say that for sure,” Benkei countered.
“It doesn’t matter now, anyways,” Hijū said, even though she knew Benkei had a point.
Seki sat opposite Hijū at her kotatsu. He had been flipping through the channels on her TV, looking for a station that was playing the footage of Hijū’s battle that the news helicopter had taken, but it was not to be found, so Seki muted the television. “So, how bad was the damage to your titan?”
Hijū tried to answer with a mouthful of ice cream, but there was no way her words were comprehensible. Swallowing, she said, “Sorry. Damage? Well, they’re going to have to replace the whole right arm. They might be able to salvage the hand and wrist, but I don’t know. Other than that, the armor plates on my torso and left side will have to be replaced. They’ll probably replace the reactor engine shielding and the conduits just as a precaution. After I get some sleep I’ll go to the station and help out Mami and the others, but Hayabusa-1 is going to be out of commission for at least two or three days.”
“Don’t forget you still have duties at the Academy,” Benkei said. “Classes start in five days, and I haven’t seen your lesson plan.”
Hijū waved her spoon dismissively. “Just copy the one I did last year-“
“You didn’t do one last year, either,” Benkei growled. “I got chewed out by the commandant over that.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Hijū said. “Okay, I’ll throw something together over the weekend.” Noting Benkei’s unbelieving glare, she added, “It’s not like I’m going to use it or anything.”
Benkei sighed. “You’re so disorganized. If the commandant-“
“Shōta, I promise I’ll do it,” Hijū said. “I will. So what did you two do during the alert?”
“Hung out on the roof with my camera,” Benkei said.
“We couldn’t see anything, though,” Seki said, disappointed. “Just a lot of helicopters and airplanes.”
“I figured you’d stuff him in a shelter,” Hijū said to Benkei.
Benkei shook his head. “Pilots do not hide.”
“True,” Hijū said. Most pilots considered it either a point of pride or a point of style not to ever go into the underground shelters where everyone else retreated during alerts, even after they went asynchronous. “So, what was it like, Seki-kun?”
Seki shrugged. “Nothing happened. Well, not where we were, I mean.”
“How did it feel to not be stuck in a shelter?” Hijū asked.
Seki just shrugged again.
“I haven’t been in a shelter since ’07,” Hijū said.
“2013,” Benkei said.
“July,” Seki said. “So, at the Academy, we won’t go to the shelters during alerts?”
“No,” Benkei said. “Not unless the Eschatos get within ten kilometers of Shinjuku. The Academy campus has its own shelter, and that whole place can be evacuated in three minutes.”
“When was the last time that happened?” Seki asked.
“Two years ago,” Benkei said. “The Academy wasn’t ever attacked, though.”
“For some reason the Eschatos won’t ever attack it,” Hijū explained, “They’ve attacked the Kōkyo, what? Six times in the last ten years?”
“Yeah. Twice in ’15,” Benkei said.
Hijū set her ice cream aside and flopped back onto the tatami. “Oh, there’s no telling what the Eschatos think. Seventy years since they showed up, and it’s still up for debate as to who they really are and why they started this war.”
“One of my teachers in junior high said that the Soviet Union tried to attack Orbital City One, and that’s what started the war,” Seki said.
“Sputnik wasn’t a weapon,” Benkei said. “All it had was some temperature and pressure sensors and a one-watt radio transmitter.”
“Wasn’t the SS-6 a ballistic missile?” Hijū asked.
“Originally, yes. It was the first real ICBM,” Benkei said, “But it had been modified for the Sputnik program. It didn’t have a weapons payload.”
“So the Soviets said, anyways,” Hijū said.
“Even if the Soviets attacked first, it still doesn’t explain anything,” Benkei said.
“Surely someone knows what’s going on,” Seki said. “The Eschatos have set up proxy governments in Europe and South America.”
“What do you mean? Send spies?” Hijū asked.
“Well, yeah,” Seki said.
“Japan has active intelligence agencies,” Benkei said. “How do you think we get advanced warning of Eschatos raids, like we did yesterday? And we’ve captured a few Eschatos pilots. I sat in on a few interrogations back when I was with the 28th. They could tell us about their own unit’s operations, but they never knew anything about the big picture.”
“A code of silence, like the yakuza?” Seki asked.
“No,” Benkei said, and then chuckled for a moment. “No, most of the time, it was hard to get them to shut up. They just didn’t know anything.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Hijū said. “They attacked us, and we’re going to defeat them.” Then Hijū sat up, “Say, are you two hungry?”
Benkei was a little thrown off by her sudden change of topic. “Hungry? You’ve been eating nonstop for the last two hours! How can you still be hungry?”
“I just am,” Hijū said. “What about you, Seki-kun?”
Hijū noticed that Seki looked over at Benkei before answering. “Well, we ate earlier…”
“It was probably nothing but health food,” Hijū scoffed. Seki’s confirmation was a fractional nod of his head. “Shōta, you can’t just feed him that stuff.”
“There is nothing wrong with the food I made,” Benkei said.
“Except it doesn’t have any meat in it,” Hijū said. “How about we go out for jingisukan? Ever had jingisukan before, Seki-kun?”
“No, I haven’t,” Seki said.
“You’re joking,” Hijū said. “Oh, we definitely have to now.”
“Misaki, can I have a word with you?” Benkei said.
Hijū recognized his tone-Benkei had shifted into his ‘lead instructor’ voice. What now? “Okay,” Hijū said.
They stepped out onto Hijū’s tiny balcony. Before them, the darkness of the overcast night was broken only by the lights of Shinjuku. “What is it?” Hijū asked.
Benkei spoke, his voice low. “You’re getting too close to Seki-kun. Next Monday, you’re going to have an entire class to take care of-“
“I know that,” Hijū said. “But didn’t you tell me we needed to make sure he had connections?”
“Yes, but we need to be careful,” Benkei said. “We can’t have favorites in the class.”
“Oh, what about Hirai-san?” Hijū teased. “She was so in love with you.”
“I never treated her special,” Benkei said.
“Sure you didn’t,” Hijū said.
“You know I didn’t,” Benkei growled.
Hijū could tell he was starting to get angry. “Calm down, Shōta. I know you didn’t. And you know I’m not going to let things get out of hand with Seki-kun, so just relax.”
“I just don’t want you to forget about the other students,” Benkei said. “Seki-kun is not the only one we got to pay extra attention to-we’ve got Yoshida-kun this term.”
Hijū nodded. The typical term at the Academy was six months; Yoshida Daisuke had been there for a year, having been held back twice already. Yoshida could synchronize reasonably well, but he just could not function as a pilot at all, it seemed. “What do you think about teaming him up with Seki-kun?”
Benkei shook his head. “No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. If Seki-kun turns out half as good as we think he will, he will leave Yoshida-kun far behind. That’s what happened last term—Yoshida-kun just gave up. No, I’ve got the class organized to balance situations like that out. Seki-kun needs to be put in a team that can keep up with him.”
“Who are you going to team him up with?” Hijū asked.
“Their names are Hatsutori Masao, Ōhashi Chizuru, and Tsuchiya Rin,” Benkei said.
“Tsuchiya Rin?” Hijū asked, smiling. “That’s Tessen’s little sister, isn’t it?”
Benkei nodded. “The same.”
“Oh, wow,” Hijū giggled. She had served with Tessen back when he was just Tsuchiya Jun jun rikui, or, as Hijū had called him, Jun-Jun. Back then, the boy who would become known as Tessen was awkward and clumsy, and Hijū, three years his senior, had a lot of fun embarrassing him at every opportunity. But he did not earn a shikona by blushing and stammering. When it came to battle… “If she’s anything like her brother, she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. What about the other two?”
“Ōhashi and Hatsutori? Ōhashi was first in her group at basic and a nikyū jūdōka. Her instructors say she is a natural sharpshooter. Hatsutori has a synch of fifteen point seven,” Benkei said. “That’s the highest we’ve had, other than Seki.”
“So, we going to ramp up the difficulty in the simulations on them?” Hijū asked.
“Of course,” Benkei said. “A lot.”
Hijū nodded. In a way, it was not fair: the simulations would be harder for them than it would be for the other students in the class, but Hijū and Benkei would grade them as if they weren’t. Then again, it was a little-known secret that the grades the students made weren’t that important. Ultimately, Benkei, as lead instructor, would have final say as to whether any given student would be allowed to graduate or would be held back for another term. The marks in his grade book were only one factor in his decision.
“Got it. I’ll make the lesson plan, and I won’t forget about the other students,” Hijū said. “But right now, we’re going to go celebrate the defense of Chiba with some jingisukan.”
Benkei gave her a worried look. Glancing at his watch, he said, “Misaki, it’s 4:43 a.m. There aren’t going to be any restaurants open this early. Not a jingisukan place, anyways.”
“But I’m hungry,” Hijū said.
“Let’s go over to my place, and I’ll make you some breakfast,” Benkei said, leading the way back into the apartment.
Seki had unmuted the television; a reporter was interviewing some Rikujō Jieitai colonel Hijū did not recognize. She was less than interested in the news, and she wasn’t interested in Benkei’s cooking, either. Hijū yawned. “You know I can’t stand that stuff you eat.”
“You need to start eating better,” Benkei warned her. “And working out. How much do you weigh?”
Hijū put her hands on her hips. “Are you saying I’m fat?”
“Misaki,” Benkei said.
“You’re saying I’m fat,” Hijū said.
“I did not say that, Misaki,” Benkei said.
Hijū turned to Seki. “Seki-kun, am I fat?”
Hijū glared at him. You should be saying no.
“No,” Seki said quickly. “Not at all.”
“Misaki, nobody said anything about you being fat,” Benkei growled. “Come on, lets go find you something to eat.”
“Give me a minute,” Hijū said, hooking a finger into the waistband of her skirt. “I’m going to change out of this uniform first. It’s starting to get a little tight around the—” Hijū stopped short. Did I just say that?
Seki snorted, repressing a snicker. Benkei just looked at her disapprovingly.
“Shut up, Shōta,” Hijū snapped. Then, stepping into her bedroom, Hijū fixed Seki with an icy glare. “And I heard that, bōya.”
As Benkei and Seki started to laugh, Hijū slid her bedroom door shut. Taking off her uniform, she knocked the clothes that hung on her mirror onto the floor and looked at her reflection critically. I am not fat. So what if I’m not stick-thin? I still look good. I’ll show Shōta. I need something to wear, something that’ll show him.
Hijū looked around the room, and spotted the black blouse she had bought a couple months ago under her stereo. Perfect! Now, something to go with it… Plunking herself down next to the stereo, Hijū yawned. I guess the sync high is wearing off. Maybe I could just lay down for a second before—
She was asleep in an instant.