The Mecha Monogatari, Book Two, Chapter II
Posted by Doug on December 19, 2008
If you’re going to be sick, keep the faucet running. That way you won’t clog the drain.
During basic training, we spent virtually all day doing simulations, but it wasn’t like we were synced up the whole time. Usually, we would start with a short mission briefing where the instructor would tell us what the simulation would be like and what would be expected of us; then we would run the simulation, which would take about ten or fifteen minutes; and after that the instructors would debrief us on our performance for thirty to forty-five minutes. Finally, we would take a break before repeating the process.
Not so here at the Academy. Benkei-sensei’s pre-simulation briefing had not lasted about five minutes, then he had dismissed us to change, for the first time, into our pilot’s jumpsuits, replete with tactical boots, gloves, and helmets that felt like they weighed more than any one-and-a-half kilograms. The class reconvened in one of the Academy’s large simulator rooms, which featured the newer full-motion simulator pods.
The simulation had started at 13:12. As I stood in the men’s room, trying to wash the taste of vomit out of my mouth, it was 14:49, and the simulation was still running. I had to get back-although I had synced out, the simulation wasn’t paused. Seki, Tsuchiya-san, and Ōhashi-san were still in there, defending my inert titan. Tsuchiya-san had taken a break already; Ōhashi-san had as well. This was my second. I did not want to go back and sync back in. Not in the least. Getting sick had drained every bit of energy I had out of me.
But I knew I couldn’t stay here forever, regardless of how bad I felt. I rinsed out my mouth one last time before putting my helmet back on. It was still connected to the simulation’s communications net; immediately I could hear my teammates were under attack.
<Right! Right! He’s on the right!> Tsuchiya-san said.
<I see him, I see him!> Ōhashi-san said.
<Focus on H-72 and -75! Don’t let them flank us!> Seki said.
Tsuchiya-san: <What do you think we’re doing?>
Ōhashi-san: <This is a bad spot! We’ve got to move!>
Seki: <Chikushō! Hatsutori! Where are you?>
“I’m coming!” I ran out of the restroom.
<Move it!> Tsuchiya-san shouted.
In the hallway outside the simulator room, I saw one of the girls from Team Two, sitting with her knees pulled up to her chest, her helmet sitting on the floor next to her. I couldn’t remember her name, nor could I see her name tag. Her face was lowered, but I could tell she was crying. I stopped, trying to think whether or not I should say something, and what I would say if I should, when Tsuchiya-san started screaming at me. <Hatsutori-baka! Get in here now! Your titan is taking hits and we are not going to flunk this! Do you hear me? Get back to the simulation now!>
“H-hai!” I felt sorry for the girl, but there was nothing I could do for her. Running into the simulator room, I weaved the way through the rows of simulator pods to reach the one I was assigned to. Around me, the other pods shook and twisted on their hydraulic supports, the movements sometimes smooth and graceful, but much more frequently rough and violent.
<75 is down,> Seki reported as I climbed up the ladder to the simulator pod’s cockpit.
<Good shot!> Ōhashi-san cheered.
I climbed into the cockpit and got situated, buckling myself into the seat. As the hatch closed, I cinched up the straps to the safety harness as tight as I could stand them, and then used the physical controls to activate the synchronicity operating system.
“Echo 3-5, this is Benkei. Are you ready?”
“Hai, sensei,” I said.
Benkei-sensei: “Stand by.”
I braced myself as the hydraulics activated. The cockpit shuddered, but it wasn’t very bad at all, reminiscent of a bus going over a set of train tracks a little too fast, and then I could feel the operating system in my mind. All I had to do was close my eyes and focus on the sensation-
Standing on the battlefield, I was a fifteen-meter-tall bipedal war machine. I felt heavy, just like you would expect if you were made of titanium, steel and ceramics. I saw the battlefield through mechanical eyes, everything impossibly crisp and clear, a ring of status readouts, position markers, and targeting information hanging unsupported in the air. I was aware of the damage my titan had taken: not only did the readouts describe the damage with graphs and numbers, I could feel the damage, a sensation similar to pain, only not so…painful.
To the northwest, the battle was raging. Seki, Tsuchiya-san, and Ōhashi-san had formed a defensive line about four hundred meters ahead of me; another kilometers or so beyond that four Hoplite-class Eschatos hovered above the crest of a hill, raining their energy blasts down upon them. For a moment, I was too disoriented to do anything, but an energy blast crackled past, not five meters from me, overwhelming sections of my visual display, causing them to display only static for a moment. I dashed towards my teammates, keeping as low as I could.
<About time!> Tsuchiya-san shouted. <We got to move east to Grid 54-AG, and fast!>
Seki: <Ōhashi and I can hold them. Tsuchiya, Hatsutori, run for it!>
We had been getting instructions to change position about every ten minutes ever since this simulation had started. At each new location, there would be Eschatos either approaching or already there, waiting for us. As I took cover behind a shield tower near Ōhashi-san’s position, Tsuchiya-san fired off one last burst from her 45mm rifle towards the Eschatos on the hill, and then dashed to the east. <Come on, baka! Run!>
<Right!> Running was awful: the titan’s cockpit lurched violently as my eighty-tonne frame pounded across the simulated countryside at well over ninety kph, plowing through trees as easily as a human might run through tall grass. I think all the running is what made me sick before; it certainly wasn’t helping now.
Ahead of me, Tsuchiya-san was outpacing me, but then, suddenly, she skidded to a halt. <Contact!> she shouted, dropping to the ground.
I ducked and ran up beside her. Three new targets had appeared on my head’s-up display. These were Matador-class: like the Hoplites, they used ranged weapons, but they usually had better maneuverability and would get a lot closer before attacking.
My display showed that Tsuchiya-san was targeting M-62 on the left of the group, so I picked one of the others, dropping to a kneeling stance to fire my 45mm rifle at M-64 on the right. Out of the twelve Eschatos Team Three had destroyed in this simulation so far, I could only claim one of them. They were a lot tougher than the ones we faced in basic-they moved faster, shot more accurately, and could take more damage before being disabled.
I had two thousand yen riding on the outcome of this simulation-Takahashi from Team One, Chōda and Sakurai from Team Four, and Seki and me had each wagered two thousand on which of us would end up with the highest score on this simulation. Also, Hijū-sensei had warned that the team that did the poorest would get to have a ‘Romantic Dinner’-and between the crazy English she used and the way she and Benkei-sensei laughed about it afterwards, I did not want to find out what she meant. As the Matador ducked and weaved through the trees, throwing off my aim, I feared the worst.
Ōhashi-san: <The group at 52-AI are running!>
Seki: <Stay on them!>
Tsuchiya-san: <No! Ignore them! You two get over here!>
Seki: <We can take them!>
Ōhashi-san: <Quit bossing us around, Tsuchiya!>
No, this wasn’t going to work at all. This was no time for those two to start bickering again! <S-stop arguing! We got to work t-together!>
Seki: <Ōhashi is the team leader.>
Ōhashi-san: <I told you I don’t want to be the leader!>
Tsuchiya-san: <Fine! Then I am! Echo 3-1 and 3-2, move to my position, now!>
Ōhashi-san: <Shouldn’t it be Seki-kun? He’s->
Seki: <We’ll worry about that later! Coming your way, Echo 3-3.>
M-64 turned right into my five-round burst of 45mm high-explosive anti-Eschatos rounds, but even though four of the rounds hit solidly, it merely slowed M-64 down for a second. A second was plenty; I lined up my shot, and braced against the 45mm’s recoil. I squeezed the trigger, and this time, flames burst out of M-64’s torso, and a half-second later, it exploded in a fireball that billowed a hundred meters into the sky. <I got one! I got one!>
Another fireball went up to the left. <M-62 is down,> Tsuchiya-san said, and then she leapt to her feet and ran forward. <3-5, target M-63!>
I ran after Tsuchiya-san, angling to the south as she advanced, triangulating the sole remaining Eschatos like we had learned in basic, but M-63 took to the air, retreating to the east far faster than we land-bound titans could follow. Tsuchiya-san did not pursue it for long. <Hold for a second, Hatsutori-kun. We’ll wait for Seki-kun and Ōhashi-san. How’s your ammo?>
I hadn’t even been paying attention to that. The 45mm rifle had a 120-round helical magazine, and I only had… <Thirty-five rounds left. Whoever is in charge needs to call for a resupply!>
<You’re just trigger-happy. Seki, Ōhashi?> Tsuchiya-san asked.
Ōhashi-san: <I’ve got fifty-six.>
I couldn’t believe that-he had scored over half of our team’s kills, and he had only fired thirty-two times?
<I’ve got sixty-eight,> Tsuchiya-san said. <Benkei-sensei said we only get one resupply, and we might need it later.>
<Surely this simulation can’t last much longer!> Ōhashi-san said as she and Seki approached.
<You said that an hour ago,> Tsuchiya-san reminded her.
<Echo 3, this is Benkei. Your team needs to move to 54-AG and engage the enemy there posthaste. Do you copy?>
<Hai,> Tsuchiya-san responded. <Echo 3-3 out.> Then she turned to face me. <If we get docked points for not getting there on time, it’s going to be your fault.>
<Come on,> Ōhashi-san said, and began running to the east, where Grid 54-AG waited for us. Tsuchiya-san followed close behind.
Seki stopped me, and then detached the magazine from his rifle. <Swap me. You need this more than me.>
<You sure?> I asked him.
Seki: <Just take it.>
Tsuchiya-san: <Hurry up, you two!>
I detached the magazine from my own rifle, and traded him. Just like he said, there were eighty-eight rounds remaining. Eight kills with only thirty-two rounds fired? Incredible.
Seki instantly took off, reloading his rifle with my magazine as he did so. I was nowhere near that coordinated-had I tried reloading while running, I surely would have dropped the magazine or fell on my face. Or both. By the time I had gotten Seki’s magazine loaded into my rifle, he was already a couple hundred yards away.
Once again, I was bringing up the rear.
<I’m in 54-AG,> Ōhashi-san said. <There’s a town here-no sign of the enemy.>
<Any cover?> Tsuchiya-san asked.
<Shield towers,> Seki replied, highlighting the clusters of shield towers on the corners of the town.
We took up defensive positions at the nearest cluster. Tsuchiya-san reported in: <Benkei, this is Echo 3-3, we have arrived at 54-AG, no sign of the enemy.>
Benkei-sensei: <Hold position, Echo 3.>
<Guys, I gotta sync out,> Ōhashi-san said. <I’m starving. I didn’t get to eat anything.>
Tsuchiya-san: <That’s your own fault!>
The thought of eating reminded me of my nausea.
Seki: <Let her. We can handle this.>
Ōhashi-san: <Please? I’ll just run down to the break room and get something from the vending machine-I’ll be back in two minutes!>
Tsuchiya-san: <Fine. Hurry.>
Ōhashi-san: <Anyone else want anything?>
Seki: <Just go!>
<Okay, okay!> Ōhashi-san’s titan was highlighted in my display, indicating that it was now inactive.
<This is insane,> Tsuchiya-san said as we waited, watching the horizons for any sign of the Eschatos. <It’s been two hours since this simulation started->
<An hour and forty-six minutes,> I corrected her.
<Urusei!> Tsuchiya-san snapped. <My head is killing me. When Ōhashi-san gets back, I need to sync out->
<Seki should get a break next,> I said.
Seki: <I’m okay. Stay focused. There’s another wave on the way.>
Tsuchiya-san: <Ōhashi-san, you hear that? Hurry up! Hey, are you even listening?>
Apparently not: Ōhashi-san did not respond.
Just as Seki predicted, another wave approached from the north: three Hoplites, and three Vikings. <Contact with the enemy, six Eschatos at six thousand five hundred north,> Tsuchiya-san called out. <Seki, you take H-81; Hatsutori, H-82.>
<Got it,> I said, focusing my attention and my aim on H-82.
* * * * *
In the end, my hopes the simulation ending quickly proved to be in vain: it was 17:11, four hours after we began, when Benkei-sensei declared all units could stand down. Four hours of virtually non-stop battle. I hurt. Practically crawling out of the simulator pod, my legs were wobbly, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach repeatedly, my head felt like someone was jabbing icepicks into my eye sockets, and the whole world was rocking to and fro like a boat on a stormy sea.
Holding on to the access ladder for support, I looked around the simulator bay, and saw that the rest of my classmates were in similar states. Ōhashi-san, climbing down, missed the last step and fell, sitting down hard on the cold, unforgiving deck.
I ran over to her…well, to be honest, I staggered over to her. Moving quickly or gracefully were skills far beyond me at the moment. “Ōhashi-san, are you okay?”
Ōhashi-san waved dismissively. “Yeah, I’m okay. I just slipped.”
“Are you sure?” Tsuchiya-san asked as she came over. “You fell pretty hard.”
“I’m fine,” Ōhashi-san said, but she didn’t sound fine. We helped Ōhashi-san to her feet. “I’ve had worse happen.”
<What happened?> Seki asked.
Seki was still synchronized with the simulator system; I only heard his synthetic ‘voice’ over the headset built into my helmet. I looked over at his simulator pod. “Ōhashi-san fell.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Ōhashi-san said. “I’m just glad that stupid simulation is over.”
“You can sync out now, Seki-kun,” Tsuchiya-san said.
<I’m trying,> Seki replied.
“Trying?” Ōhashi-san echoed. “Baka, just don’t focus on the signals.”
Seki: <I can’t.>
“How can you not?” Tsuchiya-san asked.
I had never heard of anyone have any difficulty syncing out: I had a hard time not dropping out of sync involuntarily sometimes, like when I sneezed or if I accidentally bit my lip. “Seki, try-“
“One of you get up there and help him,” Hijū-sensei said.
I jumped-once again, I had not noticed Hijū-sensei approach. There was a pause, and Tsuchiya-san, Ōhashi-san, and me just looked at each other. I suppose we were all expecting one of the others to go. As much as I loathed the prospects of climbing the ladder to his cockpit, Ōhashi-san had just taken a pretty hard fall, and Tsuchiya-san looked just terrible. I figured that it should be me. “I-I’ll go,” I said. “Wh-what do I do?”
“Whatever it takes,” Hijū-sensei said. “Slap him, pinch him, stick your finger up his nose, it doesn’t matter. Just go.”
She was serious. “O-Okay,” I said, and taking a deep breath, I climbed up. It wasn’t a particularly strenuous climb, but I was so wore out…
“Hit the red button, grab the handle, twist and pull,” Hijū-sensei said.
I knew that-one of the few things Benkei-sensei had covered during the pre-simulation briefing was how to open up one of the simulator pods from the outside, and I hadn’t been daydreaming then. I opened the hatch, and looked inside.
Seki sat strapped into the pilot’s seat, his eyes open, staring blankly in my direction. He was breathing heavily, and his face was flushed. There was partially dried blood all over his face. “Hijū-sensei, h-he’s had a n-nosebleed,” I called back. “A bad one.”
It was Benkei-sensei’s deep voice that responded. “Get him out of there, Hatsutori-isshi.”
Benkei-sensei calling me by rank was ominous. I couldn’t recall ever hearing either Benkei-sensei or Hijū-sensei calling any of us by rank before. “Seki,” I said. “C-come on. The simulation is over.”
Seki: <I know, damn it.>
I wasn’t about to do any of the things Hijū-sensei had suggested, so I just leaned in and grabbed his sleeve at the wrist and shook it. Nothing happened. I shook harder. Nothing.
“You weren’t kidding, Hatsutori.” Ōhashi-san had climbed up after me, and even though there was barely room for me to lean into the cockpit, she squeezed in beside me. “Here, let me try.”
<Try what? What are you doing, Ōhashi-san?> Seki asked.
Ōhashi-san leaned further in, supporting herself with one hand on Seki’s knee, and with the other hand, she pinched his nose shut and covered his mouth, preventing him from breathing. “We did this to each other all the time in basic. Makes them drop out instantly.”
She didn’t seem the least bit bothered by the blood. “That’s gross,” I said.
“I’m wearing gloves,” Ōhashi-san said.
<Tell me what you’re doing! Hatsutori, what’s she doing?> Seki asked.
“You can’t tell?” I asked. When a pilot synchronizes, the sensory inputs from the titan mostly replace the sensory inputs from their body, but the pilot still is slightly aware of what is happening to them-although muted, they still see and hear and feel. I have to close my eyes in order to synchronize; when I got hit in the simulation and the simulator shook, it was hard to stay synced up.
We waited. Almost a minute had passed, and Seki had not so much as blinked. “What the heck?” Ōhashi-san said, adjusting her grip. “Hijū-sensei, this won’t hurt him, will it?”
Suddenly, Seki’s entire body twitched violently, his arms pushing Ōhashi-san away. Her hand slipped off his knee and as Ōhashi-san fell face-first into his lap, her arm pulled back and she elbowed me in the face. Involuntarily, I straightened up, hitting my head on the top of the cockpit-fortunately, I was wearing my helmet.
“Get off of me!” Seki yelled, gasping for air.
“Don’t freak out,” Ōhashi-san said, pushing herself out of the cockpit.
“Yeah, Seki,” I said. “We were only trying to-“
I was going to say help, but Seki fixed me with a look of pure rage, as if he were on the verge of punching me. I held my tongue and extracted myself from the cockpit as quickly as I could.
The entire class had assembled around Seki’s simulator pod. Benkei-sensei and Hijū-sensei were there, too, and both looked very angry. As I climbed down, Benkei walked up to me. “Look at me.”
Nervously, I looked up. “What happened here?” he asked, gesturing to my mouth.
I reached up and felt my lip-it was sore and starting to swell.
“That was my fault, sensei,” Ōhashi-san said. “I elbowed him. Sorry, Hatsutori.”
“Don’t worry about it. It d-doesn’t hurt or-or anything,” I lied.
Benkei-sensei just nodded and said nothing.
Finally, Seki climbed down out of the cockpit. When he turned to face everyone, his bloodied face elicited a gasp from the class. “Are you okay, Seki-kun?” Nakamura-san from Team Two asked, her voice barely a whisper.
Seki did not respond.
“Teams One, Two, and Five, hit the showers,” Benkei-sensei said calmly. “Report back to the classroom.”
For a second, nobody moved. “He said hit the showers, people! Move it!” Hijū-sensei shouted, and that cleared the room in a matter of seconds.
Once everyone else was gone, Benkei-sensei turned to Seki. “We were wondering why you were having such an easy time. You didn’t take the prescriptions.”
For once, Seki wasn’t looking them in the eye as he replied. “I don’t need to take-“
“Damn it, Seki-kun,” Hijū-sensei snapped. “You promised us that we didn’t need to tell you to take your medicine! That was, what? Three days ago? Did you even open the damn bottles?”
“Hijū,” Benkei-sensei said. “That’s enough. Seki, you understand why we had you put on these medications, don’t you?”
The rest of us were silent-there was no way I was going to make a sound, not with Benkei-sensei and Hijū-sensei as angry as they were right now. I didn’t even know what was going on, exactly.
“Ōhashi-isshi,” Benkei-sensei said. “You’re the team leader-“
Ōhashi-san shook her head. “No, sir, I’m….” she started to protest, but under Benkei-sensei’s withering gaze, her voice drifted off.
“You are the team leader,” Benkei-sensei told her, his tone permitting no argument. “Seki-isshi is on a regimen of calandatine, five hundred milligrams twice a day with food, plus a thousand milligrams of alebetinol immediately before he synchronizes for a simulation.” Calandatine? Albetinol? I had never heard of those drugs before. Benkei-sensei continued: “As team leader, Ōhashi-isshi, it is your responsibility to watch out for the health of your subordinates.”
“Yes, sir,” Ōhashi-san said, nervously looking over at Seki, who just looked away, clenching his teeth.
“This is a serious health issue,” Hijū-sensei told Ōhashi-san. “I think you have a pretty good idea of how serious.”
Ōhashi-san nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Take care of your team,” Benkei-sensei told her, and then looked around at the rest of us. “All of you, take care of each other.” Finally, he fixed his gaze on Seki. “Do not let this become an issue again. Dismissed.”
Seki wasted no time in leaving the simulator room, and the rest of us hurried after him. “Hey, Seki, wait up,” Ōhashi-san said as we followed Seki down the hallway. “Hey, I said wait up!”
Seki turned and fixed Ōhashi-san with an icy gaze. “Oh, so you want to be the leader now, huh?”
Ōhashi-san was taken aback. “No! It’s not like I had a choice! I can’t help my name comes before everyone else’s!”
“Seki-kun, what’s this all about?” Tsuchiya-san demanded. “What were those drugs Benkei-sensei mentioned?”
“They didn’t have any right to involve you,” Seki growled at us.
Tsuchiya-san scoffed. “Well, obviously you can’t be trusted to take care of it yourself, breaking your promise-“
“I never promised anything!” Seki said.
I’m no good with confrontational situations like this, but we had gotten in trouble before for arguing among ourselves in public. “H-hey, let’s not d-do th-this out here-“
“Hatsutori-kun is right,” Tsuchiya-san said, lowering her voice. “We’ll talk about this later, when we get back to the dorm rooms.”
“Whatever,” Seki said, and continued on into the boys’ locker room.
“What’s wrong with him?” Ōhashi-san asked. “He’s like a totally different person now.”
I shrugged helplessly. I certainly did not know what was wrong.
“Do either of you know what those drugs are for?” Tsuchiya-san asked. “I’ve never heard of either of them.”
“It might be blood pressure medicine,” Ōhashi-san said. “My jūdō instructor was prone to nosebleeds because of his high blood pressure.”
I nodded. “My father is the same way. But I thought his medicine gave him the nosebleeds.”
“But you know, Seki had a point,” Ōhashi-san said. “Benkei-sensei and Hijū-sensei shouldn’t be involving us with this. It’s like an invasion of privacy, don’t you think?”
She had a point, but… “But we’re supposed to be like family, aren’t we? Like Hijū-sensei told us earlier, we’re supposed to back each other up, and…” I stopped: Ōhashi-san and Tsuchiya-san were just looking at me blankly. “W-well, that’s wh-what I understood, anyway…”
“We will talk about this later. Let’s hurry up and get back to the classroom,” Tsuchiya-san said.
“Yeah. Last thing we need today is to be late,” Ōhashi-san said, and the two of them entered the girls’ locker room.
In the boys’ locker room, the other boys were giving Seki a wide berth. Mustering up my courage, I walked up to him and said, my voice low, “I’m s-sorry, Seki. I’m n-not trying to b-be nosy-“
“I know,” Seki said.
He was still angry, but at least it didn’t seem like his anger was directed at me. I sighed in relief. “I’m so glad that simulation is over! I don’t think all our simulations in basic put together were as long as that one. It seemed to last forever, don’t you think?”
“I didn’t notice.” Seki finally looked over at me, and then, his voice low, asked, “Has anything…strange ever happened to you, when you were synced up?”
“Strange?” I asked. “Like what?”
Seki shook his head. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
Don’t worry about it-ha! Seki’s question would bug me for a long time. How could I point to any one part of being synced up as ‘strange’? To be honest, everything about it was strange. No, it wasn’t just strange, it was flat-out unnatural. The first few times I had synced up, it had terrified me; even still I have a bit of apprehension.
If there was something even stranger than all this, I absolutely did not to know anything about it.