Editor: PervySageChuck, Nate, Skythewood
From the looks of things, Yao and Yanagida’s plan was a complete failure. All she could do was grit her teeth in anger. On his part, Itami had already accepted the broken Tuka.
Itami went along with that sad fantasy of hers.
After treating him as her father, she seemed to have pulled back from the brink of madness, and he had responded appropriately to her.
Of course, this was just sidestepping the problem. Or rather, it was running away from it.
It was not impossible that they might receive a withdrawal order tomorrow. When that time came, he obviously could not bring Tuka back with him. All he could do was leave her here, and that would be as good as killing her.
What can I do? What can I say? Itami grit his teeth and tried to hold back the tears, and instead forced his face into a smile before turning around.
“What’s wrong, Tuka?”
Tuka was humming cheerfully as she made breakfast.
After the two of them finished their meal, Itami said he had work to do, so he would be returning to the “team”. On her part, Tuka had work to do for the ALC, so she headed to the nearby forest.
When evening came, Tuka waited for Itami to return after preparing dinner. This fake and peaceful life went on for ten days.
“What are you doing today?”
“Oh, just JSDF stuff.”
“You must be really busy…”
“Well, this town’s grown quite big, so we have to do the work the JSDF assigns us. Isn’t that the same for all of us?”
“Well, that’s true…”
“Also, I’ll be going to the Capital tomorrow. You need to take care of the house.”
“The Capital? Why is that, Father?”
It seems they need someone to translate and lead the way. 3rd Recon will be there too, so there’s no need to worry.
Itami was Tuka’s caretaker, but he was still a JSDF serviceman at heart. He had no right to refuse any orders given to him. Therefore, he needed to lie as appropriate.
“Father, can’t you not go? I’d like you to stay at home…”
“Don’t be like that. I’ve gone out for several days quite a few times in the past.”
Suddenly, Tuka’s brows furrowed, and she winced as a headache came over her.
No matter how much Tuka tried to treat Itami like her father, they were ultimately different people. There were small differences in their speech and habits.
In addition, Itami knew nothing about Tuka’s father, Hodoryu Ray Marceau. If he had some idea what he was like, he could at least improve his act, but without any information on her father, Itami could not help but conflict with Tuka’s mental impression of him.
These conflicts were where the fantasy broke down. Tuka would retreat from them to protect herself. Then, she would ignore those conflicts. She would not think, would not see, would not hear and would not understand them.
The stress from doing this manifested as painful headaches which swept over Tuka.
Living, eating and spending time together with Tuka was slowly increasing the deviations from her idealized image of her father. When the conflicts with reality increased until Tuka could not bear them, it racked her with headaches and other signs of bodily discomfort. And as the days went by, the frequency of these attacks and the pain that accompanied each one increased.
Itami looked at Tuka’s pretty face, now twisted in agony, and muttered quietly, “What should I do?”
He could not do anything. It was taking all his effort just to maintain the present situation. As Itami thought about this, he left Tuka’s room, but just as he stepped onto the street, he saw Yao, who had been waiting for him.
“What, you again? Haven’t you gone yet?”
Itami felt a twinge of guilt as she glared at him with her hateful eyes, and he averted his gaze. Then, he angrily jerked his head aside and stalked past Yao, ignoring her.
In most hero stories, a beautiful maiden would tearfully beg the hero for help, and the hero would set forth with sword in hand. Itami hated those stories.
That was because battle was a thing which was won by living and which was lost by dying.
Because stories were stories, the warrior would win, earn his reward and gain a lover. But in reality, the opposite happened. Most of the time, the warrior’s corpse would litter the countryside.
What would the beautiful maiden do if that happened?
The whole thing sounded like someone was looking for an idiot who was willing to throw his life away for meager compensation paid after the fact. Then, if he succeeded, they would paint him as a hero.
In these stories, the warrior’s life was cheap.
Itami did not want to die. Although his way of living up to now was not very good, he did not think his life was worthless enough that he would discard it at another’s whim.
He had been married (although it had ended in a divorce), but he felt that he had gotten to know more women. He was looking forward to what would happen with them.
“She can’t stay like this forever. The end will come soon.”
Yao’s words were like a curse.
Itami stopped, and shouted behind him.
“Son of a bitch!!”
“Yo, Itami. So, how long are you planning to play house?”
Yanagida’s voice came from behind Itami, as he was seated in front of his PC. He was mocking him about Tuka.
“Do I need to tell you? You should know.”
“Ah, forget it. As long as you’re fine with it, so am I. More importantly, the first batch of prisoners we’re repatriating are coming through from Japan. The PM’s aide is going with them too. They’re going to begin the talks soon, using the prisoners as collateral.
“What about the kidnapped people?”
“They’ll arrange for some sort of prisoner exchange. This round of returns is also meant to send a message to Piña, that we’ll treat our captives well. They we’ll say, ‘Whether the rest of the prisoners are returned depends on your attitude. Their treatment might worsen depending on how things go.’ Then the Empire will have no choice but to say, ‘We’ll work as fast as we can’ or something similar.”
“Is that so…?”
“Is that so… Isn’t that a little dull for you? Totally unlike the guy who slugged the Crown Prince of the Empire in the face and had him beaten into a pulp.”
“Sorry, I’m kind of distracted now.”
Itami sighed, and took his hands away from the keyboard.
He was not making any progress. Instead he was talking with Yanagida about meaningless things. For some reason, he also felt worried.
He had never liked talking to Yanagida in the first place, and now that feeling intensified.
“Are you alright?”
“Frankly speaking, no. Recently, my brain’s been all messed up,” Itami said as he closed his laptop and grabbed his head.
“Then the solution is simple, right? Kill the Dragon and all your problems will be over.”
“If I do that, most of the people who go with me will die. I can’t do that. I like Tuka, but I like my guys as well. I can’t sacrifice any of them.
Did you know? Sergeant Major Kuwabara’s daughter is going to get married. He was telling me how much he wanted to play with his grandson after he retired.
Nishina complains about how his newly-married wife dominates him with her job, but secretly, I think he kind of likes it.
Kuribayashi also needs to go on dates with the guys I introduced to her. She’s quite picky too, I think she said something about ‘None of the men are my type’.
Kurokawa is still an idealist as always, but she’s gotten better after the incident with Tuka. She’s doing quite well.
Tomita is dating Bozes, who came for the language classes. There are even rumors that they’re breaking the regulations by trysting at night. If they get caught, he’s going to be punished.
Kurata is totally devoted to that House Formal maid called Persia. He works extra hard whenever he’s picked for missions in Italica.
Katsumoto is concerned about the kids in the ALC.
Tozu’s financial skills are getting better and better. He’s always shown an abnormal understanding of stocks, and he’s been praised for his work with the ALC’s finances.
Azuma’s about to finish his training for assignment to a combat unit. After he finishes his course, he’ll be a Sergeant.
Sasagawa takes part in photography contests. He takes them seriously, too.
Furuta never stops honing his culinary skills, and he’s always been thinking about how to make new dishes with the ingredients from this side of the Gate.
Well, as you can see, they’re all a bunch of interesting fellows. Although it would be different if it were a proper mission, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t want to take them anywhere dangerous.”
Yanagida pulled over a nearby chair and sat down on it.
“I’m just telling you that this matter involves diamonds and oil. They’re an immense boon to a resource-starved nation like ours. In any case, think of the country’s interests. If the place where the Dark Elves live has resources like that, we need to get them in our debt. Afterwards, extracting those resources will be easy.”
“Then, Yanagida-san, why don’t you go yourself?”
Itami was saying that Yanagida was also a JSDF man. He had to go out and get his hands dirty instead of plastering his ass to a chair all day long.
Yanagida simply shrugged, seemingly unconcerned.
“Unfortunately, I have no men under me. Or do you mean you’ll lend me your people, Itami?”
“As if. You can go by yourself.”
“Me, by myself? No way…”
“Yanagida-san. The only thing that humans can freely use are their own lives. If you think diamonds and oil are worth betting your life for, then use yourself as the stake. After all, the prize is a diamond the size of a human head and a Dark Elf beauty too.”
“Well, if a person could handle it alone, I’d like to do it too. However, that’s a Dragon. What can I do against it?”
Itami narrowed his eyes and said, “Well, LAMs work against the Dragon… if you can hit it.”
Even a tank would have trouble taking on a Dragon in an open field. However, in a place with dense cover and lots of ground clutter like a forest, a single person might be able to do it.
Well, that was assuming the Dragon was equal to an attack helicopter.
In the end, fighting it was still a problem. Then, what if he imagined his opponent as a flying tank? It would be fine to fight it in a cramped space where it could not turn around easily. Lure the Dragon into terrain like that, and then take it down with a LAM. It could work.
“Well, your opponent is a living creature. You could poison its food, ambush it while it’s sleeping, and so on...”
“............................I could. It might even work.”
Surprised, Yanagida looked at Itami, who was lost in thought and not very responsive. He stood up abruptly to abort the topic.
“Well, Itami, just let me know when you’re ready to go. I’ll take care of the paperwork for you.”
Itami did not turn to look at Yanagida.
“............................Ah, I’ll be counting on you, then.”
That night, Itami brought Tuka to the canteen so she could drink with everyone.
Usually, Elves did not mix with people because they were haughty by nature. However Itami was worried that people might misunderstand if people on the streets saw them together. At the same time, this meant Itami could stop playing the role of a father. It gave Itami time to think.
The townsfolk and 3rd Recon gathered around Tuka, and Kurokawa sat beside her to help.
Tuka felt Kurokawa had a professional look around her. As a result, Tuka had an expression that said, “Could it be that she has a thing for me…”
Though it probably was not to that extent, one could say that she had feelings of admiration.
And so, Kurokawa sat beside Tuka, and Tuka told Itami, “Father, come sit with me”. Itami, on the other hand, was sitting at another table and drinking with Lelei and Rory.
“How does it feel to have a daughter older than you,” Rory smirked. Itami smiled bitterly at her.
“It’s complicated. Very complicated.”
It would not be long before the game was up. Itami’s words also carried a hint of wanting to stop this charade. Lelei and Rory knew this, which was why they did not answer him.
Itami and Tuka were running towards a cliff edge. But if they stopped halfway, Tuka would break down. Therefore, Itami could not quit.
Itami was fully aware that the two of them would wait until he made a decision. That being the case, there was no need to ruin the mood like this. This was supposed to be a happy occasion.
“Hi, sorry for the wait.”
The Catgirl seemed a little wobbly as she brought the food over. She must be new here.
“What happened to Delilah?”
“Sempai received a letter from her hometown, so she’s taking a break.”
Rory raised her glass and toasted Itami from the opposite side of the table. Seated beside Itami, Lelei raised her glass of a non-alcoholic drink from Japan and toasted him as well.
The two of them had a radiant air about them.
Women like this were very rare, be they lovers or just friends. Women who did not know much would disregard the situation and selfishly adopt an annoying or annoyed attitude.
With that in mind, Rory and Lelei were excellent girls. He had to treasure them.
After realising that, Itami began thinking about what he could do, and what he should do.
Itami’s mother had fallen ill when he was still in middle school.
In order to stop her husband, who was getting more and more violent, she reached for a knife from the kitchen.
It was self-defense. It could not be helped.
The police, lawyers, detectives and people from a women’s counselling facility came by to comfort her. However, his mother could not stop hating herself.
She kept on castigating herself, even though there was nothing to be done about it.
It tore at her, the pain of losing her beloved husband, her anger and hatred for the “person” that killed her beloved husband, and the unease for her child’s future.
The path his mother chose to save her soul was to deny reality. That was the only thing she could do. Itami now knew how she had managed to carry on living somehow.
But at that time, Itami did not understand why she had done it.
Be it right or wrong, it was important to maintain one’s balance. After all, saving everyone in the world was impossible. However, the young Itami did not understand that logic.
Every morning, every night, he saw a place set for his father. It made him worried, then angry, and then—
“Dad’s dead. You killed him.”
If only he had not said that.
Many times, he imagined himself going back to that moment, like one of those light novels where people could travel back in time. He had also dreamed of himself at that time. He had wished, begged and prayed to be allowed to go back to the past. If only he could have returned to that time, he would have done something differently. He could have, he should have. He kept thinking about it. However, reality could not be rewound. That was why it was reality.
If he could go mad like his mother, that would be fine too. But he could not.
And so, Itami saw his mother slowly breaking down. If one threw a frog into boiling water, it would immediately jump out. But if one put it in cold water and slowly heated it up, it would stay in there. In this way, her madness grew and grew, and it was hard to tell when she would explode. Then, as time passed, she broke in front of Itami’s eyes. His mother set herself on fire.
In the end, she was forcibly hospitalized, because there was a fear that she would endanger herself or other people.
Her hospitalization was mandated by the law. Therefore, it was done without her consent or that of her relatives. When the burden of paying for her hospital fees was too great, it would be taken over by the government.
All Itami the high-schooler could do was watch as his mother shouted, “I don’t want to be here, I want to be discharged!” But it was too much for him to live with his broken mother. Therefore, the word “mandated” was a relief for him. He no longer had to feel guilty about her hospitalization.
“It’s compulsory, so it can’t be helped. It’s the law, after all.”
The heavy, metallic sound of the iron gate closing still echoed in Itami’s ears until this day.
Yes, this was not an ordinary hospital.
One could see the patients chatting with each other along the hospital corridors.
Because they were not physically ill, their bodies were healthy, and most of them wore normal clothes. They did nothing but stay in the hospital while time passed.
They had breakfast, talked, had lunch, and then they waited for dinner.
And then, by the time they realised it, ten or maybe twenty years, had passed. No, for some of them, thirty years had passed in reality. However, their mental ages were still stuck at their 20th or 30th birthdays, when they had been institutionalized. After all, they had not had the chance to gather the life experience people of their ages should have had. It was hard enough just trying to withstand the pain their illnesses brought them.
Mental hospitals back then were wards that looked like large Japanese rooms, where people lay down on the floor and slept in rows. Calling a room like this a ward felt very wrong. However, that was what it was. It was only recently that regular hospitals began giving each individual patient their own beds.
As one walked along the highway, one could see uncles and aunties smoking like punks, using an empty tomato juice can as an ashtray.
These were the more stable patients. Sometimes, one could see the more severe cases.
For example, the ones who talked to thin air.
There were people who would keep climbing up to high places, and teenagers who would shout angrily at public phones.
There were women who were drugged with powerful medication and wandered around the halls, with goofy, sedated expressions on their faces.
There were men with stethoscopes who did examinations on the nurses.
There were girls who ran around naked.
There was a man who was tied to his bed, wearing a diaper, and screaming until his throat was about to break.
There was a unique stench in the hospital air, and it was not just cigarette smoke. In order to prevent suicides, the bathroom doors were low and made with a large gap from the floor, so people could see if anyone was inside.
In the end, Itami abandoned his mother in a world like this. It was all he could do.
When Tuka intimately grabbed Kurokawa’s arm as she smiled and laughed with the soldiers around her and with the PX girls, there was no sign at all that she was going mad. But if Itami left her alone like this, she might well end up like his mother. No, she would definitely end up that way.
And regretfully, modern psychiatry had not yet found a cure for that.
All it could do was prescribe drugs to alleviate the symptoms. Incurable people could not be cured. The only thing that could be done was to feed them medication and wait for them to get better.
Itami had taken over ten years to understand that. Therefore, he felt that if he was going to save Tuka, he would have to do it now.
On that day in the past, he could not do anything.
Back then, he was merely a child.
Then, what about himself now?
Was he still incapable of doing anything?
Perhaps if Tuka took down the Flame Dragon that killed her father, it might help ease her madness. Perhaps if she accepted her father’s death and avenged him, it might stop her hatred.
However, this was a risky gamble, and it was the most disastrous kind.
To begin with, he could not wager anyone else’s lives on this.
Itami had only one chip he could bet, the one that belonged to him alone. He took that chip and placed it on top of Tuka’s, and then slid them both onto the green gambling table.
“Is that all I can do?”
Although he had already accepted that he had no other choice, fighting a Flame Dragon was still a terrifying prospect.
It was close to midnight, and Itami was seated on one of the benches in front of the doors to the treatment center.
The night breeze blew. Itami grabbed his head and muttered, “What should I do…?”
Four or five minutes later, he heard a metallic, clacking sound approaching him. A silhouette loomed out of the darkness and stood in front of him.
“Young man, could I sit down here?”
The silhouette was an old man. No, he might be younger than that. However, the numberless wrinkles covering his face made him look like an older man. The reason why he made a metallic noise when he walked was because his left leg was a prosthetic, and he was speaking in the language of the Special Region, not Japan.
Overawed by the old man’s presence, Itami immediately scooted over to make some room.
Besides, there were other benches here. There was no need to give him a hard time if he wanted to sit there.
“Hoooh~ you actually did it. I come here every night. Keep that in mind.”
The old man did not seem used to his prosthetics, and sat down after much effort.
“Then, young one. What are you worrying about, and at such an hour?”
“It probably doesn’t have anything to do with you, Gramps.”
“Is that so. Then, forget it. If you don’t want to talk, it’s fine.”
The man breathed in deeply. He seemed quite taken by the noises his artificial left arm made when he moved it.
“I still don’t understand how such exquisite objects are made. In your world, do all the people with missing arms and legs get by with these?”
Although Itami was quite annoyed by the man trying to strike up conversation, he could not embarrass the JSDF by being rude, so he had to entertain him. “Mm. Well, not everyone is like that, but for the most part, people have these.”
“The doctor said I could walk normally after I was fitted with these, but it still seems fishy to me.”
“There are people with artificial limbs who can run faster than normal people.”
The man was shocked, and he pressed Itami for details. According to Itami, the people in the Paralympics could set records with their artificial limbs which normal people would be hard-pressed to beat.
“I see, I see. Well, it looks like you can speak when it comes to a topic you’re interested in. Fine, we’ll leave it at that. Tell me; what’s been bothering you to the point that you’re up this late?”
“A man shouldn’t be waffling around. It’s disgraceful.”
Itami wondered how he had started talking to the old man without realizing it. After sorting his thoughts out, he realized that he did have something to discuss with him.
However, the person he was looking for was this treatment center’s psychiatric social worker.
That social worker did not look much like a man. Rather, he seemed rather androgynous. His hair was short and he wore round glasses. Although his white clothes let people know he was medical personnel, he did not have a doctor’s air of authority. Instead, people might mistake him for a weak student, or perhaps it would be better to say he had a gentle aura about him.
“Well, if it isn’t Lieutenant Itami. What are you doing here at this hour?”
“Actually, I had something I wanted to consult the doctor about…”
This social worker was here for Noriko’s sake. He was in charge of counselling her and helping her recover.
Itami was quite surprised to know that the person supporting Noriko was a man.
Most people who had gone through what Noriko had would be afraid of men. And in truth, in many cases, female trauma victims would be better handled with a female psychologist. However, for Noriko’s case, the doctor decided that a male psychologist would be better.
Otherwise, she might never be able to trust men, and her unease around men might spiral into a phobia of men. If that point was not addressed, she might not be able to have a lover or get married and have children.
Of course, it would be very difficult at first. However, it was important to be able to differentiate between scary men and non-scary men. That step was accomplished quite easily, because Noriko had Itami and the others.
Itami and Tomita represented the non-scary men in her heart. In order to pass on this symbolic position, Itami formally introduced her to the male social worker, and this was how Itami met him.
By the way, this social worker was a strange person who took an infantry NCO course and retired as a Sergeant before going into university. He was permitted through the Gate after being made a provisional serviceman.
Itami sat opposite the social worker and slowly explained everything.
He told a story about a daughter whose father was murdered. Was killing her father’s murderer and avenging him the only way to save her?
The social worker shrugged, and replied that all that could be done was to observe the situation and react accordingly.
“Because, someone told me this before.”
He spoke up despite it being a personal opinion. The human desire to avenge oneself on an enemy was not related to instinct.
To seize the enemy and punish him. In this day and age, the victims of a crime and their family members would have their feelings cleansed when the police arrested the culprit, handed him to a judge for trial, and he was finally sentenced and the sentence was carried out.
Of course, this did not rule out the noble idea of forgiving a transgressor, but that usually only happened if the victim had some religious or philosophical background which allowed it. In that case, when the victims and their families forgave the perpetrator, their hearts would be cleansed.
“In other words, taking revenge isn’t even important at all.”
“Indeed. Who knows, it might really be unimportant. However, this “unimportant” matter can give people the strength to move forward. If one does not want to be chained down by unimportant things, then that’s fine too. Draw the curtains on the matter and be done with it. A person’s heart needs closure.”
After Itami heard this, he started to think. Did he have to defeat the Flame Dragon to save Tuka?
By the time he realised it, the old man was sharing his opinion on Tuka’s matter.
“I feel the same as him. Perhaps taking vengeance will ease her heart, If I knew one’s enemies were at large, doing as they pleased, I would be so angry I could not even eat.”
“Still, the enemy is very strong.”
“What, are you afraid?”
“Mmm. Yes, because it’s a Dragon… no, in your words, it would be a Flame Dragon.”
“What did you say! Has the Flame Dragon appeared?”
The old man’s brows furrowed.
Itami looked him over again, and then he realised something. The old man wore an eye patch, and he was covered in wounds. And his face had large scars on it.
“Well, because of the location, we can’t bring a lot of firepower to bear on it. If I engage it with a small group, most of us will become casualties.”
“That’s true. It’s only sensible to throw one’s full force against a strong opponent. There should only be one bastard who sends his fighting strength out in bits and pieces, or ordering his allies to attack an enemy without telling them anything about their foe.”
That last sentence seemed to have struck a chord with him.
“Even if I brought Tuka along, the two of us alone couldn’t win.”
“Ohhh, I see. You don’t want to involve innocent people in this. However, going in with just the two of you is simply suicide.”
“That’s why. I know it’s impossible, and that’s bothering me.”
“Oi, young man. Even if you don’t want to kill yourself, the time will come when you have to do something you don’t want to do. In order to keep it from turning into a suicide, you have to rack your brains and figure something out.”
The old man rose as he spoke.
The metallic sound came from his artificial leg, and his shoulders rocked back and forth as he hobbled forward. Then he placed his hand on Itami’s shoulder.
“Sometimes, you’ll run into a situation which is dangerous, but which you can’t run from. Sometimes, you know you’ll lose, but you have to advance anyway. If you can’t be a smart man, then you should be the stupidest man of all. What do you think?”
The next day, Itami and 3rd Recon were in the Chinook.
As usual, Yanagida was bringing over the things they would send to the Imperial Capital. After making sure his people were seated, he sat down too.
The airman was speaking to Yanagida.
Tuka arrived to send them off. She was standing outside the helipad, with Rory and Lelei.
Itami felt a surge of frustration as he saw Tuka’s crying face. But this was only natural. His mission was to lead his people while they were in the Imperial Capital and protect the diplomats. Then he would return, and stay for a little while before his next mission. That was all.
He could only stay for a little while.
After Yanagida was done, he got off the helicopter.
As the rear hatch closed, Itami’s chest boiled with frustration.
“Then, we’re moving out.”
Halfway through the pilot’s announcement, Itami suddenly cursed, “Dammit!” and turned to Sergeant Major Kuwabara beside him.
“Sorry, Gramps. I can’t go.”
However, the noise of the propellers spinning up for take off drowned out Itami’s voice.
“What did you say?”
“I’m getting off! I’ll leave the rest to you!”
Itami decided to give up his command, and leapt out of the rear hatch just before it closed.
And then, the helicopter slowly flew off.
Itami watched the members of 3rd Recon as they left.