Gate – Jietai Kare No Chi Nite, Kaku Tatakeri - Volume 2 - Chapter 16
From the diary of Imperial Princess Piña Co Lada:
’’After passing through the boundary known as the ’’Gate’’, I saw rows and rows of towers which scraped the sky. At this time, I wondered;what did the men of the Imperial Army who first set foot here think? Did they have any idea of their upcoming fate? Nestled within the valleys between these vast buildings, I realized how small I truly was. The fact that we have declared war on a country that built such magnificent structures makes me worry for the fate of the Empire.’’
Then again, Ginza would not have things like skyscrapers. If one thought about it, most of the tall buildings one might see would be found in places like Shinjuku or New York.
On the topic of grand structures, Piña and Bozes considered the Imperial Palace, the Senate building, and various other military strongholds to be quite impressive, so to them, even walking down Ginza must have struck them dumb with awe.
Having a tall building among regular buildings would only make the tall building stand out more.
Because of that, from Piña's point of view, a capital city should be planned so that there would be an awe-inspiring structure standing in the middle. However, the city on the other side of the ’’Gate’’ was different. All its buildings were massive skyscrapers.
If there were a single giant tree, one might still be at peace when looking at it from underneath. However, a forest of giant trees would inflict an enormous pressure on those beneath it.
Standing there, Piña's and Bozes' hearts were deeply shaken by the sights before them.
Of course, they were not the only two affected by it. Lelei, Tuka and Rory were staring with eyes wide open, oblivious to the cold even though they stood at the heart of Ginza in the winter.
’’Ara, good thing I didn't miss you guys.’’
A voice called out to Itami from behind the five girls, just as he was about to leave the sentry post.
Turning around, he saw a group of black-suited men. At their head stood their leader, a middle-aged man.
’’You must be Lieutenant Itami.’’
’’Yes, that's me.’’
’’I'm Komakado from Intel. We'll be handling escort and guidance duties for this operation.’’
The man was smiling, but the smile did not reach his eyes. He had the same forceful aura around him as JSDF trainees who had just completed the Ranger course. One could describe it as a pressure, but to him as a JSDF trooper, it was more like a razor-edged look in his eyes.
The way this man smiled superficially was not entirely like that of a soldier. He might have come from the Public Security branch of the police, or perhaps another intelligence agency. He might even have been the result of the exchange program between the JSDF and the police.
’’Tell me, are you really from the JSDF?’’
’’As I thought, was it so easy to tell?’’
’’You don't feel like a proper serviceman. If a pure JSDF officer was handling this, there would probably be leaks.’’
The corners of Komakado's mouth turned up in a wicked smile.
’’Hmm, you're no ordinary guy. As expected of a man who was at Nijubashi. You know, I read up on your background before I came here.’’
’’Nothing worth mentioning, I hope?’’
’’Not exactly. After graduating from an average university with average grades, you entered the officer cadet course and ended up graduating second from the bottom in your batch, as a second lieutenant. The bottom cadet was injured during training and washed out. So in truth, you would be the bottom of your cohort, am I wrong?’’
He flipped through his notebook.
’’Some people commented that it was unfair that you passed while the injured fellow had to flunk out. Your performance appraisals wavered on the border of acceptable and unacceptable... and eventually you managed to somehow scrape through. The superiors you angered sent you to the Ranger course, but for some reason, even though you trailed at the back of your cohort, you were never washed out. Your teammates treated you as a plague and avoided you, and for some reason you were posted to Narashino. Although you were slated to be a permanent 2nd Lieutenant, after the Nijubashi incident you were promoted to 1st Lieutenant.’’
Komakado recited Itami's history from his black leather notebook as he flipped through it.
’’Your fellow soldiers had the following opinions of you: ’’otaku’’, ’’a true salary thief’’, ’’at least he understands the JSDF's anti-war values’’. Kukuku, how interesting.’’
As this fellow delivered his scathing lecture, Itami scratched the back of his scalp.
’’So how did someone like you get into 'S' ?’’
Acha~ Itami sagged his shoulders as he heard the question. That was a prickly one.
’’I think there was a paper some time ago which said that among all the worker ants in a colony, 20% are slackers?’’
’’It means, no matter what kind of ants you have, 20% of them will become slackers.’’
’’I see. So in order to ensure none of the elite, handpicked ants backslide into slackers, you need to have slackers in there to begin with?’’
’’I bullshitted my superiors when they lectured me about slacking off. The logic might sound strange, but rather than gathering a group of elites together and having 20% of them become slackers, why not just include those slackers from the beginning and minimize the decay of skilled personnel? Back then, there were a spate of suicide cases in the WAIR (JGSDF Western Army Infantry Regiment (Light)), so the unit took that suggestion seriously.’’
’’Kukuku, so, is that how someone like you got into the Special Forces? If anyone knew that someone as easygoing and slack as you could get in, they'd bang their heads on the wall while wailing about how they were doing worse than you.’’
Komakado's words made Itami sigh deeply.
And just at this moment
A shrill cry of despair rang out from the side, like a girl who had been abandoned by her lover.
On closer inspection, the one crying out was Kuribayashi.
Her face was pale, and that was not a joke or exaggeration. To her, the fact that Itami was a Ranger was a seemingly irreconcilable paradox, and now she learned he was from the Special Forces. This otaku, this supreme slacker, to think he was a member of the Special Forces she admired! Learning that fact plunged her into the deepest despair, and she wanted to curse this world and scream her anger to her enemies.
She ran off like a frightened rabbit, although since there were obstacles set up around the ’’Gate’’, she could not go far.
Tomita gave chase, and when he caught up, he patted her gently on the back to show that he understood, comforting her like he would a victim of se*ual assault.
Komakado could not help but laugh as he saw this. He tried his best to keep his voice down, but in the end, he was still laughing while grabbing his belly. After a while, Komakado managed to calm down and catch his breath. He straightened himself up, and then bowed to Itami.
’’You aren't an ordinary man. Being able to pretend to be a lazy ant among the other hardworking ants is an impressive feat. I respect you, and I mean that.’’
’’No way, someone tell me he's lying... Ah, this is just a dream, it can't possibly be real~’’
Kuribayashi covered her face with her hands and tried to deny reality. She radiated an aura of gloom and despair. Fortunately, the microbus from Intelligence Branch picked this time to show up. It was a godsend, because the interior was spacious.
Kuribayashi sat in the rear seats, while Itami was all the way in front, sitting beside the driver, in order to avoid being contaminated by the aura of misery around her. Rory, Piña and the others did not dislike Kuribayashi, and Rory herself was actually favorably inclined toward her, but they decided to cluster near the front in order to keep their distance from Kuribayashi.
Her exaggerated reaction was somewhat problematic.
’’Lieutenant Itami, where are we headed?’’
The question came from the Intelligence Branch driver, who was wearing a suit.
’’We'll go get some clothes first. Since we're out of time, just take us to some place that sells suits, we can't let them go on camera like this.’’
Rory, Tuka and Lelei needed some proper clothes before they went before the Diet. In particular, Tuka's T-shirt and jeans did not look like something that a person testifying before the National Diet should wear.
Originally, the plan was to let Kuribayashi pick out clothes for them, but since she was suffering a mental breakdown, the task fell to Itami, the man with no taste whatsoever. If Kurokawa were there, she would definitely try to stop Itami from doing something stupid.
The driver in black informed his superiors about where they were going, then started up the microbus and set off.
The area surrounding the Ginza side of the ’’Gate’’ was under the jurisdiction of the JSDF, and some people called it the ’’Ginza Garrison’’. However, once their vehicle left the restricted zone, they were back in the heart of Ginza again. The girls from the Special Region could not help but stare in awe at the sights which now surrounded them.
Although, that was inevitable. The reason was because after the Ginza Incident, the shopping districts in Ginza now sported all manner of shiny decorations, festival lights and Christmas trees to draw in customers, and the glass display windows showcased name-brand clothing, expensive jewellery, and all the things which would draw a girl's attention.
The Ginza district did not look like a place which had been the site of a battlefield just half a year ago. The roads were packed with cars and the shoppers thronged the streets.
Of course, there were shops which had not reopened, and which were sealed off by thick metal shutters. For most of them, their owners had died during the Ginza Incident.
Other shops had lost their staff to the fighting, and had gone out of business.
Even so, there were still a lot of people who wanted to restore Ginza to its former glory, and they brought in more and more customers. This might be the resilience of the Japanese people.
’’There are a lot of people here. Could this be a marketplace?’’
’’Ah, look at that dress...’’
Piña and Bozes were whispering a conversation to each other.
The microbus stopped in front of a clothing store which specialized in Western fashions.
Itami sought out a female sales attendant and handed Tuka to her while saying, ’’Get her a formal-looking set of clothes, to be worn right away. The cheapest will do, just send the bill to this address.’’ Because Itami emphasised ’’cheapest’’, the lady brought Tuka to the returns section, where the cheaper clothes were.
’’Rory, Lelei, do you want to wear something more formal too?’’
Rory walked one full turn around the store, looking at both male and female fashions, before declining. ’’I'm not really interested in these clothes. Besides, this is my priestess' formal wear.’’
Lelei replied, ’’No need.’’ Unlike Rory, she seemed completely uninterested in new clothing.
Well, Lelei's robe probably qualifies as an ethnic costume. The problem is Rory's goth-loli clothes. Even if she says it's formal wear, there's no way anyone would believe it. We'll just have to insist that it's a set of ethnic clothing that just so happens to resemble a goth-loli outfit.
On the other hand, Piña and Bozes were looking at the clothes on display, but their attention was focused on the quality of the fabric used to make them.
They were currently wearing Imperial nobles' clothing, suitable for semi-formal events.
Those clothes were made of very high-quality, hand-stitched silk, designed for use in garden parties or mounted activities. In that sense, it was like a medieval musketeer's uniform.
With the addition of a sidearm sword, it would make a good set of casual clothing for a knight.
However, Yanagida firmly forbade them to carry weapons through the ’’Gate’’, so Bozes and Panache had gone through with nothing at their waists.
The only complaint about these clothes was that their fabric was too thin, so they considered buying a winter coat. However, the microbus and the clothing store were heated, so it was not a huge priority. Instead, they simply wandered the store looking at clothes.
’’Oh, this material's quite sturdy. It would probably sell for a lot in the Empire.’’
The sheer variety of goods on display made them wonder if the owner of this place was some kind of merchant prince, to be able to boast such a huge stock.
’’Lieutenant, where will we be going next?’’
Itami replied, ’’Let's get something to eat first. We'll be going before the Diet at three, so we should be there by two to give ourselves some buffer time.’’
’’Then where shall we go to eat?’’
Itami grinned, and gave the driver his directions.
’’Wait, why are we having beef bowls?’’
Tomita grumbled, and for good reason. They had travelled all the way to another world;could they not entertain their guests with something better?
Itami rebutted him by saying that since they had to report to the Diet from Ginza, they would have to pass by Shinbashi on foot, which would take them past a beef bowl restaurant. He ordered eight beef bowl set meals (paid by the JSDF, of course) and then everyone sat down together to eat.
’’We won't be on vacation yet until we finish speaking to the Diet. As a result, even though traffic and food can be billed to the JSDF, we can't spend more than 500 yen for meals per person.’’
’’Well, a single cup of coffee from the cafes here will cost more than that. Beef bowls or soba are pretty much the only things that cost under 500 yen in this area. But we can't have them eat while standing, so I went with the beef bowl. Besides, it looks like they're enjoying it.’’
Lelei and the others were digging into their food with great gusto. As an aside, they had learned how to use chopsticks in the refugee camp. To Lelei's group, who were used to eating JSDF-supplied combat rations, the beef bowl tasted delicious.’’
’’But is it alright to let the Princess and Bozes eat beef bowls?’’
’’They're here to learn about us, right? That being the case, why not let them experience what the average citizen has for lunch?’’
The high-bred noblewomen in question were gingerly spooning up the beef bowl and egg before swallowing it. Although it was the first time they had encountered a rice bowl dish, they did not protest it, probably because their time in training had inured them to vile food. That being said, they found the beef bowl delicious.
After their meal, the group continued on to the National Diet Building.
Itami, Lelei, Rory and Tuka were led to a waiting room by members of the Diet.
This was where Bozes and Panache parted ways with Itami's group.
Kuribayashi and Tomita followed them onto the microbus, which left from the main gate of the Diet Building and travelled to a high-class hotel somewhere in Tokyo.
Piña and Bozes were not official envoys, so there was no way to officially invite them into a government building. More importantly, on paper, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister's Office was officially unaware that they were in Japan. They had been invited to Japan by the Defense Ministry under the pretext of being ’’backup speakers in case the witnesses to the National Diet were unable to give their testimony’’.
After all, their presence in Japan at this point would cause a lot of problems if it were made public.
Once they gained a chance to open diplomatic negotiations, the military's opinions would obviously carry extra weight.
Diplomatic talks, especially those designed to clear up the aftermath of military conflicts, would absolutely require military power to back up any proposals made. But there were also many people who did not know, or who chose to ignore this fact, and thus protested the accumulation of military power.
The Japanese government did not intend to excessively limit the JSDF's activities at this stage, and in order to avoid interference from external powers, they had officially disavowed the existence of Piña and Bozes.
That being said, Piña and Bozes were still VIPs. After all, it would be beneficial to Japan to gain an intermediary for secret negotiations with the Empire, so it was a simple matter to pad the nominal roll of people present in order to accommodate them.
Piña and Bozes were brought to a stateroom in the high-class hotel which was their destination. Two groups of four men and women were waiting for them there.
’’We welcome your visit, your Imperial Highness, your Excellency.’’
The first two were Councillor Shirayuri Reiko, the Prime Minister's aide, as well as Sugawara Kouji from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was there to take notes for the meeting.
In addition, Kuribayashi and Tomita were present, wearing their dress uniforms. Because Lelei, the most proficient with the Special Region's language, was not present, Kuribayashi and Tomita would take her place as interpreters.
Piña and Bozes were understandably nervous. After all, a single mistake could ruin the Empire.
Piña had not come here for talks. She had only agreed to come as an intermediary to facilitate relations between the Empire and Japan. If Japan asked her to speak on the Empire's behalf, that would be a completely different beast from being a middleman. Given that the Empire had suffered multiple crushing defeats on the battlefield, asking her to sign a treaty would be no different from demanding the Empire's surrender.
Because of that, she had to stick to her position of being an intermediary. She was so worried about saying the wrong thing that the sweat beaded visibly on her forehead.
Piña felt that ’’Diplomacy is a war of words’’, and right now she regretted not having brought Hamilton along with her.
Similarly, Kuribayashi and Tomita were having a hard time.
The two of them did not have Lelei's analytical and deductive skills, or her extensive vocabulary, and although Itami was not a cunning linguist, having him around would have cut out a lot of the trivial details. However, the two of them had to rely on their phrasebooks as well as the occasional helping hand from Piña and Bozes in order to somehow push these talks through.
Where could they find the Empire's heads of state, particularly representatives they could communicate with, and what powers and position did these people have?
As for these ’’representatives they could communicate with’’, the first choice would obviously be Piña, who made it clear to Japan who they were communicating with. Of course, they would not dump all their requests on her;even being a middleman would be enough. The Japanese government would obviously want to verify that piece of good news.
Next would be the number of people in the first group of envoys.
In negotiations, a single person could not attend meetings and dictate conditions by themselves. These matters would be discussed repeatedly, over long periods of time, with both parties working together to come to a compromise that they could both agree on. This was a long and tiring process, and it only made sense to send multiple people to carry it out.
In addition, they would have to decide how to pay for their envoys' stay in their host country.
This too was natural;after all, diplomatic negotiations would not be finished in a day or two.
The negotiation process might take months, or even years. There was a joke that ’’Congress does not move, it dances’’, but it accurately reflected the process of ironing out the conflicts of interest between both parties. The joke referred to the Congress of Vienna, which only reached a decision because of the shocking news of Napoleon's escape from the Island of Elba. In other words, without any pressing threat, the Congress of Vienna would not have reached a decision. From that example, one could imagine that the negotiations would take a very long time, and as a result, the food, lodgings and dress of the envoys, among other expenses, would need to be taken into consideration as well.
At the same time, since she was accepting the position of an intermediary, the question of bribes came up. Only a child would frown at bribes;they were a necessary part of doing business.
However, the bribes in question would also depend on the opposition's position. Both parties might not place the same value on mere currency;therefore an effective bribe would be an offer of an object or service that the other side needed.
In addition, they had to address the matter of how both countries would speak to each other. Piña suggested sending several scholars to learn the Knee Horn language, while Sugawara promised to take her request into consideration. The language barrier had to be conquered in order for effective negotiations to take place, after all.
The final item they discussed was the matter of the prisoners.
The Japanese government had captured roughly 6000 members of the Imperial Army that had crossed through the gate to invade Japan. Because there were a lot of them, it was troublesome to care for them, to say nothing of where to house them. The government built a POW camp on an unmanned island in the Seto Inland Sea, and stuffed the captives in there.
The expense of feeding these prisoners was shockingly high, and while many of the lesser troops had died in the conflict, many of the prisoners were high-ranking officers. As a result, their haughty air made them very difficult to deal with, and they only provided information that an officer might be expected to know. Perhaps their tongues could be loosened up with such delightful measures as hot irons, but there was no practical way such harsh measures would be approved, both for humane reasons, and because they wanted to use them as bargaining chips with the Empire.
As an aside, among these 6000 prisoners were huge beasts such as ogres and other demihumans that the people on this side of the ’’Gate’’ might identify as apes. Although they were not sure if they counted as human beings, they could speak, and so they were treated as humans to avoid problems with human-rights violations. In addition, several prisoners had been taken away by the USA in the name of ’’Investigations by the United Nations’’.
’’Our country has imprisoned them as war criminals, and we hope your nation will seek a way to bring them home.’’
Piña was struck dumb when she heard the figure of 6000. ’’Let, let me calculate how much ransom we need to pay,’’ she said. From what she knew, it would be a staggering sum, and the thought of it made her sweat even more.
However, Shirayuri Reiko simply smiled at her answer. ’’In this day and age, our country does not practice the ransoming of prisoners. After all, we do not trade in slaves. Under these conditions, we would prefer to take our payment in means other than hard currency. For instance, in exchange for the release of your captives, we would expect certain concessions from your country.’’ Shirayuri paused briefly, and then continued.
’’In order to give Your Highness some bargaining power as our mediator, we are willing to unconditionally release a select few captives that Your Highness will select. We hope you will make use of these terms to ensure the negotiations go well.’’
And so, Piña learned how the country of Nihon treated their prisoners, as well as gaining a powerful weapon she could use to negotiate with the nobles of the Senate.
’’I have exclusive, reliable news that your son is still alive. If you want him to be released safely, then you'll have to negotiate with them. If need be, we will prepare a meeting place as well.’’
Which parent would not be moved by this news?
At this moment, Bozes cut in.
’’I know it may not be possible now, but I would like to meet some of the prisoners. Could I count on you for that? I would also like a list of the captives' names.’’
In truth, one of her friends had sent her husband to the battlefield (Ginza).
At first, she had thought he had died in battle, but now there was a sliver of hope she could cling to. However, the news she had now was limited to ’’Some people might have survived?’’ If Bozes could give her more concrete information, it would help things. Frankly speaking though, Bozes wanted to run back to the capital and say, ’’Your husband might still be alive! Chin up!’’
Secretary Sugawara answered, ’’Then, the next time you ladies pay us a visit, we will arrange for you to visit the prisoners in their holding facility. As for the name list, I will complete it and hand it to you before you return to the Empire.
And so, without being recorded in the history books, the first secret talks were thus concluded.
There were two sorts of events the NHK was required to cover as a public television station, but which received low viewership numbers despite NHK's nationwide reach, because the people cared little for them. Those would be election speeches and meetings of the National Diet.
However, ever since the self-proclaimed revolutionary began his address with ’’You gentlemen who are in power!’’, the election speeches had higher ratings than the Diet meetings, until today.
The reason why the ratings for the Diet meeting had increased was not because a witness was being summoned today. Since perjury in front of the Diet was a punishable offense, most people called before the Diet were careful with their words, which made them boring.
However, today's broadcast was different.
On one of the Net's huge message boards, somebody had written ’’Incredibly hot Special Region Elf spotted!’’ and in an instant the viewership rates had skyrocketed.
Lelei, Tuka and Rory were present for this event, in addition to the regular councilmen.
As usual, Itami's lack of visual impact meant that he was easily forgotten.
Still, all eyes were turned to the girls: Lelei with her short, silver hair and her long robe, Tuka with her blonde hair, blue eyes and long ears, as well as Rory in her jet-black goth-Loli outfit while carrying something long and wrapped up. Every councilman, every camera, and everyone in the audience could not help but look at them.
The first to speak was Councilwoman Kouhara Mizuki, from the opposition party.
Councilwoman Kouhara Mizuki proudly held up a large board and looked straight at the camera before asking her questions.
’’Witness Itami, I will cut to the chase. Firstly, I would like to ask about the Special Region Class A Dangerous Animal, which we call a Dragon. Why did 150 people from Coda Village have to be sacrificed?’’
Councilwoman Kouhara's board had ’’150 INNOCENT LIVES LOST!!’’ plastered over it, to place emphasis on the civilian casualties.
’’Witness Itami Youji, please step forward.’’
After the chairman called his name, Itami stepped forward as asked.
Because he was in a neatly pressed dress uniform, even Itami managed to look...no, he looked the same as always, but maybe he was just slightly more handsome... well, in any case, he responded in his usual tone.
’’Eh~ well, I think it was because the Dragon was too strong, don't you think?’’
That unexpected answer left Councilwoman Kouhara speechless.
’’Because we weren't strong enough.’’ She, like many other Japanese citizens, had expected him to make an earnest defense of himself, which she would then pick apart in what was practically a textbook formula. The man Itami had been painted as a hero by the media during the Defense of Nijubashi. However, it would seem reality did not match with the image.
’’Are, are you trying to evade all responsibility by saying you weren't strong enough? 150 innocent civilians lost their lives under your watch;do you not feel responsible for them at all?’’
She tapped her board with ’’150 PEOPLE’’ written on it against the table.
’’Witness Itami Youji.’’
The Chairman called his name again, and Itami once more stepped forward.
’’Eh~ what do you mean by strong enough? Are you saying that I should take responsibility for the Dragon coming out by itself?’’
’’My question was directed at you, your superiors and the JSDF, to find out what was wrong with your response to the situation! The appearance of the Dragon was not your fault. However, as the relevant commander on the scene, why did you not prevent those civilian casualties? That is the question I am asking!’’
In the face of the Councilwoman, who was panting heavily with ’’Haa, haa’’ sounds, Itami grabbed his scalp like he always did and replied, ’’Well, when I said the dragon was too strong, I meant that our rifles were far too weak. Frankly speaking, our bullets were bouncing off its hide like we were using peashooters, so it would be great if we could have more powerful weapons in the future. Like I said, a plasma particle cannon, a laser cannon, maybe you could hurry the labs up so we could get something usable like that? I heard that they're going to begin prototyping power suits soon, so I'd like to get those as well. The basic research is done by the national universities, but I think it wouldn't be a bad idea if we developed things like that for national defense on top of providing benefits for everyday life and healthcare-related issues. It's probably not easy to think of good things for military-related applications, but I think the ones who can benefit from new equipment aren't just the JSDF, but the police and the emergency services as well. I'm sure it would help them save a lot more lives. Also, I'm sorry so many people died.’’
Itami's answer was blended with a healthy dose of playing dumb and playing the fool.
The ruling party members could only grin at Itami's farcical answer, while cries of ’’This unruly fellow!’’ rose from the opposition side.
’’Does the Ministry of Defense wish to explain further?’’
The Vice-Minister of Defense struggled to contain his wild laughter as he raised his hand.
’’Yes, about the point First Lieutenant Itami raised, we have already analyzed samples from the creature known as a Dragon. The Dragon's scales are about as hard as tungsten, around 9 on the Mohs scale. They also weigh one seventh of their equivalent volume in steel.’’
In other words, a Flame Dragon covered with scales like these was essentially a flying tank. The Vice-Minister was trying to explain in a roundabout way that ensuring zero casualties while doing battle against a creature like this was an impossible task.
Councilwoman Kouhara sighed, having long since abandoned any hope of trying to get a straight answer out of Itami. Instead, she decided to address someone else.
The first person would be Lelei.
As expected of Councilwoman Kouhara, she had selected Lelei, who looked like a middle-schooler, in the hope of using her position as an adult to get the answers she wanted out of her. After her self-introduction, she asked, ’’Ah, does the witness speak Japanese?’’
’’Yes, a little.’’
Hearing that answer calmed her a little, and she asked Lelei to introduce herself.
After learning that her name was Lelei La Lelena, she began asking Lelei about her life now.
’’Currently, I live in the refugee camp with the rest of the Arnus Living Community.’’
’’Do you feel inconvenienced in any way?’’
’’I do not understand what you mean by 'inconvenienced'. Are you saying I am not free? I believe that is the case no man on this earth is truly free.’’
After receiving a nonsensical yet eloquent answer to her roundabout question. In the end, the councilwoman decided to speak plainly and asked, ’’What I mean to ask is if there is anything lacking in your life, or if you are troubled by anything.’’
’’I have ample clothes, food and shelter, and my vocational and emotional needs are being met. I am content with what I have. If one continually desires more, one will never be satisfied.’’
Councilwoman Kouhara was not quite happy with Lelei's answer, but she decided to leave it at that. Instead, she went for the question she wanted to ask Itami, which was to say, ’’Were the 150 casualties from Coda Village the fault of the JSDF?’’
Lelei gulped and stared with eyes wide. Then she answered, ’’No,’’ simply and quietly.
The next person called was Tuka.
’’I am a high elf, belonging to the Marceau tribe of the Lodo forest, daughter of Hodoryur Rei, Tuka Luna Marceau.’’
After being asked her name, Tuka proudly puffed up her chest and stated her family name.
Tuka's clothes were a navy-blue suit obtained from the returns section of the store, the result of the shop attendant randomly picking out pieces. However, because of this, Tuka, who would normally resemble a high-schooler, now had the air of a university student.
’’I apologize for this question which might be a bit rude, but are your ears real?’’
After hearing Lelei's translation, Tuka's face had a ’’Hah?’’ of bafflement. In surprise, she answered, ’’What sort of question is this?’’
Lelei replied that it was because they were curious about how her appearance differed from them.
’’Yes, they are, these ears are natural. Do you want to touch them?’’
With a charming smile, Tuka eased her golden hair away with her fingers, fully exposing her twitching, pointed ears.
This series of movements, combined with her adorable expression that resembled a cute little animal, won the hearts of everyone around her. Perhaps because of this, a sizable portion of the councillors, the audience, and the media personnel gasped in unison. At the same time, a veritable galaxy of flashbulbs went off, so bright that it was blinding.
Councilwoman Kouhara hurriedly said, ’’That, that's enough,’’ before moving on to ask Tuka about her life in the refugee camp. After hearing that she was amply taken care of, she asked Tuka the same question she did Lelei: ’’Were the deaths of the 150 civilians related to the JSDF?’’
In that instant, Tuka froze, and then she looked down. After Tuka muttered, ’’I'm not too sure,’’ Kouhara asked her to elaborate, and Tuka replied, ’’I was unconscious at the time.’’
The last one to take the stand was Rory.
She was dressed in her usual gothic dress, but today, she wore a thin veil over her face. At a glance, she looked like a noble daughter in mourning.
Of course, the veil did not completely conceal her features, but the combination of youth and stateliness combined to produce a special kind of feeling about her. One could make out the slim line of her body underneath her clothes, so fragile that it seemed that she might be knocked over with a single breath. Yet, despite her small frame, she radiated a feminine charm that was easily the equal of any adult. Even non-ped*phi*es might be ensnared by her bewitching beauty.
One hand was holding some large object wrapped in canvas, while the other was in front of her.
Councilwoman Kouhara took Rory's black clothing to be mourning clothes, and she thought that it would be the perfect chance to have her attack the government's failings. After all, since she was wearing these clothes, she must have lost someone close to her.
Therefore, in order to draw out a tragic, heartbreaking story, she spoke gently and kindly to Rory.
’’Could you tell me your name, please?’’
’’How is your daily life in the refugee camp?’’
’’As an apostle of Emroy, I lead a humble life according to my faith.’’
’’And what is that like?’’
’’In truth, it is very simple. In the morning, I open my eyes and pray. I take life, and then I pray again. When night falls, I sleep once more. After all, I still possess a body of flesh, so there is no other alternative.’’
’’What do you mean by 'taking life'?’’
’’One might compare it to hunting for the purpose of eating, or a live sacrifice to my god, Emroy.’’
Because the first word of the translation was ’’eating’’, Councilwoman Kouhara and the other councillors believed it was the slaughter of animals for consumption. Although that would not be an inaccurate description, in truth, ’’taking life’’ should have been interpreted literally, as ’’murder’’. It might have been simple good luck that such a shocking revelation was never translated.
And so, after that question was done, Kouhara asked again, ’’Was the JSDF the cause of your family members' deaths?’’
Lelei considered this question with a doubtful tilt of the head. The doubt was not about how to translate the question, but rather, given that Rory was an apostle, any family she had should have died a long, long, long time ago. Therefore, that question seemed completely irrelevant.
However, the Chairman's curious question of ’’what's wrong?' interrupted her stupor.
Lelei could only split this question into two parts. She asked them as: ’’How about Rory Mercury's family’’, as well as ’’What do you think of the refugees at Coda Village?’’
However, Councilwoman Kouhara had originally asked a single question, and she thought that the translator was deliberately splitting it up in order to cover up some misconduct in the JSDF and the Ministry of Defense. Therefore, she firmly repeated herself.
’’Miss Lelei, please translate my question exactly as I ask it. Were the death of Rory's family caused by the JSDF's response?’’
Since there was no choice, Lelei translated the question verbatim.
However, Rory's response was silence. Kouharu Mizuki thought, ’’Jackpot!’’, thinking that she had finally managed to tug on Rory's heartstrings. If possible, she hoped that Rory's feelings would be reflected on her face. However, what Rory said next was in Japanese.
’’Are you an idiot?’’
In an instant, the Diet Chamber fell deathly silent.
’’Par-pardon me, what did you just say?’’
Kouhara Mizuki asked her question, her voice filled with doubt.
’’I said, 'Are you an idiot?', little miss.’’
Rory turned, her words drowning out Lelei's Japanese translation.
’’That, that's terribly rude. Why do you say I'm an idiot?’’
’’Well, isn't that an idiotic question.’’
As Rory said that, she raised her eyes up, so she seemed to be looking down on a moron.
’’I've been listening quietly from the beginning until now. All your questions were intended to imply that Itami and his men weren't trying hard enough to save the villagers' lives. The fact that they survived combat with a Flame Dragon is by itself worthy of praise. You say one quarter died? That's a terrible mistake to make. You should be saying that three-quarters survived. How can you be a senator without knowing such things? If everyone here is as much of an idiot as you are, it must be pretty tough being a soldier of this country.’’
’’Witness, please take a more serious tone.’’
The Chairman seemed to have tossed out those words in annoyance, but Rory simply smiled archly, and shrugged. Kouhara, who was furious after being so harshly criticized, tried to stare Rory down as she replied. ’’Little miss, I don't recall you being here before, but that is no reason to speak so crudely. Is this arrogance how children in your world behave toward adults?’’
Her angry retort came out like a scolding for a child. Kouhara was hoping that this younger person would lower her head and apologize. As an older individual, it was the sole leverage she had.
’’Little miss? Were you referring to me, by any chance?’’
Rory hugged herself as she answered.
’’Who else could I be speaking too? Also, why do you call me 'little miss'? Is that the respect you show your elders?’’
’’Ah, this might come as a surprise to some, but...’’
Itami, who sensed the situation going from bad to worse, raised his hand. The elder Dietmen must have thought of Rory as a human, and thus they were treating her like a human. However, the reason he had brought them along was to show them that some things existed outside of their experience, and having these people present in person would hopefully be more convincing.
’’Witness Itami, do not speak without the express permission of this office!’’
’’I'm very sorry about that, but I feel Councilwoman Kouhara has made a grave mistake...’’
Indeed, there seemed to be a storm brewing between Rory and Kouhara. The Chairman hoped that Itami's words would help clear up this embarrassing scene.
Rory bit her lips and stared at Itami before returning to her seat.
Her eyes seemed to be saying, ’’Don't interfere with me.’’
’’Eh~ Councilwoman Kouhara, and all ladies and gentlemen present. We use our age as a weapon against the young, without thinking that someday it might be turned on us instead.’’
’’Witness, kindly state your point succinctly.’’
’’Ah, I'm very sorry about that. That is to say... well, to put it simply, Miss Rory Mercury is older than everyone present.’’
’’What? To think she could be older than myself?’’
The incredulous speaker was a heavyweight member of the Conservatives. He was 87.
’’Yes, she is.’’
A disturbance swept across the Chamber, along the lines of ’’What nonsense is this?’’
Someone even proposed that they ask the witnesses their age.
However, someone else on the panel said, ’’It would be rude for us to directly ask a lady's age,’’ so they had to let Councilwoman Kouhara handle it.
’’Then, how old are you?’’
’’I am 961 years old.’’
Even the councilwoman fell silent with the rest of the room. ’’Is she immortal?’’ someone asked.
At this point, another female voice rang out, asking how old the other witnesses were.
’’I'm 165 years old,’’ Tuka answered. The male councillors shuddered, while the female ones swallowed. She was as beautiful as sculpted crystal, and she would stay that way forever, Tuka was a being of overwhelming beauty, radiating an aura of perfection that every other woman would strive desperately to achieve. That fact was driven further home now.
Everyone held their breath when they asked Lelei the question, and when she replied ’’I am 15,’’ the men all sighed in relief. For these men, who equated youth to beauty, they would have to seriously rethink the way they looked at the world.
After this, Lelei began her explanation for everyone in attendance.
According to Lelei, the Humans on the other side of the ’’Gate’’ could live to an age of 60 to 70 years, health permitting. Most of the people on the other side of the ’’Gate’’ were Humans.
The realization that the Humans on the other side of the ’’Gate’’ were similar to themselves drew some consternation from the councillors, and it allowed them to relax a little.
Tuka, on the other hand, was one of the so-called undying Elves, and as one of the rare High Elves, her lifespan was so much longer than that of a regular Elf that she was effectively immortal.
Rory was not human either, but a demigod, which was to say she was a divine being incarnated into a flesh and blood body. Although she was immortal now, she had once been a human, and her physical age was frozen at the time when she had ascended to demigodhood. After a thousand years, she would cast aside her cloak of flesh and become a true god. In other words, the concept of age did not matter to her.
After hearing this, Kouhara wanted to grab her head and scream.
Earlier, she herself had said that juniors should respect their elders. Her mouth, which had so proudly scathed older members of the Diet, was now unable to speak from embarrassment.
That being the case, she should pretend to have forgotten it. That was a sign of the strong spirit politicians had. If things went wrong, they would forget it, ignore it, or just make something up. Nobody could play politics without the ability to say up was down and black was white.
’’Then, I have no more questions.’’
The session was over, but there was a feeling that there were questions left unsaid, probably because the person who was supposed to ask those questions had given up on asking them herself. Kouhara shoved the newspaper clippings she never had the chance to use under her arm and despondently returned to her own seat.
After that, members of both parties asked questions of their own. They were mainly aimed at finding out about life and culture beyond the ’’Gate’’. Nobody dared probe deeper into Rory or Tuka's background.
After all, they had taken down the Flame Dragon, so nobody could do anything but praise them. They approved of the JSDF's handling of the situation with no complaints either.
At the end of everything, Councilman Higure asked a question.
He specifically pointed out Rory and asked, ’’I wish to ask one who has lived over 900 years, with incalculable experience, who might well be a living god our world values freedom, but at the same time, we restrict freedom to avoid undesirable circumstances, for instance, stories, artwork and other materials involving young girls. What should we do in this situation?’’
Apart from trying to understand the moral values of the Special Region, the Councilman must have wanted to see how mature she really was from her answer.
The witness Rory Mercury replied thus:
’’Some questions with no answers cannot be answered even by those who live forever. Yet, the absence of a correct answer does not mean the question cannot be answered. If you want to know how I felt about the complete ban on some culture and art that I could not understand, was not interested in, or could not accept, in the name of preventing the violations of others' rights or other trumped up charges, I believe that would be taking us onto the road of discriminating against others. If we define culture as that which is healthy or humane, and defend that decision in the name of justice, once any part of that system collapses, it will cause an unimaginable number of problems for society. For instance, if I drew a line in the middle and erased one side, the next day, a new line will appear in the middle of the side that is left. I think suppressing the instincts and thoughts of the human spirit is bad. The desire for purity and wholesomeness, when taken to an extreme, is harmful.’’
Itami and his team were done with the Diet session.
The microbus had returned to the Diet building to fetch Itami and the others. It was escorted by two cars from Intel Branch, one in front and one behind. It was sunset, which implied that the roads would be jammed, as well as the risk that some car might try to ram or otherwise endanger them.
The convoy started and stopped in time with the changing of the traffic lights' colors.
As the cars around them passed the convoy, a car filtered in behind the microbus. It was travelling at a ridiculously slow speed, and it hedged the car that Komakado was in away from the microbus.
’’Hm~ How strange.’’
Komakado was mumbling to himself, but the driver was tensed up.
’’Dammit, this clown's really taking his sweet time driving!’’
He thought of going over the crosswalk or overtaking the car in front of him, but the cars in the lanes beside him suddenly slowed down, making it impossible to change lanes or overtake.
And so, when the traffic light turned red, the microbus left its escort behind it.
As he watched the taillights of the rapidly-receding microbus, Komakado tapped his mike with one hand and gave his orders.
’’Command to all vehicles, the enemy's here. Keep your eyes peeled.’’