Kino no Tabi:Volume11 Chapter6
A Tale of Roads
There was a summer forest.
A hilly area dense with trees and grass with lumps stretching across the earth painted the world in green.
Perfectly white clouds floated in the sky and the sun shone brilliantly on the earth.
In this forest, on a certain narrow road, a motorad (note: a two-wheeled vehicle, meaning it doesn't fly) wheezed by.
This road in the forest was narrow and wildly overgrown. The width would allow a vehicle to pass, with some effort. The surface was muddy, uneven. Tree branches stretched overhead, and though it was morning, it was very dim.
The motorad, its front wheel shooting up everywhere in the ditch and its back wheel racing from being stuck in the mud, proceeded very sluggishly. The headlights shuddered every which way.
Black boxes lay on both sides of its back wheel, and on its carrier were strapped a carrying bag and a sleeping bag. The wheels and body of the motorad itself were completely dirtied in mud.
The driver was a young human. About the mid-teens. Large eyes, an intrepid face.
She wore a furred cap, the earflaps were pushed up by the band on her goggles which did not cover her eyes but were on her cap.
She wore a black vest on top of a white shirt not dirtied by all the mud thrown up, and had a wide belt strapped on her. By her right thigh was a Hand Persuader in its holster. (Note: A Persuader is a firearm; in this case, it is a pistol.)
“It’s an awful road… This is the worst thing ever…”
This, the driver groaned.
“I got gypped… ‘There’s an unbelievably good road up ahead, just to tell you,’ my ass…”
The back wheel slipped in mud again and the driver panicked, readjusting her grip on the handles. Sweat dripped from her forehead on the tank.
“Hang in there, Kino. Look, we just have a little more to go before we’re out of the forest.”
So said the motorad as if it had nothing to do with the present issue. Ahead on the road, the end of the forest tunnel shone white and dazzling.
The driver named Kino said,
“But Hermes, there’s no guarantee that the road from there on will be—oof…better than this one.”
Putting up a leg, she tried desperately to regain her balance.
“If the sun hits it and dries it up, it would make the situation better. Wanna take a break?”
So said the motorad named Hermes.
“Good idea…it’s a beautiful forest after all, so it’d be nice to relax and admire it…”
So smiled she.
“Pretty mad, aren’t you, Kino.”
“Wow, amazing. Yup, definitely amazing.”
Even Hermes, resting on its sidestand, sounded impressed.
There was a wide road.
The forest was cleared, the roots dug out, the earth leveled, wide enough for a large truck to comfortably drive by—a truly excellent road.
After the clearing the treacherous path back in the woods, Kino and Hermes stopped and saw this one. Mud tracks from Hermes’s tires stuck to the road.
“How can a road fit for a country be here…? Hermes, I’m not dreaming, am I?”
“You’re fine. Though even then, I’m surprised. Definitely a shocker. Could even call this a highway.”
Kino turned around and observed.
This path gently sloped along the hills, and as it ascended and descended, it ran on for as far as the eye could see.
Kino traversed the width of the road as she observed, stooping down once and removing her gloves, touching the hot surface.
“Some sort of heavy roller packed and leveled the earth very well. It looks easy to drive on…”
“Did you notice, Kino? They mixed something in the earth before they packed it. Besides, it’s sort of raised in the middle.”
Kino asked as she stood up.
“When it rains, the runoff can flow to the left and right. Look at the sides; you can see they dug ditches there, which the trees hold very tightly. It allows the water to flow into the forest from different spots, which is a good a way for the road to avoid weathering from rain. There are probably tunnels further along that go underneath and redirect the flow of water from the hilltops.”
After listening to Hermes’s explanation, Kino again regarded the road impressively.
“But Kino, we’re not in any country yet. I can’t think of any reason at all why someone would put in the time and labor to make such an excellent road.”
As Hermes pondered,
“But for me, it’s a huge lifesaver!”
Kino screamed this to the blue sky.
After that, Kino traveled down the road west.
At intervals, signs appeared along the road.
Numbers of days signified information like how long it would take to get to this next country if you were rushing with an engine vehicle, how long if you drove leisurely, how long at a fast horse gallop, how long for a carriage, how long for a bicycle, and how long on foot.
The road smoothly wove through the hilly area, up and down, going on and on and on.
The facilities for the gutters were fit snugly, and on the side near a precipice, there were logs established to prevent vehicles from falling off.
On both sloping sides of the road, there were also logs driven into the ground in the form of pickets and fences, intended to prevent landslides during the rainy season, and further on, it appeared that grass and all sorts of trees were planted into the ground. By the looks of it, mere days passed since this construction finished.
A bridge spanned the river as if it was the most natural thing in the world. It looked incredibly sturdy, composed of lavishly piled logs that were cut down for the road during the deforestation process.
Additionally, there was a sign dictating how to fix the bridge should it become damaged, with logs prepared by the side.
There was a path with a stairway for water-gathering purposes, as well as a clearing by the side for anyone who wished to camp out.
“They’re so gracious! What a wonderful road!”
An impressed Kino raced Hermes fast down the otherwise lonely road. The mud on the vehicle gradually dried up, at intervals crumbling off and flying to the back.
Then, going five times faster than in that muddy ditch in the woods, some time before noon,
“Amazing. We’re almost there. It’s just as the sign said.”
Kino caught sight of tall walls.
The path went straight on to the gate.
What lay there was a country cosily nestled in a basin amongst the hills.
Kino sought permission to enter the country for three days and was received.
While settling the entry formalities, Kino expressed her awe of the road to the guard.
“Did the people in this country make it?”
“Not at all,”
The guard promptly replied.
“It would be faster if you were to ask the builders themselves than for me to explain it.”
“The builders, then? That means there is a group responsible for that road, correct?”
“Yes. You’re in great luck. They were planning to stay until today. Go straight to the central park. They should be right in the middle of a great festival.”
Kino and Hermes entered the country and then sought the aforementioned central park.
Though they traveled down its thoroughfare, it was narrow and bumpy and only fields flew by left and right. Here and there, they could see puddles and furrows.
“Well, we know for certain these people couldn’t have built it.”
So Hermes grumbled.
Past the streets of log cabins was the park.
Wide and flat, it was composed of both forest and lawns.
Many people were present. There were probably over a thousand, with shops put up and music playing—a very lively atmosphere.
Kino walked Hermes in from the park entrance.
Tables and chairs were set up, in which people who were eating and talking sat.
Two kinds of people were visible.
The first appeared to be the country’s residents, wearing a uniform of checkered shirts. They comprised perhaps seven-tenths of the group.The second had clearly different customs, as they wore sleeveless shirts exposing their arms. Young and old, man and woman, all were darkly tanned, and as indicated by the sinews in their round arms, they wielded powerful bodies.“Hm, so there they are.”
So Hermes said, and Kino agreed.
It seemed that the residents greatly welcomed these road-workers at the festival. They brought food and drink and excitedly motioned for them to eat up.“Come to think of it, I’m hungry.”
Once Kino whispered this as meat flew left and right by her eyes,“But before that, we’re talking!”
Hermes was shocked.
When Kino pushed Hermes near, she called out to the checkered persons first.
“Hello. I just entered this country a while ago. May I know about this festival and those people?”
The middle-aged woman to whom she spoke exclaimed,
“Oh, my! More and more people by the hour!”
After that pleasant surprise,
“Why, then, I’ll introduce you to them. Come with me!”
She guided Kino and Hermes to one of the tables where these people sat. This one was mainly composed of women and children.
A man in the prime of his life—of course, tanned and strong as the rest—said,“Oh! This is wonderful! — Traveler, if you haven’t had lunch yet, would you care to join us?”
Kino, of course, did not decline. Others introduced themselves to her, she set Hermes on its kickstand, and took a chair by the side.
The specific food presented was whole roasted pig, deer steak, boiled corn, bean soup, and much more.“Come, come. Don’t hold back, eat up.”
Accepting their offer, Kino plunged herself into the food.
While she dined, Kino answered their questions, told them about how she and Hermes came from the east, how they ran into such a splendid road after hitting an extraordinarily bad one, how it saved them by getting them here ahead of schedule, and such.
“It was amazing! I’m extremely impressed!”
So assented Hermes, and meek smiles graced their countenances.
The residents spoke.
“Isn’t it?! It’s spectacular. Now more travelers and businessmen can gain access to here. Once we have more cultural exchange, perhaps we can develop. Once we prosper add increase our population…our dreams will be fulfilled! —All thanks to you. Thank you so much!” They applauded them.After wiping her mouth, Kino drank the tea served and began inquiring.
“Do you build roads as you migrate?”
So the aforementioned man replied, apparently the leader.
“We live by emigrating like a caravan does while we build roads. We currently have 297 among us.”
The man pointed off somewhere. The carriages and tents they were using were located outside the park.
The carriages carried wooden cranes, suggesting its use for public works. Along with a grand caravan, a heavy stone roller, bundles of rope for reaching high places, many shovels and axes, livestock for food, etc. were also visible.
“It’s strange for there to be so many people and materials in an emigration group.”
Hermes was impressed.
“Me too. It’s the first I’ve heard of it.”
So Kino said. The man continued.
“In order to make traveling easier for carriages and vehicles, we try to improve international roads. We build, we move, we go on. Much of life is moving, isn’t it. Our diet is primarily hunting-gathering, milk from our livestock, and once in a while, some meat.”“I see. So while you built that road I just traveled on, you’ve been staying here.”
“Yes, since ten days ago. These people are very kind. They gave us permission to stay in this park for a prolonged amount of time and insisted we rest. And even this festival. It’s too much.”
At this man’s expression of gratitude, the resident froze instead and exclaimed,“Oh, no! This is nothing compared to what you’ve done!”
“So it isn’t as if you built a road just for recompense?” So Kino asked, and the man nodded.
“That’s our purpose in life. Though technically speaking, we just build roads ‘for the heck of it.’ Sometimes, countries with unstable military scold us. ‘Now the enemy has an easier time getting to us—thanks!’ Though when it comes that, we show them good defense spots and add fences, and then they let us off.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
The reply so sudden, Kino repeated this.
“Since I was born.”
“… Then, do you have a country?”
“As for that, we no longer have one. —According to the records, five generations ago, certain people of a country no longer in existence began to split into different groups. Everyone abandoned their country all at once and we set out on a journey to build roads. Since then, we’ve raised our own children, sometimes picking up recruits from different countries or the wild, travelling forever and ever. The other groups must be making the best of themselves elsewhere, I’m sure.”
“Then…why? Why do you do this?”
The man smiled at Kino’s question, then replied.
“Of course, to be of use to everyone in the world!”
The next day.
Kino woke with the morning.
After light exercises, Kino practiced drawing the revolver she called Cannon, then dissembled it to clean. She took a shower and changed.
When she drew the curtain of the cheap hotel where she stayed aside, in the dim light, she saw the park ahead of the road.
Kino took out her snipe scope from her bag and observed the park.
A crosshair now in her vision, it revealed to her the sight of people packing their tents away.
Hermes suddenly asked from a corner of the room.
“Like he said, they’re leaving today. Packing very fast.”
So Kino replied as she continued observing.
“There something on your mind, Kino?”
“Yesterday, I asked them, ‘why?’”
“And he said, ‘to help people.’”
“I don’t believe it. I can’t imagine they’d do this for centuries without some compensation.”
“Hmm. But what will you do?”
“They’re going west for another road—”
“I see. Even if you leave the day after tomorrow, you still have time to catch up to them.”
“When I do, I’m going to ask again. They may have had a reason they couldn’t answer here.”
“It’d be nice if that would work out.”
“Don’t know ‘til you try. —By the way, Hermes.”
“If you’re going to wake up in the morning, then do so every morning. Then I wouldn’t have to get so tired trying to waking you up.”
“You understand something, Kino?”
“There’s never a single road for all the things in the world.”
“No, I don’t get it.”
And so Kino and Hermes remained in the country for another two days.
They sold what was sellable and bought what they should, and Hermes was replenished.
The people they met—
“So wonderful, isn’t it? They have the skills to build so many roads, but to think they’d do it for no compensation!”
“To find out that building roads is their purpose in life is awesome.”
“Don’t you see how their eyes just sparkle? It just shows how strong and at ease they are.” —each one lavished praise on the road builders.
The third afternoon, Kino and Hermes headed to the west gate for departure.
There was a freshly built, wonderful road stretched out into the hills of the forest.
As they began to leave,
“I believe you’ll meet them, so would you please thank them again for us?”
Kino accepted. One person who held a cloth bag said,
“If you can, would you bring this to them? It’s freshly baked bread. Perhaps reach them by tomorrow. Until then, you can use it for yourself, too.”
Kino assented, tried to lash it down to her sleeping bag as best she could, and set off on the road with no one else in sight.
They proceeded some and stopped within visible distance of the country walls.
“If we just rush after them, it’s be a waste.”
Kino then steered off into the forest, found a spot that suited her, and set up camp.
Dinner that night was bread.
Kino woke with the morning. She packed her tent and only drank tea.
Then she woke Hermes and departed, not even waiting for the sun to rise.
They reached the builders after just rounding one hill.
“I’m with you.”
They beheld a road construction site.
Before her eyes, tents were lined on the freshly made road, women and children preparing breakfast. The livestock were penned nearby and the migration carriages were parked nearby.
A ways ahead, there were carriages specifically for the construction work cranes. Next to them, cut timber stacked neatly together.
And further ahead, there was no road. Just fallen trees, stumps as their remnants, and half-dried earth, with only forest ahead.
The men were already working. Their powerful bodies glistened with sweat as they hauled trees, dug up roots, pushed the roller to pack the earth, dug ditches, and directed overall construction with what appeared to be blueprints.
“So this is how they start…”
So Kino said, stopping Hermes and cutting the engine. The children who caught sigh of them happily bounded to Kino.
She removed the lighter baggage and approached the women.“Good morning. I brought bread from that country.”
After she was thanked, they invited her to breakfast. As Kino reciprocated her gratitude,
Hermes muttered at the sight.
As the sun shone over the forest in the east, the man from the prior day sipped tea on a tree stump in a detached clearing.
“By the way—”
Kino approached him with Hermes.
The man upturned the corners of his mouth—
“ ‘The real reason why we build roads,’ yes?”
—and spoke abruptly. Then Kino—
“Yes. If you couldn’t reveal it there.”
“Very good! You’re very good. You’ve got guts and intelligence. Truly. Expected nothing less of a traveler. Different from the people in that country. I like you!” He pointed to Kino with the hand that held the mug. And once he drank down the rest in one gulp,
“I really do feel like responding to such a curious intellectual.”
“Ooh. Then you’ll tell us?”
So asked Hermes on its kickstand. Of course, replied he. The man motioned Kino to a nearby tree stump. She thanked him and sat down.
“I’ll tell you, but don’t tell the people in the country. Well, ‘cept even if you do, it won’t really reap you much benefit or be very useful.”Once he declared this,
“Our real goal. The reason why we continue to build roads is really our raison d’etre, but…it is—”
“Hm, hm.” “That is?”
To Kino and Hermes’s assents, the man replied in all earnest,
“To destroy all the people in the world.”
They began to hear the pounding of hammers.Their men, who finished breakfast, along with some women and children, began work on the road.
While these sounds went on, the man said to Kino,
He smiled. And then riddled, Do you get it?
“Destroy all the people…? I don’t quite see the connection.”
Kino replied honestly.
“Then I shall tell you—the grand plan of my forefathers.”
So the man announced grandiosely.
“Clappy clappy clappy.”
Hermes vocally applauded.
“Let’s start with your country. The country I’ve never seen, the homeland that no longer exists. —Apparently, it was in the depths of poverty. As winters passed, more corpses were born and eight of ten children died. When that’s all around, how can you have hope? Our ancestors parted from the world, cursing it. Why such a horrible life, they wondered.”
“And so, you came to hate the world?
“Precisely. We don’t want such a shitty world. We’ve come to hate it and all of humankind. But just hating is so empty, isn’t it? Very sad. Our ancestors decided to do away with that life of hatred. He wholeheartedly decided to take revenge on the world. We settled on destroying it.”
“Then our ancestors thought of ways to do. So what to do, what to do… They probably thought of taking up arms and using them to massacre. But they also figured out that wouldn’t work. It requires a ridiculous amount of effort. —What they need is power. If they don’t have it, then just use other people’s.”
“Hm, hm.” “So then?”
“And then he found the answer. The ingenious, most blasphemous spark of all. We hatched the frightful plan to exploit power from the very people we planned to destroy. So we began to build roads.”
“Mm?” “I still don’t see it.”
“This now is the heart of the matter. The first thing our ancestors thought of was how to destroy humankind, how to ‘make this a place they can’t live in.’”
“That’s easy to understand.” “I see.”
“Now, what would a place uninhabitable for people be like?”
The man quizzed them.
So Hermes answered, and Kino gave a similar response.
“Well, true. It’s a place without food or water. I’ve traveled through those sorts of places before.”
“Right. As of now, we have water and vegetation. The vegetation supports the animals and the water nourishes the vegetation. It’s where you can live. If so, then destroy these ‘living spaces’ in this world. So, make them crush themselves. By human power. Lots of human power.”
“Ahh, now I get it.”
So said Hermes. Continuing.
“Let’s say on a small island are ten people. There are enough food and water for them. But, what if we had fifteen people?”
“Someone would starve.”
“Right. The same with this world. If the carrying capacity exceeds, destruction will commence. So how to add more humans to the world?”
“Make it prosper.”
“Precisely. As long as we enrich populous countries, people will beget people, and so will consumable foods. Of course, fields will expand as well, so they won’t fall so easily, but one day, they will hit the limit. Space for fields and water will start to run out.”
“Then that’s where roads come in, don’t they…”
“You got it. We build roads, we connect countries. And then what? They were very happy, right? Cultural exchange will explode and they will progress. Population will increase, countries will broaden, and prosper more than ever, won’t they?”
“So your aim is to expand these countries.”
“Yes. Leading these countries to one another is our goal. Wonderful roads will move people smoothly, shipping insufficient resources from affluent places. Then people will continue to prosper, and former nature will become engulfed by countries. Humans will grow more arrogant and multiply without bound, and in the end consume the entire world. Even if a clever fellow were to notice what was happening, it wouldn’t work. Humans are hedonistic. They can’t let go of what they find convenient. Then the have-nots envy the haves, and try to take it for their own, as well. That clever fellow can’t very well persuade all of those people, but neither is surrender an option. —This way, the world will slowly but surely bring about irreversible changes.”
“On that point, I assure you of humans’ ‘hedonism.’ This is coming from a Motorad, so this can’t be wrong.”
So said Hermes, and Kino cocked her head.
“Why is it reliable from a Motorad?”
“Y’know, Kino, about bystander’s vantage?”
Kino cocked her head again.
“…… Sorry, Hermes. I can’t think of the right word you mean.”
“It works! It means a third party knows the situation better than the party itself!”
As Kino and Hermes carried on this exchange, the man spoke.
“The most important thing to advance civilizations ‘til they fall—that is a road. The best and strongest invention created for the sole purpose of bringing humans to an end. We harness the people’s power, who will never notice, and one day we will crush them.”
“I see…I understand more of your grand plan, now.”
“But it’d require lotta patience. How long would it take?”
The man was sincere at Hermes’s inquiry.
“Can’t tell. How many millenia? Tens of millenia? Either way, long after you and I bite the dust.”
Remaining quiet, Kino waited for his words.
“But, there’s one great thing I never expected.”
“These humans’ rapid technological advancement that come out from their hedonism, after all. Rides like you, Hermes, are now not unusual to see. Some countries I’ve seen have developed machines able to raise huge buildings. Such ‘convenient’ technology will assist human progress. Buses and trucks being faster than carriages, they ride lots of those. Large buildings provide more living space. I wonder if they can sustain the exploding population to the limit.”
“Well, true. If everyone were to ride Motorads like Kino does, then fuel would definitely be the first to go.”
“See? Exhaust filths the air and obscures the sun, and it’s possible that it will prevent flowers and grass from even growing.”
“And also, since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the entire planet would heat up fast with huge amounts of it in the air. Atmosphere would change and the melted ice would raise water levels. Seaside people would be in a mess.”
Hermes said this in a jolly manner,
Kino cocked her head to one side and then the other thrice,
“She kind of doesn’t know what’s going on.”
And the man again spoke.
“Well, doesn’t matter. Basically means you’re being a help to him.”
“Yes, it’s a wonderful thing. —You saw the happy people there in that country, right? The faces of them carefree, welcoming us very warmly.”
“They weren’t aware of anything. That we’re working so hard to steal their future away. That we’re trying to destroy them. Of course, the people today won’t die from that. On the contrary, they’ll live happy lives and enjoy the progress. Not knowing that their joy, their powers will destroy their own future…”
Observing this man’s ghastly smile,
“You’re enjoying this.”
Hermes stated so. Then man displayed his white teeth and grinned candidly.
“Oh, very! It’s absolute ecstasy! Just building the road gets me pumped up! Now that I’m out of that country of suckers, I’m so happy I could burst! What a wonderful life!”
“Kino’s coming through. Clear the way!”
His clear voice cut through the construction site and stopped every hand.
From the present site, Kino—
“Thank you, everyone, for breakfast. We’ll be taking off.”
Drove Hermes on.
“Good luck everyone! It was a great road.”
Hermes called out. Seen off by everyone’s smiles, Kino entered many other narrow roads ahead.
And they hardly went far before stopping again.
Kino cursed. In the dim woods, Hermes’s back wheel raced in the dimly lit, damp earth.
“Kay kay~ Keep at it~”
So Hermes said as if this had nothing to do with itself.
“This is an awful road!”
Kino used all her might to jerk Hermes back and forth, fine-tuned the accelerator, and finally flew out of the dirt.
They coasted along again and,
This time the front wheel slipped and threatened to topple the pair over. Kino furiously stuck out her legs and managed to prevent that. And then heaved a deep sigh.
Looking up at a sweaty Kino despite the little distance they covered, Hermes asked,
“Wanna wait for them to finish?”
As Kino glared at this awful road,
“I don’t have the time for that. —Even I’m human.”
That was her reply.
“Alrighty, then. Good luck to us.”
Kino fired herself up and sped off again.
The forest became awash with Hermes’s voice and the blaring exhaust.