Tabi ni Deyou:Wings
The boy looked up at the heavy, dark clouds in the sky.
Only some moments ago, it had still been a clear blue sky, but then clouds slowly caught up from behind and the sky turned overcast. The speed with which this happened could be called lightning-fast and the blue color that was there before was beyond imagination now, so that one couldn't even tell where the sun was anymore.
Unaffected by this, the green surrounding them hadn't changed. From time to time they came by some farms that had been crushed by the snowfall last winter, but none of those could serve them as a rain shelter.
"...oh well. Looks like there's going to be a shower. I just hope we're out of here by then..."
"Don't worry! People always told me that I'm beloved by the sun."
"Too bad. I was always called the 'rain bringer'. Guess why."
The girl giggled while turning around. The clouds that had been gradually getting thicker as time went by looked as though they would start pouring their contents over them any moment.
What's so bad about getting a little wet, some may wonder. But that is a sentiment limited to those who have hot coffee and a dry towel waiting for them at home.
They required fuel to warm themselves up, they had to light their fires on their own and they had to dry their wet clothes immediately. They would be in big trouble should they catch a cold. Even if it didn't lead to the worst case scenario, the two run the risk of starving to death if they are forced to stay at one place for several days.
"If things don't change, we're both going to catch colds. Who would be the carer in that case?"
"Usually I think it's those who don't have enough power left to care for someone else that are cared for."
"It's a duel over who'll recover first, then!"
"I wonder... according to my personal prediction, you'll win that duel, but I'll be the one who laughs last."
"...what do you mean by that?"
"Well, I can already see how you'll fall sick again after overhastily claiming the victory by reporting that you've 'recovered'. Without any foundation, of course."
He had hit the bull's eye. The girl used to be stubborn and overhasty from time to time. Indeed, the situation he described was definitely possible.
"And then I'll eat the melon all on my own! After all, it would hurt your stomach, wouldn't it?"
"You won't! We're eating that melon only after splitting it in a grand pinata contest! Got me?!"
The large melon they had received from the director was, just as he had estimated, almost ripe, giving off a nice sound when knocking on it. While the boy was simply waiting for the ideal time to eat it, the girl had apparently already decided how to eat the melon. The execution of a melon-splitting event had been scheduled - without taking his opinion into consideration.
"I admit your plan sounds great to me... but you do realize that we don't have a bat?"
"Uhm... then how about this?" said the girl, kicking Cubby's muffler briefly.
"Don't even think about it! It's going to break if you do that."
Well, actually, Cubby wouldn't break just from having its muffler removed, but he willfully kept silent about that. For one thing, he had not the least inclination to hit the road with the roaring sound of a biker gang, and for another thing, destroying his dear vehicle, the Super Cub, just for a melon after finally getting it repaired some days ago seemed way too cruel to him.
"Mh, can't be helped. In that case we'll just have to look out for a fitting bat somewhere on the ground."
"There's no need to insist on splitting it with a bat, though. I mean, it's not like we couldn't cut it somehow with a knife."
However, his idea had no chance of being adopted to begin with. The preparation of the melon had already been set to splitting it with a bat in her head. And he had no right to make any changes to this.
"Ah, a place where there is water would be great, too. I want to eat it cold."
The girl, who had (as expected) completely ignored his opinion, patted the melon on the backside rack.
The boy fully agreed with her that such a large melon would develop its true deliciousness only when solemnly split. It would be a waste to make it just a dessert. In regards to this, both of them were of the same mind.
It's just that the boy couldn't be as optimistic as the girl was.
Leaving aside the bat, it seemed improbable to him that they would find a place with cold water so easily. Of course, a streamlet would do the job, but one had to consider the current look of the sky. It was way too dangerous to be around a river.
He didn't tell her, though, as he didn't see the need to dampen her spirits.
Thereafter, the two travelers and their Super Cub just kept moving on for a while, driving past the occasionally appearing intersections at full speed without paying the least attention to the traffic lights.
The reason for this was the weather, of course. It kept getting worse, making the clouds even thicker than they had been before: even though it was just past noon, it was already as dark as in the evening, and once in a while they would even spot a thunderbolt flashing up from between the clouds, which looked like tightly compressed dust balls. From that they could easily judge that there wasn't much time left til the thunder-storm.
Then, when it became past four. Far ahead of the unchanging, dead-straight road, they discovered something.
"What's that? Doesn't that look like a warehouse or something?"
"No idea... I can't tell from this distance."
Somewhere ahead of their road, which cut through green scenery, there was an unpaved branch road that diverged at a right angle. And further ahead, he could see something like a warehouse made of galvanized sheet iron that was completely corroded by rust.
With his naked eye, naturally he could not see as much as the girl who had binoculars, but what they saw should have been about the same from such a distance.
Also, being able to see something with just his eyes meant that it would only take a few minutes to arrive there on Cubby's wheels. Since there weren't any other junctions until there anyway, they decided to approach the building for the time being.
A few minutes later.
Along with a protesting cry from Cubby's brakes, they came to a halt and had their heavy load make the front suspension sink in deeply. From the engine fumed a steam-like heat, which could probably be attributed to the boy stepping on the gas.
The warehouse in question was in much better shape than they had expected from a distance; it was indeed consumed by rust, but there were no holes to be seen in the walls and roof.
The girl got off the tandem and the boy parked the Super Cub under a roof that was situated at an unloading area.
It had yet to rain, so they had somehow managed not to look like drowned rats.
"Whew, thank God we made it in time," said the girl relievedly.
"Yeah. It's not raining yet, but I suppose we're going to be fine here."
He looked up at the warehouse behind him.
The sheet iron building, which stood solely and surrounded by endless green, wasn't actually that big. In terms of size and shape it was comparable with a small sports hall.
At the front was a metal sliding door through which quite large objects could be transported, but like the building itself it was corroded by rust. From the looks of it, this place hadn't been maintained very frequently. It would have been to be expected that there was at least a sign of the responsible company or something, but since there wasn't even something of that kind, it seemed like this storehouse was not in use at the moment.
After he had shut down the engine and taken off his helmet, a large truck beside the warehouse caught his eye.
In contrast to the from-top-to-bottom dilapidated storehouse that seemed about to crumble to iron-oxidic powder any second now, the truck was loaded with a shining silver container and parked alongside the building. It was clearly too new to suit this place and was hidden from the road under an overhanging roof.
"...There's a truck. Looks like we may be able to get hold of some fuel."
"Why don't you just take the whole truck? A journey with air-conditioning is waiting for us!"
"No way. Or do you think I own a truck license?" said the boy with a wry smile and putting down the kickstand after moving the motorcycle a little more towards the storehouse, so that it wouldn't get hit by the rain. Of course he didn't forget to carefully check the balance because of their delicate luggage.
"Who cares about a license? We haven't happened upon one uniformed officer, not even a police car, during our journey. Besides, neither of us has a motorcycle license and we're still riding a Super Cub."
"What I mean is that I have no clue how to drive it! That thing's not like a moped where you can help yourself by deriving from your experience with bicycles. How do you expect me to drive a 4-tonner truck when I haven't even sneaked a peek at the driver's seat of one in my life?"
"Then have somebody who knows teach you," said she a little dauntedly.
The boy shrugged, "Sure, when there is somebody like that."
"There is!" she declared, which got him eying her. A demand for foundation was writ large in his face.
"For one thing, footprints. Look," said the girl, pointing at the tracks at her feet. Dry footprints that looked different from their sneakers' were scattered all over the ground.
"Judging from the size, it's a man. He seems to be wearing sports shoes, so he may even be about our age. Taking the level of dryness into consideration, I would assume these footprints were made during the rain about two weeks ago."
"...In short, someone has been here recently and might still be?"
"Exactly! How's that? That's what I call 'reasoning'."
She gave herself airs, putting her hands on her hips, whereas the boy just breathed out a sigh.
"...If he were as old as us, he couldn't possibly know how to drive a truck, could he?"
The girl froze in the posture she had taken.
"Either way, if these footprints belong to a grown-up with that knowledge, do you think he would readily leave the truck to us?"
She was at a complete loss for words.
Even the girl was aware of how fatal it would be to lose one's vehicle in the middle of this savage --- no, I mean "vast" land.
Of course she was! There was no way of forgetting the trouble they'd had with Cubby's engine some days ago.
"Well, if we're lucky we can at least get some fuel from him. But I suppose trucks of this kind are diesel, so is there even gas?"
Her mouth was still closed. Apparently, she wasn't too happy about her conclusion being spoiled.
He turned away from his sullen partner and opened his mouth loudly.
"Hellooooo? Is there anyone there?"
There was no answer. Still, the walls were made of sheet metal, so his voice should have passed through them.
"Shall we just enter the warehouse for now, before it starts to rain? Besides, we may find a rod of some sort which we can use for splitting the melon."
A high creak resounded as the blockade of the metal door was broken.
They went for the large entrance that was designed to transport things through it. It was a pain to open the door with his bare hands, but the ordinary entrance on the side was sealed with wire wrapped around the knob and the rear entrance was locked. Consequently, this was the only way inside. Of course they could just have broken a window and entered from there, but they decided against it, since that was going too far.
They didn't know whether that sealed door was the deed of "the inhabitant", but judging from the red rust all over the wire, it hadn't been opened for months.
The same, however, applied to the sliding door. This became evident when rust started falling down from the top rail while it was being opened by the boy's frantic use of both his hands and feet.
Hence, it didn't seem to be used much either. The owner must have been using the rear entrance.
"Heere... we go...!"
Along with a noise, red rust rained down on his head.
He somehow succeeded in opening the door by squashing his shoulder and legs in between. It seems like using force can go well, too, once in a while.
"Well well... Hellooo? Is there anyone?"
The girl hopped into the warehouse without even trying to understand the hardships he had just gone through. Concerning him, he was stretching his legs on the ground and breathing exhaustedly. The icing on the cake was the rust that was all over him.
From what they could see, there were no leaks through which the rain could enter and it seemed stable enough to withstand the storm. The temperature was rather cool, too, making it "comfortable" overall - if you ignored the rest of it! However, due to the horrible moldy stench and the dark and gloomy air, they could not call it "comfortable" at all.
From outside, it had seemed like a simple barracks of sheeted metal, but this was not exactly the case. While the ground really was left bare, heat insulating material had been used for the ceiling and there were also fluorescent lamps, though turned off. There was even some weak air-conditioning for work purposes.
At any rate, it was a thousand times better than camping outside. Hence, they set this warehouse as the day's camping ground.
While dusting the rust stuck to his hands, the boy took a look around.
"This building isn't used as a warehouse, as it seems."
"What do you mean?"
While untying her hair - she used a hair tie because her hair would get in the way otherwise - she turned towards the boy.
"Can you see any commodities? Even just traces? All that's here is this..."
What he was talking of were the rather unfamiliar things that could be seen there. For one thing there were hand-made metal holding devices. On some desks, workbenches apparently, there were tools, much much better than the ones in his own possession, and various strangely-shaped utensils and measuring instruments.
As a whole, they looked as though they served one certain purpose.
Right, it was like...
"Yeah. I think those tools are for maintaining or assembling something."
All of the tools were directed towards the holding devices installed in the center and seemed to cohere. He didn't know what was supposed to be fixated on those stands, but he sensed that this place must have been for a lot of people to work on one thing.
The two were startled by a sudden voice and hurriedly turned their gazes towards the other end of the warehouse, just to have their hearts miss a beat yet again.
"Tz...! How dare you open the door and nestle in here, damn couple... What are you doing in my house?"
He was about mid-twenties. His clothing consisted of simple slacks and a T-shirt, and while his body couldn't quite be called an Adonis body, it was one of a sportsman.
Just, what shocked them more than anything was his face.
Pure white it was. The decolorization the director had suffered stood no comparison with it. What could be seen of his skin was completely white as if he was part of a black-and-white photograph.
No, since there was shadowing, pure white might not be fully correct. He lacked color so much that it seemed as if he had been cut out and replaced by monochrome film.
"What? Is a visage like mine that unusual?"
"...Quite so. It is the first time I've seen someone that has progressed this far..."
"I'm no attraction. Get lost if there's nothing you want from me."
"Oh, actually there is. It looks like it's going to rain and our motorcycle will not get us far. Please let us spend only a night here. Furthermore, may we borrow a rod or something that is suitable for splitting a melon?"
The man raised an eyebrow.
"Yes. We have received an extra-large melon from a kind person whom we met on our way, but we had trouble finding a tool to cut it with. So why not use the opportunity and have some fun splitting it, we thought. However, we lacked an appropriate rod in our luggage," told the girl fluently with a perfect ingratiating smile and for a few moments the man just kept suspiciously gazing at her.
"...Help yourself and use what you want. But hands off the stuff I'm using!" said he, when he had finally given up, and left them, going towards a cot that was installed at the back of the room. Apparently, he used a corner of the warehouse, which he had divided from the rest, as some sort of nap area.
The girl breathed out lightly and turned around.
"Heard him, boy? Let's accept his good will and go searching for a rod as part of a nice break."
He joined the search with a light dread of her forcing smile that would not let him refuse.
After all, one ought not to defy her at the wrong time.
For starters, the two went to a line of racks, which were stocked with tools and stuff, and started looking for a tool that fit their needs.
"Boy? How about this?"
"You intend to split a melon with a spanner? ...well, leaving aside the idea, that length won't work. Too short."
"How's this then?"
"A hammer, huh... it'll turn into mush!"
"Mmmhh... then it must be this."
"What on earth do you plan on doing with that wire stripper?"
The boy was a little stunned at the girl who randomly showed him what was in reach.
But he noticed that the tools here, too, were a little strange.
There were all kinds and sorts of them, but they all were rather small. He thought he could find bolts and nuts in many different diameters, but even the largest sized were much smaller than the usual standard.
The man had sat down on a pipe chair and was watching them through his dull eyes as they bustled about searching.
"...hmph. A trip as a couple, not giving a shit about school? You kids must be full of yourselves, huh?"
The girl did not overhear the mumbling voice behind her.
Without stopping her fumbling hands, she ventured a counterattack with a small voice.
"Oh? I think that's still a good deal better than being a drunkard who's legless already in the daytime."
The air tensioned. He had heard her for certain.
"......as if a little brat like you could understand me..."
"Oh, but I believe I can understand part of a tiny little bit of you!"
She swiftly stood up and turned towards him - and threw something so fast it couldn't be followed by the naked eye.
The object that landed before his feet with its pages fluttering open was without a doubt her student notebook, which she always carried around with her.
"Take a good look at that student card."
"......what's the point..."
The man picked it up grudgingly but frowned when he saw the open page - as though he was looking at something that made no sense.
Her photograph that was attached to the student card had already faded so much that one could hardly tell whether there was anything at all.
Her name and student number had been lost entirely, which indicated that quite some time had passed since she started "vanishing".
The man widened his eyes slightly.
"My symptoms haven't progressed as much as yours, but before long they will! Well, it's just a matter of sooner or later if you ask me?" she boasted for some reason, which made him give her a slightly queer look, though he averted his eyes immediately afterwards.
"...hmph. It really is just a tiny bit..."
To stop her from countering, he tossed her the student card and turned from them.
"......You'd better eat that melon quickly and get out of here."
Leaving behind only these words, he stood up, pulled the shroud and disrupted their field of vision.
Their search proved to be much harder than they had expected; the clock showed seven in the evening when they left the warehouse because they had given up searching inside.
It was still not raining, but since there was no sunlight, it was so dark outside that one couldn't do without a flashlight.
"Man!! What an insolent old drunkard!"
"Isn't calling him an 'old drunkard' a little cruel if you consider his age?"
"What? You're on the side of that old drunkard?"
The boy smiled wryly, watching her kick one of the H-shaped posts of the warehouse to vent her irritation.
"Say what you want, but... we're having him help us out by lending us a rod after all."
"And there's no sign of that rod! That's why I told you to pull that thing off and use that."
"But that 'thing' is the drainage pipe of the air conditioner. He's going to be troubled if we just pull that off!"
"Why should we care?"
"We should!" laughed the boy,taking two flashlights out of the bag attached to the Super Cub. One of them he handed over to her.
"How's our watermelon doing?" he muttered and tapped the watermelon with a finger, making a dull, well-sounding sound. It was just the right ripeness. It could be said without a doubt that today and tomorrow were the best days to eat it. Otherwise it would get overripe. If they didn't find anything by then, they would have to split it with their hands.
Suddenly the boy recalled the truck that was parked by the warehouse.
He paused to think for a moment and pulled up the zipper of the bag.
"So in the end, what should we do now?"
"Mh... how about taking a look in that truck?"
"Truck? Aah, that one outside?"
"Probably, it's still loaded with things," stated he - seeming quite sure, to the amazement of the girl who followed him while cocking her head.
After they had headed to the truck and had closed the rusted metal door, the partitioning of the nap corner moved slightly.
As it was clearly too dark, the boy turned on his flashlight.
Looked at from far away it had just given him the impression of a normal truck, but it was larger than expected when they got closer.
The shining silver container looked quite unnatural compared to the deterioration of the warehouse. Another sign that the truck hadn't been in actual use around here here was that its tires weren't very dirty.
"Looks like it's a rental truck. See the mark on the license plate?" the girl pointed out. (TN: most rental cars in Japan have a わ-car-number)
"Mh, did that man rent it? I wonder why."
"Well, for transporting something. Most likely. But the rental period has expired if you ask me. He's a criminal."
They examined it briefly, walking around the vehicle, and found out that at least the container was not locked.
While they didn't know what was inside, they could hazard a guess. After all, this was a loaded rental truck parked beside a warehouse designated to put something together.
"...So... in here is what belongs inside the warehouse?"
"I think so. If it's not in the warehouse, it must be in here," explained he and grabbed the door handle casually.
He jumped on the step and pulled the handle as hard as he could, whereupon the double doors opened along with a small creak.
The boy almost fell down because he had used too much power, but somehow he managed to keep his balance by grabbing the door bar.
"......huh? What is this?"
"...this must be..."
The boy was bereft of speech. Strictly speaking not because it ran afoul of his expectations, but rather because what he saw there exceeded them.
The two ascended the container as if they were allured in.
The cold light of his flashlight shone into the container and was reflected by translucent film on a long board. Although the volume of the frame, which was made of a snow white material, was extremely small, its length filled out the entire space of the container of a 4-tonner truck.
In the harmonic play of darkness and light, the very precisely-made yet simple film and those artistic curves looked graceful.
"......don't touch that."
They immediately turned around and spotted the man from earlier.
The girl was a little disappointed because she had been wary of another rant from him like when they first met. She hopped down off the load-carrying platform, but for some reason the boy remained there.
The man turned straight towards him and darted him a drunk and shady glance.
"...you know what that is?"
"Yes. It's a human-powered aircraft. One for long distances at that," he answered promptly, making the man shut his mouth.
Right. That board-like, extremely long object was the main wing of an HPA. The transparency was the result of a thin polymer film that was affixed to its framework in order to decrease the weight.
The frame was supposed to be black since FRP is employed, but this one was white.
"...right. It was supposed to challenge the figure-eight flight at the Straits of Dover."
The boy turned again towards the interior.
An ordinary human-powered aircraft is said to have a total width of around 30 meters, but of these wings only one was already next to 20 meters. It was no doubt a large long-distance plane.
"...So the warehouse was used to put this together...," said the girl and breathed out, now that it had finally sunk in, before she walked away from the truck. Something, however, seemed to bother her, so she stopped. "...Uh? Why would you put it together at such a remote place? You can't be planning to fly all the way from Japan to England, right?"
"For a test flight. The Strait of Dover is situated between the frontiers of England and France, so it's a pain just to get a flight permission. I'm not so stupid as to go for the main event straight away," he answered while scratching his head listlessly.
"...Why on earth is it still in parts then?"
"...that's because all my colleagues vanished the very day we hauled it here," he whispered, leaving her speechless. "Halfway through the project, it broke out in all the members. Almost every one of us quit his job, since most had one, and continued to work on the project while living off retirement money. Well, but in the end we only barely managed to get the parts done...," he answered indifferently, whereas the girl had averted her eyes unconsciously. "I'm the last one who caught it and the final one left. And even I have gone this low... Hey, brat. Won't you get out of there now?"
The boy, however, showed no sign of alighting.
"...won't you fly it?"
Almost like looking down on him, he looked down at the man from the platform.
"It's not 'I won't', it's 'I can't'. There's no way I could put this together alone. To begin with, that's none of your business."
The boy let out a rather stressed sigh and,
"Alright, then let's take this apart and use it for our watermelon."
He proposed something outrageous.
The first one to doubt his sanity along with an outcry was the girl.
"Were you even listening to what he just said?! Boy! This is a valuable aircraft! Arisen from the collaborative work of that drunkard and his colleagues, you know?!"
"But isn't it mere trash if nobody's going to fly it?"
The girl could virtually feel the wrath burning in the man by her side. She gulped and took a step back.
"Brat... do you even know how many hardships we went through to construct this...!"
"I don't! But I can guess. Making something amazing like this without any sponsors must have been unbelievably difficult."
The boy cut him short: "But you're not going to fly it, are you? You told us yourself that we may take anything you don't use. And you don't use this, right?"
The man kept silent.
"Making junk out of it or leaving the parts there untouched is exactly the same in terms of your hardships being rendered futile! If you're going to let it rot here anyway, we'd rather make good use of it with our watermelon."
"......Don't talk nonsense!"
Surprised by his roar, the girl took another step backwards. Despite her motto being "Quarrel? Hell yeah! GOGOGO!", she was not good with provocations that were logical.
The boy might have been much better than her in getting the opponent where it hurts.
"Nonsense? Really? I think it's easily more nonsensical to let it ferment in the truck forever. We're not talking about wine, after all."
He flashed a fiendish smile whereas the man, in contrast, contorted his face.
"...then... what am I supposed to do?!"
"Well, let's see... wouldn't it be best to use it for what it was originally made for?"
"Let's fly it!"
The man's jaw dropped---the girl besides him made a half-surprised, half-baffled face, too.
The provocative tone disappeared suddenly from the boy's voice and he continued smiling as if he were talking to a good friend: "You need help to put it together, right? You're not alone now! There are three in total."
The man relaxed his clenched fist and turned his gaze towards the aircraft in the container.
"......You're telling me to fly this all alone, though all my colleagues have vanished...?" he whispered.
The boy smiled wryly, "Well, of course. It's designed for only one pilot anyway. Aren't you forgetting that you yourself belong to those 'colleagues' as well?"
"......It's too late to go to Dover anymore. There's no point in flying it, you know...?"
"Mh, let's see... the speed at which the vanishment progresses varies from person to person... but you are clearly in its terminal stages. Added to that, it should be quite hard to make your way to Dover even with a good deal of luck considering the current state of things in the world."
"We have gone this far... because we wanted to break the world record of traversing Dover... flying here won't leave any record... even if it would, as soon as I vanished, the record would vanish along with me for certain..."
He seemed to be speaking to himself rather than to the boy.
"I guess so. But there's no need to abandon your plans for tomorrow just because you might die the day after tomorrow, is there? Let's do the test flight, just as planned!"
"Even though there's not going to be a main flight?"
"Yes. It's a thousand times better than to abandon it altogether."
The boy hopped down off the platform and stood beside the girl.
"...what profit do you take from it...?"
"Let's see... in return for our support, please share some of your fuel and food with us," answered the boy without thinking long - to the surprise of the man.
"...I see, you're not doing it for free."
Then, for the first time, he flashed a smile.
He merely moved his facial muscles slightly, so it was even unclear whether one could call it a smile, but it was the first one they saw of him since they had met.
"Looks like you just got us some hard work without my consent, huh?"
"I'm so—... I'm sorry!"
He had prepared himself for some pokes in the side, but that turned out to be a complete underestimation. The girl slid her right arm under his and pressed hard against his ribs.
"Now listen up. Unlike you, airplanes aren't a hobby of mine, hence I do not know how to put those things together. Understand?"
"W-Well, I don't know eithe... OUCHOUCHOUCHOUCH!!"
"I'm not saying that I'm not interested, you know?"
The boy was at once released from the infernal agonies. While he was falling into a fit of coughing, she whispered next to him with a smile, "Now that's something... an airplane..."
The two of them went to their bike and started to prepare the things they would need for cooking and sleeping. Since they had used up a lot of time searching for a rod, they were a little late.
Fortunately, the roaring thunderstorm had removed itself a bit and it wasn't raining just now. The noisy chorus of the insects that lurked in the meadows around the warehouse had apparently been called off tonight; they all held their breath.
"You had me quite surprised there, girl. So you are interested in airplanes?"
"Well, as much as others. I've only been on one once before, when I went on a trip."
"The school excursion?"
"Nah. A family trip. To a southern island."
"I see... how was it?"
It wasn't clear whether he asked for her impressions of the southern paradise or the flight, but the girl considered he meant the latter.
"Oh well... I couldn't even see the outside because I was seated right in the middle row! On top of that, there were passengers who were frightened of flying. You can imagine what a commotion it was."
"Aah... tough luck. Too bad for the opportunity."
"Yeah, exactly. I don't want to sound rude, but thanks to one passenger who wouldn't stop screaming, I was rather composed throughout the flight!" she said with a lopsided smile and pulled out a rolled-up blanket.
"Though I feel kind of sorry for that person for having to fly in spite of his fears."
A smile escaped her lips when she unintentionally recalled the now faint yet comical scene of that day.
Are there still people on that island?
Are the cheerful people and the gorgeous casino girls still safe and sound?
"Sorry for disturbing while you're rapt in thought, but you won't even get around to worrying about aviophobia when you board that plane."
They spun around upon hearing a voice behind them.
"After all, one produces the kinetic energy themselves. If you don't pedal for your life before shitting your pants, you'll really crash."
It took them a few seconds to realize that it was the man from earlier.
His wildly grown beard was cleanly shaven and the outworn T-shirt had been replaced by a new one. Even his haircut, which was short to begin with, looked neat now that he had apparently combed it.
To them he looked at least four or five years younger than before. Now he may actually be worthy of the title "Aniki".
"Oh, you're more handsome than I thought."
"...I'm not so bold as to get on our plane looking that shabby, you know."
"Handsome" was actually referring to his natural features, but the man had apparently taken it as a comment on his well-groomed appearance. Well, but nobody wants to say a compliment twice. All the more if one means it.
The girl deliberately didn't say anything, pulling out the boy's share of blankets and tucking all of them under her arm.
"So, what's the matter?" asked the boy. With a smile, of course, showing nothing of the biting attitude he had taken earlier.
The man, however, was rather flustered by that smile and averted his eyes while scratching his head. "...while the contract's only for a test flight, you have still become members of the team. It would be a bother if you caught a cold by sleeping on the bare ground. There are some cots inside, use those."
They grasped the meaning of his whisper as slowly as a fluorescent lamp would come on.
"Eh, for real?! But there's still one left for you, I hope, boss?!"
"Boss?" he wrinkled his brow a little upon seeing the bursting joy of the girl.
"You said we're a team, right? There's only one way to call the leader of a team!"
"No, I think that's just your prejudice..."
However, the boy's opinion was scrapped.
"'Boss' is fine. We have to decide on some name anyway."
"Then at least take something like 'chief' or 'leader'..."
"No. Sounds too intellectual."
She basically claimed that he did not look intelligent.
In the end, all other opinions were ignored and the man's nickname was more-or-less forcefully set to "boss". In this respect, she didn't have the right to criticize the boy for arbitrarily choosing their travel route. Which he did not say of course. The boy was smart.
"...Aah, and you can do some light cooking. There's a small kitchen in the annex."
"Alright, boy! Leave dinner to me!"
"Are you sure?"
"Yup. Prepare our beds in the meantime!"
The strangely energetic girl chucked the blankets to him and sped to the back of the warehouse.
She was probably just delighted with the opportunity to sleep in a real bed again. And if he was honest, he shared her view.
The boy turned around. Boss, still looking in the direction the girl disappeared, continued, "Since she suffers from «it», I guess you do, too?"
"Yes. Still in the initial stages, but my name has already been «lost». I guess my photograph is going to become unidentifiable, too, in the near future," he said unaffectedly.
It took a while until he got a reply.
"...What do you want? For what reason did you come here to the back of beyond?"
His question was drowned out by the sounds of the night making small ripples in the meadows around them, veiled in darkness.
"......I want to travel to the end of the world, together with her."
It sounded like a pipe dream indeed. However, what he said was by no means out of place and, above all, he was serious.
"...What are you going to do if you reach there?"
"I'll figure that out on the way! ...But well, perhaps I'll go on a round-the-world trip or so and demonstrate the excellency of Super Cubs to the world?"
"Sounds like fun."
A wry smile escaped his lips, which was not a sardonic one, but an honest one. The boy's confidence was clearly unfounded, but it brimmed with a strong will.
It did not matter whether it was feasible or not, for that was not the point of his dream to begin with. But the boss had the feeling that it would surely be a lot of fun, more than any game or work there was.
He had become unable to follow in suit.
However, he had his own objective.
He turned and headed again towards the warehouse.
"Okay, for today get something to eat and have some rest. We'll begin work tomorrow. We'll take half the day to put it together, so the flight will be the day after tomorrow."
"We're going to be busy, aren't we? ...Ah, right! Do you have some water here that I could use for keeping our melon cool?"
"There's a water tank that contains some purified water. Well, it isn't exactly icy water, but it'll do the job."
"That's great. ...Ah, but we didn't find a rod."
"Mh...... How about this?"
He pointed at the drainage pipe that was connected to the air conditioner at the ceiling—the pipe, which the girl had suggested to use earlier. However.
"Won't the cooling get broken if we take that off?"
"Hah? The only current we have comes from the dynamo! Only an idiot would turn on air conditioning. What a waste," he spilled, put one foot on the wall and tore out the pipe at once.
A few corroded screws flew off with a small creak, and the next moment a metal pipe was laid into the boy's hands. It was a bit longer than a meter, which was a truly ideal length.
"...somehow I have mixed feelings about this..."
His monologue remained unheard.
Surrounding the fire they had made from scrap wood in the center of the warehouse, the three opened a meeting while taking a meal. Unfortunately, their boss' provisions may have differed in quantity from their own, but certainly not in quality: today's menu was canned hardtacks.
"Tch. That's what you meant by 'provisions'? I was already expecting a delicious dinner..."
"It's not like this is all I have, but the other stuff is still packaged. 'Would take a while to dig all the stuff out."
"Where did you get these hardtacks from, then?"
The cans were imprinted with English text and the corresponding Japanese translation. Moreover, it was marked as UN supply.
"The towns in these quarters were already deserted before we came here. Well, while getting here, we paid them a short visit, if you know what I mean," he explained, making quotation marks with his fingers.
His personality just became a little more questionable.
"What's wrong?" boss asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Ah, nothing, never mind."
They smiled wryly at him and continued their meal.
Shoplifting was a crime of course, but they didn't have the right to blame him for it. Breaking into forlorn shops to collect the abandoned goods had become an everyday occurrence, for one could not survive in this world otherwise.
"By the way, what work does putting the plane together incorporate, specifically?" asked the girl, upon which their boss set his can aside.
"...Let's see... First we have to assemble the main components. Then comes the bonding of the movable parts as well as their regulation. Finally, we'll do a test drive and naturally the test flight. We should be fine since we have the manual, but it will take the whole next day."
"Do we need any special skills?"
"Not for the assembling stage in general. But there are some things that require experience, so you'll mainly take care of the odd jobs."
"Can I get on it, too?"
"No. It's my plane," he refused her request almost like a child, which caused the girl to puff her cheeks.
"Miser. Then give us your truck!"
"Can't do that either."
"There's no fuel because I wasn't able to refill the tank in the nearby village. Apart from that, I've used quite a lot of fuel for small things such as making fires, so you'd run out of gas before reaching the next town," he explained casually.
"Y-You idiot!" she roared, "What happened to our enjoyable trip—roof, sleeping place and air conditioning included?! We have even less reason to help you now!"
"I for one like our Super Cub..."
"Boy, SHUT UP!"
The boy, who had even lost his right to speak at last, was forced to focus on his meal—which, however, was easier said than done. Their boss and the girl were busy stealing the can from each other.
"I will keep my promise of giving you fuel! There's still plenty of gasoline from the dynamo. At the very least, you should reach the next town."
"What about provisions?"
"There are still quite a few cans left. You can appreciate preserved food more, right?"
"Hm... it's a fair trade then, then...?"
The boy suddenly stood up.
"Oh, where are you going?"
"I don't want to expose our luggage to the rain, so I'm bringing it inside. I'll also do a check, since we've been quite hard on Cubby today!"
"Mh, got it. Don't get caught by the chupacabras!"
"As if they exist!"
The boy left through the half-opened door and let out a small sigh. He was relieved that the hostile air between the girl and the boss had disappeared.
He did not assume that everyone in the world was kind-hearted, but as it was impossible to meet everyone, he wanted to at least make a favorable relationship to those he actually knew.
That he had provoked boss earlier was also part of that mindset. Well, he got them a slightly cumbersome task, but they weren't in a hurry, after all.
They were going to spend the following days together, so he wanted to get on as well as possible.
At least he thought so at this very moment. However, when he came back approximately 20 minutes later, after doing some light maintenance, he was a little cross with them.
"Oh come on! Just the two of you...?"
"Haah...? Now, now, why so tense booy?"
She suddenly wrapped her arm round his neck, which he hurriedly shook off. The girl tended to forget restraining herself when alcoholized.
"Where on earth did he shelve this...?"
"He said they bought a whooole lot for celebrating the success of the test! The stuff's already expired... but it's still good, you know~?"
"Listen, girl. We're still in high school, you know? Alcohol is..."
"There's no high schooler that gives a shit about such an ooold law nowadaays~" the girl laughed with her tanned skin flushed bright red.
The empty beer and shochu cans that were scattered around those two were proof that a grand feast had been had during the twenty minutes the boy was away maintaining their bike.
"But look, excessive alcohol consumption during the growth period has a negative influence on your growth..."
"I'm already sixteeen, you know? No way I'm still growing!"
The girl chuckled while clinging to his back.
She indeed had a point there, but judging by the feeling on his back, some parts of her body could still need some growth. The boy was smart, however, so by no means did he say it. He loved life too much.
As a footnote: the boy was a nondrinker to the core. So much so that his skin turned bright red in plaster shape when an alcohol-drenched patch was applied to him during a test in junior high.
As for boss, who was most definitely the patron of the alcohol, he was wordlessly drinking beer. Though his face looked serious as he stared into the air, it was obvious that he was drunk because he was red all over. He was probably the type of person that would get silent when drunk.
"It's been a while since we last had some alcohol... and we don't know when's the next opportunity~..."
The boy gave up persuading the giggling girl.
He judged that it would be better not to care about them any more. Since nobody has made him join in the drinking, yet, the damage was still low.
The boy decided to quickly evacuate to the nap area where he would write the diary and then go to sleep.
"Nap area" may sound nice, but in fact it was just a corner in the warehouse that was divided with a partition and consisted of five cots. But to the boy and girl, who had basically always slept on top of some blankets on the asphalt, it was a heavenly place to sleep.
He lay on the bed and covered himself with a blanket so as to not get a stomachache. He was soon attacked by sleepiness while writing the diary entry.
Before long, the only voice still speaking, the girl's, slowly faded out and the boy fell into a soft sleep.
The day dawned.
A noise of immense volume caused both the boy and girl to jump awake at the same time.
"W-What the heck?!"
The boy, utterly startled, jumped out of the nap area, pushing the partition aside, and recognized the origin of the noise.
Boss was backing the truck into the warehouse through the front door and getting ready to unload the things inside.
Outside the building it was so silent that he could hear the twittering of birds far away. Apparently, it was fine weather.
"Hey, you two! Won't you get up already! We're starting!"
Where did the spirit from yesterday go? He hurriedly flung on a shirt and got into his trousers while jumping with the other.
The girl who had been sleeping in the bed next to him had degenerated to the embodiment of "inviting one's own misfortunes".
Leaving aside her richly stimulating clothing, which consisted of only her underwear and a blouse, her vacant eyes were the eyes of the dead. Her whole body was enveloped in the stench of alcohol and her hair was so disordered that she could have been mistaken for a Medusa.
She had apparently continued drinking for quite a while after the boy had gone to sleep and was now cursed with deep rings under her eyes that only added to her hypotension.
"Um... well, join us as soon as you're better!"
He took a packet of headache tablets out of their portable first-aid box and put it on the knees of the girl who had partially turned into a zombie.
According to what he knew from personal experience, she would take a few hours before becoming operative again. Most likely she hadn't even heard what he had just said to her.
With a deep buzz the engine stopped on the other side of the partition.
He put his messy clothes in order and returned the partition he had tossed away to its former place. He did so not because of consideration toward the lady, but because of the menacing death penalty that would come from the suspicion of having forgotten the consideration toward the lady.
"All right, boss. What are we doing first?"
He was about to ask how they were going to clean up something when they hadn't even started, but he was immediately enlightened when he took a look at the hall.
There was the fire they had ignited yesterday in the center of the bare ground. Well, it was already dead, since they didn't use it for keeping them warm anyway, but the problem was what lay around it.
Countless empty cans and snack packaging were scattered about. And the most crucial problem was the vomit that was to be found at several spots.
"...You didn't have to drink until vomiting..."
"I have no excuse... Sorry, but I can't remember it at all..."
The boy joined the slouching of boss' shoulders with a sigh.
He seriously asked himself whether her brain was equipped with learning functionality upon considering the corn incident a few days ago and the current mishap.
"Oh well, leave it to me to throw away this... stuff. I've still got other preparations to do, so you clean up the interior for now."
After letting out a slight breath, he headed towards the cleaning locker in a corner of the building.
"...By the way, what's with the little one over there?"
"She's idling because of a hangover and hypotension. She won't be moving for a while!"
The boss scooped up the pools with a mien brimming with mixed feelings and threw them into a bucket.
"Just regret that you carelessly served alcohol!" the boy whispered in his mind while watching him go to empty the bucket while making a face as though he was carrying a load of highly radioactive waste matter.
Well then! It was about time to start the work assigned to him, but there was something to do prior to it.
The boy, in proud spirits, cowered before their luggage and took out a pig. Indeed, it was their ceramic anti-mosquito pig!
Be it inside or outside, one must not be careless. They did not pay much heed to it while riding the bike, but with the vicinity being full of meadows there were lots of insects. It's a must to take measures against them when staying at a place for a while for work.
Thus, he placed the spiral-loaded anti-mosquito pig at the center of the warehouse where the fire had been and began tidying the ground.
Contrary to the boy who had cheerfully started work, the awakening of the girl was accompanied by heavy discomfort.
Her head was throbbing painfully and her stomach was bewailing heartburn.
The reason was obvious. It was probably because she had poured way too much alcohol in the previous day—or rather, that was bound to be the reason.
Overjoyed with the alcohol she hadn't seen in a while, she had accidentally let loose too much. Or to be precise, she didn't even remember having let loose, so perhaps it was the most excessive drinking she had ever done?
She now agreed that alcohol should be taken in moderation—well, originally a girl like her wouldn't be allowed to drink in the first place, though.
She instinctively covered her mouth upon feeling vomit slowly wandering up, and managed to deflect the danger by turning on her valuable blanket while stroking her stomach.
"Looks like... I went overboard quite a bit..."
She had a funny taste in her mouth and her teeth felt strangely smooth, which led her to the assumption that she had thrown up a few times. Moreover, her stomach was empty even though she had eaten and drunk late into the night. On top of all that, her throat was rough and her voice in a sombre state.
However, the early bird gets the worm! Pulling aside the blanket, she slipped into the sneakers that were next to her cot.
That moment something landed on her foot with a weak thump.
While raising a brow, she sluggishly picked it up.
Apart from the opened, half-empty packet of headache tablets, there was a small note attached to it that said "Don't strain yourself and rest" with letters familiar to her. There was no name, but it was self-evident who the writer was.
Suddenly, she noticed a bottle of water on the small rack right beside her bed.
It was one of their two-liter bottles which they used to store drinking water. By it was an upside-down glass.
"...jeez... my fellow companion shows consideration at the strangest occasions...," she smiled crookedly and poured water into the glass.
She held the bottle against her side for a few moments to cool her body down and feel the refreshing water through the thin polymeric material.
Then, accepting the boy's favor, she took two tablets out of the packaging and threw them into her mouth. After she had gulped them down at once with some water, a cold sensation spread in her stomach.
With her sleeves she brushed away the water drops that slid down her neck and found another object on the rack in the process.
A wet towel.
"Does he want me to wipe myself? ...jeez... I know nobody that's better prepared than him...," she sighed with a combination of joy and amazement and accepted his favor once again.
Noon. The weather was clear and free of any clouds.
"Oh, you? Already recovered from your hangover?" greeted boss, who had just leaned a dustpan on a corner of the warehouse, while wiping his sweat with a towel that was draped over his shoulder.
"Yes. I can still feel it, but it's gotten a lot better."
She wasn't lying. Thanks to the mysterious effect of the headache tablets, the pain that had been tormenting her temple and forehead had almost entirely disappeared, and she was feeling quite refreshed after washing her body and putting on new underwear. While she wasn't fully functional yet, there were no worries about minor work.
"Anyway! Sorry for making you clean up the mess for me."
"No sweat, little one. There's no way to tell which of us did what anyway."
She may have giggled, but truth to be told, she could vaguely remember that more than half of it was her fault.
"By the way, where's the boy?"
"I had him throw away the trash. He should be back any moment."
Trash probably referred to the empty cans and packages from yesterday. It seemed that her dependence on his most appreciated nursing was put on show even here.
"So, do you have any work for me?" she asked and looked down at the floor—no, bare ground.
Most of the remains of the feast the previous day were tidied away. What was still there were the ashes and bits of charcoal in the center. It didn't look like she was going to join the cleanup.
"Let's see... wanna help me with some real work?" boss grinned.
She was a little hesitant, but still she followed him and got on the step of the container of the truck.
"Okay, let's carry the parts out of there."
They entered the container. Somehow the disassembled human-powered aircraft seemed much more extensive to her than the day before. She knew that type of vehicle only by hearsay. She had not the slightest idea what function each part had.
"Don't be afraid. I'm not asking you to put it together on your own."
"Just place the parts I give you where it's written in the manual over there. We'll save the larger parts for when the boy's back, so only the little ones for now," he said as he went further into the container.
While the aircraft loaded on the four-tonner was quite spacious, its surface wasn't particularly big. There were lots of gaps, so they could easily move within the container. In terms of weight, the plane was lighter than the girl. This stuff went beyond her scope.
"Alright. This is the first one. Can you place it on the worktable?"
He held out a component to her with a hand. No matter how inexperienced she was in mechanics, she was familiar with that kind of part. It was an axis merged with two blades—known as a "propeller".
The moment she actually took it, she immediately understood why he had handled the part so carelessly.
It was truly light. She was surprised—not only by it being as thin as paper, but also by the fact that she could hold it with just two fingers, even though the two blades reached a length of almost 140cm.
"Right? You could almost say the propeller defines how hard you have to pedal, so we put quite some work into developing it."
There was a very special something in his eyes gazing at the propeller. The girl didn't know much about him and his colleagues, but she figured that all those parts, including the extremely light-weight board, were full of their dreams and strong will.
When thinking about it like that, the propeller in her hands suddenly felt heavier than a stone.
Until she had softly placed it on the worktable, she treated the part like a baby, with utmost care—not because she wanted to be considerate of the boss, but because it was her own will to do so.
"But say, does the funny shape of it have a reason, too?"
To the understanding of the girl, a propeller was normally equipped with two or three straight rotor blades. Or rather, that's the only way she could imagine them to look like.
The propeller before her eyes, however, was certainly two-bladed, but the shape was quite unconventional. The blades drew a smooth half-moon-shaped curve and hence looked more like the ventilation fan of a kitchen than a propeller. Furthermore, she was also wondering why it was painted yellow, while all the other parts were white.
"Ah, yeah, the shape's yet another little highlight. It's made to get the best out of low rotational speed."
"But why are there two of them?"
Right, that was what puzzled her the most: there were two of those two-bladed propellers.
"Heh... that's... a secret."
"Uwa, that's mean."
Boss broke into a grin while looking at the offended girl.
"Just a little patience. Look forward to when it's finished. Anyway, next is this. Place it on the holding device that's labeled as 'A'."
A large crate-like frame was handed to her from within the container, which she, startled, tried to hold in her hands.
It was a streamlined object that looked a little like a parallelogram with rounded corners, and was composed of shiny white material and was just about boss' size.
However, it was as light as a feather, which again did not match its appearance at all. The girl could well-nigh hold it in one hand.
Holding it aloft, she brought it to said place with rather wobbly legs. The stand had apparently been specifically designed for it, so it was finely fixated by the metal fittings on there.
"But isn't this frame... plastic?"
The material the frame consisted of was completely white and its touch, as far as she knew, was definitely that of plastic.
"Yeah, you're right. It's not ordinary plastic, though, but FRP."
"Fiber-reinforced plastic. It has a 'bone' made of carbon fibres woven into it, so to speak. It's damn hard, I tell you," he explained with a smirk. He stroked the white body with a smile that resembled the one of a little boy who had gotten a new toy. "...Heh... to think I'll be flying this baby... it's like I'm dreaming!"
"Should I pinch you? Maybe you'll wake up?" mumbled the girl.
Boss laughed only with his face while still working. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm flying this baby whether it's a dream or not."
She breathed up.
She sensed that this feather-light aircraft was the lifework, the very dream, of the man before her.
"Come on, here's the first wing. Take the other end."
She hurriedly grabbed the end of the wing that appeared from within the container.
The wing, which was basically just a skeleton, was covered by a material that looked like transparent vinyl. So much that she unconsciously whispered, "This looks like chopsticks with wrapping around them..."
"You're actually not so wrong, since it's just a special type of macromolecule film we wrapped around the FRP-based skeleton."
Compared to the frame she had transported beforehand, the wing was clearly more massive and had a certain weight. As the same applied to its length, boss and the girl had to move it with the greatest care.
"A-Aren't these too long? I mean, won't they break midair?"
"They're going to bend, but don't worry: we calculated them so they won't break. Besides, about this much length is necessary to fly! If you look at the aspect rate..."
"I'll pass on details. I've never been good at physics."
The girl promptly abandoned any attempt to grasp the principle behind it and carefully placed the end she was holding on the specialized holding device.
"But physics is fun, you know? And it's handy in your everyday life."
"I prefer gymnastics."
"Gh... I lose in practical use..."
While accepting her answer because of a questionable reason, he also let the wing down.
Now that they had actually placed some of the parts, it became apparent that the holding devices were positioned so that the aircraft would stand diagonally in the warehouse instead of facing the door.
Which was only too understandable, because that was the only way to fit the giant wings somehow into the warehouse.
"Okay, next is the left wing. Show me some of your strength, sports-addict."
The girl, by now accustomed to the work, hopped onto the container.
"Whew... this took longer than I thought."
The boy slumped on a tatami mat, with a side-glance at the brisk and sparking fire.
He was in a small prefabricated shed behind the warehouse. Apparently, it had originally served as the break room for the workers and was actually quite well-built. There was even a water conduit, though unusable.
Outside the window was a drum on a cement block, under which the fire was burning. It had quite some resemblance to the traditional drum-bath—with the exception that the water within was boiling, making it a deadly iron pot instead.
The drum was covered by a lid, which was connected by a pipe in its center to a second drum, positioned a little lower. Out of the side of this second one looked again a pipe, which this time was connected to the lid of a much smaller third drum.
Though a citizen of the civilized world would have no doubt wondered what kind of cultic ritual this was, in the current Japan it was by no means a rare sight. It was a water purifier.
The first two drums contained rain water. The water in the first drum was brought to the boil, producing steam that then went into the second barrel and cooled down there by the cool water surrounding the pipe. By the time it reached the third drum, it had become water again.
In short, by using steam that was once evaporated, they gained pure water without any pollution and bacteria.
There was a lot of water in Japan, but most of it was not pure enough to just scoop and drink it. Only a few water conduits remained intact in these times of ruin, so they had often spotted such purifiers on their journey—and had become used to using them.
En passant, the heat source of this purifier was trash. The reason was apparently to get rid of the trash and boil water at the same time. The boy was a little anxious about the dioxin emission, but he reassured himself by saying that it wasn't so much trash. It's not like he only used trash; he had also added quite some firewood.
The reason for his exhaustion was pouring the stored rain water into the drums. They weren't particularly big, but still they could store 44 gallons, which made about 200 liters. Considering the bucket he had used to scoop could take 5 liters, he'd poured water into the drum almost 40 times. While youth spared him from lower back pain, he was in for some muscle ache the following morning.
But individual work also had its bright sides: the boy made himself comfortable on the ground, fully stretching out his arms and legs.
The scent of the tatami mat under him and the soft breeze made him drowsy.
He was enveloped by a listless feeling and could have slept anytime. The only thing that kept his eyelids open, though just barely, was the crying of the cicadas far away.
Though the boy had long since given up wearing the blazer of his winter uniform, making do with only the white shirt and the necktie, the summery temperature had become hardly bearable.
Despite being at a region near the northern frontier of this country, summer was hot even here, which might have also been a benefit of a country with four seasons in a sense.
Suddenly, the boy noticed with big eyes a change to his necktie, which had a rather plain blue design and was part of the uniform specified by his school. The heat had loosened it so much that it had grown long and looked like the necktie of an office worker at a party.
The necktie was supposed to have the emblem of his high school sewn in.
However, not a single thread could be seen at the spot where the sewing had been, degrading the monotonous blue necktie to one that was really just blue.
"......Oh my. At last even the name of my old school has been «lost», huh..."
The phenomenon that was slowly corroding the world had no official name.
Neither the medical circles, which are always eager to assign long scientific names to each and every little thing, nor the scientific circles, which normally try to make complicated formulas, gave the phenomenon a name.
Even the mass media that loves so much to think up tasteless names failed at creating a grand name for this mysterious phenomenon.
At last, someone started using the generic word "the vanishing", which then spread and became common.
No one was able to explain what principle caused this disease.
Renowned scholars all over the world had since been researching its origin with all their might, but so far no one had come up with a logical explanation. It was not even known why the symptoms were different between humans and animals, respectively objects.
The disease actually starts quite harmlessly.
First, your "name" is lost. No one is able to recall it anymore, including the diseased person himself. The name vanishes without a trace from all books, digital documents, and everything else.
Secondly, your "face" is lost, meaning that you vanish from every photograph you're in. It doesn't matter whether it's a digital one, a painting or even in the memories of others.
Thirdly, your "color" is lost. Your appearance turns monochrome like the actor of a black-and-white movie.
Fourthly, your "shadow" is lost and even light passes through you.
Lastly, your very "existence" is lost and you disappear into naught. Everything you bequeathed disappears, be it paintings, texts, printings or recordings.
The only thing that remains is the memory of the people that have known you, in form of a feeling that "there was someone like you". A ambiguous memory that includes neither your name or your face. It's the end if even those memories fade out completely.
Everything one has left in the world, and even oneself, disappears without a single trace.
The speed of progression varies vastly between victims. Some disappear on the day the disease breaks out, while for others the progress suddenly stops, allowing them to stay alive. But it can be said that in general, it progresses extremely slowly. Already four months had passed since the boy's name had been «lost».
There is no commonality between the people that contract it—the disease spreads truly randomly. While the government found themselves unable to make progress with their research—it was not even clear how many had fallen victim to the disease—the country slowly stopped functioning properly.
A little more than one year had passed since. The government was no more and all lifelines had become unstable.
The citizens that had remained here and there had started working well nigh voluntarily, struggling to maintain a lifezone to survive in.
But the atmosphere up here in the north turned out to be completely different from the slum-like conditions in the city zone the boy and girl had lived in.
There were no signs of devastation, which was probably due to the low population density, and only the odd fact that "there was nobody" remained clearly.
"HEY BOY!! Stop lazing around! Wake up!"
The angry yell that came through the open window made the boy jolt up like a mouse trap.
"You slacker... how dare you go about enjoying a comfortable nap while your companion is doing hard work?"
He was literally scared stiff of the girl's glowering scowl that was fixed on him through the screen door.
I'll get beaten up. Danger.
"I-I got it. I'm on my way!"
"Just start working already! Hurry up!"
Threatened by a pounding against the window frame from behind, he slipped into his sneakers and jumped out of the shed.
"Don't rush me so much... You slept until late today, too..."
"Because I had to stay up late yesterday."
"...voluntarily, that is."
The very next moment he was hit by a lightning-fast, unrestrained body-blow that pierced him with splendid precision where it hurt most and showed him a shower of sparks.
When they came back, boss gave them a doubtful look.
"Huh? Now it's you who's white as chalk?"
"...leave me alone!"
Boss cocked his head in response to the mosquito-pitched voice that answered him, but he quickly returned to his work.
"...So, how far did you get while I was away?"
"We've taken all the parts and tools out. It was an awful lot of work, I tell you," she told him proudly and pointed at the well-arranged parts.
The truck that had occupied a large part of the quite spacious warehouse had already been backed out. The weight of the things one could see did not at all look like it required a whole four-tonner.
However, each part on its own was rather big, which was probably the reason why that container and its capacity had been need.
"Can't human-powered aircraft normally be divided into more parts?"
"Mh? Ah, take a look at this."
The boss went to the workbench and brought something that looked like a blueprint. It wasn't too detailed, thus probably only used for putting the parts together.
"The more you break your components down, the more parts you need for linking. Weight-wise as well as stability-wise this causes problems. Especially because the material used is plastic—you can't just use bolts and nuts on it, as it might be damaged just by screwing on."
"So that giant wing is... one big part in itself?"
"Yeah! Using the fiber reinforced plastic mixing and injection molding for large objects method our entire team developed while pulling all-nighters."
"...using what?" asked the girl quite half-heartedly, having trouble following him and not looking as though she was very interested.
The boss, however, beamed all the more. If he hadn't lost his color, his face would have been flushed with excitement for sure. No doubt about it.
"Alright, little one, perk up your ears: when forming the plastic, we basically put together two huge molds and injected the material, but we constructed them so that the movable parts were already completed at the time we removed the molds."
"Ah yeah? That's great, I guess?"
Her blank answer was as vague as it gets, somewhere between understanding him and not, but she probably just wanted him to stop. One could get as much by looking at her face.
"And that's a unique process made by your team?"
"Yeah. It's a compilation of existing technologies, but we're the only ones doing something of this size......," he answered the boy proudly... and slumped his shoulders for some reason, "...there's just one problem."
The boy was startled by the boss's rapid loss of spirits even though he had praised him. Apparently, he had quite a lot of mood swings.
Boss returned the construction plan to the workbench and stroked the large body frame that was fixed on its holding devices.
"...the material can't be recycled."
"Yeah. Of course you know that it's difficult to recycle plastic, right? The best way would be melting it and giving it a new shape, but this baby has got carbon nanotubes inside. Because of too many foreign substances it can't be recycled. But because of the carbon, it's hard to break it into pieces and throw it into a landfill site, which is the common way to dispose of waste plastic."
"...in short, it's hard to throw it away?"
"Yeah. Moreover, while it's splendid in suppleness and elasticity, it's still plastic, hence it lacks hardness. So it's got the huge downside of being hard to dispose of in spite of being easy to break! These days you can't make any money with technologies that don't take the environment into consideration..." he said with a grand sigh and continued stroking over the frame.
Perhaps, that personality of his was the main problem that had made him vegetate in this warehouse.
"But enough of the old stories now, boss. Let's have a meal."
Nice one, girl! Her usually worrisome gluttony proved to be of use for once. The boy gave her the thumbs up in his mind.
"Mh? It's already time?"
"It's already one o'clock! I haven't had breakfast, I'm starving."
She slumped down on a pipe chair, and rubbed her stomach.
The hangover she had from yesterday's hard drinking appeared to be past history to her. If one were to measure the strength of her stomach, the result would no doubt be a tremendous number. Even that so-and-so plastic that was troubling boss would probably have been digested by her stomach without a problem.
"Hm... I guess that's not a bad idea. Well, I've only got preserved stuff, so instant noodles is pretty much all I can offer you..."
"Ah! I'll have some! I wanna eat those!"
The girl started up, and even the boy's mouth was watering.
"W-What? Are instant noodles that special?"
"Yes! You know that we're traveling by bike, right? Because of that, we can't take so much water with us, so dishes that need a lot of water are impractical to make..."
As a footnote, the boy and girl both had their respective tasks. While the boy was the driver and responsible for maintenance, the girl was the cook and responsible for their provisions. The boy didn't have a say in the control of their foodstuffs and the menu. She was surprisingly strict in that respect. Honestly.
"Well, if you're so keen on it, let's go with that for lunch. I've eaten quite a lot of it, so there's not so much left, but we should be okay."
"Yay! Hey boy! Hot water, quick!"
The boy rushed off, urged by a dancing girl.
"...It's really odd that we're short of water because it didn't rain in the end despite that furious thunderstorm."
He clicked the switch and a blue propane flame started licking the bottom of the kettle.
The boy and the other two were sitting in the six tatamis' size break room in the shed. Thanks to the comfortable natural ventilation, it was several times cooler than outside, although the room wasn't equipped with air conditioning. A lower humidity would have been the final touch, but that would be asking for too much.
"And in comparison, a week ago we could have drowned by looking up and opening your mouth due to the heavy rain... It's sickening that we have to be stingy with water whenever we use it!"
"But well, once in the beginning, I tried drinking rain water directly."
"...just out of curiosity, what happened?"
"I did filter it first, mind you. Nevertheless, I had the runs the next day and lost more water than I took in."
"Uwa...," frowned the girl in response to boss' accurate description.
He took out a large plastic bag and poured various types of instant noodles out of it. There were several packs of each type, which was probably because he had bought them all together.
"But I've gotten through somehow since I made that boiler. Fortunately, there were tons of those drums around here. And if you conquer your weaker self, you get by with dry grass for feeding the fire."
"Once more I've come to realize that it's hard to stay at a certain place..."
"So is a journey," added the boy. A pensive mood filled the air.
As if to blow away that uncomfortable mood, the kettle on the portable stove before their eyes started to boil with a shrill whistle.
As the saying goes, "Kettles don't boil if you watch them," they start boiling in no time if you talk about something unrelated.
The serious topic went somewhere far: the wild beasts rapidly tore the packages of their instant noodles, opened them and waited for the boy to pour them hot water. The girl managed to amaze the other two by demanding hot water for two cups at the same time.
Then, for a while there was no conversation between them.
Having their appetite doubled by the agreeable empty stomach after hard work, and of course having the rare opportunity to enjoy noodles, it was especially the chopsticks of the boy and girl that moved without stop.
"Burp... I've filled my gullet..."
"...couldn't you at least use 'stomach'? You forget that you're a girl at times, don't you, girl?"
"You don't have to care about such trifles."
However, the appearance of her, leaning back while fanning herself with two empty cups before her, resembled a messy middle-aged man like two peas in a pod, and would have surely turned off even the most devoted lover.
If the boy's magnanimity wasn't as great as the ocean, he would have turned her down even before considering a confession.
"But still, maybe it was a mistake to eat ramen, udon, and whatnot on such a hot humid day... I'm drenched."
"Just so you know, there is a bathtub," boss noted incidentally.
Her face got brighter at once.
"Yeah. I'll run you a bath once we're done with the work."
She jumped to her feet, threw the fan away and grabbed the boy's arm.
"We mustn't be lazing around here! We've gotta finish our work and then it's bathing-time!"
"A-Are you looking forward to it that much?"
"What a silly question! The three pleasures of life are 'eating', 'bathing' and 'sleeping'!!"
"You'll make a horrible wife one day."
His snappy remark was silently ignored, and instead he was walked off towards the warehouse without even getting the time to put on his shoes properly.
While they didn't get on completely without a problem, there weren't any remarkable setbacks.
According to boss, the person who wrote the construction manual was as precise as it gets and did not only calculate the position of the holding devices, but also took into account the position of the tools and the mental state of the workers. Even with amateur eyes the boy and girl could see with what passion for detail it was written—it was actually much harder to do something the wrong way.
While they weren't quite sure if they would have wanted such a person around them, the two HPA engineers with 5 hours' experience couldn't thank him enough.
They finished inspecting all the parts and could at last begin to actually connect them.
With much care, they attached the tail plane to the bottom end of the skeleton in the center, which incidentally would have been the spine for humans. When connecting the—surprisingly not V but Λ-shaped— tail plane to the frame, whose cross-section became thinner towards the bottom like a reverse triangle, it looked almost as though the plane was wrong side up.
"...Say... I surely don't know anything about planes, but... isn't the plane at the back normally pointed upwards?"
Her question, which omitted—as was characteristic for the girl—any technical terms, caused boss to snort.
"Well, the common ones that you know are like that. Usually you want the center of gravity in the center of the machine because it makes the plane more maneuverable. However, you hardly ever change the angle when you fly a HPA, thus you put the tail plane below the machine, so it gets more stable. That way it tries to fly horizontally on its own."
The Λ-type tail assemblies are, however, not often used in the field because of concerns regarding the takeoff and landing. It may have been a little ironical that the only major case of it being used was an unmanned reconnaissance plane from a certain big country.
"...in other words, the reason is the same as why paper planes don't have a vertical tail plane?"
"Hmmm, well, you can say that, though that's not all there is to it."
"?" the girl sent him a sceptical glance.
He took two thin wires from the base of the tail unit and pulled them softly.
With a nice click, a pair of wheels swung out from the downward-pointing tips.
"The undercarriage is contained within it. Much better than building a separate container for it, isn't it?"
"What? This plane can actually land?"
"What else did you expect?"
"I was sure you'd go for a free fall in Dover."
"...hey peewee, don't tell me you think of it as something like that show they're doing at Lake Biwa."
"Well, the record we are challenging requires doing everything from takeoff to landing with one's own power. Unlike that competition, you need to be able to do these tasks, too."
While proceeding with his explanation, he called the boy over and had him help him with the fixation of the tail plane.
Apparently, the boy knew what was to be done; he opened the toolbox at the side and took out some tools such as a spanner and a screwdriver, and started assisting boss.
"...but isn't it quite impossible for this tail assembly to take on the role as the rudder?" asked the boy without suspending his work. Boss, too, answered him from somewhere else while screwing a bolt. Those two were quite adept.
"The wings are doing that job. The tail assembly really does only the balancing. In fact, we could have just gone for an entire flying wing, but those are damn hard to balance out."
"...which galaxy is the language you are speaking from, guys?"
The girl was gazing at them with an uneasy and somewhat lonely look because the discussion they led parallel to work was dripping with words unfamiliar to her.
As they made progress and the two boy and girl became used to the work, each of them started to have their specific tasks.
Boss did the work, whereas the boy was his support. The girl, however, was in charge of bringing them the small parts and tools. And when strength was required, they joined forces.
For an example, the connection of the giant wings, which occupied the whole diagonal of the warehouse, to the body with united forces was celebrated with a hurricane of applause and rejoicings. The main sound source was of course the girl.
However, as soon as they had attached the crate-like cockpit below the body, she didn't really have anything to do anymore; the somewhat complicated, fine work had increased.
"Does the seat look okay?" asked boss.
The boy then checked the stability of the bicycle saddle by trying to jolt it. It was much firmer fixed than one would expect from something that was only attached to a plastic frame.
"Looks fine. It's stable."
"Alright, then could you do the wiring of the main wing rudder from there? But please be careful with the wires; it's a real bother to exchange them once they're ripped. There's enough material in the truck to make another set, but we don't have time."
The boy, now quite tense, slowly approached the nylon wire that dangled above him to the joystick, by winding it around several pulleys that were positioned in the cockpit.
"You're enviable... I wanna try sitting there, too."
"We're not doing this for fun, you know?"
"But we are, it's a pastime however you look at it."
What she said was actually quite the truth. He wasn't doing this in order to earn something, so it was for fun. Boss tried to counter her somehow, but he was at a complete loss for words because she had hit the bull's eye.
"You ought to put up with her. If she goes berserk in here, it will turn into a heap of pieces before we can complete it," the boy instructed him, causing the girl to put on a scowl.
"What the heck do you think I am?"
The next moment a bang resounded and the girl's clenched fist hit the boy.
He was sent flying out of the cockpit, whose exterior wasn't affixed yet, and landed on the bare ground.
"...looks like he has just become unable to work. I'll continue in his place."
"...do as you will." Not approval of her will, but the plea that his beloved machine remained safe was written on boss' face, which was twisted as if watching the prey consumption of a carnivore. "These wires control the torsion of the wings, got me? Connect the one with the red tip from the front to the the joystick and the blue one from behind."
In spite of the great curiosity she showed, her movement were most careful. Even the girl knew very well how dear this aircraft was to him.
She had clearly made sure that her punch a few moments before wouldn't harm the plane.
"This baby does neither have a rudder nor an elevator unit, hence the main wings are doing that job by being twisted."
"Do they really bend with this mechanism? Won't the plane come down accidentally?"
"Don't worry. I'm only going to do an 8-fly, so I will hardly need to change the course! Well, the takeoff and landing are kind of problematic, but these are over in a second."
"What about a loop?"
"You're asking me to do stunts with a plane that can barely fly?"
He nudged her head, making her laugh.
The girl didn't stop her work—which she with surprising skill—while jesting, and she was done applying the wires for steering the wings in no time.
"Do we need to adjust them now?"
"We'll leave that for when we're done assembling the rest. Next we'll go about the engine... which is basically just some cogwheels joined together, though."
The girl marveled at the gear box he tossed her.
"Boss, is this also made of plastic?"
As far as she knew and could imagine, cogwheels were normally made of metal.
The gears in the box he had given her, however, were made of something akin to plastic, whereas the case itself was acrylic. Each of them was full of tiny holes and not as heavy as their looks suggested.
"It's polystyrene. The case is acrylic. You see, they won't need to rotate really fast, and this way we need almost no oil."
"...you're insistent on making it lighter whatever it takes, aren't ya..."
"We are! The lighter the better. Otherwise it won't fly by human power."
"Would it be possible to install Cubby's engine on it and fly abroad?"
She was profoundly convinced that it was a brilliant idea, but it was immediately rejected.
Too bad. I was looking forward to a comfortable trip overseas.
When they finished attaching the engine part, boss took over the lead as the connecting of the engine with the wings required a lot of sensitivity.
The bicycle-like belt of the engine part was connected to the main spindle right below the body and finally looked like "something that can fly".
"Odd. Aren't propellers usually at the front?" the girl said and stroked the snow-white body frame.
The fact that the main wings extended right besides the cockpit did make some sense to her. The propellers, however, were not at the very front, but apparently to be brought on a bare mechanical part that was located somewhere in the middle of the body frame.
"We could have just as well put them at the front. In fact, that would be simpler and more stable."
"Then why did you not do so?"
"It's got to do with effectiveness. If we put it at the front, the produced wind would partly hit the plane itself. Apart from that... due to personal preference?"
"...isn't your personal preference kind of indifferent when the focus is on effectiveness...?"
"What are you saying?!" the boy started up and shouted at the lopsidedly smiling girl.
After being swept away, he had had no other choice but to clear away the unused holding devices while the other two had been continuing his work, whereas now he clenched his fist and started a heated speech.
"Geez, girls just don't get it! You understand the beauty of mechanics not a bit! Propellers are the decoration of a human-powered aircraft, you know? You may not be able to change anything about those elegant long wings, but you are free to do whatever you want with the propeller!"
"...Aah... yeah. Got it, got it. I won't lose another word about it, so get us a tea or something."
His passion was not understood. With the by now quite light kettle in one hand, he headed to the shed, where they had prepared some more barley tea.
"...Geez, it's hard to understand those strange passions men tend to have...," sighed the girl and felt as though something named motivation or spirits left her in the same breath.
"Well, that can't be helped. Definitely a gender-based problem."
"It is? Don't you think that the environment where you grow up and such do also have an influence?"
"Might also matter a little. But don't you think that the reason why the boys throughout the country are attracted to special effects and mecha animes and whatnot lies in their nature?"
The girl groaned upon his words.
"Well, live with it. The love for machines and adventures is about as deeply rooted in our manly DNA as the love for females."
Her voice that could have been both a sigh or a weak laugh blended in the crying of the cicadas outside the sheet iron walls, and disappeared without reaching anyone.
They gradually progressed, and after sunset, when the temperature became a little more agreeable, they were 90% done.
During this time, they had proved excellent communication skills, far above what one would expect from people that had just get to know each other the other day. For instance, when it had come to the phase of inspecting the plane and such, the boy, who had lost his position to the girl, had been dragged back, and their first collective work had started with boss giving them instructions.
At the moment, the boy was in the cockpit.
He was confirming what boss told him to inspect while flipping through a thick form that contained items to inspect.
"Next on the list. Push the joystick to the right."
"Roger. To the right."
When he pushed the wooden joystick to the right, the connected nylon wires raised a creak as they were strained, and the wings on both sides were twisted into different directions.
"Successful," boss said and stuck a seal on the check sheet. "Now try moving it to the left."
"Roger. To the left."
Simple and precise, as well as monotonous—the girl had immediately raised the white flag, since it was clearly not work that suited her, and was now gazing at them, sitting on one of the cots that were there for taking a nap.
She was silently watching them proceeding slowly but surely, and with a rhythm, with the inspection, so as to not disturb them. Was the feeling that rose in her upon seeing that they were fine even without her alienation? Or was it jealousy? Still unable to make out her feelings, she let herself fall onto the cot. She grabbed the blanket clump that served as a pillow and put it under her head.
The boy and boss looked almost like siblings with an age gap when they worked together like now.
Without paying heed to the girl and as if obsessed by something, but on the other hand with the sparkling eyes of a child, they were putting their heart and soul into that aircraft.
Perhaps they were more like senior and junior at school. It had already been over three months since the boy and girl had attended school, but the image she had had not lost its color yet.
However, she had already forgotten the faces of half the class. She had no way of knowing whether this was due to "the vanishing" or the natural fading of her memory.
If asked whether she was worried about them, her answer would have been "yes". How were they doing? The hundreds of miles between them was equal to a world in these times of non-functional Internet and suspended telephone service.
It was probably a distance unbridgeable in their lifetime without the help of Cubby. There was even the chance that they might literally drop dead by the roadside.
The girl had no intentions of returning to their town.
She didn't know how the boy felt about it, but she wanted to continue their journey.
Their journey wasn't one with a specific target. Many asked them where their troublesome journey was headed, but they always answered like that:
«To the end of the world.»
She did not demand any meaning of their journey, nor did she care about what troubles awaited them. Not once had she thought about their destination.
The girl wasn't specially fond of reading, but there was one line, which the boy had taught her, that had stroke chord with her.
Those were the words of a certain queen in the land of mirrors.
«Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.»
The girl was keeping on traveling in order to stay with the boy.
She had left everything behind that would have hindered her. The only way to go was straight ahead.
If they were to return to their hometown, then it would be after they had tripped around the globe.
Boss flung the checklist and the form away, whereas the boy let out a big breath and sat down on a chair.
Compared to the assembling stage, physical labor had virtually been non-existent, but they had been made realize first hand that physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion aren't necessarily proportional.
They had been praying to the heavens while inspecting whether the machine they had built with their own hands worked properly, so it was no surprise that their necks had gotten stiff.
"Are we done for now?"
"Yeah. We checked the default settings of the GPS and the anemometer and everything else. The parts work perfectly, too. What remains is only the flight," with a broad smile he knocked lightly on the body frame of the aircraft.
The slim human-powered airplane with 38.2 meters width, 10.4 meters height and 30 kilograms weight, packed with the pride and passion and attachment of boss and his colleagues, was completed.
"Filled with deep emotion...?"
"No," boss denied, upon which the boy glanced at him.
Boss softly touched the wings and stroked them gently like his own child.
"It's all tomorrow, after the flight. I'll dance and rejoice only tomorrow after I've flown. This baby is a plane after all, not an ornament, right?" he turned around to the boy with a face that was, in contrast to his words, desperately hiding his excitement.
"...yes. It is a plane. We haven't put it together to make it rust away."
"Yeah. We mustn't jump like mad for joy just yet. Its true value lies in flying it."
These words weren't addressed to the boy, but himself. Therefore, the boy refrained from replying and wiped the sweat off his forehead, after which he breathed out.
"I hope it will be clear tomorrow."
"Are you joking? Of course it will be! If not, I'll go to court."
He almost had to laugh.
Oh well, I'll better do what I can and make a teru teru bouzu with some tissues. It's not good to use consumables without prospect of replenishment, but it should be fine once in a while.
The next thing that could be heard after this weird utterance was a dull sound, which originated from the girl falling off her cot. Apparently, she had accidentally fallen asleep while resting on the bed.
She idly sat up and had her gaze stagger somewhere between them and the plane.
"Yeah. We're done."
"...Congrats," she sent her good wishes, still half-asleep, and walked toward the aircraft. "...What's its name?"
"This plane's. Its name."
The boy and boss exchanged glances.
Her question had truly taken them by surprise.
"...Geez! Well, that figures... you guys just think about putting it together, but why don't you get that you're forgetting about the most important part!"
Normally it's the men who have an urge to give inanimate things a name, but common sense didn't apply to her.
"Didn't you and your comrades come up with some name for it...? Ah, I see. It vanished, huh."
Leaving alone the two silent men, she rummaged a toolbox that had been close to her.
"Come one, you decide, boss," with these words she pressed a completely normal, extra-thick oil-based black marker. Well, there wasn't anything else to write with, since they neither had an airbrush nor a spray can.
"Is it really okay to decide on that alone?"
"In return, the name would better satisfy us. If you give it a dull name, I'll give you a kick in the buttocks."
Boss shrugged his shoulders, walked up to the side of the cockpit, and gazed at the transparent polymer film.
After a moment wavering, he uncapped the marker and started to write. The final letters were...
"...'Jonathanジョナサン'...eh?" the boy said with round eyes, then boss turned around.
"Yeah. It's the name of the most famous seagull in the world."
Five katakana letters were written on the windshielding translucent film.
"...but your handwriting sure is scrawly... and worst of all, katakana! Why the heck didn't you use alphabetical letters? I mean, you wanted to fly this thing in Europe!"
"I don't care. I'll be flying it here. In the first place, you told me to write a name!"
"...somehow, that just ruined the image about as much as if we had wanted to give it a finishing touch by adding a pair of eyes, but accidentally drew nose hair instead."
"It's that bad?!"
"Oh whatever. Let's grab something to eat. I've gotten hungry because of my nap."
"...Women sure are fast in changing the topic."
"You don't mind it, do you? Anyhow, we're celebrating tonight! But if it's canned food again, I'll go on strike."
Boss let out a slight sigh and looked successively at the girl and the plane, wavering a little. Then he put his hands at his hips.
"Indeed... I declare tonight as the test flight eve because we have successfully completed all preparations. Well, there's not much food I have, so we'll have to put up with a curry party."
"Curry?! And you don't mean retort-packed curry?!"
"Yeah. We'll have to resort to canned carrots and meat, but the potatoes and rice are natural, and above all, the roux is a special spice blend."
Curry. The second this simple word reached their ears, their bodies started to emit a giant amount of saliva in their mouths. It had been months since they had last eaten real, non-ready, curry rice.
"A special spice blend..."
"The guy that wrote the manual made it. He liked to cook in his free time, you know. He would all the time come to me and tell me that he tried using 2% more turmeric or that he increased the size of his black pepper corns..."
The boy could somehow feel for him, as he was able to guess how much trouble an oddball as a friend could be.
They decided to do the cooking together. One reason for this was of course that they had to hurry up not to waste any current, now that the sun had set, but the pull of their empty stomaches was not to be underestimated, either. It also held true that they had nothing else to do anymore.
Rice was washed, potatoes were peeled, cans were opened for carrots and corned beef, and two fires were ignited, on which they then put a pot for the rice and one for the curry.
They started cooking without caring about who was doing what, and after an exceptionally short time, they had prepared their dinner.
While the number of ingredients used in the curry rice was very low, there was a whole lot of it. They virtually lunged at their dinner and ate, ready to empty both pots.
Since the boy wasn't wild about getting to see a sticky clot that pulled strings like Nattou the next morning—into which the curry rice would have turned due to the hotness and humidity of summer—it happened that even he, who would usually try to fill his stomach about 80%, ate for two.
As a footnote: they had somehow managed to find a cool place for the watermelon they had received from the director and his secretary, which resulted in excellent ripeness. The girl wanted to have the first try at splitting the melon and even blindfolded herself. By completely ignoring the confusing commands boss gave her and instead following the warm guidance of the boy, she grandly split the melon at one go.
It goes without saying that it tasted out of this world.
When the great rush had subsided and everyone had emptied their own plate, boss suddenly asked while grabbing himself another piece of melon, "Are you going to pay the nearby town a visit?"
"Mh, I guess we will. Or rather, we couldn't get by on this journey if we didn't travel from one town to the next one. We made quite a few stops on the way, but the next will be that village, yeah."
"Why did you ask? Something wrong with it?" asked the girl while rubbing her bloated belly.
Boss, who was munching away on his melon piece, answered her, "Nope, go ahead and stop by there. It would be a mistake to go past it even though it's lively there."
"Evacuated people assembled there and have created an autonomous organization. It's right by the seaside, and they were already sending out fishing boats when I was there a few months ago, so I guess their town has flourished even more by now."
The boy and girl exchanged glances.
Nowadays, a high population in itself was of great significance. It is hard for one to obtain enough food for oneself, but it's much easier for a hundred to obtain enough food for a hundred.
By joining forces one can reach new heights.
Where there are people, there is wealth. And the two travelers were going to benefit from that wealth as well.
By the time the boy and girl were full and had successfully exterminated the curry, the rice as well as the watermelon, night had entirely fallen and the refreshing croaks of the frogs around the warehouse reached their ears.
Given that the moon and the stars in the broad cloudless sky were brightening the earth, they expected nice weather for the following day.
It was, however, still going to take some time until the humidity would start to drop. All three were sweating because their body-heat had increased thanks to the curry.
"Hey boss, mind telling me where the bath is?" asked the girl suddenly upon recalling what she had heard earlier.
Yes—this had completely slipped her memory because of the curry feast, but originally she had wanted to get done with work as fast as possible, wanting to take a bath.
"Sure, it's behind the shed. I filled it earlier and lit a fire, it should be about ready now."
Being one among them who appeared to have still some reserves in his stomach, boss stood up and beckoned them to follow him.
The boy had to admit it: he had eaten too much tonight. While holding his stomach, which was loudly complaining of excess load, he followed boss to the back of the shed, under a roof.
Right there they found the bath.
The expectations of the girl were belied, the prediction of the boy hit the bullseye.
"Seems like the warmth is just perfect. I'll let you go first."
What they discovered there was undeniably a drum bath.
It was a high-tech facility without peer, sparsely bordered by sheet metal and equipped with a naked bulb hanging from above. To crown it all, there was even shampoo and rinse ready to be used. The absence of a roof assured a stunning view of the starlit sky and the vicinity while wallowing in warm water.
Judging by the blatantly mixed feelings showing on her face, there seemed to be interest. However, even the boy had never taken such a wild bath. "I should definitely ask if there are any manners that have to be followed," the boy thought.
"Boss, how do we get into this?"
"Why, like you always do! There's a wooden chair inside to make sure it's not too hot, so all that has to be done is making a fire and entering. Also, don't complain that there's no shower."
Apparently having noticed by the tone in the boy's voice that they had no experience in bathing in a drum, he gently patted the girl on the back.
"Aah, and by the way, the one that's not bathing has to put wood on the fire."
It took them a whole few seconds until realizing what he had just told them casually. As it had exceeded the bounds of their understanding, it was necessary for them to do a simulation within their heads.
"Wait... you're telling us to take the bath together?!"
"...Hah? How do you want to get two into that narrow tub? One of you just has to watch the fire while the other one is in there. Like a scullion."
"You must be joking! I'm a girl, you know?!"
"Well, I know that. But you don't mind if it's him, right? Being lovers and all."
"...Who said that?!"
Seized by the collar, boss was completely dumbfounded.
"Y-You're not? I was sure you were a couple because of your bike journey as a pair..."
With a growl she released him.
While the situation was indeed troubling, she did not really feel bad about being thought as a couple. However, it did trouble her right now. It was still too early.
"...Can't I put wood by myself?"
"No, look, drums are tall. You can't reach the ground, can you?"
Indeed. As he said, the rusted drum was tall taken by itself, but because it was also put on concrete blocks to make a fire below it, it was an impossible task to reach the ground from inside. Besides, it would have been far from her long-awaited paradise if she had to worry about the fire all the time.
"I can't do it, either... There's pretty much no way round having him do it."
Well, such important decisions were always made without taking the boy's opinion into account. He was used to it.
For his part, the dread of "getting killed if he peeped" surpassed the desire of doing so by far.
"I'll kill you if you peep, okay?"
Getting the exactly same threat as he had been imagining, the boy nodded awkwardly.
His hands tied up behind his back and his eyes covered by a blindfold, he felt just like a hostage taken by a terrorist. Wondering if he was going to hear another unreasonable request along the lines of "Don't move! Hands up!" he sighed.
"Listen, I won't peep. If you leave me like this I can't even put wood on the fire. And you want to enjoy your bath to the fullest, don't you?"
"I'll untie your hands once I'm in the bathtub, so bear with it until then."
The girl, for one, thought that she had been rather cooperative.
For their relationship, which had not yet reached the couple stage, this situation was, well, err... too stimulative! This was something that should happen only after taking one step after the other with due care.
Anyhow, the girl started to undress herself somewhere the boy could not reach however hard he struggled. She found a brand new dry duck board on the bare ground and lined her shoes there.
As much as it was summer, they were at the northern island. The night was chilly and the wind blew against her naked skin.
By the way, she had also considered the possibility that boss might peep and thus commanded the boy to keep watch.
It was highly questionable how well he could keep watch without being able to see, but she was positive that he would at least notice his approaching.
When at last was naked as mother had bore her, she allied herself with a rather large towel and went on to challenge the unfamiliar bath.
She ascended the concrete block steps on tiptoes and carefully entered the bathtub with her feet.
"Oh, it's not as hot as I thought."
"Well, of course it's not! After all, I have been adjusting its warmth the whole time."
She couldn't help it, but the drum with its cylindrical shape put on a fire reminded her awfully of the boiling curry pot.
Happily enough, there was a duck board and a wooden chair in the water, so she could enter without having to strain herself.
She found it a pity that she couldn't stretch her legs, but neither did she want to be picky.
"Alright boy, show me your back and come nearer. I'll untie you."
Upon staggering towards her in a half-sitting posture, she untied the nylon rope around his wrists.
Having calmed down again, he groped for the pipe chair that was close to him and seated himself on it.
"Girl. How's the temperature?"
"Excellent, excellent. But it might be even better if it was a little warmer?"
"Roger. Your wish is my command!"
He took a piece of wood within his reach and threw it into the fire below the drum. The hand towel that was firmly wound around his head inhibited his vision, but he could still locate the fire by the heat and the dim light.
When he fanned it, it flared up golden and burned stronger.
"Are you enjoying your first drum bath?" asked the boy with a lopsided smile after hearing the girl's blatantly relaxing voice.
"Oh... it's better than I expected... I've never been in such a deep bathtub before, though."
"But I now think I know how the ingredients in an oden must feel."
He could only hear her voice, but it was easy to imagine what her face must have looked like. Her face was bound to be completely slack. There was some sort of afflatus that told him so.
Since she had missed out on the bath at the director's home despite being as much a bath-lover as any other girl, he was sure that she was enjoying it more than usually.
"...Boy...? Do you think 'it' will really fly tomorrow?"
Some while after he had started watching the fire, the girl addressed him rather suddenly. He stopped fanning.
"...Why do you ask?"
"No big deal, really. It's just that... it feels so unreal."
With a splash, the boy's head got drenched in water.
He could judge from the light that had just been dimmed that she was looking at him.
"Well, I mean, aren't airplanes kinda out of reach for us usually? If we get in touch with them, it's never really direct, is it? For example when following a trail with our eyes, or when getting into one for a trip."
"Do you mean that you don't think such a thing could fly?"
"I think that doesn't quite capture it," she replied and continued with a dreamy, calm voice, "You know, at least for me, making a plane is something like magic. It's not like I can't imagine how the logic behind it works. But somehow, I can't seem to accept that it would work."
"...in other words, that plane is a 'witch's broom' for you."
"...Sort of. That's a nice way to put it — it seems just the same no matter if someone tells you it flew with the power of lift or with the power of magic. But seriously, will that thing really fly? Being just a big empty shell," asked the girl with a wry smile.
While putting on a smile, he answered, "It will! The dreams of boss' team as well as our own are in there."
"Our dreams may make it too heavy to fly."
"Maybe. But let's believe that boss will overcome that with his spirit."
Despite the blindfold, he could vividly picture the girl's smile as she giggled.
"...Aaah, jeez! I wish I could fly it, too!"
"So that's what you were really thinking?" the boy laughed and threw another piece of wood into the fire.
"Oh shut your mouth, I can have my dreams, too, can't I? You're already monopolizing Cubby, after all. I would love to take you to the end of the world with that plane."
"There's only space for one in there."
"No problem. I'll just tie you up somewhere on there."
"You're being reckless..."
"Not at all! ...Ah, that aside, can you help me wash my hair?"
"While wearing this blindfold?"
"Yup. Be gentle, okay? If any shampoo gets into my eye, I'll choke you. Hard."
Thanks to a never-ending succession of unreasonable requests from the girl, he was condemned to even harder work than during the day, and had no opportunity to get some butterflies in his stomach.
By the time the girl happily left the bath, he was completely exhausted. Of course because of the persistent tension that exceeded the load of watching the fire many times.
About one hour had passed until he was released from the girl's long bath and could heave a sigh of relief in the warehouse.
"...I'm dead beat."
"What? Now you're a sissy. Just because of that...?"
She's outrageous. Truly outrageous. What on earth does she think got me so exhausted?
When removing his blindfold after a whole hour, even the warehouse was dazzling, though using the minimum light.
Well, the girl who had just taken a bath and was thus wearing her blouse without stuffing it into her skirt was in a sense dazzling, too.
"Jeez... Why do women always take so much time to bathe?"
All of a sudden, the girl's vision got obstructed. Her hair was being mopped crudely with a bath towel that had been dropped onto her head.
"B-Boss! Stop it... cut it out!" she complained about being treated like a child and escaped from his claws.
But his forceful drying attempt had gracefully succeeded; the moisture of her hair had been eliminated, leaving only a comfortable warmth there.
"Do you want to go in now, boss? I'm fine with being the last one."
"No, I'll have a snooze first. I'm sleepy as hell because I had to move the truck early in the morning... Ah, right, you guys, go to bed in good time today! The weather should be nice tomorrow, judging by how it is now, but the best wind blows in the early morning, you know. Ah, and by the way: I'm used to that bath, so I don't need any help."
"When should we get up?"
"At about four o'clock. Don't oversleep!"
The girl rounded her eyes when she heard him, "That early?! No dice! I can't get up at such an ungodly hour!"
"Don't worry. There is an alarm clock."
"That's not the problem!" she objected, almost screaming in horror, and was patted on the back by the boy.
"...I'll wake you up, okay?"
The boy was perfectly aware that such a bothersome task would naturally be imposed on him.
"It's only been nine. If we make sure to sleep at about 10 o'clock, it should be possible to wake up, don't you think?"
The boy let out a weak sight, seeing her still unconvinced.
"Okay, while I'm sleeping change shifts and use the bath once more. ...Ah, and boy. I bet she sponged on you, didn't she? Now's your turn!" boss said and turned around to leave toward the nap corner.
The girl wanted to say something in reply, but the boy would of course never have missed out on such a chance. He quickly went around her and stole her vision with the towel in his hands.
"'I'll kill you if you peep' — right? Let's make sure you can't see anything."
"N-No need to do that here already!"
"Oh, it's fine, it's fine. Let's go. Thanks to your bath I'm drenched!"
Getting to have the lead for once, too, his mouth was curved in an eerie shape. If they hadn't had a blindfold, the girl would have discovered the hidden dark side of the boy at that very moment.
Almost as if carrying off a hostage, he pulled the girl behind him.
"Wait! I'll stumble! Please, remove this just for now!"
"It's fine, it's fine."
The boy affected ignorance to the finish, pretending not to have noticed that there was not shadow at boss' feet when he stood in the light.
The loss of one's shadow—such was the last stage of "the vanishing".
All of a sudden, he woke up. He had no idea what had made him awake, so it was probably correct to phrase it like that.
It felt rather odd to him because he had only been waked by the girl's punches when she rolled in sleep or by some sort of sound lately. Without any visible reason, without being left drowsy, he had suddenly woken up.
He sat up heavily and pulled the blanket he was covered in away.
The luminously painted chronograph showed two o'clock, therefore it was no surprise that the sun had not risen yet.
As he couldn't seem to fall asleep again, he decided for now to stand up. There was no trace of exhaustion in his young body, which might have been thanks to the opulent dinner he had had or to the fact that he had slept early.
This did, however, not apply to the girl who was sleeping on the neighboring bed.
She was lying prone on the cot, still in the same posture as she had written the diary, which was put next to the pillow, and snoring loudly. Moreover, the jersey she was in the habit of using as a substitute for a pajama was round her knees, exposing her defenseless bottom, which was only covered by her white panties.
He smiled to himself, seeing her childish sleeping position, and covered her waist with a blanket so that she wouldn't get too cold. In passing, he also sneaked a peek at the diary, where he found a quite funny entry.
The content itself was nothing special, but the text got stranger and stranger towards the end: the same word appeared three times in one sentence, one sentence was suddenly aborted, and by the time the text finally turned incomprehensible, her letters were all over the page. There were even mysterious lines outside of the page. This was proof that she had gone down fighting against sleepiness.
After blurting out a giggle, he poured himself some water from a PET bottle and took a small gulp.
The sound beyond the wall of metal sheets disclosed to him how the weather was outdoors—he could hear wind blowing through the meadows. There appeared to be no rain.
Sure, they had been able to guess the weather beforehand, but upon seeing how that prediction had hit the mark, it felt sort of like their prayer had been heard. I really ought to thank the teru teru bouzu we hung up before sleeping.
Then, driven by a sudden hunch, he slid his hand through the shroud that divided the nap corner from the rest of the warehouse and produced a gap.
There was a still standing white plane in the center, whose elegant wings were softly bent by gravity. Despite having assisted its assembling a few hours ago, it was a breath-taking view.
In front of the aircraft, however, he spotted boss sitting cross-legged, faced toward its nose.
He couldn't recognize his countenance because it was hidden by the shadow of the wings, but there was a beer can in boss' hand and about ten more on the ground, as if forming a circle with him.
Boss' moved no muscle, and his emotions were to remain a riddle to the boy. In the end, he did not gather the courage to intrude this scene.
A while later, the boy fell asleep again.
He did not remember having had a dream that night.
The next morning, the three took the long-winged plane out of the warehouse and initiated a last check.
Even though the main entrance was more than five meters shorter than the plane's total width, by following the white lines on the ground as written in the manual, they somehow succeeded in getting it outside, kind of like solving a wire puzzle.
"...this is really incredible."
"Yeah, I seriously wonder what his brain looked like!" muttered boss while gazing at the plane on the straight road.
"The guy who made the manual."
Did 'he', the writer of that perfect and precise manual, whose face and name nobody knew anymore, really think about its transport during the planning stage? She had no idea who he was, but she was not uninterested in meeting him. Well, that was not possible anymore, though.
For starters, they began removing the transport according to the manual.
The carts had been detached from the holding devices, and were now carefully removed with several special, prespecified tools so as to not damage the machine. Without remarkable effort, they managed to free all parts.
Without even needing a jack or something like that, the plane's elegant body stood on its own wheels, gazing at the horizon ahead of the long asphalt. It was truly magnificent.
"...What was this just now? Magic?"
"Who knows. Anyway, the preparations are completed."
Boss turned around and spotted the boy, who had been taking some additional data such as the wind speed and was just trotting back.
All preparations were set.
"Boss, are you ready? Especially mentally," the girl asked.
"No, my heart is jumping out of my ears any moment," boss laughed with only his face. His body was already in the cockpit. The last check in front of the plane was being conducted by the boy who held the manual in his hands. After all, boss was the motor of this machine—an important part. No way to do an inspection without putting him in, too.
"Now that sounds acrobatic. Anyway, you're never mentally prepared, so get in already."
Boss flashed a smile on hearing her unmindful encouragement and looked around in the cockpit.
There was a seat for him to seat in and a cage made of FRP surrounding it. The seat was snow-white, being made almost entirely of plastic and transparent film. The only black objects were the GPS, the altimeter, the anemometer and the transceiver for communication, which were all attached at the side of the joystick.
The thin polymer film shrouding the cage was lit by the dazzling morning light and gleamed brightly.
He had to narrow his eyes. A mysterious, awe-inspiring mood akin to beholding a stained glass window in a church filled the air of the narrow cockpit — but was completely destroyed when the boy suddenly poked his face in.
"I'm closing now, boss! You've got your handkerchief, right? What about your lunchbox?"
"I don't need one!"
"Okay, if you've still got that much energy, you'll be fine. Good luck," the boy laughed and carried a large windshield over to him.
Since all functions and equipment were kept at the minimum, there was naturally no openable door incorporated. It was necessary to screw the windshield on after boarding the plane.
He had to have them seal him away in this narrow space.
Despite feeling like a prisoner, strangely enough he felt no pressure. All there was was boundless rapturousness.
He felt as though he could pull off anything right now.
"Windshield attached. Go ahead."
He heard a voice from the transceiver by his ear.
"All set. I'm starting to pedal now, remove the bumper when I give you the signal," he said and put his feet on the pedals.
In order to not burden the comparatively sensitive motor unnecessarily, he started off slowly and gradually increased the rotation speed. In the small mirror that was attached to the inner side of the windshield, he could see the contra-rotating propellers he was so proud of move.
Don't worry, it will definitely soar up!
"Remove the bumper!"
It was but a short command.
The real fight was yet to come. His comrades had built the aircraft, the boy and girl had put it together, and he had to fly it.
This was his first and final task. The world that was going to unfold before him now was only his and no one else's.
"Hurry up, boy! Hurry up!" the girl rushed.
She had finished her work quickly and had gotten on the tandem of the super cub, which was stopped by the road. The luggage was almost entirely taken off so that they could drive along with the plane.
"I know. Don't worry, it won't fly away just like that!"
Well, he had tried to calm the excited girl, but apparently he was very excited himself: he had quite some trouble putting the key into the hole.
When he finally managed to turn the key and switched on the ignition, Cubby's heart started to roar loudly. He kicked up the stand more violently than he did usually, opened the throttle slightly and moved onto the road.
The plane, however, was still there, moving straight ahead at the speed of slowly pedaling a bicycle.
The yellow contra-rotating propellers were rotating properly, cutting the wind, but there was no sign of soaring up yet.
For the time being, he chose to follow the plane from diagonally behind at about the same speed, so as to not get in its way.
"Is everything alright? Will it fly?"
The boy answered the girl's anxious question with a laugh, "No worries. He's arriving at a declining slope any moment, and he even has some headwind. It's bound to fly!"
Just as the boy had announced, as soon as the plane arrived at a slightly declining slope, the previously very slow acceleration started to increase bit by bit.
It's not like the boy knew what was needed for the takeoff of a human-powered aircraft. But he gathered that an appropriately high speed was required.
Cubby's speedometer was almost at 20kmph. He supposed that it was about time that it hovered a little.
Boss, who could be seen past the transparent windshield, was not paying them any attention whatsoever. He was solely staring straight ahead, pedaling with all his might.
That moment, he saw boss pulling the joystick.
The nylon wires that were connected to it conveyed his movement to the wings and made them bend slightly.
The tiny lift that emerged at that moment caused the super-light machine to hover slightly over the ground.
"Not just yet!"
Suppressing the girl who was about to leap for joy, he opened some distance between him and the plane to be sure.
The plane, which was hovering close to the ground, pulled in its wheels under the tail assembly and the cockpit, and continued its shaky flight at an unsettling height.
At the moment it was merely hovering due to the ground effect that was formed by the wings and the ground. He had to elevate in order to make it a "flight".
Boss was pedaling like mad, but the height was only barely increasing.
"Is he really going to be okay?"
"Don't worry. He's almost there. He's almost at 25kmph!"
His voice came out louder than he had wanted, but he didn't care in the least.
It's going to fly! It will not fall!
As if to display his unshakable faith, the boy opened the throttle and sped up Cubby. While the girl was clinging to him in surprise, he moved the motorbike to the side of the wings.
If the plane fell, they were probably going to be dragged in.
But the word "if" was already out of question. Boss was going to pull it off somehow. He was sure of that.
Then at last, the lift produced by the long wings grew strong enough to sustain the weight of the plane thanks to the speed.
The shaky flight suddenly leveled off and the almost 40-meters giant wings jumped up as if pulled to the sky.
"He soared up!"
"He did it!"
They yelled almost synchronously, causing the accidently driverless Cubby to stagger.
The plane elevated as if drawn up by the sky and gleamed in the morning sun.
Its course was north and its altitude about 40 meters. The flight had entirely gotten stable.
"You did it, boss!"
"Yeah, I sure did!"
They could hear an enthralled voice from the transceiver. It was not hard at all to imagine his face from that excited voice.
"It feels terrific...! Just as I felt at my first flight... no, it's even better!"
"Please enjoy it to the fullest. We can't take part in it, after all."
The girl, too, was smiling at his rarely turbulent voice before she knew it.
"I feel as if I could go anywhere right now... I can't thank you enough, guys..."
"Thank us to your heart's content then. With gas."
Her capitalistic remark was, however, not countered with irony.
"Sure! Take as much as you want! This feeling is all I need! ...I wanted to show this scenery to everyone else, too, but... even if they were here now, there's only space for one... so it would still have been only me in the end, huh..."
The airplane in front of the super cub started to easefully shake left and right.
Boss was probably tilting the joystick because of his strong emotions. However, the plane was designed for 8-flights; while withstanding most movements, it was not able to do small ones.
But still, the giant white plane was inexpressibly beautiful as it drew a curve while inclining slightly.
"Umm, boss? Could you let me fly it as well?"
The boy answered the girl's mumble into the transceiver by poking her.
"Hey girl, that's boss' plane! It's not right for us to ask for something like that..."
"But we also helped him, didn't we? I want to get on it about once at least!"
"You don't know how to control, do you?"
"But there is someone who knows, isn't there? Boooss, pretty please?"
Shaking off his restrain, she addressed boss over the transceiver with a pleading voice.
Well, boss was not going to give in to such a voice, so the boy didn't mind.
"Why, of course! I want to show this to you guys!"
"Huh?!" the boy blurted out in a strange tone, his expectations completely belied.
Apparently, boss' good mood was vastly exceeding all his predictions.
The girl, on the other hand, seized the opportunity and spoke while leaning forward into the transceiver, "Umm... if I'll crash into something, forgive me please?"
"I don't mind! One or two dents are no problem to fix! We even have a spare frame! We can fix it as many tim"
His voice broke off.
"Boss...?" asked the girl while tilting her head.
"Dunno. It suddenly turned silent."
The boy took the transceiver in his left hand and checked the LCD display. The battery wasn't empty. Neither was boss out of range for the signal yet. But it did not seem to be broken, either.
"...huh? Boy, what's that...?"
The girl pointed at the sky. Not the sky, to be precise, but the snow-white plane in it.
The contra-rotating propellers, which boss had proudly painted yellow to make them visible from afar, had almost stopped moving. It didn't look like they were rotating on their own, but because of the wind.
The beautiful white plane that had stopped moving started dropping step by step, tilting to one side.
It crashed into the softly swaying green ground.
The girl clung swiftly to his waist, whereas the boy opened the throttle of the super cub as if to answer her.
He turned the handle to the side and jumped out of the road into the definitely not low grass.
They rushed toward the crash site they could see between the grass while mowing down the grass in their way, which had grown about to their waist's height.
The sharp blades of the grass cut into their uncovered cheeks and arms, but they couldn't care less.
Cubby then suddenly arrived at a place where the grass turned low.
They unconsciously took a breath.
At this place, which was about a small square's size, was the snow-white plane.
Its nose had stuck in the earth, the fine plastic cockpit seat had been entirely crushed, the wing had been broken due to the blow against the ground, and the transparent film was fluttering in the wind.
The only parts that escaped the crash, the frame itself and the tail assembly, were stuck in the ground, poking out towards the sky, and seemed almost like a white, futuristic sculpture.
The two, who had completely frozen, suddenly came to and got off the super cub and ran—towards the "thing that had been an airplane", without caring about the falling over Cubby.
"Boy! Can we move this?!"
"Yeah! Take that side!"
The two grabbed the body that was stuck in the ground and pulled it out like operating a lever.
They could clearly hear the wings get twisted, but neither of them cared.
The tail assembly touched the ground whereas the crushed cockpit appeared.
The girl forcefully took off the windshield and looked into it — to find nobody.
Not even his clothes were left there.
They hardly exchanged any words after that. That is because it didn't require any explanation.
Boss had vanished. Not only he, but also his clothes and shoes along with him had suddenly disappeared from the cockpit. The microphone of the transceiver which he had worn was not to be found anywhere, either.
The two knew more than enough what that meant.
Boss had vanished.
In a few words they decided to carry the remains of the aircraft back to the warehouse. There was no special point in doing so, but they somehow did not wanted to leave it out in the open like that, therefore they started without dispute.
As the plane was disturbingly destroyed, the transport in itself was not hard.
They took apart what they could and cut apart with a hatchet for splitting wood what they could not, and carried the parts back.
They were finished so fast, it seemed unbelievable that it had taken so much effort to put it together.
The wide sky and the unreservedly shining sun were no different from an hour ago, but somehow they looked much duller.
They stood before the remnants of the aircraft in the warehouse.
"...I wonder where boss has gone," muttered the girl.
The boy shook his head, "I'm sorry. I don't know."
"...No one knows. Whoever you ask in the world, no one knows where they disappear to."
Neither of them suggested that he may have just vanished into nothingness, for that was what they and the rest of the world feared.
They didn't believe in heaven and hell, but neither did they want to believe that the ones who had disappeared had simply vanished as the word suggested.
"What are we going to do... with that?" asked the girl while squatting by the remains of the plane and gazed at its degenerated appearance.
The cockpit that had consisted of the absolute minimum of material had completely lost its former shape because of the direct crash with the ground.
The pedals and the motor were still somewhat intact, but the deformation and damage of those was heavy, making it very unlikely for them to soar up to the sky once again.
The wings had fallen apart entirely, and they found themselves unable to repair their twisted frame or the torn film. The body frame was still okay, but the connecting piece to the wings and the motor component, which had been connected to the cockpit, had gotten deformed, and the yellow propellers broke to pieces with two blades missing entirely. Thanks to the fact that the plane had crashed headfirst, the tail assembly was undamaged, but that didn't change anything.
The girl was not versed in mechanics, but she could easily imagine what fate was waiting for those remains.
"I'm afraid there's nothing we can do."
"But as boss said, there were spare parts in the container," the boy muttered.
The girl raised her face. "Can we fix it then?"
"I don't know. He said that there were enough parts to make one more aircraft, but without checking we don't know how much there really is."
The glimmer that had come in sight was too faint to be called hope.
The two had merely followed boss' instructions. They did by no means know how the plane was to be put together or what they were supposed to pay attention to. Above all, there was no point in assembling another aircraft as boss was no more.
"Shall we go then?" suggested the girl as she stood up.
"Go?" asked the boy.
The girl responded him with a, slightly acted, smile, "On our journey. Boss' job here has ended, but our journey is still going to continue, isn't it?"
After adjusting her clothes, she walked toward the nap corner.
"...True. Yeah, we're still on the way," he said and shook his head to recollect himself.
Right. They were aiming for the end of the world, after all. They had no reason nor the time to be lost here in grief.
The girl took a small scrap of film out of her pocket.
It was an extremely tin piece of polymer film, which looked like some wrapping at first glance. On it, however, were the black letters "Jonathanジョナサン", written with a marker. In this crawly handwriting they could still clearly sense his aura.
She inserted the piece of film like a bookmark into the thick assembling manual and put it in front of the remnants of the white plane.
The two went to the nap corner to collect and pack their things.
Because these two busy days had left them with quite a mess, they needed some time to get ready, but since they were used to it nonetheless, they managed to load everything onto Cubby within twenty minutes.
Making good on boss' promise, they filled Cubby's tank with gas and also decided to take some foodstuff, such as cans that seemed to last a while and rice, with them.
After that, with a silent understanding between them, they started to lightly clean the warehouse and the shed.
By the time they had finished all preparations and met up before their super cub in a corner of the warehouse, the clock was showing 08:00am.
"What are we going to do with the truck?" asked the girl.
"Do we even need to do anything with it? We don't need it, after all."
"...Oh dear! The whacked out trip on Cubby is still going to continue, huh..."
"If you talk like that, Cubby will sulk and break down!"
"That would be bad," she smiled wryly and inspected their provisions.
"Do we have water?"
"Yeah, I filled our bottles."
The boy finished inspecting the super cub, too, and put on his helmet.
"Alright. Are we set?"
The boy put a helmet on her head while she let out a strange voice.
"What? Are we missing something?"
"Umm... No, it's fine. Should be," she answered ambiguously.
The boy tilted his head and asked whether they should stay for a little longer, but this proposal was rejected.
"According to what boss told us, the neighboring town is quite far away, right? The sooner we leave the better."
"Well, you've got a point. So it's really fine?"
"Yeah. OK, OK!"
While being patted on the back, the boy sat down on Cubby.
He turned the key, upon which a light humming started to resound as always.
After making sure the girl was clinging to him, he opened the throttle and drove off, holding against the faint gravity that emerged.
Thinking back, they had only spent a mere two days here.
This was probably what it felt like to leave a place with painful reluctance. While knowing there was no point in staying in that warehouse, it felt as though they were leaving something—something dear—behind there. They couldn't do anything about that reluctance.
He felt the girl press her head against his back and squeezed the handle.
It took only a few minutes until the warehouse had disappeared behind the hills of the road from the back mirror.
The boy did not stop even when the sun had finished its turn and had disappeared behind the horizon. It also held true that they were a little late due to accidentally taking a wrong road, but the main reason was of an emotional nature.
When he closed his eyes, all he could recall from boss' face had become awfully vague because of the vanishing. The same applied to his stature, his voice, and the way he had talked to them. Almost everything that had defined boss had lost its shape like ice in boiling water and melted, blending in the boy's miscellaneous memories.
Every time he tried to recall his appearance, which had suffered disintegration of its Gestalt, he only felt as if having a déja-vu. When he struggled anyway, his pathless thinking twisted and broke off, leaving only an uncomfortable nausea behind.
"Shall we take a break here?"
He couldn't bring himself to say this suggestion.
He frequently stroked the girl's arms which were put around his waist as he drove on. The loss of a near person had made him anxious about her existence, having shared almost every moment for three months with her. Just by thinking what if she vanished as well, he was struck by a gut-wrenching insecurity and had to stroke her hand again.
With his head, he did understand that it was highly unlikely for her to suddenly disappear as she was still in the initial stage. But while riding the bike, he could just not see her face. He felt as though she could vanish any moment if he forgot about her and couldn't calm down.
Seemingly aware of his feelings, the girl tightly clung to him, pressing her body against his.
Wanting to talk to her, he opened his mouth, and searching for a topic, he closed and opened it only to eventually leave it shut. After he had repeated this meaningless cycle multiple times:
In surprise at her sudden voice, his frozen hands convulsed and gripped the brake.
She screamed out because of the sudden full braking and the Super Cub span out of control. This was apparently enough to wake up his dulled primary motor cortex—he hurriedly balanced the bike out and stopped it.
"...S-Sorry. Are you okay?"
"Hey... are you really all right?"
The boy was doubting his state of mind even without her question. What had happened to Boss did by no means justify such a behavior while driving.
He ground his teeth in vexation of his fragile mind, and looked up at the sky.
"...Um. Anyway, what did you want to say?"
"...Look, doesn't this vicinity look like a village or something?"
She stretched out her arms from behind and turned the handle.
The headlight of their super cub lit their surroundings and revealed a deserted building to them.
They couldn't make out the details because the light created many shadows, but it was clearly someone's house. And there was not only one or two. Now that he thought about it, the on-going meadows scenery had suddenly broke off, and instead he had spotted many human-groomed things like copses and fields.
The girl took a map out of their luggage and took a look at it.
"Yeah. It's hard to tell because the names have gone, but this is probably a small village!"
The boy stopped the engine and took out two pocket lamps.
Lit by those two light sources, the appearance of the village became apparent.
He heard how the girl held her breath behind him.
Ruins. What they found were ruins.
Originally, this had probably been a village of decent size. There were large fields, many houses, and wide premises—as was usual for this island—with light trucks parked on.
However, there was not a soul. There was no single resident in this village.
Most of the buildings had collapsed due to snowfall of the past winters, looking as thought they had been trampled down, and those that were not had gaping holes in their roofs. The sheets that were still hanging from the clothesline had turned into old dustcloths.
Somewhere they spotted a light truck with an opened door. Somewhere else they discovered a satchel in the middle of the street. In the middle of a field there was a tractor that had gone stale there.
Even though there were traces of the habitants everywhere, there was not a soul. Only the crying of the insects and the blowing of the wind filled the air.
He felt his heartbeat grow heavy. He knew this feeling.
The capital, the nameless metropolis they had abandoned, the town that had lost more than 80% of its population and its entire functionality, was the same.
The convenience store on the way to school, the footbridge across the big intersection that had become empty of cars and whose traffic lights had stopped working, the lightless skyscraper he had gazed at from school at dusk.
His heart was spurred on by the distressing lack of people where there should have been.
She plucked at the sleeve of his shirt.
He turned around and found the girl stuck to his back, trembling fiercely.
"Boy... I don't like this place," she mumbled with her gaze focused on one point.
The object that was horrifying her so much was a red satchel that lay on the street.
"Let's go. I don't want to be here. Not for one second."
He nodded and quickly stuffed his lamp into his pocket.
He started the engine, put on his helmet, accelerated rather crudely and hit the nightly road again.
This village resembled their town too much.
Sealed memories were released again and caused cold shivers to run down their spines.
Silence enveloped the village once more.
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