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You know how you get jolted awake when you fall while dreaming?
That’s what it feels like right now.
I’m actually upright, standing in the middle of the road, but my heart is still pounding as if I’ve just slipped and fallen, and my limbs are tense and wary.
“Was I sleepwalking?”
That’s just bananas-erm, I mean, assinine!1
Do I have heatstroke or something?
Anyhow, after slacking off for a bit and then getting terrorized by a war chariot, I proceed to my destination for real this time.
As the village gets closer, the dirt path changes to stone pavement, and the number of people passing by increases.
The rows of houses aren’t uniform, either.
The vividly painted pink, green, and blue streets give off a sense of harmony as if they were designed that way from the start. Perhaps it’s because their time is nearly up. Seeing this lively atmosphere that ruins could never replicate fills even my reticent self with something akin to relief.
As I approach the main street, I see people living in peace, with the shade of the streetside on their backs, old people napping in their chairs under the eaves, and women chatting happily.
It’s as if the entire village has become one giant pub.
Now then, the Lamb and Olive is a rental house facing the circular plaza up ahead.
It used to be a tavern, and when bazaars and the like are held, it usually goes back to being one. But when it isn’t busy being a pub, it comes in handy as a meeting spot, owing to the distinctive sign showing a lamb holding an olive branch.
So, I’m here… And so is he.
In front of the building, right below the sign, is a small youth wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
“… Huh… Is that the Assistant? He doesn’t look like it…”
Putting aside my hasty conclusions, he’s totally just a kid. He’s got a gun belt on his hip, just like one of those westerns, and he’s even wearing a ten-gallon hat.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s got to have a lab coat on, but this kid just looks like a brat.
He looks positively feral…
“A feral kid?”
Something bothers me about this… Or does it?
Speaking of which, his getup gives me the image of delinquency… but when I think of the word feral, I can’t help but gravitate towards the idea of a child who’s grown up without any human contact.
It comes with rather heavy connotations, like being unable to understand words, or being emotionally unstable, or eating like a savage because they never had an education. It’s not a word to use lightly.
It’s possible that the boy isn’t the Assistant.
But talking to children is nice and simple.
“Hello, are you the assistant?”
The heck, I got it right, first try?!
“So, you the one I’m replacin’ over at the ol’ mediation office?”
“… I’m not your predecessor; I’m more of a junior, really…”
“Hot damn, you work for me?! Awesome! I didn’t think I’d be gettin’ a promotion an’ all so soon!”
The boy takes a leap (with incredible power), hangs from the signboard, and claps his feet to express his delight. He’s a regular chimp.
“Your juniors aren’t minions for you to order around.”
He’s so energetic… It’s all in one ear and out the other.
His eyes shine bright as if proudly proclaiming, “I’m invincible!”
… I’m bushed.
“I can’t wait to get into the grind; I’m in perfect form!”
The villagers nearby all giggle thoughtfully at the sight.
I’m so embarrassed…
But the person in question isn’t in the least.
Now that he’s a dweller of the earth once more, the boy looks me up and down without restraint. He isn’t licking his lips, so I don’t think he means anything by it…
“Hmm. So-so, I guess. Your clothes and your hairdo are pretty sloppy. If you wanna catch my eye, you’ll need to show more skin. And it’s not like you got no boobs on ya, a shame, really. How ‘bout you show yourself off a bit more? Gimme a lil’ something like, ‘Ahn, I wanna breed so hard♪,’ ya know?”
“Hey, big girl, you can call me Doc.”
“… I see you haven’t bothered to learn from the boss monkey2 on the hill that discriminatory statements based on physique could be instant grounds for harassment lawsuits according to old civil codes…”
“Pheew, I could eat a horse right now!”
The boy suddenly sits down on the spot with his legs crossed, takes a package out, unwraps it, and begins munching on some fish and chips.
He sure is taking things at his own pace, isn’t he?
“Man, I just love greasy stuff… but-”
The little brat finishes his meal in the blink of an eye and takes out two apples from inside the ten-gallon hat around his neck.
“Here ya go, sis.”
“…Th-Thank you very much.”
He rubs his apple against his aloha shirt and digs in.
A delicious-looking apple with a strong aroma. This apple is sinless. But I can’t eat it as-is; maybe I’ll bake it into a pie later…
“How ‘bout ‘Ringo Kid’? Coz, ya know, ‘Ringo’ means ‘Apple’.”3
“I’m talkin’ ‘bout my Super Name, capiche? I’m more about that Doc Holliday4 look, but Ringo Kid just sounds better, dunnit?”
“… Do you mean like from those western movies? What’s a super name?”
I’m not well-versed in such things…
“Damn straight! Westerns are awesome! You should watch some! They’ll get you wet!”
“Means you’ll feel like breeding!”
The boy’s hand firmly grasps my chest.
I- I can’t… This is taking me a while to process; I mean, I’m in shock!
“… Y- you- to-to-touched my… You just- you- touched… you touched-”
“Eh, pretty average. Wait, no, more than average… Wow, maybe she’s actually… A catch?”
“Ringo Kid comes off as a bit of an intellectual, a bit of a skank, a bit of a bad guy, doesn’t he?”
“As if I’d know!”
“A super-name’s like a middle name or a nick-name, got it? It’s a name that suits my super-self, that speaks from the soul, like, a soul-name!”
He hops! (As he continues on) He skips! (While talking his head off)
“… I’m done.”
“You’re lookin’ down. What’s wrong? You tired?”
“Says the one tiring me out…”
The boy continues to enjoy his apple. He pops the entire thing into his mouth, core and all, and crunches away as if he were some kind of trash compactor. He’s even eating the seeds.
… I feel full just by watching him.
“Delish! You know what they say, an apple a day keeps the doctor away!”
He stands up with a grin.
“Hah… I see.”
I mutter my complaints about how high-and-mighty he’s acting just because he happens to have a hot doctor on retainer.
“Yanno, I used to go to a pretty cool school, but they found out I was breedin’ with a seriously hot teacher lady there, and then they told me to get out; what a drag, huh? ‘Course, I refused, but then they made me take a weird test and stuff.”
“B-breed…! H-How old are you, even?”
I’m just speechless.
“So, I took their test, but it was too easy, so I graduated. Man, can you believe they made me skip like a million grades? I mean, I had a lot more learnin’ to do, ya know, but nothing doin’, I had to leave. There were other schools I could’ve gone to, but I decided to work on the field instead, get some practical experience, ya hear me?”
“Lemme level with ya. I’m just your everyday genius, see? But since they kicked me out, I guess they decided to toss me a bone and let me skip some grades. Wait, I even graduated from university at this age. Doesn’t that make me like the greatest genius ever or somethin’? Man, learnin’s become a chore lately. I guess it’s coz there aren’t as many kids around? It’s got me super jittery, ya know, like, they’ve stuck a huge target on my back an’ all!”
Is this kid from a different planet?
I’d wager there isn’t a single common gene between us.
“If it were me, I’d probably just have a nervous breakdown…”
“Anyway, I’m gonna be the best mediator I can be. I hope there’s lots of tomb raidin’, gun slingin’ boulder trap evadin’, vine swingin’ evil cult defeatin’, hot blondie savin’ action waiting. Hey, how’s it been for you?”
“…I’d quit if I had to experience any of that!”
“That so? Shame. I’m a hot-romance type guy, myself. But, eh, whatever. I’m lookin’ forward to workin’ with ya, Sis!”
The boy jumps up to my head and presses his lips to my cheek from the side.
Since then, I’ve been guarding my cheeks with both hands while returning to the office.
He’d probably feel me up as he breathes if I allow him to get behind me, so I’m keeping him in front where I can see him.
Meanwhile, the perpetrator is busy whistling with his hands clasped behind his head, enjoying the scenic beauty of the vistas around him.
“You ever seen a fairy before?”
“I haven’t, so. Damn, I’d like to spot one ASAP. Aren’t they technically the new humanity? And we’re old humanity, right? But it really doesn’t feel that way, huh. It still feels like we’re the main characters of the world. I mean, aren’t humans amazing? You’ll get it if you watch a coupla’ westerns. They just kill whoever ticks them off. Feels like war’s always been in our blood, ya know?”
He can’t understand sarcasm and isn’t even aware I’m giving him the cold shoulder. I suppose I must resort to parrying his conversation away with minimal responses. I can only make my displeasure known through my voice.
All I have to do to complete my duty is to bring this boy – Ringo, Doc, Billy, Wyatt, or whatever else he wants to call himself – to the office. The rest shall be Grandfather’s mess to deal with. The end.
“By the way, did you know humans can’t survive for long if they don’t have access to quality dental care or good, cooked food? It’s a matter of gastric strength. We can’t eat hard-to-digest stuff.”
“I mean, you can get to a hundred with just a crazy level of skill! That’s just forcing it, though.”
“Breeding’s something that’s got to be done early. It’s the way the world works. Even animals have that time of the year when they’re at it, right? So, I think the sooner you breed, the better. Nature’s harsh that way, isn’t it?”
“…So that’s why you did the deed with your teacher?”
“I’m just super duper interested in living. So I’m really curious about things like breeding, making babies, and raising children. I’m a field man, so to speak. You get me?”
“… No, I don’t get you.”
“No? Well, whatever. You seem like the type who’d have something to say to a type like me, but don’t knock it till you try it… Hey, why’s that dog been following us this whole time?”
His gaze is fixed behind me, his eyes narrowed in caution.
A dull-looking dog stands about ten meters behind us.
“… I wonder if they keep much of this same breed back in the village.”
“Maybe? I wouldn’t know; I just got here.”
“Don’t tell me the same dog’s been sticking with me all this time…”
There’s something eerily human about that dog… I can’t help but feel uneasy; it exudes an aura unlike any dog I’ve seen before.
“Wow, you’ve got some rad kit on ya!”
He takes my hand and stares at my wrist.
“This watch has a sundial on it!”
“Ah, this thing… It’s got zero practicality, though… Why am I even wearing it again?”
I don’t know what possessed me to keep the watch on.
“What, you don’t want it? How ‘bout you give it to me?”
“Ah, hey… Wha- you- I’m only loaning that to you, you hear?”
He brazenly plucks the arm sundial off my wrist.
“Hey ho, to the ranch we go! Haha, this is great!”
“You’re prime insensitive researcher material; I’ll give you that.”
“Does it look good on me? Whaddya think?”
He’s jumping up and down, having immediately put the watch on. His joy is evident in his every movement.
“Ahh, Yeah… It does look much better on you than it does on me…”
“Nice, it’s got an anachronistic feel. It’s perfect for me. Sis, you’ve got a knack for gifting men. You’re a good woman! I wonder if I could fall for you. Can I fall for you?”
He’s too forward… I can’t react to him…
Like, what? Fall in love? How does he manage to say such things so casually?
“Where’s the sincerity… How do you just… say something like this?”
I can’t really put it into words.
“Sincerity? I have it in spades. I’ve got my own way of showing it. You’ll see soon enough.”
“N-no need, you can keep it to yourself… Just what are you planning…”
“Tch, stop freakin’ out so much. I’m just being honest with my desires.”
“You should be enjoying your youth as a youth…”
“Hey, you’re quite the dreamer, huh?”
… It certainly does seem that way.
But it’s depressing to hear that from another person.
“Well, why don’t you get used to it? You’re lucky you’ve got someone easy to talk to – like me – to keep you company! Isn’t that great?”
“… It’s not like I have zero immunity to stuff like this.”
Back in school, just in case… with a group of young boys…5
“There’s a difference between kids and men.”
“Well, I’m counting on you from here on out.”
He rubs my back in an overly familiar manner.
“…Umm… Could you… stop touching my butt…?”
I understand that there are men like this, but… I’m shocked to find the Assistant, about whom I’ve heard so much about, behaving like this.
A series of images cross my mind:
a skinny boy sitting on the ground with both arms restrained-
The doctor, talking to me-
Myself, wandering around forever, in search of someone-
These don’t seem to come from within my brain; it’s more like they’ve been imprinted onto my somatic senses… The memories seem to have a texture to them. No dream or illusion could feel this real…
I take a good look at the boy’s face.
Was this really what the Assistant’s face looked like when he was crouched down back then?
“Did you fall for me?”
“… I did not.”
“Wanna have a flamin’ hot affair?”6
“…I’ll put out those flames!”
I just don’t care anymore. Sigh.
“Let’s get to the office first…”
“Woah, she’s hot!”
A glamorous beauty passes by the two of us, and the youth’s eyes latch on instantly.
It’d be one thing if all he did was gawk, but he’s said it out loud. The beauty lets out a chuckle.
…Well, of course she’d be happy.
The boy quickly turns around and approaches the beautiful lady, ignoring me, whose face has been burning up with embarrassment.
He seems to be having a lively conversation with the lady, who’s come to a stop.
Overwhelmed by this open atmosphere, my feet are rooted to the spot.
While I hesitate, the beautiful woman and the boy have wrapped up their conversation.
“Hey, Sis! I’ve decided to have her show me around the village for a bit!”
“What did you say?”
“Give my regards to the boss! See you!”
The two of them link their arms and walk away.
I can’t move an inch.
This is unbelievable.
“You can’t just… Pick up girls on the job…”
Is this normal behavior? Am I too reserved? Or is that boy just too assertive?
“Oh, r-right…” I suddenly snap-to. “He’s from another planet.”
But even though we’re both humans, we’re truly worlds apart when it comes to interpersonal skills. That’s all there is to it.
I’ll have to go after him. It’ll be a problem if I don’t get him to the office, after all. Just my luck, and to think I’d finally found him…
When I pass by the dog…
My consciousness lurches.
That familiar dizziness hits me, and I am grabbed by the collar and pulled backward. A powerful force. As if caught within the gears of a machine, an unbelievable deluge of energy sweeps over me, forcing me to “reverse my direction”. The boy and the lady vanish into points in the blink of an eye.
Everything, scenery and all, slows down, then stretches out, and time and space begin contradicting each other.
A dog barks-
Some cheeky wordplay here; Watashi says “バナナ,” which is just the Japanese spelling of banana, then corrects herself and says “馬鹿な,” which is the Japanese staple “bakana.” ↩︎
So, Japanese zoos tend to put monkeys on a little hill. Japanese monkeys (the ones that like the hotsprings) tend to have pretty rigid social and familial hierarchies, and even establish dynasties. So if a young monkey doesn’t watch out, it could find itself holding the short end of the banana… See here (google translate it) for a few more details. Also, here’s a funny yahoo answers thread about a metaphorical monkey who wants to be the king of his own hill. ↩︎
This version of the Assistant is big on old westerner media, and Ringo Kid was a pretty iconic action comic about a dashing gunslinger in the ol’ wild west. It’s a totally American thing, no Japanese connotations afaics. Here’s a wiki article on him. ↩︎
Doc Holliday was one of the most famous lawmen in the wild, wild west, from back when deserts were deserted and if you didn’t keep your wits about, an outlaw would make dessert out of you. He was a friend of Wyatt Earp, who’s had quite a few stories written about himself, too. Have a look at Wyatt’s wiki article. ↩︎
What were you doing back then?! ↩︎
Assistant says “火遊びする？” which in one way means to play with fire; but it also means to have an affair. ↩︎