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Primate hominids are an outmoded existence now.
Many of the cities that once dotted the surface have been swallowed up by nature. There aren’t many places where humans can live now; humanity’s decline is truly striking. The population continues to dwindle, and politics, war, crime, economics and discrimination are all in the past.
Instead, the Fairy race has now taken the spotlight. The word humanity now refers to the Fairies.
As a UN mediator, my job is to mediate relations between the faeries and us old humans. Their scientific prowess is far above our own, and their spirits tend to be on a hair-trigger. That’s why mediation as a job still exists, even with the world as tranquil as it is.
The Camphorwood mediation office is currently staffed by three members.
My grandfather, who happens to be the chief of this place.
And finally, the Assistant. There’d been a spot of trouble with him and the fairies last time. It was quite a puzzling affair, but I am relieved to say the incident has been resolved. Right now, he’s quietly writing at the desk he’s been given.
A doll is suspended from the window sill. It sways like a hanging corpse in the gentle breeze flowing in from outside.1 It makes for quite an elegant sight.
“… Shall we have tea?”
At our mediation office, tea time may be enjoyed five times a day. There’s not much else to do, after all.
It’s June. Prime season for that most wonderful of fruit, the strawberry.
An overwhelming nobility, expressiveness that captivates the hearts of all who witness it, a vivid rufescent color palette, and that form, ever so reminiscent of the finest of masterpieces… Such a masterwork may very well be eaten as-is, but when used as a pastry ingredient, its potential is multiplied a thousand times over.
Which brings us to the dessert of the day, bedecked with strawberries galore.
Grandfather sticks a bookmark that looks like a primitive human with a huge head into the book he’s reading, and raises his head.
“What’s the tea cake looking like today?”
“A cheesecake bursting with strawberries. Well chilled.”
A moist cheesecake sandwiched gently between strawberries and cream, with a drizzle of strawberry sauce on top. I’m proud of it, frankly. Even just a slice of this cheesecake could be considered a veritable treat, but there’s more…
As I cut into the round of cheesecake at the circular tea table, Grandfather, holding a teapot, and the Assistant, holding as many cups as there are participants, gather around.
“Assistant, pour the milk, please. Serve as much as we usually do.”
The Assistant nods. He grabs the milk pot by its doll-shaped handle. It has been chilled by the cold water in the waterway.
Cold milk pours into an elegant teacup that looks like it would break if boiling water were to do so much as touch it. The amount of milk depends on each person’s preferences. I like a moderate amount, the Assistant more, and Grandfather, less. Following this, the cups are topped off with hot black tea.
Isn’t it just lovely when the aroma of fresh tea spreads throughout the room as you pour it?
“Alright, time to dig in.”
With all three of us seated, all that’s left is to devour everything.
“… Aren’t you going to ring it?”
Grandfather gestures with his chin to a small table bell. Its handle is designed to look like an angel.
“Ah, that’s right. I forgot.”
I give the table bell a ring, and a sound with a lapis-blue timbre gently fills the room.
The hanging doll suspended from the window suddenly stretches its limbs and wriggles out of its noose.
The book on Grandfather’s desk suddenly pops open. This one, who’d been serving as a bookmark until just a moment ago, stands in a banzai pose in the middle of the open book.
The fairy adorning the milk pot jumps up and down.
“I’ve been waiting!” “FOOOOOOODDDD!” “FEEEEEEVEEEEEERRRRRRR!”
The fairies pinned to corkboards, the tube-holding fairies hard at work as pen-holders, the pairs of fairies standing in for book stands, and last but not the least, the fairy who’s been playing the angel of the table bell, all gather on the table.
“It’s lively again today.”
Human-loving fairies. They’ve become regular fixtures now, taking the place of various household items.
“Now, now, it’s all right here.”
And so, we have another lively tea break today.
“How’s the picture book going, Assistant?”
“My, a picture book?”
“I suppose I should’ve done this sooner, but I thought art would be good. To improve his emotional intelligence, you see.”
The Assistant fetches a sketchbook from his seat.
“You mean you’re drawing a picture book instead of reading it?”
He silently holds it out to me.
What’s this, the picture book’s title? On the cover, in big letters, are the words 『Friends in the Forest』.
“Can I read it?”
The Assistant silently nods.
I place it on the table and open the first page for all to see. From the page burst light pastel illustrations and lettering.
“I’m surprised. You’re quite a good artist, aren’t you?”
The art doesn’t appear to care about perspective.
The page is all earth, no sky, and is dotted with trees and flowers, like a map. The art is simple, and the characters are rendered small, in equal standing to the trees and rocks arranged around them. Perhaps one could say it’s a style that doesn’t emphasize the characters, or perhaps it could be said to be a perspective that keeps its distance.
The main characters are two little yellow birds… chicks, I suppose.
『The two chicks, Tender and Wing, are best friends.』2
The picture book begins like this.
“This story seems quite peaceful, doesn’t it?”
The detailed art of the picture book seems to have piqued the fairies’ interest. They shuffle around the book with their mouths stuffed with cake.
“Graffiti?” “A manga, perhaps?” “Looks fun.” “We can’t come up with stories.” “Or maybe we can, but with horrible plots.” “But then, the pros wouldn’t forgive us?” “Nobody’d read them.” “Only humans can do stories right.”
How curious, a super advanced civilization that can’t make sweets or write stories.
(The second page)
『Tender and Wing were very hungry. They went looking for food in the forest.』
“Living hand-to-mouth?” “Picking up scraps?” “It’s a shame.”
The fairies casually condemn the writing.
(The third page)
『An acorn! Tender loves them! Because they look funny!』
“True, dat.” “Yup, yup” “We think alike” “Affirmative!” “Acorns are lovely things!”
There’s nothing I can’t turn into a sweet, but acorns are an unrewarding nut, for all the trouble they entail. Compared to walnuts, that is.
(The fourth page)
『A mushroom, discovered! Wing is a sucker for them, it seems.』
“If I see a mushroom, I sits.” “They always become chairs.” “But without tables.” “Good for walks?”
A fairy could sit on a mushroom, couldn’t it.
(The fifth page)
『An awfully large egg fell down. Tender and Wing decided to turn the egg into an omelet.』
The story spends a while elaborating on the painstaking process of cooking the giant egg.
It’s a pretty solid story, and I find myself unable to stop turning the page. If he can write a story like this, I doubt he needs much training in emotional intelligence.
(The tenth page)
『Finally, the omelet is done! But Goodness! The omelet smells so nice, all the friends in the forest have come over to have a bite!』
(The eleventh page)
『Squirrel, Rabbit, Mole, Mouse, Cat, Boar, and Lion - Everyone’s here, so let’s eat!』
“Looks like the next page is the last… Hm?”
Grandfather impatiently takes a peek at the final page. The way the story’s going, I’d expect everyone to eat the omelet and have a happy ending, but… For some reason, Grandfather looks extremely troubled.
“Let me see!”
I turn the last page.
And witness a shocking scene.
(The twelfth page)
“Thanks for the meal♪”
『Lion, who came last, ate all the other Friends in the Forest!』3
“Put him on an emotional intelligence course, ASAP!”
It seems the Assistant’s heart still harbors a deep, murky darkness!
What a cruel ending this is!
Grandfather whispers to me so only I can hear.
“I’ve given it some thought, and it’s fair to say that’s how things really are… Like in the last page.”
“What are you getting at, sounding so impressed by this atrocious drawing?”
The last page has a ridiculously surreal composition, with a mountainous pile of animal bones next to a lion with a bulging stomach, all rendered in pastel shades.
“Don’t you think the very concept of friends in the forest is one grand deception?”
“That’s something to think about after growing up!”
“Indeed. It would be terrible if a real child were to read this.”
The fairies, however, are unfazed by the shocking punch line.
“It’s survival?” “The fittest, thereof.” “I see~” “An understandable conclusion?” “That lion managed to hoard all the good ingredients for himself!” “Real shi-”
They’re fine with it?
“We liked it!”
The Assistant and a fairy touch fingers, exchanging a mutual understanding only they would comprehend.
I can only say, the Assistant is better off reading picture books instead of writing them.
The caravan was scheduled to arrive at the end of May, but it is already a few days after June by the time it finally enters the village.
Several people with way too much free time are already gathered around the trailer parked in the village square, ready to begin festivities. Minor celebrations like this are a common sight.
Even if they don’t have any necessities to buy, or business to attend to with the caravan, it’s customary for people to show up when it arrives regardless. Even I, shy as I am, stop by when I have the ration tickets to spare.
A large tent, serving as a makeshift beer hall. A street stall, with crates lined next to it. Fruits, grain, dairy products, spices, toys, utensils, tableware, clothes… There are as many shops as there are people.
A bottle of lemon and pear jam. A blouse and skirt for the summer. A cooking knife. A large bottle of fruit pieces marinated in rum. Just as I’m about to leave for the house with these items in hand, I spot Grandfather through the hazy, oppressive heat of the square.
He seems to be talking to somebody from the caravan. I make to leave, thinking I shouldn’t bother him, but as I turn, his voice calls out to me.
“Hey, come over here for a sec!”
“… Yes, what is it?”
Grandfather introduces me to a slender man who looks to be about fifty.
“This is my granddaughter. Oi, this is the UNESCO Cultural Affairs Bureau Director.”
The Chief of Cultural Affairs? So he’s Super Important?
“Nice to meet you. I’m his granddaughter.”
“So you’re the granddaughter, huh? I’ve heard a lot of rumors. Looks like you’re working hard.”
This deluxe aura that only VIPs have is giving me the jitters.
“No… Not at all.”
“Mhohoho, I’ll be counting on you from here on out.”
I’m a little curious about those rumors he mentioned, but now’s not the time for such talk.
“Actually, there’s this new project being taken up at the UN. I’m here to discuss it.”
“A new project? Well, I never!”
“No, it’s the truth,” adds Grandfather. “It’s called the Human Monument Project. It’d actually been started a number of decades ago, but it ended up on the back burner for all those years.”
“Is it to be on a very large scale?”
“Correctamundo, Miss Granddaughter. It’s a very big plan. It’s worldwide, actually.”
“The plan is to preserve various records of our civilization within a high-capacity memory device, and build that into a monument to be left to the future.”
“You say various records, but surely there are a great many of them…”
“Yup. And we’re going after them all.”
“We’re summarizing all of humanity, you see. This monument must remain even after we’re gone; it has to act as a guide to whatever race matures and becomes Earth’s next ruler. That’s why we’re aiming to collect as much as we can of culture, science and history, Miss Granddaughter.”
I don’t like the way he calls me Miss Granddaughter.
“I think it’ll be difficult to make all that happen.”
Everything about humanity. Everything about nigh-illusory humanity.
Grandfather clarifies: “Gathering all records is, in the end, just an ideal. We’ll just end up scrambling to collect as much data as possible in the short term, wouldn’t we.”
“Would it all be collected as text?”
“No, we’re scraping together what we can with the technology we have left, to create a special apparatus that can store information. We’ll then input all the data we’ve gathered into it. Since that machine will be put inside a monument, it’s going to have to be really sturdy. We’re currently looking into a Monolith-type structure.”
The word monolith conjures up a picture of a monument fashioned out of a single large mass of stone, but for some reason, there seems to be a particular fixation upon black, cuboidal structures4 that this word invokes. I suppose he was actually referring to that very kind, when he mentioned a Monolith.
“And we’ll do this with only the technology available to us humans?”
It’s quite a hefty task to take up as a hobby, given our race is in retirement.
“It’ll probably take more than a few years to complete the monument, though.”
“Why don’t we borrow the fairies’ power?”
“… Do you think things would go even remotely as planned if we did?”
Fairy technology is all about enthusiasm.
“I’ve heard you’ve got quite the relationship with the fairies. The rumors have reached even us, you know.”
“It came to that, did it…”
“But no, no fairies for now. We’ll be gathering information from all over. There are many ruins of old cities around even just Camphorwood. Combine that with the good Professor’s own expertise and his extensive library, and you see why this area is such a treasure trove of information, don’t you? Of course, I expect great things of you as well, Miss Granddaughter.”
“It seems the village will assist in our investigation of the city ruins as well.”
“It really is large scale, isn’t it.”
It isn’t known exactly how long ago it all happened, but much of the ruins around the village have been overtaken by the forests. This investigation is inevitably going to devolve into a high-effort, low-return affair, I suspect.
“At the very least, it would be good if there are any ruins that still have live electricity.”
Right now, humans can only generate the bare minimum amount of electricity to suit their needs.
“We won’t have any problems there,” asserts Grandfather. “We’ve been tracking every functioning power satellite still in orbit for a long time now. We know exactly what control codes to send as well, so as long as we have a working energy receptor antenna, we’ll have power in a jiffy.”
“Would there be enough electricity to go around for anything anybody would want to do?”
“No, it’s for research purposes only. Research sites the world over have to take turns using this energy, so it isn’t generally available.”
And here I thought the curtains were rising on a comfy life for me.
“That’s just how the cookie crumbles, Miss Granddaughter. I’m hoping for your cooperation in our investigation as well.”
All I can do is give a halfhearted reply.
I mean, this is a big, troublesome job. It would be quite a shame if the project were to fail.
A young man from the village runs up to us, panting.
“Umm, Professor, you got a moment?!”
“I heard there’s a meteorite that’s hit a field over that way!”
“So, this is the meteorite in question?”
Grandfather seemed to want to continue talking to the bureau chief, so he sent me and the Assistant ahead. The most he’s ordered us to do is secure the crime scene, though, which goes to show how much he trusts us. And by secure the crime scene, I mean keep any curious spectators away until Grandfather gets here, so he can begin his investigation.
Now that I’m here, I see that there isn’t much of any serious damage.
This is a fallow area on the outskirts. There aren’t any witnesses, and there are no fires. There’s virtually nothing to even do.
“Still, let’s secure it for now.”
The Assistant and I isolate the crime scene with stakes and rope.
“But, well… this is…”
In the center of the ten-meter-wide crater is what looks like a thirty-centimeter-long black metal plate sticking out at a slant.
“It looks like a monolith.”
When I touch it, I’m surprised at the complete lack of heat. If it had come from space, I believe it would have heated up quite considerably due to friction with the atmosphere.
“This is artificial, isn’t it?”
The Assistant nods firmly.
I’ve heard that humans used to be very technologically advanced as well.
“So a thing like this was drifting about in orbit until it finally fell recently?”
I’d say that sounds about right. Though, it’s not as if the two of us can reach a reasonable conclusion with just our wisdom here. We don’t know a thing about the universe. We’re going to have to wait for Grandfather to come, anyhow.
Something approaches us like a torpedo, disturbing the plains full of short grass as it does. It snakes toward us at high speed and jumps about vertically when it’s right in front of us.
It’s a fairy.
“Did something fall down?”
“Looks like it. See?”
“Oh, well, well, well, what a deep black…”
The fairy pats at the monolith’s surface without fear.
More fairies arrive from every direction with a rustle.
“Bonjour!” “We’re here!” “Something fell?” “Let’s mix it up!”
“Mmm, roll call.”
The five fairies line up side by side.
“Number one!” “Second!” “Tres!” “Left!” “Right!”
All five of them are in perfect sync! (A lie)
“Is this Monolith the work of fairies?” I consult the five of them.
A representative steps forward.
“This is the first time I’ve seen this thing.”
So it really is a product of human technology?
I pick it up, only to find it is surprisingly light. It weighs about five kilograms.
Let’s give it a shake. I hear a rattling sound. Is it hollow?
“Is it rattling?” “A freebie?” “A false bottom?” “Hidden in a lil tote, ’s what she wrote!” “How commercialistic of them~”
I can’t help but retort, “In what era is this conversation supposed to be comprehensible?”
“Huh?” This lightness, this sound. I’m beginning to think it’s just a piece of junk.
I can feel every ounce of curiosity and interest leave my body.
“Oi, how’s it going?”
“Ah, Grandfather. About this…”
“You touched it? Don’t you know what securing the crime scene means… Whatever, hand it over here.”
He seems a little flustered that I’ve beaten him to the punch.
“A monolith? I heard it was a meteorite… Are you saying this fell from the sky?”
“There’s a crater, right? It was sticking out the middle.”
“… It’s too light. What is this? This thing’s so light it’s barely even there. This has got to be a prank! When you think of a meteorite, it’s usually something like what caused the K-Pg boundary (The boundary between the Cretaceous and the Paleogene ages)5, which wiped out all the dinosaurs. How’s this one so… light? It’s like a cookie tin.6”
“At the very least, it doesn’t seem to be a fairy prank.”
“… A human prank, huh?”
Grandfather flips it over, and upside down, thoroughly inspecting the monolith from up close. But eventually, as if to tear his interest in it away, he holds the metal plate at a distance.
“But what if it really did fall…”
“That’s impossible. It would’ve burnt up in the upper atmosphere. I just can’t sense the severity of space from this metal slab.”
Grandfather tosses the monolith back into the center of the crater.
“… It’s definitely a prank.”
“Let’s go home.”
Grandfather starts walking.
“Heey, Assistant, we’re going home!”
The Assistant stands on the other side of the gently sloping hill, captivated by a lush green area that appears to cling to the foothills quite conspicuously. I immediately know what has drawn him in.
“Over there’s a city.”
The Assistant is terribly taciturn and often communicates through nothing but the tears in his eyes, his demeanor, and his gestures.
“Yes. An old city. It’s what we call a ruin. No one lives there now. It’s a perilous place, with packs of wild dogs, and other dangerous things.”
“Huh? Sounds interesting? Are you interested in the city?”
For the Assistant, who lived alone as a child, I wonder if a city is something he looks to with a certain kind of longing.
“Oh, interested in urban ruins, are you, Assistant? Perfect timing.” Grandfather seems to be thinking about the Monument Project. “If you’re interested, would you like to come?”
The Assistant stares at Grandfather and nods slightly.
“You’re coming too.”
“… I was prepared for that, so I don’t mind.”
“Going on a trip?” “We wanna go too!” “Can’t we come?”
Grandfather speaks with a different attitude from when he interacts with me.
“I’m sorry. This is an investigation we humans have to conduct on our own.”
“… I see.”
The fairy’s round eyes aren’t any different from usual, but they seem to waver sadly nonetheless.
“You can send a representative with us if they promise they won’t kid around like usual.”
“’s that okay?”
“Only if they’re quiet.”
“Yaaaay!” “Let’s hold an election!” “Who’s the quietest!” “Dunno!”
A discussion starts whose end shows no promise of coming in sight.
“What should we do with this monolith?”
“Leave it alone.”
Leaving it as is, we return to the office.
The fairies, for their part, have disappeared without coming to a conclusion.
It’s been a few days now, and the commotion about the meteorite is long gone from my memories.
It’s about to turn evening, and I want to make it back home before dark. So, I head down the village’s main street with a mind to have a bit of fun at the distribution center before I go home.
“Wh-What is this…?”
It’s as lively as a festival.
Unfamiliar-looking people weave about chaotically, with scaffolding built high, hiding the buildings of the main street. The workers are building up the scaffolding not only on the ground but even in midair, so it’s only natural that I feel something is up.
Upon closer inspection, I see carriages and carts full of luggage everywhere. Strewn among this assortment of vehicles are a few food carts. I spot the odd automobile as well, a rare sight in the region.
While I try to figure out whether it’s okay to cross the central square within which all the work is concentrated, I catch the lady from the distribution center walking by from the opposite direction.
“Um, could you tell me what all this commotion is about?”
“Oh, the Miss from the Professor’s house. I heard they’re preparing for a festival.”
“Were there ever any plans for this festival?”
“Apparently, it was all decided in a hurry.”
This lady herself is apparently on her way to help a chef in their kitchen by request. After I thank her and see her off, I absentmindedly gaze about at my vicinity, which is positively bustling compared to when I’d been here in the morning. This festival is quite a sudden one. I suppose, then, that the strangers here are composed of the organizers, as well as people who hail from the other villages nearby, having come to help with the preparations.
The square is unusually crowded, with loud voices that are usually rarely heard calling out here and there. It’s so lively that it seems there may be more guests than locals here.
As I continue to watch, I see a man carrying what looks like a bundle of black rope running over to a fellow worker.
“Is this the right cable?”
“Yeah, this is it. This was what I saw them using to connect stuff twenty years ago.”
It seems that it is a bundle of industrial-grade electrical cabling.
Another man is rolling up a different length of cable around a bobbin big enough to wrap one’s arms around.
“Hey, is this one different? It’s got a socket like they’d asked for.”
“Ahh, this is just for decorative lighting.”
“What’s decorative lighting?”
“It’s a shining decoration.”
“… What’s that good for? How’s it different to a normal light?”
“This thing isn’t gonna be much good as a light if it’s got such colorful bulbs.”
“Hmm. So we don’t need it?”
“Why not? Just put it up somewhere. The boss asked us to bring out all the electronics we could find, so.”
“Okay, let’s just hang it up at home sometime.”
He puts the cable back on his shoulder and disappears into the ever-lively sea of noise.
“Ah-hem! Mic test! Mic test!"
A harsh crackle reverberates around us like a hammer blow. It feels like a physical explosion, so most of the surrounding people are rendered speechless along with me. But even that is only for an instant.
“Did it break just now?” “Nah, the speaker was just crackling a bit.” “Are you sure we can get it working before the festival starts?” “I told you, it ain’t broken.” “I thought my eardrums got blown in, man.” “That really startled me.” “Hey, mount it higher up. This won’t work.”
The speaker, the source of the sound, has been placed directly on the ground in the square. Several young people take the lily-shaped horn speaker away.
I suppose it’s because they don’t use it very often.
“Hey, Miss Granddaughter. A good day to you.”
“Ah, Mr. Director… Hello.”
I’m a little flustered by my boss’s sudden appearance.
This gentleman in a three-piece suite is wearing a safety helmet instead of his usual headpiece, just for today.
“No hat today?”
“Indeed. It’s an established theory in the field of gentlemanlyness that true gentlemen wear special helmets that embody the ideals of SAFETY FIRST in places like this.”
I didn’t know there was such a field…
“Does this festival have something to do with the Monu-helmet7 Project?”
“The Human Monument Project. As you said, when we lay down the power supply to the city ruins, we’ll be routing any extra power to this village. It’s going to be a frontline base for our research, after all.”
“Can all the villagers use that electricity too?”
“I should add that we aren’t on a timer with this. The energy coming from geostationary orbit is inexhaustible. It’d be a waste to keep all this energy only for research purposes. That’s why we’ve decided to hold a Festival of Electricity, where people can ‘Come, See, and be Amazed’ this summer. There’s no better way to describe the culture of us primates than through electricity, after all.”
“C-Culture…? This has become quite a grand thing, hasn’t it.”
“It’s only for a few days, of course. It’ll be like a revival of civilized life in a way, Fufufu!”
Thank you very much for your kind words.
I turn my eyes back to the state of the square.
“And that’s why there’s this commotion.”
“The electricity will be running for a while, but we’re spending a suitable amount of time in preparation. This will be a big festival. We’ve also notified the surrounding areas, and transportation’s been arranged too.”
What this VIP Director is doing is on a very large scale.
“There are indeed a lot of vacant houses in this village, so we should also be able to easily provide lodging and other facilities to any visitors.”
“Isn’t that right? I’m sure this work will be something for everybody here to be proud of. Lots of young people will gather here. There’ll probably be all kinds of fussiness and trouble involved, so yes, let’s have you take charge of all the youngsters. How about it?”
“Um, I think I’ll be busy with the investigation, so…”
“Oh, that’s true, isn’t it. Miss Granddaughter has the fairies’ protection, after all. I suppose it’s only right for you to be in the exploration team. It’s a pity.”
For the VIP Director, this festival seems far more important than investigating the ruins.
A young man from the village is here.
“What is it?”
“The members of the Boys and Girls Science Club are here.”
“Please bring them here. Miss Granddaughter, I’m sure you think I’ve been too preoccupied with the festival, but I’ve also taken the time to summon the youngsters who’ll be participating in this investigation.”
After a while, a group of elderly people arrive.
“Where is the Director?”
“Ah, excuse me, but who may you be?”
The aged representative’s beard bristles.
“The Boys and Girls Science Club.”
It seems the Director has summoned youngsters from about half a century ago.
As the days pass, the work grows more hectic.
For the time being, my job is to ferry Grandfather’s things about in preparation for the investigation. In other words, I’ve become an errand girl.
Provisioning supplies such as the tents we’ll live in and the food we’ll consume, listing out all the necessary equipment and personnel, arranging for lodging and meals for those of us who’ll require it until we leave for the expedition, ensuring there’s a point of contact for any complaints from the village, keeping the minutes of every single meeting, assisting in all manner of greetings, drawing up and submitting all manner of administrative charts, preparing all kinds of tea servings──
There’s a mountain of work to be done to ensure that the investigation can proceed without a hitch. The most frightening thing about this job is that because it involves so many people, the problems begin piling up as soon as I lose contact with any of them. No rest for the small cogs in this machine. What a demanding job.
“Hey, how’s that matter coming along?”
That’s all I’m asked whenever I show up at the office.
If you show up at the office, this is it.
What about this matter? How’s this going? How’s that going?
“… There are about twenty things we need to be done with before we can move on to that item, I’m afraid.”
“The total count for the expedition’s members has been decided.”
“Ah, you mean… You should’ve said so sooner.”
I’ll have to give Grandfather the list I’d made up for this.
There are dozens of people participating. We’re trying to survey an entire city, so I suppose that’s a given.
Grandfather is the leader of this research team. I could swear this lineup is rigged. Every member of the Boys and Girls Science Club will be working under him. Apparently, every last one of them is a graduate.
“The average age of this team is awfully high; are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Even I’m a bit inexperienced by this group’s standards. However, we do have some more youthful assistants too. Like you.”
“This is the first time I’ve participated in an expedition like this!”
“It’ll be a good learning experience, to make up for all the trouble you’ve caused.”
I don’t particularly want to learn anything…
“Ah, speaking of studying.”
Even with the festival and the expedition on the horizon, all the Assistant does is read picture books all day. Even now, he’s sitting at his desk, back straight, silently reading one of those stories where some anthropomorphized denizen of the forest goes about their frivolous day, learning some kind of life lesson while they’re at it.
The pile of picture books on his desk has been restocked many times over the past few days, and it’s difficult to say exactly how many hundreds of wild tales he may have read at this point. He’s the type of person, who, if given a job to do, would silently keep at it, never stopping unless he’s either told to stop or is unable to continue.
What I mean to say is, that there’s a lot of work I’m doing right now that I could very well just leave to him. Things like making rosters, processing complaints and raising funds.
“… You’re holding a fundraiser?”
“It’s for getting people with old currency to donate research material to us.”
“Ahh, things like old coins. May as well collect that data if it’s there, I guess. Still, it’s inefficient.”
“Isn’t that because this whole plan to collect all information about human history is fundamentally inefficient anyway?”
I seem to have hit a sore spot because Grandfather has gone quiet.
“So, to be honest, I wish he could take a break from reading his picture books and help me out with things…”
“Uh-huh, NOT happening.”
I think it’s quite a reasonable proposal, but Grandfather waves his hand about as if to say it’s out of the question.
“You’ve made it till here, so you may as well take the trouble to finish. Take as much trouble as you’d like. That way, you’ll gain a good feel for just how fearsome responsibility can be, hm?”
“But what about on the day when the expedition actually starts…”
“Oh, he’ll still be a part of the expedition, of course. But there’s a few things I’ll need him to memorize first.”
“Something you need him to remember?”
I feel a tug on my sleeve and turn to notice that the Assistant has gotten up and is next to me.
“Huh? You finished reading all the books? My.”
“Hoh, you’re done, are you? That should be all the picture and children’s books we have.”
“Indeed. There must have been about five hundred of them. I’m quite surprised at how quickly he’s gotten through them all. I believe this many should be enough as a foundation.
“That’s an awfully big foundation.”
“Everything you read is etched into your consciousness, and even if it doesn’t lead to any immediate changes, it’ll all eventually enter your psyche and bear fruit. This concludes his emotional intelligence training.”
“Ah, then he’ll be able to help me out?”
“No, not quite.”
Grandfather goes into the library-esque room next door, and returns with about ten different books. Every one of them is a difficult-looking technical tome.
“You’ll be reading all this next, Assistant.”
I’m dumbstruck when I spot the titles of these books on their spines.
- “Classic Computer Science for Three-year-olds”
- “Now You Know! Information Theory”
- “A 60 Minute Laminated Program Module ～ Foundations and Application of Researcher Architectures”
- “Let’s Learn COBOL ～ You’ll Never Go Hungry Ever Again ～”
“You’re dumping all that on him!?”
“With his comprehension skills, he should be able to read this much.”
“What exactly are you trying to accomplish by making him read all this anyway!? … Wait.”
I realize what Grandfather’s trying to do as I say this.
“Is- is he going to be in the expedition?”
Grandfather’s eyes have a dangerous glint in them.
“So you noticed…”
“You’re trying to make the Assistant an expert in computer science, aren’t you?”
Classical computer science is said to be an incredibly difficult field.
Due to the constant technological evolution that has occurred over the ages, what used to be common knowledge in each era has ended up dying, abandoned to time. Information has become fragmented and irrecoverable. It’s very difficult to investigate IT equipment that has been passed down over the generations. And the older a device is, the harder it is to study.
It is said that there have been many information blackouts in the past. However, by exploring the city ruins, we may be able to recover information and technology that spans generations.
To do that, expertise is essential, but it’d be impossible for me or Grandfather; we’d be out of our depths. I’ve heard that there are many experts in the Boys and Girls Science Club, but only a few of them are in this difficult field. It’s not like I can’t understand why Grandfather would want the Assistant, - who’s young, and a fast learner to boot - to make computer science his major field of study.
“Even so, there’s a limit to how much you can achieve with such hasty preparation.”
“That may very well be. But I think it’ll be good for him too.”
“It’s a necessary skill for an explorer, but…”
I try to imagine a future with the Assistant hard at work, exploring city ruins in spectacular fashion with a whip on his belt… but I can’t.
“But this is a great opportunity for him. I’m sure he’ll come in touch with many other scholars as well. Don’t you think it’d be good to guide him in this direction, given how he is?”
“That’s if there’s anything useful he’ll even get from talking to those grandpa-fessors.”
Grandfather puts his hands on the windowsill and looks off into the distance.
“We’ve got nothing to lose.”
“… How irresponsible.”
It seems my days of running this whole operation single-handedly aren’t ending any time soon.
The two chicks are basically named chicken tender and chicken wing. But that would look stupid in English, so I shortened the names down. I would have named tender tendie, but felt like that was too on-the-nose. ↩︎
I think a better name for this picture book would be Happy Forest Friends (iykyk). ↩︎
Yup, like in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I really should see that movie. ↩︎
The original text refers to the Paleogene age as the Tertiary age, but that’s now been renamed. The K-Pg boundary is known to be the point where the dinosaurs went extinct. Here’s the wiki article on the K-Pg (formerly, K-T) boundary. ↩︎
Think Danish cookie tin. ↩︎
Thought this was a typo at first, but it isn’t. The original text was モニュメット (monyumetto). メット (metto) means helmet. ↩︎