Authors: Shiden Kanzaki
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction
The boy sat hugging his knees in a corner of the cracked road, watching people pass by. The rain had turned the narrow road muddy, and there were a surprising number of people traveling on it, or sitting in protest and making a fuss about something.
If the boy strained his eyes, he could see an elderly man who had not received rations and was staving off hunger by gnawing at the roots of trees. The man’s eyes bulged, and his throat was extremely swollen. The boy could not look directly at the scene, since like most people who had once had no choice but to eat grass and bark, he knew that it would make him sick.
There was a man selling small pieces of crushed biscuits at an exorbitant price whose pockets were stuffed with ten-thousand-yen bills that were basically useless scraps of paper. But the man in question was skin and bones himself and seemed to be the one most in need of nutrition.
Behind him, at a hastily made barricade, the protestors were a mountain of black, carrying placards and yelling. The placards were not quite visible from where the boy sat, but they undoubtedly said “Let us live.”
They had all abandoned their possessions and homes, making a reverse evacuation into Tokyo. But not even Tokyo had the capacity to accommodate the entire nation’s refugees. Despite the plentiful open land, everyone pitched their tents close together in dense formations. The most certain method of keeping off the wind and rain was to take shelter inside a building, but it took a lot of courage to live inside half-destroyed office buildings and department stores that could collapse at any moment.
Before the boy’s eyes spread a scene he’d once thought existed only on TV: the end of the world. What everyone had in common were their dirt-covered faces and the despair and hopelessness that ate away at their hearts. The many who rejected this pitiful way of life had long since ended their lives to hold on to their dignity. Who in the world would believe that this moment was the present and that this place was the area around the capital of Japan?
Suddenly, the boy was overcome with a great listlessness, and his consciousness faded away. He didn’t know what he should do. He didn’t have a place to go home to, either.
Every day, countless numbers of people died, and the war just kept getting worse. The dead were either piled on top of one another and burned, or recently, to save fuel, they were being thrown into a mass grave and covered with dirt. These past few days, there wasn’t a day that went by without the smell of burning protein or rotting flesh.
The boy was sure he had been lucky. However, even if he tried to believe that he should be grateful that there’d even been a funeral, the sadness that oppressed him didn’t let up one bit, and blood continued to flow.
When he closed his eyes, the first thing that came to mind was a low, repetitive, monotone voice.
The boy had been made to sit in the front row of a room where the sound of chanting, cicadas, and a faraway wind chime mixed together. Two caskets were stretched out in front of a monk chanting prayers to Amitabha, and in front of those were a large number of flower wreaths offered in tribute. Almost buried beneath the flowers were pictures of the deceased smiling brightly.
The boy’s stomach twisted with pain, and he squeezed the fist on his knee so hard that his whole body shook. He hung his head in shame as
the teardrops he tried to hold back dripped down his nose. The stain spread on his already-soaked pants.
It was only a week earlier that the area where the boy lived had become the site of a bloody battle with the invasion of the Gastrea. As jet engines of missiles and the flames of mortars dyed the night sky crimson, the boy’s father desperately pushed the struggling boy unwillingly onto the night train so that he could be taken care of by his father’s friend in Tokyo. Just before the train doors closed, his father said with a serious look on his face, “Mom and I will be there soon, too.”
Indeed, a mere five days after the boy had been taken in by the family in Tokyo, his parents arrived. As ashes.
. It took many hours of explanation for the boy to understand what those two simple words meant. At first, he couldn’t believe what had happened and grabbed at the dark ashes with his hands. The clumps were unbelievably easy to crumble with his hands, and they fell like fine pebbles through his fingers. The boy opened and closed his blackened palms, trying to connect with reality the explanation he’d received, but it was no use. There was just no way he could believe that those ashes had been his mother and father just a few days earlier.
Ashes could not laugh with him, sleep next to him, or cook him delicious food. Before he knew it, he had bitten the chanting monk and kicked off the lids of the caskets, going wild. Showing the people who had come to the funeral the empty caskets, he screamed, “Mom and Dad aren’t dead!” and ran outside, bumping into the black-and-white curtain used for funeral services.
And then two days later, the boy ran out of the large residence with many servants and ended up where refugees had set up their temporary tents. But because the boy did not have any ration tickets, there was no way anyone would bless him with food. With no other choice, he chewed on tree roots and sucked on the juice of grasses. He ended up with violent diarrhea and became dehydrated from food poisoning.
Overcome by dizziness with his vision narrowing, he could not stand any longer, and let his body sink to the ground while leaning on a wall in the street. Looking in front of him with his vision blurring, he saw many legs in his field of vision. The legs of the thousands of
refugees walking on the street passed in front of the boy’s eyes. Thin legs, old legs, children’s legs, men’s legs, women’s legs. His mouth was so dry that he didn’t even have any spit left. Even when he stretched out his hand in supplication and called out with his thin, weak voice, none of those legs stopped.
A single tear ran down the boy’s cheek. He didn’t want to go back to that house—the Tendo house—again. The boy didn’t think he could stand living any longer with the new parents and many older brothers and one younger sister he had had for one week.
Even though he was a child, he knew. It was the end for this country. Over eighty percent of its country’s land had been taken by Gastrea, and land, sea, or air, the self-defense force had suffered devastating losses. It was unbelievable how many people had been killed.
He was sure it would hurt less if he just died here and now. But—the boy put strength into his hand and scratched at the earth. If he were somehow able to survive this, he would spend the rest of his life searching for his parents to the ends of the Earth.
Suddenly, a long rumble like distant thunder echoed through the area. The people going to the road stopped their feet and tilted their heads. The man who guessed the situation first climbed the bell tower attached to the church and rang the bell with a desperate look on his face.
The boy slowly followed everyone’s gazes toward the sky and saw a gigantic shadow flying over the ridge of the mountain range in the distance. The moment everyone realized that it belonged to a creature with gigantic wings, the camp descended into chaos. Raising their voices in screams, pushing and shoving, stepping on fallen old women and children, they all started to panic and run, trying to get just one step farther away from the thing.
The boy’s hazy consciousness kept him gazing at the sky as he put strength into the hand holding his knee, but with his empty stomach and in his dehydrated state, he could not move another step from where he was.
Behind the being by a few seconds came a mass of machines that appeared from beyond the mountains—the self-defense force’s support fighter aircraft.
As the fighter aircraft pursued the giant creature, their engines roaring, the creature tried to shake them off. They almost seemed to dance as they drew an acrobatic path through the air. It was a scene that could have only been seen on TV just a short time ago.
Finally, seeing a good opportunity, a fighter aircraft in the back fired an air-to-air missile. The creature twisted its body in midair in an attempt to avoid the Sparrow missile that rocketed toward it, but the missile impacted its flank nonetheless, and a blaze of fire bloomed in the sky.
Seeing the creature let out a long scream as one wing was broken off in midair, the crowd stopped and cheered loudly. But the next instant, those cheers became screams.
“It’s coming this way!” someone yelled.
The falling giant changed its course as it fell, and eventually it came to fill the boy’s field of vision. The rising shouts and bellows mingled until all that could be heard were screams.
As the giant being scraped the ground, severe tremors shook the earth, and the crowd of people fell one after another like dominoes as they screamed. The monster took a path to the ground like an airplane trying to land on a runway, but the impact of the large body was not so easily reduced. Cutting down a swath of buildings and temporary tents with a loud destructive reverberation, the creature made a hard landing, heading directly at the boy.
I’m going to be crushed
, thought the boy, shutting his eyes tightly.
The air resounded with the sounds of cracking and crumbling and screaming as large bits of rock and clods of earth hit the boy’s face. Then, there was the choking smell of the earth, and all he could hear was a sound of ragged panting that was not his own.
He was alive.
Opening his eyes, through the thick cloud of dust, he saw the head of the giant creature before his very eyes, close enough to touch if he stretched out his hand far enough.
“Gas…trea…,” the boy murmured without thinking.
It was probably about fourteen meters in length, and it looked like a dinosaur from prehistoric times. Its reddish wings looked like a bird’s,
but it had two eyes that stuck out like half-moons, sparkling like lumps of crystal. They seemed like a dragonfly’s compound eyes.
It was an avian-insectoid Double Factor. From its pointed beak flowed a great volume of venous blood, and from within its heaving chest was a glowing red light. Thanks to this… No,
As if responding to the boy’s hate, the Gastrea strained its whole body to raise its head. Blood dripped in long, flowing threads. The monster suddenly opened its beak and let out a shriek in front of the boy’s eyes and nose. A mixture of saliva and blood splattered on his face, and a blast of beastly smelling wind played with his hair. His whole body shook, and a scream almost escaped from his throat. He drew back his body, thinking he was done for.
At that moment, someone pulled the boy’s arm with an explosive force, and he just barely escaped the Gastrea’s sharp beak. “Huh…? S-sir?” said the boy.
Though the man was easily sixty, he had the solid body of a martial artist and a tall frame that towered over the boy. This was Kikunojo Tendo, the head of the Tendo family that had taken the boy in.
He came to look for me? All the way here?
thought the boy. As he stuttered, trying to thank the man, the extremely late Special Forces surrounded the nearly dead Gastrea, holding their rifles ready.
The boy’s savior, without looking in his direction, told him: “If you do not want to die, survive, Rentaro.”
At the captain’s signal, empty shell casings flew into the air as the dry sound of gunfire filled the sky.
Two months later, Japan declared its de facto defeat to the people, and each region closed their Monolith barrier and took a stance of autonomous defense. Following Japan’s lead, the major powers of the world also closed their Monolith barriers as a temporary measure. The majority of Japan’s land had been taken over, and there were a vast number of casualties, with tens of times more missing.
In the year 2021, mankind lost to the Gastrea. Ten years later…