Chapter 1:

A Job Part 1

The Young Knight of the Desert

Kansai City, State of Japan. July 20, 2030; 1040 hours (Japan Standard Time)Bookmark here

Docked in the port of Kansai City was a cruise ship. In one particular room of the cruise ship was its occupant, a seventeen-year-old girl with light skin, dark brown eyes, and black hair arranged in a ponytail. She wore a white short-sleeved shirt and Daisy Dukes.Bookmark here

The girl was looking at her laptop. She showed boredom with her face as she continued to look at the laptop screen as this was normal for her.Bookmark here

I wonder how Mr. Ganji is doing? the girl pondered.Bookmark here

Suddenly, a sound came from the laptop’s speakers. A small black square appeared on the screen and inside was a smaller rectangle that was colored green with a white-colored horizontal line inside. Inside the line were eight black-colored crescent moons. To the girl, the rectangle was the flag with the words “Middle Eastern League” above and the words “Continue” or “Leave” below the flag.Bookmark here

Why would the Middle Eastern League want to hire us?Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1130 hoursBookmark here

At a ramen restaurant, a man with very light skin, blue eyes, and blond hair in a crew cut ate his ramen while looking at a nearby bus stop. He wore a black button-up shirt with short sleeves, beige-colored trousers held by a brown leather belt, and brown leather shoes.Bookmark here

“If you don’t mind me asking, where are you from?” the ramen chef asked.Bookmark here

“South Africa,” the man with a crew cut answered.Bookmark here

“What are you doing here?”Bookmark here

“Private security. It’s preferable that I don’t talk about it.”Bookmark here

“I understand. I too was in the military.”Bookmark here

“And why are you working here?”Bookmark here

“I’ve always wanted to have my own ramen restaurant. Don’t worry, we’re near a high school so I get a steady income from the students.”Bookmark here

“That’s good.”Bookmark here

However, the smartphone of the man with the crew cut rang. Both men understood what that meant and as a result, the man with the crew cut took the smartphone with him outside and answered it.Bookmark here

“Mirzoyan, you called?” the man with the crew cut asked.Bookmark here

“Thank goodness I reached you, Mr. Vos,” a girl said from the other end of the call. “We got a job offer.”Bookmark here

“From who?”Bookmark here

“The Middle Eastern League.”Bookmark here

“Why would they ask for us? Hiring mercenaries for them is nothing new, but hiring us… it must be something drastic. In any case, have you accepted or denied the offer?”Bookmark here

“Not yet. I called to ask you if I should accept or deny.”Bookmark here

“Hold on. I’ll be there soon. I just need to finish my ramen.”Bookmark here

“Will do.”Bookmark here

“How was your call?” the ramen chef asked as the man called Vos returned inside with his smartphone.Bookmark here

“My employer needed me back,” Vos answered. “Best get to finishing my ramen.”Bookmark here

“Agreed. Next bus is only ten minutes away.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1227 hoursBookmark here

At the bridge of the cruise ship, Vos rushed inside. Waiting for him was the girl, whom the former called Mirzoyan. The latter was now wearing a white button-up shirt with long sleeves and a skirt along with high-heeled shoes; both of which were colored independence blue.Bookmark here

“Any update?” Vos asked.Bookmark here

“None,” Mirzoyan answered.Bookmark here

“Please show me the offer.”Bookmark here

Mirzoyan opened her laptop and showed the job offer she picked up earlier. “It’s as I left it more than an hour ago.”Bookmark here

“Alright, press Continue,” Vos requested.Bookmark here

“Got it,” Mirzoyan replied before using the left button below the laptop’s built-in mouse to press “Continue” in the black rectangle.Bookmark here

“Says here they need men and/or women to protect an arms shipment,” Vos stated as he read from the laptop screen. Vos stated as he read from the laptop screen.Bookmark here

“Do we wait for Mr. Ganji to come back from school?”Bookmark here

“I’d like that, but if we wait longer, they’ll think we didn’t accept the offer. Not only that, we need to consult Maria Clara.”Bookmark here

“I can do that.”Bookmark here

“Please hurry. I’ll consult the others.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1244 hoursBookmark here

“I’m back,” Vos announced as he returned to the bridge with Mirzoyan seated down while using her laptop.Bookmark here

“How did it go talking to everyone?” Mirzoyan asked.Bookmark here

“They accepted the offer, but they’ll change their mind depending on what Ganji has to say. What about Maria Clara?”Bookmark here

“She talked with her superiors. We can take the job or not because they’ll keep an eye on Miss Hoshikawa.”Bookmark here

“Good. Now we need to warn Ganji.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1327 hoursBookmark here

Vos now appeared outside the high school near the ramen restaurant where he had lunch. The school bore the name “Nishi High School” with its equivalent in written Japanese above on a metallic plate on the left side of the school’s entrance.Bookmark here

He now concealed himself with a hat, trench coat, sunglasses, and a mask. He brought out a metallic canister as he saw the entrance of the main building of the school. Vos bent toward the ground while facing the school and used his right hand to lower the canister into the ground horizontally. Vos then threw the canister toward the school while it landed on the ground, allowing it to roll toward the school.Bookmark here

The students, seeing the canister, stepped away as they knew they could get hurt if they remained in the path of the canister. Hearing the commotion, Vos quietly left.Bookmark here

As the canister continued to roll toward the school proper, a seventeen-year-old girl caught it. She had short brown hair and dark brown eyes. Her uniform, the Nishi uniform for girls, comprised of a short-sleeved button-up shirt that was colored white, a jet black-colored skirt, white-colored socks that stopped before the knee, and black-colored leather shoes.Bookmark here

Again, the girl thought. I bet it’s for Ganji-kun again.Bookmark here

The girl grabbed the canister and opened it. Inside was a folded piece and as the girl unfolded it, she found the contents of the paper and sighed.Bookmark here

I knew it.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1439 hoursBookmark here

“There you are, Ganji-kun!” the girl exclaimed as she caught one teenage boy leaving a classroom.Bookmark here

“You needed something, Todoh-senpai?” the boy named Ganji asked.Bookmark here

“I caught this message,” the girl named Todoh answered as she got closer to Ganji and gave him the canister containing the message. “I can imagine you won’t be attending Ma- I mean, Hoshikawa-san’s Judo club?”Bookmark here

“Yes,” answered Ganji as he grabbed the canister. After opening it and reading the message, he faced Todoh again. “I apologize for this, so could you please tell Hoshikawa-senpai?”Bookmark here

“… Fine.”Bookmark here

“Arigatou gozaimasu,” Ganji replied while bowing half of his body.Bookmark here

“Just go before Hoshikawa-san catches you.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1523 hoursBookmark here

Ganji ran up to the cruise ship’s bridge. He found not only Vos and Mirzoyan waiting for him but a woman in her late forties with very light skin, short blonde hair, green eyes, and wearing a white-colored button-up shirt underneath a lab coat, a black skirt, and high-heeled shoes that were also colored black.Bookmark here

“I apologize for being late,” Ganji said.Bookmark here

“It’s alright,” Vos replied. “I already talked with the others. We’ve all accepted but we can change our answers if you disagree.”Bookmark here

“What’s the job offer?”Bookmark here

“We’re to assist the Middle Eastern League in delivering weapons.”Bookmark here

“Where will the weapons go?”Bookmark here

“That we don’t know,” Mirzoyan answered. “I can imagine they will not tell us lest we accept the offer and go to see them.”Bookmark here

“It’s up to you,” the woman with blonde hair added. “We can say yes or no to this offer.”Bookmark here

“And does my decision have to determine everyone’s choice in this matter?” Ganji asked.Bookmark here

“Because we know it’s a problem for you going back to the Middle East,” Mirzoyan answered.Bookmark here

Tatev’s right, Ganji thought as he bowed his head and closed his eyes. I’ve been fearing the day I have to go back there, but this is a job offer. We’re an awfully small unit and the fact that the Middle Eastern League is hiring us means it must be a job that will pay a lot.Bookmark here

“Is it a yes or no?” Vos asked.Bookmark here

Ganji then faced Vos, Mirzoyan, and the blonde woman. “I’ll do it.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure about this?” the blonde woman asked.Bookmark here

“I’m sure, Doc.”Bookmark here

“Great,” Vos said before he turned to Mirzoyan. “Mirzoyan, will you do the honors?”Bookmark here

“Will do,” Tatev replied before she returned to her laptop.Bookmark here

“I’ll prepare an excuse letter for Tarou,” the blonde woman called “Doc” added before she left the bridge.Bookmark here

“And I best finish the homework they gave me before we leave,” Tarou said.Bookmark here

“We’re not leaving until we’ve purchased plane tickets,” Vos reminded.Bookmark here

“Got it.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1549 hoursBookmark here

Tarou then wandered into a portion of the cruise ship that didn’t look like a cruise ship – a hangar for two Walgears. A Walgear was the machine Tarou saw in his dream that was but a memory of his. Walgears were developed after researching technology that was discovered from an alien ship that crashed into the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the year 1985.Bookmark here

In the hangar was one Walgear. Colored silver, it had limbs like those of a human being and two wheels on each leg. To Tarou, it was another Walgear like the one he fought seven years before when the Eurasian Tsardom invaded the Islamic Republic of Iran.Bookmark here

“Señor Ganji, why are you here?” a man with short black hair, light intermediate skin, and light brown eyes asked as he approached Tarou.Bookmark here

“Oh, Mr. Díaz,” said Tarou as he turned to the man who approached him. “I was just looking at Solbein.”Bookmark here

“A real marvel, isn’t she? All I can say to whosoever built that thing is… bravo!”Bookmark here

“I best get going,” Tarou said as he turned away from both the Walgear named “Solbein” and the man named Díaz. “Miss Wattana is asking that I spar with her since we haven’t done so in a while.”Bookmark here

“I was told by Señor Vos to prepare Solbein if in case of an emergency. Please don’t get it wrecked.”Bookmark here

“I’ll try.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1759 hoursBookmark here

Tarou returned to his apartment. After parking his motor scooter, he grabbed a bag filled with food and drinks he brought to himself. As he turned toward the apartment, Tarou stopped as if he saw a ghost, or rather, a girl his age.Bookmark here

The girl had long blonde hair that went past her shoulders. She had blue eyes and light intermediate skin. Like the girl who gave Tarou the message from Vos, the girl standing before Tarou wore the girl’s uniform for Nishi High School.Bookmark here

“I figured you would come here after ‘helping your guardian’,” the girl said. “How was it?”Bookmark here

“Can we please discuss the rest of this inside?” Tarou asked.Bookmark here

“Very well. Please lead the way.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1814 hoursBookmark here

Tarou and the girl with long, blonde hair reached the apartment of the former. After they removed their respective shoes, Tarou was the first to come inside in order to turn on the lights. He then stepped aside and gestured with both arms to have the girl proceed inside.Bookmark here

“After you, Hoshikawa-senpai,” Tarou said.Bookmark here

“Thank you,” the girl named Hoshikawa said before she entered.Bookmark here

As Hoshikawa proceeded inside the apartment, Tarou closed the door, then followed. He then placed the groceries he bought in the kitchen.Bookmark here

“I imagine you didn’t join for practice today is because you have another mission?” asked Hoshikawa.Bookmark here

“That’s correct, Maria,” Tarou answered.Bookmark here

“You called me ‘Hoshikawa-senpai’ a minute ago and now you go back to ‘Maria’?”Bookmark here

“If I’m to tell the truth, I might as well do away with the honorifics.”Bookmark here

“How long will you be gone?”Bookmark here

“Vos-san hasn’t bought the tickets yet. I’m to go to the Middle Eastern League and that’s all I’m telling.”Bookmark here

“Fair enough.”Bookmark here

“What did you buy?” asked Maria as she looked at the groceries Tarou bought.Bookmark here

“Felt like trying instant ramen. Crawley-san had some earlier and he wouldn’t shut up about it.”Bookmark here

“Why don’t I try cooking for you next time?”Bookmark here

“… Why would you want to do that?”Bookmark here

“Can’t I? You need to eat healthily.”Bookmark here

“Other than a few… ‘breaks’, I’ve eaten healthy almost my entire life. At times, I barely eat at all.”Bookmark here

“How long have you been doing this?”Bookmark here

“Since I was ten.”Bookmark here

Maria had nothing else to say yet. It was a surprise for her that Tarou would admit that he had been fighting since he was ten years old. Bookmark here

“When the Eurasian Tsardom invaded the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian military got desperate enough that children like me were recruited as soldiers. It was done before and as for me, a boy who didn’t appear to fit into the community that found me as an infant because I didn’t physically look like them, I joined because the war was the first time I felt that my world changed. Unlike most children, I enlisted out of my own free will. Despite the odds, we kept on fighting until one day, a Hunter’s autocannon fired at me while I was trying to take cover at a house. I felt as if I should have died then but somehow, I’m alive.”Bookmark here

“But how did you end up meeting Vos-san and the others in Iron Dutchman Services?”Bookmark here

“I wandered across Iran. I then ended up in what used to be Libya and it was there I ran into Iron Dutchman Services. Hamilton-sensei pleaded with Vos-san to take me in and, somehow, he agreed.”Bookmark here

“Is that why you still fight as a mercenary?”Bookmark here

“Not really. I’m determined to know who I really am. All I have about my real identity is the name ‘Tarou’; Hamilton-sensei told me that I’m somehow half-Japanese, half-Iranian.”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry I asked.”Bookmark here

“It’s alright. Somehow, I feel at peace telling you this.”Bookmark here

“Aren’t you going to prepare your instant ramen?” asked Maria as she gestured to the untouched groceries with Tarou joining her in looking at them.Bookmark here

“Oh right, thanks,” Tarou replied. “Say, do you want some?”Bookmark here

“Thank you, but no thank you,” replied Maria as she moved toward the door, but not before rearing her head to face Tarou. “Will you consider my offer next time?”Bookmark here

“I’ll let you know.”Bookmark here

“What do you want me to tell Hasegawa-sensei about your absence in two days?”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Nizhny Novgorod, Eurasian Tsardom. 1354 hours (Novgorod Time)Bookmark here

A beep was heard in the office of one Vyacheslav Puzanov, the Director of the Eurasian Tsardom’s foreign intelligence agency the Otdeleniye Vneshney Razvedki or OVR. Sixty-seven years old, Puzanov was a man who saw combat more than he did intelligence work or deskwork. Light-skinned and dressed sharply, Puzanov had graying brown hair in a crew cut as a reminder of his days as a soldier, and blue eyes. He wore glasses over his eyes as he needed them to read documents — proof that he couldn’t outmaneuver age.Bookmark here

The door opened. Coming inside was a woman also dressed sharply with long brown hair tied in a bun, very light skin, and gray eyes. She carried with her an envelope with the words “Tol'ko Glaza”, written in black, on the other side of the envelope. The woman briefly turned back to close the door behind her and after that, faced Puzanov.
Bookmark here

“Glad to see you Your High- I mean, Miss Tsulukidze,” said Puzanov. “I assume you have something new to report?”Bookmark here

“I do,” answered the woman named Tsulukidze. “It’s concerning Iron Dutchman Services.”Bookmark here

Puzanov sighed, then resumed facing Tsulukidze. “Look, Your Highness, I can understand why you’re concerned about Maria Hoshikawa, but unless you have real proof about who she really is, I suggest you leave Iron Dutchman Services alone.”Bookmark here

“But sir, I’m not presenting this report about Miss Hoshikawa over who her biological parents are. If we can try-”Bookmark here

“We did! It’s because of that operation the Gatekeepers have sent the Gatekeeper assigned to the Tsardom to ask your father, the Tsar, about the facility in Northern Sakhalin. Just leave your report and return to Japan.”Bookmark here

“Yes, sir,” Tsulukidze replied before leaving the office.Bookmark here

However, as Tsulukidze opened the door, another sharply dressed man appeared outside. He had short black hair and wore glasses above his blue eyes. The man stepped aside to allow Tsulukidze to leave and after she left did he proceed inside Puzanov’s office.Bookmark here

“What brings you to my office, Ivanov?” Puzanov asked his new guest.Bookmark here

“I have information concerning the rebellion in Iran,” the man named Ivanov answered.Bookmark here

“This better be worth my time.”Bookmark here

“I assure you, sir, it is.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Kansai City, State of Japan. July 21, 2030; 0930 hours (Japan Standard Time)Bookmark here

Every man and woman in Iron Dutchman Services gathered at one of the two former cinemas of the cruise that they use as their headquarters, currently docked in Kansai City. Tarou Ganji, wearing half of Nishi High School’s uniform for boys but with beige-colored trousers and black-colored boots, then appeared with everyone else in the mercenary group looking at him.Bookmark here

“I apologize for being late,” Tarou said.Bookmark here

“You came just in time,” Vos replied. “Please sit down.” Tarou sat beside Tatev Mirzoyan.Bookmark here

“Now that everyone is here, we can begin,” Vos announced. “As you know, we’ve been approached for a job by the Middle Eastern League. While they’ve hired mercenaries like us, it’s the first time they’ve hired us.Bookmark here

“Therefore, we have agreed to take this job, which is a delivery escort. However, only four of us will go to Kuwait City tomorrow to meet the liaison from the FIA we’ll be working with.”Bookmark here

“Why four?” Tarou asked as he raised his hand.Bookmark here

“Because that’s as much as we can afford for plane tickets,” Vos answered. “We’re to simply guard the shipment and everything we need will be provided by the FIA.”Bookmark here

A woman with dark skin, long black hair tied in a ponytail, and dark brown eyes raised her hands next. “Yes, Wattana?” Vos asked.Bookmark here

“Who did you buy tickets for?” the woman named Wattana asked.Bookmark here

“One for me, naturally. One for you, Ganji, and Dr. Hamilton.”Bookmark here

“And why do I have to come along?” Hamilton, the blonde doctor, asked.Bookmark here

“You may never know what will happen,” Vos answered. “Especially if someone gets wounded. It’s for that reason I had Díaz prepare Solbein. I only hope it won’t come down to using it, but I doubt this will be a simple delivery escort mission.”Bookmark here

“When do you leave?” Tatev asked.Bookmark here

“Tomorrow,” Vos answered. “Flight leaves at 1100 hours. We need to leave for KIX as early as 0700, so we better get up early because we’ll have breakfast in the airport and lunch in the plane.”Bookmark here

“Yes, sir!” everyone else in Iron Dutchman Services loudly replied.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1215 hoursBookmark here

Tarou returned to his apartment. Just as he parked his motor scooter, he proceeded toward the apartment, only to find Maria Hoshikawa. Maria wasn’t in the girl’s uniform for Nishi High School as she wore a black-colored shirt with long sleeves, a purple-colored skirt, white-colored socks that and bar shoes.Bookmark here

“M-Maria, what are you doing here?” Tarou asked.Bookmark here

Maria opted not to answer with her mouth. She then showed metal canisters wrapped with a handkerchief with Tarou realizing what the implications were.Bookmark here

“I remember you asked if you could make lunch for me,” Tarou deduced.Bookmark here

“I did,” Maria replied. “Shall we-”Bookmark here

“I knew it!”Bookmark here

To Tarou and Maria’s surprise, Todoh appeared. She wore a white shirt with a zipper ranging from top to bottom underneath a blue jacket, a white skirt held by a belt that is colored red-brown, white-colored socks that reach up to the knee, and rubber shoes.Bookmark here

“Misa-chan, what are you doing here?” Maria asked.Bookmark here

“I… I was just walking around, then I saw the both of you,” Todoh lied.Bookmark here

“I find that hard to believe,” Tarou replied.Bookmark here

“You shut up!” Misa shouted. “You skipped out on Judo practice two days ago and now Maria-chan is here giving you lunch!”Bookmark here

“Is that a problem?” Maria askedBookmark here

“Maria, you can go,” Tarou said to Maria.Bookmark here

“But Ganji-kun, why-” Maria asked to Tarou.Bookmark here

“I’ve caused enough trouble. Please. I’ll eat your lunch. I promise. Though returning the container will have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest.”Bookmark here

“That’s right, you’re leaving tomorrow.”Bookmark here

“Wait, you’re leaving tomorrow!?” Misa exclaimed toward Tarou just as Maria gave the container filled with the lunch she made to Tarou before she reached Misa and started pushing her far from the apartment.Bookmark here

“Wait, Maria-chan, what are you-” Misa asked while she was being pushed away by Maria.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1234 hoursBookmark here

What was that about? Tarou pondered as he ate the lunch Maria made for him. That was embarrassing but Todoh-san had every right to question my relationship with Maria.Bookmark here

The meal Maria prepared for Tarou comprised of chicken karaage with rice. After filling a piece of rice and chicken into a pair of chopsticks, taking the chopsticks into the mouth to drop off the food carried by the chopsticks, and chewing the food in his mouth, Tarou swallowed.Bookmark here

I… I don’t deserve this, Tarou thought as he grabbed the nearby glass of water and filled his mouth with the water. Why is Maria being this nice to me?Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1358 hoursBookmark here

Both Maria and Misa Todoh were at an ice cream shop called Kansai Ice Paradise. While Maria filled her mouth with bubblegum-flavored ice cream, she saw Misa hadn’t touched her cookies and cream-flavored ice cream.Bookmark here

“You’re not touching your ice cream,” Maria said to Misa.Bookmark here

“I… I apologize for what happened earlier,” Misa replied. “You just made lunch for him, that’s all. And then I got too worried… “Bookmark here

“I… I don’t even know why I’m nice to Ganji-kun.”Bookmark here

“Y… You don’t?”Bookmark here

“I guess it was because of that incident when a bunch of men tried to… ”Bookmark here

“Oh… that. I guess that was pretty cool for Ganji-kun to do that,” Misa said before she touched her ice cream. “I’ve got to ask, why is Ganji-kun leaving tomorrow?”Bookmark here

I can’t tell Misa-chan about Tarou-kun’s real reason, Maria thought with caution in her mind before swallowing her ice cream. “Hamilton-sensei needed Ganji-kun’s help because she’ll be going to Aceh.”Bookmark here

“Aceh? Where’s that?”Bookmark here

“Indonesia.”Bookmark here

“I seem to recall hearing that she came to school about Ganji-kun. She can’t possibly be his mother.”Bookmark here

“She’s not. She adopted him while she was working at a refugee camp in Iran.”Bookmark here

“Speaking of which, ‘Ganji’ is an Iranian surname, yet Ganji-kun has the name ‘Tarou’, which is Japanese. How do you suppose he got that name?”Bookmark here

“I honestly wouldn’t know,” Maria answered just before she resumed eating her ice cream. I can’t tell her about that part of Ganji-kun’s past. She’ll suspect more about him.Bookmark here

“By the way, why did you make lunch for Ganji-kun?” Misa asked, startling Maria.Bookmark here

“Why… would you ask such a question?” Maria asked as her embarrassment became evident.Bookmark here

“Come on, tell me! Please?”Bookmark here

Maria sighed, signaling further embarrassment. “I caught Ganji-kun buying instant ramen, and I offered to cook him food because I felt it was healthier for him.Bookmark here

“Really?”Bookmark here

“Is that wrong?”Bookmark here

“Not really,” Misa answered before she resumed eating her ice cream. Maria resumed eating hers and unlike Misa, she was almost done with hers.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1857 hoursBookmark here

Tarou returned to the cruise ship that Iron Dutchman Services uses as its headquarters, now wearing a white shirt with a round neck. The ship bore the name Iron Dutchman, which made the ship the namesake of the mercenary group.Bookmark here

After parking his motor scooter, Tarou picked up a white duffel bag with his right hand while his left arm carried a sports bag. As he proceeded to the ship, he saw Vos waiting for him.Bookmark here

“Had fun?” Vos asked.Bookmark here

“If you consider finishing homework and having to humor Riku Todoh, who at least took me out to dinner, ‘fun’, then yes,” Tarou answered.Bookmark here

“I suggest sleeping early in an hour or two. We have to be at KIX by 0700 hours.”Bookmark here

“Roger that.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

1929 hoursBookmark here

Tarou reached a particular room in the Iron Dutchman. As it was a cruise ship, the room looked as if a group of mercenaries shouldn’t use it. For Tarou, however, a room was a room. As long as there was a bed, he had nothing else to ask for.Bookmark here

Sitting on the bed, he then removed his boots, followed by his belt, and his trousers. Tarou replaced them with pajama pants. Suddenly, he heard a knock on the door.Bookmark here

“Who is it?” Tarou asked.Bookmark here

“Tatev,” a girl answered from the other side of the door.Bookmark here

Tarou got off his bed and reached for the doorknob. Opening the door, he found Tatev Mirzoyan outside.Bookmark here

“Anything you need, Tatev?” Tarou asked.Bookmark here

“Not really, but I do want to ask you something,” Tatev answered.Bookmark here

“We can discuss it inside,” Tarou suggested. Tatev then proceeded inside the room with the former closing the door. “So, what is it you wanted to talk about?”Bookmark here

“Will… Miss Hoshikawa be alright with you going on this mission?”Bookmark here

“It’s fine. I didn’t tell her the specifics.”Bookmark here

“But what about you?”Bookmark here

“Me?”Bookmark here

“Don’t you feel bad about leaving Miss Hoshikawa?”Bookmark here

“I… honestly don’t even know. I caused a fight of sorts between her and Miss Todoh.”Bookmark here

“What happened?”Bookmark here

“Maria… she came to my apartment with lunch for me to have. She came over last night and saw that I bought instant ramen.”Bookmark here

“It’s because of Mr. Crawley, isn’t it?”Bookmark here

“You could say that. When Maria came over this afternoon, Miss Todoh caught us. I just told Maria to spend time with her.”Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“I felt that I shouldn’t be involved with them. We were only hired to protect her from those planning to abduct or kill her, after all.”Bookmark here

“Right… ” Neither Tarou nor Tatev continued, as they found no other way to continue their conversation about Maria. “Why did you start asking about Maria all of a sudden?” Tarou asked.Bookmark here

“… I… I was worried… about you,” Tatev answered.Bookmark here

“Me?”Bookmark here

“You’ve been doing that task without complaint. You even saved her.”Bookmark here

“And it’s how we got Solbein in the first place.”Bookmark here

“I hope we don’t have to use it tomorrow. Otherwise, that would mean the mission took a turn for the worst.”Bookmark here

“Regardless, I have no intention of dying.”Bookmark here

“What makes you say that?”Bookmark here

“I’ve told you before that since I first took up a gun, I did so thinking I could find out about my real identity. I haven’t given up on that and our mission to guard Maria is the best way to do so.”Bookmark here

“But think about Maria. Would you want to take advantage of her like this?”Bookmark here

“We were hired in the first place to protect Maria because of how many organizations intend on abducting her.”Bookmark here

“Then I’ve heard all I wanted to hear,” Tatev declared before she moved toward the door and touched the door knob. “Good night, Mr. Ganji.” As a result of Tatev’s words, Tarou went back to the bed and pressed half of his head toward the floor. He pressed his elbows against each knee and slammed his palms against his forehead.Bookmark here

Someone else knocked the door. “Who is it?” Tarou asked as he faced the door.Bookmark here

“It’s me,” an older female voice answered, prompting Tarou to go to the door and open it again. He found Hamilton outside.Bookmark here

“Dr. Hamilton, what I can do for you?” Tarou asked.Bookmark here

“Just let me in, please,” Hamilton requested with Tarou stepping out of her way to do so, followed by him closing the door again. “You and Tatev were arguing loudly.”Bookmark here

“Did Vos ask you to come in here?” Tarou asked.Bookmark here

“He did. You know what he asked me: ‘Anita, do something.’”Bookmark here

“And you thought of a way to ‘do something’?”Bookmark here

“Yes. Allow me to ask this: are your problems with Maria and Tatev related to this mission?”Bookmark here

“They are,” Tarou answered, followed by sitting down on his bed as if he admitted defeat. “I should have known,” replied Hamilton before she joined Tarou by sitting down on his bed. “Would you like to talk about it?”Bookmark here

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Bookmark here

Author's NotesBookmark here

Maria Clara – a character from Jose Rizal’s Noli me Tangere. She was based on Rizal’s cousin and lover Leonor Rivera, who was wedded to one Henry Kipping in 1890. The individual whom Tatev and Vos talked about know that “Maria Clara” is an alias.Bookmark here

-kun – a Japanese honorific used normally for men, especially teenage boys. Because they’re in the same school, Misa refers to Tarou as “Ganji-kun”. Original Japanese: くんBookmark here

-senpai – this Japanese honorific is used when a student is addressing another student one grade above them. In Misa’s case, she’s above Tarou by grade. Original Japanese: 先輩Bookmark here

Arigatou gozaimasu – “Thank you” in Japanese. The most formal equivalent as there are variants. Tarou was using “Arigatou gozaimasu” because it’s a heavy request for him to ask Misa to tell Maria that he won’t be attending Judo club. Original Japanese: ありがとうございましたBookmark here

Señor – “Mister” in Spanish.Bookmark here

-san – a Japanese honorific used when addressing strangers. In Tarou’s case, “Vos-san” can be translated as “Mr. Vos”. Original Japanese: さんBookmark here

Otdeleniye Vneshney Razvedki – Russian for “Foreign Intelligence Department”. Cyrillic: Отделение внешней разведкиBookmark here

Tol'ko Glaza – “Eyes Only” in Russian. Cyrillic: Только глазаBookmark here

-chan – a Japanese honorific used for two individuals who are close to each other. For both Misa and Maria, the former calling the latter “Maria-chan” and the latter calling the former “Misa-chan” indicates how close they are. Original Japanese: ちゃんBookmark here

Karaage – a Japanese cooking technique where certain foods, mostly chicken, is deep-fried in oil. Original Japanese: 唐揚げ
Bookmark here

Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.