MINUS • PLUS
“Takanashi! Meet me in the teacher's room after school.”
Whispers rose in the class, and then died down.
After Hagiwara Sensei left, Hirata turned towards Yukio and asked, “What did you do now?”
It had been a week since the Ohara Massacre. He missed two days of school, and there were a few signs of sympathy from his classmates when he joined them, his head still bandaged. Saying that he fell down the stairs was enough explanation for them, and then everything quickly returned to normal. His ‘normal’.
Amanda was absent the whole week.
Ever since that Saturday, he hadn’t seen her. He messaged her, but there was no reply. He called her, but she didn’t pick it up. He called Kichiro-san, and she just said Amanda was busy with something, and not to bother her for now.
He had no idea what was going on with her.
He didn’t know what his future was going to be in Minus Plus; but he didn’t care. He only wanted to know that she was safe.
He sighed, and turned towards Hirata.
“I don’t know.”
After school ended, he was thinking of going home. He could just tell Hagiwara Sensei tomorrow that he didn’t feel well, and there won’t be anything she can do. He knew he wasn’t paying enough attention to his studies the last few days, but that wasn’t something a pep talk from her would cure.
He needed more time. And meet a certain person.
He left the class and took a few steps, and suddenly realized Hirata was in front of him.
“What?” He was slightly irritated.
“Tsk tsk,” She said in an adult-like voice, “Very bad, Takanashi-san. You were thinking of going home, weren’t you?”
What’s the problem with her? Yukio was feeling almost angry.
“What do you want?”
“I just want you to be okay.”
He was sure she didn’t mean it.
“As the class rep, it’s my duty to look after my classmates. You haven’t been yourself lately, especially since that accident. If you have something in your mind, please share it with us. No one here is your enemy.”
You’re right, he thought, but no one is my friend either.
“Okay, I get it,” the last thing he wanted was to get lectured by Hirata again, “I’ll go talk to Sensei.”
“There you go. I hope you can let go of whatever’s holding you back.”
After flashing an uncharacteristic smile, she walked away.
When Yukio reached the teacher’s room, Hagiwara Sensei was nowhere to be found. As he was thinking about taking this chance and leaving, Sensei suddenly appeared behind him.
“Come with me.”
“It seems everyone can ‘Jump’ other than me,” he muttered while following her.
They went past the teacher’s room and entered a small room. It looked like a visitor’s room, as it had just two couches and a big table, and a lack of other furniture. As Hagiwara Sensei sat on a couch, he sat on the opposite one.
And here it comes, he thought, another lecture. He lowered his head, and hoped that it wouldn't be too long.
But surprising him, Sensei just started to smoke.
“Want one?” She offered him a cigarette, a mischievous smile on her face.
Yukio just narrowed his eyes.
“You’re so boring,” she said, mockingly, “Even in the class I never see you try to sweet-talk me, or any other girls. Have you thought about your future, Takanashi? Do you want to remain a virgin?”
“What do you… what are you talking about?” It took him a while to realize what she was saying.
Sensei started laughing, relaxing herself on the couch, “Oh my God. You are like a child.”
He didn’t know what to say, but by now he was sure it wouldn't be a normal lecture.
After taking another puff and making a few smoke rings in the air, she said, “Takanashi, can you tell me one thing? How are you good at studies? Or rather, why?”
“Huh?” What kind of question was that? Did she call him today just to make fun of him?
“I mean,” she suddenly leaned forward and looked him in the eyes, “You act exactly like a delinquent. And if what I’ve heard about you is true, you probably are one. Then why do you never fight with anyone? Why are you never late, and always do your homework? You know, the other teachers aren’t exactly pleased with you, but they still don’t have a bad impression of you. Because the truth is, you haven’t done anything bad. You know what it makes me think?”
Yukio was silent, his eyes on the ground.
“I think you never were a delinquent. Just an unfortunate child who never developed connections with others. Believe me, even having a few acquaintances at school is really important for your growth. You just didn’t manage to hit it off with someone, maybe because of how you look and how you act. I think the person sitting in front of me is a very sad person, who just never had any friends.”
I did have friends, he wanted to tell her. But not the way you think.
“Anyway, I’ve decided to help you,” she laid back on the couch, “I know you didn’t leave a great impression on the first day, but things can change. And it’s not like you can only make friends in your class. So, I’ve decided to allow you to join a club.”
“Allow me?” Yukio couldn’t help but blurt it out, “I thought I was allowed to join clubs! I just didn’t join any, because it’s not-”
“Mandatory?” Hagiwara Sensei finished his sentence, “Yes, you’re right. But that’s because we have a lot of students in this school who take studies very seriously. You probably know how many Tokyo University alumni are from here. So, the rule is for them. Are you like them? Will I see your name in the top 3, or even the top 10 ranking?”
He had no answer to that. But he couldn’t just let her have her way.
“Sensei, I think you’re mistaken. I do have…”
Damn, he thought, I can’t tell her about Amanda. And even if I do, she’ll never believe me.
“What? You have friends? Who?”
After a few moments, Yukio slowly muttered under his breath, “Hirata-san?”
“She doesn’t count! She’s the kind of person I told you about, who only cares about studying. She’s a good class rep, and a great student, but that’s just about it.”
He looked at her helplessly, as she resumed, “Look, Takanashi, you can’t change my mind, If you think I’ll let you sit in my class everyday with that sullen look, avoid people, and eventually become a hikikomori, you’re wrong.”
He slowly lowered his gaze.
“I’m giving you two weeks. Within that time, you have to join a club. I don’t care which one. If you don’t, I’ll go to the Principal and tell him everything. I’m sure you don’t want him to intervene, do you?”
Yukio felt he was deep inside a hole, one that Sensei dug for him with lots of care.
How do I get out of this one?
He let out a deep sigh.
After leaving the school, Yukio walked a bit with phone in hand. He wanted to talk to Amanda, but feared she wouldn't pick up his call, again.
What he feared the most wasn’t that. It was her coming back to school, and then everything going back to the way they were. Yukio did talk to Kichiro-san, but it was only about her; he never showed any interest in Minus Plus. For all they know, he thought, I won’t be going back there.
I have to prove them wrong.
Overcoming his hesitation, he decided to call Kichiro-san.
After a few rings, when he thought she wouldn't be picking up the call, someone picked up and said, “Yukio?”
He could never not recognize that voice.
“How are you? Why didn’t you answer my messages? Do you know how much I-”
Yukio stopped. He realized he was getting carried away.
“Hu hu hu,” Amanda was enjoying it, “You really missed me, didn’t you? Well, that’s what happens when you don’t have any other friends.”
Not you too…
“Anyway, I’m sorry. I understand we didn’t talk after… that day. The thing is, we became so busy after that, I literally had to go on an expedition from the hospital. I just returned.”
“Where did you go?”
“Sorry, secret mission,” she sounded slightly irritated, “I just came to Kichiro-san’s house, and found out it was empty. She left her phone though, and I saw you were the one who was calling. Anyway…”
The call ended, and soon the phone had ‘Amanda’ flashing on it.
“Hey!” Amanda sounded as normal as she could sound, “Are you at home? Just give me an hour, I’m coming.”
“Are you… okay?” Yukio said, hesitatingly, “Kichiro-san said you were hurt…”
“Completely fine now, don’t worry. I understand it wasn’t exactly a… pleasant experience for you. Did you decide that you don’t want to be a part of us after all?”
“No!” Yukio almost shouted, then composed himself.
“I mean… I was waiting to hear from you. Kichiro-san didn’t tell me anything either. Not even that you were on a mission. Why would she hide it from me? It doesn’t make any sense!”
“If it’s any consolation,” Amanda said from the other side, “I don’t understand most of their decisions either. But I know that after what happened, everyone was really shaken up. And they had a lot of things to do. Seven of us died… we couldn’t just forget about it.”
“Seven?” Yukio was sure that Kichiro-san said ‘six’.
“Yeah… Nishimiya-san didn’t make it either.”
He suddenly remembered his face.
They were both silent for a few moments. Yukio realized he was almost at his apartment.
“Anyways,” she continued, “How’s everything at school? Did anyone miss me?”
If only you saw the boys who were crying like their parents died…
“And how are you? I heard from Sugi you hit your head. Are you finally interested in girls now?”
“Shut up,” he said, as Amanda laughed.
All this while, Yukio was worried about what effect that incident might have on her. But it seemed the only person he needed to be worried about was himself.
After all, ever since that day, all his nights have been filled with nightmares.
“So… he wasn’t responsible for the attack after all?”
“I told you, didn’t I? If they knew about him, they wouldn’t have done such a kamikaze attack. The King is still in the dark about him. Unless this vermin escapes, that is.”
Tetsuya Megumi and Kichiro Sakue were in the basement of their new hideout. One of the Tiztaanians, the only survivor among the attackers, was bound in a chair in front of them. He appeared to be sleeping, but when Kichiro went near him, he suddenly started hissing.
The last sentence was pointed towards the Tiztaanian.
As he looked at them with a scaled, greenish face, his tongue kept darting out of his mouth with a ‘hiss’ sound.
He had a big, round collar in his neck, which was glowing in the dark.
“What else did Nodoka say? Amanda was supposed to report to me today, but she still hasn’t contacted me.”
“Probably busy with him,” Tetsuya Megumi said with a mischievous smile, “Anyway, Nodoka said that their group was stationed at Lativis. She thinks that they were part of the Second Company who were exiled by the King after their last war. Basically a group of cowards. No wonder they decided to attack us when we were disarrayed. Although if what this one says is true, there was another reason.”
The Tiztaanian didn’t look pleased.
“Apparently one of them sensed some kind of energy signature. Someone Jumped to Lativis, and they thought it was us. And then some of them had this bright idea of taking us all down by themselves, earning their King’s favor in the process. I don’t think even the King underestimated us that much.”
Kichiro was silent for a few moments. Then she said, “I apologize, Taicho. It seems you were right. So, the rest of them have been taken care of?”
“Yes.” Tetsuya Megumi sounded really pleased.
“So, what are you going to do with him? Should we just leave him in another world after all?”
“Letting him go without measuring him up once? That is something I no longer want to do. After all, he actually managed to return from ‘that’ place…”
In a raspy voice, the Tiztaanian said something to them in an alien language. After some time, they heard, “Are you really planning to let me go?”
“No, silly,” the leader leaned towards him, “We aren’t talking about you. I have some… special plans for you, since you’ve been so helpful.”
She touched his head with her hand, and said, “What is your King’s plan?”
The moment she touched his head, he jerked a bit. After his facial muscles twitched a few times, he was suddenly slack.
“Taking back Pretis.” He said, obediently.
“Hmm,” She withdrew her hand and nodded, “Nodoka said something similar as well. After losing Pretis, all the King wants is to recapture that planet. After all, he has lost a lot of power and influence. Anyway, it seems now is a good time to find out what’s going on there.”
“Alright. I’m sending a Navigator to Tiztaan as soon as possible.”
As Kichiro turned around to leave, the leader put a hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t forget to tell them to look for Kiyoshi. I have to know how he is.”