“It’s not your fault, Souichi,” said the sickly woman on the hospital bed. Her long yet lifeless hair was tied in a low ponytail.
“Kaoru… If… If I had only…” said the bulky man holding her hand while seated at her bedside. Concern and regret weighed heavily in his voice and deepened the lines on his rugged face.
“If you had what? Kept quiet about your superior officer molesting your comrade-in-arms? I’d never forgive you if you’d done that. Tomoe’s my friend too.” Her eyebrows wrinkled.
Arashi watched her parents quietly from the other side of the bed. She was an extremely timid girl and hardly spoke. Other children found her unsociable, so she had no friends her age. Still, Arashi was not lonely thanks to her mother, who would always tell her stories or play with her at home.
“I didn’t think Colonel Godou would do something like this. I even went to talk to him directly without reporting it,” said Souichi.
“Don’t worry. Someone as skilled as you will land a great job soon enough. One look at your track record and accomplishments should convince anyone.” Kaoru smiled at him with her eyes closed and entwined her fingers with his.
“I’m trying my best, but it seems that he’s already gotten me blacklisted. None of the security companies I’ve applied to have even called me in for an interview.” He shook his head.
Still in second grade, Arashi was too young to understand most of their conversation. All she knew was what her mother had told her. Her father had lost his job, but it was something to be proud of because he had done the right thing.
“Don’t push yourself too hard. It’d be pointless if you fall ill too,” she said.
“But the hospital fees are piling up. We also need to save money for your operation.”
“I’m sorry for being such a burden.” The corners of her eyes wrinkled in sorrow.
“That’s not what I meant! I just want you back home as soon as possible.”
The fluster of the usually composed Souichi caused the mother to chuckle.
“You’re such a worrywart.” She flashed a grin. “I’m quite healthy, you know? The doctor said my condition’s stable. I’m more worried about the two of you.” She turned to her daughter. “Arashi, you have to take care of your father. He can be reckless sometimes.” Her hand gently stroked Arashi’s head.
Arashi closed her eyes and nodded twice.
Souichi scratched his crew cut hair. “I… can’t deny that.” A sheepish smile crossed his face as he watched his wife and daughter.
Kaoru looked at her husband. “And you shouldn’t obsess over job hunting. That’s important, but don’t forget about our little angel. Arashi doesn’t speak up even if she needs something, so you need to pay more attention to her.”
“Please keep the military terms outside this room,” said Kaoru with a fake frown.
The couple laughed. Arashi did not understand what was so funny and was left tilting her head to the side.
After saying goodbye, the father and daughter left Kaoru’s hospital room. Souichi, with Arashi in tow, walked deeper into the hospital. They soon ran into an old man with large spectacles. His white lab coat gently fluttered as he walked.
“Noguchi-sensei, what a coincidence. I was heading to your office,” said Souichi.
“Tanizaki-san! Kaoru-san is quite fortunate. I have never seen a more frequent visitor,” said Noguchi with a smile.
“I… just have a lot of free time.” A complicated expression emerged on his face.
“Did you want an update on your wife’s condition?”
“That, and I wanted to talk about the transplant.”
“…Unfortunately, the price has increased.”
Arashi felt her father’s grip on her hand tighten. She winced from the pain.
“The bidding for organs is quite fierce, especially for hearts,” said the doctor.
“Is there no other way?”
“I am sorry to say this, but all you can do is earn the money. It is not an impossible amount.”
Souichi bit his lip.
Arashi had heard a similar conversation between her parents. Even she understood that they needed money for her mother to get better and return home. She missed her badly but knew nothing about earning money, so she could do nothing but depend on her father.
“Tanizaki-san, your wife’s condition is steadily deteriorating. Without the transplant, she will likely last a year at most,” said the doctor with a straight face.
“I know that..!”
“Have you already told her?”
“No, not yet. I don’t want her to worry. It could worsen her condition.”
“That is a possibility, but I believe the patient has the right to know their prognosis, especially when it is this serious.”
“Please, Noguchi-sensei! Keep this a secret from her. I will earn the money, I promise!” He bowed deeply as he pleaded with the doctor.
Seeing her father like that, unease filled Arashi’s heart. Would her mother’s illness worsen? How long would it take for her to return home? She wanted to ask her father but could not find the words.
Noguchi looked reluctant, but he nodded and said, “…I will respect your wishes.”
“Thank you.” Souichi kept his head bowed.
“It is nothing much. Please raise your head.”
Responding to the doctor’s request, Souichi straightened his back.
“If that is all, I still have patients to attend to,” said Noguchi.
“Yes, of course. Thank you for sharing your precious time with us.”
Souichi continued to hold Arashi’s hand as they parted ways with the doctor and exited the building. Outside, he gazed at the bright noontime sky and took a deep breath of the fresh spring air. His grip on Arashi’s hand became firm but not to the point of hurting her. His eyes were overflowing with resolve.
“I’ll save you. I promise..!”
Six months later, Kaoru, having recovered from a successful heart transplant thanks to an anonymous organ donor, left divorce papers on the dining table and disappeared without a word.
“That’s right. Hold it like that. Now shoot,” said Souichi, his scarred face showing no emotion.
Arashi squeezed the trigger as instructed. The recoil caused the rifle stock to slam into her shoulder. Despite her small fourteen-year-old frame, she did not look fazed at all. She hit the edge of the target nailed to a tree. Dense greenery surrounded the instructor and trainee.
Looks like her cybernetic arm is doing it’s job, thought Souichi.
The last time he had made his daughter fire a rifle was about a year ago. Back then, she dislocated her shoulder the moment she pulled the trigger. Her petite arms were unsuited for shooting, so Souichi replaced one of his daughter’s defective parts with ARMS.
It was pretty expensive for a black market deal, but it looks like it’ll pay off soon enough.
Arashi silently continued firing at the target. She was getting more accurate with each attempt. Souichi had drilled the theory into her head. All she had needed was the physical strength to perform the action.
The series of explosive gunshots ended with a clicking sound.
“Reload,” said Souichi.
Arashi removed the magazine and hurriedly pulled a fresh one from her vest pocket. Likely due to her haste, she accidentally dropped the clip. Souichi instantly slapped her on the face.
“You would be dead by now if this were a real shootout, you fool.”
She wordlessly picked up the clip and loaded it into the rifle. Blood dripped from her cut lip as she resumed her firing practice. The sleepy look on her face did not falter.
“You have to master marksmanship in order to be useful to me. Your small frame is unsuited for close combat. I’ll handle the front, so at least become competent enough to support me.”
Arashi nodded during a pause in between gunfire bursts.
Souichi had started coaching Arashi in a multitude of martial skills as soon as her body had been able to endure it. Her rigorous military training continued every day without lapse. He also gradually increased the difficulty as her body grew in size and strength. Her mind’s maturity was never in the equation.
After marksmanship training ended, Souichi commanded Arashi to pack up the rifle and dispose of the spent bullet casings. She robotically obeyed his every word.
While she was busy cleaning up, Souichi suddenly threw a punch at her. She reflexively ducked to avoid the hook and quickly created distance between them.
Good. She didn’t get knocked out like last time.
Arashi pulled out a small pistol and aimed it at her father. She shot twice, but her target had avoided her gun sight before she had fired. She then turned around, kicked off the ground, and sprinted away. However, Souichi easily caught up to her using his cybernetic legs. He assaulted her with a punch combo, which she deftly parried. Finding some space between his attacks, Arashi jumped backwards while holstering her pistol. She pulled out a knife as soon as she landed.
Souichi was hot on her heels and did not give her time to do anything else. He launched a front kick targeting her torso. Arashi avoided it by stepping back. She countered with a knife stab towards her father’s chest, but before her blade could sink into his skin, his right fist smashed into her face. Their difference in reach, even with the knife, was insurmountable.
Arashi flew backwards and crashed to the ground. She was still conscious, probably because of the pain from her profusely bleeding nose. Her face contorted in agony.
That fucking face…
Don’t show me that fucking face!!!
Arashi had gradually grown to resemble her mother. She now looked almost identical to her when her mother had been the same age. This tormented Souichi continuously, but he could usually keep himself in check. However, Arashi’s pained face always blew away that restraint.
Souichi rapidly approached his downed daughter and picked her up by her vest. He then slammed his fist into her cheek.
“Stop making that face, you traitorous wench!!!”
Her miserable expression reminded him of Kaoru when her illness had worsened. He had been unable to do anything, and in the end, she had betrayed him. He suspected that Godou had approached her and used the organ transplant, her life, as a bargaining chip. However, the reason was irrelevant. What mattered was her betrayal.
He punched Arashi again. Her face twisted further, driving him to greater fury. He continued beating her until her expression became blank. At first, he had thought that she had lost consciousness, but she was still awake. Her survival instinct had probably paralyzed her facial muscles. This was not a new occurrence, and the interval between the start of her abuse and her reaching this state had been growing shorter.
Arashi had not made a sound during the entire ordeal.
Even more so than her mother’s face, she had perfectly inherited her voice.
Souichi released his hold on her vest. Her lifeless legs collapsed, leaving her sprawled on the ground. Her bruised and bloodied face scraped against the soil and pebbles, but her expression did not change at all.
Souichi’s anger gradually evaporated. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“You can’t go on jobs like this. Excluding your stupidity, it looks like mobility’s your greatest weakness. Luckily, that can be rectified.”
He had become a mercenary in order to kill people in positions of power, such as Godou. But Godou himself mattered little. What Souichi wanted was simply to kill people like him. He loathed the reality that they existed. His hate was everything to him. No price was too high.
He looked down at his dazed daughter and tapped her left leg with his foot.
“This has to go.”
Arashi tried to shake off her nervousness by taking deep breaths. It was her first solo job, and she dreaded her father’s evaluation. It was not enough to just complete the mission. It had to be perfectly executed.
I hope I meet his expectations.
Despite the abusive treatment, Arashi did not hate her father. He was the only other person in her life, after all. He had also raised her by himself ever since her beloved mother disappeared. She firmly believed that her father cared for her and was only so strict because he wanted her to be strong.
Her perspective was partly caused by her lack of common sense. Her training had made it impossible for her to attend school, and her father had forbidden her from going out by herself without permission.
Perched on a tree branch, she readied her rifle and took a peek at her target. She was tasked with eliminating a rich family who had crossed someone powerful in one way or another. Most of their jobs were like that, and Arashi cared little for the reasons behind them.
A white limousine surrounded by two escort vehicles slowed to a stop in front of an empty restaurant. Souichi had chosen this time to attack because the family of four was celebrating the mother’s birthday in a rented-out fine dining restaurant. The venue itself was far from the city and usually accommodated only affluent or renowned guests. The lack of people made the job easier.
I think one grenade should do it.
She decided to kill the people in the first escort car with an armor piercing grenade. Reducing the number of armed hostiles was her top priority.
She accurately threw the armed grenade towards the first car. The sound of shredding metal echoed in the large courtyard. The first car was completely destroyed, and the shrapnel killed the driver of the limousine. Seeing the destruction, the remaining targets immediately moved to escape from their potential death traps.
A couple and two small boys fled the limousine while four bodyguards rushed out of the escort car. Two of the guards ran to the family to lead them to safety while the other two drew their guns and split up to find the assailant.
Arashi shot one of them in the chest. Everyone present immediately located her due to the explosive gunfire. Before the isolated guard could even aim at her, she riddled his arms and neck with bullet holes.
The family and remaining guards ran into the building. Arashi quickly gave chase. Her targets moved slowly because of the children, so Arashi easily caught up by consecutively leaping forward using her cybernetic leg.
The two guards stopped at the far end of the dining room and turned around. Determination to take out Arashi burned in their eyes. They opened fire, forcing her to dive under a table for cover. A waiter that had not evacuated was killed by stray bullets. The family escaped from the dining room using the kitchen entrance.
While lying sideways on the ground, Arashi kicked off a nearby dining table and slid across the floor at an abnormal speed and distance thanks to her enhanced leg power. The long white tablecloths hid her from her opponents’ view.
Popping out from her new position, she easily disposed of a surprised guard. The last guard returned fire, so she dashed to the side. While running, she shot at the guard but missed because the movement threw off her aim.
They both ran out of bullets at about the same time. However, Arashi’s reload speed, honed by her father, was vastly superior.
This is thanks to father’s training!
She closed in on the guard, who was still frantically reloading his handgun, and shot him in the face. Without stopping, she trailed after the escaping family. She caught up to them in the parking area at the back of the restaurant. They were running towards a gate leading to the street.
Arashi easily picked off the father and mother. Her following burst shot missed one of the boys because of his small frame, but she managed to kill him on the second attempt. The other boy exited the parking lot wailing and screaming.
Dammit, I have to get him!
She rushed out of the parking lot and went after the boy, only to be greeted by his dangling corpse. Souichi held the child by the head and casually removed the knife that had been sticking out of his chest.
Arashi instantly straightened up and said, “Sorry, sir!”
“Why did he get this far?” Souichi shook the small corpse in his hand.
Since it was not a fixed military reply, she found it difficult to explain the situation.
“I… missed,” she said.
“I see. Well, I’m sure you would’ve gotten to him in a few seconds anyway. I just saved you the trouble because he bumped into me.” He wiped his knife on the boy’s shirt before dropping him to the ground. “I saw the staff evacuate from this gate. Any witnesses?”
He gazed at her with a serious expression and touched her right cheek with his hand. “Not bad for your first solo mission. Good job.”
Arashi felt happy. She was only complimented by her father when she successfully completed missions.
I was so worried after missing twice…
She inwardly breathed a sigh of relief.
“However, missed shots might have greater consequences in future missions.”
His palm still on her cheek, Souichi tapped her half-opened right eyelid with his thumb.
“This has to go.”
Arashi could only nod at his command.