Quiet childhood afternoons are broken by pain; and in that tragedy you find a reason to truly live.
That was what Father had said, what he had always said. You knew you were special like your sister, knew that your destiny was linked, threaded warp and weft into the island's fate; you existed only to protect this core, this project of hopeful paradise that paradoxically bred weapons.
Your world revolved around that, too. School was a dream of things easily remembered and rattled out at examinations; back at home there were technical manuals and system information: the tedious reality of preparing for a war that was ever imminent. Although the shielding system was predicted to be impenetrable, still it was always better to prepare: that was what Father said. So you prepared, wearing childhood like a paper-thin skin, joining in the fun and games when possible but feeling always the difference growing between you and them.
Only two pierced that barrier. She saw too much; he felt too much.
Somehow you were drawn to them, and you treasured them. And perhaps you felt there was more to living that protecting the island; for now you wanted to protect them, too. But then you began to wonder if there was more to life than protecting, if that transient dream--life of paradise you led between preparing for the day when the Garden of Eden would fall--could actually be, or become, reality. Yet you knew it could not be, that you had to exist only for the island--
--or the island would /cease/; and with it, they whom you treasured. For that then you would learn the ways of war, you who hated to harm others; you would learn to inure your heart against loneliness and pain, for a commander (indeed, that was what Father was training you for) had to be alone. And still you loved the time you spent with them, and as time passed you especially loved the time you spent with /him/; for he did not make you feel different--he made you feel proud to know what you knew because it spared him the burden.
Someday, though, someday he would have to take up that burden, and you would have to watch him struggle under it. You were content to let time pass, hoping perhaps that by ignoring it, that day would never come. But still, you wished with the fervor of a child that somewhere there would be a place where you could all live in peace, together.
When the radio first squawked at him Soushi had jumped, surprised at the strange sounds emanating from what he had thought was a quaint little antique. He had poked at it then, fiddling with the knobs and twirling the little antenna until his father had returned and told him that it would not work. (But it had, he had heard it squawk. Was it a squawk-machine? Father had not said.)
Math and the basic theory behind the Solomon System had occupied him all afternoon, but later he found the time to retrieve the battered old thing from the side table where it had perched for years, and stuff it somewhat guiltily into a small bag. Kazuki would be delighted, he had of late conceived an interest in all things mechanical; perhaps Mamoru would be able to do something with it. For all his father's teachings Soushi still had not got the hang of mechanical items; his electronics project was a mess.
The five boys crowded around the tree, gaping at the relic that Soushi had unearthed from the cluttered side table.
"It's a radio," Mamoru declared with finality, twiddling the knobs. He frowned at the screechy noises that made the others wince, and twisted the dials. "But it's kinda broken. And there's nothing much to receive, I think. No one uses radio any more. Are you sure you heard a voice, Soushi?"
"I think Soushi wouldn't lie," Kazuki opined, crouched on his hands and knees. "Can you fix it?"
"Sure," the other boy agreed enthusiastically, popping open a small box and extracting several tools.
"Don't ruin the outside," Soushi cautioned. "Father won't like it if you spoil the wood."
The others waited, sitting and pulling up grass stems to plait into little circlets. Kazuki's deft fingers made short work of one, and he tilted it over Soushi's sandy hair, giggling as he did so. Soushi, having long since abandoned trying to make the things, retaliated by plucking a sunflower growing nearby and tucking it behind Kazuki's ears. The other two made gagging noises and groaned about gayness, which started a little fight that quickly progressed to a full-out flower-throwing war.
The radio crackled. The boys crowded back, breathless with anticipation.
"Are you sure?" Kenji frowned. "It seems like there's nothing to pick upÂ¡K"
"My repairs are perfect," Mamoru defended. "If Soushi's telling the truthÂ¡K"
Kouyou sat back on the grass, plucking up more stems and showering Soushi with them. "Why don't we take turns keeping watch? I can take it home today and one of you take it home tomorrow."
"Anata wa soko ni imasu ka?"
Soushi was the only one who did not jump in shock; Kouyou nearly knocked the radio over in his excitement, and Kazuki slapped Mamoru's back gleefully.
"Of course it does."
"Shall we answer it?"
Five heads tilted in the direction of the radio. Soushi crouched right in front of it, youthful features intent.
The screech of static swallowed their words whole, rising into the blue air like a siren. All five boys jerked back, surprised, as the noise flared, rising and falling in pitch, modulating into something like someone screaming. Kenji was the first to bolt, leaping to his feet and taking off down the hill in blind panic. The sound seemed alive, reaching into their minds. Kouyou backed away next, and then Mamoru fled, leaving Kazuki and Soushi to cover their ears to try to block it out.
Soushi reeled, feeling hot; and then it hurt, spikes of pain stabbing across his body and into his brain. The world was suddenly a strange place, painted in shades of violent green and sharp yellow, and it stretched in a thin line of reality between him and some distant place that he could see vaguely shimmering there beyond the veil, beckoning--
--to a place where he could live without fear, without dread, without waiting always for that imminent future where he would have to fight and see his loved ones fight--
--to a place where he could be with Kazuki--
Some part of him was aware that he was moving, that the sound had faded and Kazuki was looking up, grinning in silly amusement that they had all gotten spooked by some mere noise. The pain had turned into something else, something that suffused him and moved him, and Soushi was smiling back at Kazuki, a smile of true joy.
Let's go, Kazuki.
Crystals shimmered into existence out of the palm of his right hand, edges and angles conjoined in unsymmetrical perfect beauty.
Pierce that veil of reality, break down the barriers that separated people, the barriers that made them two and not one; and then they would be somewhere with no pain and no fear, only the two of them who would then be one. Soushi was reaching out, lips shaping words that came from somewhere else, bypassing his brain and moving through his heart:
"/Anata// wa soko ni imasu ka?/"
Kazuki's childish features hardened into fear, the boy staggering backwards until he fetched up against the tree. And then Soushi was stepping forwards, narrowing the distance between them, movements no longer of his own volition, and Kazuki looked up into the eyes of something that was not his friend, and shoved in terror at the hand held out to him.
Soushi had an instant of clarity when his body was his, and he stared in shock at the gleaming shape rushing towards his field of vision; and then the crystal growing out of his hand slammed into his eye, and the world phase-shifted back to reality on a tide of crimson pain.
More than that: as he screamed and groped automatically at his wound with his left hand, as the crystal cracked into powder and vanished in the wind, the fog in his mind lifted and Soushi was suddenly, painfully aware that he had tried to do something terribly wrong. Kazuki was gaping; there was a moment when one gray eye met twin hazel ones, and the dark-haired boy leapt up and fled, leaving Soushi crouched alone on the grassy hillside.
You exist for the island.
Oh, it is more than that now; since that day when you collected your scattered wits and walked composedly off the hill, you knew: you exist only for the island, because he is on it. Understanding is a powerful thing--it allows you to push yourself to the limit, because you know that if you fail he will be next in line. Before, you had strived to protect a piece of land, and a sister who would never speak to you, but now you have something truly precious to protect, and you will.
Protect his innocence, because this island is his paradise, and you will keep it so. And perhaps someday when the danger is over, it can be your paradise, yours and his both. Together--