Disclaimer: I don't own Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou.
Posted April 7th, 2008
He had remembered this plane, from his trip with Alpha when he had still been a child. It had soared in the air, propeller whirring, impossibly sleek and beautiful against the frosty sky. In this place, if you don't have wheels you can't do anything.
Takahiro isn't content to sit merely sit here, waiting in the same place day after day for something he can never hope to obtain. He wants to work with machinery, he thinks, but even more than that he simply wants to leave for a little while. He's young and optimistic, so if he changes his mind along the way it won't matter. He wants to discover new things, meet new people, see strange sights.
You only live once.
The boy truly meets Nai for the first time that day. Contemplative and reserved, almost shy. This is his first impression. And he understands a little more when Nai's sunburns heal in hours, when he puts no sugar in his drinks. When he smiles in an awkward way, seemingly uncomfortable with everything except being in the air. He's lonely. Unsure of himself, of how to act. Takahiro wants to thank him for this opportunity, wants to tell him more of Alpha and Kokone, of his home and family and thoughts. But he doesn't. Because he's still new, something that his mentor hasn't been able to get used to yet, and right now it's not his place.
So he sips coffee, quietly holding his chipped mug with both hands, and stares into the fire beside their camp.
He learns how it works before he actually flies in the air. The engine parts leave oil on his hands, black smudging his fingers and staining his overalls, making him smell of machinery and a hard day's work in the sun, but this is something familiar. Nai sits on the grass beside him and watches, instructing him now and again on where things go and why.
Sometimes the man starts a conversation about the weather, or a picture he sent to a friend, or how slowly time passes when he is on the ground. But usually the two of them keep silence, no noise save the grass rustling in the wind and the clinking of metal against metal.
They're used to each other now, or at least more so than a week ago when Takahiro first arrived, and it's easier to work without Makki bothering him or Grandpa interrupting him to run errands in the afternoons. There are differences between Alpha and Nai, robots though they may be, and he can't help but notice them. She's more talkative than him, easier to fluster and excite. He's calmer, down-to-earth, realistic. And they both act so human that he often forgets otherwise.
That night when they sit by the fire, eating roasted corn and drinking barley tea, Takahiro sits a little closer to him than before.
They don't talk.
One night he lays awake, unable to sleep without the sound of grass rustling or waves lapping against the shore. His house had been far from the beach, but occasionally on windy nights he could hear its faint rhythm. The air is still; it's too quiet for him to rest comfortably.
Nai is lying to his right, eyes closed, softly breathing. He's reminded of nights spent at Alpha's, where she fell asleep within minutes of lying down. Cold, waiting for the sun to rise on the morning of the new year. He remembers how soft and warm her skin felt, how real. Takahiro resists the urge to run a finger along Nai's cheek to compare, and shuts his eyes.
Nai lets him sit in the back of the plane the next time he has an errand to run. They speak through small radios attached to their headsets, microphones dangling in front of their faces with speakers next to their ears. Still, it's hard to hear with the screeching noise of the wind and the heavy sound of the propeller, misty air filling his senses. It takes time getting used to the man's slightly distorted messages, but he points things out along the way. How you can tell the weather and airflow by the shape and movements of the clouds. That there is a mountain range below them, see the tips of land reaching up from below?
They're flying to make a delivery, boxes of peaches hidden in the floors of their small seats like weights, but the flight is short - only to the neighboring town in the North. As they wait on the ground waiting for their shipment to be checked, he feels a little of the anxiety that is so common in the other man. The sky is a wide, ever-changing mix of blues, and sometimes it's as if he is seeing the entire world pass under their wings. He shifts his weight subtly, trying not to make his boredom apparent, but Nai glances towards him with disapproval anyway.
"Here. Sorry, we're fresh outta everythin' else."
The owner of the store hands them two bottles of ginger ale along with their payment, and Takahiro accepts his gratefully. He would have rather drank meiporo, or maybe coffee, but he's no position to refuse. If Nai lost some business because of his disrespect, he doubted he'd be able to continue working with him. And really, he thinks as the pilot opens his drink and takes a small sip, ginger ale isn't so bad. So he drinks from his own bottle, almost choking at first because of how unexpectedly strong it is.
Nai's gaze lingers on him momentarily and he looks like he's about to smile, but then they drop their bottles into the recycle and then it's time to leave. The summer air is hot and humid; his clothing sticks uncomfortably to his skin and he can't wait to climb into the airplane again, the taste of carbonation still on his tongue as they make their way into the clouds.
The yellow paint on the edges of the wings has started to flake off. Or maybe it's always been there and he just hadn't noticed. Either way, the dull white has started to show in small flecks, and for some reason it's particularly distracting today. Takahiro is bent over in the grass, drawing the layout of the engine on a piece of well-folded paper, and he fells compelled to ask even though he already knows the answer.
"Paint's expensive." Is Nai's reply, and somehow it gives him peace of mind. He sketches for a while, testing his memory, until his mentor speaks again.
"How does Alpha see you?" He asks quietly, looking up at the sky. No errands to run today.
"I'm her little brother." Takahiro laughs sheepishly, setting his pencil on the ground. It immediately starts rolling away from him on the uneven surface of the field.
The wind picks up. Far, far away he can see tree limbs bending, and the grass around them shuffles together noisily. His paper flutters sideways, caught by the breeze, but he leans over and stops it with a hand, fingers brushing against the dry edges of plants and dirt. At the moment there is no way to store the plane in Hamamatsu because Nai's rental space has been broken into. So the plane stays where it lies, and they empty the gas into galleons and galleons of buckets, placing them in the back of Nai's truck. He doesn't have to explain why.
Here, in the middle of the field, not many people travel through. If someone did find it, wandering around in the inky blackness of the night, this way they wouldn't be able to fly it. A broken window could be repaired, graffiti could be painted over, but if the plane actually went missing...
Later, when they finish, he climbs into the left side of the vehicle and waits. Nai removes his gloves and stuffs them into one of his jacket pockets, then takes his place in the driver's seat.
Occasionally he sends letters. Short things, explaining what he's learned and how he's doing, but only for Makki and Alpha because he's afraid Grandpa secretly thinks he's wasting his time. Nai frowns a little when he sends them, as if he can't quite understand something, and suddenly he realizes that the robot doesn't have many human friends. He sends pictures to a girl he knows, someone who lives a few hours away from Takahiro's hometown, but she isn't human either.
He's still embarrassed though, the first time he watches a direct transfer - although the delivery girl and Nai themselves seem unfazed. Does this mean that when Alpha...?
So when Nai tells him that they'll be making a delivery with a route that passes over his hometown, he sends out letters in advance. Folding paper after paper into cream-coloured envelopes. It's not the fact that he cares all that much, but that everyone would be upset if he didn't, and after he explains Nai looks as if things suddenly make sense.
Time passes as usual, and then it's the morning of their flight. The weather has become a little cooler, summer slowly melting into spring and spring slowly melting into autumn again. He remembers when he had last seen this town, drifting away from its boundaries as the bus took him as far as it could go. He had been surprised at the amount of people who rode it, at first, but the crowd had dwindled with each stop until it was the end of the route. Takahiro had thanked the driver, waved goodbye, and had followed the map until the nearest airport, a small stand in the middle of a field.
He straps his helmet on, making sure the goggles are in place before climbing into the back seat of the plane. Nai won't let his fly it himself, even though he's memorized what to do from seeing him perform so often, and he has a small suspicion that he never will. The man probably wants just this one thing for himself, and Takahiro understands the need to feel unique.
Everyone needs to be selfish, once in a while.
Propeller whirring, wheels running against the ground, he knows exactly which parts are moving what. He knows the desired altitude, how to find a favorable wind, where each and every possible landing spot along the trip is. How to judge if there is enough fuel to complete an errand without stopping. When they're over the clouds, how to determine location and how to read a map.
We're almost there. He knows because he can see the coastline to his right, barely, where the island starts to taper off into the ocean. And then the dense forest changes to one with roads, glimpses of sand-coloured stones and pathways visible though the gaps of branches. The first building, a small house on the very edge of town. And now they're flying in a low, low arc towards the field where his childhood is waiting.
He notices Alpha first, her green hair catching his eye as they near, and then Makki because she's right beside her. The older generation stands a ways away from them, Grandpa's grin as wide as ever. Everyone is in formal clothing - and somehow it's as if he's been away for years and years.
"That's my family." He tells Nai.
"…They're all dressed up?" The man asks, looking down at them. The plane is as loud as ever - he doesn't know why the crowd on the ground isn't covering their ears.
"…Yeah. I wonder why?" He laughs, a little embarrassed. Takahiro reaches down for a small canister at his feet, and drops it on their final circle. The long strip of fabric attached flies out and waves in the wind, creating a dancing pattern of white in the air. He can already see Makki running forward to pick it up before anyone else, Alpha following behind her at leisurely pace.
Takahiro's at Hamamatsu, the city where Nai stores his airplane, and he knows this is the last delivery he'll make. He loves flying and working with the man, but now that he's mastered the skills he feels restless. There are other things that he can do now, and he wants to try them just because he can. Nai is sad to see him go, even if he doesn't say it directly, but he feels that it's for the best. Maybe he'll make a trip to his hometown before he sets off again, or maybe he won't.
He wants to go to Yokohama, if only because Alpha's been there, and the last time he made a delivery he couldn't stay long. He wants to go farther than that too, farther than anyone he knows has ever been. And maybe he'll come back, and maybe he won't, but he's young and optimistic - and he has all the time in the world.
Sorry for any inaccuracies!