Short Story – Who is the Hero? (Part 3)

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This was the part of this series of stories I was most interested in writing, and yet the part which was hardest to write without betraying what I intended to do with the series. Part 2 set out both the tension – as the boys at the heart of the story could not reconcile their fictional idols with the reality of interacting with an adult alien – and the setup for this climax as Lovely made her dramatic appearance, being in some ways everything the boys wanted and in other ways nothing of the sort.

Part 3 had to be the fallout from this, a slow decline from the hope of Part 1‘s classic super-robot tone through the bathos of Part 2’s non-event of a fight into the confrontation between expectation and reality. At the same time I did not want it to simply be grimdark nihilism, and I hope I avoided this. The theme I wanted to play on was that interaction between depiction of war (or in this case heroism, or alien contact) and the truth of it. The final scene of War in the Pocket is excellent for this; the refrain of the children that the “next war” will be cooler, and longer, and more exciting shows that those people who did not take part in the story’s events know nothing of anything that matters. I homage this, in a way, with Daichi and Yuuya seeing a super robot war as a story of monsters of the week and inevitable, not too perilous victory – while Keiko, not so obsessed with this black-hat and white-hat morality, can only perceive the war part of the phrase.

But that is only a part of what I wanted to use as my dramatic climax. The other part is something that I see no reason to not explore within the framework of this genre – the question of how sentient a sentient super-robot actually is. I really like Brave Police J-Decker as a series because it plays with this idea. The robots are the strongest characters in the story, outshining most of the humans – but it is the core human-AI relationship that drives the story’s best moments. In these short stories I have imagined that Lovely is perhaps not cynical but not willing to be seen as a tool. She is Earth’s protector, but she is a living creature front and centre and that is something boys raised on media that presents your robotic big brother as someone who does your bidding (a trope that has existed since Tetsujin 28) can’t relate to. Lovely, not being so familiar with the “expectations” placed on a super-robot by people raised on fictional super-robots, eventually snaps and it is this that drives this story. The children are being children, for sure, but they are toying with someone’s life.

I hope this does not come across as too nihilistic. Instead I wanted to explore the ideas of how boys raised on male-focused media about saving and protecting helpless girls, and about robots that serve man, might react in a situation where their fictional fantasies become real. The effects of media, and the ways in which young people engage with the fiction they consume, fascinate me – and writing a piece of almost meta-textual fiction in this vein (that is not slapstick self-awareness) is something I have long wanted to do.


Day Thirty

It took some convincing but the people here finally understand I mean no harm and was acting, on the instruction of the children, to help them. There was talk of contacting some higher authority but the local police decided that that would be too much bother, especially once the childrens’ teachers stepped in.

…I do not know what to do now.

The boys’ punishment for the whole giant robot affair had been distinctly perfunctory, with the effusive thanks of Ms Sanegawa and Mr. Asamiya doing much to dissuade their parents. So it was they were sat with Keiko – their “partner in crime”, much to her mother’s shock – distinctly feeling the cooling of their classmates’ admiration. A real super-robot was one thing. One who – as Yuuya had not hesitated to say – didn’t actually like super-robots and who had the personality of a teacher (he had wanted to say Keiko there but it had not been that easy) was much less exciting, and cutting the arm off a glorified forklift and falling in the bay was no equivalent to fighting some alien empire’s first ambassador.

Her secret out, Lovely had become a little more talkative. A little. For the days immediately after she had seemed proud of helping, and had then – as Daichi and Yuuya had coasted on her fame – become a gradually more reserved.

“Daichi?” Keiko finished her lunch and made a point of not looking at him as she spoke.

“Yes?”

“What would we do if aliens attacked?”

“Well-” Yuuya began talking excitedly and was cut off almost immediately.

“I’m not talking about in the shows you watch. I mean… there’s all the wars in the news, isn’t there? Wouldn’t it be like those?”

Awkward silence. Wars were something that happened to other people, that didn’t happen in Shimada. They were serious things the history teacher talked about with great gravity, they were the things that filled the news programmes. They didn’t sit well alongside super-robots. Nobody ever thought of the hero as anything other than a hero.

“Of course it wouldn’t.” Yuuya wouldn’t shut up. “You saw how Lovely saved you, Keiko.”

Keiko stood up and left them, not speaking through the afternoon class and not walking back with them. That evening, she headed up to do her homework and for the first time in several days took out the Machine Stone.

“Are you in there?”

“Yes?”

“Are you a soldier?” Daichi and Yuuya seemed to have a very clear vision of what Lovely was. Someone who would fight, and win, and do all the good things one expected of a fictional hero. “Are you here just to fight? Is there a war coming?”

Why do you ask?”

“It’s… it’s the boys. It almost feels like they want to see you fight.”

I think my role is like a policeman. I arrived here believing my primary mission was to protect the people of this world, but I… I am now unsure what I need to do. Inspector Andou seems to be a man who wants to help others. I want to be like him.” The voice was as flat, as generically feminine as a car GPS, as ever. But the hesitation was the same hesitation that Keiko had heard when younger children, or less confident classmates, had confided in her.

“Is that why you came here? To be a… policeman?”

Is it not right that the powerful should help the weak? From our perspective, you are… small. You saw how I was able to save your teacher.”

“But nobody will thank you for it, will they?”

What do you mean? People were excited at what I did.”

Keiko thought back to how it had been Daichi talking about how he had saved her. He hadn’t even saved her. Lovely had saved Ms. Sanegawa, and some salaryman who hadn’t even had a look in. She realised Lovely genuinely thought that this was gratitude.

“I want to talk, Lovely.” Daichi looked at his own badge later that night. “You’ve been distant lately and… I don’t think I’ve thanked you properly for saving Keiko. I mean everyone’s really glad you did what you did but it was so exciting!” The enthusiasm of the other students might have cooled but something about the fight was still in Daichi’s mind.

I was talking to Keiko about this today.”

“Really?”

“Yes. She said that nobody thanked heroes.”

Daichi thought for a moment. “She’s right. That’s… that’s what makes a hero a hero really. They do what they do because people will, eventually, see it.”

That is a very un-Daichi thing to say.”

“Well… it’s actually what the main character of Royal Knight Raikreiger says.” Daichi smiled. “But it’s a cool thing to say.”

There was a pause.

Why do you keep saying I saved Keiko?”

Daichi didn’t know what to say. Lovely had stopped the loader’s rampage, in his eyes, and saved his classmates. That was what had happened.

The woman and the man being held by the machine I fought were in immediate danger, and yet you seem to forget I saved them.” Lovely had sounded sad when talking to Keiko. Now, even if her voice couldn’t show emotion, there was an anger to it. The words were faster, staccato, and then uneven. “Nobody thanks a hero. Eventually, you say, people see what they do. You watch your programmes with their robots and their heroes of justice, and this blue earth’s peace is protected, and you have not learned anything from them.” Her speech was almost a jumbled, hurried mess of syllables. “Do you know what Keiko did today? She asked me about my life, in her own, worried fashion.”

“But-”

“You and Yuuya… I want to know what you think about me.”

“You’re great!” Daichi looked worried now. “And Yuuya… he’s… I know he’s rude but he’s just… he’s my friend, Lovely. And you… you’re our-”

Why am I yours. You want to talk. You say I am distant.Yuuya says I am boring.”

Isn’t that how it is? You’re… our friend.”

I do not know what being your friend means. It does not seem to mean the same for Keiko or I as… is it because of how I have presented myself to you?”

“Shut up!” Daichi swept the Machine Stone off his desk. “This isn’t how it should be. This isn’t heroism.”

Day Thirty-Four

My secondary directive is a failure. I do not understand why it failed. Yuuya was first to… become distant. He seemed to resent what I was, when I would not be what he wanted. Daichi is the same now. I cannot see why I have earned these boys’ resentment. I consider this a failure of my third directive, for it is clear I have misunderstood some fundamental aspect of the culture.

Keiko talks to me surprisingly frequently. I am learning much from her, and she is eager to learn as much as possible about the Machine Empire.

Before he shut himself away from me, Daichi said that being a hero meant staying true to oneself even if the world did not appreciate you. I understand this. I do not understand why the world would not appreciate those who help it, and I do not see how the appreciation Daichi claims I am being shown is, in fact, any appreciation at all.

Over a month had passed since Lovely had arrived in Shimada. The town had largely forgotten about her existence, and even the children she had entrusted herself to were doing their best to. Keiko talked, every few days, finding some comfort in the flat mechanical voice’s reassurances that Earth was quite safe. She learned a little each time about Lovely’s own thoughts.

Daichi and Yuuya still occasionally talked about Lovely, even if she made efforts not to listen. The idea of having a robot friend, of being able to call on a brave mechanical hero just like their fictional idols, never left a boy’s mind. Yuuya was even able to forgive, in his head, all Lovely’s disappointing features. She would always be their real super-robot. Daichi himself had studiously not listened to her final lecture, and held easily in his head the belief that it was wholly natural for someone to have their own robot. It was how series after series had it. The robot was there for you, it did what you told it and it would do what it had to to save the Earth.

Lovely’s not understanding that was, to the boys, just like her not understanding the practicality of a rocket punch, or the importance of naming your weapons. One day they would talk to her again and it would all be good and she could learn to be a proper super-robot. When Keiko wasn’t listening (because it upset her, and if she was upset then they got in trouble), they would fantasise about an alien invasion because it was something inevitable. Lovely would come back, fight the aliens’ first battle machine, and stand silhouetted in golden-red sunset with the three of them in her palm.

Yet while they had tried very hard not to think about what Lovely had said, something occasionally – when the credits rolled on whatever anime he had been watching, in the strange milky-blue night hours after he had stopped reading and before he fell asleep – troubled Daichi. It didn’t trouble Yuuya, and in fact he had laughed at the thought. But it was, nevertheless, inevitable. Had he, back then, in the fishy boredom of the school trip, saved Keiko?

Shimada’s run-down patrol car was struggling up the hill by the building-site – now a skeleton of a shop – when Daichi waved it down.

“Inspector Andou sir?”

“Is everything all right?”

“Do you remember when the loader was stolen?”

“I doubt I’ll forget, Daichi. It was just like everything I dreamed of as a child.” Andou smiled. He had had to remain professional, but something about the bravery of Daichi had moved him. “You did well, getting your friend to save your teacher.”

Not Keiko.

“Didn’t I save the class?”

“What do you mean?”

“I got Lovely to-”

“Daichi, have you got a moment?” Andou pulled the car over properly, parking it at the roadside. “I talk to people, and I’ve been talking to Mrs. Adachi and Ms. Sanegawa just as part of my rounds. And they’ve been telling me you’ve not been being all that honest about what happened.”

“What do you mean?”

“Daichi, if you see a fire and you phone the fire brigade, and the fire brigade help the people in the house, who saved them?”

In the silent minutes that followed, Andou noticed the boy was crying. He took him home, as was his job.

Day Forty-Two

I did not mean to but recently I could not help but check in on Daichi. I did not bother checking on Yuuya because I am not good enough for him, according to Keiko.

Daichi is, I think, realising what I said to him.

Maybe there is some hope for the seconday and tertiary directives.

“Lovely?”

Silence from the badge.

“I’m…”

Still nothing. The words were difficult for Daichi.

“I’m sorry Lovely.”

The plastic-like material remained dull.

“Are you there?”

Do you need something? Is there an invasion you want me to fight?”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m… I’m sorry, Lovely. I talked to Inspector Andou and he told me some things and I- I- I-”

I understand, Daichi.”

There was not quite the expected catharsis from that reply.

“So… is everything…”

Why would everything be all right? You have realised what you have done wrong, but you have still, for a long time, been doing it. I forgive you, but… things are not all right just like that.”

Daichi cried, not even trying to maintain a cool facade. Reaching for a phone, he dialled Yuuya’s house and did not attempt to hide his tears as it was answered.

“Yuuya…”

“Are you all right Daichi?”

“We’ve… we’ve hurt Lovely. We’ve hurt her.

“How?”

“The things we’ve said… she’s heard them all. She… she…”

He couldn’t see it. He hung up.

You did a brave thing, Daichi. I am sorry for you that your friend was not there to help you.” Lovely hesitated. “May I ask you a question? Why?

“Why what?”

Why does it matter that I do the things you want me to?”

“Because it’s right.” Daichi sniffed, trying to stop crying. “It’s what… it’s what’s cool. It’s what we expected. But instead you were… you weren’t… it was difficult to talk to you.”

I am sorry.”

“What?”

I realised, perhaps a little before you did, when I was at my angriest with you and Yuuya, when only Keiko talked to me as a friend not a servant, that I had failed you. I came here with three aims. One of those was to understand humans. How could I understand you if you could not understand me?”

“Can we start again?”

I do not understand.”

“I know you can’t make everything all right. I know we’ve been… we’ve not understood what you meant. But can you give us another chance? Can you talk to Yuuya and help him?”

We can try. Can you change?

第三話

だれ は 勇者ですか?

つづく

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