After school, Homura visited the Exploration Club building.
This was her third time entering the club building.
She had promised to learn magic from Professor Fujimori today.
After taking a quick peek into the dimly-lit transport room where the Transport Ring was preciously stored, she climbed the stairs and headed to the stand-by room, where she found a high school girl sitting slovenly on a chair and completely absorbed in playing a handheld game console.
She finally came!
Homura took a circuitous route to stand in front of the girl, who had yet to notice the visitor.
There was no mistake. Homura remembered this exotic-looking face.
The girl jumped with a start and looked up to face Homura.
“Who are you!? A burglar!?”
“Wait, wait, aren’t you the one who said ‘Come in’ and let me into the building through the entrance monitor, Ame-chan?”
The girl made an expression of realization.
“Haah, I did that completely unconsciously in the background of my mind.”
Homura brought over a chair, and the two of them sat side-by-side at a corner of the table.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Hinooka Homura, a new member of the Exploration Club.”
“I’m Fujimori Ameno. I know all about you, Homura. It somehow feels like I’ve known you since before I was born.”
“I-I’m honored, I guess.”
Ameno grasped Homura’s hands with her own.
She had a strong grip that didn’t match her appearance.
“I use the rooms in the club building like this, but I still haven’t been recognized as a formal club member, ya know.”
“So you’re a tomboy1, huh?”
“No, no, anyway, I’m happy to meet you.”
“Yes, I’ve wanted to meet you too for a long time, Homura-san.”
“Yeah, yeah! Ame-chan, you’re a first-year, right? We’re in the same grade, right? Misasagi-senpai is kind and wonderful, of course, but it still makes a big difference having a fellow club member of the same age.”
“What about Takumi-san?”
“By Takumi, you mean Touya-kun? That mountain monkey doesn’t count. He’s a boy, after all.”
“But Takumi-san is a splendid male member who shoulders the future of the Exploration Club, you know?”
Ameno wore a carefree smile, seeming like a charming young girl in Homura’s eyes. Her pronunciation had no accent, and her nationality was hard to pin down. She seemed like she might be Scandinavian, but she also had a Middle Eastern air to her. She seemed to be listed as Japanese on her family register, though.
“Hey, Ame-chan, I haven’t seen you around school before. Aren’t you a transfer student? Though, admittedly, I didn’t get to see you when you appeared during the Shinryoku Festival because I was busy at the time.”
“The reason for that is terrible, let me tell you! Apparently, there’s a dispute among the school higher-ups over me, and my transfer procedure might not even get approved!”
“What’s with that? Is your guardian Fujimori-sensei clashing with the school administration?”
Ameno puffed up her cheeks indignantly.
“Chiayu-san doesn’t seem to care as long as the Exploration Club members increase. The ones that are quarreling are my home2 and the school.”
“Ah, I get what you mean, I really do. She really is irresponsible like that, that teacher.”
Homura strongly nodded while putting the assortment of pastries she had brought down on the table.
Homura had stayed out of clubs until now, but the one thing she had always idolized about them was the meeting place-type atmosphere in rooms like this.
Ameno looked Homura over with great interest.
“…Ah, that’s right! Chiayu-san ordered me to take care of your magic training today, Homura-san!”
“Huh, sensei’s not coming herself? Did she get delayed somewhere?”
“Chiayu-san apparently had a sudden and urgent appointment with some old comrades of hers, and she went out after making a reservation at a bar in Honmachi.”
“W-What!? That’s just going out for drinks! She really is irresponsible. Tomorrow, I’m going to severely—”
“Don’t worry, Homura-san. Teaching is my specialty. I’m better at it than Chiayu. I can’t use magic myself, though.”
“Ah, really? Well, Mori-chan doesn’t seem suited towards magic either, I guess—More importantly, will you listen to this, Ame-chan?”
As Ameno was making preparations for the magic training session, she was forcefully pulled back by Homura.
Homura took out a set of lemon tea and Happy Turn3 rice crackers, and handed a portion of them over to Ameno while munching on the crackers.
“Yesterday, do you know what Mori-chan said to me at the beginning of the day?”
Ameno tilted her head curiously while holding both ends of a cracker.
“The first thing she said was, ‘Hinooka, are you a virgin?’”
“Hahah. That frankness is just like Chiayu-san.”
“She also said that that mountain monkey is also technically a boy, so he might make a mistake during an expedition, and even without that, Nutella’s environment makes it easy to get excited.”
“And then she said that, in case such an event ever comes to pass, it would be better to take countermeasures rather than pointlessly resist, and that she’d even prepare contraceptive tools for me! Can you believe that? There are Nutella-use contraceptive tools with the UNPIEP logo on them!”
“That’s reassuring. Crude fakes have apparently been circulating lately.”
“That’s the point you remark on!? It’s not reassuring at all! That’s not just a late response; they’re completely dodging the issue with that kind of solution! They’re not considering it seriously at all! The directors and government officials are turning a blind eye to the whole thing!”
“So, are you a virgin?”
The cracker went flying from Ameno’s hands with a smack and fell on the table.
Homura lay her head down on the table and fell silent.
As the silence continued for a long while, Ameno took off a cracker’s plastic wrapping and started skillfully folding it into origami.
“Homura-san, I heard you’ve had a lot of experience with boys. How nice~. I’m so envious.”
“Where’d you hear that from…”
“Ehehe,” Ameno laughed embarrassedly.
“Even if you say I have a lot of experience… I haven’t had anyone in mind recently… And I haven’t had the time for dating either…”
“Our activities outside of Nutella receive public attention, and information always leaks out no matter what we do. Intercourse alone is still treated at the level of something cute, but pregnancy on Nutella, let alone with underage teenagers, is a matter that major blogs and the Exploration Club Watchers won’t leave be. There’s a limit to what information control can do, after all. It would surely affect the club’s continued existence. Isn’t that a serious matter?”
A tiny frog made out of wrapping hopped along Ameno’s fingers.
Homura grumbled while poking at the cracker that had been left bare on the table.
“I’m more worried about Misasagi-senpai… Even if she’s physically much stronger than Touya-kun, what if she gets pulled along by the mood? And there’s the possibility of a crime being committed while she’s drunk…”
“Would that bother you, Homura-san?”
“…Not… really, but…”
With the Happy Powder having been shaken off the cracker, it was now just a plain old Turn cracker.
Suddenly, Ameno raised her head and stared into empty air.
“—Ah, speak of the devil. Too bad, I missed the chance to hear more.”
“‘Yes, come on in. We were waiting for you.’”
Soon after, Touya poked his head into the standby room.
Homura glared reproachfully at Touya while remaining sitting.
“Yo, Hinooka. Ameno, long time no see.”
“…Touya-kun, you interrupted our rare and precious girls’ talk time.”
“You said you were going to do magic training, so I came to learn by observation, as someone who’s bad at magic myself. So, what were you chatting about? Where’s Fujimori-sensei?”
“I’m substituting for her.”
“Seriously. We’re going to properly start soon, okay? I still want to talk more with Homura-san.”
“You can just call me Homura, you know?”
“No, I couldn’t. Even if we’re in the same grade, I’m much younger than everyone else.”
“You don’t look like it, though… How old are you? Did you skip grades?”
“Chiayu-san discovered4 me about ten years ago. I established self-consciousness in this body and started proper operation three years ago.”
“Hah? Eh? Three years ago? …Three years old!? You’re an infant?”
“And, incidentally, I’m also a virgin.”
Yeah, that makes sense, right?5
Ameno turned towards Touya and made a finger-snapping pose.
“Yes, yes, it’s time to start studying magic!”
Homura brushed aside the puzzled Touya and took out a third seat for him.
Ameno held out a headset that was one size bigger than standard headphones.
Homura adjusted it on her head while fretting over how the cord connected to its exclusive power source got tangled with her hair.
“This is a brain waves scanner. Even this thing was made quite light weight in comparison to others, you know? You don’t even need to take a contrast media shot beforehand.”
“It’s different from the testing machine that Kinou-sensei used on me before,” Homura remarked.
“Yeah, the simple IE aptitude test-use scanner is distributed throughout middle and high schools all over the country, but this is a special piece of equipment that’s never moved outside official Exploration Club premises. It’s filled with the latest technology and all kinds of licenses, after all. The simple scanner is also more accurate than it used to be, though.”
“Hinooka, you did the IE aptitude test?”
“Yeah, I did.”
Homura wore a dejected expression.
“I got a shocking result from it… [52:D]…”
“Hey, that’s not much different from me. You got [80:B] in middle school, right? What, did you lose calories or something?”
Homura didn’t laugh at Touya’s joke.
“[B] means you have an aptitude for magic. [C] stands for outdoor activities or experience with martial arts—right?”
“Basically, yeah. [A] stands for both categories. D means that you only have an IE reaction.”
“In other words, I’m just a regular person? My peak has already passed? My bubble popped before I realized it?”
Homura sank down onto the table dejectedly even further.
“Statistically, the peak of one’s aptitude value is at around twenty years old. Even though they won’t let you join the Exploration Club if you’re too young either in this country, humph.”
From the way she acted miffed, Ameno also appeared to be dissatisfied with the aptitude value evaluation.
“Well, cheer up. It’s just a test. It’s pointless if you worry over it so much that it affects your training efforts and how you perform when you’re faced with a crucial moment in the field.”
Touya pulled up and supported Homura’s headset as she raised her head despondently.
“…Sorry. You’re right. Then, Ameno-sensei, please go ahead.”
Seeming happy at the word ‘sensei’, Ameno crisply straightened her posture.
“Then, please take this.”
“A handheld game console? I’m supposed to play with this?”
“You don’t need to manipulate it manually. It can wirelessly connect with your headset.”
When Homura touched the game console, a very stereotypical battle BGM flowed out from it.
“Ah, sorry. I left it in the middle of my play~”
Ameno pressed a hand to her temple with a hum, and then the still active play in the game was saved and the power reset.
“Huh? Did you just use magic?”
“This is Earth, you know.”
The UNPIEP logo appeared on the screen, and the already downloaded training-use software started up.
“First, we’ll start from the [concept of magic]… Hmm~~, hah!”
Ameno suddenly clenched her empty hands, and when she reopened them, she held a small disk in each hand. Their front surface was black and their back was white. In other words, they were…
Homura and Touya picked up the pieces that were offered to each of them. They were called Othello stones.
“How many moves are possible to take that piece6? In terms of game rules, that is.”
“You mean standing it upright like this or turning it over doesn’t count, right?”
Touya stared intently at Homura. Though a bit unsure, Homura answered.
“Two moves, right…? One each for white and black.”
“Correct. Now then, please focus on how to turn that piece over next. How many moves are possible to turn over this round piece?”
“Again, two moves. From white to black, and from black to white.”
“That’s correct, but also incorrect.”
“This Othello piece has no front or back. You can turn it over like this…”
Ameno flipped over the piece on Homura’s palm with her fingers.
“…Simply flipping it over like this is one move. With just this, it goes from white to black, or black to white.”
“That’s obvious, isn’t it? Then the correct answer is one move, not two?”
“There’s one more,” Touya said.
“One more? What is it?”
“Don’t do anything. From white to white. From black to black.”
“As if you can do that!”
“You actually can. Just leaving things as they are is also one possible choice. With this, you have two moves.”
After confirming Homura’s astonished nod, Ameno continued.
“Then, next… Hmm~~, hah!”
Next, playing cards appeared in Ameno’s hands.
They were both face cards. The Jack of Spades and the Queen of Diamonds.
“Just as you can see, these are playing cards. And even if you turn them upside down like this… the design remains identical. The same goes for the back side.”
After saying that, Ameno handed a card to Homura and Touya each.
“Yeah, now that you mention it, that’s pretty convenient… So this time we’re focusing on how to flip over these cards?”
“That’s right. Now then, how many moves can you do?”
After turning over and examining her card for a while, Homura raised her hand.
“Yes, sensei! I know!”
“Go ahead, Homura-san.”
“It’s four moves. You can turn it upside down. You can flip it over vertically. You can flip it over sideways. And you can do nothing!”
“What do you think, Takumi-san?”
“Hmm… can’t you also turn it over diagonally, though?”
“Fufu, that’s wrong, Touya-kun. If you try to turn it over diagonally, the card will always end up becoming sideways, right? That’s part of the pattern of turning it upside down. So it’s a combination of the two.”
“Homura-san is correct. There are four possible moves for turning over a card. Takumi-san, you already knew this and just played along, right?”
“No, I’m still unsure of the logic myself… Well, I get that there are four moves. Let’s move on.”
“Then, I’ll move on to the next step—Homura used the word pattern, but this word is actually very important. There’s another hidden pattern to turning over this card.”
“…Hmm? By pattern, you mean a combination of moves?”
After staring at her card for a while, Homura slapped the table in realization.
“You’re talking about turning it over each way in sequence?”
“Yes, that’s correct. Homura-san, you’ve got some good momentum going today. Then, in order to make it easy to understand…”
Ameno took out another card for her own use.
While taking turns flipping it over up, down, sideways and upside down, she wrote a series of numbers on the upper right portion of the card.
“I’ve written 0, 1, 2 and 3 on it. These represent the four moves. Any sequence used to turn it over such as  or  can be used no matter what state it’s in at the time.”
“Hmm, I see. Now that you point it out, you’re right. Then, this time I’m supposed to write down the different sequences for turning it over, those pattern numbers, right?”
“Yes. However,  and  is basically the same in terms of the sequence in which it’s rotated, right? So consider them the same pattern.”
“Yeah, yeah. This will be easy.”
However, it wasn’t actually that easy, and Homura had to get help from Touya in order to come up with every possible pattern.
“All right, I’m going announce my results, okay? Then, with 0 at the start, there are six patterns including , , , ,  and !”
“Well done! Then… how about this?”
Ameno next held out a slightly big die.
“So it’s a die next.”
The die was slightly abnormal, with numbers written on the top right on each of the six faces.
“Hmm~, from 0… to 23? Every face has four numbers on it, with a total of twenty-four numbers? Could this be…?”
“How many patterns of turning it over are hidden in that die?”
“I don’t know!”
“An instant response, huh…”
“I know, though?”
Homura was startled and peeked at Touya’s face beside her.
She was grimacing due to the strain of the headset’s weight on her neck. In the basic puzzle exercises until now, the headset hadn’t served any use, but Homura-san no longer worried over it and seemed to have forgotten about it, so it’s fine.
“Eh? Why? There’s no way you could know. Don’t lie.”
“I’m not lying. You just need to calculate. The last exercise with the cards had six patterns with 3x2x1, after all.”
As Homura looked at him dubiously, Touya explained.
“There are four numbers at first, right? That means, no matter what number you choose next, there will be three numbers remaining. Then two. And finally one.”
“Then, this strange die is the same…?”
Ameno smiled happily.
“I did this lesson on the premise that you both would give up at this point, but… Takumi seems to be a step better at this.”
“23 times 22, times 21, times…”
Homura faced her notes and went through the endless multiplication, but once it was obvious that she was starting to make mistakes midway when the number of digits increased, Ameno told her the answer.
“The answer is 25 800 quintillion, 52 010 quadrillion, and so forth… basically, it becomes a huge number with twenty-three digits. It’s done with factorial calculation.”
“Right, right. That, factoring. Say that beforehand.”
Ameno smiled wryly.
Strictly speaking, that turns into an even more complicated calculation, but that’s another matter.
“Sorry. Then, stopping the preliminary preparation here—”
Its existence having been forgotten, the game console’s screen, which had gone into sleep mode, brightened up again.
On the screen appeared a three-dimensional die.
“This is the hexa-model of magic that we use in the Exploration Club.”
“Ah… this is…”
It was a die painted in four colors.
Just like the image that had appeared in her mind back then, there were two faces each painted white and blue respectively, and one face each painted red and black respectively.
“Homura-san, you’ve already experienced ignition magic once, right? I read about it in President Misasagi’s journal log.”
“She failed at it, though.”
“Touya-kun, you couldn’t even use the most basic illumination magic either yourself… Wait, uwawah, the die is moving!? Gross!”
“In the series of tutorials until now, the device has been tuning itself to match your brain waves, Homura-san.”
“This seems fun! I don’t get the reason at all, but it’s fun!”
When she thought of the die vigorously turning over vertically, it did exactly that, then she stopped it and made it roll over sideways—
Without her once touching the console’s buttons, Homura made the displayed die roll around exactly as she thought.
“Ooh, I see… I can simulate magic with this. I just followed senpai’s instructions back then.”
“No matter how many times I see it, it’s so strange.”
Ameno smiled happily as if it were her own achievement.
“The Exploration Club invested in making this high-precision brain waves scanner, and it is now finally possible to train in magic on Earth as a result. It’s also useful for developing new magic.”
“There are roughly 120 quadrillion manipulation patterns with this restricted hexa-model. Names are attached to specific patterns.”
“I know, like Hi (Hydrogen) and Ox (Oxygen), right? Senpai taught those to me. I see~, so that’s how it works. Touya-kun also trained wearing this scanner at first, right?”
“With a tetra-model, yeah.”
Ameno winked, and then a regular tetrahedron made of four equilateral triangles attached together appeared next to the die. It was also painted in four colors.
Now that there were two dice displayed on the screen, their movements become wobbly and hard to control for Homura.
However, she immediately got the hang of it and started to separately move the hexa- and tetra-models.
Touya’s eyes widened in amazement. Ameno also tilted her head curiously.
“You’re good at this.”
“You wouldn’t think you were ranked D.”
“…Eh? This is pretty difficult, you know? It’s easy to get them jumbled up.”
“Then, what if I do this?”
The dice multiplied to four.
“Muh, like I’ll lose to that~.”
As Homura absorbed herself in it as if she had been given a new toy, Touya watched her with hope and expectation in his eyes.
“—Hey, can we take a break? This is a good place to stop, right?”
“Ah, you’re right.”
With a sigh of relief, Homura took off the heavy headset.
Next to her, Ameno leaned back in her chair even more tiredly than Homura.
“Huh, are you okay, Ame-chan?”
“Truthfully, this is the first time I’ve been so nervous…”
“Ahaha, thanks for the lesson. And, no offense to your hard work here, Ame-chan, but if the school’s math classes were like this, they’d be so much easier!”
“This is also a proper field in mathematics, you know?”
“Yes! In the first place, Nutella is a mathematical existence. A great number of Indian scientists who discovered renormalization cosmology—”
Ah, I don’t wanna hear, I don’t wanna hear, Homura thought as she blocked her ears and ran away from the whole thing.
“By the way, where’s senpai?”
“Senpai is a regular club president with the accompanying duties, you know. And even without that, she’s quite busy at home as well.”
“I see, she really works hard, huh. By busy at home, do you mean with studying? Helping around the house?”
“Apparently, it has something to do with socializing with people, because of her father’s work. It’s something I don’t know much about, though.”
“Incidentally, President Misasagi usually uses this restricted icosa-model.”
Ameno pointed at the new die that appeared on the console screen, a twenty-sided polyhedron made of twenty equilateral triangles. As expected, it was painted with several different colors, but it looked much more complex compared to the dice that Homura had used until now.
“An icosahedron… for real…?”
“This model specializes in manipulating fluids, you know?”
“Even though I failed massively with just a six-faced model, senpai imagined something so difficult… As expected, it’s way different when you’re a Mage, huh?”
“Senpai is a Magic Warrior, though,” Touya refuted with a wave of his hand.
“So she’s a warrior who also uses magic, right?”
“Mages are in a different category. I’ve never met one myself. I haven’t heard of one in the neighboring Hiyoshizaka High’s Exploration Club either.”
At that point, Touya suddenly stopped stirring in his seat.
“…Huh? What about Koma-senpai? She can use magic, right?”
“Hiyoshizaka High Exploration Club President Kamikoma is registered as being part of the Bard class. For magic, she most likely normally uses… this dodeca-model which specializes in the recreation of music.”
Next to the icosahedron, a twelve-faced polyhedron made of twelve equilateral pentagons appeared.
Homura couldn’t help smiling at the mismatch being the sound of “dodeca” and her image of Kamikoma-senpai.
“I see. So what kind of model do Mages manipulate? I bet high-level Mages must use something like a five hundred-faced polyhedron!”
“There’s no such thing as a polyhedron with five hundred faces.”
“No. The three-dimensional objects known as regular polyhedrons, which have equilateral faces, include tetrahedrons, hexahedrons, dodecahedrons, icosahedrons—and finally octahedrons, so there are five kinds in total.”
“Then what do Mages uses?”
“Fufufu… do you want to see?”
“Of course I do. That’s normal, right?” Homura turned to Touya for agreement.
“Well, it’s true I’d like to know.”
“Very well. Then, here we go, hmm~~!”
Ameno once again did a posture for using magic that wasn’t magic.
The next instant, just when she seemed to cram her hand into her mouth, there was the grating sound of joints slipping out of place—and she placed an object on the table with a clatter.
“Guh, *cough, cough, cough*—t-this is it!”
Ameno forcibly puffed up with pride despite the tears in her eyes.
“Way too much! That’s really disgusting, you know!”
“*Cough*… But I wanted to surprise you… I was trying to make you respect national robots in my own way…”
“Please don’t, I beg you.”
The object was a cube that was about as large as a clenched fist. Each face was clearly divided three by three, and each section could be rotated around. In other words—
“It’s a Rubik’s Cube.”
“Like I thought~. Though it’s a bit shiny with saliva.”
In contrast to Homura, who was smiling jeeringly, Touya couldn’t hide his surprise for a different reason.
“Mages… use s-something like this for their incantations!?”
“This is the most common model. A normal human brain responds strongly to right angles, so rather than a polyhedron like a icosahedron which is close to a sphere, this kind of thing is more effective and useful.”
“ …Mages… are even more monstrous than I imagined.”
“Hah? What are you saying, Touya-kun? It’s not hard at all. It’s the same kind of dice shape. And there are only six colors too.”
“S-Stupid, you know that there are no scanners or game consoles on Nutella, right?”
“Muh, that’s true… what do I do? Bring this cube with me when I go there?”
“That’s also possible, but in that case it would be for studying purposes. When you actually use magic in the field, you won’t see a physical object like these models. You have to imagine it in your mind. If not, you can’t establish the pattern…”
Homura hadn’t really understood the seriousness of the matter well.
She was startled for several seconds, but then she started to grow increasingly pale.
“Are you saying that I have to manipulate a Rubik’s Cube without being able to see it?”
Ameno and Touya nodded.
“But I can touch and feel it, right? And take a peek midway through.”
“That’s no good. It’s like the die. You have to do it all in your head from the incantation’s beginning to its end—right?”
“Yes. If you’re going to call yourself a Mage, that’s your starting point.”
Homura had timidly reached for the cube, but now pulled her hand back.
“Sorry, I need a longer break! Let’s talk about something more simple and trivial! You know, my sister recently got into an accident on her bike, and the person she collided with greatly resembled Yodoya-kun from Radiance Factor—”
“You know, I’m thinking that it makes sense that Hinooka is a Mage. That’s the star role among investigators, you know? I think it really suits Hinooka’s show-off and greedy personality.”
“I will also help to the best of my ability. Come to me at any time.”
Homura’s protest was completely ignored.
“Ah, geez, you guys! I don’t have any redeeming features! I’m not that smart! I’m seriously aiming to be a Mage, because I was told that my initial aptitude was good! And yet, what’s with the difficulty level being the highest for it!?”
“Now, now, don’t say that. Why don’t you try it out a bit in the simulation?”
“Impossible, impossible, impossible!”
“Well, it’s true that the Rubik’s Cube model is still too soon for you, so we’ll continue with the hexa-model die from before. The blind test is a normal part of the training menu, so be at ease.”
“…Really? Then, how about I try the only spell I know so far, fire magic…”
Homura once more faced the game console with its display now off.
“Hi (Hydrogen)… Ox (Oxygen)… Ph (Phosphate)… Mg (Magnesium)…”
However, she didn’t hear the chime indicating the success of the spell’s incantation.
She only got the failure buzzer.
Every time the buzzer rang, the uneasily frowning Ameno’s eyes widened suddenly. Her joints creaked and her entire body stiffened.
Touya was startled by that briefly shown inhuman expression on her face.
“H-Hey, Ameno, are you okay? Your face is scary right now.”
Ameno immediately rebooted and regained light in her eyes.
“Hah… Sorry, I made you feel the uncanny valley effect7, didn’t I?”
Shaking her head, Ameno turned back to face Homura, who was desperately trying to make the incantation work.
“Homura-san… What was that just now?”
“What do you mean? It’s an incantation, you know?”
Homura responded sullenly as she held out her hands before her in the pose for chanting.
“I don’t even know the meaning of the word phosphate…” she grumbled to herself.
The buzzer rang again, making Ameno jerk in her seat. Even Touya became nervous as a result.
“…Are you properly imagining the cube?”
“A four-colored die, right? I’m doing my best, you know.”
“Maybe she isn’t concentrating enough?”
Ameno seemed to frequently try adjusting the scanner, but the results were poor.
When, as a test, Ameno disabled blind mode and Homura tried again while the mode was displayed, her incantation was deemed a success and the triumph chime rang out.
“To think you only fail in blind training. So this is the cause of the drop in your aptitude test results…”
“If I fail in blind training, doesn’t that mean it won’t work when I’m doing it for real either? Then there’s no point, is there?”
Homura gripped her head along with the scanner on it.
“I’m taking this back with me! I’ll train at home!”
“That’s some good spirit, but that would be bad. It’s illegal to take that off club premises. It’s an expensive piece of equipment, after all.”
“Isn’t it fine? The one in this club who needs this device the most is me, who’s aiming to be a Mage, right? Senpai is also a proper Magic Warrior, and Touya-kun is a Light-Weight Warrior.”
“I’m sorry, Homura-san. Unfortunately, taking it outside is not allowed. Right now, your training using the scanner can only be done when you come to the club building…”
Seeing Homura’s displeased face, Ameno smiled with sympathy.
“…For example, the scanner can also be used like this—if you choose yes, the die will rotate to the right. If you choose no, it will rotate to the left.”
“Oh, what’s this? A game?”
Homura leaned forward while sipping her tea through a straw.
“Question. Are crows white?”
“Crows? Well, of course they’re—”
The die moved with a twitch.
…[No] meant rotating left.
“Is the square root of fifty greater than four?”
Right… No, the reverse… left turn [No].
“Is your younger sister impertinent, Homura-san?”
Right turn [Yes]. Fervently.
“Are you a virgin?”
Homura instantly thrusted the console towards the other end of the table/
Ameno nodded with a self-satisfied expression.
“I’ve been tricked…!”
Homura planted her blushing face down on the desk.
“—As you can see, it can also be misused to infringe on people’s rights like this, so permission to take this equipment outside is quite restricted. And, Homura-san? Don’t forget that there’s also the choice not to move the die. It’s part of the basics.”
“Kuh… damn you.”
Even so, the display has disappeared just before the die had rolled, so only Touya was left not knowing the answer to the last question. Touya looked at Ameno with an amazed expression.
“…You’re interested in that kind of thing?”
“What are you talking about? It’s natural to have an interest as a girl my age.”
“Is that how it is?”
Having revived from that humiliating trap, Homura now stared fixedly at Ameno.
“By the way, Ame-chan, how are you controlling the console even though you’re not wearing a scanner? That’s so handy. Is there some trick to that as well?”
“Are you seriously saying that? Didn’t you think anything about her was strange earlier?”
“Why? Well, I admit she seems like a weird girl.”
“The fact that you can just ignore the issue with that vague explanation shows that you’re even weirder.”
Ameno glanced furtively around the relatively small standby room.
“Hmm, all clear, it seems. In that case… I will specially show this to you both.”
After saying that, Ameno suddenly unzipped her hooded jacket and began unbuttoning her uniform.
“Why are you stripping?”
“I’m doing it now while the demon is away, since Chiayu-san would get angry if she saw me do this.”
“S-Stupid, stop it!”
Touya frantically shut the curtains around the standby room.
“Touya-kun, what are you trying to do by shutting the curtains here?”
“Hinooka, shouldn’t you be stopping her?”
But Homura glared at Touya with scornful eyes.
“…If you’re showing that much restraint, then that means you do have some interest. So, Ame-chan, will you show it to just little old Onee-san?”
When Ameno shifted her underwear, parting lines of light appeared just below the location of her heart. Her chest pushed out and unfolded while making a mechanical sound.
Homura’s eyes grew huge.
“A-A… A robot! Ame-chan, you’re a robot!?”
“Yes. I’m not human.”
Touya also seemed to have steeled himself for it, but he still couldn’t help being shocked when he saw the real thing. Unable to win against his curiosity, he timidly peeked at her.
“So your comment for the [Yamato Nadeshiko] project wasn’t just a joke.”
“Mumuh? You don’t seem so surprised, Takumi-san? I know you heard about it from Chiayu-san, but still.”
“S-Sorry, I am surprised. I am, okay? But you know, after having seen Nutella and senpai as an Elf… something like a robot isn’t that mind-blowing.”
“What do you mean, something like a robot!? That should be the most surprising one of them all!”
Ameno stood up from her chair.
Homura hurriedly held up Ameno’s jacket as it began to slide off.
“My body is the latest bipedal test model, proudly built by the Honba Institute. My fuel cells were made by the Toubashi Institute to withstand even conditions in the polar regions. My optics system was made by Nikon. My expression control and vocal cords were made by Yamaha and the Great N Institute. Every bit of me is 100% Japan-made!”
“By Honba Institute, you mean that automobile company? The same brand as my family’s car?”
“Yes. The development lab where I was born is part of the Honba Institute.”
Ameno joined her hands together happily, showing how she didn’t lose her humanness even with her chest hatch opened.
“At first, I didn’t believe it myself until I saw her close up and tried checking her pulse.”
“I can replicate both a pulse and heartbeat, you know? I just purposefully turned it off back then.”
“…You’re right, I can hear the beating.”
Homura peeked into Ameno’s eyes and observed her carefully while touching her hairline and her soft fingers.
“Engineering technology to make a humanoid robot is quite advanced today. It’s just not highly sought after due to the needed investment and cost. There are even rumors that half of the US President’s guards are robots.”
Touya folded his arms together, impressed.
“…Not sought after, huh. It’s true that there might be a lot of people who think robots should be robot-like.”
“Is that so?” Homura asked with a tilt of her head in confusion.
“In the end, it was decided according to the development chief’s personal interest, though.”
“That person is a bit of a pervert, huh.”
“Well, I can’t deny that. That person is probably drinking together with Chiayu right now. And besides, even if I look like this, I’m actually the trump card for dealing with the shortage of Japan’s Nutellan investigators, you know?”
“Right! Let’s go together on the next expedition!”
“Yes, I’d really like to accompany you.”
“We get it, so could you please put your clothes back on already?”
“I’m a robot, so it’s not embarrassing for me!”
“But it is for me.”
“I still haven’t shown you the most important part—this.”
The semi-transparent cover over the center of her chest section opened, and a transparent green gem appeared from inside.
Lines of line appeared and disappeared as if twinkling across its surface.
“This is my brain… It’s called a [soul stone].”
“A soul stone…”
“Soul stones are a precious mineral that has been discovered on Nutellan. The phenomenon known as ‘me’ is composed of light circuitry made using this soul stone’s properties, a central nervous system which runs using surreptitious feedback with the attached body and a memory storage device. Everyone else has thinking reed, but I have a thinking stone.”
Ameno wore a triumphant expression.
“I don’t really get it… but your heart is really pretty, Ame-chan.”
Homura gazed fixedly at the stone, drawn by its radiance.
Ameno smiled proudly.
“Thank you very much. But it doesn’t feel real to me that this stone is ‘me’. As I thought, everything including this body—”
“Can I a touch it a bit?”
Before Touya could stop her, Homura grabbed and lifted out the soul stone, and Ameno’s movements completely halted with a jerk.
“Wah, scary, Ame-chan’s face is scary—w-what do I do, Touya-kun!?”
“S-S-Stupid, hurry, hurry up and put it back!”
“L-L-Like this? I-It’s not going in.”
“The other way, the other way!”
With a beep, the stone’s attachment device clicked into place.
The soul stone regained its light.
“—Ebaraking enkloden zess vodai—Everything including this body is myself.”
The other two carefully watched Ameno’s condition’s while sweating on their brows.
“…What’s wrong, you two?”
“Nothing at all.”
“Fufufu, I’m telling you both this with an open heart, you know.”
Her chest panel silently returned shut.
“…Y-You really wanted to use that pun, huh.”
“Have you had that body since you were born?”
“This is the fourth major overhaul I’ve had. When I still wasn’t aware of my surroundings, I had a much smaller body.”
“So you grew up gradually from a baby? That’s just like a human.”
“That’s right. Now I too can finally help as a member of the Exploration Club and…”
Ameno once more looked down at her current appearance in front of Touya and Homura.
She pulled close her unfastened clothes and shrank in on herself.
“Umm… this is… really embarrassing after all…”
Homura and Touya were also confused by her extremely emotional expression as she turned red down to the tips of her ears.
“Didn’t you say before that you didn’t mind since you’re a robot?”
“At first, I was thinking of finally getting to show my body interior to someone besides the development lab’s researchers and Chiayu, so I just did it on the spur of the moment… umm… should I instead say that it’s embarrassing because I’m a robot…?”
“You’re not a robot, but a golem, remember?”
Professor Fujimori entered through the ajar door to the standby room with an astounded expression.
And accompanying her was the club president Misasagi, who blinked several times at the sight of Ameno’s half-naked state.
“We bring provisions.”
“Good, day. Sorry for, being late.”
Misasagi was blushing a little as she spoke.
“Hey there, president. T-Thanks for your hard work today.”
As Homura spoke with a strained smile, Ameno hurriedly fixed her appearance from behind her.
“Sensei, you went to a drinking party, didn’t you?”
When asked that by Touya, Fujimori scratched her crumpled hair.
“I ran into someone I didn’t want to meet and was pulled along. It’s fine, it’s fine. The Exploration Club is what’s most important to me. Here, have some sushi.”
“So you don’t deny that you neglected your promise to train with me and went out drinking…”
“You probably ran away from Hirosuke-san again, right? Really now…”
Ameno spoke bluntly while hiding behind the shoulders of the disbelieving Homura.
“What was that?”
“And please don’t call me a golem, Chiayu-san. It doesn’t sound cute at all.”
“If there were robots made from such a half-baked breakthrough like you, it would be rude to the researchers who are seriously developing robots. And don’t call me Chiayu.”
Fujimori dropped down onto a pipe chair and sloppily crossed her legs.
Touya went to help senpai prepare tea.
“In the first place, if they were going to make you a body, why didn’t they make it a car with four wheel drive or an off-road bike? Those would have been way more convenient, you know?”
“Of course not! How could you say that, treating my individuality functions as a car navigator!”
“Personally, I’m glad that Ame-chan is a girl.”
Homura innocently murmured while rummaging through the bag of provisions Fujimori had brought.
“If she were a car or bike, we wouldn’t be able to talk while drinking tea like this, and she wouldn’t be able to do club activities with us. Right, Touya-kun?”
“Is that your mental image of club activities? Well, it’s certainly livelier around here that way.”
Ameno looked at Fujimori triumphantly at first, but then hung her head apologetically.
“…Just hearing you both say that makes me happy. If only I could go exploring with you all. But there are still several problems…”
“Really? Don’t worry about it! Even someone like me managed to do it without any prior preparation.”
“As if. Your first expedition was full of problems.”
“As if you’re one to talk, Touya-kun.”
As the three first year students conversed fussily with each other, the club president and Fujimori exchanged looks.
Misasagi calmly held out a notebook.
“This is… a student notebook!?”
“Yes. Sorry for, the wait.”
Ameno wordlessly stared at the notebook.
“The school’s authorization, was given, and the student council also, approved it just, earlier. After the formal, procedures have, finished, you’ll be able to, participate in lessons, as a Seiran High, student.”
“……I’ll be able to go to school with everyone…”
“Ameno, you should thank Misasagi for having gone out of her way to mediate for you, you know?”
Though she said that, the way Professor Fujimori made a money sign with her fingers was quite suggestive.
“Thank you so much… *Hick*—”
As Ameno previously hugged the notebook and cried, Homura put a hand on her shoulder.
“Good for you, Ame-chan. So, where are you? Which class are you in!?”
“Erm… Class C!”
“Then that means she’s in my class,” Touya said.
“Eeh, with Touya-kun? Not my class?”
Homura glared at Touya, who wore an expression of surprise.
“Personally, I’m relieved. If Hinooka took classes with Ameno, they’d both obviously end up ignoring the lesson completely.”
‘That’s not true. I intend to help with the plan to raise Homura’s academic ability as well.”
With this, the Seiran High Exploration Club finally had four members.
Everyone besides the experienced club president Misasagi were all newbies and one of them hadn’t even participated on an expedition yet, but perhaps they would finally be able to act as a proper club.
They decided to take a breather.
Misasagi did a little performance with the magic simulator for Homura and Touya.
On the other side of the room, Fujimori and Ameno were huddled together over a computer tablet.
“Chiayu-san, look at this. It’s the records of the blind test, but…”
“Ah, by Hinooka? It was pretty bad, right?”
Ameno shook her head.
“It’s not yesterday’s results. This is from the simulation she did just earlier. But it’s strange. She got great results with the normal visual feedback test.”
Scrolling through the tablet, Fujimori glared at the records.
“You’re right, it’s strange… You had her try manipulating an octa-model while imagining a hexa-model? She probably couldn’t stabilize it because you didn’t switch over to multi-mode.”
“I tried that. It’s true that both models have a dual relationship and have the same number of overall patterns, but in that case…”
“Then, could it unexpectedly be because Hinooka’s thoughts are too fast and the computer processing can’t keep up?”
“The scanner’s time granularity is 2-6 megahertz. It’s 260 thousand times faster than the average frequency of brain waves, and 60 thousand times the renewal rate of a person’s sight system. Do you think that Homura-san thinks 60 thousand times faster than a normal person?”
Chapter 14 END
(1) What Homura is actually talking about is how Ameno uses the first pronoun “boku”, which is a Japanese version of “I” that is primarily used by boys. Since this doesn’t translate at all in English, I just simplified it by calling her a “tomboy”.
(2) Ameno says “my home/place” in furigana, but the kanji beneath it tellingly says “development lab”.
(3) A popular brand of rice crackers in Japan. Their most distinctive trait is the sugary and salty “Happy Powder” that covers them, and no, I don’t know why it’s called something that is so easily misconstrued.
(4) Ameno actually says “discover” in English here, with the English alphabet and everything. She does this quite often with certain words, but unfortunately, I’m unable to show this in the translation without making it extremely awkward, so it’s an aspect of the writing that is inevitably lost in the English version.
(5) This line is said by the narrator, who makes comments like these sometimes.
(6) What follows here is an exercise in math and logic that I’m not confident I’m able to convey quite right in my translation, but it’s basically a gradually escalating exercise in figuring out the number of possible combinations out of a specific series of actions.
(7) Uncanny valley: a reference to the phenomenon where a humanoid robot or something similar bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it, due to the conflicting feelings of similarity and alienation.