* * *
Chapter 4: The Story of a Mechanical Doll
-One way Mission-
“Goodness! I didn’t expect to run into someone here.”
The forest was dyed in bright autumn colors. The old woman who had poked her head out of the woods was slender in build with an apron over her clothes and a basket in hand.
She was looking at a young person in her mid-teens who had short black hair and large eyes with fair features, wearing a black jacket and a thick belt. A hand persuader holster housing a large-caliber revolver was wrapped around her right thigh, and an automatic persuader was secured behind her back.
Next to her was a motorrad laden with travel gear.
“Hello,” said the young person.
“Good day. You must be a traveler,” the old woman said with a smile.
“My name is Kino. This here is my partner Hermes,” said the traveler named Kino.
The motorrad called Hermes greeted the old woman before asking, “Do you live in this area, lady?”
“I do. And what of yourselves?”
“About that,” Kino said. “We were told there was a country in this area, but can’t seem to find it. You’re not from there, ma’am?”
The old woman shook her head. “A country, you say? I’m afraid you won’t find one around here. You must have made a wrong turn somewhere on your way. I live in an isolated house here in the forest.”
Kino sighed. Hermes said, “I guess that makes sense. The road was almost totally closed down. Just give up, Kino.”
The old woman then spoke, her tone rising. “Are you planning to camp out tonight, Kino? It will be dark soon. If you’d like, why not come to the house I serve?”
“You’re a servant?”
“Yes, a live-in maid at the master’s house. I’m only out at the moment to get ingredients for dinner. What do you say? It’s not very far.”
Kino asked Hermes for his opinion. Hermes advised that they should do what they always did in such situations.
“All right. Thank you very much.”
The old woman smiled. “Wonderful! I’ve never had guests over at the house before.”
Kino and Hermes followed the old woman into the woods and came out into a clearing. The clearing was home to vegetable patches, a long, narrow barn, and free-range chickens.
Across from the vegetable patch was a house.
Kino grimaced at the sight of the building. It was three stories tall and made of sturdy brick. It was narrower than it was long, with one side completely devoid of windows. Its utilitarian construction struck a sharp contrast with the scenery around it, like the building had been lifted straight from an urban inner-city district.
“Is that the house?” Kino asked, confused.
“It is. Isn’t it lovely?” the old woman replied.
Soon, they reached the front door. The old woman stopped. “Ah, there’s something I need to tell you before we go inside,” she said. “I am a mechanical doll.” She slowly placed her right hand over her chest and smiled.
“A mechanical doll?” Kino repeated in shock.
“Yes. I have a human appearance, but I’m made of wood and metal and all sorts of other strange components. A mechanical doll is made by human hands to serve human needs. My role is to perform housework for the humans who live in this house.”
Kino did not know what to say. The old woman continued.
“I’ve begun falling apart here and there now because of my age, but I still have more than a few years left in me.”
“Wow, sounds like you’re a really well-made model. Who created you?” asked Hermes.
The old woman shook her head. “That, I do not know. All I know is how to clean, do the laundry, cook, and read bedtime stories to the young master until he falls asleep.”
Hermes said nothing.
“I see,” Kino said.
“Now, let me ask the master for permission to have you over tonight. I’m sure he won’t refuse. One moment, please.”
Kino waited for the old woman to go inside. “No way.”
“Yeah. …What do you want to do?”
“Looks like all we can do is ask the ‘master’ about her,” Kino mumbled. At that moment, the door opened to reveal a man about 30 years of age in an expensive button-down shirt, and a woman around his age who was likely his wife. Hiding shyly behind them was a boy who seemed to be about five.
The old woman stood before them at the door.
“Master, let me introduce you to the travelers. Kino and Hermes. Kino, Hermes, this is my master and his family.”
“Hello,” said Kino. The ‘master’ slowly smiled.
“Hello, Traveler. Motorrad. The maid told us about you. You became lost on your way, correct? We have plenty of spare rooms to offer. Please, make yourselves at home.”
The old woman was overjoyed. “Lovely! I shall prepare a room for Kino and Hermes as quickly as I can. Master, will the room down the hall be all right?”
“It’s up to you. And make sure to prepare an extra serving for dinner,” said the man.
“Right this way,” the old woman said, ushering Kino and Hermes into the large living room.
The man was on the sofa, reading the paper. His wife was playing with their son, with toys Kino had never seen before. The old woman excused herself and left.
“Er, may I ask you something?” Kino said, looking at the man.
“Yes, what is it?”
“About your housekeeper...” Kino hesitated. “She claims to be a mechanical doll. Is she, really?”
The man gave a light nod. “Yes. She’s a wonderful help around the house. Thanks to her, my wife and I can both go to work and spend more time together with our son.”
“I see... Could I ask another question?”
“What is it?”
“Aren’t there any countries in this area?”
The question seemed to trouble the man. But he soon gave Kino an answer.
“Indeed, there aren’t any countries in the vicinity. You must have lost your way in the forest. The woods are deep and confusing.”
Kino asked, “Then why is your family living here?”
The man said nothing for some time.
Then he smiled.
“Indeed, there aren’t any countries in the vicinity. You must have lost your way in the forest. The woods are deep and confusing.”
After that, Kino said nothing. She simply waited for the old woman in silence next to Hermes.
The sound of footsteps eventually reached the living room, and the old woman arrived.
“I’ve finished preparing your room. Right this way.”
“Thank you. If you’ll excuse us.”
“Of course. Do make yourself comfortable.”
Kino gave the family a slight bow of the head and pushed Hermes out of the living room.
The man finished reading the paper.
He went back to the first page and started again.
Kino and Hermes followed the old woman to a large room down the first floor hall. The room was furnished with an ornate bed and antique furniture. The room had been wiped clean and spotless.
“Get some rest, you two. You’ll find the bathroom and shower in the back. If you need anything, please ring the bell. My room is the one next to the front door.”
Kino thanked the old woman, who left saying that she had to prepare dinner.
Taking a seat on the bed, Kino unwrapped her thigh holster and took off her jacket.
“What do you want to do, Kino?” asked Hermes.
“I don’t know. To be honest, the master’s family didn’t seem too happy to be hosting us.”
“I don’t really blame them.”
“And they don’t really seem to want to tell us much.”
“I don’t really blame them.”
“So I’m going to accept the old lady’s hospitality just for tonight and leave tomorrow.”
After she took a shower, Kino was invited to join the family for dinner.
The master, his wife, and their son were sitting silently at the exquisite dining table.
The old woman alone was moving quickly, bringing one dish after another to Kino and the family. Vegetables doused in olive oil sauce and warm bread baked to golden perfection with a side of butter were among the many delicious foods she served.
“Dig in, Kino. I hope my cooking is to your liking,” the old woman said, leaving the dining room with a bow.
“Do go on, Traveler,” said the man.
The family sat at the table blankly, not even touching the food.
Kino slowly started on her dinner, keeping an eye on the master and his family. But one bite later, she froze—and began to wolf down the food without warning, cleaning off her plate with a satisfied look.
Once Kino had finished, the family silently picked up their plates and moved to the side of the room. There was a painting on the wall, which they lifted up to reveal some sort of a lid. The family opened the lid, which led into a chute, and poured the contents of their untouched plates into it.
Kino watched, unable to say a word.
There was a knock. The old woman entered.
“How did you like it?” she asked.
“It was very good. The chicken was to die for.”
“It was very good. Thank you as always.”
“It was very good.”
The family responded without missing a beat.
The old woman bowed with a smile. She turned to Kino. “How did you like the meal, Kino?”
“Hm? Oh, it was delicious. I could barely stop eating,” Kino replied.
The old woman took the plates away and served raspberry sherbet for dessert before leaving the dining room again.
Kino was happy to dig in.
The family again waited in silence for Kino to finish before pouring their melted sherbet into the chute in the wall.
The man pressed the call bell. The old woman entered.
“We’re retiring for the night. Please make yourself at home, Traveler.”
The family left the dining room. The old woman cheerfully put away the plates and utensils, and wiped down the table.
Kino asked her if she needed help with anything, but the old woman shook her head. “I’ll bring you something to drink before you go to bed, Kino. Do you like hot cocoa?”
“Oh, yes. …Thank you.”
The old woman once again shook her head.
“No need for thanks,” she said, a smile rising to her wrinkled eyes. “Just being able to help someone makes me happy.”
“—and that’s how it went.”
“I see. But it’s too bad they tossed all that food.”
“Yeah. I almost begged them to share with me if they weren’t going to eat it.”
“So what are they doing now?”
“I think they turn in early for the night. The old lady told me not to go up to the second floor.”
“What do you think?”
“Well, they’re certainly not a normal family. But that doesn’t mean I can judge them with what little I know.”
“That’s true. You should have asked the old lady.”
“She looked a bit too busy to be taking questions. I can ask tomorrow. For now, I’m going to enjoy sleeping in a bed for the first time in forever.”
“Right. Good night.”
The next morning.
As usual, Kino rose at dawn. The weather was clear. After some light exercise, Kino did maintenance on her persuaders.
When she stepped into the hall, Kino heard sounds coming from the kitchen. She peered in through the open door and found the old woman cheerfully preparing breakfast. The old woman pounded the dough, shaped it into loaves, then lathered melted butter over them before putting it in the oven and flipping a large hourglass.
Kino gave the door a gentle knock.
“Ah, Kino! Good morning. Did you sleep well? I daresay you’re up quite early this morning. I didn’t wake you with all this hustle and bustle, I hope?”
“Not at all. I usually wake up around this time. Do you bake bread every morning like this?”
The old woman never once let her hands go idle as she spoke with Kino. “Yes. I start off the morning with a new batch. The master and his family simply can’t get enough.”
The family came downstairs and sat down at the dining table. The man was in a suit and his wife a dress shirt. Their son was holding a small bag.
“Good morning, Traveler. Did you sleep well?” asked the man.
“Yes,” Kino replied. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
The old woman served them breakfast. Fresh-baked bread, a wide array of jams and spreads, sunny-side-up eggs, salad, and crispy bacon.
“Please don’t stand on ceremony, Traveler. Eat as much as you’d like.”
Kino did as the master said and piled her plate with as much food as she could possibly eat. And she enjoyed every last bite.
Like the previous evening, the family sat at the table in utter silence. And just like the previous evening, they eventually emptied their plates into the chute in the wall.
The man called in the old woman and had her bring in his and his wife’s bags. Then the family set out from home for the morning.
The old woman returned to the dining room. When she asked Kino how the food was, Kino gave a genuine response.
“It was the best breakfast I’ve had in ages. Better than any hotel fare.”
“My, you flatter me.”
“By the way, there’s something I’d like to ask you.”
The old woman stopped and turned to Kino.
“Where has the family gone?”
“She says the master and his wife are at work, and their son is at school. They’ll be going out like this every day for the next four days.”
“Wow. Did she really tell you all that?”
“Yeah. Apparently the couple go to work at different companies, and the husband works near the son’s school so he drops him off and picks him up. So they’re not coming back until evening.”
“Huh. I’d like to know where exactly these people work and study.”
“In any case, what should we do now?”
“We’re not leaving? I don’t think they’ll tell us more even if we ask.”
“I thought about it, but I decided that I want to stay a little longer after all.”
“Sure, but why?”
“It’s a really petty reason, so sorry in advance.”
Having unloaded all her things from Hermes, Kino pushed him outside in her jacket.
Next to the door, white bedsheets were flying in the wind. The old woman was squatting in the vegetable patch, working on something.
Kino propped up Hermes and went to the old woman.
“The potatoes will be ready for harvest soon. The master and his family love my winter recipe—bacon and potato gratin. I was just checking to see if I could start serving it today at dinner.”
“That…that sounds delicious too,” Kino said.
“I don’t believe this,” Hermes sighed.
Without warning, the old woman slowly rose and looked up at the sky, searching for the sun. Then she turned to the confused Kino.
“Perfect timing. I’d like to show you two something curious and magnificent. Do follow me.”
Before Kino could even answer, the old woman strode into the woods. Kino rushed after her, pushing Hermes along.
A narrow foot-trodden path led into the woods. Kino followed after the old woman with Hermes in tow.
Soon, the woods opened up into a clearing.
“Incredible.” “Wow!” Kino and Hermes exclaimed simultaneously.
The old woman stood by a cliff that dropped into a valley. The cliff face was a straight plunge down.
There was a lake at the base of the cliff. It was long and narrow with a clear green tint.
“Wow. This valley must have been carved out by a glacier,” Kino gasped.
Hermes also seemed to be moved. “I can’t believe there was a cliff so close to the road. I’m gonna have to be careful about speeding from now on. One wrong move and I’d be scrap metal.”
Kino nodded and turned to the old woman. “Thank you for showing us such an amazing sight.”
The old woman smiled and shook her head. “Not at all. I’m here to show you something else.”
Curiosity rose to Kino’s face. The old woman checked the sun again.
“It’s almost time. Take a good, close look at the bottom of the lake.”
Kino pushed Hermes to the very edge of the cliff and looked down.
The captivating green color of the lake slowly thinned.
And as Kino watched curiously, the lake became completely transparent.
Kino’s breath caught in her throat.
“Look!” Hermes cried.
At the bottom of the lake, submerged in the depths, was a beautiful city. Its streets stretched on in orderly lines, and stone buildings and apartments stood in clusters. There were half-collapsed high-rises and large factory buildings with holes through the roofs. Sturdy walls stood tall on either side of the city.
“A country…” Kino trailed off.
Slowly, and quietly, the old woman spoke. “Yes. These are the ruins of an ancient country. Sadly, it collapsed one day for reasons we will never know. Only around this time of day at this time of year does the sun and the lake align just so that you can see into the depths.”
Kino and Hermes were lost for words.
“It must have been home to so many people—people relying on and helping one another. But that’s all in the past.”
As Kino and Hermes stared in silence, the old woman spoke again.
“What do you think? Isn’t it magical, just like a city floating in the sky?”
“Yes…” Kino managed to say. “It’s really surprising. …Thank you.”
“It’s delightful to think even something like me can act as a guide for a traveler,” said the old woman.
When the old woman said that she had do go back to do more work, Kino replied, “I’d like to stay and look at the city some more.”
“Then I’ll go ahead and prepare lunch. Do you like wild rice soup, Kino?”
“Yes. I’ve tried it many times on my travels. I especially love the diced chicken.”
“Wonderful. Then I know what I’m making for lunch today. Come back to the house when the sun is at its highest point.”
Soon after the old woman had left, the lake returned to its original color.
“You must have noticed, Kino,” said Hermes.
Kino nodded. “Yeah. That country…or what’s left of it—it’s not that old.”
“Yeah. Not old enough to be ancient at all.”
Kino slowly pushed Hermes away from the cliffside. “Say, Hermes…do you think that the country in the valley that we were looking for was…”
“Yeah. It must have been destroyed. We shouldn’t have come on a story from a man that old. His information was too dated.”
“But isn’t it weird for the old lady to not know that? And it doesn’t look like she’s lying. …I don’t think the family will tell me anything, either.”
“Maybe try going under the water? Or interrogating someone?” Hermes joked.
“Neither. We’re leaving tomorrow, as soon as we can.”
“Okay. Wait, not today? …Oh, you’re staying for dinner tonight too!”
“Of course. It hasn’t been three days yet,” Kino replied nonchalantly.
Kino had lunch in the kitchen with the old woman.
She crumbled fresh-baked crackers into the wild rice soup and ate spoonful after spoonful, almost moved to tears.
The old woman, meanwhile, had balled up the remaining dough and baked it into bread. She ate the bread with soup made from leftover vegetables. “I always eat like this. It’s my favorite way to finish off the leftovers,” she explained. Kino watched her silently.
After lunch, the old woman bragged about the master’s family over tea.
She explained that the master held a very high position in a large foodstuffs company. That his wife worked in a company that made machinery, so she sometimes came home even later than her husband. That the couple’s son was studious and outgoing, and popular with his classmates.
Then the old woman went on to describe her pride at being a mechanical doll working for such an accomplished family.
After the short break, the old woman rose. “Now, I should go on and clean the house so everyone can rest comfortably,” she said. But as soon as she stood on her feet, she put a hand on her head and slowly curled up.
“Are you all right?” Kino asked. “Maybe you should get some rest.” She tried to help the old woman into a chair, but the old woman shook her head with a smile.
“I’m fine, thank you. I might need just a bit of extra grease. Now, I should really get to cleaning the house.”
Slowly, she rose and put the dishes in the sink before leaving the kitchen.
“You might as well do it, if you’re going to stay another day.”
“Fine, fine. Where next?”
Kino was outside the entrance, doing maintenance on Hermes according to his instructions. She tightened screws and bolts, and applied grease where necessary. Then she cleaned the lights and the fuel tank.
“All right. Perfect,” Kino said after a final full wipe-down.
“Perfect? Kino, my speedometer’s still broken,” Hermes complained.
“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about that. We’ll have to take it to a watchmaker.”
Hermes sighed. “So it’ll be a while before it gets fixed.”
Kino pushed Hermes back to her room. The old woman happened to be there, having just finished cleaning and making the bed.
“Oh my. I see Hermes is all cleaned up as well.”
Grumbling, Hermes explained his predicament. The old woman replied, unfazed, “Then shall I have a look at you?”
“I am a mechanical doll, you know. I always take care of the little repairs around the house… One moment, let me get the master’s tools.”
The old woman left the room and came back with a toolkit in hand.
“Even if you can’t fix it, could you please take a look?”
The old woman took apart the speedometer as Hermes asked and examined the complex clockwork inside. Then she said without even blinking, “Ah, this gear’s come loose.”
“Wow!” Hermes exclaimed.
“Er…can you fix it?” Kino asked. With deft hands, the old woman operated a tweezer.
“There you go.”
Then she restored the dismantled parts back into a speedometer.
“Give it a try, Kino.”
Kino tried pushing Hermes. The speedometer responded perfectly.
Stunned, Kino looked at the old woman.
“You’re amazing! Thank you so much, lady!” Hermes cried, excited.
“It looks like you’re in good shape now. I’m glad I could help,” the old woman replied with a satisfactory smile. “Now, I suppose it’s about time for me to go prepare dinner.”
“I still can’t believe my eyes.”
“But she really did fix up the speedometer. I feel so much better.”
“What is that woman?”
“Maybe she really is a mechanical doll. That would answer all your questions.”
“I know she probably isn’t, but either way…”
“It’s kind of weird to say this, but either way, she’s a big help.”
Like before, Kino ate her dinner without leaving a scrap on her plate. The family tossed their food.
Kino tried asking about the city in the lake, but all the family could tell her was the it had been destroyed too long ago for them to know in detail.
Telling them that she would be leaving the next day, Kino thanked the family for their hospitality.
“Tomorrow? I see…” the man said.
The next day. It was the third day since Kino had first come to the house.
Kino rose at dawn. She did some light exercises before stepping out. The sky was clear.
The old woman was not in the kitchen. She was not in the dining room, either.
When Kino went to the old woman’s room, she found the door ajar. She peered inside.
The old woman was lying collapsed just inside.
Kino rushed in and slowly sat the old woman up. Her eyes were still closed and her breathing was shallow. Kino carried her to her bed and lay her down.
“Ma’am, can you hear me?”
The old woman’s eyes fluttered open.
“I found you lying in front of the door. Are you all right? Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
The old woman replied, “Yes, I know exactly what’s wrong with me. I think my components have reached their limit. It’s time for them to break down. Please, Kino. I want to say goodbye to the family. Take me to them…”
“No, you’re not in any condition to move. But I’ll bring everyone over. I’ll be right back!”
Kino turned and opened the door and found the family standing in the hall, as though they had been waiting there.
Without a word, they walked past the shocked Kino and stepped inside.
Kino watched them go to the old woman before rushing to her own room and hitting Hermes awake. She pushed him to the old woman’s room. The family was standing next to the bed, looking down at her without a word. Kino quietly put down Hermes’ stand.
The family members replied one after another.
The old woman slowly opened her eyes. And she spoke, her eyes on the empty space between the master and his wife.
“Everyone…was I…helpful to you…?”
The master, his wife, and their son nodded.
Slowly, very slowly, the old woman smiled and whispered—
With a long, quiet sigh, she closed her eyes.
And she stopped moving.
Kino placed her fingers against the old woman’s neck. The family simply stood silently.
“She’s passed,” said Kino.
“Yes,” said the man.
“So she was human after all,” Kino asked in confirmation. A hint of sadness appeared on the man’s face.
“I knew she couldn’t be a mechanical doll,” said Hermes.
“What will you do now?” asked Kino.
“We will bury her,” the man replied. “Will you help us?”
They wrapped up the old woman’s body in a bedsheet.
The man brought the hourglass from the kitchen and placed it in her clasped hands.
“Follow us,” said the man.
The man and the woman carried the old woman’s body out of the house on a stretcher. The son followed with a large backpack on his back and four small shovels in his hands.
Inside the autumn forest was a narrow foot-trodden path. Kino pushed Hermes forward, following the family.
Soon, the trees gave way to a clearing. The morning sun shone brilliantly over the grand valley. The lake was glimmering green against the slant of the sun.
The family put down the body and began to dig a hole at a spot with a clear view of the lake. Kino assisted them.
Soon the hole was complete. The man climbed inside with the old woman’s body in his arms. And he slowly lay it down. The son opened his backpack and took out a human skull.
It was a slightly yellowed skull belonging to an adult. The left side had been badly smashed in. The man respectfully placed the skull next to the old woman’s head. Then the son took out another skull—this one belonging to a small child. Like with the previous one, the man placed it by the old woman.
The man then looked at Kino. “Her husband and son.”
Climbing out of the hole, the man received a shovel and began to cover the grave. His wife and son joined him.
Kino stood across from the grave and helped the family.
The silence in the woods was broken only by the sounds of chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, and shovels against dirt.
Standing before the grave, Kino held a moment of silence before opening her eyes. Her lips had been moving, but she made no sound.
Kino looked back at the family.
“If you’ll excuse us. Thank you for your hospitality.”
That was when the man spoke, smiling.
“Aren’t you curious, Traveler?”
“About the woman we just buried. About the three of us. About the city in the lake.”
Kino fell silent.
“What do you say?” asked the woman, also smiling. “We can answer all your question.”
“Please tell us,” Kino said.
“I want to know!” Hermes agreed, excited.
“It’s a rather long story. Would you still like to know?” the son said in a strangely mature tone, his eyes glinting with life.
“Oh, yes. Please,” Kino replied with a hint of surprise.
The man, the woman, and the child exchanged glances and smiled.
“There’s something you should know,” the man said, placing his hands on his son’s head. He turned the head counterclockwise and, after two full rotations, pulled it off his neck.
Kino froze. Several thin tubes were connecting the head of the smiling child and the body.
“Y-you mean…you’re all…”
“That’s correct,” the woman said, pulling out her left hand with her right. The man put the child’s head back and pulled off his own.
“You’re mechanical dolls?” Kino finally asked. The man gestured a ‘yes’.
Eyes wide, Kino exhaled.
“Wow! What a surprise! You know, you’re all really well-made!” Hermes said, as cheerful as ever.
Kino was sitting on Hermes, who stood on his center stand.
“Now I know what you are. So please tell me the ‘who’ and ‘where’. The ‘why’ too, if possible.”
“Of course. Then let me begin by telling you about the country in the lake,” the male mechanical doll said, still standing. “You must have heard about a curious country in the valley, but no more than that. Nothing about the racial strife that had split the country in two since its founding.”
The female mechanical doll continued the story, still standing. “The conflicts did not stop at the political level. At times they led to bloodshed. The people of the country held on vain hopes for stability, but were trapped in this country because they had nowhere else to go.”
The child mechanical doll continued the story, still standing. “She was born and raised in this country. Do you want to know her name, Kino?”
Kino shook her head, looking at the three mechanical dolls who stood still with their backs to the cliff.
The male mechanical doll said, “Over 50 years ago, she was a doctor of mechanical engineering living in that country. Though only 30 years old, she had been known as a once-in-several-centuries genius.”
“That’s why she could fix up Hermes so easily.” “Yeah.” Kino and Hermes nodded.
The female mechanical doll said, “Yes. she could have put together an entire motorrad if she had the right components. She could even create a fully functional 1/100 scale model if she desired.”
“Wow,” Hermes exclaimed.
The child mechanical doll said, “Dissatisfied with the research undertaken by the national laboratory, she founded a lab of her own. Her goal was the production of mechanical dolls. An unprecedented feat of technology—the manufacturing of service machines identical to humans in form.”
The male mechanical doll said, “She believed that mechanical dolls could free all people from labor. As a result, everyone would have more time and effort to spare. This would lead to them realizing that racial strife and conflicts over what tiny land was available was all in vain.”
The female mechanical doll said, “She dove into her research. But even her genius was not enough to realize her dreams. So she spent the vast majority of her time in her laboratory, with little time to spend with her beloved husband and their precious son. We watched it all from within our cases.”
The child mechanical doll said, “She would gaze at photographs of her family as she undertook her research. And eventually, she succeeded in developing three mechanical dolls with flawless specifications.”
“That was you, wasn’t it?”
The male mechanical doll nodded and continued.
“Overjoyed, she pulled us into her arms. We rushed back to her apartment by car together to meet the people to whom she wanted to show the fruits of her labor first. She was smiling, saying that she did not contact them beforehand because she wanted to surprise them. And we arrived. The apartment was gone. In its place were the remnants of a massive explosion and the ruins of a building. It was a terrorist attack caused by the racial conflicts.”
Kino and Hermes listened in silence.
The female mechanical doll narrowed her eyes and continued.
“She leapt out of the car and rushed to the apartment. Examining the corpses one by one, she eventually found her husband, with his head caved in, and her son’s upper body. She smiled at us. ‘My husband and our son are waiting. Let’s all celebrate together once we’re inside.’ Before we could stop her, she went back into the crumbling ruins and was caught in a cave-in, buried in bricks. We rescued her, moved her back to the lab, and treated her. She was in critical condition for days, but managed to regain consciousness. But the person who greeted us was no longer our creator.”
The child mechanical doll continued, looking as though about to cry.
“The moment she opened her eyes, she asked me, ‘What time is it?’ When I told her the time, she replied, ‘Oh my. It’s almost time for the master to return. I should start preparing dinner.’ And tried to rise from bed in spite of her wounds. I quickly administered a sedative. That was all I could do. The next time she awoke, she asked us, ‘Are you the family that is employing me?’ She asked us many times over. We finally responded, ‘Yes. That’s correct. But you’re currently incomplete. Please wait a little longer.’ We delved deep into her brain to find out what had happened to her, to try and restore her to her original self, but we failed. If only she had been a mechanical doll, we would have been able to pinpoint and solve the problem.”
“What happened afterwards?” asked Kino.
The male mechanical doll looked at his fellows and said, “As we waited for her body to heal, the civil unrest worsened further. Not a day passed without another attack or a revenge bombing. We took shelter in the laboratory basement for her safety. Soon, an atrocious civil war began. And one day, the booming noises that had continued overhead for days came to a sudden end. The population had dropped so much and so quickly that the country could no longer function. For some time, people tried to live in small groups. But even those groups were torn apart by conflicts over food, and the survivors abandoned the country and fled. What happened to them is of no concern to us, but if rumors of the country’s destruction has not spread to travelers, it must mean that they…”
“Of course.” Kino nodded.
“We brought her back aboveground. She said to us, smiling, ‘Oh my, look at this mess! I’m sure it will be worth all the effort of cleaning it up.’ We told her, ‘No, we are moving. We are moving to a wonderful place in the woods outside the valley. Please come work for us there.’ And for the next 54 years and 341 days, we played the part of a family.”
“I see…” said Kino.
“Where did the lake come from?” asked Hermes.
“We did not wish for her to remember her painful past. So we constructed a dam and submerged the country. We did not anticipate that the water would become completely clear at certain times under certain conditions.”
“Did you know that she was growing weaker?” Kino asked.
One of the dolls replied, “Yes. We have always been monitoring her health. But age was one factor we could not counter. There…was nothing we could do.”
Once the mechanical dolls had explained everything, Kino spoke.
“I have no further questions. Hermes and I will gather our things and depart.”
At that moment, the mechanical dolls spoke in unison.
“We were created by her hand to serve humans. Yes. To serve her. So now our role is complete. But a role is nothing more than a role! Kino, is there no role we could play for you? Ask us for anything. We exist only to serve humans! Nothing could be more painful than an empty existence!”
Kino replied, “I’m afraid there is nothing you can do for me.”
“Please! You must have something! We can help you. We can be the people you need. We can be your friends. We can be your parents. We can be your children. We can be your lovers. We can be your servants. We can be your enemies.”
“…I’m sorry, but I am not interested,” Kino responded plainly.
“D-do you truly not need anyone?” asked the mechanical dolls.
“Not at this point. I need no one but myself.”
“Ridiculous! Humans are tormented by solitude. Humans are tormented by a life lived for no one else.”
Kino shook her head. “That’s not true of all people.”
The mechanical dolls replied, “Please, let us be of use to you!”
Kino shook her head again.
Soon, they quietly muttered, “We understand.”
They turned around and slowly stepped forward. And they disappeared from Kino’s view.
Some time passed before she heard the sound of impacts on water.
Kino looked down the cliff.
They floated on the surface of the green lake.
The water slowly grew more and more transparent. At the same time, they began to sink.
With arms spread wide, they fell into the watery city like birds in flight.