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Interlude 5 Main Chapters Interlude 6


Chapter 6

Kent decided he should've realized his apartment would lie across a demarcation of territory. Before him were two guardhouses, actually guard tents. One, that of the Earth Defense Force, was being disassembled. The personnel there had to hurry and store the tent so they could join the search for the mysterious newcomer who had piloted Unit 1 to victory.

Hiding behind a building, Kent waited until all of the Earth Defense Force guards had stowed the tent and walked away to begin the search. He risked another look and saw that the second checkpoint, belonging to the enemy army, still remained. Its personnel weren't making any preparations to leave, and he decided he had to risk going through it. There were other routes to the hospital and his apartment, but Kent figured they'd be guarded too. An opportunity to pass through only one checkpoint might never occur again.

He walked up to the second checkpoint, the one maintained by the RaRa Army. To the left of the desk was a large television mounted upon a stand. Kent recognized upon the screen and the guards the logo he had seen upon the green robot he had fought, and suffered many qualms, but he kept his demeanor confident, as though he did indeed have the right to pass. He was glad the ringing in his ears had stopped.

The guards gave him odd looks; who could want to cross the border so soon after a battle? They had no reason to stop him, yet, and so simply asked who he was. Their questioning revealed that he was a foreigner on a student visa, and he was ordered to move his identification card through a card reader they had so the computer could confirm this. The process took an oddly long time, and one of the guards finally got on a nearby laptop computer to see what the problem was. One guard wondered at the hole in his shirt and the wound beneath. To avoid the suspicious stares of the guards, Kent watched the television, which appeared to be broadcasting propaganda. The propaganda's musical score was a stirring martial theme. He was careful to hide his wry amusement that no mention was made of the fact that the RaRa Army had just lost a battle. He was sure by now that it had lost the entire battle, and the propaganda's silence on the matter proved it.

The propaganda in question was delivered exclusively by an attractive but garishly dressed young woman, her face a curious mixture of war paint and makeup, and her hair an admixture of red. The subjects of the propaganda were so general that Kent correctly guessed it had been prerecorded and was broadcast when there was no more specific message that needed to be sent.

She was describing the goal of her movement, and finally identified it for Kent: the RaRa Army. They were led by a man they called President Hiroshi Rara, but Kent recognized that man's name and face from television in his original world, where he was the famous and wealthy scientist rumored to be sponsoring Dr. Sanada's research. He evidently had quite a career change in this world.

The RaRa Army's goals were a bit hard for Kent to understand: they involved several words that weren't often used in everyday conversation, and consequently he was either rusty on them or had never heard of them before. Through the gaps in his understanding, the picture seemed to be that they would unite the world, prevent war, and only destroy those who opposed them. Kent was naturally deeply suspicious of such a thing, but he was astonished at the breadth of the conquests the propagandist claimed had been made: most of the globe had fallen to this army. The one assertion that Kent decided was probably unqualifiably true was that no conventional army could hope to stop the RaRa Army. These giant robots were very tough, and versatile to boot. Considering that, it was small wonder that most of the globe had fallen to the RaRa Army and that only armies with other giant robots could oppose them. Kent wondered where these giant robots and the technological infrastructure to support them had come from.

At the laptop, the guard shook his head for the last time and signaled the guard at the desk. They nodded to each other, and the guard at the desk stood up and requested that Kent Slade come with him. A third security guard took up station at the desk, as the fourth opened the entrance flap of a nearby tent.

"You see, we use these tents rather than appropriate the buildings of the people, whom we are here to protect and serve." The guard escorting Slade made conversation with that remark.

The tent was behind the desk, and as the guard at the terminal turned to look at Kent's progress towards the tent, he gasped. "Look at the back of his head!" he exclaimed involuntarily.

"What?" the guard escorting Slade inquired sharply.

"It's covered in blood!"

Kent felt the back of his head and realized the guard was right. Fortunately it seemed to have clotted some time ago. Evidently his only other visible wound was on his side, or someone would've mentioned it earlier. The guard escorting him had come behind Kent to look. "Are you feeling all right?" the guard asked.

"Uh, yeah. You know how head wounds are, they just bleed a lot. This doesn't even hurt anymore. I was hoping to get it looked at in a hospital nearby," Kent replied, but there was no way to be nonchalant about the head wound he guessed had caused his concussion.

"We'll try not to detain you any longer than necessary; that probably does need medical attention." the guard told him, and they continued toward the tent.

Inside was a rectangular plastic folding table and two folding chairs. The guard sat on one broad side of the table, and Kent sat on the other, so that the distance between them was fairly small. Removing his sunglasses, Kent placed them in his pocket, thinking about his situation. Kent had suspected that things were going badly for him the moment he had been asked to come with this man. Hopefully he wasn't about to be tortured.

"There's a problem with your ID," the man began without prelude. "It registers as invalid in both Japan and the United States of America. No one matching your description has been granted a student visa by the Japanese government, and your American passport has never been issued."

For a moment, Kent had no idea how this could be possible, and then it hit him. He did not exist in this world. He had anticipated that Dr. Sanada might not exist here, but the thought that he might not exist here had never even crossed Kent's mind. By some twist of parallel universe theory, Kent did not exist here, and logically had no records proving that he existed.

The problem was simple, but the solution was going to be very difficult. Kent knew that at this moment, everyone had to suspect him as a spy. An incompetent spy, but a spy nonetheless, and spies were often killed in wartime. The best he could hope for was humane incarceration until he was exchanged for another captured spy or the end of the war. His objective was therefore to not be considered a spy or criminal.

A strong temptation to lie arose in Kent's mind, but a moment's thought showed that to be a bad idea on every level. It was immoral to lie, and here it was folly, for it was clear that this job's guard was to catch people in lies and then interrogate the truth out of them. Unfortunately, he knew that he had appeared to lie already, since his paperwork was not checking out. The truth had to be the way out of this situation, but he had to reserve the truth of his extradimensional origin until he had no other choice. The guard would doubtless think that truth to be either insanity or a lie.

"There must be a mistake," Kent ventured, "some mixup in paperwork or flaw in the computer networks."

"I suppose that's possible," the man humored him. "Why don't you tell me more about what you wanted to do inside RaRa territory while we try to sort this out?"

"I wanted to go to the hospital and my apartment. They're both beyond this checkpoint," Kent answered honestly. The man knew there was a hospital nearby, and so decided to address the mysterious part of Kent's appearance at the checkpoint.

"It was very foolish of you to remain in the combat zone, and it got you that nasty knock on your head, and your side. You had to have known that this area was under a mandatory evacuation order. We take every precaution to avoid injury to civilians. The trailer identifying the battlefield was released a long time ago. There was plenty of time and resources to allow you to leave. What were you doing in a war zone?" the man inquired with tones both fatherly and incredulous.

The guard was no fool, and he did have some reason for disbelief that Kent had willingly ventured onto a battlefield. Kent was just as surprised as he was that he had ended up on a battlefield, but that made little difference now. He had hoped to never reveal that he was from an alternate world, but it was the truth. It sounded crazy and like a lie, but any lies Kent could think of would be both morally wrong and sound even crazier. Kent preferred to be thought a liar and actually tell the truth than be correctly identified as a liar. Another thought occurred to him, that he ought to be very careful about revealing that he had taken part in defeating the RaRa Army robot. He imagined that the guard would take strong exception to Kent defeating his comrades.

"This is going to sound crazy," Kent began, and the guard's face fell. Did everyone think that coming before the security guard was like a movie scene? Why did human beings have to preface their baldest lies with their greatest pretenses of innocence and self-righteousness?

"I actually came here from a parallel universe," Kent explained. "It's a world largely like this one, except different in several key respects. I'm a student at the college, here on the student visa, in that other world. A man named Dr. Ken Sanada approached me about participating in an experiment. He wanted me to visit and explore another world. We carried out the transport just today, and I appeared in his house. I had no idea the whole area was going to be a battlefield. I would've left, but it ended up that I can't get back. Now I need to find some way to return home."

The guard's incredulous glance made clear he was now asking questions only to be thorough. "Do you have any proof?" the guard asked as soon as Kent finished saying the last syllable.

Kent knew he had none. It almost made him wish he had gone and picked up the ruined signaler in the pit, but it was an artificial hole in the ground and the hole looked very dangerous. "I could show you the remains of a holster where I used to carry some scientific equipment, although I lost the equipment in the combat zone."

"You lost it how?" the guard asked, again as soon as Kent had finished speaking.

"I suppose it must've happened when I was unconscious," Kent admitted, "since I'm not sure. I know I don't have it now, but the last time I saw it was when it was lying wrecked in the bottom of a pit. If it's still there I might be able to show it to you."

The guard made no attempt to move, and his facial expression now clearly showed that he did not believe Kent. Kent had to admit that by this point he wouldn't have believed himself if he were in the guard's place.

He decided to attempt to use logic. "What kind of spy," Kent asked, finally bringing the accusation into the open, "would tell you a stupid story like that? A real spy would at least forge his papers properly. I have no reason to tell you something so improbable unless it is the truth." Kent had noticed that the guard was no fool, and he could see he had voiced the questions the guard had silently been wondering about. The guard still obviously didn't trust Kent enough to trust his logic.

How could Kent prove that his story was true? He needed to tell the guard something true that the guard could prove to himself. Presumably there was some sort of telemetry on such a big and complicated and probably expensive vehicle as the giant fighting robots, and that telemetry was stored in some sort of battle record. The RaRa Army would therefore be able to know what condition its giant robots were in and what they were doing. Kent decided to risk telling the guard that he had been piloting the robot that defeated the RaRa Army robot, and describe the fight in enough detail that it correlated with the battle records the RaRa Army had of its robot's defeat.

Suddenly, Kent's idea blossomed into another. If he were to offer his services to the RaRa Army, then he might get to see someone who could help him. Having a skill that they needed would be a good reason for them not to kill him. Kent really didn't want to get involved in the war- he hoped to just get to meet with some sort of hiring manager who'd be more sympathetic and help him get home, or at least release him from custody. If he had no chance of getting back home, though, this RaRa Army didn't seem to be an immoral outfit, so he supposed fighting for them wouldn't be too bad. Kent decided to first try to convince the guard to trust him, and see if the guard would release him or at least let him speak to a superior who might release him. If that didn't work, he'd clearly outline an offer to become a mercenary for the RaRa Army.

"While I was out on the battlefield," Kent began his story, "I noticed a giant white robot slumped on the ground. I climbed inside and found its pilot unconscious. I bandaged her head, and then I saw a green robot coming- it turned out to be from your army, the RaRa Army. I thought it was going to shoot me, so I ran inside the cockpit and accidentally activated the hatch, and discovered that I could actually pilot the robot. Then I defeated the RaRa Army robot. I can tell you all sorts of other details about the fight, and the RaRa Army records will back me up."

"That's impossible," the man replied, looking at him contemptuously.

Kent looked at him inquisitively. There was silence for a moment, and Kent then responded, "I don't see why it should be impossible. I was out on the streets, and I saw one unmoving with a hatch open, and I got in. From there it was pretty easy to control, you don't seem to need any special training. Just put your hands on orbs and think. There's no reason that it's impossible."

"It's impossible because only females can pilot the Ancient Arms," the man replied, annoyed.

"Has that been tested?" Kent asked, his voice betraying his defensiveness.

"Yes," replied the man, his voice betraying his newfound contempt for Kent, whom he now considered a fool as well as a liar. "Many, many times. It was one of the first things discovered when the artifacts were still being recovered from the ground, before the RaRa Army began its mission. All sorts of men, young men, old men, middle-aged men, from nearly every spot on the globe, have volunteered to see if they could pilot a robot. The RaRa Army and the Earth Defense Force sponsored quite a few such tests. Nothing happens when a male pilots a robot."

So the robots had come from some sort of artifact? Kent briefly wondered. He wasn't sure what that meant, but he had to save his skin at the moment.

Kent stubbornly grasped at a straw. "Perhaps the Earth Defense Force found a male pilot and didn't tell you."

The guard shook his head, and decided to play the game a little longer before making another devastating conversational strike. "Everyone thought of that. I was part of the security operation. We had the best security precautions available, documenting everyone who entered and left the test area. All of the tests were conducted jointly between the RaRa Army and the Earth Defense Force, and every male volunteer had to be tested at both sites. Neither army could conceal any male candidate." The man could sense Kent gathering for another objection. "Even if they somehow did, it really doesn't matter too much. Skill is skill, and weapons are weapons and we've got enough of both. Now," his voice became sharp, "you will tell me why you are really here."

There was a longer silence, and then Kent finally broke it when he saw that the guard was unwilling to do so. "I did tell you why I was really here," Kent stated clearly. "I'm part of a scientific experiment from another world. It's very understandable that you don't believe me, but that's the only explanation for everything you've observed."

The guard shook his head. That wasn't the only explanation: the other explanation was that this fellow who claimed to be Kent Slade was lying through his teeth. Slade had pointed out the weaknesses in the theory that he was lying, but had failed to offer anything more substantial. Fortunately for the guard, his duty was clear. Whether Slade was lying or telling the truth, he ought to be referred further up the command chain. The guard would take him prisoner in case he was a liar. If by some incredible circumstance he were telling the truth, a report would have to be filed anyways about taking him prisoner, and as usual, all the prisoner's statements would be included in the report.

"Stetson," the guard called.

The fourth man, who seemed European and guarded the tent entrance, immediately appeared behind Kent. Kent's interrogator asked Stetson to guard Kent while he made a report to the superior, and left the tent. Kent guessed that he wasn't going to be leaving anytime soon, but a report was good news for him: at this point, the more word got out about him, the better.

Did he have to be captured? If there was any time he was going to be able to escape, it'd be now. No, it would've been ten minutes ago, when he was held up at the desk while they tried to process his ID. Walking up right after a battle had made him suspicious from the start. Still, while few people knew what should be done with Kent was his best opportunity to escape. On the other hand, Stetson was watching him carefully, meaning that Kent had no ability to surprise him. That was a big disadvantage. Stetson as a person, on the other hand, was quite reassuring: it looked like the RaRa Army was a large and diverse force, and his plan of becoming a mercenary looked that much more likely.

The interrogator reentered the tent with handcuffs. "Kent Slade," he addressed him, though he still wasn't sure that was his name, "you are hereby declared a prisoner of the RaRa Army for the crime of forgery. Your statements have been placed upon record in the RaRa Army files. You will be held until the date of your trial."

This was bad, very bad, and yet Kent was glad that his statements had been recorded and reported. Maybe someone who read them would deign to get him out of this. Kent had never been handcuffed before, and it was a strangely humiliating experience. It was even more embarrassing to learn that his prison transport would not arrive for another hour, so he and the interrogator had to sit and face each other for a long, awkward time. Being an interrogator, he tried to reopen the conversation, but soon stopped when Kent reiterated what he had said before.

What were the handcuffs other than a more visible representation of Kent's reality ever since he had lost the signaler? Kent decided that ever since his signalers had been destroyed, he had been a prisoner of this parallel world. It was an odd thought, for until this day he was a prisoner in his original world, never able to travel to another, and it had not bothered him at all. Now he was stuck in another, but in a much worse situation.

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