Maki looks up from the contraption she’s been fiddling with for Yonaga, one of her eyebrows quirking. Akamatsu looks nervous. She has a very expressive face. Maybe it’s an astronaut thing. Integrity. She read The Martian once years ago, and one of the characters mentioned something about astronauts being noble. That’s a good word for Kaede Akamatsu, noble. Maki doesn’t bother responding verbally, only shifts her gaze back to the device. What on earth does Yonaga need a remote control drone for, anyone? Not that she particularly cares. It gives her something to do, and Yonaga is paying her to make it, so she’s not going to complain, or ask needless questions.
Clearing her throat, Akamatsu prompts, “What happened to your arm?”
Sharply, Maki asks, “Do you want to die?” It’s not a sensitive topic for her, not exactly, but it’s a bit of a rude question considering that they haven’t known each other for very long. Still, a fair question nonetheless, and one Maki’s been asked plenty of times before Akamatsu worked up the courage. She shifts her gaze down to the prosthetic limb in question. Hardly a prosthetic. Maki would liken it more to a cybernetic limb. She flexes the robotic fingers of her right hand. This is why Ouma calls her a cyborg.
“S-Sorry, I figured it’d be personal.” Akamatsu apologises, looking a bit abashed, and then Maki feels guilty for being so outwardly hostile. She was just wondering. Anyone else, and Maki might’ve suspected ill intent, but Akamatsu isn’t the type. She’s too simpleminded. And her head is up in the stars, most of the time. “I was only curious. You made it yourself, right?”
“Yeah,” Maki sighs, allowing the slight subject change. She drums her fingers on the table, knows that Akamatsu’s eyes cling to them as she does so. The red strip of metal along the length of the arm catches the light and Maki averts her gaze, thinking. “It was a while ago. I must’ve been around ten.”
“You made yourself a fully functional prosthetic when you were ten?” Akamatsu gapes at her. The underlying question, which she does not verbalise, but that which Maki hears regardless, goes, you lost your arm when you were ten? But Maki doesn’t answer that one. Akamatsu didn’t have the guts to ask it, so she won’t make anything easier on her.
Returning to her work, Maki says, “Of course I did. I have the arm, don’t I?”
“That’s incredible.” Akamatsu breathes out. “No wonder Hope’s Peak had its eye on you, they must’ve seen that and knew you were bound to be the Ultimate Inventor someday.”
Maki feels her lips quirking into a reluctant smirk. For her faults, Akamatsu is an excellent flatterer. She tries to hide how pleased she is by hunching down over the remote that she’s working on, sliding her left hand into her tool belt for a piece of wire. As she works, Maki decides to ask, “And why were you chosen to be the first human on Mars?”
“Huh?” Akamatsu sounds surprised. Maki imagines that it’s because people don’t ask about her very much. When she came to this school, everyone already knew who Akamatsu was. It’d be hard not to; at age thirteen, Akamatsu had already been to space, in preparation for her trip to Mars, which is currently planned for when Akamatsu turns twenty one. It’ll take her years to get there, and years to get home, and in Maki’s opinion it’s a bit of a waste of resources considering that she won’t even get to be there for very long, but she’s been training her whole life. Almost everyone in their class knew all there is to know about Kaede Akamatsu through magazines and newspaper articles. So they probably haven’t bothered to ask.
“You didn’t get much of a say in it, did you? Since you were chosen for the expedition when you were a toddler. Why did you get chosen?” Maki elaborates. She listens to Akamatsu’s silence for a moment, chances a look up at the blonde girl. It seems she’s just thinking about the question. Not actually upset to have been asked.
“Well, I have good constitution.” Akamatsu says after a moment. “I was a really fat baby! I could show you pictures,” she beams, and Maki rolls her eyes. She has no interest in seeing pictures of fat baby Kaede Akamatsu. “But even back then, it was obvious that I really loved space.” She fiddles with her hair clip, a pink metal Saturn, that brings out the warm plum shade of her eyes. Maki has to consciously force herself not to stare. “I was fascinated by the stars. My first word was moon. My papa was horrified,” Akamatsu adds with a chuckle. “He and my dad had a bet, you know?”
“Exceeding expectations even then,” mutters Maki.
“Forget it,” Maki snaps, feeling her face warm. If Akamatsu isn’t going to pay attention, then she doesn’t get to hear Maki’s compliments. “So you liked the moon. Fine. But going to Mars is a big thing. Did you really have a say in it?”
“I mean, I guess not.” Akamatsu shrugs. “I was a kid. Even if I had technically agreed, it wouldn’t have been much of an agreement. And I probably would’ve backed out of it. I don’t know. My dads never talk about that.” She hums. “I’m not upset about it, though, no way! The first time I went to space, I started crying because everything was so beautiful. Do you like swimming, Harukawa?”
“I have a great time at it,” Maki says flatly.
“Oh, I guess the arm would make it kind of hard…” Akamatsu trails off.
“I’m kidding.” Maki rolls her eyes. “It’s detachable.” To prove her point, she puts down the invention that she’s making for Yonaga and removes her right arm from the stump at her elbow. She can’t help smiling at the way Akamatsu’s eyes seem to bulge out of her head. Likely she’s never seen someone who’s missing a limb before. She carefully reattaches her arm to her elbow.
“Okay, that was a bit weird,” Akamatsu says shakily, but manages a smile because Maki’s hasn’t diminished. “But you do like swimming?”
“Sure, it’s fine.” Maki shrugs. She doesn’t have a particularly strong opinion.
“Well, when you’re out there, and you’re in your ship but you’re out in space, so the gravity is gone, it’s like… it’s like you’re swimming, but without the heaviness of water. Totally weightless. Cushioned by nothing. And then when I left the ship, out on a tether, it was like… I can only describe it with swimming metaphors because I don’t know any other way to describe it. It was like diving to the bottom of the sea, but instead of being submerged in water, and surrounded by fish and other creatures, I was surrounded by stars.” There’s a passionate, excited look in Akamatsu’s eyes. Paired with the light flush in her cheeks, she looks as though she couldn’t even begin to imagine anything more exciting than what she’s describing.
Maki doesn’t find a lot of joy in swimming. Maybe for the reason that Akamatsu cited; the heaviness of water. Leaving the ship on a tether and floating around in space sounds terrifying. Maki couldn’t even imagine doing it. But… admittedly, the weightlessness… does appeal. “Alright. I think I get it.” She sighs. “You got lucky, then. They happened to choose someone who would really love it.”
“Yeah,” smiles Akamatsu. “I am lucky. I’m really excited to go to Mars. Even though I won’t be leaving for another five years or so.” She laughs. “I think it’s going to be really great. You know, sometimes, when life gets really hard, I sort of… fantasise, about going to Mars.”
“Why?” Maki asks. Leaving on a several year expedition, alone, to a planet where there is no life, sounds like pretty much the opposite of something that Maki would actually fantasise about. But she doesn’t say that. She leaves her question to hang in the air and awaits Akamatsu’s response.
“Well, it’s… I don’t get to be alone a lot.” Akamatsu says slowly, after a moment of contemplation. “I’ll be going where nobody else has been before. Seeing things that nobody else has seen. It’ll be super dangerous and I might die-- in fact, there’s a good chance that I will die, but-- but I’ll be making a leap for humanity. Taking steps in a direction that nobody has gotten very far in before. Mars isn’t very far from us, in the grand scheme of things. We haven’t even gotten out of our immediate vicinity. We’ve only ever been to the moon. That kind of thing is exciting to me. I want to do my very best, and I want it to be the best that there’s been so far, so that people can go places they haven’t been before.” She inhales. “More than anything, I’m exciting for the vessel to be arriving back at home. To touch earth again and see everybody, having survived the trip to Mars.”
Huh. That’s what Maki was talking about earlier. Noble. There’s a bit of pride in it, too, though. Akamatsu wants to be the one who pulls through for everyone else. She wants to succeed for the sake of everybody else. It’s a desire that Maki is unfamiliar with, as in the past, all of her actions have been self-motivated. She wants to do things because they’ll benefit her. Not humanity. Maybe that’s the difference between them. Still, she can answer Akamatsu’s question. “I grew up in an orphanage. I lost my arm when it blew up.”
“When it blew up?” Akamatsu repeats; Maki likens her to a broken record player, but only in her head. She wouldn’t say something mean like that out loud, not for no reason, and not to Akamatsu, who doesn’t deserve it. To Ouma, maybe. The little shit would just laugh it off, and that’s the only reason she would feel okay saying something like that. “Your orphanage blew up?”
“There was a lot of cult activity in the area. I suppose they were trying to recruit kids for their organisation.” Maki’s fiddling with the remote becomes less purposeful. More of a place to glare while she continues her explanation. Usually she just says I lost it in an explosion and refuses to elaborate. In all honesty, she’s not sure why she’s even talking about the orphanage. “To do what, I really couldn’t tell you. The orphanage head put his foot down. Refused to let anyone join. Though, I would’ve.” Her voice catches, stupidly. “If it would have protected them, I would’ve.”
“Did anyone survive?” Akamatsu asks quietly.
“Me.” Maki clears her throat, a tad harshly. “A girl named Kame.” She pauses. “I don’t know where Kame is now, though. Not Hope’s Peak Academy, that’s for sure. Some other orphanage. When I finished making my arm, I asked if she wanted me to make her a leg. She said no. That was the last time I ever spoke to her.” Akamatsu must detect the bitterness, the unresolved regret in Maki’s tone, because she hums, and Maki glances up quickly, meets the softness in the astronaut’s eyes.
“You know, Harukawa…” she pauses. “Kame probably had her reasons for rejecting the offer. It might not have had anything to do with you.”
“Yeah,” huffs Maki. “I know that. I’ve been over all the possibilities as to why she could have possibly said no. All the ways I could have made her say yes. Doesn’t change the fact that she did, and I didn’t.” She shrugs, tries to come off as nonchalant. “It matter now. She’s gone. But she’s out there in the world, so there’s someone who remembers the orphanage. That’s all I could ask for. And maybe she’s looking back.” Maki takes a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. “I haven’t.”
“You will when you’re ready.” Akamatsu murmurs. “And if you’ll let me, I’ll be there with you when you do.”
Maki meets her gaze, one of her eyebrows quirked. Her gut instinct is to be hostile, but the offer is so unfamiliar, it gives her pause. She appraises Akamatsu steadily before asking, “Why? You don’t even know me.”
“I know this about you, though.” Akamatsu says with a small smile. “And I know that despite wearing so much red,” she gestures at Maki’s tank-top, the strip of red on her arm. “Your favourite colour is lavender. I’d like to know more.”
After a moment, Maki scoffs, but she only does so to turn attention away from how warm her cheeks are becoming. She places the remote down on the table and reaches up to grab one of her shoulder-length pigtails, tugging on it in embarrassment. Akamatsu is smiling wider now, apparently proud of herself, and Maki is torn between getting up and walking away and snapping at her to vanish the pleased smile from her face. She does neither. “Whatever. If that’s what you want, then I guess I don’t care enough to stop you.” She mumbles.
Beaming, Akamatsu says, “Good luck trying to stop me. I’m extremely good at getting my way, y’know?” She lets out a giggle at her own words, and Maki allows a begrudging smile. Good at getting her way indeed.