NARRATOR: "The night air is pleasant at this time of year. It's refreshing and a little humid, but not so chilly as to make it uncomfortable to stay outside for a while. It's late enough for the courtyard to be all but deserted, too. After Shizune and I said our farewells to each other, I'd set out to return to my dormitory room. I didn't even make it all the way there, though, before getting distracted. It doesn't seem like a bad idea to go see what Misha is up to. I have nothing better to do. No homework. I'm out of anything worth reading. On top of that, I simply want to know. This isn't my first time being in the main building after hours, but usually, it's as I'm leaving the place with Shizune and Misha after a long day at the Student Council. Not entering it alone."

NARRATOR: "The atmosphere is quiet, a word I would not normally use to describe these halls. It's a little creepy. A light starts flickering up ahead. This seems like a horror movie moment waiting to happen. Feeling a hand on my shoulder, I stiffen reflexively. It's not Misha, or else there would be hands clamped over my eyes and a sing-song “guess who” accompanying them. So, who is it? I hope it's not Kenji, or at least that it's someone I know, or this will take a turn for the weird. Whoever it is quickly slips in front of me. It's Shizune."

HISAO: "What are you doing here?"

NARRATOR: "I'm so relieved that I forget to sign it. Shizune puts a finger up to her lips. I guess even though she can't hear, she has some idea of what loudness is, and can tell from my expression that I was being loud. And apparently, being loud isn't a good thing right now. But then, why is Misha her interpreter?"

HISAO: (signing) "Oh, very funny. Why are you here?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I was waiting for you to come see. I knew you would show up. It took you a while, though."

HISAO: (signing) "You've been waiting here?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Yes, but that isn't important. We have to be stealthy, if we don't want Misha to detect us. Tell me if I'm not being stealthy enough, okay?"

NARRATOR: "With that, Shizune starts slowly tiptoeing through the middle of the hall. I pat her on the shoulder to get her attention."

HISAO: (signing) "That's not stealthy. Why do we have to be stealthy?"

NARRATOR: "She refuses to answer, probably because signing and walking stealthily at the same time doesn't look easy. Before I know it, we're in front of our homeroom. Suddenly, a sound like the crack of a whip pierces the air, followed by a familiar expression of frustration. I'm sure a sound like that isn't good for my heart. Not to mention, everything sounds about a million times louder with how silent it is. It's coming from inside the room, and I sidle up to Shizune to get a look inside."

Misha nightclass

MUTOU: "Can you stop throwing your pencil, please? How do you even throw a pencil that loudly?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "He looks very flustered."

NARRATOR: "What an understatement. I sympathize with Mutou. I was able to hear Misha's pen break the sound barrier even through a wall and a thick classroom door. It probably blew out his eardrums and left an imprint on the wall."

MISHA: "I'm not throwing it~, when I get nervous, I like to spin it around, but~, then I forget I'm holding onto it, and—"

MUTOU: "It doesn't matter, either way, there shouldn't be pencils flying around. I get enough of that during regular school hours, I don't need it after hours."

MISHA: "R-right~! Sorry."

MUTOU: "Whatever, just stop throwing, or releasing, or dropping things, please. Teachers have work, too."

NARRATOR: "I notice Shizune watching the same scene I am. Mutou is yelling at the top of his lungs, and Misha is being Misha. I can hear them reasonably well through the door. But Shizune obviously can't hear anything at all. So, I wonder what watching this is like for her. She must know, since she understands well enough to want me to see it too, but I have to wonder if she ever feels like she's missing out on something, having to work that much harder to understand what she's observing."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "It looks like she is taking supplementary lessons. Is she?"

HISAO: (signing) "Yeah."

NARRATOR: "I answer, despite knowing the question is completely rhetorical."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Misha told me she really wants to be a sign language teacher in the future. If she can get a recommendation, she can study overseas for it. That is why she is working so hard. Her grades were always kind of on the low side."

HISAO: (signing) "Now I feel guilty. I haven't even thought about what I'm going to do yet."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Neither have I!"

NARRATOR: "The cheerful way that she signs it is very unlike her, and is very obviously false."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Let's get out of here, we don't want to be seen. It would be a problem if we were caught standing out here like idiots."

HISAO: (signing) "Where? The student council room?"

NARRATOR: "Shaking her head, she slips into the classroom across the hall instead."

HISAO: (signing) "Great hiding place."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "You're unusually sarcastic, lately. With the door closed it's a good one. Anyway, wasn't it interesting?"

HISAO: (signing) "Yes, but I'm not really surprised."

NARRATOR: "I close the door behind us, prompting Shizune to laugh soundlessly as she slides into a chair. For a second, it depresses me. I want to hear her real laugh."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I was. I've been looking down on Misha. I didn't think she had a goal at all. But it turns out that I was wrong, I made a careless assumption. I thought Misha was as aimless as I was. I was stupid. I lost."

NARRATOR: "Shizune pauses to crack her knuckles, then folds her hands over each other, and leans forward in her chair. In the abnormal quiet of the building, I can hear Mutou yelling at Misha again even across a hallway and through two doors. Shizune's eyes are locked on mine, unblinking behind the gleaming lenses of her glasses, observing my reaction to her words. This is a test. Her opinion of people is rarely formed from how they respond to questions; it's how they respond to statements that counts. In hindsight, it makes sense. Shizune's inability to speak, as well as just her personality in general, means that anything she “says” is a big commitment on her part. Everything. For that reason, I sometimes doubt she says anything without a hidden agenda behind it. That sounds remarkably paranoid. Even Kenji would think so. Unfortunately, I'm so caught up in thinking about it that I forget to give her an answer. She takes it as there not being one. There was an invisible time limit to this test, shorter than usual."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Just as I thought."

HISAO: (signing) "What do you mean?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "You don't agree?"

HISAO: (signing) "Not really, it's not that. I don't get it."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I want to force my will on people."

NARRATOR: "How refreshingly honest."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Don't give me a weird look like that. It's not like that was always my intention. At first, I was just bored. I wanted to see someone's passion for something. Then I could try and beat them. I wanted to test their ability or their convictions. But it was impossible, no one has any passion for anything in this school. They just want to keep to themselves. I can't believe it. It's too boring that way. I thought that there was no way these drab people could be for real. It goes beyond not wanting to make waves. They had to have some interests. They had to be hiding something. I wanted to expose it, and reveal it, and drag it out. One of the most successful ways to get people to open up to you, and cheer them up, is to open up with a story about yourself. And then you ease them into telling you about themselves. It's like give and take, but with an element of manipulation, which makes it interesting."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I can't do that. If I attempt to have Misha talk about me, for me, it makes me seem arrogant. The message has to go through a messenger. I'm standing next to Misha, telling her to tell someone about me. You don't have to be able to read sign language to see that. If I were forced to sit through that, I would think I was arrogant, too. I was frustrated; I couldn't figure out a way to have a conversation with anyone but Misha. No one would open up to me. I came to the conclusion that I can't make people confide in me, or believe in me. I can only hope to create things, and show them to people, and hope they make them happy. Or I could be more forceful and hope it would eventually stick to someone."

NARRATOR: "I guess that would be me. Feels vaguely depressing."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Somewhere along the line, I think I started to ignore Misha, or see her as less of a person, or something like that. I took her for granted, I think would be the best way to put it. It was like she was just an extension of myself. I forgot that the whole time, Misha was there, opening up to me, and giving a hundred percent every day. I missed what I was looking for, because it was in plain sight. How stupid of me. I really did become arrogant. That's why I've lost. I'm more shortsighted than I was back then. I went in reverse."

NARRATOR: "She's pacing back and forth now, almost brooding, yet still filled with so much energy that she can't stand to stop moving. If you got her to hold two wires I'm sure Shizune could power a light bulb. It's odd that I could have such a lighthearted thought while she's being so serious."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "And in spite of that, Misha tells me that I'm her inspiration. Isn't that ridiculous? I'm not the kind of person who can inspire others. Even if a person who inspires you is flawed, it can be acceptable. I've thought about this. There is even acceptable hypocrisy. For instance... If your hero was an athlete, but unsportsmanlike, they could still be respected for their athletic ability, even if they had shortcomings as a person. However,"

NARRATOR: "She snaps her fingers briskly. It sounds like a thunderclap in the empty room, and Shizune takes a few seconds to stretch her fingers. Come to think of it, this is the most she has ever signed."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "If someone like me has no goals, it would be totally unacceptable. It'd be the worst kind of hypocrisy. And hypocrites don't deserve responsibility over anything, they can't even manage themselves."

NARRATOR: "How incredibly pessimistic. It makes me angry to think about it. I would hate myself just a few months ago. This must be how I looked to others. And, funny enough, it was Shizune and Misha who convinced me to stop. Without them I'm sure things would be much different, and not for the better. Lately, I feel as though we pass around our miseries as much as we're supported by each other, but I think it just comes with the territory of having friends and being close to someone."

HISAO: (signing) "You're the leader anyway."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "That is only because no one else wants to be."

HISAO: (signing) "But that means you still are, since people are putting their trust in you anyway. In fact, doesn't that make it more important? Either way, you are the leader, you are the inspirational figure or whatever you want to call it. You're responsible for what you tame. I read that in a book somewhere."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "That's clever."

NARRATOR: "Shizune only seems to show what she's feeling on her face when she wants to, but I don't think she's being sarcastic."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I don't want to “tame” anyone, though."

HISAO: (signing) "Being the leader and being looked up to, then. Same thing."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I never wanted to be the leader, it just ends up that way."

HISAO: (signing) "I don't believe that, all you do is try to grab more and more responsibility."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Wait, wait. I wasn't going to tell you that I don't enjoy it. I don't care about being the leader, but I don't mind. I don't care about being the best, but I don't mind. You're right, though, about me wanting responsibility. Of course I want more responsibility. Having responsibility makes me feel alive. That's why I joined the Student Council: If there is no pressure, I just can't stand it. Even so, now I'm the leader. I always thought being the leader meant you give orders, but it really is more. It's about having a goal. If I don't have a goal, then it's pointless. People would only be following me for my own enjoyment. It would be selfish."

NARRATOR: "It's a strangely moral viewpoint for a person who seems to love one-upping others so much. Resting her chin on her tented fingers, Shizune looks disarmingly childish as she thinks hard about her problem. The expression on her face is a little comical, because it's too obvious, and therefore, very unlike her."

HISAO: (signing) "It comes with the job. I think you'd have to be a leader. You wouldn't be satisfied with anything else, you would just get bored."

NARRATOR: "Shizune doesn't reply, but from her annoyed expression, I think I've guessed correctly."

HISAO: (signing) "I've been thinking that I need a little direction, too."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Were you told that it's important to contribute to society?"

NARRATOR: "What an unusual response. It's so out of nowhere that I don't know how to respond. And it also bothers me, though I don't know why. Possibly because it doesn't seem like something that would come from her. So I start to think that it isn't Shizune's thought at all. I wonder who told her that. Well, it was probably her dad. But there is a chance that she came up with it on her own. If so, would it be because she can't hear?"

HISAO: (signing) "Why do you say that?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Just because."

HISAO: (signing) "I don't believe it. I guess that's right, though."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I see. I don't know if it's the same for me. I hate it."

NARRATOR: "I think everyone wants a purpose. Looking back, it makes sense that Shizune doesn't have one. All that energy would otherwise have been directed at something. Since she had nothing to channel it towards, Shizune lashed out in all directions. Reminds me of a downed power line flailing in a storm: Furious and incandescent, but aimless and dangerous. Just like Shizune. I want to say that this is why she feels the need to turn everything into a competition, but... that's probably just how she is. Having a goal to put that energy towards is just the next level."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "How about this? I could go into business. My family is well connected, so it shouldn't be too hard. ...That comes off sounding a little unethical and nepotistic, doesn't it?"

HISAO: (signing) "A little."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I won't coast, though. I'll work hard, until I'm at the very apex. When I have as much money as possible, so much that it'll be like I won't know what to do with it, I'll move on to the next step. After sitting on it for a while, of course, like a fairy tale dragon."

HISAO: (signing) "You want to be...?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "A philanthropist!"

HISAO: "..."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Tsk tsk. What were you thinking? That I want to be a miser? Well, it's true, it is a part of the plan. Don't sell me short and stop there, though."

NARRATOR: "Shizune still looks uneasy. Of course; even if she did seem to resolve her problem quickly, no one can get over their anxieties that fast. No one can solve their problems that easily. The important thing is, it looks as though she has her heart set on trying. It's still hard to tell whether that drive of hers comes from a good or bad place. But she has something to hold on to now. I can genuinely believe that she does. I'm happy for her. And at the same time, I feel a little cold. I'm the one who's behind. Now, I'm the only one without a goal."

Next Scene: Infinity