A Simple Survey:Volume2 Reaper04

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Reaper Game 04: Natural Enemy[edit]

Part 1[edit]

“Kozue!!”

The people who ran in shouting that name were likely the other members of Player 2. They were three college-aged men and women. They circled around where Kozue was collapsed on the floor and then glared at Higashikawa and the others with intense hostility.

But one woman of Player 2 had beaten down Hiyama.

Hiyama entered the bar outside the Hell Hospital while propped up by Rachel’s shoulder. When Player 2 saw the trail of red blood flowing from Hiyama’s temple, they held back the comments they were about to let fly.

“…”

“…”

The two groups glared at each other.

As far as direct damage went, Player 1 and Player 2 had both had a single woman injured. The amount of damage was identical, so it seemed neither side could blame the other.

However…

(No. That isn’t how it works.)

Higashikawa could feel a strained atmosphere filling the bar.

Anger, hatred, and resentment could not be cancelled out like that. Regardless of the level of actual damage, it would continue flowing out until the person was satisfied. Even a soldier who had mowed down countless guerrillas or terrorists would be overwhelmed with hatred if one of his comrades in arms was killed.

One could only hold back one’s emotions with reason when in a situation where acting out of pure emotion would most definitely lead to a worse situation.

In most cases, the police, military, or prisons played the role that held people back. But none of those things were present here, so the brakes that controlled their overflowing emotions were not functioning properly.

If they threw insults at each other and grabbed their weapons, the situation could quickly become bloody for everyone involved.

(The ones who hold the key to a bloodless resolution are…)

Higashikawa glanced over at Hiyama.

And then at Kozue whose breathing was very shallow.

The resentment and hatred held by both Player 1 and Player 2 was based in those two injured women.

If those two direct victims could tell everyone they did not want an attack on their behalf, the other members would lose their justification for letting their emotions explode out.

Of course, logic did not always apply when it came to human emotion.

However, if someone attacked without that justification, the entire situation would be different. Instead of a confrontation between Player 1 and Player 2, it would be a confrontation between that one person and the nine other members of Player 1 and Player 2.

A fight with makeshift weapons between two groups of five would be a disaster.

But what about nine against one?

With that overwhelming difference, they might be able to restrain the one person without injuring them too badly.

If everyone retained their right to speak, a natural structure would form that could act in place of the police and restrain anyone who grew violent.

Ideally, they could do that without creating a dictator, but…

“…”

“…”

Whether Hiyama and Kozue realized their importance or not, they averted their gaze when Higashikawa looked toward them.

It was no good.

Higashikawa then heard a slight noise. It was the sound of Kazakami taking a slight step forward. As Player 2 was made up of four women and one man, the college-aged man was naturally the one who responded by stepping slightly forward himself. If the information on the corkboard was accurate, his name was Anzai Kyousuke.

The situation was going to explode.

The atmosphere reminded Higashikawa of a balloon filled with too much air.

(Hiyama and Kusaka Kozue are not going to do anything. But the idea of changing this from 5 against 5 to 9 against 1 wasn’t a bad one. Is there any way I can do it? Is there any way to lead them to that same result without using the two direct victims!?)

Higashikawa had disassembled a floor lamp to create the hole out of the Hell Hospital. In other words, he held a weapon.

He tightened his grip on it and took a deep breath.

And he spoke.

“Listen. I don’t want to die here.”

As expected, Kazakami and Anzai both turned hostile eyes in Higashikawa’s direction.

“What’s your point?”

“You’re thinking the same thing, aren’t you? If either Player 1 or Player 2 puts their hands up in surrender, we can achieve safety.”

Higashikawa grinned when he heard Anzai say that.

This would work.

He was willing to talk. Since Anzai had not yelled or attacked without listening at all, the situation was better than it might have been.

“Yes.”

Trying to be idealistic would help nothing here.

Saying something that would reach none of them would simply confuse the situation.

And so…

Higashikawa Mamoru pointed his handmade weapon straight forward.

“I was thinking the same thing. Which is why I’m doing this.”

He pointed his weapon at Kazakami who was still on the verge of attacking Player 2.

He pointed his weapon at a member of Player 1 who should have been his comrade.

Everyone in the bar froze.

Kazakami was the one with the weapon pointed at him, but everyone including Matsumi, Rachel, and the five of Player 2 all gasped.

Before anyone could do anything else, Higashikawa continued to speak.

If he did not take the initiative here, bloodshed would be unavoidable.

“Who knows what will happen if we fight 5 against 5. But what if that balance is broken? I don’t care whether I’m with Player 1 or Player 2. I’ll join the winning side. I’ll join the side that lets me survive. So put your weapon down, Kazakami. Or do you want to take on the rest of us by yourself?”

“…Damn you. I thought we were on the same side.”

“The organizers decided that, not me.” After saying that, Higashikawa then pointed his weapon at Anzai Kyousuke of Player 2. “And if you decide to fight, I’ll be Player 2’s enemy. Let me be blunt. You all have the advantage while I’m sticking with Player 2. That destroys the five against five structure. Do you really want to give that up just to begin a 50/50 fight to the death? Wouldn’t it be better to keep the odds on your side?”

“…Tch.”

Anzai clicked his tongue and took a step back.

After seeing that, Higashikawa questioned the five members of Player 2 once more.

“We need to exchange information if we are to escape this place alive. Not that I think we have much useful information we could give the people who have been monitoring us this whole time.”

“Understood.”

He had moved from Player 1 to Player 2.

They had escaped the bloodshed for the time being, but a strained atmosphere still filled the bar. Before Higashikawa could walk over, Hiyama whispered in his ear.

“(Thank you for that.)”

However…

“(But there was a chance you could have been attacked by everyone else for doing that. Do not carelessly make that sort of choice.)

A chill ran down his spine.

Player 1 could have easily hated him as a simple traitor.

Player 2 had no real reason to accept in a traitor.

He could have been rejected by both groups.

That would create a situation of nine against one.

The exact situation Higashikawa Mamoru had set up as a penalty could have been forced onto him.

Part 2[edit]

Survey v02 359.jpg

The plain-looking male college student was Anzai Kyousuke.

The blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman who used slightly-broken Japanese was Harumi.

The tall beautiful woman who had long black hair and gave a cool-headed impression was Hotaru.

The woman wearing headphones and bandages was Kozue.

The girl with a showy hairstyle who would have fit in at a cabaret club was Aisu.

The above five members of Player 2 introduced themselves. Unlike Higashikawa and the others of Player 1, they all attended the same university and had known each other before taking part in this attraction.

Player 1 had been required to construct their interpersonal relationships from the ground up under such extreme situations, so they felt a bit jealous of Player 2.

However, this was a situation where a mistake would get someone killed. When all of the possible deaths would be someone you knew, the situation could be seen as even worse than simply having to be suspicious of everyone.

“This way.”

Higashikawa followed Anzai out of the bar.

Harumi and Hotaru went with them. Kozue was injured and Aisu was remaining in the bar to treat her.

The scenery changed dramatically upon leaving through the door.

“…What?”

“It’s a supermarket or a giant shopping center. That’s what it looks like anyway.”

Unlike the Hell Hospital, this area was quite large and brightly illuminated by fluorescent lights. It looked two or three times as large as a school gym. Shelves filled with precooked food and seasonings were lined up like the bookshelves of a school library or the shoe lockers in a school entrance. Perishable foods like vegetables and fish were displayed along the outer perimeter.

Hotaru, the tall woman, spoke while maintaining a set distance from Higashikawa.

“Do you perhaps find this place to be familiar?”

“Familiar? …No, wait.” Higashikawa frowned. And then it hit him. “This is a lot like one of the places in the attraction monitor videos. What was this one? I think it was the one with stopping someone’s heart and reviving them with an AED.”

That attraction had taken place in a large supermarket.

In that case…

“There are more,” added the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Harumi as she pointed in one direction.

There was an employee door near the perishable foods.

Higashikawa opened the door and found something completely different.

It looked like a standard room from a multi-tenant building.

All of the furniture had been removed, so the square space looked like a concrete cage.

He did not need to think about where he had seen this before.

A special tool was set up prominently in the center of the room.

“A guillotine…”

It had no blood on it and the blade shined as if it was brand new, so Higashikawa could not tell if it had actually been used in an attraction or not.

Anzai let out a heavy sigh and said, “There are a few other attraction stages. Or at least rooms altered to resemble them. But unsurprisingly, we haven’t found that domed stadium or Corpse Island.”

“The stages that are too large to fit indoors might be nearby outside,” said Hotaru while fidgeting with her black hair.

That idea gave Higashikawa a very bad feeling.

“So we’ve been brought to the place that soaked up all of that blood in those attractions?”

“The only place that makes no sense is the Hell Hospital,” said Harumi with a shrug. “We never saw it in any of those attraction movies.”

“Come to think of it…”

The Hell Hospital had originally been the location where lobotomies were performed. That likely had nothing to do with these attractions. And if they were going to create an attraction for the Hell Hospital’s operating room, it would normally involve sadistic rules involving surgical equipment.

Anzai cut in to say, “At any rate, the person behind this had to have been involved in incidents all across Japan to acquire those videos.”

“All across Japan?”

“That’s right.”

“But I thought all of the attraction stages were here?”

“The Hell Hospital had an original. The actual incident happened there. In that case, doesn’t it make sense to assume everything else here is a reproduction of the facilities in which incidents across Japan happened? The detail of these stages is too much to simply be basing it off of information from talk shows or tabloids. I get the feeling whoever is behind this was involved in the original incidents.

“So they first cause these horrible incidents around Japan and then create an identical stage here?”

“Yes, look.”

Anzai pointed toward the guillotine in the center of the room.

The blade was glittering beautifully in the light.

Hotaru nodded and said, “It is possible that bunny girl was involved behind the scenes with the Hell Hospital incident. It is almost as if they are causing these incidents just to increase the ‘value’ of this place.”

If that was the case…

Higashikawa bluntly stated the question that floated up in his mind.

“But what do they hope to gain by gathering these model rooms?”

“We have not figured that part out yet,” said Harumi.

It was true that the incident in the real Hell Hospital had been very different from the attraction Higashikawa and the others had been forced to go through using those handguns.

The stage had been thoroughly arranged and fine-tuned to perfection, but then the most important pillar had been switched out with something else.

Higashikawa almost groaned as he said, “It just doesn’t fit. Could there be a meaning in having it not make sense?

“Not make sense, hm?” muttered Anzai quietly.

But unlike Higashikawa who was completely at a loss, Anzai almost sounded like that had given him an idea.

Hotaru sighed.

“If you include those monitor videos, this is an incredibly large scale project. Whoever is behind this must find it to be very important.”

They checked through the facility for a bit longer, but they could not find any sort of exit.

They found a few doors that would not open, but they would not budge no matter how hard they pushed or pulled. They began to suspect the doors had been sealed up with concrete after Player 1 and Player 2 had been thrown in or that the doors were only a part of the wall made to look like a door.

“But the people behind this had to have gotten in here to set this place up, right?” said Higashikawa.

“We just have to pray they didn’t seal up the single exit with concrete after the preparations were complete,” replied Anzai.

“There might be a secret door!” suggested Harumi.

“Even if there is, they would have at least locked it,” pointed out Hotaru.

They could find no hint, so they turned around to return to the bar.

But on their way, they found someone rummaging through the shelves in the shopping mall. It was the college-aged cabaret club girl. Higashikawa was fairly certain her name was Yakushiji Aisu. She threw several small boxes into the cart next to her.

Higashikawa honestly asked, “What are you doing?”

“I need bandages and disinfectant to treat Kozue and the other woman’s wounds. Fortunately, we have plenty to work with here. We need to take whatever we can use.”

Higashikawa was not the only one to frown at that.

Hotaru gave a cautious look around and said, “Can we really use the products here? What if they have been tampered with?”

“That is of course a possibility. But if we use some reagents, we can tell if it’s safe or not.”

“Reagents…?”

Anzai seemed confused, but Aisu continued as if it was nothing.

“Even kids in elementary school know purple cabbage can be used in place of litmus paper. You can test for quite a lot of things with just some everyday items.”

From the way Aisu spoke, it was clear this was not something she just had a passing knowledge of. It was possible she was in the college of science at her university.

Hotaru placed her index finger on her chin and tilted her head slightly.

“So do you think you can manage?”

“Just leave it to me,” replied Aisu offhandedly before adding something else in a quieter voice. “And I need to make sure to treat that Hiyama woman. Even if I didn’t have much of a choice, I still hit her with that fire extinguisher.”

Higashikawa and the others filled the cart with the fruits, vegetables, and seasonings she indicated. Higashikawa had no idea how each of them could be made into a reagent.

After gathering what they needed, they headed back to the bar.

The high school girl named Matsumi frowned when she saw the full shopping cart.

“What’s all this? Is it time to eat?”

“Treating the injured comes first. Let’s see, I need to create some reagents, so first I need this portable camping stove…”

After Yakushiji Aisu, the science student who would fit in at a cabaret club, said that, Kazakami grabbed an apple from the shopping cart and bit into it.

“This isn’t all that fresh. It’s really dry.”

“Didn’t I just say I need those to make reagents out of!? What if it’s poisoned!?”

“Poisoned!? Wait...Is that why it tastes so bad!?”

“At least you seem to have plenty of energy!” said Harumi.

Yakushiji Aisu prepared the reagents almost entirely on her own. She chopped and squeezed out vegetables and roasted them on the portable stove, but Higashikawa could not imagine what components she was trying to draw out.

After she finally confirmed the safety of the disinfectant and bandages, she began treating the injured.

First came Kusaka Kozue.

“Gh…!! Th-that stings. That really stings!!”

“Yes, yes, but you’re not a child that needs a shampoo hat. In fact, I’ve heard people who are truly in bad shape do not feel any pain. This means you’re doing quite well.”

“At least you seem to have plenty of energy!”

“Harumi, I don’t think we can get through this with that alone!!”

And then Hiyama Tomoko.

She had received a blow to the head, so Aisu simply arbitrarily applied the disinfectant and bandages and then pressed a bag filled with ice against her head.

However, it seemed even that little bit helped a lot.

Hiyama brought her hand up to the bag of ice Higashikawa was holding in place and then sighed.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I feel fully conscious and my senses have not numbed. I am no expert, but I think I should be fine.”

“But you were hit on the head,” said Matsumi.

Rachel also spoke up from a short distance away.

“I-if only you could get a proper examination.”

“Either way, we have to get out of here first,” said Kazakami offhandedly before grabbing a snack out of the shopping cart.

Yakushiji Aisu had deemed the food safe, so they could eat it without worrying.

The biggest surprise came from Player 2. Hasegawa Hotaru, the tall college girl with long black hair, opened a bag of sugary cereal. Higashikawa had gotten the impression she was more of a cool beauty than that.

While being treated, Kusaka Kozue spoke with a distant look in her eyes.

“Hotaru is a romanticist.”

“That has nothing to do with hunger.”

“That’s right, it doesn’t! So don’t hog that sugary cereal, Hotaru. Pass it over here!!”

“I may be in liberal arts, but I’m not above punching someone.”

“Hey, are you sure she’s a romanticist?”

After the two injured people had been treated, their attention naturally turned toward the leftover products. Higashikawa had not expected to be hungry in a situation like this, but his stomach quickly started demanding food after he took a bite of canned pineapple.

With a meaningless triumphant look, Kazakami said, “See? You really are hungry!!”

“Maybe our mental hunger and physical hunger are a bit out of sync… Come to think of it, how long has it been since all this began?” muttered Rachel as she nibbled on the edge of a rusk.

The little tidbits of conversation gradually grew.

“That was a horrible job…”

“Really, we should have been more suspicious when Harumi told us about the job! She’s the type to politely step on every single landmine!!”

“Hey, it was not my fault. Tell them, Anzai-kun!”

“I suppose if you compare it to that corpse-washing job at the hospital, that tuna-gathering job at the train station, or that deep forest search party…”

“What kind of ridiculous world have the two of you been living in while we haven’t seen you?”

The conversation naturally spread through the members of Player 2 first. They had already known each other, so their threshold was of course lower than that of the Player 1 members who had only just met.

With a sports drink in hand, Matsumi sat down next to Higashikawa who was sitting on the floor battling a can of pineapples. While showing a bit of concern about her short skirt, she said, “It seems they all go to the same university.”

“Yeah?”

“But we had no idea who anyone was. We could have lied during our introductions.”

Higashikawa wondered why she was bringing that up now.

He did not catch on to how odd it was that she felt the need to state something that should be obvious.

Which is why he smoothly replied, “We somehow managed to work together. We managed to rely on each other.”

“…” Matsumi glanced over at Higashikawa. “We don’t know anyone’s background.”

“Does that really matter? Our academic backgrounds and savings mean nothing here. It doesn’t matter what kind of titles we have.”

“Then…”

Matsumi started to say something, but she trailed off.

She looked around cautiously before speaking in a lower voice.

“What if one of the organizers is mixed in with us?”

“Eh? But that can’t be, can it?” muttered Higashikawa as if the possibility had only occurred to him now. And then, “We would need to find out where they stand. I’m willing to use anyone that might be useful.”

“You idiot. We should just gang up on them and beat them to a pulp.”

“I doubt this situation is set up so that would help us. And from the way you put it, we wouldn’t know why they’re mixed in.”

“…Why they’re mixed in?”

Matsumi frowned and Higashikawa used his chin to point at the members of Player 2.

“Remember what happened with them? If this hypothetical person is a real spy or they’re trying to get in our way, that’s one thing. But what if they were thrown into this attraction as a penalty for betraying the organizers or something? I doubt we would actually be able to make an ally of them, but they would make a reliable ally if we could. They would know the organizers’ methods and any hidden circumstances.”

“…Hm.”

Matsumi sipped on her sports drink and looked away from Higashikawa for some reason.

She then slowly scooted away from him while still sitting.

“You’re too soft.”

“?”

Higashikawa was confused.

And then…

It was as if they had waited for the moment when they let their guard down due to the minimal first aid and food.

A change came over the laptops placed in front of the three chairs at each of the several round tables.

The information and images from the Hell Hospital disappeared and they all began displaying the same image.

That image was…

“Ha haaa haaa!! Oh, dear. What a shame. The attraction to lead Player 1 and Player 2 to kill each other ended in failure.”

It was a face they all recognized.

However, they had never actually met this person.

Before being taken here, they had seen this person in charge of those countless deadly attractions shown in the monitor videos.

“The bunny girl!!”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious. But Higashikawa-san, you and the rest of Player 1 setting foot in the bar holds great meaning. And I’m sure Player 2 knows very well what that is.”

“!!”

Aisu, the woman who looked like cabaret club girl and had been handling the attractions for Player 1, gave a frightened start. Were they to receive some sort of punishment if the attraction failed?

“But we have our own circumstances,” continued the bunny girl. “This is still not enough for us. What a problem, what a problem.”

“What are you saying?”

“You don’t need to know. Anyway, we will give you a chance to get back in the game. I will personally let you enjoy a top rate attraction. You should thank me from the bottom of your hearts.”

An attraction.

An unpleasant feeling ran down Higashikawa’s spine as soon as he heard that term. And he was likely not alone. In a very short period of time, the meaning of that word had changed drastically.

But the bunny girl on the screens did not stop speaking.

She could not be stopped.

With a smile on her face, she continued playing the role of host.

“Now then, pay careful attention to the giant monitor to your left.”

The room was made to look like a bar and one wall was covered by a giant monitor used for decorative lighting.

Survey v02 375.jpg

Higashikawa did not want to look.

His peripheral vision was enough to tell him it showed a close up of the bunny girl. And he knew it would soon be used to display some horrible, inhumane, and nonsensical rules.

But what actually happened greatly exceeded his expectations.

With a great noise, the giant monitor suddenly burst apart and the bunny girl jumped out.

“W-w-waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”

All of them cried out in surprise.

But Kazakami’s cry as he fell to the ground in shock drowned out all the rest.

Meanwhile, the bunny girl lightheartedly wiggled her hips back and forth.

“Fwah hah hah!! Thanks for the nice reaction. …Kazakami-san, you didn’t piss yourself, did you?”

“Fweh!? Wha-? You…? Wha-? From the screen!?”

“C’mon. This isn’t a horror movie. There was a small room behind a flat screen monitor.”

“…!!!???”

Kazakami’s mouth wordlessly flapped opened and closed while too overwhelmed to move.

Meanwhile, a hand grabbed the wooden stick from a disassembled floor lamp that Kazakami had dropped.

It was Anzai Kyousuke, the only male member of Player 2.

However…

The bunny girl did not even look in his direction.

“Aaanzaaai-shwaaan.”

“…”

She spoke just before he charged at her.

That was all it took for Anzai’s shoulders to jump.

“You could view this situation as a question. Is that really your answer, Anzai-san?”

“My…answer?”

“What I mean is…”

The bunny girl finally looked toward Anzai.

But only with a sidelong glance.

The oozing color in her eyes held him in place.

“If you gang up on me when I suddenly appear, do you really think you will all be able to escape safely? Is that how you think this attraction works? Do you think the rules are that simple?

The attraction.

The rules.

Both Player 1 and Player 2 knew all too well what the penalty was for breaking those rules.

No one had explained the rules to them.

And yet they would be penalized if they stepped outside of them.

Not knowing the rules meant they could not even try to outwit the maker of the rules. They were at an overwhelming disadvantage.

“…Do it,” muttered Kazakami as he sat on the floor. His voice quickly grew into an explosive shout. “Do it!! The piece of shit toying with our lives is standing right there! She isn’t on a screen or behind some protective wall. She’s right here!! So!!”

“Oh, dear. Kazakami-san, you become a lot more forceful as soon as it isn’t you who will be dirtying your hands. It may be against the rules, but it will of course not be you who is punished. Not you.”

She insisted on repeating those last two words.

As if to shake off those words, Hotaru from Player 2 spoke up.

“You are one of the organizers, so whatever the rules are, won’t this ridiculous attraction end as long as we neutralize you?”

“Neutralize! Oh, what a wonderful word!! You never say ‘defeat’ or ‘kill’, so you feel no guilt!! Allies of justice find that word so useful!! But,” added the bunny girl, “what makes you think I am one of the organizers?”

“…”

Those words seemed to make all of their hearts contract unnaturally tight.

The ten members of Player 1 and Player 2 had been divided up by the organizers and forced into an unreasonable conflict with each other. Cruelty could be seen in the entire setup.

“Well, I’ll admit I am not some poor victim, but do you really think a soldier on the front lines controls everything? In a situation like this where you beat people up the instant you find them, like Kusaka Kozue-san here? Do you really think the person who controls everything would leave safety to come here? Surely that is not your answer.

Yes.

Preparing this stage and gathering the ten of them did not seem possible for an individual. Some powerful organization existed behind the bunny girl. And those organizers had created the attraction’s rules and were now ensuring it was carried out.

Killing the bunny girl would not bring this to an end.

And if the attraction continued after her death, they would of course be penalized for it.

Otherwise, the bunny girl would never had left safety.

They simply had to think of it from her point of view.

What idiot would come unarmed to a scene where she was outnumbered?

Who would choose that?

“Okay. If you have all come to your own conclusions, it is time to see if you can stay in the game.”

“Hey, wait a second. We-…!!”

“Higashikawa-san?” the bunny girl grinned. “You are free to choose not to participate. However, think of this like a quiz show. Can a performer win if he is not sitting in the answer seat? No matter how smart he is, he has no chance of victory if he cannot press the answer button.”

And…

What did it mean if they lost in this attraction?

“…”

None of them could move.

They had free use of all four limbs and yet none of them could move an inch.

The bunny girl alone could move. She lightheartedly toyed with one long ear of her costume.

“Okay, let’s get the preparations over with. Your names have been entered into the drinking counter. Think of the spot with your name as your answer seat for the quiz. Please go stand in your spot.”

The ten of them all exchanged a glance.

This was the final line.

Would they rebel or would they obey?

While propping herself up on Rachel’s shoulder, Hiyama weakly shook her head.

“We have too little information. The penalty could be our deaths.”

“But if we take her hostage…”

“Higashikawa-saaan. Is that your answer? Well, if it is, then do as you like.”

The bunny girl brought her hands behind her back, turned her back to Higashikawa, and held her hands out toward him while wiggling her butt back and forth.

She seemed to be just waiting for someone to break the rules.

After finally getting over his shock, Kazakami slowly stood up, but Matsumi silently held out an arm to block his path.

She was telling him not to give into the temptation.

Even if they were going to rebel, this was not the time.

The ten members of both Player 1 and Player 2 all stood in front of their “answer seats”.

The bunny girl smiled and said, “Okay, the preparations are complete.”

She clapped her hands together in front of her chest.

And she tilted her head to the side slightly.

“Just so you know, there was no rule protecting me here.”

As soon as she said that, all stability disappeared below Higashikawa’s feet. It was a pitfall. By the time he realized it, he had completely vanished from the bar.

And it was not just him.

All ten of them had fallen at the exact same moment.

“Wha-!?”

After falling about three meters, Higashikawa’s fall ended abruptly. He was dangling in midair while wrapped in some kind of transparent film that was hanging from a thick wire.

This was like a giant version of the plastic bags used to hold goldfish caught in a festival goldfish scooping game.

Higashikawa’s body weight had caused the wire to tightly close off the opening of the bag, so he had no way out. And he was not about to try to break his way through the thick plastic material.

The reason for this was quite simple.

“…Y-you’re kidding me!!”

It was Kozue who managed to force those words out through her dry throat.

She was looking straight down.

All that could be seen there was a deep darkness. No floor or ground was visible. It was unclear how deep the pit was, but it was at least more than 10 or 20 meters. It was blatantly obvious what would happen to someone dropped from that height.

A great ravine.

Or a window washer’s scaffold.

The height brought those images strongly to mind. That overwhelming depth, the feeling of dangling from a single wire, and the unsteady footing of plastic all filled them with terror.

The bunny girl’s voice could be heard coming from somewhere.

“Now then. All of you should have a single card in your bag. It is an important item, so handle it with care.”

Higashikawa felt around in the darkness and felt something solid. It was hard to see in the dim light, but it seemed to be a card with red on one side and black on the opposite side. It had no numbers, symbols, or illustrations.

“What is this card?” muttered Kazakami.

The bunny girl replied, “The action you must take is simple, but the rules are a bit complicated. I will not repeat myself, so please pay close attention.”

“…What are you going to have us do?” said Harumi.

“On my signal, all of you are to hold your card out. It’ll be a ‘ready, set, go!’ kind of thing. But it is up to you which side of the card you have facing forward. The next part is very important.”

And…

She explained the worst possible rules.

“Anyone who chooses red will survive. But if everyone chooses red, you will all be killed, so be careful. Anyone who chooses black will be killed. But if everyone chooses black, every single one of you will survive. If you do not all choose the same color, only those who chose black will be killed.”

“But…” Anzai was bewildered as he dangled in midair like the others. “But anyone would choose red in that situation! That ensures you survive! How is this an attraction!?”

“But if you all choose red, you all die. If you all take the easy path, you will all be killed.”

“But…” exclaimed Aisu while at a loss for words.

If nine of the ten chose red, the greatest number could be saved. However, if that last person chose red too, there would be zero survivors.

They would all be killed.

In this situation, their wire would likely be severed to send them to the bottom of the abyss.

“Uuh…” groaned Hiyama.

This was probably more than just her wounds hurting. She may have imagined something unpleasant.

Higashikawa had done the same. He had pictured the scene of a tomato in a plastic bag smashing against asphalt. The color red was splattered across the inside of the transparent plastic.

“B-but if we all choose black, we all live, right?” said Matsumi who was sitting in the bottom of her bag out of concern for her miniskirt. “So we just all have to choose black, right?”

Kazakami mockingly replied, “If nine of us choose black and the last person chooses red, it’s all over! Nine of us die and the traitor gets to live on. Red is a sure thing! You’ll definitely be saved!! We have no guarantee that all of us would be able to resist that sure thing when it comes down to it!”

“Well, it seems you understand the situation,” said the bunny girl. “Will you try for all black and make fools of yourselves or will you compromise with red and die? Which way you take this is part of the attraction!”

The bunny girl seemed to be enjoying herself.

It was as if this suffering had been carefully calculated out.

“Okay, your time starts now. The judgment will begin in 10 minutes. You can discuss, threaten, persuade, or beg however you like until then. …Then again, the optimum solution has already been suggested☆”

Having said that, the bunny girl’s voice disappeared completely.

The optimum solution.

All black.

It was simple enough to say. Anyone would choose it as a theoretical answer. But lives were on the line here. Their own lives were on the line.

The problem was that choosing red would certainly save an individual.

“Black…is best, right? If we all choose black…!!” said Kozue to brush aside her unease.

Kazakami once again gave the rebuttal.

“Like I said, red is a sure thing.”

“But if we’re going to be saved by red, someone has to sacrifice themselves!!” said Harumi.

“I’m not saying we should all choose red to save ourselves! Red is a sure thing, but if all ten of us choose it, we’re all dead. If we say we’re going for all black, the group that chooses red at the last second will definitely be saved!!”

“We wouldn’t do that!!”

“What proof of that do we have!? Winning with red is easier than winning with black. As long as one sacrifice is tricked into choosing black, the rest of you get to survive!!”

The rest of you.

Higashikawa had no idea what basis Kazakami was using to divide them up.

But he felt Kazakami’s fears were hitting at the true meaning of this attraction.

Suggesting they all choose black and agreeing on it in a strategy meeting were easy enough to do. It was based in the fundamental goodness of humanity, so it felt good to agree to it.

But once the lid was opened, was it possible no goodness would be found?

Was it possible Higashikawa alone would choose black and the rest would choose red?

They did not know each other well enough to feel united.

And that was not just due to the division between Player 1 and Player 2.

Even within Player 1, the bonds between Higashikawa, Kazakami, Matsumi, Hiyama, and Rachel were not strong enough to know anything for sure.

And…

Even as he considered the complicated rules, Higashikawa also thought of what would happen after the fact.

It was near impossible for them all to choose black.

So if someone chose red and survived, what happened then?

What if it was not an extreme situation of 9 and 1? What if it was 5 and 5? What if half were killed and half survived?

Would there be any trust left between the survivors?

They had been unable to handle that bunny girl with all ten of them united, so what could the survivors do with their trust destroyed?

That was the point of this attraction.

Player 1 and Player 2 had been set up to kill each other, but they had met and united instead. This was the first step toward destroying that union so that they would fight amongst each other once more.

In all likelihood, the bunny girl and the other organizers did not expect them to all choose red and die.

Nor did the bunny girl and the other organizers expect them to all choose black and survive.

They expected something in between.

It could be 7 and 3, 6 and 4, or 5 and 5.

Instead of all red or all black, only the sly would survive. The single group would be destroyed and broken into multiple individuals.

“…Ah.”

After thinking over the jumble of thoughts in his head, Higashikawa Mamoru realized a fundamental fact.

“Ahhhh. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!”

Higashikawa suddenly held his head in his hands and shouted out. The other nine jumped in shock.

“Wh-what is it?” cautiously asked Anzai, but Higashikawa gave no reply.

He had realized something.

He had become aware of something.

He knew the true purpose of this balancing act of an attraction using red and black cards. He knew who the true target was.

Before coming here, Higashikawa had purposefully pretended to betray Player 1 and join Player 2 so that he could avoid a conflict between the two groups. He had destroyed the power balance to prevent a 50/50 fight, but that had proven something to the others.

It had proven Higashikawa Mamoru was willing to betray his group.

He had resolved the situation back then. He had managed to keep it at a level where the others knew he reluctantly did it to ensure they all survived.

However…

What if Higashikawa chose red and survived in this attraction?

His justification disappeared.

He had said he did it for the sake of all 10 of them before, but this would show he would not hesitate to betray others for his own sake.

Even if multiple people survived by choosing red, Higashikawa Mamoru could not join them.

He would be the only one to have betrayed his group more than once.

And what would happen to him once he was driven out of the group?

He would be isolated.

And it would not end there.

The others would not want the traitor causing any more problems. They would want stability. They would want to come up with a definite plan to eliminate the uncertain element.

And if that happened…

The other attraction participants would be as much his enemy as the bunny girl and the other organizers. If he was isolated as the attractions continued, he would have every disadvantage forced onto him. It was even possible he would be beaten to death before the next attraction even began.

Higashikawa Mamoru could not win by choosing red.

The only way he could win was with black.

(But…)

A cold sweat poured from his face and he gritted his teeth.

(But!!)

If he told them all to choose black, who would go along with it?

Even if some did, it did not matter unless every single one of them did.

If even a single person chose red, it was all over.

And that was exactly the point at which the strategy meeting was stuck.

It was impossible for them to all survive by choosing black.

In that case…

In that case, what could Higashikawa do?

Even if he won with red, he would have no hope afterwards.

Even if he tried to win with black, someone would choose red and he would die.

Ultimately, that was what the bunny girl was after.

When Player 1 and Player 2 had been about to clash, Higashikawa Mamoru had used the traitor card to avoid the conflict. There had been a chance that would isolate him sooner or later.

That was why the organizers had lost interest.

They had no interest in watching when they knew how it would turn out. And so they had prepared an attraction where Higashikawa Mamoru would be destroyed no matter what he chose.

And…

That meant…

(There’s no hope for me? Every single one of my options is nothing but choosing between different cruel deaths?)

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Higashikawa Mamoru felt some sort of intense emotion swirling in his gut.

It was not simply anger.

It was not simply fear.

In fact, it was something that made him feel like he would burst out laughing if he let his guard down. He felt like his stomach was filled with boiling water, but he also felt a mysterious pleasure and ecstasy.

Higashikawa himself did not know how to classify the feeling.

However…

He felt the rails of his thoughts switching over. The usual thoughts of trying to avoid death were swapped out for something completely different.

He could not be saved.

He could not be saved.

He could not be saved.

In that case, what should he hope for in this final attraction?

A high score.

With that goal set, his thoughts moved at tremendous speed. His instincts and bodily limiters may have been out of order because his vision grew oddly bright and wide. The great torrent of tension and emotion may have been affecting the dilation of his eyes, but that did not matter.

He would give that bunny girl a shock.

He set his top priority according to this feeling that was neither hatred nor joy. With that priority, what was the best way to use his red or black card?

He found his answer almost immediately. It was quite simple.

As long as he ignored his own survival, that is.

“Listen.”

The other nine seemed to be observing Higashikawa’s odd state from a distance.

Isolating himself from the group should have been what he avoided at all costs.

However…

When he knew he could not survive, this way was more convenient.

Higashikawa Mamoru took a single breath and then spoke a decisive statement.

“I will choose black.”

“Have you even been listening?” asked Kazakami in irritation. He was frustrated at having to argue the same thing again and again. “Even if you say that, you have no proof every single other person will choose black too!!”

“I know that,” cut in Higashikawa. And he added one more decisive statement. “The rest of you should choose red. That will minimize the sacrifices!!”

He heard someone gasp.

He had no way of knowing if it was simply out of shock or if it was also out of relief over a surefire method of saving oneself.

He did not care either way.

“You don’t have to think about choosing black. You just have to assume choosing red will save you! If we all choose red, it’s all over. But if I choose black, you don’t have to worry about that possibility!!”

“Why…?” said Hotaru while looking at Higashikawa as if she could not believe what she was seeing.

That was the obvious reaction.

With this plan, there was zero chance of Higashikawa surviving.

Kazakami had been left dumbfounded, but he now clenched his teeth and shouted, “I don’t believe you. If you choose black alone, you’ll die!! At the last second, you’ll-…!!”

“What good would playing red at the last second do me? That would just mean we all die. Whether I choose red or black, I will die. What do I gain by betraying you in that situation!?”

“…May I ask why you are doing this?” asked Hiyama, but Higashikawa gave no answer.

Instead he said, “Whatever any of you say, I am playing black. I’ve already made up my mind. …Listen, if you all choose red, you will all survive. Or will you all gamble on black? I promise you that everyone who chooses black will die along with me. If you want a sure thing and if you truly want to survive, then do not hesitate to choose red. Understand?”

He would not be saved.

He could not be saved.

As that truth permeated his chest, he began to see an odd new objective. He did not want to die for no reason. He wanted the odd sense of accomplishment of someone who tore of his own flesh to feed a starving child.

It was nothing more than an illusion.

It was nothing more than an escape.

But giving up on this attraction had given him an option he could not have seen otherwise. Even as an unpleasant sweat poured from his entire body, Higashikawa clung to that objective.

It was as if he was doing his best to avert his gaze from his approaching death.

“Listen! All of you choose red! That will definitely save you!! I’m not telling you to trust me. But anyone who chooses black will look like an idiot! Don’t forget that!!”

And the nine-against-one structure Higashikawa’s death would create would not be the structure of betrayal and suspicion that the bunny girl wanted.

After all, Higashikawa was no longer part of Player 1 or Player 2.

This was 5 and 4 and 1. After using betrayal to avoid the conflict between the two groups, he had been left hanging in between.

What would happen if he was sacrificed here?

The group would not split. They would either have eliminated the traitor or they would feel a mutual guilt over sacrificing a single person to save themselves. Player 1 and Player 2 would truly unite.

He was guiding the attraction’s result away from what the bunny girl and the other organizers wanted.

(This is the only way for me to win.)

He could not avoid being taken out of the running.

He would die no matter what he chose.

He had accepted that. He had no choice but to accept it. And after accepting it, this was the only place he could put up his final fight. This was all he had left.

(I won’t let that horrible bunny girl have her way!! I’ll guide this away from the path she is imagining! As long as I can do that…!!)

“Hey!!”

With sweat pouring from his face and bloodshot eyes, Higashikawa looked over at Anzai.

And he shouted.

“This is the end for me. But promise me one thing. Promise me there will be no more Player 1 and Player 2! From here on, you’re the protagonist! Escape here not just with your friends, but with everyone else too!! Do everything you can to achieve that! Make sure you do that!!”

“Your time is up,” said the bunny girl after her long silence.

She did not sound worried.

Her top priority was the elimination of Higashikawa Mamoru who the organizers had grown tired of. That would still happen, so those monitoring them had no reason to be worried.

Or so they thought.

Higashikawa felt they were naïve.

Even if it was decided he would die, he could still choose how he died. At the very end, Higashikawa had realized that.

And so he would not lose.

Even if he died, he would not lose.

“Have you made up your minds? Have you put together your strategy? Do you think you can win? Do you think things will go as you hope? Well, whatever your answer, the time has come. Get your cards ready, everyone. Think of it like the referee displaying a card in soccer. No saying you meant to display the other side after the fact. Anyone who refuses to display their card will be killed. If you understand, then grab your cards.”

There were ten of them.

All of their lives held equal value and they each had a single card to entrust their fate to.

Higashikawa Mamoru.

Hiyama Tomoko.

Kazakami Shinzou.

Matsumi Shirauo.

Rachel Skydance.

Anzai Kyousuke.

Harumi Quartervalley.

Hasegawa Hotaru.

Kusaka Kozue.

Yakushiji Aisu.

“Ready, set…”

The bunny girl’s cheerful voice sounded horribly out of place.

And it was their final signal.

“Go!!”

With a stiff smile, Higashikawa Mamoru displayed the black side of his card forward.

And the other nine chose…

Part 3[edit]

A few seconds passed.

Silence filled the area.

Higashikawa’s erratic breathing and pounding heart sounded unusually loud to him. He had chosen his own death. Instead of avoiding it, he had chosen it himself. His mind was horribly clear. All worldly thoughts had disappeared from it and no hint of human feelings remained.

This may have been the mental state of someone who jumped from a tall building or subway platform.

(It’s over.)

He muttered those words in his heart as well as under his breath.

It was over.

When would his fear return? As Higashikawa wondered that, he realized the fear did not seem to be returning at all. He only felt an odd heat swirling in his head. Some important part of the nerves in his brain may have already been fried and he would never regain the ability to think normally.

When the actual task of killing him began and he felt unimaginable pain, the fear might return.

Or he may have been broken beyond the point of feeling pain.

“…”

His breaths were sometimes shallow and sometimes deep.

Finally, the other bags hanging down entered into Higashikawa’s vision.

They looked just like the bags used to hold goldfish.

The thick, transparent plastic and the thick wire made for an extremely unreliable gondola.

Higashikawa looked over to view the result…and then he froze.

Hiyama was contained in the neighboring bag.

He had seen the color of her card.

It was black.

For an instant…

For just an instant…

The unpleasant heat in Higashikawa’s head disappeared. He could not process what he was seeing.

And after a few seconds, it finally hit him.

He realized what it meant.

“You-…!!”

His strategy had failed. Not all of the other nine had chosen red. This was a pointless death. He had no idea why she had done it, but Hiyama would simply be killed along with him.

But…

His expectations were overturned even further.

When he looked again, Hiyama was not the only one to choose black. Anzai, Matsumi, and Rachel had too.

More needless deaths.

Once half of them died, the survivors would be suspicious of each other. This would kill all of them, just more slowly.

But he was wrong again.

There were even more.

“Eh…?”

He looked around.

He looked around again.

He finally realized that every single card was the same color. It was not just that a few had chosen black. All 10 participants had chosen black. Every card was black as if it had been arranged ahead of time.

(Why?)

That simple question filled Higashikawa’s mind.

This was the best result, but he had seen no way for it to happen.

“We had no choice,” spat out Kazakami. “You were going on about choosing black on your own, so there was no other way to save ‘us’.”

“You could say we woke up,” continued Hotaru. “That bunny girl set up all sorts of rules, but there was never more than one option.”

“Your conviction to choose black no matter what gave us the push we needed,” said Harumi.

Matsumi then said, “To be honest, I was hesitant to not choose red. But then I wondered what I would do in the future attractions if I survived alone. I need to use anyone that might be useful.”

“From our position running the attractions, we saw you working together to complete them,” added Aisu.

Kozue said, “If you had not stepped in when the Player 1 and Player 2 structure collapsed, I would have died. It felt wrong to not repay that debt.”

“We may have argued about a lot in the attraction.” Anzai let out a slow sigh after he was sure everyone had chosen black. “But those conflicts were necessary for us to all survive. Once someone decided to choose black, it was obvious what we had to do.”

“…”

It was simple.

It was a simple truth.

Higashikawa Mamoru had put together his strategy on the assumption that he would not survive. With that assumption, the high score was the survival of the other nine and the elimination of any source of conflict.

But…

They had thought about it differently.

It had not been about whether they would survive themselves.

It was about whether everyone would survive or not.

While Higashikawa had quickly given up, the others had continued to struggle for total survival.

That was why they had come to an impasse and why they had argued.

Seeing the all black result finally woke Higashikawa up. The self-sacrificial thought processes he had built up to escape the fear of death came crumbling down.

He was not strong or clever.

He had simply looked away.

The ones who deserved that award were the other nine who had continued arguing while never giving up on their ultimate objective.

“You may have been imagining this as 9 against 1 or 5 against 4 against 1,” said Hiyama as she held her injury. “But we are simply 10. And it is all thanks to you betraying us all to protect us all.”

Higashikawa could find no words to speak.

As he sat there in a daze, he heard the bunny girl’s voice.

“Ooookay… Kind of unexpected, but I’ll announce the attraction’s result anyway.”

She was disappointed.

Dejection filled her voice.

And then the true cruelty of the attraction showed itself.

“Hiyama Tomoko-san, Kazakami Shinzou-san, Matsumi Shirauo-san, Rachel Skydance-san, Anzai Kyousuke-san, Harumi Quartervalley-san, Hasegawa Hotaru-san, Kusaka Kozue-san, and Yakushiji Aisu-san. According to the rules of the attraction, the above nine people will be killed.

“……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Ah?”

This was more than a splash of cold water to the face.

Every thought in his mind was cut off.

A noise escaped his mouth, but it held no meaning.

This truly unreasonable and unexpected turn of events sealed off even a shout.

“Why?” muttered Higashikawa finally.

He could feel his entire body trembling. The unpleasant heat swirling in his head before was completely gone. Now he felt like the core of his body was filled with icy water.

“Like hell that’s the result!! We all chose black!! Every single one of us!! Why does that mean the other nine have to be killed!?”

“Oh?” said the bunny girl in obvious mockery. Hers was the voice of someone who had not been damaged in the slightest. “The rules said the following: If you do not all choose the same color, only those who chose black will be killed.”

“And!?”

“And,” repeated the bunny girl. “Higashikawa-san, your card is a very dark brown.”

He felt like his entire personality had been wiped clean.

The ridiculous situation caused his tear glands to writhe oddly. His expression crumbled under an odd torrent that could not be classified under any of the standard emotions.

The card.

The card itself had been sabotaged.

He forced his trembling body to move and looked down. He looked at his own card. He observed it in the dimness.

It looked black.

It could be nothing other than black.

But…

Even so…

“Well, I don’t blame you for not noticing with normal eyesight. Under the CMYK values, the magenta has been increased two or threefold. But that is still technically classified as a very dark brown. It isn’t black. When the brown pigment melanin is concentrated enough, we call it black hair, but technically…technically, it is still classified as brown!!”

“D-don-…Don’t mock us!!!!”

“And so you unfortunately failed to all choose black! You failed!!”

He should have thought of the possibility.

He should have been on the lookout for a trap when those cruel organizers prepared an option that would allow them all to survive.

But even if he had…

Even if he had…

“You were trying to corner me, right!? You knew I would be isolated sooner or later, so you lost interest in watching me! If you kill them, you won’t be able to continue these attractions that toy with our group psychology!! Are you really fine with that!?”

“Oh, come on.”

The bunny girl seemed to be enjoying herself.

She sounded like someone who had stuck an insect in a maze and was watching it as it struggled to find its way.

“You think this attraction was just for you? Just to eliminate you? Why would we go to all this trouble just for you? Aren’t you thinking a little too highly of yourself?”

“…!!”

“Also, our objective is not to continue these attractions forever. In fact, this sudden end, this unexpected conclusion, and this unreasonable turnaround is much more important.”

“What…are you saying…?’

“After all, that’s the nature of the absurd.”

She truly, truly seemed to be enjoying herself.

The bunny girl’s voice sounded enchanted.

This was different from the mocking voice from before.

“Seeing an obvious story structure would hardly be absurd, now would it? When the cute heroine does not die and is always assumed safe, that is not absurd. If the protagonist of a two hour drama survives the entire two hours, that is not absurd. …We seek the absurd. And that is why we must destroy all of those standard assumptions.”

“The absurd…?” muttered Anzai in shock. “Did you just say the absurd!?”

“Ha hah ha! It is sometimes referred to by the name Objective Alice. Securing that White Girl who is associated with the Banshee and Prometheus is no easy task. After all, this is a difficult existence to deal with. Her only rule is that no rules can govern her. Even after running an emulation experiment, our odds of success are completely unknown. But not being able to read anything about the situation may be proof that we are approaching Alice who stands in the center of the absurd.”

But Higashikawa could not guess the true meaning of those words. He did not have the mental leeway left.

He had misread the enemy’s objective.

The bunny girl had not set up the attraction using red and black cards in order to eliminate Higashikawa.

That was why he had failed.

That was why he had failed…or was it?

“Now then, now then! I am sure you have all vaguely realized it by now, but you are going to die!! This is quite an absurd turn of events, don’t you think!?”

Higashikawa’s footing shook.

After that vibration of another arm latching on, the wire began to be reeled in.

He was being taken up.

He alone was being taken away from death. He alone was being lifted up to safety.

“Wait…”

Higashikawa had tried to save the other nine by choosing black and having them choose red.

The other nine had all chosen black despite the danger so they could save him.

The killing was beginning.

“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt!!”

Shouting out was meaningless.

Higashikawa was dragged up to the bar alone and the pitfall closed beneath him.

That single panel divided this safe area and the abyss.

And in the darkness below, nine lives were lost.