Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 9 Chapter 2

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Chapter 2[edit]

“I’m not joking at all. She’s so beautiful that I thought I saw stars in broad daylight.”

Hiro was at the back door of ‘Ramen Hanamaru’, agitatedly describing some vague metaphor to Major and Tetsu-senpai. Seems like he was referring to Mari-san yesterday.

“Good thing I came hurrying over after receiving Ayaka’s message, and got to see her vanish she went back.”

“Does she really resemble Alice?” Major too was interested. He didn’t see Mari-san.

“Really. Hiro and I came by, and we had a look. It’s like Alice was all grown up too. “ Tetsu-senpai said, “Looking at her, she’s probably about the same age as us.”

Tetsu-senpai and Hiro’s probably around twenties, but Hiro shook his head, saying,

“I remember she’s 26.”

“26? Really? Looks like a high school kid. Anyway, Hiro, how did you know how old she was?”

“She a fashion model. Her foreign name is Marie Shion. Not a lot of people know her in Japan, but she’s very famous overseas. She also has her brand.”

As to be expected of Hiro, well versed in such stuff.

“But I did see the photo of Marie Shion a few times. Never once did I feel that she’s Alice’s older sister.”

Hiro brought several female magazines before us. Mari-san would show various expressions as a ‘fashion model’, and hardly resembled Alice. Also, since they were all foreign magazines, I couldn’t see the name Shionji there. If I hadn’t known that Alice had an older sister, it would be expected for me not to know.

Also, there was one Japanese magazine, which Tetsu-senpai picked and flipped about, discovering that it was a special edition magazine of Marie Shion. The personal information written in the interview clearly stated that she was 26 years old.

“It’s written here, ‘Marie’s pride is that that she’ll sell clothes that she wore and accepted’. So she’s her own model?”

“Speaking of which, people really do look forward to seeing her wear a swimsuit, right? She just wouldn’t be a swimsuit model. Look, there’s a lot of amazing new summer products.” Hiro excitedly flipped through the pages, showing them to everyone. Dressed in vibrant bikinis and giving hearty smiles are white ladies, and none featured Mari-san. Speaking of which, they’re releasing new swimsuits when it’s just Spring? Or is it that in the fast changing fashion world, those that don’t seize the next season three months away will be wiped out?”

“I asked a girl who like Marie Shion, and she said Marie never poses in swimsuits.”

“So she’s the type to not wear them after being famous?”

“Don’t put her on the level of gravure models. Ahh, why doesn’t she wear one? Do I have to hitch her up with her? Then she’ll wear one at the pool or the beach for me alone to see.”

Hey, she’s Alice’s older sister. Hitch her up? You sure that’s fine?

“You really love celbes, Hiro.” Major suddenly became a little vulgar. “She has a trendy fashion brand, does her own modelling, and she’s definitely rich. The place Vice Admiral Fujishima was taken to seems to be some billion yen mansion in Aoyama.”

“Please don’t say I was taken to, okay?” What if someone misunderstands?

“Her car’s pretty posh too.”

Hiro looked mesmerized,

“I really want to drive that D89 Volante, But I think it’s impossible to ask her out and drive the car…right, I just need to get married with her, and I can drive as much times as I want. Then Alice can will me brother-in-law. Seems weird.”

Hold on hold on, Hiro. Hearing you say that, I find it strange too.

“Ohh, Hiro, you think you can get married just because you want to drive that car?” Min-san asked.

“Not at all. I want both the car and the girl—wait, Min-san?”

The back door was open for who knew how long, and Min-san laid out some ramen onto the wooden desk, gave Hiro a felt slaps left and right, and stormed back to the kitchen in a huff.

“Owww…”

Hiro, collapsed on the ground, got up while covering his face. This guy just won’t learn.

Tetsu-senpai ignored Hiro, asking me,

“So, what did Alice’s sister want?”

“Eh? I don’t know. That’s their family business.”

I played dumb, clumsily.

“I guess she’s here to investigate your personality, Vice Admiral Fujishima? Anyone will be scared to know that the assistant to her cute sister can fire off sixty wedding proposals in a second.” “Didn’t you create that device to begin with?”

“Isn’t she here to bring Alice back?”

Tetsu-senpai blunt tone left me tone. I would say, he’s almost spot on.

“In that case, Alice won’t let her into the office.”

“You’re right. Maybe to borrow money?”

“She has a posh foreign car, and is a celebrity with her own fashion brand, you know?”

“Stop thinking in Tetsu’s standards.”

“idiots, I’m not going to do something as small-time as borrowing money. I can’t return anyway, so I’ll just ask for money if I want it.” What are you being a tsundere for?”

While the trio continued their tirades, I asked,

“Erm, if Alice’s really taken away, what do we do?”

Tetsu-senpai, Major and Hiro looked over incredulous.

“Probably nothing.”

“Reunite at Yasukuni, I guess.”

“If her other relatives are young girls, I’ll have her introduce them.”

I felt really stupid for asking this question. But Tetsu-senpai continued,

“But speaking of which, without her around, it’s pointless to stay around.”

Everyone present looked up at the emergency staircase behind in unison.

“Because nobody will be giving us any cases, and my underground skills are useless.” Major too hissed.

“It’s really hard to imagine the days without Alice around.”

Hiro muttered with a faint smile.

I too couldn’t imagine. It’s been a short year and a half ever since I started loitering at ‘Ramen Hanamaru’, but I felt as though I’ve been here for a long time. Many have come and left, and even those close to me often had times when they left for a long time, but Alice was always around. She was always seated on the icy bed, filling her miniature body with intellect, wisdom, searching the world, seeking the truth. I couldn’t imagine a life without Alice.

“Whether or not that big sis is here for Alice, the decision comes down to Alice herself.”

Tetsu-senpai muttered.

Major and Hiro nodded.

Right. Alice had decided to remain forever.

Mari-san said their great uncle had fallen ill, and wanted to meet Alice once. It also appeared that she mentioned that he was in the same hospital as their dad—in other words, their dad was hospitalized earlier.

But so what? Alice didn’t want any involvement with the Shionjis, and there was no need to meet. There wasn’t anything to talk about, right?”

I gently put the palm on my chest. Ever since I met Mari-san, I had this strange inexplicable feeling in my heart, but what’s this uneasiness that’s expanding little by little?

The cellphone in my phone suddenly vibrated.

“Since you’re downstairs, come up to the office.”

From the other end of the phone, Alice sounded displeased.

“You came and left yesterday, and I didn’t get to ask something important. Explain all your involvement with nee-sama, what she said to you.”

I sighed, got up, and went upstairs.

   

Later on, I was thoroughly interrogated by Alice, and played a penalty game called ‘Tell me everything in your conversation with Mari-san, without fail, and stayed till late before I got home. My older sister was already done showering, and was dressed in pajamas, drinking beer in the living room. Once she saw me enter, she pointed at a corner,

“Someone sent you a large package.”

There were four large and flat paper boxes tied with ribbons. What’s that? The delivery order clearly stated my name. I opened it, and found them all to be quality suits, shirts, neckties, and shoes, which left both my sister and I dumbfounded.

There was a little, fancy faint green envelop inside, and the message card inside was,

“Sorry that I can only get you prêt-à-porter. If possible, we’ll get a master to tailor a suit for you next time.”

Mari-san wrote it. My sister knelt next to me, looked back and forth between the clothes taken out of the box, and gave a long sigh, saying,

“…What’s prêt-à-porter?”

Some fashion term? She asked.

“Ready to wear, basically. Even so, I see one suit is about hundreds of thousands.”

I can’t help but look at the ceiling. She’s saying that it’s rude of her not to get me a tailored suit? If I’m living as an ordinary high school student, I probably won’t ever have anyone apologize to me for this reason.

“What’s this, Narumi? What do you mean? Who wrote it to you? Try it. You never wore such a thing before, right?”

I probably had to talk about Mari-san or wear the suit if I wanted to calm my curious sister down. I could only scratch my nose and choose the latter.

“…Heh…” My sister marvelled.

It’s a suit with a complicated color contrast, like the colors of the sunset instantly burying the sky, unexpectedly matching on me. Even my sister was taken aback as she stumbled back, sizing me up and down.

“I wanted to make fun of you, but you’re pretty handsome ehre.”

“A fashion designer chose it.”

“Hm? You have such friends? Who?”

Ah shucks. I wore the suit because I didn’t want Mari-san to mention it, only to mess up. “It’s not good to crumple it.” So I excused myself, and hurriedly hid my room to change clothes. Wearing a suit really suffocated me.

Speaking of which, since she sent me such a precious gift, how shall I thank her the next time we meet? I have to repay her somehow, right? But she’s living at the top floor of some super posh Aoyama mansion, and is a model and fashion designer. What can I give her?

Let’s not think about it. I don’t know if we’ll meet again.

I left my room, and went down to the first floor. The lights outside the corridor lit up, and the door opened. I was immediately rooted to the spot, my back foot on the last step of the stairs. The silhouette in suit seemed two times smaller than what I had last remembered. How many months had I not seen my dad? He arched his back like a skinny lamb, looking really traffic. He removed his leather shoes, stepped onto the corridor, and his eyes flashed past my chest.

For a moment, our eyes met.

I immediately lowered my head, staring at the toes.

My dad’s footsteps went to the other end. Following that was the sound of the door closing, along with the voice of my sister,

“Ah, dad. Have you eaten? Shall I cook something?”

Dad said something I couldn’t really hear. I lifted my feet from the corridor, and turned to head up the stairs.

I often thought that he might not have any illness. During the period after mom’s death, he might have been mentally worn out. Days passed, his conversations with sister became less frequent, and he hardly came home; I heard he wasted money looking for rental houses near the company. Since he’s doing that, it means he’s not really willing to see us, which might imply that he correctly understood the situation. If he hadn’t known that someone like me existed at home, he wouldn’t have ‘ignored’ me. It’s uncomfortable saying this, but it’s a lot better than before.

Even so, I won’t do anything more for him.

I really want to get away from home, so I thought. I want to live alone, and earn a living, since I have no drive to study in college. This notion had me slightly regretful that I rejected Yondaime’s kind intentions, and I was really sheepish about it.

*

It seemed the words Mari-san left on the message card wasn’t simply out of courtesy. Two days later, she invited me out to tailor some clothes. She was forceful even on the phone call, and I couldn’t refuse. It’s the first time in life that I was given a full tailor. Mari-san and the owner discussed the details using specialized jargon I couldn’t really understand, and I shrank my neck, looking around the shop. On the thick rack were various fabric scattered closely, with a familiar scent.

“I’m told it’ll be done a month later. Do look forward to it.”

Mari-san said once we left the shop.

“Erm, the clothes you bought me should be pricey enough, and now you’re getting me a tailored suit…I really don’t know how to thank you…”

“Hm? I’m not doing this for your sake. I just want those near me to be dressed a little more decently.”

“Is se…”

It’s like having the urge to feed a stray cat, right?

“Also, it’s necessary that I get a fine tailored suit, else it’s not okay for you to go without wearing anything decently.”

Shocked, I looked back at the door. That tailor’s not good enough? I see, so that’s why she bought me some prêt-à-porter. I lowered my head, looking at this suit. So a month later, I’ll be wearing a custom suit made by this suit, and get a better shop to tailor for me? Are we playing a video game here?

“Oh yes, Narumi-kun, how big is the walk-in closet of your room?”

“Why do you assume I have a walk-in closet in my room…” there’s no such thing in a civilian’s house.

“Eh…ahh, ahhh, I see, I guess?”

Those well off really don’t know the suffering of the civilians. I couldn’t help but think. It’s refreshing to know that Alice never had this misconception.

“So, when building the house in Paris, the walk-in closet of your room has to be a little bigger. A boy’s room often gets filled with other things.”

“Eh, erm…ehhh?”

Mari-san left this speechless me behind, and walked down Ginza high street to Nihonbashi. I hurried along, and caught up to her at the door of a Chinese restaurant. A waitress exited, and greeted us with a smile, leading us in.

We were seated at both sides of a round table, and Mari-san finished ordering while I was bewildered by the lavish interior decorations. Only after the waitress left did I manage to talk.

“Erm, wh-what did you just mean? My room?”

“What else? Can’t have you and Yuuko share one, right?”

“N-not at all. That’s not what I mean. Why does it end up with me moving along too?”

Mari-san suddenly looked deflated, which left me anxious.

“Narumi-kun, you’re Yuuko’s partner, no?”

“Y-yeah, well.:”

“You’ve been with Yuuko all this while, right?”

“Always, hmmm…you can say so.”

“So if I bring you along, Yuuko too will come along, right?”

What kind of logic is this? Like that will work.

“I see that you aren’t good at rejecting others, so I have your clothes tailored and invited you out for a meal to ensure that you won’t really reject.”

“I know I really can’t reject others. Mind not explaining that?”

“Ahh, sorry, sorry.” Mari-san said with a smile, “But you’re not going to leave and return the clothes I sent you, right? You can’t not give any respect to a fine lady.”

A fine lady won’t try such underhanded means. But the truth is as she said, so I can only plop my lifted buttocks back onto the chair.

“But I really do have intentions to live with Yuuko. You understand.”

“I understand very well. But you seem to be mistaken. Alice isn’t going to change her mind because of what do you to me. I’m just an assistant she hires and pays, and I don’t have any influence on her.”

“Isn’t it great for three to live together? You may think about it.”

Mari-san ignored my protest completely, her eyes euphoric.

“Yuuko and I wake up in the morning, or wonder if we should get off the bed, and by then, you would have served us croissants and Café au lait. Once I’m done dressing up and combing Yuuko’s hair, you, having cleaned up the entire house, will send us off with polished shoes, dragging a cart and allowing Yuuko and me to enjoy the atmosphere of Champs-Élysées. Isn’t this great?”

“What’s great about that?” I’m just your slave.

“And I wish to have Yuuko give a new look to my children clothing brand.”

Mari-san said wistfully.

“My children clothing brand is a little obscure, and I wish to rename it as ‘Alice Shion’. Haven’t you all been calling Yuuko ‘Alice’, Narumi-kun? This should be fine, isn’t it?”

“Eh…” She’s no longer being doting on her little sister. However, that impatient look on Alice’s face left me somewhat pitiful of Mari-san.

“Of course, Yuuko will be the model. Now she’ll be able to live peacefully with us. Don’t you think of it as a good idea?”

“I don’t think Alice will be willing to stand in front of the cameras.”/

“So we’ll keep working every day, and once we return home, you will be before us with the meals cooked, Narumi-kun…”

Stop treating me as your manservant as and when you want it, okay?

“I always wanted to live a life with family next to me.”

I pursed my lips, glancing at her face. I had a feeling I had accidently stumbled into the gentle aspects of her heart.

“I wish to protect Yuuko with my own strength, and be a real family member of hers. I don’t want any of them to touch her.”

I recalled the words Mari-san said when she first arrived at the office.

“…You said that the Shionjis will gather around her, right? What do you mean?”

“Exactly that. They do love to talk about that. Yuuko and I are able to inherit part of the Shionjis inheritance. However, there are people in the family who oppose, while others do try to use us. These people will appear once grandpa dies.”

I gulped bitterly. The stench in this matter was worse than I thought.

“Ahh, sorry.” Mari-san smiled, “The food will taste bad if we continue to keep talking. Let’s stop her.”

Saying that, she raised a wine glass, and took a sip.

“I’m fine with it.” I said. “I want to know more.”

Mari-san peered at my face. I felt it was difficult to convey myself through this cold expression, and added on,

“I can’t say that ‘things don’t involve me’ now. In that case, you can tell me everything, including Alice, and yourself.”

And the Shionjis.

Mari-san nodded slightly. So I thought she did, but she broke her silence only when the three servings of cold dishes were served, which made me tense.

“How much has Yuuko told you?”

Once the waitress left the room, Mari-san suddenly said,

“Just that her mother was a mistress.”

“I see.” Mari-san gave an awkward smile, “Let’s eat. It’s a lot easier to talk.”

I too agreed it’s a lot harder to talk with scowls facing each other, so I picked the dishes the dishes with my chopsticks. Typically, I would have found such dishes appetizing, but it felt like I was chewing on wax.

“Our mother was ‘a woman of Ginza’.”

Mari-san stared at the rectangular plate of cold dish, starting off,

“A club hostess. Our father was a frequent customer. Back then, he talked about how his marriage was failing, and mother comforted him, and had a relationship with hin, bore a child. It’s common. That child however was me.”

Following that was some silence. Maybe it’s better to have some questions. So I spoke up, “So Mari-san, you always lived together with your mother?”

“Yes, initially.” Mari-sand nodded. Looking at her relieved expression, it appeared she was hoping for me to ask, “Us mother and daughter lived in an apartment at Akasaka father bought, but since mother’s not someone capable to raising children, and left me with the maids. She would head out to work at night, and I was alone.”

“Mari-san, do you often…meet your father?”

“The last Friday every month, at our house. He doted on me…and I really looked forward to it every month. Mother’s a simple-minded person, and during our first encounter, she told me Mari, that’s your father’, even though I didn’t know how to call him papa.”

Mari-san gave a foolish leer.

“She has no delicacy at all, and probably never thought that she did anything bad. She even casually told the beautician or the boutique that she’s the mistress of the Shionjis. To be honest, I didn’t know how dad actually fell for her.”

So now she’s calling him ‘dad’ instead of ‘father’. Maybe it’s the emotions involved.

“Dad probably wanted to run away from reality, and would choose anyone for that matter. He doesn’t get along well with his wife, and the marriage isn’t very successful, while grandpa has been prompting them to give birth.”

“Erm, that means, a successor, right?”

“That’s the case.” Mari-san smiled weakly, “Yuuko did tell you that grandpa isn’t really our grandpa, right?”

“Ehh, great uncle, actually?”

“Yes, our grandmother’s older brother. Starting here, things do get a little complicated.”

Following that Mari-san started to introduce the current members of the Shioonjis from time to bottom. It really sounded complicated.

The head of the family, Shionji Mitsutoshi is the eldest of four siblings, and following him are Mikitsugu, Terumi and Gorou. Of course, that Gorou refers to Hiro’s master, Gorou-sensei.

Mitsutoshi’s wife died early, and bore no child. The third sibling, Terumi gave birth to her only son Mitsuki, and died early, so Mitsutoshi doted on Mitsuki’s own children as his own. As for Mikitsugu who’s alive and well, he implanted his siblings into important positions o the corporation, becoming the crucial member of the family.

Mitsutoshi was worried that the second sibling, Mikitsugu would try to become head of the family, and wanted Mitsuki to marry the eldest daughter of Mikitsugu. In other words, the cousin younger than him. Once that happens, Mikitsugu’s children will all be Mitsuki’s siblings, and Mitsuki would become the eldest son-in-law leading the Shionjis, that the pecking order is established. That would be what Mitsutoshi had planned.

“It’s a little weird.” What eldest son-in-law here?

“That’s how the family work. So based to bloodlines, it’s nauseating.”

“There are still people living like it’s the Sengoku period…”

“It’s funny, isn’t it? Dad too felt the same, and married an outsider as protest to his wife. She’s from a well off family too, and grandpa never said anything about it.”

“Erm…so, in other words, he doesn’t want to marry his cousin, and got someone else to marry?”

“Yes. Naturally, such marriages won’t last.” Mari-san grimaced, “Anyway, dad was trying to escape grandpa’s grasp. Of course, grandpa did try to take dad in as an adopted son, but dad tried various excuses, like he’s not proficient enough at work, and nothing came of it…outcome-wise, it get worse.”

“Why?”

“If dad’s grandpa Mitsutoshi’s son, the heir will be his only. The problem is that he isn’t, that second great uncle Mikitsugu has a right to the inheritance.”

“Ohh…”

I didn’t know that. So that’s how it was? This really—quite a spark.

“If he doesn’t want to inherit the Shionji family, can’t he just walk out like your great uncle Gorou? They’re on good terms, and it was great uncle who taught him all about partying. He also mentioned that mother was introduced to him at the club.”

Gorou-sensei escaped the Shionjis because he didn’t have the personality for him. Another possible big reason is that as the last child, he doesn’t care about the inheritance.

“So, he could have done what great uncle Gorou did, and wander around like nothing, but he didn’t. He might be too honest. They asked why he hasn’t had a child with his wife, and he said he will have to inherit the family business once he has. It’s funny, isn’t it? He bore a child with a mistress after saying this.”

Isn’t that child you? Things were getting complicated, so I interrupted, trying to ease the mood.

“Seems like you’ve been on really good terms with your father, since you do say such things yourself.”

Mari-san seemed tickled as she said,

“…Yes. Back then, even when mother went to work and never stayed at home, dad would come by, probably to see me. I really hoped to cook something for him, but my servants wouldn’t allow, and we always had takeout. This restaurant was one my father one brought me to.”

Soup was served. Mari-san finally took a spoonful to drink.

“He brought me to many places, like the cinemas, Disneyland. Any places with family services. After that, dad went overseas to work, and snuck along.”

“Eh? You weren’t scolded?”

“Not at all. I wouldn’t just to look for him at the office. When dad’s working in the day, I would loiter around the hotel, go to the arts galleries, or buy something to eat at the market.”

“That’s overseas, right? Alone?”

“Ahh, I could converse normally in English or French, and I do know some Italian. I didn’t know what my mother hoped for her daughter to be, but the nanny, the servants, the tutors were all Europeans.”

I sighed reluctantly. No ordinary person will learn three languages this way. This got me to think that yes, she’s really Alice’s older sister. The way her brain’s wired is really different.

“I was really happy back then, I really hoped I could continue living that life.”

Mari-san’s eyes and voice were cast to the distant past.

“But that’s impossible. It was an illicit relationship after all.”

She stopped here, but never raised her spoon. I had already cleared my plate, and had nothing to do, so I could only ask,

“Ehh…did the Shionjis know? About your mother?”

“It seemed they already knew from the beginning, since such things can’t be kept under wraps. It seemed grandpa had ordered for everyone to accept this relationship.”

“Why?”

From what I heard till this point, the old-fashioned Shionji Mitsutoshi should have been fuming since it was basically a betrayal of his expectations.

“I don’t know. Father however probably hoped this illicit relationship would lose him the right to take over the Shionjis, and didn’t care that it was exposed. Grandpa might have figured it out, and didn’t press the matter any further.”

I washed away the weird smell spreading in my mouth with oolong tea.

One side deliberately had a mistress so that he wouldn’t be next in line, while the other deliberately ignored it to force him to inherit. Such a disgusting world they live in.

Suddenly, I had a thought. Did Gorou-sensei faked his death to break off all ties not only with the women in his life, but also to avoid getting involved with the inheritance mess?

Mari-san gave a depreciating smile, and continued,

“Soon after, mother gave birth to another child, Yuuko. Back then, the child was in bad shape, and might have endangered both mother and daughter, so dad mobilized the power of the Shionjis. He had to consider the Shionjis as a whole, and couldn’t simply have her hospitalized in one managed by the family, so he requested for a friend’s hospital to help, and invested lots of money, top-notch technology, and outstanding physicians.

In that case, Yondaime’s guess was right on the mark.

“I heard a little from Alice.” I interrupted, for Mari-san pursed her wine-colored lips and remained silent. “She said her mother died soon after giving birth. Obstructed labour?”

“Hmm, well…hmmm.”

She was vague in her reply.

“Thus, Yuuko was raised in the residences of the Shionji. Grandpa had instructed everyone to never let her take a single step out of the room, so they locked her inside the room, and everything was settled by her servants. I was already out of the Shionjis then. They do allow me to see her once in a long while, and I have no idea of the life she lives. All I hear is that she’s been toying with the computer in her infancy. I guess she never interacted with the Shionjis at all. The only ones to ever meet her were great uncle Gorou and me.”

Following that, silence rose like smoke.

Mari-san doused her lips with wine, and changed her tone,

“Yuuko left the Shionjis because of great uncle Gorou.”

She talked about how Gorou-sensei caused a commotion when he returned. I was increasingly baffled as I heard the story for while she could explain the many details, there were two points she merely glossed past.

First: her mother’s death.

I assumed she had obstructed labor due to poor health, but she was vague in her response, and after some vaguely passable sounds, she continued to the next point. Was there something more secretive?

Second: the reason why Alice was locked in the room.

It might be too weird that Alice was confined to her room ever since she was born, just because she’s the child of a mistress. Was it that it could damage the reputation of the Shionjis, that they did not want the outside world to know about her? This is pretty conflicting with how Mari-san can act freely. There should be another reason.

I couldn’t probe any deeper into these two questions. If she really had issues talking about it, and was waiting for me to ask, she wouldn’t have changed topics so quietly. That meant that she really didn’t want to talk about it.

Mari-san description of Gorou-sensei included his interactions with Alice.

“Did great uncle Gorou ever mention anything about this to you?”

“He hardly mentions about home. Mostly about happy stuff anyway.”

“I see. Great uncle’s that kind of person anyway.” Mari-san smiled, “Great uncle only visits the Shionjis twice a year, and Yuuko seemed to have used this opportunity to ask him for help. Soon after, he followed her instructions, slipped into various corners of the mansion, and installed mechanisms capable to severing the security system. He’s the youngest child of the family, and wasn’t suspected.”

So on a certain day eighty years ago, Alice initiated her escape plan. She ensured that the lock of the house was disabled, and ran straight to the back door in the massive mansion.

“However, she was caught at the emergency staircase, and there was a huge ruckus in the house. Back then, I too was in the house, and immediately ran over to have a look. Grandpa was seething red.”

“Eh? How did she get away?”

Mari-san endured the pain as she scowled, remaining silent. Then, she exhalted, and continued,

“Dad…begged…for her to be let go.”

Her voice was increasingly softened.

The sudden silence from Mari-san had me understand very well that it wasn’t a simple matter. If Shionji Mitsutoshi was willing to let go just because his son asked for it, he would not have confined Alice to begin with; something else must have happened. This might be a taboo Mari-san didn’t want to mention.

I suddenly recalled the conversation between Alice and Mari-san. I remembered back then, Mari-san said that their grandfather was hospitalized at the same place as their father.

There were two facts to be inferred. Their father, Shionji Mitsuki was hospitalized before the head of the family, Shionji Mitsutoshi. Mari-san saying that meant that both Alice and her knew about it.

Ever since Alice ran away from home, she shouldn’t have any ties with the Shionjis. However, she knew her father was hospitalized, so.

The reason that caused her father’s hospitalization occurred before Alice ran away from home. Was it when Alice tried to escape the Shionjis, as Mari-san had said,

“But I’m really grateful that Yuuko was able to escape that household.”

Mari-san maintained a cheerful façade and tone, and I was unable to ask anything.

“It seems she’s really happy now.”

Her smile was akin to one arriving at the port, unable to watch the ship depart. She then continued,

“She has so many good people surrounding her, the nice mother able to cook ramen and ice cream, and a cute obedient assistant who’ll obey every order.”

“I’m not really obedient…” I grimaced.

“How envious. Me suddenly asking her to live with me must have frustrated her.”

I couldn’t even lift my head.

For I couldn’t think of anything other than to agree with her.

“I know this is a selfish wish on my part. I couldn’t do anything at the Shionjis. That incident must have caused Yuuko to really hate me.”

I gasped, gulping down the various thoughts I had. I had to say something.

“She doesn’t hate you.”

Mari-san looked over to me, her eyes appear ready to rain at any given moment. Those eyes were just like Alice’s, like the color of the late night.

“…Why’s that?”

“Alice isn’t someone who’ll hate because of that reason.”

The eyebrows twitched, and the murkiness in the eyes were wiped away.

“How nice a person you are, Narumi-kun. Are you consoling me?”

Feeling peeved, I answered,

“I’m not. I’m doing this to protect Alice’s honor. Also, such words can’t console you, since I’m no relative of you. As you can see, Alice just doesn’t want to get involved with you, because she fears trouble.”

“Such a nice person you are. I really love this aspect of yours.”

At this moment, Mari-san raised a glass, and gulped down the wine.

“I’m really envious of Yuuko.”

*

I didn’t know how I was going to explain to Alice that I met Mari-san again, so I decided not to. The next day I opened the office door however, I was seen through by Alice, who was being abnormally sharp.

“Hmph. You met nee-sama again yesterday?”

“…Eh, eh?”

I was being too sheepish, and couldn’t play dumb.

“How do you know?”

“Those clothes. Your pay isn’t enough for them. Also, you don’t know those are of nee-sama’s brand.”

I couldn’t help but look at my T-shirt. Mari-san had given me some casual wear, but for me, who had no fashion sense at all, I couldn’t determine the difference between that and the usual cheap clothes I wear, so I came to the agency thinking that I wouldn’t be seen through. What a failure.

“Erm, yeah, well…she bought them for me.”

“If you’re going to leech off nee-sama, I’m firing you on the spot.”

“N-not at all, don’t think too much about it. You should know that she’s picky about what those around her wear, you know.”

“Whatever you two talked about, I don’t want to live together with her. Get this clear with her.”

“Ahh, yeah…”

I recalled Mari-san’s hollow eyes. If I were to convey those words to her, surely she would be despondent.

Seeing how that face resembling Alice would look so disappointed, I too would feel heartbroken.

“At least you can get Mari-san to come by once in a while, right?”

Alice scowled,

“I’m too lazy to shoo her away, so do as you wish. Nee-sama treats me as a doll, always asking what I want to wear. A miniscule reason why I wanted to flee that house is because she’s too bothersome.”

“I see. So you wear the same clothes every day in defiance?”

“They aren’t the same!” Alice was so infuriated, her long black hair fluttered, “You do wash my clothes every day. How can you not differentiate between them? I have 23 different types of pajamas, the colors and teddy bear patterns are all different. Only the manufacturer is constant!”

I see. I had just known of this after being her assistant for a year and a half, and this really stunned me. If I were to say that pretty much all her clothes were the same, I probably would have countless empty cans pelted on me, so I swallowed my words.

“At the Shionjis, I wore lots of frilly clothing with excessive laces, so wearing these is a fresh change. The blue on this pajamas represents the color of the free sky.”

Why is the one cooped up at home all the time talking about the sky?

But I guessed the situation was as Mari-san had predicted. No matter how much she doted on her little sister, she would be deemed to be the one destroying Alice’s life. The latter’s probably pretty satisfied about being able to earn as a detective.

…Maybe?

“Hey, Alice.”

“What?” Alice casually asked as she reached her hand for the pile of red cans by the bedside.

“Do you feel happy?”

She fell into the gap between the bed and the wall, causing the pile of Dr. Pepper to fall like an avalanche, tumbling upon her black hair.

“Wh-what’s with that question out of a sudden?”

Alice crawled onto the bed, her hair ruffled about. Is that really a question that’ll cause her to fall?

“Eh, in other words, are you happy about your predicament now.”

Mari-san seems to feel that she’s happy, but what’s the reality?

“I never thought about it. Happy no not? Isn’t this something subjective that can be affected by the weather, alcohol divination, or even which shoelaces are tied?”

“I see. You’re right. Sorry for ask you such a weird question.”

This detective who deciphers the world with logic and intellect, and this question was utterly foolish to her.

“And you, capable of asking such foolish questions as and when you want to, you should be feeling happy yourself, right? I wish you can share some of that with me.”

“Stop with the sarcasm. If possible, I want you to live a happy life too.”

Alice’s face went as red as a prawn tossed into boiling water.

“Wh-what nonsense are you saying now?” She agitatedly slapped her long white kneesocks with both hands, “Y-you say you can make me…happy? Wh-what do you mean!?”

“I’m trying to ask you this.” What do you think I mean?

“You’ve been really weird recently! First with the marriage certificate, and then cohabitation?”

Why mention them again? You’re the weird one. Please calm down already.

“Besides, you’re only 17, aren’t you? I don’t know my birthday, but I shouldn’t be any older than 16!”

“So you want me to wait a year?”

“Are you even listening?”

“Sorry sorry, just joking.” See how drastic her reaction was, I couldn’t help but tease her.

So I kept the empty cans Alice kept throwing at me, and remained in the philosophical thought if it’s really happiness. If yes, continuing this lifestyle might not be a bad thing after all.

*

However, once the wheel of fate begins to move, it won’t stop. The beginning of the end was the message Alice sent me late at night.

“Go to Aster Tataricus at Shinjuku, 11am. Use the reception phone to say that you’re Fujishima Narumi, and someone will do the rest. It’s too much hassle to explain, so get the person there to tell you.”

I really wanted to ask Alice what’s this about, but it’s not the first time she gave me such a nonsensical order. Thus, I got onto the train without thinking too much, searched for the address Aster Tataricus on the internet, and found it located at the massive office building to the east exit of Shinjuku, so I had no worry of getting lost. The exterior was new and trendy, basically filled with the IT officers. I found a few familiar company names on the floor guide at the entrance; the Hong Kong triad company ZODIAC too was registered here.

I arrived at the 14th floor, where the glass doors at the elevator hall showed the logo ‘Aster Tataricus’. I picked up the phone resting on the table, followed the instructions, and dialled the number. A cheerful lady’s voice immediately responded..

“This is Fujishima Narumi. Erm, I think I have an appointment here at 11am…”

“Fujishima Narumi-sama? You will be shortly attended to.”

It seemed things were as Alice had stated on the message, arranged by them. I felt relieved.

Anyway, what’s it this time? Before the receptionist arrived, I observed the movements in the office through the glass doors. While wondering if I should research on this company on the internet, someone behind the door appeared. It was a young female staff member dressed in pantsuit.

She led me into the office. It was eerily quietly, and there didn’t seem to be anyone inside. Few staff members? I never saw anyone else as she led me into the innermost door.

“Chairman, Fujishima-sam’s here.”

The staff member pressed the intercom button, saying this, and it left me a little tense. Chairman’s room? Why’s the security so tight? The metal doors seem so sturdy, a moving car can’t cause it to budge. There was a logo at the corner of the door, stating the security company. Looking t the doorbell and the card reader, it appeared it was electronically locked.

The little beacon on the intercom of the door suddenly showed a blue light. I had an impression on this. I might say I see something similar every day.

The door was electronically unlocked, and a metallic click followed. The staff member turned the door knob, and pushed the thick and heavy door aside. Cold air immediately spilled out of the gap, forcing me back.

“Welcome.”

The staff member ushered me in with a smile.

“Ah, is it too cold?” She looked a little gloomy. “It’s our chairman’s preference, and also, machinery is weak to heat…my apologies.”

In any case, I couldn’t just stand at the door and not enter. I stepped into the chairman’s room, gingerly breathing in the stinging air that seemed to be filled with tiny crystals, and looked around.

The space inside was rather barren. There was a short purple carpet laid on the floor, and the only furniture was the plain white desk far before me, as though it was a ship wreckage floating under the sunset. I could see the various buildings of Shinjuku through the full panelled glass walls behind.

“Don’t stand there. Do come over here.”

I couldn’t sense anyone around, but there was a voice, and it took me by surprise.

The chair turned against me spun around. Incline into it was a young man. He had the white robe draped upon his shoulder, his headset microphone pushing down his messy hair. The eyes behind his frameless glasses were giving off a peaceful, dangerous glint, like a light luring moths in. Once our eyes met, I felt a chill all over.

“Did you not hear me? Do come here. I have no time to waste with you.”

The man said impatiently, and moved aside the leather covered book opened on his thighs to the desk.

It’s the Bible.

I endured the pain in my throat, swallowed the dry and frozen spit, and stepped on the purple carpet one step at a time. Who is this guy? Why did Alice get me to meet this man? The answers to these questions were waiting to burst out from my skin, flooding out.

I had a look at the desk. There were three monitors lined side by side. I widened my eyes. The monitors, the keyboards, and even the CPU were exactly the same as Alice’s.

“I heard that Mari-san met with you, so I’m a little curious about you. I wanted to meet you.”

The man pointed at the microphone, flatly stating,

“I am going to ask you a few questions, and once you’re done, go back immediately. First, do you know why Yuuko hired you?”

“Erm, first of all, I—”

“I’m the one asking the questions. Not you.”

I was speechless. What’s this? Is this how one should question? Also, it’s basic courtesy to remove the headset when talking to someone. What’s he getting at? Maybe I should stamp on this exalted looking table and turn to leave, but I couldn’t. For some reason, I felt this man was really dangerous. Who’s he? How did he know me? I had to get as many clues as possible.

“I don’t know.” I answered unwillingly. “I think it’s because she couldn’t find anyone else.”

The man’s eyes were staring right at mine, as though he could discern the slope on a green.

“Second question…” He continued to talk quietly with a voice no different from breathing, “Do you have the resolve to accept Yuuko no matter what she does, what she wants, and what situation she is in?”

What’s this guy trying to ask? I thought. How am I supposed to answer this abstract question?”

“Not at all.” I shrugged. “I really don’t understand what you’re trying to us. Alice always pushes me off the bed, but I try to resist every time. How am I supposed to accept her unconditionally?”

I spoke that with two-thirds spite and one-third humor. The man maintained the expression much colder than the room.

“What if it’s not the bed, but the roof?”

“Then I have all the more reason to resist here!”

“Or I’ll die! Isn’t this nonsense!? Utterly ridiculous.”

The man had both elbows resting on the table, a finger pushing his glasses up the bridge,

“Third question. How many ordinary people do you think is equivalent to Yuuko’s personal worth?”

My mouth was agape like a dying goldish. I felt regret, that I should have left quickly.

I took a deep breath, and tried to assess the situation. This guy’s undoubtedly one of the Shionjis, and he knows Alice and Mari-san, calling them directly by name, and they did resemble each other physically. I guess he impersonated Alice in the message sent to me.

That’s all I could tell, and I still couldn’t figure out his objectives.

“Don’t ask any stupid questions. Answer me in units of a hundred million people.”

The man weighed Alice’s life on a scale against the lives of others. A hundred million people? Is he mad? I finally understood that my stomach was filled with rage.

So I sighed, and said,

“What do you mean now? Oh, I haven’t answered your question? Just take it that I haven’t. There’s loads of people who talk about the value of life, but life itself has no tangible value. The concept of value can only be used in something that can be exchanged. Is it possible to give life, to store life in the pocket? Are you going to keep the lives of a hundred million and let yourself revive a hundred million times? The value of life, in other words, is just to exaggerate other things. Please don’t say that already. Ask what you really want to ask, or I can’t answer.”

I converted all the frustration I had vented in my heart into words, and smacked him verbally on the face. Finally, I managed to incite a change in his expression. It really felt good. Thinking calmly about it, I was just spouting nonsense, but I did feel that I got revenge.

However, the man quickly showed a stoic face again, saying,

“Fourth question. Do you wish to work in my company?”

“Huh?”

Shocked, I blurted out awkwardly.

“I’ll guarantee an annual salary of 12 million Yen.”

Why mention this out of a sudden? Since he refused to pass the ball back and intend to bat away, I had no choice but to answer.

“No matter what you say, I refuse.”

“Do explain.” The man raised his index finger, saying this.”

“I don’t think I’ll like someone like you. I don’t like to work under those I don’t like.”

“I can try to have you like me. You don’t want that?”

This left me speechless for quite a while. Come and try, I couldn’t say. Again, I realized that he’s really one of the Shionjis. There’s a common theme between him, Alice, Gorou-sensei and Mari-san, that they really have the magical power to lure others in, no matter the intent. He’ll try to get me to like him? Maybe he can. This left me all the more restless.

“Better not.”

Finally, I eked out this reply.

“A pity then.”

He answered with practically no regret. I really couldn’t understand why he answered ‘a pity’. What’s this? I probably thought for the fiftieth time. What’s the deal with this guy? Calling me over for his own amusement?

“The last question.” The man said, “If Yuuko is to vanish from your life, what will you do?”

This should be the easiest of the five questions. People will vanish one day, and this is a specific, realistic question. This time, I couldn’t answer anything. I couldn’t even say ‘I don’t know’.

I did toss out the exact same question to Tetsu-senpai, Hiro and Major just yesterday.

I knew way. My instincts told me that this man in white robes will take Alice away from me. And I couldn’t do anything except to lower my head and shake it.

Following that, the man snorted softly, as though he had given up. He nodded,

“I’m done with questions.”

He said, and spun his chair away from me. I tried to close in, but once I took the first step, I retreated. I didn’t know what I was trying to do.

He then glanced aside at me, saying,

“I can answer a question of yours.”

I lifted my head in shock.

Is he thanking me? No-no way, he’s not that kind of person. Is he probing me?

What shall I ask? What I need to know is, is this guy friend or foe? What can he do? What does he want to do to Alice or me? Did something happen with the Shionjis?

…It seemed none of the questions were specific. I had one chance, I needed to find a question able to pinpoint this man—

After some thinking, I spoke up,

“Alice likes hard rock music, and I think that’s because you’ve been listening to Mr. Big?”

The man widened his eyes, and blinked a few eyes. The glass membrane of a mask on his face shattered silently. He didn’t show any obvious smile or rage, but there was certainly some emotion. It’s not just me, for he finally removed his headphones, and draped it over his neck.

“Did you say that randomly? Or did you hear me listening?”

I felt relieved. The door’s finally opened, so I felt.

“Didn’t you say that was the last question you would ask?”

It’s really not good to spite someone when it’s uncertain if we could converse properly, but I just couldn’t help myself. He nonchalantly answered,

“One extra question means that I’m starting to respect you.”

He sounded really calm. I couldn’t infer if he was joking, or for real.

“I did hear that. It’s ‘Lost in America’, right?”

Once I said the name, he removed the headphones, and left it on the desk. I couldn’t hear anything, for he might have paused it when he removed it from his ears.

“Your deduction is correct. I recommended it to Yuuko. The naïve Western hard rock of the 80s is really helpful to computer work.”

This answer was close to what I expected, yet it drove me into despair.

There’s no doubt this man was the teacher who granted Alice the wings called computer.

   

Before I left, the man handed me a thick card made of plastic, with the words,

“Aster Tataricus LLC. Chief Executive Officer, Shionji Keiichi.”

While the subway was shaking about, I searched for relevant information to Aster Tataricus’ stocks.

It’s founded by a genius programmer, and already at the top of the net security industry for enterprises. It’s a company that trades large network media, and already has legs within the financial sector…

If I had investigated thoroughly beforehand, I could have prepared myself mentally. Though regretful about this, I didn’t feel I was wrong in any way.

I looked down at the namecard, slipped it into my pocket, and leaned sideways onto the train door.

Alright, how do I explain this to Alice? I can’t hide this from her, and I can’t just say what I want, for I’ll be scolded badly. I didn’t do my checks, and was bluffed by the fake message.

Seriously, why am I involved in such trouble? What’s with the Shionjis? Just let Alice and me go already, okay? You guys haven’t contacted her for years, have you? Is it now so chaotic because that old man is hospitalized?”

The phone in my phone suddenly vibrated. I took it out, and found that it was Alice.

“Hurry over now! Where have you been!?”

Alice seemed to be on the verge of tears. I shrank my neck back, and scanned the carriage with few passengers, saying,

“I’m on the train. Going over now. What now?”

“A lot of people from my old home are here. Lawyers, doctors. They’re all blocking the office door. Help me think of a way out!”

Doctor? Lawyer?

The train broadcast announced the next station. “I’ll hurry over.” Saying that, I hung up.

It was noon when I arrived at ‘Hanamaru’, but there were many people outside the shop. Min-san was shaking the Chinese wok about as she shouted,

“Sorry. Looks like there’s a lot of weird ones at Alice’s room, but I’m really busy here. Please check on them!”

There was no time to answer, and I ran up the emergency stairs. There were 3 men in coats before the room 308.

“Milady! Please open the door! The chairman’s really critically ill here. He wants to see you no matter what!”

One really plump middle aged man was crawling at the door, pleading. I hunched my body down on the staircase, looking at them. Doctor and lawyer, I guess. I see they really look the part. The one causing a ruckus was the lawyer, and the frail middle aged bespectacled man should be the doctor. The youngest looking hunk in his early thirties should be the bodyguard or the driver, maybe?

The phone in my pocket vibrated again,

“Hop in through the window of room 309. I’m keeping the door open for 5 seconds!”

Alice’s sudden shout got me jumping up the stairs, and through the door. The trio found me grabbing the door handle of room 309, and I hastily slipped through the door, slammed it shut, and locked it.

The room next to the detective agency was a machine room set below zero degrees Celsius. The dark single room was filled with metal racks stacked towards the ceiling, CPUs crammed inside, and the wires slithered through the gaps. I had been here twice or thrice, and just moving through the room was tense for me. I then pulled aside the cooling curtain, opened the window, and hopped from the ceiling to room 308 by the side. Alice then opened the window and let me in.

“What’s the situation now?”

“I should be the one asking!” Alice grabbed my shoulders, appearing to be on the verge of tears. The door of the office kept echoing. Looking through the peephole, it appeared the trio remained.

“Please, Milady, come out.”

The plump middle-aged man kept begging incessantly. I scowled, and left the room.

“He’s the Shionjis’ legal advisor. I met him once there.”

Alice told me once we returned to the bedroom.

“The bespectacled one is one of the doctors who would occasionally check of them. Why they are here, what happens to grandpa is none of my best. Do they think I’ll open the door with a smile if they charge in like this?”

I sighed, and looked over at the corridor. Mari-san did say that the Shionjis would gather around Alice, but I never expected to be so stupid and direct. What are they thinking? Alice already had cameras installed. It’s impossible for her to foolishly open the door now.

“They’re too noisy out there. Might as well call Tetsu over.”

Alice gave a call to Tetsu-senpai, but nobody picked up, so she sent a text over in frustration.

“Seriously, why aren’t you guys picking up the call at this important moment? You had me call you four times until you answered.”

“Ahh, sorry. Back then, I was…”

I should mention about the guy in white clothes. So I told myself.

“I went to Shinkuku. A company called Aster Tataricus, which you should know…right?”

Alice widened her eyes. Ahh, I was further convinced that the message was faked.

“Y-you went to that company> Why?”

I showed her the message. At that moment, Alice seemed to have understood everything.

“Th-this is a fake. He wanted to get you out!”

“Yeah, that should be the case.”

Alice then seemed to have thought of something as she approached me,

“Did he, give you anything?”

“Eh? No, nothing—ahh, a namecard.”

“A namecard!? Show me.”

I was shocked by how anxious Alice was, but I took out the namecard in my pocket and handed it to hand. She snatched it, scanned it, and bend it over and over again. Then she tore it in half, and threw it into the trashbin.

“…Alice? Wh-hat—”

“We’ve been had. It’s a remote control.”

“Eh?”

I looked towards the trash can, and found a metallic object embedded in the severed namecard. There’s such a thin remote control around? Control what?

“He led you over to give you this. He wants to switch off my air conditioning. Right, I let you into the machineroom…all hanging. Overloaded?”

Alice looked vexed as she gritted her teeth, tapping at the keyboard. Once the system was activated, the six monitors quickly showed an excessive spiel of green text. I didn’t know what was going on, and worse, I didn’t know the reason for the despair shown on Alice’s face.

“E-erm, what does that mean? What happens if the air conditioning fails?”

“The CPU will overheat. I don’t know what exactly will happen, but that man might be able to use this chance—”

Alice’s voice suddenly stopped, and I took couldn’t say anything as I blankly scanned the monitors. They were all filled with the face of that white clothed man.

“It’s been a while, Yuuko.”

A voice came from the speakers, and Alice’s fingers on the keyboard lost all strength,

“Kei nii-sama…”

“Software-wise, you managed to pass, but I did warn you to be more careful with the hardware. Using a home air conditioning for a machine room is really unspeakable.”

I, left speechless by this, once again looked towards the namecard remote in the trashcan, and shuttered. He warmed the air-conditioning in the machine room, and while the computer was overheated, he hacked through the while security couldn’t work. Did he look for me just to invite him in?

“There should be people outside waiting for you. Get ready to go out, or I’ll reveal all information about you.”

Alice bit her lips so forcefully, blood was seeping. She glared at the white clothed man and the cold expressions. Soon after however, she dropped her shoulders, and stood up.

It was the first time I saw Alice lose as a hacker.


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