The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume6 Chapter 4
- 1 Chapter 4: [email protected]???
- 1.1 Part 1 (3rd person)
- 1.2 Part 2 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.3 Part 3 (Jinnai Shinobu)
- 1.4 Part 4 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.5 Part 5 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.6 Part 6 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.7 Part 7 (Hishigami Enbi)
- 1.8 Part 8 (3rd person)
- 1.9 Part 9 (Jinnai Shinobu)
- 1.10 Part 10 (Hishigami Enbi)
- 1.11 Part 11 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.12 Part 12 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.13 Part 13 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.14 Part 14 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.15 Part 15 (3rd person)
- 1.16 Part 16 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.17 Part 17 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.18 Part 18 (Jinnai Shinobu)
- 1.19 Part 19 (3rd person)
- 1.20 Part 20 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.21 Part 21 (3rd person)
- 1.22 Part 22 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
- 1.23 Part 23 (3rd person)
- 1.24 Part 24 (Aoandon)
- 1.25 Part 25 (3rd person)
- 1.26 Part 26 (Jinnai Shinobu)
Chapter 4: [email protected]???
Part 1 (3rd person)
Something was wrong.
The individual events were barely related, so looking at them individually revealed little. But if one took a step back and looked at the scene as a whole, something would feel horribly off. It was like the difference between a single piece and the entire jigsaw puzzle.
“A largescale power outage has hit Hokkaido. While running from the police, a driver lost control and ran into a transformer facility. Five elderly residents have died because they were using medical breathing machines at home. The police have said they did the best they could to apprehend the suspect, but…”
“New-chan > This has completely buried the chairman’s scandal, hasn’t it? I wonder if he caused this trouble to help with damage control.”
No-name blogs and SNS sites were filled with baseless conspiracy theories. And sadly, those useless opinions ended up burying the truth in a flood of information, so no one knew what was really going on. They simply felt a vague sense of unease.
“Town gas in the Tokai region is still shut down. An emergency inspection is being performed after a cyber-attack of unknown origin attempted to rewrite the program controlling the internal pressure of the underground pipes, but the residents are demanding service be restored as soon as possible.”
“Eruko > Water, power, gas, internet… All the major pipelines of the country’s infrastructure are being attacked. The sewage system is the one that actually scares me the most. It connects to every house and it’s full of gas and waste. Set it alight and toxic dioxin will burst into every single house. Gas masks are thirty thousand yen at the cheapest, but it’s probably worth that price given the situation.”
Products vanished from convenience store shelves. A man who had created a homemade shelter in his yard was invited onto a talk show. The mysterious turn of events influenced the stocks of corporations that sold disaster prevention and outdoor goods and the nation’s tension gradually grew.
“An N Alert was sent out in error. Early this morning, a biological weapon alert was sent out to the entire Kanto region, but it turns out it was due to a Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare worker who failed to set the system to training mode. This is the third erroneous N Alert this month alone, so the Minster of Health, Labor, and Welfare has sworn he will crack down on any undisciplined workers.”
“Packy > Um, this isn’t the Boy who Cried Wolf. If you keep sending out false alarms, no one’s gonna believe it when something does happen.”
The news was repeated on TV ad nauseam to ensure no one was misled by the false alarm, but that only spread the absurd rumors further. It almost seemed the people living their boring lives wanted to believe the lies.
“I’m worried about this country. I’ve studied abroad in London, Paris, and New York, so I know how great their crisis management systems are. Compared to them, Japan is awfully unprepared.”
“Nekosuke > Don’t sound so carefree about it, four eyes. But…it’s possible that rumor is true. Y’know, the one about a huge nuclear shelter for VIPs being prepared in Nagatacho Station next to the National Diet building. Maybe that’s why they don’t seem worried.”
Was that a prophecy based on a sense of smell they rarely used or was it a hope not even they knew they had?
Either way, something was about to happen.
There was no stopping it.
Part 2 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
Maybe the shipments had been delayed by the spreading panic or some housewife had decided to stock up meaninglessly, but the convenience store shelves were empty and I missed out on eating lunch.
The trains had been stopped for a few days due to signal trouble and small traffic jams had popped up here and there. While I complained in my heart that Tokyo was a real pain in the ass to live in once things went wrong, I made my way to Minato.
Keijou Ijuku University was there.
The campus was filled with school buildings and laboratories, but I visited the big building known as the “Headquarters” where the board of directors and management were gathered.
“What is a middle school girl doing on a college campus?”
“Open! Campus!! It’s October, remember? The college is open to anyone.”
“Excuse me, this girl is trespassing. Yes, yes. Can I leave her with you? Please get her out of here ASAP. Yes, thank you.”
“Hey!! Don’t sell me off to that old janitor!!”
The Mystery Freak started assaulting a police officer, but in a cutely sulky kind of way. As usual, she was more or less wearing a swimsuit with a character scarf added on. Just as I was wondering what to do about her, a familiar face approached with a smile.
“Long time no see, Uchimaku-kun. …I thought Minori was pulling my leg when she told me, but it looks like a police officer really is dragging around a middle school girl in a swimsuit.”
“Please don’t say that!”
I could tell my future was on the line here, so I immediately corrected her.
The woman was named Tsugawa San. She was a scientist girl with long, wavy chestnut hair. She wore a crisp lab coat over her skirt and her soft and fluffy sweater. That unbalanced look had gathered attention even when we were students. Of course, she was actually a gentle person with drooping eyes.
What’s her title now anyway? Assistant professor? Associate professor? It changes so much I can’t remember.
She had a complex about her given name, so she got upset whenever someone used it with the “-san” honorific. She didn’t seem to like being “San-san”.
That was when another old upperclassman of mine, an assistant producer from Hachi TV named Atou Minori, showed up. She wore a rough top, slender pants, a hairpin to hold up her black hair, and a choker around her neck, so her tastes hadn’t changed since we were students either.
“Hey, Hayabusa-kun. It’s been a while since you visited the school here, hasn’t it?”
“What are you doing here when you’ve already graduated? You’ll just get in the way.”
“I pop in to help with documentaries on summer break experiments and things like that. But I’m starting to remember old times with all of us here. Wait…old times? I’m turning into an old lady, aren’t I!?”
That was when I heard an odd sound.
I looked over to find the Mystery Freak growling like a fierce dog restrained by a chain.
“Yeah, we were in different departments, but we joined the same club. I forget what excuse of a name we gave it, but we just used it to go out drinking. We gathered the students from Intellectual Villages around the country. That really was a happy time. And you had the best taste in restaurants and bars, Uchimaku-kun. You never seemed to choose a dud.”
“C’mon, I wasn’t that good.”
“But the best drinks were the bottles you had in your room. The Jinnai Brewery almost scares me! They kept sending you tons of junmai daiginjo good enough for the Ise Shrine! Pretty much every weekend, we hung out in your room getting drunk off our asses until morning!”
Enbi was growling even louder and her face had grown so red I half-expected steam to rise from her head. I didn’t quite get it, but it was unusual for her to take so much damage.
“I! Can’t! Stand!!! This!!!!”
“Can’t stand what, Mystery Fre- ah, that’s just creepy!! Don’t shove that scarf’s severed head into my face!? It looks way too realistic up close!!”
“It’s Suneky the Sunekosuri!!”
“Um, miss, you’re never going to win over Uchimaku-kun like that.”
“He’s a complete pervert with glasses, a tight skirt, and a garter belt as his Three Sacred Treasures. If you pull on the garter belt so it snaps against your leg, he just can’t help but look.”
“Bfh!? Wait! No! Don’t! Don’t tell her-…!”
“His ideal woman is a female teacher. Such a troublesome fetish.”
“But unfortunately, the perfect beautiful teacher that he imagines will strictly but kindly guide him would be younger than him nowadays.”
As I screamed, Enbi pulled out her smartphone and started whispering into it. I didn’t even want to know what audio notes she was taking.
At any rate…
“We can keep talking on the way. Come with me.”
“You’re a detective, so you already know the basic information, right?”
Tsugawa handed me a large pamphlet as she spoke. It looked less like a proper document and more like an advertisement meant to catch the eye.
I read aloud the caption written next to the smiling elderly man on the cover.
“The leading researcher into psychic powers: Matsukai Hiroshi, Professor of Human Parapsychology Information Engineering.”
“Don’t let that ‘leading researcher’ part fool you. No other university in the nation has a department as ridiculous as Human Parapsychology Information Engineering. It’s like saying you serve the original mille crepe ramen.”
Atou Minori jokingly cut in from the side as I flipped through the pamphlet (to double check on the information) while walking.
“Help from PSI_ver_RAIN (14) was used to gather objective and universal sample data.”
“PSI_ver_RAIN is a psychic middle school girl. Or rather, she’s an online idol that pretends to be one. She wears swimsuits, sings, and bends spoons on video sites and the like. Her supposed psychic powers are all over the place: clairvoyance, telekinesis, healing, etc. She’s more convenient than a Swiss army knife.”
Of course, she was better known as someone who danced with 3D models based on Vocanoids than as someone who could bend spoons with her mind.
“She’s appeared on our show a few times, but based on the fans’ reactions, they see her psychic powers as part of her character instead of something real. Y’know, like the airheaded idols who claim to be from some other planet or the ones who dress in costumes and claim to be a fruit spirit. Basically, if they’re cute, anything goes.”
“Can you really use a screenname in a thesis paper?”
“Normally, no. But there have been cases where someone like a national comedian who wrote a book that got translated into fourteen languages eventually published a thesis under a stage name or penname. They forced this through using those precedents.”
My former upperclassmen climbed the stairs with their heels clacking on the steps.
“Not to mention that Matsukai Hiroshi himself is an incredibly famous professor. It’s to the point that I feel like posting a sign in front of his lab saying ‘The Constitution of the Empire of Japan does not apply beyond this point’.”
“Okay, I’ll bite. Don’t you mean the Constitution of Japan?”
“That’s just how out-there he is. It’s kind of amazing he hasn’t been arrested. Well, he is talented, so maybe he has someone secretly burying corpses for him.”
That was hardly a laughing matter to a police officer.
“Who would have thought that eccentric professor would end up sliced in two inside a locked room?”
The strobe light of camera flashes reached the hallway from the open door.
I peeked inside and found the interior covered in red. It was filled with a strange unpleasant odor that was not simply blood. For being a “laboratory”, it was not filled with largescale research equipment. Other than the desktop computer on the table, I couldn’t see anything that looked like it could be used for work. Instead of a place filled with the hope of making an earthshaking discovery, it looked like a room meant to hide an eccentric as a way to keep up appearances.
But the center of the room was what mattered most.
The red-dyed star of the scene was lying face up and chopped in two just below the navel. I’ll leave out the details of what was sticking out from the cut, but it didn’t look like it had been done with a sharp blade or with any concern for the positions of the bones or muscles. Overall, it seemed to have been done quite forcefully.
I put on gloves and faced my upperclassmen.
“Thanks for guiding me here. I can take care of myself now.”
“Can we watch? We won’t step inside.”
“If you film this on a pen CCD and show it on your show, you’ll get sued.”
I held back the Mystery Freak as she nonchalantly started into the room, I warned Atou Minori, and I went inside myself.
The crime scene investigation was still ongoing, but the area around the corpse had been dealt with first so they could get an autopsy done as quickly as possible. The forensics team was at the stage of discussing how to transport the corpse without its “contents” spilling out.
Pieces of evidence had been placed inside clear plastic bags and one of them was a card key.
“That was in his coat’s inner pocket. That’s what makes this a ‘locked room’,” explained one of them forensics team members.
“Did anything about this catch your interest? Other than the locked room part, that is”
“His wallet and the hard disk containing all his research data were untouched, but his belt is gone.”
“Um, he was, well, a strange person, so it’s possible he wasn’t wearing one to begin with.”
“I’ll look into it when questioning people.”
I circled around the corpse and into the back of the room to check around the computer.
Wow, this is pretty old.
It was probably only used for email, writing reports, and to operate the supercomputer located in another room. The somewhat yellowed home computer was connected to a hard disk by a cable, but it wasn’t a convenient portable size like a USB memory stick or a data chip. I began to wonder if he stored everything on the cloud.
Then I heard the Mystery Freak sounding bored in the hallway.
“Shouldn’t you be focused on something else instead?”
“You mean that nonsense?”
“But now the state-run news is talking about it and not just the talk shows. Some idiot leaked the whole case on a video site, so all the stations are going nuts. But the reporter’s club of Japanese mass media is pretty strong. If they all ignored this, no one would pay any attention to some leaked info. That means the police are half-admitting it already, doesn’t it?”
“Minori-san, you aren’t secretly recording this, are you?”
“Of course you are or of course you aren’t?”
“Gh… Sorry, Hayabusa-kun, but of course I am. I’ll be more careful in the future.”
She pulled her cellphone from her pocket, operated it while I was watching, and raised both of her hands in defeat.
After confirming it was off, I started speaking again.
“Do you think a psychic murder is actually possible? Based on common knowledge anyway?”
“Why not? Packages that include Youkai are used for crimes all the time.”
“Y’know, that’s a lot like saying little grays must exist because you found a dinosaur fossil. Don’t accept this because of something completely different. It’s a non sequitur.”
“But theses on psychic powers are starting to be seen as valid evidence in court. Or at least, the prosecution can submit it and the court will allow it.”
“So they’re going to conclude that psychic powers have been scientifically established as a deadly weapon, are they? I can already tell this is going to be the world’s silliest trial.”
“Ee hee hee. There are official records in England of people being taken to court over whether a magic cabal cursed them or not or whether some secret ceremony was leaked or not. The judgment papers are still there and everything.”
The problem was the thesis paper on psychic powers published by the eccentric professor lying in two pieces on the floor.
Naturally, society at large saw him as a fraud. They doubted the thesis even more than the theories that video games rotted the brain. But no matter how ridiculous it was, a thesis was a thesis once it was submitted. That status came with a certain power.
Forensic science was pretty well known, but what even counted as “scientific”?
A lot of people thought it was any objective data that could be reproduced with experiments or that it was never-changing theories and equations someone had calculated out, but that was completely wrong.
In the end, it came down to what people believed was true. In research related to space or particles, the result of a single experiment could overturn everything we thought we knew and the equations used a year ago would become entirely useless. Even though what to research had been determined by those equations and billions of yen of tax money had been pumped into it, no one hung their head at the new discovery. When it came down to it, even fabricated theses were held up as “scientific” until they were found out.
So-called “absolute science” changed surprisingly often and people would readily accept ideas that were barely understood but “probably” worked like this or that were “theoretically sound” but had not been remotely proven. The same was true of forensic science. And even if it was wrong, it was not considered a crime as long as no one was “maliciously aware” of the mistake. It was a lot like a politician’s apology. As long as you didn’t know about it before hand, you were in the clear.
That was the case this time, too.
Once it was placed in the category of “scientific” any thesis was treated as such.
The thesis was 99.9% bullshit, but some idiot insisted that it wasn’t 100% disproven. And once that happened, it didn’t matter how much everyone else opposed it. In the closed courtroom, a psychic murder was considered possible and the trial had to continue on that assumption. After all, it was a proper “scientific” thesis, wasn’t it? So it had to be perfectly acceptable in a “scientific” courtroom. From there, the judgment was made. The defendant was guilty of murdering the victim with psychic powers and would be imprisoned for life.
The judicial system? Who cares, right?
“But to completely eliminate the idea that psychic murders are possible, you would have to objectively prove that psychic powers don’t exist.”
“Nonsense. It’s not even worth thinking about. They don’t exist.”
“But, but. Actually proving it is surprisingly difficult. It’s what you call the Devil’s Proof. Even if you revealed the trick behind all self-styled psychics around the world, you’re done for as soon as someone argues that someone with psychic powers might be living deep in the mountains or something.”
“So that means the top suspect is…?”
“PSI_ver_RAIN. That psychic middle school girl had a personal connection to the eccentric professor since he got her help to gather sample data. She’s currently missing, but that caption might just change to ‘on the run’ before long.”
My head started to hurt.
Has this country been thrown into some mysterious space where tabloid articles come true?
“Some of the higher ups in the police apparently want to end this case as quickly as possible even if it means false charges.”
“Huh? The rumors I picked up said a politician wants to settle this sensational case to make himself look like a great hero just before the national elections.”
I held my head in a hand as I listened to my former upperclassmen cheerfully discuss the case.
My condolences, Matsukai-san. Your own thesis is dragging us further away from the truth of your murder. Maybe that’s your own fault, but did you have to make it the police’s problem too?
Part 3 (Jinnai Shinobu)
The lunch break came to an end and fifth period began.
It seemed like the stupidest possible time for home ec. Especially a cooking lesson.
“Ohhh, Shinobu-kun. How do I peel an onion?”
“Potatoes and carrots are one thing, but you can’t even do onions, Madoka-san!?”
She wore an apron over her sailor uniform and a triangular cloth on her head even though I doubted anyone ever actually wore one in the real world. Kotemitsu Madoka had transformed into a wonderfully innocent-looking financial monster, but it turned out she was a little too innocent. A kindergartner would’ve been more help.
Of course, my parents made all my meals, so I couldn’t cook for myself either.
My classmate looked like the perfect young wife, but she was pouting her lips and complaining.
“Ehhh? But doesn’t food just appear when you’re hungry? And with vending machines, you just have to know how to put a coin in. I doubt many people want to know how it works on the inside.”
“Oh, no! Madoka-san’s feminine appeal is dropping fast! And the worst part is she doesn’t even realize it!!”
“Is it that bad?”
“Your innermost thoughts are coming right out! You aren’t supposed to let guys see that!!”
The dish we were tasked with making was pork cooked in ginger, which seemed way too heavy for the period after lunch.
Our cooking station was oddly clean. The water and ingredients were Intellectual Village-made, but the plates and cooking utensils left at school could never have passed an inspection by a clean freak, so some kind of mystery cleaning squad must have infiltrated the school the night before.
“By the way, Madoka, what do you eat for a midnight snack? You respond immediately whenever I email you, so I know you’re active late at night.”
“Eh? I just make a call to my 24/7 room service.”
“Whoa!! Now I’m jealous!!”
Madoka frowned as she picked at the surface of the onion.
“The net idols have been a real pain lately. They don’t use an advertising agency but still gather a ton of attention. Ones like PSI_ver_RAIN can get thirty million views on a new song’s PV in less than twenty-four hours. That’s more influential than an ad during golden week. Can you believe that?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I have heard people talking about how cute Rain-chan is.”
“One silly comment about being hooked on Neko Manma’s Ishikari special and the stocks shoot up! How am I supposed to handle that with an autonomous investment program!? Wars and hurricanes at least have some warning!!”
Based on how angry Madoka-san was, I could guess she had lost a ton of money thanks to this Rain-chan.
I was afraid to ask exactly how much, though.
Nagisa-chan, my childhood friend and one of the world’s three greatest yanderes, was in top form at another cooking station. She was leaning on her boyfriend Akechi-kun and placing her head on his shoulder.
“Eh heh heh. Look, Akechi-kun. You just have to go like this and then like this. See? It’s shaped like a heart. Isn’t it pretty? It’s a crystallization of our love. Heh heh.”
“Y-yes, I suppose so. But you’re scaring me with how smoothly you’re using that knife…”
“And the most important part is adding in a secret ingredient. Eh heh heh heh heh heh.”
“Wait, please wait. Don’t put that in there. Not your hair. It won’t even dissolve. And I only confessed ten minutes ago, so isn’t it a little soon for that!? Waiiiiit!!”
I prayed for his happiness in my heart.
Good luck, Akechi Boy. Nagisa’s love is sweeter than chocolate, thicker than coal tar, and deadlier than tetrodotoxin, but not even I know what awaits you if you stick with it. Let’s see if you can outlast and arrive at that unseen frontier.
“Ohhhh!! Jinnai, help!! I don’t know how to deal with Nagisa-chan!!”
“Don’t come crying to her ex, you idiot! Don’t you have any pride!?”
Part 4 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
I finished my investigation for the time being and parted ways with my former upperclassmen. As I’d said before, I hadn’t had any lunch because the convenience store shelves were empty. I was starving, so I let another detective take my place, took a break, and used the university dining hall for the first time in forever. They were about to transport the body, so we wanted some police officers to walk around the area and gather attention elsewhere. It was a little late for lunch, so I wasn’t going to bother too many students even if I grabbed a bite to eat.
“You can eat right after looking at a corpse chopped in two with its organs sticking out? You’re really one of us, aren’t you?”
“It’s like being a doctor. Only someone who can get used to it can stick with the job for long. Sad as that is.”
As a young police officer, I had been taught not to get too fixated on the corpses and I had taken that to heart as much as I could. Some said we needed to get angry about people’s deaths, but after seeing so many people led to revenge, it all felt so fruitless. It was like reading a single book containing a dozen different short stories about a child dying of some horrible disease. Sure it’s a sad story, but so what?
“Wow, you can get a lot of food for cheap here. They even have cutlet curry. Cutlet curry! Not only do you get curry, but there’s a cutlet on top for only five hundred yen! And it’s got a ton of vegetables too!!”
“I think the best deal is the seafood bowl. They didn’t have the beef tongue meal when I was here. Is it a new addition? I guess I’ll try it.”
As we spoke, we made our order and received our trays.
There were a lot of girls in fairly showy miniskirts. Well, it was the end of October, so they were probably freshmen. They had escaped the long, long tunnel of entrance exams, finished their baptism in this new life, made it through their first summer break, and were finally truly fitting into their college life. It was probably the most carefree time for them.
I didn’t see how I stood out that much, but I was gathering a lot of attention. From the actual college students, it may have been like seeing an old-looking high schooler in your middle school. It made me sad as an alumnus.
“Gulp! Gulp!! Damn, this cutlet curry is actually really good! I was expecting the meat to be really tough and the fried coating to come off the second you poked it with your fork!! Munch, munch!!”
“No, wait. It’s probably the middle school girl in an inappropriate swimsuit that’s gathering all the attention.”
“Eh? I hope you’re joking. Everyone’s curious about the police detective in a suit hanging around near the scene of a murder.”
“Hah hah hah. Yeah, right.”
My beef tongue was a simple dish sliced thin and cooked in salt, but the flavor wasn’t bad. The firmness of the tongue was still there. It was nice enough that I considered adding it to the rotation for when I was tired of the usual pork and ginger or chicken and egg bowl.
“Hand me your scarf, Mystery Freak. You’re going to get curry on it.”
“C’mon, you don’t want to ruin that…what is it? A Rokuro Dog?”
We continued chatting like that for a while.
“Hey, detective, what do you think of this stuff with PSI_ver_RAIN? A psychic murder! A torso bisected!”
“That nonsense isn’t worth the investigation’s time.”
“But she was here on campus to help with his research today. And she completely vanished after the murder happened.”
“Are you saying she’s suspicious even if she doesn’t have psychic powers?”
“She’s definitely the murderer, but there’s no good evidence. So let’s find a way to get a guilty verdict even if it means making up some nonsense about psychic powers. After all, she’s the murderer either way! …Something like that?”
“That feels like something someone would do only after exhausting every other possibility. We’re only in the preliminary stages of the investigation and the autopsy hasn’t even begun, so why would the higher ups be in such a rush?”
“Hmm.” The Mystery Freak mixed her chopped cabbage into the curry sauce with a spoon. “Why was that professor even targeted in the first place?”
“He was apparently a really strange person, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d caused some trouble here and there. Of course, I’ll admit chopping his torso apart is a little over-the top. I would have expected a strangulation or blow from a glass ashtray.”
“What if it was to steal his research data?”
“We’ll investigate that too of course. The psychic research was apparently just a performance to appear on TV and get his name out there. His actual area of study was information engineering, but it must not have been interesting enough to get much research funding. That means he was doing proper research too.”
He was just like the people who appeared on TV as UFO or ghost researchers. No matter what methods they used, the divide between known and unknown was wide. And if you were known, things were a lot easier. Even if that meant playing the fool on TV. A lot of researchers knew that very well.
“That doesn’t explain why they sliced him in two. It was like the murderer went out of their way to kill him in a more difficult way.”
“Detective, what are the most popular reasons to destroy a corpse?”
“A grudge, to transport the corpse, to send twisted presents to people, or to hide the victim’s identity if it’s the fingerprints or teeth. They’ll also sometimes gouge out a portion of the corpse to hide a bite mark or a distinctive wound.”
All of the professor’s parts seemed to have been there, so none of them fit but the grudge. Unless, of course, they were chopping him up to transport him and gave up partway through.
“Then how long would it take to destroy the corpse?”
“It depends on the tool being used. With a single knife, it would take twenty minutes to cut through the torso while putting all of one’s body weight into it. With an axe, ten minutes if you were careful about the fat that stuck to the blade. With a chainsaw, one minute. With liquid nitrogen, less than thirty seconds I guess.”
“A master swordsman with a katana could do it in one second.”
“And could a psychic do it in zero seconds?”
Then again, if the tool they were using was too powerful, they would need something like a giant cutting board to make sure they didn’t damage the floor. And the more irregular the tool, the fewer the possible suspects. For example, only a master swordsman would have a top level katana.
Huh? But doesn’t that mean…?
“Even if it was done with psychic powers, would a psychic really kill someone with their powers? They might as well leave a note on the scene saying they did it.”
“That’s true. That was the first thing that occurred to me, but it didn’t really lead me anywhere.”
Even if PSI_ver_RAIN had a grudge against Professor Matsukai, wouldn’t she specifically choose not to use her powers? It would have been safer to use a kitchen knife or utility knife anyone could get their hands on.
In movies and dramas, psychics would proudly proclaim that they could kill as much as they wanted because the cause of death couldn’t be scientifically proven, but that wasn’t actually how it worked. Plenty of murderers had been found guilty even with no murder weapon or corpse ever found. The evidence only had to indicate who had acted with the intent to harm who. Just because you were missing a motive, a murder weapon, a corpse, fingerprints, or DNA evidence didn’t mean you couldn’t establish that a crime had been committed.
Take burning someone to death as an example. Even if you didn’t know the exact chemical makeup of the flammable liquid, you could forcibly establish guilt as long as you had evidence showing Person A had poured a suspicious liquid on Person B just before they burst into flames and died. In a court of law, an unclear cause of death was not all that powerful a barrier.
Then again, whether it was a trick or not, I still had no idea why someone would go to the trouble of chopping the guy’s torso in two.
And in times like this…
“Thinking it through in reverse can be surprisingly helpful.”
“You mean thinking about what would have happened if he hadn’t been chopped apart?”
“Even if he’d been strangled, PSI_ver_RAIN still would’ve been a suspect due to her proximity to the eccentric professor. But setting that aside, what if there was someone else who would have been a suspect if he hadn’t been chopped in two? That would make all the work worth it.”
Staying at the scene for so long and getting evidence on your clothes from all the blood was a huge risk. Who had taken that risk to go through with that bisection? Whether it was PSI_ver_RAIN or a third party, it had to benefit them in some way.
“Well, either way, I just have to gather all the information I can.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“How about I start by asking you why you believe any information the police find will end up in your hands?”
While we continued our discussion, I felt a shift in the college students’ gazes inside the dining hall. They were all moving toward the window.
The focus on us outsiders had moved elsewhere, so had someone shown up who was an even more obvious “outsider”?
I initially thought of the corpse being transported, but I doubted they would carry it across the middle of the campus.
And when I looked out the window, I spotted a distinctive sailor uniform in the crowd.
Waist-length black hair had just the end dyed red. The white sailor uniform had red lines. The boots rose higher than the knees and they had a plastic-like material on the joint for an overall futuristic design.
“Hey, Mystery Freak. You stay here.”
She looked confused with her spoon in her mouth, but I got up from my seat regardless.
“It’s PSI_ver_RAIN. She’s on campus for some reason, so I’m going to capture her. You watch from the window! If she vanishes before I get there, you tell me over the phone which way she went!”
Part 5 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
I didn’t take off running like a scene from a police drama. I remained calm and composed. I left the dining hall, made my way to the nearest exit from the school building, and went outside. I stayed slow while blending in with the crowd. If you made it obvious you were chasing someone, they would start running with all their might. Getting as close as possible and then making a quick dash had the best odds of capturing them.
…Except she noticed me almost right away.
The girl in the sailor uniform turned right around and started running like a sprinter despite her short skirt.
“Oh, hell! I guess a suit really does stand out too much!!”
This required a bit of a change of plans. I started running in my suit, despite how it looked. I had to catch up to her. This really did look like a scene from a police drama, so I could tell cellphone cameras were pointing my way from all over. I almost crushed some kind of RC helicopter sitting on the ground for some kind of experiment. We were less than two hundred meters apart, but there was still a risk of losing sight of her when she ran around a corner.
The Mystery Freak suddenly rushed out from the side and tried to hit PSI_ver_RAIN with a janitor’s pushcart she had found somewhere. The fleeing girl just barely managed to dodge it, but she lost her balance as she kept running.
I chased after her and shouted to the Mystery Freak as I ran past.
“This is dangerous, so stay back!”
“Detectiiiive, don’t forget that I just kept her away from the nearest exit from campus.”
Is that what you were after? You are so not cute.
PSI_ver_RAIN had her hands full running, so she accidentally ran into an alleyway at some point. The narrow space was located between the concrete wall of a school building and the wall that surrounded the entire campus. It was apparently a nice storage space for the students because all the bicycles gave us even less room to move and trash bags full of crushed cans were piled up further in.
Simply put, it was dead end.
When the girl saw the pile of trash twice her height, she hesitated, but she frantically turned around when she heard my approaching footsteps. Her legs were covered by futuristic boots that rose above the knee and her eyes were covered by colored mobile glasses. She wore a pink hat that looked perfect for an unrealistic police officer costume. Even the heart-shaped paint tattoo below her eye had to be a part of her character. I was in the middle of a criminal investigation, so I didn’t like being the target of those glasses that could switch between recording and transmitting.
For some reason, PSI_ver_RAIN spread her arms and pointed them toward me.
Hm? That’s not quite a sign of surrender???
“I am a police officer. I see no reason to follow your orders.”
“Don’t you know?” Her lips were trembling. “I am PSI_ver_RAIN. I have a special power that can tear apart steel. Take one step closer and you’ll regret it!”
I scratched at my head and checked the time on my watch.
“2:10 PM. Suspect confessed to possession of a deadly weapon.”
“Oh, deadly weapons don’t have to be a knife or something. Training in martial arts or a dangerous pet can count too. It’s more about the situation than the physical evidence.”
As I spoke, I reached into my pocket.
When she saw what I pulled out, PSI_ver_RAIN’s pupils grew as large as possible.
“And now that you’ve threatened me with a ‘deadly weapon’, I can respond in kind. For example, pull out my handgun as a warning. You yourself admitted you intend to harm me with a tool capable of killing me.”
“Eh!? Ehhh!? B-but my psychic powers are… Eh? Don’t tell me…you actually believed this farce…”
Over the course of a few seconds she went from wanting me to believe her to wanting me to not believe her.
This is what happens when you use a pathetic bluff to make your getaway.
And so I had decided to settle this in the most ridiculous way possible.
“2:11 PM. Shifting from voluntary questioning to forced arrest. Apprehending the suspect on charges of threatening a police officer and attempted murder. …Turn around and put your hands on your head! Slowly kneel on the ground! Hurry!!”
Part 6 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
A fair number of uniformed police officers would still be on campus to manage the scene of the crime, so I decided to leave PSI_ver_RAIN with one of them.
“I didn’t do it.”
“Then you shouldn’t have run. Back at the voluntary stage, you could have refused my request for a testimony or questioning.”
We spoke to each other as I walked her handcuffed across the campus.
“I had no reason to kill the professor. Just having him attach electrodes to my head was enough to increase the value of my brand name as a psychic middle school girl.”
“We can talk about all that at length.”
She suddenly said something more interesting.
“His belt was missing, wasn’t it? Look into that and you’ll know I didn’t do it.”
“…? What are you talking-…?”
I trailed off because the Mystery Freak popped out from around the corner of a school building. She waved me over with a uniformed police officer on either side of her.
“Detectiiive, I brought the police.”
“Good job, civilian. This is the first time I’ve felt like praising you.”
One of the police officers gave me a light nod.
“Sorry we’re late, Uchimaku-san. I am Katou and this is Arisaka. Nice to meet you.”
“Hi. This girl is the suspect.”
“Um, can we take over since this area is under our jurisdiction?”
I gave a light push on PSI_ver_RAIN’s back while she was still handcuffed. We had finally taken the first step. A university professor had been found in his locked lab with his torso chopped in two and it was supposedly a psychic murder. No matter who this crime benefited, this girl was almost certainly near the center of it all. Had she killed him or had someone else framed her? Even if it was the latter, anyone who took the time to frame her was probably closely related to her.
But just as I thought that, something came over me.
It was truly just a whim, but I spoke up anyway.
“You can take over if you want, but, well, could I have the handcuffs back? I can always have them sent back at a later date, but then my department chief might take the shipping fee out of my pay.”
“You’re kidding, aren’t you? She’s a murder suspect and we’re outside. We can’t remove her restraints.”
“You just have to place your own handcuffs on her and then remove mine.”
“Can’t you do it?”
Something I could not quite pinpoint was bubbling up inside me and urging me onward.
“Is there some reason why you can’t remove my handcuffs? That would be strange. Unlike a house key, handcuff keys aren’t unique. They should open no matter whose key is used. …Assuming you’re really using a handcuff key issued by the Metropolitan Police Department, that is.”
He was quick to react.
The police officer going by the name Katou immediately pulled a revolver from the holster at his waist. But before he could raise his arm, I swung my collapsible baton and hit the back of his hand. As he dropped the gun, I swung the baton back to strike his jaw from the side.
With a solid sound of impact, he fell to the ground.
That left Arisaka. It seemed he hadn’t simply been fooled like me. He must have determined PSI_ver_RAIN was too far away because he reached for the closer Mystery Freak. He pulled her close, wrapped an arm around her neck to use her as a shield, and pressed his revolver to the side of her head.
I had already thrown aside the baton and drawn my handgun.
We were three meters apart.
“Put the gun down, Arisaka!!”
“You hand over Amagoi Haruka! Then I’ll release the hostage!!”
Amagoi? Oh, he must mean PSI_ver_RAIN.
“Do you really think I can do that?”
“Then let me tell you something neat. My gun has no rifling, so it doesn’t leave rifling marks on the bullet it fires.”
Arisaka raised the handgun’s hammer with his thumb. Tension raced through my gut, but a moment later, he did something I didn’t expect.
He moved the muzzle away from the Mystery Freak’s head, aimed toward Katou’s head on the ground, and fired.
With a harsh gunshot, the collapsed form gave a large twitch and then never moved again.
“And are you familiar with laser processing technology? It’s the opposite of a 3D printer, so the material is cut away according to a program. That can add any rifling marks you want to a bullet. For example, the rifling marks of the gun you’re holding right now.”
“Why do you want PSI_ver_RAIN that badly?”
“After that gunshot, a crowd is going to gather here before long, Detective Uchimaku. We are everywhere. Getting our hands on a bullet submitted by the coroner will be easy.”
“You’re willing to go that far to make this look like a ridiculous psychic murder!?”
“If you don’t like it, then hand over Amagoi Haruka. We’ll leave you alone then! If you don’t want to ruin your life, then make a compromise here!! You worthless government worker!!”
I breathed in and out.
And then I spoke.
“Like hell I’ll do that.”
“I see. That’s too bad.”
“That’s my line. Listen, Arisaka. You’re holding a gun and you have a hostage. You’ve even proven that it’s a real gun. That leaves me with no reason to hesitate.”
“I might be worried if this was Los Angeles, but it’s Japan. You’re going to shoot me in the head in a country where you have to write a report explaining even a warning shot? What if you hit the hostage? Well!?”
“Yeah, if this was a movie, maybe I’d shoot you in the shoulder or skillfully shoot the gun from your hand. But this is reality. People can still move their fingers after being shot in the heart, so I’ll shoot you right through the head to make sure you don’t even make any involuntary movements.”
“Put your gun down, Detective Uchimaku! All you’re going to do is accidentally kill the hostage!”
“This is your final warning, Arisaka. Slowly lower the gun! I don’t want to kill you!!”
An explosive gunshot seemed to strike my heart.
A fireworks-like smell reached my nose with a hint of a rusty odor.
The man using the Mystery Freak as a shield wobbled to the side. Strength left the arm holding Enbi and a dark red hole had appeared in the center of his forehead.
Like a marionette with its strings cut, Arisaka – no, someone going by that name – collapsed to the ground.
He did not even have a chance to scream.
I put the gun away, approached the collapsed victim, crouched down, and placed my index and middle finger on his neck. “2:20 PM. Suspect is dead.”
PSI_ver_RAIN had grown pale and groaned quietly in a sitting position.
Meanwhile, the Mystery Freak rubbed her neck and scarf that had been held.
“You didn’t have to go that far…”
“I was worried about you.”
The Mystery Freak grew flustered as I ignored her, crouched down, and gave a heavy sigh. How I would be treated didn’t matter. I hadn’t done anything wrong and something else mattered more.
“I was right. It’s fake.”
I checked through the corpse’s pockets, pulled out the police badge, and checked it over. The ID looked legit at first glance, but it didn’t have the hologram or other counterfeiting countermeasures. And I could only tell because I had a police badge of my own. The average person on the street would never notice.
“The uniforms are the same. Police uniforms are made by famous designers with registered designs to prevent counterfeits. This is like a brand-name bag made in a counterfeiting factory. It looks the same, but something looks off when you take a close look at the stitching.”
“Detective, could you get inside a police station with that?”
“I saw through it at first glance, so not a chance. That talk about getting a bullet from the coroner was a bluff. They aren’t that skilled.”
Even if I got my hands on a school uniform, I would never fit in at a high school. This was the same. Someone from “outside” might be fooled, but anyone on the “inside” would immediately treat them as an outsider.
“I don’t know who they are, but I guess you can ensure Rain-chan’s safety by getting her to a police station.”
“Yeah, but we can’t have someone else do it. Any police officer on the street could be one of them, so we’ll have to do it oursel-…”
I trailed off and closed my mouth.
I had realized something, so I asked.
“Mystery Freak, when you called them here, did you use my name?”
“No. What about it?”
“Both Katou and Arisaka were calling me Detective Uchimaku from the start. They already knew my name and what I was doing.”
I brought a hand to my forehead when I realized the most likely possibility.
“The cellphone. They might be intercepting the signal.”
“Then do you want to put in a dummy SIM card? I’ve got one for emergencies.”
I looked to PSI_ver_RAIN who was still sitting on the ground.
“Do you have a cellphone or smartphone other than those mobile glasses?”
“N-no! This thing is convenient, so I can use it for phone calls, emails, and everything…”
“Then let’s swap SIMs.”
“Wait! Then what about you, detective!?”
“Mystery Freak, I’ll trade for your smartphone.”
“Oh, so that’s it. But that’s not fair! You’re taking all the best parts for yourself!”
I didn’t have time to argue.
I could hear footsteps approaching after the two gunshots. Were they students, police officers, or “them”? I pulled the handcuffed PSI_ver_RAIN to her feet by the arm and the Mystery Freak and I turned our backs on each other.
“I’ll prepare a safe line afterwards, so don’t throw away that smartphone.”
“I can’t guarantee your safety anymore. If things get too much for you to handle, get out of here. Understand?”
With that said, we ran off in different directions.
PSI_ver_RAIN looked back several times as we left.
“H-hey! Should you really be leaving them like that!?”
“Of course not! But getting you to safety comes first. I don’t know who’s on our side, so I can’t just throw you into a group of police officers we find walking around!!”
I didn’t have time to explain the situation, so I couldn’t complain if someone misinterpreted this. I would be treated as a police officer who had shot and killed a civilian – even if they were dressed as a police officer and extremely suspicious – and then left the scene without explaining myself or preserving the scene.
And at the same time, I would be an armed fugitive on the run with the top suspect of another murder case.
“For now, we need to get to my home ground. They can’t get in my workplace with their counterfeit equipment. I’ll probably be arrested at the entrance, but don’t worry about that. I’ll explain the misunderstanding and ensure your safety.”
“The Metropolitan Police Department.”
Part 7 (Hishigami Enbi)
I made a run for it.
I couldn’t let myself get caught. If one of those “police officers” caught me with no one else around, it could easily end up like that previous situation.
So I chose routes full of people, ran inside a school building, and made my way to the main office.
After slamming the detective’s phone down on the counter, policemen rushed down the corridor from both directions.
“Put your hands on your head!!”
“Wah, wah, wah! What? What is this!? I just came here to drop off a lost phone!!”
I did as I was told and glanced at the police officers surrounding me.
Hm, I can’t tell which ones are real and which ones are fake quite as well as the detective could.
…That means I need to get rid of them all.
I breathed in and shouted loud enough to be heard inside the office.
“Stop!! This phone is an important piece of evidence! I secretly filmed exactly what you were trying to do to me after shoving me into the cop car!! That’s why you want the phone, isn’t it!?”
I swung my Suneky scarf around in front of the flustered police officers(?).
“Wahhhhh!! What happened to college autonomy!? All I did was visit for the open campus, so why are a bunch of perverted police officers after me!?”
The door next to the counter burst open.
The usually docile-looking office workers rushed out with fiendish looks on their faces.
“And you call yourselves humaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!?”
“Simply letting you in our school was bad enough, but now this!? It’s the 21st century and you’re still using your authority to act like kings!?”
“Eh? Wha-? No! Wait! I-if you interfere with our work any further…”
“That’s not about to stop us, you horny policemen! Don’t underestimate college autonomy!”
Even now, universities tended to hate interference from the government. If some government workers were strutting about like they owned the place and trying to have their way with some poor girl, the university was going to riot.
My diversion proved effective and the detective and PSI_ver_RAIN had probably escaped at about the same time.
I could have left his phone behind, but I collected it to be nice. I turned it off and removed the SIM to make sure it couldn’t be tracked and then I snuck away from the scuffle.
Unlike the detective, I didn’t have to run around all over the place. I wasn’t good at that either. If I wanted to help them, I needed to hide in one of my secret bases and use the internet for logistical support.
I think the closest one is in Roppongi.
Part 8 (3rd person)
Hachikawa Tomoe and Tsumada Mio lived in neighboring apartments.
Tomoe was an active girl who excelled at sports while Mio would have looked more at home flipping through a book of poetry in a secluded room. Except that was only the impression she gave those around her. While she looked like a Japanese doll with her long hair, her best subject was dance and she could get quite fired up singing all of an idol group’s songs at karaoke. Recently, she had finished mastering the choreography of the famous net idol PSI_ver_RAIN. She just happened not to let anyone see this side of her because she found it embarrassing.
“Who would have thought this would happen?”
It was 2:30 in the afternoon on a weekday, but the two girls were watching TV in an apartment living room. They had eaten lunch a bit ago, but they were already reaching for some cookies.
The TV was still talking about the trains stopped due to signal trouble, warning about the possibility of dirty water coming from the pipes due to problems with the water purification equipment, and everything else that was going wrong.
There had been frequent infrastructure issues lately, but it seemed to have crossed a line today. Their school had cancelled classes for the day because it could not guarantee the safety of the path to school. Those celebrating the day off were bound to fail because, without lessons at school, the students needed to maintain their motivation and study on their own. While realizing there was a good and bad side to everything, Tomoe enjoyed the post-lunch break they were taking.
“It sure is scary outside. I can see why they don’t want us going to school.”
“Yeah, just look at that chaos. I’d lose sight of you right away in that crowd, Mio.”
“Y-you would not.”
Tsumada Mio sat with her legs to the side. She had waist-length black hair and a plain white long-sleeved sailor uniform. Both the black stockings covering her entire legs and the fact that she was wearing her uniform on a day off pointed to her diligence. Her only piece of fashion was the hairclips on her bangs.
She had been placed at the center of an incident involving a Jinmensou.
After being exposed to one hundred, one thousand, or even more Jinmensou – which were symbols of lies – her presence would fade to the very limit.
Even so, she had returned to her normal life.
And it was all thanks to the detective who had arrested the despicable man who had killed Tomoe’s real father and tried to take her best friend from her.
“Tomoe-chan, what are you going to put on that form?”
“Oh, the one for what I want to be when I grow up? Honestly, can’t they wait until we’re third years? It’s as embarrassing as an essay in elementary school, so my hand stops whenever I try to write something.”
“Eh heh heh. You’re going to be a police officer, aren’t you?”
“Wha-!? Wait! I never said that!! And you don’t get to decide what I’ll be!!”
As they were arguing, the image on the TV suddenly changed.
“We will be interrupting this program for some breaking news.”
There had not been any proper program playing in the first place. It had been nothing but information about the stopped electricity or water. The girls’ apartment complex had been miraculously spared those inconveniences, though. At any rate, this breaking news had to be something with even more impact.
As they looked to the screen with that in mind, the announcer read off the news.
“At just past two this afternoon, there was a shooter at Minato’s Private Keijou Ijuku University. The suspect is Uchimaku Hayabusa. He is a detective with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s Investigation Division 1, so he is carrying a handgun and is on the run along with the suspect of a different murder. The suspect has shot and killed one victim and his connection to another body found nearby is under investigation. If any nearby residents see him, please do not approach him. I repeat, at just past two this afternoon…”
They did not understand.
It may have been from his driver’s license, but a picture of his face was displayed next to the announcer. It looked eerily unhealthy and seemed horribly wrong to anyone who knew him.
What was this?
What had happened?
Tomoe’s mouth flapped opened and closed as she wondered those things and she finally turned toward her best friend.
At first, she thought Tsumada Mio’s “presence” had vanished again.
But that was not the case. Not even Hachikawa Tomoe knew the exact rules or conditions, but Mio only ever vanished in a group of people. She doubted the girl would vanish this easily when they were alone together.
So was she really gone?
But where had she gone?
Part 9 (Jinnai Shinobu)
After the cooking lesson in home ec, math class began while the food weighed heavily on my stomach. Surprisingly, having your stomach this full actually kept you from feeling sleepy.
In the next seat over, Akechi-kun had his forehead pressed to his desk, but that wasn’t because he was sleepy. It had more to do with the ridiculous amount of the pork and ginger meal (Nagisa’s love-filled special recipe) he had eaten. It was a mixture of pain, resignation, and (for some reason) ecstasy. The food had gone in through his mouth, but he had the face of a guy who had taken it up the ass. The fool hadn’t learned to empty his mind when eating Nagisa’s cooking. The flavor alone was perfect, but thinking about what was inside it would kill your heart. He had just taken another step toward adulthood.
An unrestrained knock came to the classroom door.
When all of the bored students looked over, the door opened and our nervous homeroom teacher poked her head in.
“U-u-um… Is Jinnai-kun in here? Could I have him come with me for a moment?”
Tarou and the Love King were the first to react.
“Jinnai… Has your love life finally gotten to the point that even our teacher is calling you out?”
“I’ve heard he’s been visiting the upperclassmen’s third floor zone lately.”
“Shut up! That rumor about the student council room being used for supplementary lessons in love is a complete lie! That scary student council president is just forcing odd jobs onto me, dammit!!”
As we argued, I did as our homeroom teacher said. But this was indeed odd. I couldn’t imagine why she would be calling me out. My best guess was it had to do with Madoka or Nagisa rather than me directly.
As soon as I stepped out into the hall, our homeroom teacher held up the tablet computer she used to keep roll. She used it as shield so we could speak in private. This naturally meant she moved her face in close.
“U-um, this is a first for me, so I’m, uh, not really sure how to handle it…”
“Why are you trying to kiss me all of a sudden, Jinnai-kun!?”
Tch. I tried to disguise it, but she’s surprisingly clever. I was so close, but I was missing something. I need to research this some more.
“So what exactly do you want to talk about? If it’s about the destroyed elementary school during that Oomukade business, I thought I already explained how that was a misunderstanding.”
“W-well, we’ll discuss this more in the student guidance room, but can you look at this first to get you up to speed?”
I didn’t like the sound of discussing something in the student guidance room, but she didn’t seem all that angry. Wondering what this could possibly be, I watched on as she held out her tablet.
It was displaying a news program a TV station was transmitting as streaming video.
“I repeat, the suspect is on the run with a fourteen-year-old girl who goes by the name PSI_ver_RAIN and who is the suspect in another murder case. His name is Uchimaku Hayabusa and he is a detective with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s Investigation Division 1. He is carrying a handgun and he has killed at least one person at Private Keijou Ijuku University. He is considered extremely dangerous. If any nearby residents happen to see him, do not approach him for any reason.”
“U-um, it seems to be real. I doubt there will be an immediate panic thanks to the name difference between Jinnai and Uchimaku, but the students are bound to find out before long. So if you want to leave school early, I’ll help you out and secretly-…”
“You’re kidding!? My uncle’s going on a survival date in the big city with Rain-chan!? C’mon, give me a turn! Can he just do whatever he wants!?”
“That’s what you’re interested in!?”
Well, what else would I be interested in? That uncle was the kind of incarnation of justice you only saw in dramas. He wouldn’t kill someone without a good reason.
And it was even more obvious when he was on the run with Rain-chan who was the suspect in another murder case.
Part 10 (Hishigami Enbi)
You might not guess it, but I was part of the so-called Hills Tribe.
And so there I was stepping inside a room in a high-rise Roppongi apartment. I switched on the desktop computer and pulled out a headset for an internet phone. I quickly secured a line with my information source.
But that information source was not just a single expert.
There were plenty of people who heard all sorts of daily conversations as background noise: people handing out fliers, taxi drivers, waitresses, etc. And sometimes those people wanted to work for the good of the world but didn’t know how.
So I connected them together and gave them a place to speak together.
Each individual one was an extremely small online community that gathered people from a similar genre. But when I aggregated and managed the data there, it became a massive monitoring system for all sorts of data. This was how I had so much police and hospital information. I had plenty of helpers such as vending machine workers or cleaning ladies.
I couldn’t get my brain up and running without my usual smartphone with me. It was really convenient for taking handwritten memos and organizing information. Feeling empty-handed, I started squeezing the face of my Suneky scarf.
At any rate, I mentally went over what I wanted to ask about.
Next, I had to determine the most effective person to ask those questions.
Part 11 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
I had removed PSI_ver_RAIN aka Amagoi Haruka’s handcuffs and we walked through the city. A look at the TVs in an electronics store show window was enough for me to be feeling quite blue.
Wow, I really look like a villain there!!
Of course, I wasn’t a super policeman running through the city to clear the nonsensical charges disgracing his name. I had in fact killed the person they were accusing me of killing.
“Sh-should we really be wandering around the city like this? We live in a world where one hundred million people have cellphones. And if you have a camera, you can transmit the footage right away. So…”
“There are more people on the streets than normal due to the train signal trouble and related traffic jams. We can hide behind the wall of people. And the police are busy managing traffic, so they don’t have the manpower needed for human wave tactics.”
“Y-you mean if someone started looting, the police wouldn’t be able to chase after them?”
“That’s a secret. It would cause a panic if that got out.”
Her distinctive sailor uniform and paint tattoo below the eye weren’t that rare a sight near a university during cultural festival season. And the best way of getting past police checkpoints was to move on foot. Or rather, Japan’s police checkpoints were primarily meant to block off the roads. As long as we didn’t approach any major transportation facilities like train stations or airports, we wouldn’t be caught if we walked around without doing anything too suspicious.
“For now, let’s get to the Metropolitan Police Department. We’re in Minato, so Sakuradamon isn’t far. It should only take ten minutes even on foot.”
“W-wait! But isn’t that right next to the Imperial Palace and the Diet? Aren’t we trying to run away from the police!?”
“Real police officers aren’t a problem. And ‘they’ won’t want to get close to anywhere with strict security. We can assume that the greater the security, the more allies we have around. Isn’t that right?”
Of course, that was only if PSI_ver_RAIN really hadn’t chopped Professor Matsukai in two.
“To make sure there are no misunderstandings, let me make it clear I’m not completely on your side. I’m protecting you because you were in danger, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a suspect.”
The psychic middle school girl let out a heavy sigh.
Then she removed her mobile glasses.
“I get the feeling we’re going to be together for a while, so it might be a good idea to share what information I have.”
“These are mobile glasses. Basically, they’re a smartphone shaped like glasses. They can access the internet, make calls, and record both audio and video. …Seeing things from my viewpoint would be faster than having me explain it.”
“You mean you recorded when you found the body!?”
I quickly grabbed the mobile glasses and put them on. I wasn’t used to them, so I followed PSI_ver_RAIN’s instructions to start playing the video.
At first, it was footage of her walking through a university staircase.
Unlike a normal camera, it wobbled a lot from the movements of her head and eyes, so I had to focus my mind to avoid motion sickness.
“I mentioned the professor’s belt earlier, remember?” she asked from the side.
The footage moved from the stairs to the hallway. It approached one of the doors and a hand knocked, but the hand suddenly stopped. She must have expected a solid sensation, but the door creaked open instead.
“That belt – well, actually the buckle – was a strange type of USB memory. He didn’t trust the defenses of online or cloud storage, so he liked to keep the data on him in a way that couldn’t be pickpocketed or snatched away by a thief.”
The past footage of the girl called “professor” through the cracked door.
Finding this odd, she placed a hand on the door and slowly opened it. Inside, she found the elderly man lying on his back. His right side was dyed in red, but it looked more like a stab wound than a bisection.
…No, wait. Does this mean…?
“When you found him, the door wasn’t locked. And the body still wasn’t chopped in two?”
“There’s more. Pause it and rewind. Look more carefully at the body this time.”
I did so and realized what she was getting at.
Several wounds were cut into him below his navel and just to the left of his belt buckle.
“To prevent theft, the belt buckle wouldn’t open without a code. It was like a chastity belt or something. But thanks to that, the murderer panicked. They wanted to get the buckle’s USB memory no matter what, so they initially tried to cut the belt itself, but…”
“They couldn’t do it with the blade they had on hand?”
“The professor bragged about that belt. It was made of carbon something-or-other which apparently makes it harder than diamond but still flexible.”
The footage on the screen, rushed into the room, crouched down by the professor, and called out to him again and again. She didn’t grab his shoulders and shake him, but she may have been afraid of making him bleed any further.
Finally, the footage turned around as if she had noticed something.
“But the murderer didn’t give up. They wanted to get the buckle no matter what. If they couldn’t cut the belt, what else could they cut through? And what would they need to do so? If they had only left to find that, they were sure to return. And with an even more brutal tool. So what would have happened to me if they ran across me?”
That was the truth of the bisected corpse.
Someone had cut through the torso to steal the belt filled with research data.
“So that’s why you fled…”
“But the guilt won out in the end. I turned back toward the lab to help with the investigation, but then all the policemen and students were talking about a bisected corpse, a psychic murder, and that I supposedly did it. I had no idea what to think.”
I removed the mobile glasses.
PSI_ver_RAIN quietly bit her lip.
“It started as a way to get my name out there. And it probably was for him too. We both wanted to make an impact.”
Those mobile glasses held the final moment of someone who was gone and she held them to her chest like a funeral portrait.
“But he wasn’t a bad person. He was certainly eccentric, but no matter how ridiculous a thing it was, he wouldn’t laugh and drive you out. He would seriously investigate it all. He would actually work with you…”
“That’s an important piece of evidence. We need to get it to the police as soon as possible.”
“Who’s going to believe it? Digital data is easily modified and I’m known for working on the internet anyway. It’s all over if they call it fake.”
I had no response for that.
I tried to say something, but I couldn’t find any words and then I heard a phone ringing.
It was the smartphone the Mystery Freak had given me.
“What is it?”
“I have some good news and some bad news. I’ll start with the good news. Detective, what’s the first place you would want to investigate concerning all this?”
With Professor Matsukai, the fake police officers, and PSI_ver_RAIN herself, there were a lot of candidates, but my mind turned to the most unusual one which was not covered in police officers.
“The prosecutors and the courthouse. For one, how did the thesis on psychic murders get submitted as having scientific basis?”
“Bingo. I thought the same thing and looked into it. That thesis was forced through by the assigned prosecutor, Uzuki Minato. …But doesn’t that seem odd?”
“The suspect hasn’t even been arrested or indicted, but there’s already a prosecutor?”
“They were setting this up to frame Rain-chan in advance. I tried calling up the prosecution office to tell them there was some falsified data in that thesis and its credibility would drop like a rock if that got out. That would ruin their plans and their partner would probably punish them for it, so I was going to ask for some money to keep quiet.”
Hold on. Should you really be telling me that?
The Mystery Freak ignored my thoughts and continued.
“But that gets to the bad news. Uzuki Minato hasn’t returned to the office since leaving for lunch. He didn’t have any plans for working out of the office and his phone is off. I couldn’t catch him.”
“When was the thesis in question submitted?”
“1:30 PM. That’s right after the murder. It’s possible he vanished as soon as the submission was accepted at the courthouse.”
Once his role was complete, had they eliminated him or were at least trying to?
“Did you call his home?”
“I did. No response.”
“I’ll head there. Tell me where it is.”
I hung up and PSI_ver_RAIN looked puzzled.
“Head there? Head where? Why!? Aren’t we on the way to the Metropolitan Police Department to protect me from whoever killed the professor!?”
“Sorry. All I can do is apologize.”
I obediently bowed my head,
That seemed to catch her off guard, but I didn’t have time to worry about it.
“But Uzuki Minato, a prosecutor who seems to be involved in this, is in danger just like you. I can’t put one life above another. I can’t call in backup like normal, so I have to head there on my own. I know this is selfish, but will you go with me?”
She averted her gaze, toyed with her hair, and finally gave a long sigh of resignation.
“Fine! Then let’s go. But this ends with checking to see whether this Uzuki person is alive or dead. You need to get me to the Metropolitan Police Department as soon as possible.”
“This isn’t worth thanking me for. The situation is just making it really difficult to do what should be normal.”
With a change of plans, we started toward Uzuki Minato’s home.
If he was there, that was fine. If not, we might find a clue to where he was hiding.
Part 12 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
Uzuki Minato’s home was located on reclaimed land bordering the bay. The area had originally been planned as a district of high-class apartment buildings, but the plan was halted when soil liquefaction was discovered. From there, it transformed into an incredibly cheap area of land in the city center due to unfortunate circumstances.
I rang the doorbell but received no response.
I slipped through the small gate and grabbed the knob, discovering the door was not locked.
PSI_ver_RAIN and I exchanged a glance and I slowly opened the door. I wasn’t sure what to do inside, but I decided to remove my shoes and continue on in. It took some doing for PSI_ver_RAIN to remove her boots and she even politely removed her hat, but she kept the mobile glasses on.
I walked down the hallway, opened the first door, and found a living room.
A young man was collapsed face-up in the center of the room.
I ran over and grabbed his shoulders, but he was just an object now. Shifting his position allowed blood to pool up by his side.
Were “they” faster!?
This time, PSI_ver_RAIN cried out behind me.
My mind turned to my handgun as I turned around, but I only found the girl there and she was messing with her mobile glasses for some reason.
“What is it?”
“Eh? Um, uh, my mobile glasses are acting up for some reason.”
We had discovered a corpse and our electronics weren’t working. It sounded like a scene from a horror movie.
As that thought reached me, the door to the dining room casually opened.
A young woman in a tank top and hot pants poked her head out with a sake bottle in one hand.
“Okay, okay. I used remote control to take over those glasses of yours. For people like us, nothing could be more troublesome than those things. To be honest, going around recording everything is like asking to be killed.”
Mai seemed perfectly carefree despite the corpse in the room.
“And if you’re going to come in here, couldn’t you at least wear gloves? Well, I was about to erase the evidence with some alcohol, so I’ll help you out if you tell me what you touched. Was it only the corpse and the doorknob? Anything else?”
“Erase…the evidence? Are you saying you did this!?”
“Don’t insult me. I was going to clean up the floor because the Sunekosuri pissed himself quite spectacularly when he saw the corpse. He’s out in the yard doing some soul-searching, so you can go say hi if you want.”
What was this woman doing in the PSI_ver_RAIN incident?
When she was involved, it went beyond simple crimes and nearly reached the level of a war.
“You aren’t wrong to think that way.”
Mai seemed to have read my mind.
“I’m not the one getting involved where I don’t belong. You’re the ones doing that. …So how much do you know about this incident? Do you know what was on the belt buckle’s USB memory? Do you know who’s after it? In fact, do you even know who Professor Matsukai Hiroshi was?”
“What? What do you mean who he was?”
Mai was always several steps ahead of us, but that final question seemed different to me. We had never even thought about it like that.
“Wait, really? It didn’t come back to you the second you heard the fake name Matsukai Hiroshi? When we were caught in the Hyakki Yakou coup d’etat in that red brick hotel up north, every member of Saishi Kajin used that name. It’s the fake name used by the people who slaughtered the hotel’s workers and took their place.”
“Wait. You don’t mean…”
“Oh, it isn’t Saishi Kajin themselves. That’s a free fake name that anyone can use. But there’s definitely an organization on an equal level involved in this. That means this was in my territory from the beginning. Understand now?”
This was no laughing matter and I couldn’t understand any of it.
If this really was part of Mai’s world, then how did we get involved? What landmine had we unwittingly stepped on?
“That professor was a member of a certain team.”
“The one the Aoandon is gathering. And the buckle contained the program used to activate a Package including the Aoandon herself.”
Professor Matsukai’s original field of study was information engineering. The psychic powers research was supposedly only a performance meant to get him on TV, make a name for himself, and get funding.
“So someone stole that from him?”
“Now you’re getting it. And of course, it wouldn’t have been someone with the Aoandon. This is probably a close competition between the Aoandon’s group and another group trying to crush it.”
For the group stealing the professor’s buckle, the torso bisection had been a deviation from the plan.
Simply stabbing him and swiping the buckle could be passed off as a random industrial spy, but their method had been far too grotesque. It was impossible to ignore now, so they were making it look like a sensational psychic murder as if covering food with mayonnaise to hide the original flavor.
So who was it we were after here?
Who was this enemy of the Aoandon?
“Who are ‘they’? How can I clear PSI_ver_RAIN…no, Amagoi-san’s name!?”
“At least you have enough sense not to try to take on the Aoandon at the base of all this. Of course, that’s my job. They’re known as Konrin Naraku. They’re one of the lowest level organizations out there. Or rather, they intentionally gather a ton of low-level firepower. If you think of Hyakki Yakou as a top-class restaurant, then Konrin Naraku is the king of fast food.”
“Basically, they’re all expendable. They recruit people dealing with debt, abuse, a stalker, trouble with a large criminal organization, or some other problem. Then they take care of that problem for the person in exchange for doing a job that will land them in jail. They’re not expecting to return safely and getting arrested is a part of their plan from the beginning. Then again, I hear some of them are asked to give their lives in exchange for saving their families.”
It all started to make sense.
When I had revealed Katou and Arisaka as fake policemen, one had shot the other and then made a hopeless threat that got him shot by me.
He hadn’t been trying to win. He may have been using the Mystery Freak as a way to commit suicide.
“But Konrin Naraku is an entirely mercenary group, so they wouldn’t go and kill someone for their own principles. That means someone else has hired them to stop the Aoandon’s group and they’re using you as a part of that plan.”
“Who is that?”
“You’ll wish you hadn’t asked, officer.”
“Either way, I’ve already made an enemy of whoever it is. There’s no two ways around it in this situation, so tell me. Who in the world is it!?”
Mai slowly exhaled and then spoke.
“What do you think the Aoandon is after anyway?”
“Stop beating around the bu-…”
“The answer is Nagatacho.”
That word seemed to squeeze at my heart.
My mouth flapped opened and closed without a word escaping, so Mai continued.
“More accurately, Nagatacho Station. You’ve heard the rumors, right? Supposedly, there’s a largescale nuclear shelter for the Diet members and bureaucrats hidden below that subway station since it’s so close to the Diet building. Even if their diplomatic strategy fails and nuclear war begins, the very ones who started it can live on in peace without taking any kind of responsibility.”
“But do you really think it’s just a nuclear shelter hidden there? The younger Diet members seem to believe that, but it isn’t true. That isn’t some puny little facility meant to protect the easily replaceable Diet members that pretty much just won a popularity contest.”
In other words, our enemy was…
“It’s someone who doesn’t want the Aoandon to open that door,” said Mai. “It’s one of the few VIPs who know the truth about Nagatacho Station that not even the cabinet ministers know about. That’s the target you need to bring down.”
Part 13 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
I felt my vision shaking.
The Diet? The cabinet ministers? Someone even higher? One of the few VIPs who know the truth about Nagatacho Station?
The more she described our enemy, the less clear a picture I had of them. That was how deep they were. It was like chasing after a monster from an urban legend.
Was there really anything we could do?
But even as a mixture of doubt and fear came over me, time was passing.
This time, the Mystery Freak’s smartphone rang.
“I’m relaying a call, detective. I answered because someone called your number, but I can transfer them to you if you want. Should I?”
“Who is it?”
“Mishima Jun. That’s the Chief Superintendent of the National Police Agency. Including the director of the agency, there are only about two posts above him.”
I clenched my teeth and sweat poured down my face, but there was only one answer I could give.
“Transfer him over.”
“Will do. But detective, be careful here. This is on a different level from before.”
After a small click, the line was switched to someone else.
This new person spoke in a gentle voice.
“Hi, Uchimaku-kun, how much do you know?”
“What in the world is hidden in the depths of Nagatacho Station?”
“Well done. We can’t discuss this on the phone, so could we meet in person somewhere?”
“Yes, you should be cautious, but if you don’t agree to this, I’m pretty sure you’ll find yourself at a dead end. You want any new information you can get your hands on, right?”
He was exactly right, so I could only agree to his request.
After deciding on the specifics of our meeting, I asked a question that suddenly came to me.
“Why are you giving me a hint?”
“I’ve told you before that I have high hopes for you, haven’t I?”
He hung up there.
PSI_ver_RAIN looked like she wanted to say something, but I held up my index finger to stop her.
“I’m going alone this time. This is too dangerous for you.”
“That’s right, detective. You’re about to meet a VIP from the NPA. And surely you know he’s not about to meet an armed fugitive without some bodyguards, right? If you run out there without thinking, those guards in black suits will end up capturing you.”
“I have an idea about that.”
“What kind of idea?”
“I’m going to stop by a supermarket or department store on the way. I’ll get everything I need there.”
Part 14 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
You were only going to get run-of-the-mill flavor from a major chain café, but this one was full of customers today. The trains were stopped due to signal trouble and the roads were congested, so everyone was traveling by foot and thus quite thirsty. The inside of the café and the open space outside were both overflowing with people.
Inside, I killed time sitting at one of the few round tables.
By the time I had finished half of my large-sized iced coffee, someone sat at the next table over. We were sitting back to back and the other person began speaking quietly.
“Hi, Uchimaku-kun. Long time no see.”
“Yeah, don’t turn around. That would ruin the entire setup.”
I used my smartphone screen as a mirror to see Mishima pretending to read an English newspaper.
“Now, then. Where should I begin?”
“How about the secret of Nagatacho Station and the people who don’t want that door opened?”
“Okay. It would be over too quick if I started out with the conclusion.”
He answered like it was no big deal.
“Remember what happened at the special casino district called Goldmine Island? I’m not sure how much of the information made it to you, but that was all centered on a national suicide Package that used an Usuhiki Warashi. But that was only one thing Nagatacho Station does.”
“The true reason for that shelter is to store a secret server that automatically backs up all of the classified data stored in each ministry, government office, and research institute. The bureaucrats and officials don’t even know it exists or that every word they type is being sent outside of their building. They voluntarily share their information, but sometimes someone wants to hide some key data and that would make it all meaningless.”
“You mean all of Japan is hidden there?”
“When we suffered a critical defeat in the precision machinery industry, we managed to recover using extreme high quality brand-name agriculture. All of the technology used to do that is stored in the server. And not only is that server’s existence one of those specially designated secret that are all the rage lately, but it’s also secretly designated a strategic cultural property.”
“A strategic cultural property?”
“That’s a new clause in the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. It was secretly added using the specially designated secret system. The framework is meant to protect the traditional culture at the foundation of our national economy. That is, the artisan techniques and agriculture of Intellectual Villages or anything else we don’t want leaking out to other nations. And the classification means all the submitted documents would be blotted out with a black pen even if this did cause a scandal.”
“Specially designated secrets and strategic cultural properties? Don’t those conflict with each other?”
“It’s made that way on purpose to blur the lines of jurisdiction. Even if someone submits a proper disclosure request, it’ll just get passed on to someone else forever and nothing will ever come of it.”
The Aoandon’s group was trying to force open that door.
What were they hoping to accomplish?
“With power, gas, and everything else, there’s been a ton of infrastructure damage lately, right? They’re all unrelated incidents and accidents, but look at them all together and it looks like the Japanese Archipelago’s arteries are hardening.”
“Y-yes. There was even a blackout when I was capturing the culprit behind the Ubasute Apartments case.”
“That’s part of the Aoandon’s show. Nagatacho Station has several security levels and this infrastructure damage has caused that to shoot up by a few levels.”
“Hm? Doesn’t that just make the place more secure?”
“There was a vulnerability in the process of switching to the highest security level. The process is only used once a century, so it didn’t seem like that big a deal. There were countless warnings, but it seems the defense contractors are all colluding together and it never got fixed. The politicians are only starting to panic now, but you can’t fix such a largescale system in a few days. This is exactly what the Aoandon wanted.”
While he didn’t say this was checkmate, he sounded like he was watching everything on the game board falling apart after someone made a pointless move. The Aoandon’s plan had to be underway.
But what was that plan? Who would want to stop it?
“The Public Security Intelligence Agency had been investigating that professor, Matsukai Hiroshi. Although they were close to giving up since he was so obsessed with the occult. Still, they managed to intercept a few fragments of information. About the program he was building, for example.”
“The one in his belt buckle?”
“The Aoandon is a collection of one hundred ghost stories…that is, rumors. She herself is a giant information system. It seems that professor was working on a program to efficiently search through that information system. Of course, we only know that from the restored fragment of a corrupted email.”
“So it’s a search program that amplifies the Aoandon’s power?”
“No, that doesn’t quite cover it.”
Mishima rejected my idea but did not stop there.
“It would be more accurate to say it links the Aoandon to Nagatacho Station. Everything is located there: Japan’s technology, Japan’s systems, Japan’s dirty secrets…everything. You could say the Aoandon Package is a criminal system meant to expose Japan.”
“The restaurant politics, dirty money, collusion, kickbacks, illegal donations, cover ups, voter fraud, paid silence, and control of the media. There are plenty of terms you’ve heard but don’t know exactly what they refer to, right? All of that will be revealed, translated into words a child could understand, and left in a place where anyone can read it,” said Mishima. “Such an obvious bomb, isn’t it? Once its existence is exposed, everyone will try to set it off. This age is oppressive and everyone wants entertainment. But not many of the people are going to be smart enough to realize that they’ll be caught in the blast once it blows. They think they can just separate the politicians from the normal people. They’ve been taught to think that way, after all. They naively believe nothing they see on TV can reach them.”
He may have had a point there.
People always innocently insulted the politicians and carelessly blamed them for anything they could. But when this country’s bubble burst or when the precision machinery industry suffered its “critical defeat”, had those people realized the politicians’ failure would end up destroying their own lifestyle and way of thinking?
“But that’s only getting your just deserts. It only harms the people who did something they don’t want anyone to know about. That’s no reason to sacrifice PSI_ver_...Amagoi Haruka-san.”
“I agree completely. But the political pressure has reached me now. They don’t care if it means making this a psychic murder. They just want us to arrest the scapegoat or even to shoot her if a trial would be too difficult. They managed to help Japan by stealing the buckle from the Aoandon’s group, but then they created more doubt with the torso bisection which will lead to a scandal in and of itself. …I had to avoid mentioning some things here or there, but that should give you a general idea of the situation.”
“You don’t have to give off that scary aura. I’m going to tell you, I promise. It’s Katagiri Hitsuji. He’s part of what’s known as the Restaurant Master. The rumors are even more well-known than the ones about Nagatacho Station, so I’m sure you’ve heard them. The ones about a don controlling all politics from inside a fancy restaurant. He’s part of that. I know it sounds as fake as the Kuchisake Onna, but it actually exists.”
“Katagiri Hitsuji has a lot of influence over the cutting-edge agriculture centered on the Intellectual Villages. And interestingly enough, he controlled the precision machinery industry before its critical defeat.”
He suppressed a laugh and continued in an icy voice.
“This is really only a rumor, but some say he helped push things from industry to agriculture during the transitional period. To make sure the industrial makers didn’t put up too much of a fight, he finished them off by accessing their design data in the patent office and sending it overseas while disguising it as an accidental leak. If that story was substantiated by any actual evidence, it would be far more than just a scandal. Requests for damages in the trillions of yen would be flying all over the place. His glory days would quickly come to an end. Not to mention that the Restaurant Master controls everything from the shadows. Well, you can find some details on that power structure by doing a search for ‘Panopticon’ or ‘The Birth of the Prison’. At any rate, it’s all over for everyone connected to the Restaurant once their identities are exposed to the media.”
Unlike a king or president, they did not rule from center stage. In fact, they hid their presence as much as possible so they could observe the people without any chance of being attacked.
Someone like that could never come out onto the stage. They would influence that field, but they would never actually appear there.
But what if you could drag them up onto that field?
“Now, that’s about all I have to tell you.”
“That doesn’t mean this is over though, does it?”
“At least you understand.”
We had our backs to each other, but Mishima seemed to be smiling.
“I want you to leave all of this alone. Just hand Amagoi Haruka over to us. Could you do that maybe?”
“I have no reason to.”
“You may be in Department 1, but it’s a dead-end job as a police sergeant. And you didn’t end up there because it was your first choice, right? You had to have ended up there after coming across and overcoming a number of setbacks. So what’s wrong with one more setback here? This is your chance to turn your life toward strategic failure or strategic success. You ended up where you are by giving up on something, but this will be enough to make you glad it ended up this way. So can’t you just do this one thing?”
I closed my eyes just once.
A number of things appeared in my mind’s eye, but then I forced my eyelids open and spoke.
“There is no way I can do that.”
I was well aware I had thrown down the gauntlet against someone far, far above me.
An oppressive wave of noise seemed to assault my ears.
It was nothing but the hustle and bustle of the people moving around us, but I was so focused on my conversation with Mishima that I couldn’t split it into individual voices.
“It’s true my life has been full of setbacks and failures. For one thing, the main reason I left my rural home was my fear of Youkai. My parents paid my way through college, but I ended up failing the national exam and couldn’t get anything but a dead-end job. I’m doing my best in Department 1, but I’m not entirely confident this is even the best job for me.”
“Still, I only managed to get this far because I worked hard to never leave the path I had set for myself. No matter how pitiful or pathetic it might be, I’ve always had a line I refuse to cross. And that’s why your path and mine will never, ever intersect. No matter what reason you might have, I can never allow myself to happily abandon a middle school girl suspected of murder just to protect myself.”
Mishima cut in with no discernable emotion in his voice.
“Even if that means destroying your own life?”
“I know I’m being idealistic and I know this is naïve nonsense I shouldn’t be saying at my age!! But I’m a police officer. If the police can’t be idealistic, then who in this country can!? How many people do you think there are that want to be but can’t!?”
That was the kind of job this was.
Everyone wanted to rescue the victim being targeted by a criminal with a knife. They wanted to interfere and stop it themselves. But that wasn’t realistic, so they left it to someone else. They passed off the job and silently begged for someone to bring back their peaceful days or to protect the victim’s smile. And that was our job. Fulfilling that role was the job of a police officer.
So what was this?
We’re supposed to give in to pressure from some VIP abusing his power, arrest a minor girl who we know is a scapegoat, force a confession through a questioning that’s basically torture, use a rigged trial to force the ridiculous crime of psychic murder on her, and throw her behind bars? That’s supposed to be a job well done where everyone lives happily ever after?
Whose tax money did these people think their pay came from?
It wasn’t that they’d done everything they could and it wasn’t quite enough.
If you aren’t willing to put in the work from the get-go, then why call yourself a police officer at all?
“Is there any chance at all of you leaving this alone?”
“Well, that’s a problem,” muttered Mishima.
But something seemed strangely off about it. His voice contained a nuance of slight enjoyment that did not fit his position or what he was saying.
And over the phone, he had said he had high hopes for me. Which side had he “hoped” I would go for? And if he only had to arrest me, this entire chat would have been meaningless. He could have done it the instant I showed myself here.
Despite the situation, I turned around to see the look in his eyes, but before I could, he calmly snapped his fingers.
“Then it’s time for a change of plans. I’ll have to arrest you.”
Kh!! So we’re doing that, are we!?
I grabbed what was sitting on my lap and thus hidden below the table and I looked around the area. About ten bodyguards were so clearly visible I was amazed I hadn’t noticed them before and they were rushing toward me.
But I was faster.
I pulled out a plastic bag of red liquid, stabbed a ballpoint pen into it, and threw it under the table. The bag contained fish blood I’d bought at a supermarket, but it would have enough of the rusty smell I wanted.
As the odor wafted out, I raised my voice.
“He’s got a knife!! And he stabbed someone! Run! Hurry!!”
The people nearby looked over in confusion at first, but once the rusty smell reached their noses and mouths, a clearer image filled their minds.
A wave of people pressed outwards in every direction.
As numbed by peace as the country was, we were sensitive to stabbings. Just like the United States with mass shootings or South America with drugs. That fear had soaked into us for centuries. As screams and shouts of anger filled the air, I slowly stood up and followed the flow of people. The tough-looking bodyguards could not fight the current and they couldn’t pull out their guns and fire randomly for fear of hitting innocent bystanders. Meanwhile, I blended into the crowd.
Mishima waved goodbye without getting up from his seat. He wasn’t even looking my way, but I could somehow tell this was exactly what he had wanted to happen.
At any rate, I had the information I wanted.
I needed to leave the area, meet back up with PSI_ver_RAIN, and make my next move.
But then a bodyguard in a black suit appeared right in front of me.
He had not been lying in wait and he looked as surprised as me. He had probably been pushed out in front of me by the moving crowd, but he was pursuing me regardless. I tensed up and he drew his handgun of all things.
You drew your gun because you’re panicking!? How many civilians do you think there are around here!?
A weight pressed down on my stomach.
And a moment later…
Part 15 (3rd person)
The bodyguard lost sight of the suspect who had been right in front of him.
The crowd was moving by on either side, but Uchimaku Hayabusa alone was nowhere to be seen.
He heard a colleague’s voice over the headset on his ear.
“Did you find him?”
“I lost sight of him. But I was sure he was right there!”
Uchimaku Hayabusa stood just a few meters in front of him. He had not taken a step from his previous position. Even with the wall of people, the bodyguard should have spotted him immediately, but there was a reason why he had not.
That reason was a girl.
Tsumada Mio had wrapped her arms around his waist from behind.
As a side effect of the Jinmensou, that girl’s presence had thinned.
Whenever three or more people were gathered, herself included, she would often become indistinguishable from others, as if her face had vanished.
Uchimaku was confused, but the two of them started moving as one. Fleeing people ran into them left and right. It happened far too often. It was like those people could not see them and therefore could not even try to avoid them.
After escaping the surrounding bodyguards and entering a nearby alleyway, Tsumada Mio removed her arms from Uchimaku’s waist.
“Long time no see. Are you okay?”
“That’s right. It’s Tsumada Mio.”
She had waist-length straight black hair and a white long-sleeved sailor uniform. Her slender legs were entirely covered in black stockings and she looked somewhat gloomy, but that impression was entirely overturned once one actually spoke with her. She was nothing but a normal teenage girl.
“Tomoe-chan looked sad when she saw the news on TV, so I ended up doing something reckless. Oh, but I got Enbi-san’s help setting it all up. I had Tomoe-chan tell me how to contact her via computer a while back. She apparently lets people consult with her. Did you know that?”
“She’s getting civilians involved for her own convenience again, isn’t she!?”
“I hate that framework.”
Hayabusa held his head in his hands, but Mio puffed her cheeks out in protest.
“Tomoe-chan is too of course, but Enbi-san is a normal girl. As am I. If we know you’re in trouble, we want to use everything we can to help. I think you should, well, rely more on things that are against the rules. Your insistence on the rules looks kind at first, but it’s actually horribly cruel. Did you know that?”
It was true Tsumada Mio’s power was convenient and the Mystery Freak’s smarts could come in handy.
But what if it failed? If they had not fooled that bodyguard, she might have been shot along with him.
“We wonder those same things. After all, we’re not just characters given the symbols of a middle school girl. We’re human beings who can be trapped by fear when we’re worried about something. There are people who would be filled with pain if you were hurt and shudder just imagining you collapsing to the ground. Did you really know that?”
There was nothing he could say to that.
What if it was the reverse? What if he was being disciplined for some mistake and couldn’t call himself a police officer? If he learned they were in danger during that time, would he abandon them just because he was a civilian for the time being?
Of course, a professional policeman could not exactly allow himself to put amateur minors in danger while doing his job, but he could at least understand why they would take action on their own.
He raised both hands in a sign of defeat.
“I’m sorry for worrying you.”
“Good. That answer gets a perfect 100.”
Tsumada Mio smiled and rubbed his head like he was a small child. And since he had been in the wrong, he could not bring himself to brush her hand away.
With a sour look on his face he let her due as she pleased.
“Now, how about this?” she suggested. “Whatever you’re doing, my special trait is sure to be useful while you’re on the run.”
He thought for a moment and then gave his answer.
“No, I can’t use your help here.”
She puffed her cheeks out again.
“Oh, um, but I won’t be placing the whole burden on myself.”
He frantically corrected himself.
“The mastermind we’re after is out of reach. At this rate, we’ll never be able to settle this. Our first priority is dragging him out onto our field. Moving along in secret won’t do that. In fact, standing out even more than necessary would be perfect. And that means your power would have the opposite effect.”
“Ha ha. If you were actually thinking it through, then that’s fine. Good, good.”
When she clasped her hands in front of her chest and smiled brightly, he added in his heart that he had trouble dealing with this girl. Or rather, he always seemed to be at her mercy.
“But what exactly are you going to do? If you’ll tell us in advance, it doesn’t matter if it’s to me, Tomoe-chan, or Enbi-san. We won’t get jealous.”
There was no real point in hiding it.
“This person killed someone and framed us to acquire a certain object.”
“Is that so? And?”
“What if someone appeared in the public eye with something that looked exactly like that object? He wouldn’t be sure anymore if the one he had was real or not.”
Part 16 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
By the time I overcame the turmoil around me and regrouped with PSI_ver_RAIN, it was already evening. I explained my overall plan and had her tell me more about Professor Matsukai’s belt buckle.
“The belt was pretty unique. He said it was made of carbon something-or-other, so it was harder than diamond but still flexible. He apparently got the material from one of the university’s departments that had developed it as a prototype for use in a space elevator’s wire.”
As she tried to remember, she also checked the past video logs on her mobile glasses.
“But the buckle itself was something he just bought in a store. I think it was some kind of joke product. You’ll probably find one just like it for sale at an electronics store.”
“Then that’s where we’ll go next.”
The two of us made our way to a nearby electronics store. The evening must have been when gadget-loving office workers stopped by on the way home from work because it was pretty crowded. Instead of rushing things, we followed the line up the escalator to our destination floor.
“Here we go. Is this it?”
Surprisingly, there was more than one type of USB memory belt buckle. I asked PSI_ver_RAIN since I had never seen the professor’s one and didn’t know which one it was.
But when I turned around, she was gone.
Instead, she was standing in front of the TVs a short distance away. I approached and found all of the large TVs playing the evening news. This particular news program was partially a talk show and it emphasized the emotional side of things to target the housewife demographic.
“As you can see, Professor Matsukai Hiroshi is believed to have been murdered in his laboratory at Keijou Ijuku University by…well, she’s a minor, so we can’t give her real name or show her face. But the girl also goes by the name PSI_ver_RAIN.”
“This is part of the madness brought by the internet age. A self-styled psychic middle school girl? It reeks of the occult. She is said to be even worse than Tarot Girls 22 as far as that’s concerned and I can’t understand why anyone would ever praise her. Have they been brainwashed?”
“Her songs are popular on video sites, but they’re kind of scary, aren’t they? Like that woman’s scream hidden in her latest song’s PV. Kya ha ha! And when you can have the Vocanoids sing, why do you even need her?”
Thanks to freedom of the press, everyone would say these people meant no harm, but the girl swallowed up by that deluge of sound and voices could not move a single step. She was simply overwhelmed.
“What was the point of anything I was doing?” muttered PSI_ver_RAIN. “Why won’t anyone believe me? Something’s clearly wrong here, so won’t someone at least say I wouldn’t do something like that? Were my fans no better than this?”
I hesitated to say something, but before I could…
“And that’s what a lot of people have been saying, but there are also others with a different view of PSI_ver_RAIN.”
The female announcer’s voice strayed from the narrative I had expected. We both looked up in confusion as the woman on the TV continued.
“We did some research out on the streets and found a surprising number of people supporting PSI_ver_RAIN and claiming she was falsely accused. We asked one thousand different people and out of the 951 answers we received, 58% supported her, 30% opposed her, and the rest could not decide. Shockingly, a majority of people continue to support her even now.”
“She had no reason to kill. Her PVs’ view counts are still shooting up and her single CDs are neck and neck with Tarot Girls 22 even though she’s an amateur. That’s seventy-eight against one! She has influence online and an endless number of online friends. What complaint could she possibly have worth killing over?”
“Yeah, even if she really was going to kill someone, whether she used her psychic powers or not, wouldn’t she at least unlock the door before leaving? That negates the locked room scenario and makes plenty of other people suspects. The people hating on her aren’t being logical.”
“Rain-chan’s psychic powers can only be used to make people happy. It says so on her website! Eh heh heh. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.”
A different color enveloped the deluge of sound and voices.
She clenched her small fists around her skirt, clenched her teeth, and listened intently to those voices.
Finally, she spoke.
“People are going to say these people supported a murderer for standing up for me, aren’t they?”
“As things are now, yes.”
“It’ll look like I used the madness of the internet to brainwash them into a cult to support me.”
“Until we clear your name.”
We said nothing more.
PSI_ver_RAIN slapped her cheeks just once.
It was a ritual meant to wake her up.
“I don’t care what they say about me.”
Public opinion was split.
She turned her back on the TVs that were saying whatever they pleased and she made an announcement.
“But I have to protect the lives of the people who believed in me.”
Part 17 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
After getting the USB memory belt buckle we needed, we left the electronics store, I removed the product from its box, and PSI_ver_RAIN asked a question.
“What exactly are we going to do?”
“Can you grab that rock over there? I want to give it some noticeable marks and differences to make a better bluff.”
I scratched up the surface of the buckle and then tossed the small stone aside.
I checked the time on the Mystery Freak’s smartphone and then glanced through the TV schedule.
…Good, they’re doing one nearby.
“Let’s go to Teikyo Tower. It’s close enough to walk. One show always sends an announcer out there to do a live weather forecast at this time.”
Part 18 (Jinnai Shinobu)
When I got back home to the thatch-roof house afterschool, I found the Zashiki Warashi in a red yukata, the Yuki Onna, and the Furutsubaki (small) discussing something in front of the TV.
They were covering their eyes with one hand and raising their voices to squeaky helium levels.
“Ehh? Well, he did always seem like the kind of guy who would do something like that.” (Zashiki Warashi)
“Yes, I remember him giving the most disturbing looks to any girls around.” (Yuki Onna)
“Um, why do I have to play along with this?” (Furutsubaki – Small)
That’s really inappropriate, you know!? Even if the fact that you’re joking means you don’t really think my uncle is a murderer!!
The Nekomata was curled up not far away and she sighed while flipping her two tails around.
“They sure are carefree. Does everything on TV seem like some distant world? You do know the people there are no different from us, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but if they’re making that uncle of mine out to be a villain, Tokyo’s gotta be a scary place.”
The talk shows had probably been talking about the same thing nonstop all day. That wasn’t going to help, so I snatched the remote away from them. Ha ha!
“Ah! But I was about to do an impression of the (young housewife) neighbor who was taking out her trash.”
“I’d suggest thinking about when you should stop this if you don’t want to fall victim to my old man’s fist. And there’s a show I want to watch.”
“What would that be?”
“An incredibly inappropriate weather forecast. The weather lady’s embarrassed expression is famous for being super sexy.”
Part 19 (3rd person)
Dong, dong. It is now five o’clock. Up next is Yuuko-san’s evening weather forecast!!
“Hi! This is the super beautiful meteorologist…ahh, it’s so embarrassing when I say it myself….Randou Yuuko! We’re live from the base of Teikyo Tower as always, kyupin! …I want to die… Now, then. The atmospheric pressure this evening will be…”
A young woman with fluffy chestnut hair, a suit, and a tight skirt that gave an overall clean and pure impression forced a smile and waved something like a baton in front of the camera. A ton of onlookers had gathered behind her and were abusing the live broadcast to unfurl banners covered in dirty words until the security guards ran them off. Those jokes bordering on sexual harassment were part of what gave this weather forecast such unusually high ratings.
But it reached an entirely new level today.
First, an idiot held a poster of Yuuko-san’s head pasted on top of a nude model.
Second, a group carrying bags from the rival gyudon chain of the show’s sponsor walked conspicuously behind her.
And third, a detective wanted for murder suddenly ran up and forcefully grabbed the TV camera.
“Eh? Wah! Kyah!? Wh-what is going on!?”
The weather lady panicked, but the detective did not care.
He simply stared into the lens from point-blank range and sent a message to someone with a ferocious smile on his lips.
“Sorry, but I haven’t been caught yet.”
He flashed something like a belt buckle in front of the camera.
“And you weren’t thorough enough, Katagiri-san. I hear Konrin Naraku retrieved this like you hired them to, but do you really have the real one? If you do, then it should have a scratch on it like this. And it should open with the combination 8963…like this. If not, then you only have one of the decoys the professor had prepared.”
The hare on the run stood in front of the camera without running or hiding.
He seemed to be challenging the wolf pursuing him.
“I’m a detective. I’ll do whatever it takes to hunt you down. Even if that means using this to join forces with them. With the search program on this USB memory, I can bring all your dirty deeds to light. I’ll make you pay for framing PSI_ver_RAIN.”
Katagiri Hitsuji was a member of the Restaurant Master, the former leader of the precision machinery industry, and the current leader of cutting-edge agriculture.
To make that switch, he had killed off the dying precision machinery industry while escaping it himself. In a way, he was a traitor.
“Our next stop is the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Once we’re in there, we don’t have to worry about any of your Konrin Naraku men getting to us. We’ll decide how to handle things from there. I’ll have PSI_ver_RAIN testify what actually happened there and I’ll gather all the substantiating evidence we need. And then I’ll use this real buckle to hunt you down, Katagiri Hitsuji-san. No matter what.”
It did not matter if he truly held the real buckle or not.
He just had to cast doubt.
Was the one Katagiri had real? Even if it was, were there any copies? If the real one or a copy reached the Aoandon’s group and was linked to the facility hidden in Nagatacho Station’s shelter, whose secrets would be revealed to the world and how?
“You can’t escape now. Even if you pack your bags and escape overseas, the fingers of destruction will still tighten around you. So sit there in front of the TV and enjoy watching your life crumble away.”
After saying everything he had to say, Detective Uchimaku Hayabusa left the camera, slipped past the cowering meteorologist, and escaped through a gap in the onlookers.
Incidentally, the ratings that day ultimately exceeded 30%. For better or for worse, that was apparently a cause of worry for the station.
As Hishigami Enbi watched the broadcast while messing with her computer in her Roppongi secret base, she laughed.
“Not bad, detective.”
What could someone do and change in just thirty seconds or so of stolen airtime? The answer was not much.
But Uchimaku Hayabusa had no reason to use only the truth as a weapon.
Also, the internet was PSI_ver_RAIN’s home turf. She wasn’t going to rely only on that outdated mass media.
“I guess this is PSI_ver_RAIN and not the detective.”
The weather forecast was linked with a social commenting site to display some comments on the edge of the screen. One of those comments alongside Hayabusa’s face said the following:
“Katagiri Hitsuji is a member of the Restaurant Master and a villain who framed PSI_ver_RAIN.”
That alone may have been meaningless and may not have moved anyone’s heart.
But there were more posts afterwards.
“The recent communication disturbances have been caused by Katagiri Hitsuji because he’s afraid of the truth getting out. The elites are threatened by the freedom of the internet.”
No new information was necessary.
Not even PSI_ver_RAIN’s name was needed.
The obvious problems before everyone’s eyes were linked to this incident to increase its topicality. A murder was someone else’s problem and a scandal was a show, but this went beyond that. By linking it to a problem that affected people’s lives directly, it was everyone’s problem.
Or at least, it seemed that way.
The truth of the infrastructure damage did not matter. A viral conspiracy theory was good enough. It did not even need to make a huge commotion. All that mattered was that someone posted it, someone spread it around, and Katagiri Hitsuji himself saw his name popping up in more and more places.
This was the same as Panopticon and The Birth of the Prison. Katagiri Hitsuji had shined bright lights on the people to constantly view them while hidden by those very lights, so he was afraid of having his identity known.
Only doing it on TV might not have been enough.
Only doing it on the internet might not have been enough.
But the more complex structure of internet posts being shown on TV created an opening. The shocking footage of the live broadcast would gather eyes and ears which would then be exposed to the truth. Then, the second wave of attack would begin with nonsense on the internet.
Katagiri Hitsuji himself would bring the two together. A small leak of accurate information would be a problem, but so were lies spreading at an accelerated rate.
If he did not quiet them soon, it would grow beyond the limits of his damage control and his own lies would create a noose around his neck, so the only safe option was to crush the source before that monster of data bared its fangs.
And yet in truth, only five or six people in Japan may have been causing the entire commotion.
“A net idol, hm? That’s pretty scary. I guess the techniques used to make people smile can also be used to set a bad example like this.”
Enbi spoke to herself while making her own preparations.
“Time to help out. I’ll target a few of the popular social networking servers while leaving one major message board alive.”
She made a few clicks.
“And begin the DDoS attack. Once their online services freeze, will that old man start to fear that even more groundless accusations will pop up?”
In the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, Department 1 Chief Mezu Gen’s severe look had grown even more deeply wrinkled than usual. A supervisor experienced in field work spoke to him from the side.
“What do you think?”
“Hmph. Most likely a bluff. But he must think that’s fine as long as that VIP takes the bait. And if there is someone behind this, they’re willing to murder a man and bisect his torso to protect themselves. If they were willing to accept a ‘most likely’, they would have stopped before going that far.”
The phone rang. The detective who answered looked on the verge of tears, so Mezu Gen took over and heard a familiar voice.
It was Chief Superintendent Mishima.
“He’s really done it now, hasn’t he?”
“I will contact the personnel department and have him disciplined.”
“No, that’s not how I meant it. You know who the winner is here, don’t you?”
“…But he didn’t go far enough.”
“No. He may have drawn out Katagiri Hitsuji, but I doubt he can finish him off. He’ll have a frustrating experience and then it’ll be all over. Just like what happened to me in the past. …You too for that matter.”
The man on the phone laughed before continuing.
“So what do you think we should do? Should we do the responsible thing and remain silent or should we bring back our old naiveté and childishly cheer him on? Which do you think would be best?”
In Hachi TV’s office building, Atou Minori was being chewed out by her middle-aged boss after going against the station’s wishes by running a program supporting PSI_ver_RAIN.
“Public opinion of our media is bad enough already, so what were you thinking!? How could you hand them a report that supported a murderer!?”
“I was misappropriating the airwaves. That’s all.”
“Besides, PSI_ver_RAIN is still only a suspect. She hasn’t even been taken into custody or indicted yet. Making your show on the assumption she’s a murderer sounds even more unfair to me. And we did mention both the supporting and non-supporting opinions.”
“You understand, don’t you? If it turns out she’s really the murderer, you’re fired.”
“Right back at you. If it turns out she isn’t the murderer, you’re going to be in trouble. You were all for broadcasting false charges and about a minor girl no less. If it gets out that sloppy reporting job was on your orders, PSI_ver_RAIN will be lifted up to Joan of Arc levels and you’ll be treated like utter trash. There’s no way the station will keep you around.”
“And why did you force through a program like that anyway?”
Atou Minori asked a challenging question.
“Is it possible someone gave an obvious boost to your bank account so you would manipulate public opinion?”
And on the top floor of a high-rise building, an elderly man in Japanese clothing bit his lip like a child. After a wet tearing sound, some blood seeped out.
He struck the phone on the table and yelled with it on speakerphone.
“What is going on!? I thought you had retrieved it!?”
“We did retrieve the buckle. But we never considered the possibility it had been swapped out with a fake. You were the one that told us to destroy it without checking the contents.”
“He used my name! He said ‘Katagiri Hitsuji’ in front of the camera! He mentioned the Restaurant Master that is supposed to control everything while hiding in the shadows of history!! It’s even reached the social networking sites!!”
“Please calm down. You can’t exactly blame us for this.”
Getting the work done as quickly as possible had come back to bite him.
If he still had the buckle around, he could check the data on it to confirm the truth.
“You really can’t tell if that buckle he showed on camera is real or fake!?”
“There is no way of proving it one way or another. I would need it in my hands to check what is on it.”
Katagiri Hitsuji was not a fool. If that detective really had the buckle, he would not need to show it off like that. So it was most likely a bluff. It was like fishing. The detective had thrown some delicious-looking bait into the water and was waiting for a bite. That meant the detective could not do anything if Katagiri Hitsuji did not react. Doing nothing at all was the best course of action.
He knew that. He knew that, he knew that, he knew that!!
But even so, there was a mere 10% chance it was real or a backup copy. Even that small a chance of his destruction was frightening enough, so he could not stop himself from trembling.
“Prepare your men, Konrin Naraku.”
“For what exactly?”
“Attack him and take it from him. I’ll nip even the smallest threat in the bud and I’ll pay whatever it takes!! So hurry up and attack before he arrives at the Metropolitan Police Department!!”
“I must apologize.”
Something unbelievable happened.
That underling from the king of fast food argued back at him with mockery in his voice.
It was like throwing aside the cheap manual and spitting on the customer’s face.
“We are assassins. And no professional will list something they cannot do on their menu.”
“First, all forms of transportation are down at the moment, so we have no way of getting the personnel and weapons there quickly. Second, we only know the general course the target will take. That is too little information to lay an ambush and we cannot put together a surefire attack plan in such a short time. Third, I see little reason to stick with you any longer when you’re already sinking fast.”
“Do you have any idea what you’re saying? I…I am…I am the Restaurant Mas-…!!”
“But by tomorrow, you might have lost that status and might even be behind bars. In fact, killing you to aid my own escape might be the better bet here. There’s sure to be plenty of confusion during your arrest and I doubt they can keep you perfectly guarded at all times.”
Katagiri Hitsuji was left speechless.
If someone on this level was looking down on him, it was proof enough that his empire had fallen.
“We will not act,” continued the king of fast food. “If you wish to protect yourself, go right ahead. I am praying you can greet tomorrow’s sunrise with a smile so that you might continue to purchase our services. Goodbye.”
As his coup de grace of impoliteness, he hung up.
Katagiri Hitsuji hit redial several times, but the other man never picked up.
The old man’s mind remained blank for a good while.
But he could not just sit around. If no one was going to stop this, the detective with the dubious buckle would reach the Metropolitan Police Department.
He placed a hand on and tore at the hair remaining by the old scar on the side of his head, but then he grabbed a small key in his trembling hand and unlocked a drawer on his large business desk.
He pulled out an automatic handgun with forbidden ivory decorating the grip. The domestic firearm used 8mm ammunition which was rare in modern times, so it was more of an antique than a weapon.
“Dammit!! Why do I have to rely on something like this!?”
The answer was simple. No matter how much he dressed himself up, he was still just a thug.
Part 20 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
PSI_ver_RAIN and I left the plaza below Teikyo Tower.
I looked around the area and spotted a riot policeman stepping down from a large police motorcycle to faithfully crack down on a case of illegal parking even during this panic.
Before he got back, I climbed on the motorcycle that still had the key in the ignition.
Hey, this thing’s based on the Falcon Hunter model. I can feel destiny on my side, partner.
After PSI_ver_RAIN sat on the back of the seat and wrapped her arms around my waist, I twisted the grip to open the throttle.
“I’ll be borrowing this.”
“Ah, hey! Wait!”
The roar of the engine drowned out the cry of protest and we quickly took off along the road. There were small-scale traffic jams all over the place, so the motorcycle really came in handy. We could weave in between traffic and the police cars couldn’t give chase even if they noticed us.
“I’m going to use the biggest roads I can so we’ll be as noticeable as possible! It’s to lure out the guy behind all this, but it’ll also increase the risk. I know this isn’t something a police officer should say to a civilian, but prepare yourself!!”
“Didn’t I tell you I don’t care about myself? I’ll help you with anything as long as it will protect the lives of those who believed in me!!”
I checked in the mirror and saw PSI_ver_RAIN desperately trying to hold her hat down behind me. We both yelled over the violent wind as I accelerated further. The police motorcycle was made for car chases, so we passed 100 kph in no time at all.
Yes, yes! This noise, this wind, this vibration, this acceleration! This takes me back to when I was racing around my rural home.
Hairpin Killer Hayabusa is back!!
Then sirens started blaring. Three identical police motorcycles merged in from smaller roads. Some police cars had probably been sent out too, but they were stuck in the traffic jams.
“Attention, suspect!! Slow down at once and park on the curb! We have been given permission to fire on any dangerous criminal carrying a firearm! I said stop, you dirty cop!!”
“Hey, which do you think they are!?”
“If they were with Konrin Naraku, they probably would have started shooting already. Either way, we need to lose them!!”
The bike chase began.
Unlike on a normal road, we made our way forward by weaving between the stopped cars of the traffic jam. I was lucky when there were seventy whole centimeters between cars. I was zooming through at over 100 kph, but it felt like twice that.
“Is the guy behind this really going to show up!?”
“If you’re worried, agitate him even further! Make it so obvious he has to take the bait!!”
I checked in the side mirror and saw PSI_ver_RAIN holding her hat on her head and operating her mobile glasses with her eyes.
“I’ve been recording all sorts of stuff. Even when you fired your gun to save that swimsuit girl. I’m scattering it across the video sites. Someone wanting to paint us both as villains won’t want it known that you were acting in justified self-defense!!”
“I thought no one would trust videos and posts from you!”
“Things are already changing. It began when you showed your face on TV and the waves of attack began on the internet. No one really cares what’s accurate anymore. Whether it’s inappropriate or not, they’re going to jump at what’s more eye-grabbing and more interesting!”
I started getting a stomachache as the chase continued, but then something odd happened.
Horns started honking all around us. Things seemed to be shifting in our favor and the drivers stuck in the traffic jam seemed to be cheering us on.
Before long, some even opened their windows and shouted angrily out.
“You on the police bikes! Let them through!!”
“They’re going to the Metropolitan Police Department anyway, aren’t they!? Then what’s the point of arresting them? Are you chasing them around so you can take the credit!?”
“Wow! Look at that! The cars are opening their doors behind us!”
“I’m thankful, but that’s really dangerous!!”
As I had said, we were weaving through the gaps of the cars in the traffic jam, so opening the doors filled those gaps. If they kept doing it, our pursuers couldn’t keep up the chase.
After leaving that small traffic jam, we started down a wide open road.
At the same time, several police cars attacked us without their previous handicap. And they didn’t bother warning us this time. They took advantage of their greater weight by trying to crash into us from the side!
“Dammit! Are there post-apocalyptic mohawked thugs behind the wheels of those things!?”
I slammed on the brakes, letting the cars pass by ahead of us and then started going full throttle once more. The cars shot to the side while working to regain their balance, so we passed right by them.
Teikyo Tower and the Metropolitan Police Department were not that far from each other, but the distance seemed to stretch out infinitely due to the extreme tension.
Meanwhile, a group of red lights appeared up ahead.
Several police cars ignored the lane markings, turned their steering wheels to the side on the straight road, and finally forced themselves to a stop while perpendicular to the road. They intended to stop us with their makeshift barricade.
“What are we going to do!?”
“They didn’t have time to build it up properly!! We can slip through the gaps, so hold on! I’m going to turn right then left, so shift your weight with me!”
I didn’t have time to give a detailed explanation of the route.
I opened the throttle to the limit and weaved in a half S-shape to just barely slip through the not-quite-closed barricade of cars arranged like mille-feuille. Afterwards, I heard breaking glass and bending steel behind us as the pursuing police cars slammed into the barricade.
“Ah ha ha.”
I suddenly realized the grim situation had kept me from seeing a carefree smile on her face.
“Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!! We’re running from the police on a stolen police bike with no helmet and we’re even causing accidents!! Is this really the capital of Japan!? I could probably turn this into the PV for a new song!!”
We had lost pursuit for the time being, but more police would reach us as we approached Sakuradamon.
Where would they make their move?
Everything so far had been mere preparation. Our enemy wasn’t going to sit around doing nothing. They had to have a surefire idea of how to finish us off and mock all of our efforts.
“Here they come again. …!? It’s from above this time!! There’s a helicopter!!”
“Hold on! Whatever they send out, we just have to lose it!!”
Part 21 (3rd person)
Katagiri Hitsuji trembled all alone.
There was no one else to delegate this job to. It was bad enough that his handgun would be found if the police questioned him and searched his possessions, but he also had to walk through the city on foot instead of using a chauffeured limousine.
He swore to himself he would retire from the Restaurant after finishing this job. He already had enough money to live and enjoy himself until the day he died. Continuing his work had only been a matter of pride. He had used the Restaurant as a safety device to ensure his dark past never came to light, but that was on the verge of breaking and the Restaurant itself could easily turn on him now. Since he might very well find himself in handcuffs by the next day, he could hardly worry about pride. He focused on quitting and going somewhere safe.
(I’ll settle this once and for all. Even if it means dirtying my own hands, I’ll end this here.)
He had no intelligence network, so he did not even know what route Uchimaku Hayabusa and PSI_ver_RAIN would take to reach the Metropolitan Police Department. At first glance, an ambush seemed impossible, but there was one definite location.
Right in front of the Metropolitan Police Department itself.
(I’ll be safe as long as I can crush this. Nothing will ever threaten my lifestyle again. I’ll crush the Aoandon Package no matter what it takes. I’ll crush it!! I won’t let it see the light of day for even an instant!!)
He heard the roaring of an engine.
The uniformed police officer guarding the front entrance shouted “Whoa, he really made it here!? What is with that guy!?” and a bowling ball-like weight pressed down on Katagiri Hitsuji’s stomach. He had always used money to delegate away any dirty jobs, so he had never expected to feel this kind of pressure again.
The detective on a police motorcycle gave a look of both relief and disappointment.
The man may have thought he would be safe if he made it this far, but that was exactly what created an opening.
“Let’s get this started,” muttered Katagiri Hitsuji while reaching into his pocket.
He then rushed over to the materials entrance.
Part 22 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
Dry gunshots rang out.
I immediately shoved PSI_ver_RAIN from the back of the seat and behind the stopped police motorcycle. That much went well.
But then I felt a scorching sensation and smelled something like rust.
I clenched my teeth to bear with the pain, pulled my own handgun from my pocket, and held it forward. I just had to last ten more seconds. If I could silence this guy, it would all work out. So that was all I had to do!
We exchanged gunfire and our bullets tore at each other’s lives.
I had been firing from the motorcycle, but I finally couldn’t stay upright. The motorcycle and I both collapsed to the side.
As I fell, the buckle fell from my suit pocket.
Sparks flew as one of the old man’s bullets hit the center of the buckle.
PSI_ver_RAIN shouted something while moving the heavy motorcycle to the side and dragging me out from under it.
Then Nakata-san and the rest of the guards out front ran over.
“Possession of a handgun confirmed! 5:20 PM! Moving to arrest criminal!!”
Despite taking several bullets to the limbs and gut, the old man got up under his own power. He was stained with blood here and there, but he was still smiling.
“Let me go. No one can arrest me.”
“What…are you talking about?”
“Strategic cultural property. That designation applies to the seeds of brand-name crops, the methods used to grow them, the industrial art made from them…and the living national treasures that make them. In other words, I am a strategic cultural property. Anything with that designation is considered a national asset and is erased from all official records to keep it secret. Even if those records belong to a murder trial.”
The old man spun his handgun around to draw attention to it.
“So you can’t arrest me even if I show this off. You can’t keep it as evidence when the arrest is determined to have ‘never happened’. You can write up and submit as much paperwork as you want, but I doubt anyone will be sent to trial when the suspect field is blank.”
What he was saying gradually sank in.
Mishima had said the truth behind Nagatacho Station was designated a specially designated secret and a strategic cultural property. By intentionally placing multiple information protection systems on it, no one knew whose jurisdiction it fell under. And he had mentioned the Restaurant Master as someone on the same level.
This was what he had meant.
The old man could be arrested and a trial could be held, but the name field would remain blank. It would all end up in the following scenario: “****** is sentenced to life in prison for the crime of murder. But who is ******?”
He was a living national treasure.
In the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, the government had promised to provide support in protecting and repairing anything designated an important cultural property. It also required a thorough preservation of the status quo. And that applied to scenery, buildings, works of art, and the individuals known as living national treasures.
With a strategic cultural property, the law probably went a step further and said “no matter what”. It would be problematic if they were abducted by a foreign spy, killed, executed, or otherwise allowed to die. So the government would do whatever it took to maintain the status quo even if that meant overturning any kind of criminal conviction. It was all for the benefit of the nation.
But did he really have that kind of protection?
Hadn’t that entire system been newly created by people like him who worked behind the scenes so they could never be charged with a crime? Hadn’t they made this so they were as untouchable as a deadly Youkai even if they killed someone?
“That’s utter nonsense! Do you really think you’ll get away with doing all that just to protect yourself!?”
“The system may change in the future, but it will be too late to catch me. I don’t care if this creates the greatest scandal of all time as long as I am not actually imprisoned. And as long as they don’t divulge any secrets powerful enough to shake the entire Restaurant structure, the system can easily handle a simple case of firing a gun. But Detective Uchimaku, I will be leaving now. I’ve destroyed the USB memory belt buckle, so there is no chance of the Aoandon’s Package being used now. Not even the slightest chance. As long as I dispose of all the little pieces of evidence while you try to settle your own issues, I can return to my own comfortable life.”
At that moment, the police department’s front entrance opened and Division 1’s chief stepped out. He quickly glanced over the tragic scene and ultimately fixed his eyes on Katagiri Hitsuji.
“Long time no see.”
“What is it? I was just about to leave.”
“So you’re designated a living national treasure and thus a strategic cultural property, are you? And so your name can’t appear on any official paperwork, even for a murder trial?”
“Unfair, isn’t it? But those are the rules of this country.”
“Yes, terribly unfair.”
For some reason, the department chief gave the old man a look of pity.
“Those rules only apply when all of the official paperwork has been submitted and approved by the cabinet at the time. And that means they don’t apply if anything was missed there.”
“Wait…? What are you talking about?”
“The submitted paperwork was reviewed and a slight error was discovered in one of the forms. And thus you were never officially considered a strategic cultural property in the first place. Yes, I just received word from the head of the ruling party.”
“I never… I never heard anything about that!!”
“Didn’t I just tell you? This country’s rules are terribly unfair. …Arrest him.”
The one command settled it all.
Like army ants swarming a sugar cube, Nakata-san and the other police officers restrained the old man who had risen to such lonely heights.
What had happened without my knowledge?
I blankly watched the old man’s back as he was handcuffed.
Then the department chief spoke up.
“You need to thank Chief Superintendent Mishima. He made up for everything you lacked. We are limited to only protecting the law and order of Tokyo, so we could never have done it on our own.”
“I have no idea what exactly he did, but we could apparently find out if we used the Aoandon Package to divulge all of Japan’s secret rules. …But would you really want to know?”
Part 23 (3rd person)
In a National Police Agency office, a man spun like a child in a leather chair.
He sighed quietly while a subordinate reported on their progress over the office phone.
“So it’s over for now, is it?”
“Sounds that way,” someone replied.
A young woman in a tank top and hot pants leaned against the wall with her arms crossed instead of using the sofa meant for guests. These two would normally have never interacted. If they ever saw each other, they should only have tilted their heads and wondered why the other was not dead yet, but the two were unnaturally gathered here.
“I wish we could tie things up this nicely every time.”
“Don’t get cocky now, okay? I know you haven’t forgotten what happened when you tried to create a mass-produced paranormal unit meant to directly judge crimes involving Youkai.”
“I know. And I can never repay the debt I owe to Hyakki Yakou’s previous generation. …It was my arrogance that led to that husband and wife’s death. And that’s what held this country back by thirty years.”
His face had grown pale and his chair had stopped moving.
“Anyway, this should have settled everything related to that belt buckle. Both the real one retrieved by Katagiri Hitsuji and Konrin Naraku and the fake one prepared by Uchimaku-kun.”
“In that case…”
Chief Superintendent Mishima grabbed the laptop on top of his desk. Without a change of expression, he threw it at Mai’s face as hard as he could. It slipped right past her face, slammed into the wall, and fell to the floor.
The screen displayed countless error messages, but not even they could hide the fear contained there.
“Why is the deepest portion of Nagatacho Station running? The Aoandon Package is still connected!!”
“I can only think of one possibility.” Mai sounded entirely calm. “Professor Matsukai Hiroshi had already sent the completed search program to the Aoandon via the internet before Konrin Naraku bisected him. The buckle really was just a portable backup, so it isn’t surprising that the main storage lay elsewhere.”
“The Aoandon’s group has acquired the entire system of Japan. I don’t know what they’re going to use it for, but they have no real reason to wait any longer.
The Hishigami woman spoke the words befitting that role.
“The countdown has ended. All that’s left is the destruction of this nation.”
Part 24 (Aoandon)
Search Target: Nagatacho Station Data (Deepest Sector)
Search Term: Japanese DNA Standard
Oh, how troublesome.
Facilities with DNA in cold storage sounded like something from a cyberpunk or SF story that you wouldn’t just find lying around, but they were everywhere. They were all over the place. There were obvious ones like police-related facilities, sperm banks, and gene therapy or organ transplant centers, but there were also germ research labs, biometrics development, brand-name rice and cow research, zoos, aquariums, people who wanted to store the DNA of dinosaurs or famous people, and even dubious companies that would store a customer’s DNA to carry them five hundred years into the future.
That made it hard to know where what we wanted was. And a thorough search would eventually give away what we were after, so I had wanted a system to give me the answer right away.
Oh, and a “standard” referred to an actual object that provided a standard definition of something. There was one for the kilogram, the meter, and plenty of other things. This one was for Japanese DNA, so you can guess what that means, right?
They had apparently gotten help from the daughters of esteemed old families to define what exactly a Japanese person is and what genetic sequence that entailed. Of course, there are a number of theories about the origins of the Japanese. There was the indigenous theory, the monophyletic theory, and plenty of others, so that attempt didn’t get very far. They had ultimately taken a few different samples that they thought might be where the Japanese came from and then gathered them together. There were as many samples as there were theories.
And while studying those samples, an interesting theory arose from a different viewpoint entirely.
Have you ever heard of junk DNA? DNA normally refers to the accumulated information that lets children inherit traits of their parents, but 97% of it is junk with no actual hereditary information at all. But it’s still a storage medium and the unnecessary information inside the DNA is still passed down from parent to child. So what’s there? What if a human embryo simply can’t read it and it contains data unrelated to the inheritance of physical traits? For example, what if it has secretly absorbed and recorded information concerning the local land and environment and what if that information had been passed down all this time? Wouldn’t that go beyond those samples? Wouldn’t all of the lives born in Japan be filled with shared information on the land known as Japan? If so, they could achieve their initial goal by decoding that junk DNA and preserving the environmental data built up over generations.
If the many samples all contained a shared junk factor, they would have a sign pinpointing a life born in this land.
It was really only an amusing theory for them, but it was incredibly interesting to the likes of us.
After all, the people of this country didn’t even know the name of their own country. Was it “Nihon” or “Nippon”? And during the Olympics or the World Cup it would transform into “Japan”. To be blunt, I was pretty sure no other country in the entire world had remained in such an undefined state for so long.
That made the Japanese something of an illusion contained in a vaguely-defined category.
It was enough to leave them worried if they didn’t find something to define themselves.
But then what if we got our hands on that Japanese DNA Standard? What if we messed with it as we saw fit?
The answer was simple. Like with a doll curse, the definition of what made someone “Japanese” would be rewritten.
We could make them into whatever we wanted: the Japanese have horns growing from their head, the Japanese fly through the sky using the wings on their back, the Japanese primarily eat raw slugs, the Japanese are a bunch of perverts who go to work and school in the nude, etc. etc.
Wouldn’t that be fun? Of course it would. It would be the ultimate entertainment brought on by the very catastrophe you wished for yourselves.
Search Complete: Location Confirmed.
Border between Intellectual Village Noukotsu Village and Bozen City. Flower Offering Route 4 at the base of Mt. Boseki. Livestock Research Center. Third Genetic Cold Storage Warehouse.
Oh, that’s the mountain where I met Sachi-chan before. And Noukotsu Village, hm? That’s where that boy lives, so I can feel destiny at work here.
It was time to begin and I had no real reason to hesitate.
Get ready, Japanese. Yes, all 150 million of you. I’m about to begin the ultimate performance that you’ve been waiting for amid all this boredom and oppression. So make sure you enjoy it until your very soul drowns in it.
Part 25 (3rd person)
The highest leader of Hyakki Yakou was a girl of about ten. She was known as Hafuri and had arrived at a domestic aircraft factory in Kobe. She wore mourning clothes filled with sorrow. Were they meant as a tribute to the Aoandon’s group, as a demonstration of her intention to personally visit an area of near certain death, or as an outward symbol of her feelings toward the falling archipelago?
“Oh, dear. Where did you hear that from? You’re being completely unreasonable.”
A young man dressed casually in a kimono spoke casually on a wide runway.
He was Hishigami Kyou. Of the Hishigami men, he was third in line to inheriting the family, but the girl in mourning clothes bearing the Hyakki Yakou emblem was not to be outdone.
“I’m sure you know our mobile base was destroyed by the Aoandon’s group. I received word that I could obtain a replacement here at Hishigami Aerospace Industries.”
“If you want to hold such unreasonable business discussions, could you take it to the Toyokawa Group? Their cars keep getting recalled, so I expect they would jump at any request you made.”
“The infrastructure damage has affected them too badly to function.”
Hishigami Kyou shook his head and a note of resignation entered his voice.
“It would be hard to call anything here a product. After the Three Principles on Arms Exports were relaxed, we have been testing the production lines of our new factories to make sure they work properly. You could call these answer sheets, so we did not intend to sell them.”
“But that means no one has claimed them and we have a chance to secretly purchase them.”
“…Is the situation that dire?”
“If you will accept an estimate, the entire concept of Japan as a nation will vanish within approximately 24 hours.”
“Honestly, it can be scary what qualifies as reasonable. Especially when it changes entirely from one second to the next. If that’s the age we live in, I suppose it would be reasonable to sell them to you.”
With a heavy sound, the door to the giant hangar-like factory behind him opened to the left and right. With weak blasts of jet engines, large flying machines exited.
There were six strategic stealth bombers that should not have existed in Japan.
There was also an airborne warning and control aircraft to command them.
“That should suffice for our new base.”
“But due to the short notice, we could not decorate the interior. I doubt it is exactly to your liking. These are nothing more than bare military weapons.”
“Given the situation, that is actually preferable. You can confirm receipt of payment at any time. Oh, and can we take them right away?”
“You really are unreasonable…”
Hafuri ignored him and raised a hand.
A great number of personnel rushed toward their new wings. There was nothing to hide behind on the runway, so it was impossible to tell where they had been hidden.
“Our destination is Noukotsu Village. I wanted to avoid a fight with civilians around, but we have no choice here. We will deploy at once and attack the Aoandon’s group. We must do whatever it takes to prevent the Japanese DNA Standard from falling into their hands!”
Part 26 (Jinnai Shinobu)
It was wrong to my uncle, but the commotion really had felt like something contained to the world inside the TV.
I had believed we were safe and that we only needed to wait for word that everything had ended without major incident.
So when I heard the explosive sound, I immediately shrank back.
“Wh-what the hell!?”
I first looked up to the ceiling and then ran out to the yard.
I saw something unbelievable there.
A group of giant bombers was flying through the sky.
Several fighters flew about to protect them. And instead of just passing by, they were moving at a leisurely pace as if they had chosen the sky above our village as their hunting grounds.
I recalled what the Nekomata had said.
“They sure are carefree. Does everything on TV seem like some distant world? You do know the people there are no different from us, don’t you?”
She was exactly right.
On that day, Noukotsu Village was visited by a catastrophe that could easily be called a war.
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