The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume9 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Colorless Prequel@Uchimaku Hayabusa
I, Uchimaku Hayabusa, was on a mission to take responsibility for my own words. Namely, I was visiting a giant amusement park that made use of the “Tokyo” image despite actually existing a little bit outside the city.
“Ah ha ha! Ah ha ha ha ha!! Hey, detective, where should we go next, what should we ride next, what should we do next!? Oh, the swing-by coaster’s congestion level is at green! We can ride right away if we go now, detective!!”
The park was brightly illuminated for night and I was sitting exhausted on a bench, but I felt a tug on the side of my coat. The tug came from a twintailed middle school girl who was also shoving a smartphone into my face to show me the official park map app. As for her outfit…I couldn’t even call this one a swimsuit. She had a red ribbon about as thick as two fingers wrapped around her body. On top of that, she wore a wafer-style checked ribbon tie, a whipped cream white coat, and a chocolate brown miniskirt. With the shortcake-like hat pretty much hanging on the side of her head, the overall concept seemed to be a wedding cake. She also had something like a sword hanging at her waist, but it may have been an LED light modeled after a wedding’s candle lighting. To be blunt, it was insane in more ways than one.
“We’ve already ridden the coaster twelve times today… We’ve been here since morning, so we’ve gone on all the rides about three times now. The young women running the rides recognize us now.”
“Huh? Why are you all limp, detective?”
“What happened to the girl who got out of breath just running up some stairs? It isn’t normal to outdo a professional police detective in a competition of stamina.”
Was this a relative of that medically baseless claim that snacks went in a different stomach?
…Now, why were we here? It was a lingering effect of the zombie outbreak from the month before.
I had carelessly said I would go on an amusement park date with her if we escaped that hell.
“Fine then. I guess I need to start acting more soothing to help you with your exhaustion. It isn’t long until the night illumination parade, so is there anything we can use to kill some time?”
“You’re still not done riding things!?”
“Shut up. I have your word on this. Oh, the Ferris wheel is open! This is our chance, detective! C’mon, get up and run!!”
And thus I was dragged through the park by the Mystery Freak.
There were still a few people in line for the Ferris wheel, but it did feel like a miracle given how congested the amusement park was. If you bought a fairly expensive free pass, you could enter through a special gate and skip the line onto the Ferris wheel, but it had become entirely meaningless now that everyone had one of those priority passes.
I bought a drink from the part-time girl who approached the line and we waited our turn. I didn’t know if it was the standard price in amusement parks or if it was due to the recent bourgeois boom, but a single paper cup was ridiculously expensive.
Enbi also handed several bills to the girl.
Just a month before, that sight would have been truly shocking.
“How can you buy ice cream in December? And while I’m at it, there has to be something wrong with you to wear that swimsuit…no, that red ribbon with only a miniskirt and coat colored like chocolate or whipped cream on top.”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Make sure you call it a rice milk gelato. This is brand-name rice, you know?”
Rice milk, huh?
A diet of avoiding carbonated drinks to lose weight had been popular recently, but it had completely died out.
There was a simple reason for that: everyone retained their memories of the zombie outbreak.
People had bitten other people and devoured their flesh and blood. I had been a part of it, but my police lifestyle had given me the resistance needed to overcome that kind of gloomy experience. The Mystery Freak was the same, but the majority of people were not. Those who had actually become zombies were of course scarred by the experience, but it had apparently caused quite a commotion even among the people who had only heard about it. Even with the strange financial situation recently, the meat industry had lost a ton of money. Some people had stopped eating meat altogether and others could not even stand cheese or butter. Of course, sticking to complete vegetarianism would be incredibly difficult, so I expected the consumption of meat to recover after a bit.
“Personally, I can’t believe you would drink hot coffee, detective.”
“This is an amusement park during the on-season, so don’t you think the pay bathrooms are going to be the busiest part of the park? Don’t blame me when drinking that comes back to bite you.”
Before long, it was our turn.
The young woman in charge guided us into the open door of the gondola.
As soon as the door closed and locked, Enbi grinned at me from the opposite seat.
“Now then, detective.”
“Let’s enjoy the scenery.”
“Now, now! We’re inside a locked room together! No one can stop this long ride for the next twenty five minutes!! You know what that means, don’t you? Your heart had better be pounding, dammit!!”
“Stop it, you moron! When it comes to you and locked rooms, I’m more afraid of someone ending up dead!!”
A struggle ensued. I managed to hold off the approaching love monster for a while. I was afraid some kind of safety feature would kick in and stop the Ferris wheel, but it must not have been that fragile.
At some point, Enbi had ended up sitting next to me instead of across from me.
“You asked before why I would buy ice cream in December. To be honest, it wasn’t easy eating that in this weather.”
“See? I was right.”
“But I had a good reason to choose something vanilla flavored.”
“I mean, if I set up the perfect mood, shut my eyes, and gently puckered my lips, wouldn’t it be awful if it ended up tasting like my hamburger’s barbecue sauce? It would seem too real and wake us up from the dream!! That’s why I made sure that this middle school girl’s lips have a vanilla scent. So what do you have to say about that ideal, detective?”
“So hurry up and grab my shoulders and kiss me! I’m perfectly okay with you going in to find out what my tongue tastes like too!! And I think coffee-flavored lips fits your image perfectly! Kyah☆ I can’t hold back any longer, so let’s create a coffee float flavor together! If you aren’t going to make the move, then I’ll have to! Muchuu!!”
“What happened to the qualifier that this had to remain wholesome!?”
Enbi was using both hands to mimic an octopus, so I grabbed her face with both hands and just barely managed to push her away.
Nothing untoward had happened, but a man and a girl were covered in sweat and gasping for breath inside a small room.
But even if someone misinterpreted the situation, there was no danger of a uniformed police officer running in with a monstrous look on his face and a baton in one hand.
A distant look filled my eyes.
This was why I had been able to spend an entire workday at an amusement park with the Mystery Freak despite all my pay cuts and the fact that I had no time off left.
The news kept saying Japan had entered an unprecedented (and eerily unexplainable) period of massive consumption and gluttony, but the real story was nowhere near as happy.
When it came down to it, public servants were just employees. They wouldn’t work without getting paid.
Since Globe & Ingot, Triple Roses, and all those other credit rating agencies were causing unpredictable daily fluctuations in the value of the Japanese yen, the government could not judge anything’s value properly and could not calculate out any kind of budget. Since they didn’t know the value of a single yen, they could not even find the answer to 1 + 1. In all seriousness, if they decided one week that a project needed one hundred million yen, the necessary amount could grow to fifty or even one hundred times as much using the value of the yen a week later. Whatever the cause, an organization could not function if the accountants raised the white flag and failed to come up with a budget. Not enough was of course a problem, but too much created suspicions of slush funds or mismanagement.
It might be hard to understand for those of us who live in the world of the yen and use the yen for everything, but major corporations that work hard at exporting and importing and government bureaucrats who focus on the foreign exchange market were about ready to faint. And if those at the top could not act, then the local offices would never get the stamp of approval when they requested a budget.
You could say Japan’s administrative and executive agencies had all shut their doors and gone on vacation.
It was a strange situation where no one could do anything despite all the money they were making.
The general public had not been told, but the police were no exception.
In other words, I had not taken time off. I had gone into the office, but the police department had been locked up and I couldn’t get in.
Some of the uniformed officers in the police boxes were voluntarily going on patrols, but how long would that last? Without getting paid, they couldn’t eat and they would be forced to spend some of their time finding another source of money. Plus, public servants were barred from having a second job, so they would be forced to choose between one and the other. No one could stick with the idealistic answer forever.
Enbi must not have liked that I was lost in thought because she moved from her spot next to me.
That is, she placed her small butt on my lap and leaned all her weight back on me.
“What are you doing, Mystery Freak?”
“What’s wrong with this? Isn’t it all so pretty! It was nice when we rode it during the day, but it’s completely different at night!! It’s like a carpet of stars.”
Enbi used me as her chair and kicked her legs around.
Her words drew my eye out the window.
The view of the night had to be quite different from what we would have seen just a week before. Everything was unnecessarily bright as if to show off all the money that was filling every nook and cranny of the city. Bonds only earned interest every six months or every year, but there must have been some magic trick to earning a fortune must faster than that. It was December, so a lot of houses were decorated like they were Christmas trees themselves.
Who could say how much that kind of thing actually cost, but no one batted an eye at loans that would take decades to pay back. Money was flying around like a blizzard and everyone just wanted to enjoy the present.
But didn’t that make it all feel somehow ominous?
This unnatural state of affluence would not continue forever. It was just like a scene in a comedy film where someone walks off a cliff while blindfolded. Everyone was walking out over empty air at the moment. This would not last forever. If they continued thoughtlessly floating up there, every last light in this nightscape would crash down to the bottom of the cliff.
“Oh, look over there, detective. Looks like they’re already preparing for the night illumination parade. That’s a little ahead of schedule.”
“How long until ‘today’ ends, dammit?”
“Ah ha ha! Don’t worry, don’t worry. I made sure to reserve us a room at the park hotel. We can go right to bed after the parade’s over. Tomorrow should be fun too. In fact, tonight should be lots of fun☆”
“………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………What did you just say?”
I nearly choked.
It was true the amusement park had a luxury hotel run by the same brand. I could see it from the Ferris wheel. Its wall had become a giant screen, presumably using projection mapping to work around the uneven surface.
But that wasn’t the issue.
I gave the Mystery Freak a look that said “you understand, don’t you?” and she twisted around on my lap to look at me and nod.
“Eh? Oh, c’mon. Don’t look so worried. It’ll all be fine. I of course reserved a single room with a double bed.”
“That wasn’t what I meant! And a double bed only makes it worse!! And how did a middle school girl reserve a room like that!? That hotel is dangerous!!”
“Everyone holds the power of money thanks to the unprecedented bond magic. The hotel is receiving so many requests they can’t do a detailed check on each and every one.”
That was probably why no one had taken issue with a man in a suit and coat walking around an amusement park with a middle school girl in a swimsuit…no, with a ribbon wrapped around her body and a coat and miniskirt that didn’t do much to help. The police and the rest of the government had shut their doors, so I could only pray there weren’t any actual moral hazards popping up.
“Regardless, that isn’t happening! You never said anything about a hotel and I only promised to go on a single amusement park date with you if we escaped that zombie outbreak. Just one! That doesn’t give you a second day!!”
“Eh? But doesn’t it count as just the once as long as we don’t leave the park?”
“Don’t tell me you’re planning to confine me here and live in the hotel!”
“Hm? Wait… That’s not a bad idea.”
“Oh, no. Now I’m giving you ideas? But anyway, we can’t do that!!”
“But detective, won’t you be in trouble without the hotel?”
“Why? The last train hasn’t left yet.”
The twintail girl raised a finger while relaxing on my lap.
“Do you have the money needed to ride the train?”
Don’t tell me!
“It’s gone, dammit! My wallet is gone! Mystery Freak, when did you take it!?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Grin, grin. Not a single clue. Smirk, smirk.”
“I bought that hot coffee just before boarding the Ferris wheel, so it had to be after that. It must have been after we got in here. But where is it? And when did you take it?”
“See? Without any change or your IC card, there’s nothing you can do. Even if we’re just a little out of Tokyo, it’ll be tough getting back to your apartment in Ochanomizu on foot. Right, right?”
While sitting on my lap, the Mystery Freak lifted her head to look back at me. She looked me in the eye with her head upside-down to mine and tried to provoke me.
“Do you have the courage to feel up my body to find your lost wallet in this ribbon, coat, or miniskirt?”
“I can’t believe you!!”
“Wahyah!? I didn’t think you’d actually stick your hand in there! Now my heart’s pounding! Ah ha ha! That tickles! Nya ha ha ha ha!!”
I would rather not describe this in much detail, but it was necessary for my search. Let’s just say I somehow managed to get my wallet back after a hard struggle.
And it frightens me that she would hide it there of all places…
“Tch. I thought I could get you to pay for the answer with a kiss. I certainly didn’t expect for you to go the brute force route right off the bat. Detective, when you play room escape games, are you the kind of person that ignores the code in the hint and just goes through every option on the dial?”
She pouted her lips, but she still seemed to be enjoying herself.
As she sat in my lap and had me hold her in my arms from behind, she suddenly spoke up.
“To be honest, I didn’t think it would turn out like this.”
“Yeah, I’ve gotta say I’m pretty surprised to find myself on an amusement park date with a middle school girl.”
“C’mon, I didn’t mean that.”
She cutely kicked her legs.
“I wasn’t actually serious.”
A strange silence fell over the Ferris wheel.
That had been a decisive statement, even if it was something I had already known.
“Oh, but I wasn’t deceiving you or anything. Hishigami Enbi really did love Uchimaku Hayabusa. But it was just like a preschooler saying he’s going to marry his teacher. I didn’t think it could ever actually happen. No matter how serious I was, I thought you’d just humor me and rub my head and that would be the end of it. It’s like having your feelings of love dismissed as fake as soon as you confess, but you still don’t want to lie to the person you love and you don’t really mind. That was all it was. No, that was all it should have been.”
“Wait, why did you just correct yourself?”
“But why is it? Since I knew it would never work out, I used you as practice and sent my best shots your way, but then everything seemed to change. That wall began to wobble. I mean, c’mon. If you do that, I’ll start to get serious. Once you tell me I can actually knock over the wall, I’m gonna tackle it with everything I’ve got, break it down, and keep going!! To think we’d go from a zombie outbreak to an amusement park date! I can’t believe this! Oh, I can’t stop blushing!!”
“I’m not sure I get this, but why do I feel like you’re going to ignore the rules and send in a marriage registration form for us? Also it has not changed! Everything has not changed! This is only a ceremony to purify myself after letting my careless feelings and the mood get the better of me during those extreme circumstances!!”
The Mystery Freak leaned back against me.
That seemed to be her way of telling me to pipe down.
“It has changed,” she said.
“What has? And where?”
“The Glass House. That awful case where we first met. Compare us to back then and we’ve changed more than 3.5 billion years of evolution.”
For an instant, I thought Enbi’s reflection in the window had changed to that girl who had felt like a worn-down rusty blade.
I shook my head to clear away the sentimental hallucination and spoke to the girl on my lap.
“That’s not fair.”
“This is a struggle between a girl and a guy. When the guy I’ve fallen for is on the verge of wavering, I’m gonna use whatever I can.”
She giggled and pressed her head against me so I could smell her hair.
“Do you remember all that properly? How about we have a bit of a review?”
“You sound like a woman on her anniversary grilling her husband about where they went on their first date.”
“Bwefh!! N-now you’re the one getting ahead of yourself here!!”
She choked a little, but then began her questioning while kicking her feet.
“The Glass House was an eerie mansion built on a privately-owned mountain not too far from the city. Now, what was that mansion’s most notable feature?”
“All the inner walls, floors, ceilings, and doors were made of transparent reinforced glass. That insane space of zero privacy was a physical representation of the family’s insistence that there were no secrets between family. So what was their occupation?”
It had turned into a quiz tournament for some reason.
The Mystery Freak readily answered as if it had happened just yesterday.
“Fortune telling with a specialization in major clients such as politicians and corporation executives. That’s why they were so picky about the truth and secrets. Okay, detective, how many people ultimately died in that case?”
“Three. One was the planned locked room murder, one was an irregular death of someone who had found some evidence, and the third was disguised as a suicide to frame them. Mystery Freak, who was the murderer?”
“The family’s young wife. And the murder weapon?”
“A crossbow. But the bolt was sometimes fired from the crossbow and sometimes held and stabbed into the victim. Let’s see… Who was the butler with the seemingly meaningful bandages over his face?”
“A normal butler whose wound had long since healed but mistakenly believed everyone was treating him nicely because of it. How many shower scenes were there with the maid?”
“Six. …No, one was the young wife and one was that girl in the wheelchair, so I guess only four.”
“Why do you remember that so accurately!?”
“Isn’t that the point of this quiz!?”
We took a short break.
Afterwards, the Mystery Freak continued for us.
“Pant, pant. So what was the trick behind the first murder? All the walls were transparent, so everyone should have been able to see it happen.”
“The position of the furniture in each room. Each one was only a lamp or dresser, but altogether they created a perfect wall. By placing a piece of that wall in each room between the living room and the murder room, she hid the scene behind a special blind. Now, what was the young wife’s motive?”
“She was a second wife and did not fit into the family very well. As fortune tellers, the family was vehemently opposed to secrets and tried to bring everyone together like that. Now, now. The real question: how did your Enbi-chan solve it all?”
I looked up at the ceiling with the Mystery Freak on my lap.
This had happened after the murderer had shot me in the side with the crossbow.
“You were so pissed you destroyed the entire Glass House. The young wife was caught in a shower of glass and was nearly killed, scarily enough.”
“And that’s when my love was born! Oh, I really can’t stop blushing! Ah!!”
Her small butt rose up from my lap.
Something that left me unsure where to look appeared right in front of my face, but the Mystery Freak did not seem to mind. In fact, it might have been on purpose. At any rate, she was looking out the window.
“There’s an orange-glowing carriage in the night illumination parade they’re getting ready… It looks like we’re getting that rare float that’s rumored to only appear once every ten times! If two people take a photo together with that in the background, they’re supposed to fall in love!!”
“If they’re in a position to be taking a photo together at an amusement park at night, aren’t they probably already in love?”
“Eh heh. So you admit it? You just confessed to your crime, detective!!”
“Please don’t phrase it like that, you idiot!!”
Enbi plopped her butt back down onto its usual spot. She sat in my lap and kicked her feet around while speaking shrilly about what she saw out the window.
I thought to myself as I gently reached around her from behind as if playing the role of her seatbelt.
This country looked happy at first glance, but it was actually…no, the entire world was actually in a dangerous situation. The Mystery Freak had to have noticed that. She wasn’t stupid enough to be utterly oblivious. She had simply chosen to enjoy herself up until the very end.
That was the choice of a dreaming girl.
But she had to know the truth.
This would not last long. This crazy situation where no one knew why they were so happy could not last. It was like a passenger plane continuing to fly without the pilot. No matter how comfortable it was, you couldn’t just enjoy it forever. Once the weather worsened and you hit some turbulence or once the warning light next to the fuel meter came on, it was all over.
After the Ferris wheel finished is twenty five minute circuit, we returned to the surface.
“What should we do? Stick up a ‘we’re busy’ sign and enjoy another circuit?”
“I don’t think that’s an option.”
With that said, I lowered her small body from my lap.
She looked dissatisfied, but I opened the door from within.
I found a familiar face there.
His suit and coat were similar to mine, but he was fundamentally different. That rich black-haired bachelor made me wonder just how one acquired that kind of style.
It was Chief Superintendent Mishima.
“Hi, Uchimaku-kun. If you still have some sense of societal duty left inside you, could we maybe talk about work?”
Our living dream was over.
Now, it’s time for that mental exercise you love so much, Mystery Freak.
Let’s try thinking about global ruin.
Countless LED lightbulbs decorated the rollercoaster rails and Ferris wheel frame, the people waved penlights and glow sticks, and projection mapping displayed dancing fairies and eyepatch-wearing witches on the entire outer walls of the luxury hotel and haunted mansion.
Within those symbols of an age of gluttony and great consumption, we spoke at one of the park’s outside restaurants.
It was me, the Mystery Freak, and Chief Superintendent Mishima.
Also, Mishima-san had invited a woman I didn’t know. She had semi-long black hair and looked about college aged. I had no room to talk when I was walking around with a middle school girl on a weekday night, but I could not imagine how Mishima-san, in his late thirties, knew this woman. With her intellectual glasses and chic tablet, she would have looked like a secretary if only she was a little older.
However, that impression was ruined by her blue clothing which looked like something a marching band would wear. The leggings and miniskirt looked horribly out of place. It was Christmas and this was an amusement park, so I had to wonder if they were having some kind of costume campaign.
Mishima-san introduced her.
“This is Kotemitsu Seika-san. She is apparently the main family’s #1 troubleshooter. By the way, Uchimaku-kun, how much do you know about the main Kotemitsu family?”
I wasn’t sure what he meant.
I could only think of one Kotemitsu I knew.
“I think that high school girl with my nephew Shinobu back in Zenmetsu Village had that family name.”
“She’s the joker.”
Seika-san(?) cut in with a calm look on her face. She really did not suit that active marching band outfit.
“It is true that Kotemitsu has been a major name in the financial world since the old zaibatsu days, but our goal is not to amass a personal fortune. We serve the country by continually intervening in the ever-changing financial, exchange, and bond markets to keep the brand-name of the Japanese yen at a high level. That is the true desire of the Kotemitsu family. …But that girl has escaped the bonds of our family and seeks a personal fortune. Losing control of the #4 is an embarrassment to us all.”
“Now, now, Seika-san. That’s enough about Madoka-chan. We have a bigger problem.”
Mishima-san gently stopped her and Seika-san cleared her throat.
Then she faced me again.
“Due to the contradictory lists from multiple credit rating agencies, no one knows what the world’s bonds are worth, but Japan is one of the few air pockets that have escaped that fate. That has supposedly allowed us to preserve our high value and construct the so-called network, but that is all a complete lie.”
She stuck her tongue out like a child.
“Normally, the Japanese bonds and currency would have been swallowed up by that black box as well. And their value would have fallen to the level of scrap paper.”
“What do you mean?”
I was confused and Seika-san was the one to answer.
“One: Japan has plenty of liquid materials beyond the bonds and exchange market, so it can persist for a while even if the yen itself were to crash. For example, the Intellectual Village ultra-high quality brand-name vegetables and handicrafts made by living national treasures. Two: the main Kotemitsu family has used methods I must not repeat to maintain the value of the Japanese yen. Although most of those are little more than financial magic tricks that work like anesthetic to distribute the pain more evenly. And three: ‘the truly powerful’ are afraid of losing their fortunes, so they are defending the air pockets anyway they can to create a temporary location for their assets. Those are the three pillars supporting this unnatural situation.”
It sounded complicated, but it wasn’t that bad.
You just had to reduce it down to the main point.
“Hey, one of those pillars is much thicker than the others, isn’t it?” asked the Mystery Freak.
“Yes. The third one is far more important. For one thing, Japan…and all of the air pockets have maintained their value because none of the many foreign credit rating agencies happened to view them as important and they were rated neither high nor low. They received similar ratings from enough of the agencies to avoid the chaos. …However, that is odd.”
“Oh, I get it. The other nations are blockading us by sea and claiming it’s a joint military exercise. They think this situation has to be manmade, so they’re telling Japan to deal with it because we look like the easiest target of the network nations. But if they want to reduce Japan’s value, it should be easy. The foreign credit rating agencies just have to change the rating of our bonds.”
“And that means someone’s interfering with that.” Mishima-san shrugged. “Those powerful people have entrusted their fortunes to Japanese bonds and the yen…no, they’ve divided it up between all the network’s air pockets. But they’re foreigners. They just want to protect their fortunes, so they have no real reason to care about the country of Japan. After all, it’s just one air pocket and they don’t have all their fortune there. If the credit rating agencies bring this to a stop on some kind of a whim, then this nation will break through the thin ice and fall into the icy depths below. They would lose some money then, but only a little. They would only lose one piece of the many they’ve spread around. It wouldn’t be enough to hang themselves over.”
“Are there hints that that’s happening?”
“If not, they wouldn’t be blocking off the sea routes with their supposed joint military exercise,” smoothly replied Kotemitsu Seika-san. “If they just wanted to preserve their hidden assets, they wouldn’t do that. They’re having trouble restraining the anger of the people in their own countries. And if they do too much to protect just the one hidden safe, they risk being burnt at the stake by the people who have had their safes continually taken away. I don’t know which way the scales will tip. The switch could be thrown at any time. They care about their money, but it isn’t known if they’re willing to sacrifice their positions in their own countries or their lives for it. Especially when we’re only talking about a secret stash of money, not their entire fortune.”
Mishima-san continued from there.
“And Uchimaku-kun, you’ve caught wind of the ominous atmosphere around here, haven’t you? The government offices and administrative agencies have shut their doors because they can’t distribute their budgets? And only the Ministry of Defense and JSDF are still running on volunteers for fear of riots? Utter nonsense. That just means the Ministry of Defense is running the entire government right now, doesn’t it? That just means they’re finding a way around using the taboo term ‘martial law’, doesn’t it? The Ministry of Defense is on edge with that coalition force’s naval blockade and who knows what kind of ultra vires actions they’re going to justify using that. You’re here because you’d figured that out, right? You wanted to move a bit away from Tokyo but stay close enough that you could run back if need be. You wanted to be a bit outside the chain of command so you could ignore any suspicious orders you got from the metropolitan police department, didn’t you?”
The atmosphere was horribly strained.
If what Mishima-san was saying and what was swirling through my mind was accurate, this had gone beyond a mere “incident” and become a “disaster”. A single powerless police detective could do nothing about this. It would hardly be surprising if the term “civil war” came up when discussing a solution.
But after saying all that, Mishima-san easily changed the subject.
“But despite all that, let’s set it aside. The real problem is something else.”
“Ah hah hah! I guess you would be surprised. But the JSDF isn’t going to do anything rash. They’re professionals, so they understand. If they do go on a rampage and enter into a real battle, Japan will dry up in no time at all. Even if they gather up all the fuel and ammunition reserves in the country, Japan can’t even wage war for three months on its own. Or rather, we were made that way to defang us. Everything the Ministry of Defense is doing is a bluff. It’s an obvious painkiller meant to keep true social unrest from running rampant.”
Then what was the real problem?
What were they trying to avoid looking at by creating this tense mood bordering on martial law?
“This is the other problem.”
Seika-san held her tablet out over the table.
It displayed some cheerful news about the constant days and nights of merrymaking.
“Will the natural convenience stores finally expand to the entire nation? As the Japanese people grow ever more health-conscious, luxury stores stocking Intellectual Village products will now be opening nationwide. The major convenience store chain Next Store Holdings has made it official. The ultra-high quality brand-name vegetables previously found at luxury restaurants and seen as a means of gathering foreign currency will now be much closer to home.”
The article sounded like a bad joke.
I couldn’t understand how anyone could look at it with a smile.
“A bunch of grapes costs thirty thousand yen and junmai daiginjo can go for several million. …This means there are more and more people with the kind of money to buy those things at a convenience store.”
“But wait a second. This means…!”
“Yes. This elated period of mass consumption is but a dream. It will eventually burst and vanish. It doesn’t matter if Japan bursts or if another air pocket does and the crash spreads across the network. Either way, it will end eventually. We should be working to reduce the damage when that happens, but they’re heading in the exact opposite direction. They’ve crossed the final line and utterly lost their financial senses. If these natural convenience stores really do open up across the country and everyone starts buying ingredients that cost millions of yen, the coming crash will shake the nation far more than the bursting of any previous bubble. The country really will collapse and be unable to recover.”
It was like getting a great crowd to cross a metal bridge and telling them it was safe and sturdy while you actually pulled out the girders supporting it.
They of course did not care what happened to the people walking above.
I heard some crazed shouts and saw a camera flash a short distance away.
A group that looked college aged was throwing a ton of paper money overhead and posing in front of a smartphone on a selfie stick. They were likely making material for a blog or video site.
They didn’t care that the wind was blowing the money away.
Nor did the people watching them in annoyance.
The money danced through the air like cherry blossom petals at night while illuminated by the bright light of the projection mapping.
“They didn’t actually earn most of that money. It came from the magic trick of making repeated deals between the network nations’ bonds to increase their rarity and then selling them ‘outside’ in personal transactions. In other words, it’s all for show. That’s the scariest thing of all. They think they can make the same amount next year, so they buy everything they want, go into debt, and take out loans, all while thinking they’ll be just fine. …Sorry, but once the dream bursts, only the debt will remain. A bunch of grapes costs thirty thousand yen and a small carton of sake to take home costs a million yen. Once they get used to that, I don’t even want to imagine what they’ll think of as splurging or what kind of prior investments they’ll make.”
“And conveniently, the Next Store Holdings that’s opening those natural convenience stores looks like a domestic group at first, but they’ve invited in so many foreign executives that the top management is filled with foreign thinking. You could call it a foreign-owned domestic company.”
“You mean foreigners are destroying our financial senses to defeat the country without firing a single shell?”
The Mystery Freak frowned and Mishima-san shrugged.
“I’m not so sure. It is true the truly powerful are involved in this, but I don’t know what they’re after. They might be trying to destroy the financial senses of the Japanese people to harm us, but they also might just be trying to make money off of the Japanese era of overconsumption. …But either way, this country is doomed if we don’t do anything.”
“If it’s that dangerous, why not prevent the stores from opening?”
“On what authority? Their products aren’t dangerous and the prices are ‘appropriate’ since they’re products of Intellectual Villages. There’s no real problem there. This isn’t a dictatorship that imprisons people for dangerous ideologies. Preventing over two hundred stores from opening over a formless conspiracy theory would be a rebellion against capitalism. Most importantly, all the administrative agencies are closed, remember? The district courts aren’t functioning.”
I thought that might be what the Ministry of Defense was reacting to, but was it not?
The hidden side of the hidden side was the non-hidden side
Did the NPA and the metropolitan police department really just not have the funding they needed to keep going?
If so, that was bad in and of itself!
“But Uchimaku-kun, that isn’t the biggest problem,” said Mishima-san. “The naval blockade and the natural convenience stores are only side issues. Why did this happen in the first place? Multiple credit rating agencies appeared and created contradictory lists. Why did all of mankind suddenly decide to commit mass suicide? The world looks so bright, but it’s fallen into bottomless poverty. Everyone has their issues with this situation and they could just throw out the confusing lists and refuse to trust them, but even though we all want to reject the coming destruction of the world, we can’t stop focusing on it, like it was written in a book of prophecy. What caused this unnatural mental state? If we don’t do something about that, we can’t fundamentally solve this.”
I understood that.
But what did that have to do with us?
There was no conspiracy of the Ministry of Defense. We couldn’t stop the natural convenience stores from opening nationwide. Then what did he hope I could do as a single man in a suit without even an office to go into?
How much did Mishima-san and Seika-san know?
“You don’t understand a thing, do you? Honestly, and you call yourself the #1 troubleshooter?”
Suddenly, a girl cut in with utter scorn in her voice.
Enbi turned toward it and spoke up in slight surprise.
“Oh, if it isn’t Madoka.”
“And if it isn’t Enbi.”
It was the high school girl I had seen at Zenmetsu Village. She wore a white dress so thin I would have been able to see her body’s silhouette if she was lit from behind and she wore a thick coat over that.
“What brings you here? It isn’t often that you return to the big city and all its exhaust. It was just the other day that you came crying to me over the phone, saying a hole had opened in your chest and, by the time you realized it was your first love, it was already over.”
“Oh, um, we can discuss that later. Also, the royal suite in the hotel here is my personal room. Instead of renting it out for years at a time, they gave me a room as an unofficial way of welcoming me as a major shareholder. …Anyway, knowing Shinobu-kun, there has to be something beyond his happy ending. I doubt he can overcome the obstacle of unfaithfulness, so that means I still have a chance. Mutter mutter…”
Seika-san had remained calm and collected this entire time, but a murderous aura surrounded her now.
“You useless joker…”
“Yes, yes. You stay quiet in your corner there, you convenient ace of hearts. Who would ever be afraid of someone who can only do what they’re told, even if it’s done perfectly? I guess the #1 who had her hands full seeing how that old mainframe lady would react couldn’t help but envy the out-of-control #4 who left the main family to live on her own. Right?”
“Me? Envy you?”
“Ohh? Was I wrong? Then are you still bothered that my personal financial techniques made short work of all the main family’s attack servers so you had to turn tail and flee from our financial battle? Unless you want to file for bankruptcy, then get lost, semi-pro.”
Madoka(…-chan?) laughed mockingly at Seika-san in her cheerful marching band outfit and then she continued speaking.
“When investing, you always preferred to have your opponent mess up than to take the fight to them. I’m guessing that bigshot from the police is taking the leading role here. And he’s investigated every single idea he could think of, found no hole in the bottom of the bucket, tilted his head, and finally, in the very end, decided to rely on Enbi and the detective there.”
“I’m not really sure what to say,” said Mishima-san.
“After all, there was that incident in the northern Fuuka Village. Enbi, that detective, and I all saw it there. That incident involved a mysterious organization known a Hyakki Yakou and a special Zashiki Warashi they highly prized. And wasn’t the other group behind it the riot police? That means you would have heard about the result there and you would have realized this is the only possibility left.”
The Zashiki Warashi.
A Youkai of fortune and destruction.
And this one in particular had clearly been modified by Hyakki Yakou.
Could it be?
Mishima-san asked a searching question.
He had a gentle look in his eyes, but those eyes could easily pierce through the girl if he saw anything dangerous.
“Are you saying you have some useful information in your position outside of Kotemitsu?”
“No. Unlike that obedient woman, I’m honest.”
Madoka-chan ignored the sound of clenching teeth and smoothly continued.
“But I did hear one thing from Shinobu-kun. That lady-killer has the nerve to give me a look of 100% pure trust despite going off and having all sorts of lovey-dovey fun.”
“What exactly did he say?”
It was a simple question.
The answer was also simple.
“He said he’s the closest person to the black box. And he asked that any outsiders don’t get involved.”
She was fairly sure it had happened when Shinobu was around ten.
On that day, the Zashiki Warashi in a red yukata had noticed a change in young Shinobu’s behavior after he returned from school and played with her in the Buddhist altar room.
Technically, she did not actually know when the change had happened.
But on that day, she had intentionally taken a certain action and had received the reaction she had been expecting.
To clear away her worries, she had asked a question as they played a foreign trading card game (it was popular due to the cool artwork but no one in his class had the courage to put together a deck of only girl cards.)
“What is it, Nee-chan?”
“I’ve been wondering. Why are you refusing to look me in the eye?”
His shoulders had jumped.
He had looked down at his fanned-out cards and tried to sound calm as he answered her.
“I said I’m not.”
She had peered at him from below to look him in the eye by force, but his gaze had escaped to the side. She had circled around in pursuit, but he had escaped in the opposite direction. After the process had repeated a few times, he must have run out of places to escape to because he had looked to the ceiling and collapsed onto his back.
When she had rested his head on her lap and looked down from above to finally look him in the eye, he had given up and opened his mouth.
“It isn’t that I don’t like you.”
“I can tell that.”
“It’s just, um, nnn… Looking you in the eye is…e-embarrassing!”
“Heat gathers in my head and I blush and I can’t think. I don’t get it myself, but it isn’t normal. The only way to calm down is to shut you out of my mind!!”
“But why is it? Even when you’re not there, like when I’m writing about you for an essay at school, I blush. Once it starts, I can’t stop it, so it’s kind of a problem.”
His mother had called for him, so he had gotten up from the Zashiki Warashi’s lap.
He had set down the cards (which were treated as educational tools at school because the explanatory text was in English) and had gone to help his mother.
But left all alone, the Zashiki Warashi had been overwhelmed by the feeling that she had done something horrible.
To sum it up…
Ten-year-old Shinobu is viewing me as a woman?
Afterwards, she had waved her hands around and gestured wildly while asking a human for help.
“Um, so I’m thinking I might have opened a lid in Shinobu’s heart that I shouldn’t have. Is this okay? Depending on what happens, I might need to commit seppuku. No, in a woman’s case, stabbing the blade into my throat would be the proper method!!”
But Shinobu’s mother had been carefree.
“I think this is a natural response.”
“According to psychology, the very first member of the opposite sex a boy will be interested in is his own mother. I think it’s called an Oedipus Complex. But they soon realize that’s ethically wrong, so it stops. That leads to the second step. The boy creates an image of the ideal woman based on his image of his mother. But that doesn’t mean he’ll search out someone just like me. It can be someone like his mother or someone who has something his mother doesn’t. It only starts at his mother, so it can branch out from there in countless ways.”
She had added on the unnecessary trivia that “Screwing up that second step is what leads to a real mother complex.”
“Based on Shinobu’s behavior, I think he’s following the ‘older’ side of me but going for someone who has what I lack. So it has to be a member of the opposite sex other than his mother who is nearby, older than him, and who he interacts with a lot. …Now, let me ask you something. Who best fits those conditions?”
She had understood once it was explained logically to her.
But on another level entirely, she had poked her index fingers together in front of her chest.
“Ah ha ha! Did you think Shinobu was messenger of god, utterly devoid of impurity? This is just how boys are. Even preschoolers will readily say they’re going to marry their teachers. So Shinobu didn’t turn out like this because you did something wrong. You don’t need to worry about it or feel remotely responsible. There’s an animalistic side to all boys from the moment they’re born. It’s just that he’s something of a round stuffed animal monster right now. Gao.”
The Zashiki Warashi had flailed around and been unable to speak due to the various pressures bearing down on her, so Shinobu’s mother had realized what she had to say.
“Eh? You want to know how to speak with him now? I wouldn’t know that. That’s between you and him. I may be his mother, but I’m not about to become a monster that even knows what image he has inside his heart. He might continue pursuing you and he might turn elsewhere after creating a second and third image of the ideal woman. That’s up to him. Whether you want him to change or stay like this, you just have to behave accordingly. Although as his mother, I’m kind of excited and asking him to find a better woman than you seems like a fairly cruel quest.”
“You don’t want me to just abandon you? But you would prefer it if Shinobu liked you, right? And when it’s a preschooler with his teacher or a middle schooler with his tutor, they’ll generally keep watching for a while and have their feelings cool down once they notice the difference in age. But you can cheat there.”
What did that mean?
Was there more to this?
The Zashiki Warashi had started to tremble and Shinobu’s mother had shrugged.
“I’m pretty jealous of the fact that you don’t age. If Shinobu grows up and even outgrows you, then the age difference won’t stop him anymore. What do you think about that? I think that would remove all of the excuses you have in mind right now.”
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