Notes on certain words can be viewed on mouse-over.
"Don't move," he said.
He was shorter than me. Choked from below, I strained to get a look at his eyes. They were a dark, yet at the same time, light, grey. I'd never seen a colour like that before. His fingers clenched. He didn't look strong at all, yet I was completely unable to move. It wasn't something a normal person could do.
"I see," I managed to gasp. "You're used to doing this."
The pair of grey eyes were unblinking. Their gaze still fixed, they grew calm like the gentle surface of the ocean, and I could read no colour of menace, fear or murderous intent from them. They were very quiet eyes. I could feel my own panic subsiding.
"I'll treat your wound," I said, licking my lips. "You're hurt, aren't you? I'll treat it."
I could see myself reflected in the intruder's eyes. For a moment, I felt like I would get sucked into them. I averted my gaze and looked down, and repeated myself.
"I'll treat the wound. We have to stop the bleeding. Treat. You understand what I'm saying, right?"
The grip around my neck loosened slightly.
My mother's voice carried over from the intercom. "You have the window open, don't you."
I sucked in a breath. I felt alright. It was alright, I reassured myself. I could talk with a normal voice.
"The window? ... Oh, yeah, it's open."
"You'll catch a cold if you don't close it."
I could hear my mother laughing on the other end.
"You're turning twelve today and you're still acting like a little boy."
"Okay, I get it ... Oh, mom?"
"I have a report to write. Can you leave me alone for a bit?"
"A report? Haven't you just been accepted into the Gifted Curriculum?"
"Huh? Oh... well, I have a lot of assignments to do."
"I see... don't overwork yourself. Come downstairs at dinnertime."
Cold fingers drew away from my throat. My body was free. I stretched my hand out to restart the air control system. I made sure to leave the security system off. If I didn't, it would detect the intruder as a foreign presence, and would set off a piercing alarm. If the person was recognized as a legitimate resident of No. 6 that wouldn't happen, but I couldn't imagine that this soaking intruder would have a citizenship.
The window closed, and warm air began to circulate in the room. The grey-eyed intruder half-collapsed into a kneel, and leaned against the bed. He let out a long, deep breath. He was weakened considerably. I took out the emergency kit. First I took his pulse, then tore his shirt open, and started cleaning the wound.
I couldn't help but stare. I wasn't familiar with this type of injury. It had carved out a shallow ridge in the flesh of his shoulder joint.
"A bullet wound?"
"Yeah." It was a casual answer. "It just missed. What's your term for this? A graze wound?"
"I'm no specialist. I'm still a student."
"Of the Gifted Curriculum?"
"Starting next month."
"Wow. High IQ, huh?"
There was a tinge of sarcasm in his voice. I lifted my gaze from his wound, and looked him in the eye.
"Are you making fun of me?"
"Making fun of? When I'm being treated by you? Never. So what's your specialization?"
I told him I specialized in ecology. I had just been accepted into the Gifted Curriculum. Ecology. It had the least to do with how to treat a bullet wound. My first experience. It was a little exciting. Let's see, what do I have to do first? Disinfect, dress ... oh yes, I had to stop the bleeding.
"What are you doing?"
He stared as I took a syringe out of the disinfecting kit, and swallowed.
"Local anaesthesia. Alright, here goes."
"Wait, wait a minute. You're gonna freeze it, and then what?"
Supposedly I had said this with such a grin that I looked like I couldn't have been enjoying myself more. It was something I found out much later on.
"Sew it! Can you get any more primitive than that?"
"This isn't a hospital. I don't have state-of-the-art facilities, and besides, I think a bullet wound is pretty primitive itself."
The crime rate in the city was infinitely close to zero. The city was safe, and there was no need for the average citizen to carry a gun. If they did, it would only be for hunting. Twice a year, rules were lifted for hunting season. Olden-day firearms slung over their shoulders, hobbyists would venture into the northern mountains. Mother didn't like them. She said she didn't understand how people could kill animals for enjoyment, and she wasn't the only one. In periodic censuses, 70% of citizens expressed discomfort at hunting as a form of sport. Killing poor innocent animals―how violent, how cruel....
But the bleeding figure in front of me was no fox or deer. It was a human.
"I can't believe it," I muttered to myself.
"That there are people who'll shoot at other people... unless... don't tell me that someone from the hunting club shot you by mistake?"
His lip curled. He was smiling.
"Hunting club, huh. Well, I guess you can call them that. But they didn't shoot by mistake."
"They knew they were shooting at a human? That's against the law."
"Is it? Instead of a fox, they just happened to be hunting a human. A manhunt. I don't think it's against the law."
"What do you mean?"
"That there are hunters, and the hunted."
"I don't get what you're talking about."
"I figured you wouldn't. You don't need to understand. So are you seriously going to give me a needle? Don't you have spray-on anaesthetic or something?"
"I've always wanted to try giving a needle."
I disinfected the wound, and applied the anaesthetic with three injections around the wounded area. My hands shook a little from nerves, but somehow it went smoothly.
"It should start getting numb soon, and then―"
"You're gonna sew it."
"Do you have any experience?"
"Of course not. I'm not going into medicine. But I do have basic knowledge of vessel suturing. I saw it in a video."
"Basic knowledge, huh..."
He drew a deep breath, and looked at me directly in the face. He had thin, bloodless lips, hollowed cheeks, and pale parched skin. He had the face of someone who had not lived a decent life. He really did look like an animal prey who had been chased relentlessly, exhausted, with no place left to run. But his eyes were different. They were emotionless, but I could feel a fierce power emanating from them. Was it vitality? I wondered. I had never met anyone in my life with eyes as memorable as those. And those eyes were staring unblinkingly at me.
"Why would you say that?"
"You haven't even asked for my name."
"Oh, yeah. But I haven't introduced myself either."
"Shion, right? Like the flower?"
"Yeah. My mother likes trees and wildflowers. How about you?"
"Nezumi... that's not it."
That eye colour wasn't that of any rat. It was something more elegant. Like... the sky just before the crack of dawn ― didn't it look like that? I blushed, embarrassed at catching myself spouting off like some lame poet. I purposefully raised my voice.
"Right, here goes."
Remember the basic steps of the suture, I told myself. Set down two or three stable threads, and use them as support threads to make a continuous suture ... this must be conducted with utmost care and precision ... in the case of a continuous suture....
My fingers trembled. Nezumi watched my fingertips in silence. I was nervous, but a little excited too. I was putting what used to be just textbook knowledge into action. It was exhilarating.
Suture complete. I pressed a piece of clean gauze onto the wound. A bead of sweat slid down my forehead.
"So you are smart."
Nezumi's forehead was also damp with perspiration.
"I'm just good with my hands."
"Not just your hands. That brain of yours. You're only twelve, right? And you're going into the Gifted Curriculum of the highest educational institution. You're super elite."
This time, there was no tinge of sarcasm. Nor any hint of awe. I silently put away the soiled gauze and instruments.
Ten years ago, I was ranked highest in the city's intelligence examination for two-year-olds. The city provides anyone who ranks highest in skill or athletic ability with the best education they could wish for. Until the age of ten, I attended classes in an environment outfitted with the latest facilities amongst other classmates like myself. Under the eye of a roster of expert instructors, we were given a solid and thorough education of the basics, after which we were each provided with our own set of instructors to move into a field of specialization that was suited for us. From the day that I was recognized as the highest ranker, my future was promised to me. It was unshakable. No small force could make it crumble. At least, that was how it was supposed to be.
"Looks like a comfortable bed," Nezumi murmured, still leaning against it.
"You can use it. But change first."
I dumped a clean shirt, a towel, and a box of antibiotics into Nezumi's lap. And then, on a whim, I decided to make cocoa. I had enough basic cooking appliances in my room to make a warm drink or two.
"Not exactly fashionable, is it?" Nezumi sniffed as he plucked at the plaid shirt.
"Better than a dirty shirt that's ripped and covered in blood, if you ask me."
I passed him a steaming mug of cocoa. For the first time this evening, I saw what looked like a flicker of emotion in his grey eyes. Pleasure. Nezumi sipped a mouthful and murmured softly―good.
"It's good. Better than your suturing."
"It's not fair to compare like that. I think it went pretty well for my first try."
"Are you always like that?"
"Do you always leave yourself wide open? Or is it normal for all you Petri-dish elites to have zero sense of danger?" Nezumi continued, holding the mug in both hands.
"You guys can get along just fine without feeling any danger or fear toward intruders, huh?"
"I do feel danger. And fear, too. I'm afraid of dangerous things and I don't want anything to do with them. I'm also not naive enough to believe that someone who comes in through my second-floor window is a respectable citizen."
He was right. Why? Why was I treating this intruder's wound, and even giving him hot cocoa? I was no cold-blooded monster. But I also wasn't teeming in compassion and goodwill enough to extend a hand to anyone who was injured. I was no saint. I hated dealing with hassles and disagreements. But I'd taken this intruder in. If the city authorities found out, I would be in trouble. They might see me as someone lacking in sound judgment. If that happened...
My eyes met with a pair of grey ones. I felt like I could see a hint of laughter in them. Like they could see right through me, everything I was thinking, and laughing at me. I clenched my stomach and glared back at him.
"If you were some big, aggressive man, I would have set the alarm off right then and there. But you were short, and looked like a girl, and was about to fall over. So... So I decided to treat you. And..."
And your eyes were a strange colour that I'd never seen before. And they drew me in.
"And... I wanted to actually see what sewing a vessel was like."
Nezumi shrugged, and drained the rest of his cocoa. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he ran a palm across the bedsheets.
"Can I really go to sleep?"
Those were the first words of gratitude I'd heard since he had come into my room.