Certain words are annotated on mouse-over.
He was right. Don't panic. Calm down. Be of sound mind. He had to buy more time. Shion relented.
"We won't, of course. As long as you co-operate with us."
"It wouldn't be any use to retaliate anyway, would it?"
"Is it your policy not to take useless action? There's a good lad, he knows what he's talking about. It's a waste, really."
"A waste? What is?"
"I don't understand what you're talking about."
"You'll know in good time. You've always been smart and quick to understand, like you were four years ago."
Flanked by two Bureau officials, Shion climbed into the car. Above them was an expanse of clear, blue autumn sky. The sun was bright. The birds were chirping. A gentle breeze blew past them. Times of peace and tranquility they were.
The car glided forward.
"Nice weather today," commented Rashi from the passenger seat, without turning around. The official sitting on Shion's right side nodded in response. "It looks like we've been having more warmer days than usual lately."
Rashi turned to Shion and smiled.
"And yourself? Do you have a car?"
"No. I usually take my bike or walk."
"That's a good thing. Young people like you need to move their bodies more. By the way, what we're riding right now is a battery-operated car. Quite comfortable, don't you think?"
"Excellent I would think, if it wasn't for the situation I'm in right now," Shion replied sarcastically. In means of retaliation, it was the best he could muster. Rashi shrugged lightly.
"As I was saying, this car runs on fuel-cell batteries. Any idea how they work? We aren't too well-versed on the scientific side of things, I'm afraid."
"I don't know much either."
"What sort of things do you know about it?"
"Not much... I mean, I don't really have a lot of scientific knowledge."
The officials on both sides of him moved at once. He was grabbed firmly by the arms. Rashi's tone changed to that of an interrogator.
"Then just tell us what you do know."
"Like I said, what I know― it's all just general knowledge."
The conversation was short, clipped and void of frivolity, but Shion felt a sort of strangling heaviness about it. He felt like someone was choking him slowly with a soft, damp piece of cloth. He felt nauseous.
"So... through electrolysis, alcohol is separated into oxygen and hydrogen, and by fusing them together again, energy is―"
"Energy is what?"
"Where are we going?" Shion asked suddenly. He rose, but was yanked back and shoved into his seat.
"Aren't we going to the Security Bureau? This isn't the way." The Bureau was located beside City Hall. From the Park Administration Office, one only had to cut through the park to get there. By car, it was a few minutes' distance. But the scenery out the window showed him the car was heading in the opposite direction.
"Where do you think we're going?"
"That's what I'm asking you right now," said Shion testily.
"You're not entitled to ask any questions."
"What―how could you―why―"
"Haven't I told you? You're a top suspect in this case."
"The death that happened today, and the other one from yesterday. You're on suspicion of murder."
Shion had lost his voice. He could hear the rush of blood in his ears as it receded from his face.
"You're a dangerous suspect. You have extensive knowledge and an intelligent brain to put it to use. I could tell just from our conversation. And to top it off, you're dissatisfied with your situation and feel a strong resistance against the City. Superior ability and hostility toward the City. Take either one, and they aren't of concern by themselves. But you have both. Dangerous, indeed."
"Those are false accusations."
"False? I beg to differ." Rashi's hand extended to a silver button beside the steering wheel. Shion's and Yamase's voice began to play from the speakers.
'Yamase-san, why does the Bureau have to lie about it? And isn't it strange that they can't seem to find a cause of death?'
'Yeah... this incident is full of unanswered questions.'
Shion closed his eyes. It was the conversation they'd had only minutes ago. They were being tapped the whole time. Had a microphone been hidden in the control panel? But for what purpose?
'Yamase-san, are you saying that the Bureau is manipulating information?'
Rashi pressed the button lightly again. The voices were cut off. For a moment, a cold silence fell in the car as if the very air had frozen over.
"Care to hear a little more?"
"Please... stop... I can't believe this."
"I didn't kill anyone," said Shion flatly.
"So you're saying that this bee that you were talking about is the real murderer?"
"Preposterous. A rather contrived story for someone of your intelligence."
"What reason do I have to kill Yamase-san?"
"That's what we're going to figure out. My guess is that you wanted to start a commotion."
"A commotion. You wanted to start a huge one, enough to shake the very roots of the city, and bask in its glory. You must have regarded yourself as some kind of genius fallen upon ill fortune, haven't you? So you loathed the City for not favouring you as you deserved, and felt hatred toward its citizens. You believed you deserved more attention, so you thought of this method of murder, this unnatural death, to take society by storm. You had the medical and biological knowledge to do it. It was very well possible that you used some kind of special chemical to commit murder."
Shion sank deeply into the car seat. All energy had left his body. He realized it was a trap. He had walked right into its cunning grasp. He licked his lips. They were parched and dry.
"I see," he said coolly. "So it's all been scripted already. Rather contrived story yourself, maybe even more than mine."
"We'll see how contrived it is once we get through questioning you." There was a metallic clang. The official on Shion's left had handcuffed him.
"There's a transmitter on those, and it lets us know where you are. When we get there, you'll get to take them off." Rashi's words gave Shion an idea of where he was going. The West Block. The Correctional Facility. If he was undergoing investigation there, he was sure to be locked up right afterwards as a convict. In exchange for removing his handcuffs, he would have a V-chip implanted into him.
―Nezumi, it's too late. I can't get away.
He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.
"There's a good lad. Keep quiet."
Shion remained slumped, and bit his dry bottom lip.
I'm coming to help you. Nezumi's voice echoed in his ears. His heart grew calm. His legs trembled, though not from despair or fear, but rage. Rage at the people who had tricked him. Nezumi's voice kept that rage afloat. The car entered Lost Town.
"Are you worried about your mother?"
"My mother―what―what'll happen to her?"
"Happen? Nothing. She won't be stripped of her citizenship just because her son is a convict." Rashi whispered something to the driver. The car veered to the right. A familiar scenery of the streets came into view. The car stopped silently at the curb.
Rashi pointed. Karan was in the midst of handing a small girl a wrapped loaf of bread. She said something to her, and the girl nodded. Both Karan and the girl were smiling. Enveloped in the amber light of autumn, the two looked as if they were part of a painting, or a scene from a drama. Shion leaned forward.
"Your mother looks like a gentle lady. Get a good look at her while you can." Rashi motioned with his chin, and the car began to move. "You may never see her again."
Rashi chuckled with his back to Shion.
"It's nothing to be so troubled about. Sure, at first your mother will be shocked, and she'll feel sad. But she'll get over it. That's how life is. Well, it's not like anything would come of you worrying about her anyway. Soon you'll find you'll have things more serious to worry about."
Rashi's words sliced at Shion's heart. His breath caught in his throat. The rage and rebellion simmering inside him slowly began to dissipate. He would never be able to return to his his normal life again. He had been separated from it forever. Seeing his mother etched the feeling of despair deeper into him.
They had calculated it all. They didn't stop the car near Shion's house out of pity for him. They had done it to deal him the final blow, the blow that knocked him down and told him, give up, lose hope, you're never going back again. It was a cunning and cruel trick to make him lose the will to retaliate.
"I'm coming to help you. I'm coming to help you."
Shion opened his mouth and repeated the words to himself.
I'm coming to help you. Just a short sentence. But Nezumi's voice had been steady with confidence.
What did he look like again? He wondered, and tried to visualize Nezumi's face. He could only remember a pair of light grey eyes.
―Will I see you soon, Nezumi?
"What's that?" Rashi turned around, and furrowed his brow.
"Are you smiling?"
"Smiling? Of course not," Shion replied. "I don't have the courage to smile in this kind of situation."
"In this situation, huh... you seem rather calm about it. I hope you do understand exactly what kind of situation you're in right now."
"Almost too well."
"Aren't you calm and collected in spite of that."
"I'm a natural."
"A natural," Shion repeated. "I've been told that by someone once. That I'm a natural at not getting it."
Rashi stared at Shion in silence. The car was exiting Lost Town and approaching the western border. It was Shion's first time here, because regular citizens were not allowed to enter into this area. No. 6 was a citadel― a wall made of special alloy circled the city and enclosed it. In most parts if the city, the wall was camouflaged well with trees, but in the West Block it stood bare. The car bypassed the Access Control Office.
"Aren't you going to enter the West Block from here?"
"There are two gates. That one was for entering and exiting the city. The other one is especially for entering the Correctional Facility, it leads directly into it. The Correctional Facility is a special kind of facility, even in the West Block. We keep it completely isolated from all general citizens. I bet you didn't know that."
"No, I didn't."
"You'll find out even more soon enough."
The path narrowed. An increasing number of trees blocked the sunlight.
"Once we're through the woods, there will be nothing but wastelands. Past the gates it'll be the same. It'll probably be the last time you see any greenery, so I advise you engrave it into your memory well."
The car stopped.
"What's the matter?" Rashi asked.
"Ah, it's just..." The driver pointed to something in front of them. A silver-coloured lump was laying across the middle of the road. Slowly, it raised itself.
"Sampo?" Shion swallowed.
"What's this? What's a cleaning robot doing here?"
"Maybe it has orders to clean the forest area?"
"I haven't heard anything about it."
Sampo was scooping up fallen leaves with his metal arms.
"Keep an eye on the suspect." Rashi ordered the officials, and got out of the car. He approached Sampo. Sampo swayed, its arms grabbing ahold of Rashi. Clinging to him, it fell forward.
Rashi gave a short cry, and was dragged by Sampo to the ground amongst the trees.
"Ah!" The driver raised his own voice in surprise, and opened the door to lean forward. The next moment, two small shadows darted into the car. They were two grey mice. In a flash, they each latched onto the throat of a Bureau official.
"Don't move," a low voice commanded. A person slid into the passenger seat. A grey cloth covered his head and was wrapped around his shoulders. From them, a brown mouse sprang onto the base of the driver's neck.
"These guys have small bombs planted in their bodies. Try anything funny, and you can count on your heads being blown off."
The driver whimpered in terror.
"Take his handcuffs off. And the three of you, get out of the car."
No one moved.
"Quickly!" he ordered sharply. "I'm impatient. Do you want me to set them off?" There was a metallic sound from the mice that were latched onto each throat. Click. Click. Click. The handcuffs fell from Shion's wrists. The three men tumbled out of the car, bleeding at the neck.
"Greetings later." Nezumi gripped the steering wheel. The car spun around in a U-turn, and hurtled down the road at full speed.
"Nezumi, are you really going to make them explode?"
"Idiot. You think I would plant bombs into my faithful friends? That was just to scare them."
"Were those robot mice? They looked just like the real thing. And with Sampo, how did you―"
"Shut up," Nezumi growled. He yanked the cloth off his head, and threw it to the backseat. "Wrap that over your head and stay curled up."
"Is this superfibre? Why do I have to wrap up in this?"
"Because I'm going to crash it."
Nezumi's fist pounded the steering wheel.
"Just shut up, alright? Is asking questions all you're good for?"
"But we can just escape with the car."
"I was planning to, but―"
"It went too well." They were approaching the wall that separated the West Block from No. 6. The car showed no signs of slowing down. "It shouldn't have been this easy to rescue you."
"You're naturally dense, you wouldn't know. It doesn't get any more dangerous when something's gone too well. That's why we're going to dump this thing. When I tell you to, wrap up in that cloth and jump out of the car. I'm gonna crash it."
"How about you?"
"I'm used to this kind of thing. No need for the dense boy to worry about me."
"I can't just leave you!"
The wall was looming closer.
"Get out, open the door!" Nezumi yelled. Almost simultaneously, the tires screamed as the car screeched to a halt. Shion's body floated up. The next minute, he was being slammed back against the seat. If it weren't for its shock-absorbing material, he probably would have broken a few bones.
"Damnit!" Nezumi kicked the door hard. It didn't move.
"Is it the automatic brake system?" Shion winced at his bruised shoulder as he asked.
"I disabled that a long time ago. I disabled the alarm system, the collision sensor system, everything. This car's being controlled remotely," Nezumi said angrily.
A chuckle resounded throughout the interior of the car. It was Rashi's voice.
"I won't have you underestimate the Security Bureau. The car that you boys are riding is actually an escort cruiser, though you might not have noticed. It's not something you can control so easily."
"I didn't know you had an accomplice. That was something I didn't expect. It was quite the spectacle, very impressive. Why don't we have a nice talk, and I can hear all about it."
The car changed directions, and began to move on its own.
"Rather quiet, hmm? Can your friend not talk? Or does talking pose some kind of problem? Ah, your voice sample must be in the system, which means you have a criminal record."
"I think you're talking a bit too much." Nezumi's hands moved swiftly. "I'm sorry, but I don't have time for pointless conversations with old men." Nezumi moved to the back seat and pushed Shion down. "Duck and get under the cloth. Hold on tight."
"Hey! What are you doing?" There was a note of panic in Rashi's voice.
"See ya, old man. Say goodbye to your high-tech escort cruiser too."
There was a blast. A wave of impact slammed into them.
"Get out!" The short command burst at Shion's ear. The door opened. A gust of hot air swept over them. Outside. I have to get outside. Shion screwed his eyes shut, and leapt into the outside world. He hit the ground, and rolled. Behind him, he heard an enormous explosion. The car was on its side, its wheels in the air spinning helplessly.
"Good job," Nezumi whistled. "You rolled pretty well for someone with such a big head. Not hurt, are you?"
"I scraped my arm pretty badly. You?"
"I told you, I'm used to this."
"What did you do?"
"I destroyed the steering system."
"Escort cruisers might be durable on the outside, but they're delicate on the inside. As long as you set it in the right place, any small bomb will put it right to sleep."
"You seem to know a lot about it."
"Like I said, I'm used to this. Right, now to get out of here. Can you run?"
They emerged from the wood to see several Security Bureau cars approaching in the distance. The area had probably been put under emergency alert.
"Throw your ID card away," Nezumi ordered quietly. "Hurry up, there's no time to waste. That thing is only going to be a danger to us."
Shion knew. His ID card carried all his personal information, and it was connected to and stored in the city's administrative computer system. The computer could instantly pull up his latest information, or pinpoint his location from the weak radio waves that his card emitted. Carrying his ID card was like waving a large flag and telling everyone where he was. It was a dangerous device for anyone who was on the run, in hiding, or aiming to go underground. Nezumi was telling him to throw it away. But― once let go, he would never be able to get it back again. He would be throwing his whole life in No. 6 away. A card was needed for everything from shopping, bill payments, and communication to entering and exiting the workplace or school, and using public transportation. Those who couldn't prove their citizenship in the city were not allowed to live there.
"Throw it away," Nezumi repeated, in the same low voice.
If he didn't toss it, there was no chance for them to escape. But if he did, he would never be able to return. The pair of grey eyes were fixed on him. They were neither clouded in panic, nor glinting in challenge. They were calm, and unreadable. Shion let go of his ID card. A grey mouse appeared, picked up the card in its mouth and disappeared again into the undergrowth.
"He'll get rid of it for us. That should keep the Bureau busy for a while trying to find our location. Not much of a distraction, but it should buy us some time. Let's go."
A Security Bureau car turned right and disappeared into the forest. It had picked up the radio waves emitted by the ID card. They ran in the opposite direction.
"Hurry. Once the Bureau switches to their satellite surveillance system, they'll be able to see everything on land. We have to get away while they're still on the tail of that ID card."
"Well for starters, we'll use that." A small truck was parked up against a beech tree. It was a Park Administration truck. A cleaning robot was loaded on the back.
"Sampo― no, that's Ippo."
"Yeah. They said they wanted to help you and wouldn't listen, so I brought them along. They ended up being pretty useful."
The truck began to move.
"Nezumi, this area's probably under high alert now. If we keep hanging around here without a card, they'll find us out."
"We have a card."
"He has it," Nezumi jerked his chin at Ippo.
"Ippo? Oh, right." Robots were also required to be registered with the city. Robots like Ippo and Sampo, which were used by city organizations, were registered in detail according to their various uses, and implanted with a chip.
"His chip should get us through the inspection system."
"But Ippo's chip only shows that he's a cleaning robot. If he's found roaming an area that has nothing to do with it, they'll get suspicious."
"We're roaming an area that has everything to do with it."
They were approaching a pair of silver gates. The moment they passed through, they would be automatically scanned, and if the contents of the chip deemed them unfit to pass, the gates would close, and the truck would be forced to a halt.
The truck sped through the gates without slowing down. The hazard lamps at the gate remained unlit. Shion let out a breath. Nezumi chuckled.
"Don't get worked up just yet. This is only the beginning."
"Sorry, I'm not used to this kind of thing."
"You'll get used to it in no time. Then you can sit back and enjoy the ride."
"This isn't really my idea of 'enjoyable'," Shion muttered.
"Oh, really? The look on your face says you're enjoying this quite a bit."
Shion sighed deeply again, and gazed at Nezumi's profile.
"Admiring my good looks?"
"No, I just noticed you've gotten taller."
"So have you. It's been four years. Our four years is a long time. Gotta expect some changes. It would be unnatural not to have changed at all."
Four years was a long time. For Shion, it was long and turbulent. But compared to the dizzying events of these past few hours, he felt like they were the most peaceful days of his life. A weariness overcame his body. Nezumi smirked.
"So have you noticed?"
"I'm taller than you."
"Lies," Shion objected.
"It's the truth. What have you been eating? You're like a twig. I don't know how you would be able to get naked in front of your lover with a body like that."
"That's none of your business," Shion replied irritably. "Have you even seen me naked? Don't go making things up."
"What if I said I have?" The cloth wrapped around Nezumi's shoulders shook as he continued to laugh. Shion had treated a wound on that same shoulder four years before. Those shoulders were now broader and more muscled. His once-long hair was shorter, just covering his ears, and his jawline and neck were still slender, but not pitifully thin. He carried no remnant of the weakness that stirred Shion's protective instinct four years ago.
"Nezumi, have you been keeping watch on me?"
"What're you talking about?" said Nezumi innocently.
"Don't play dumb. You appeared right there as if you knew this was going to happen to me. What's going on? Were you keeping me under surveillance?"
"Now, don't think too highly of yourself. I don't have that kind of time on my hands."
"Then explain why."
"You're always like that, aren't you," Nezumi said. "You can't take any action unless you understand everything in your head. You need an explanation and interpretation for everything."
"What do you know?" Shion replied angrily. "Don't act like you know everything about me. I need to find out why this happened― what's going to happen. I can't move in this confused state."
The truck came to a halt. Shion was grabbed by the collar and shaken violently.
"You're going to move," Nezumi hissed. "Don't ever let me hear you whining about not being able to move again. Those guys don't see us as human beings. They can get rid of us as easily as crushing an ant under their feet. You remember that."
Shion caught his breath, and stared into Nezumi's face. His words clicked into place like puzzle pieces.
Rights? You really think you have any of those? The Security Bureau's Investigations Officer Rashi had said those words, not moving a muscle on his face. What he had said in meaning was that he could dispose of Shion as easily as stepping on an ant. Wipe him off the face of the earth.
"Get out." Nezumi opened the door. "We're walking from here."
The vacated truck made a U-turn and slowly coasted along the way that they had come. It had switched to auto-pilot and was returning to the Park Administration Office. On its loading deck sat Ippo, and for a moment, it looked like its head was bowed in dejection.
They were standing inside what doubled as a waste disposal plant and Refuse-derived Fuel (RDF) factory. Here, all the garbage gathered from the city were sorted into those to be turned into RDF, those to be forwarded to other recycling facilities, and those to be discarded as waste. 80% of No. 6's energy supply came from solar power. In Chronos, every house was equipped with solar panels and its own thermal storage system. In Lost Town, however, it was more common to use the cheaper RDFs. RDFs were blocks of solid fuel, about the size of an adult thumb. Once burned, they emitted a faint odour, which blanketed the town.
"I see. It would be no problem getting into a waste disposal plant with a cleaning robot's chip." If it had been a nursing robot or pet robot, they would not have been able to pass.
"Nezumi, was this all part of your plan when you brought Ippo and them along?"
"More questions?" Nezumi's shoulders hunched slightly in exasperation, his back to Shion, who trailed behind. Shion noticed that there was now a grey mouse sitting on Nezumi's shoulder.
"If I had them with me, I wouldn't look suspicious driving around the city. The inspection system wouldn't catch me as long as I was heading west in the direction of the waste disposal plant. They were pretty useful, I'll say. The transport truck was kind of slow, which pissed me off. But those old guys took a detour to your house, right? That bought me a little time. But..."
"But I would have wanted to get away on the Security Bureau car," Nezumi sighed. "Well, that just shows you can't get everything you want. Watch it, things are gonna get a little rough from here."
There was an explosion. Shion turned to see a cloud of white smoke. Nezumi furrowed his brow.
"The truck got destroyed at the gate."
"Which means Ippo's chip was read and―"
"Yeah. They must have sent out a destruction order to all the gates. It's because we left that other robot behind. They figured us out."
―So Ippo and Sampo are both gone.
Shion was suddenly grabbed by the wrist.
"They'll find out soon that we're in here. We're gonna make a run for it. Hurry."
His grip was so strong that Shion's fingers began to go numb.
"Nezumi, it hurts."
"Shut up. Keep close to me."
"I get it, let go. You're gonna break my wrist."
He heard Nezumi tsk in frustration.
"That's the problem with delicate little boys like you."
"I'm not a delicate little boy," Shion said indignantly. "I'm different from four years ago."
"Are you? You know, you can be really irritating sometimes. You might get killed at any time, you understand that right?"
"I'm not lying."
Nezumi's tone grew harsh.
"Then what was that face back there, huh? Is this the time to be feeling sorry for those robots? You don't understand anything. You're just an oblivious little boy." Nezumi's fingers dug in harder. The grip on his wrist tightened painfully. Shion gritted his teeth and bore it silently. He couldn't stand to let himself whimper pitifully after all that Nezumi had said.
Nezumi's fingers withdrew from his wrist.
"Keep up with me if you don't wanna die. Stay close, no matter what." Nezumi broke into a run. The waste disposal plant was deserted. There were surveillance cameras scattered throughout, but most were older models and didn't seem to be doing their job very well. Shion guessed that they probably didn't need them because no one would think of sneaking into the waste disposal plant in the first place. Nevertheless, Nezumi combed the path cautiously as he searched for a route that kept them out of view of the cameras.
An enormous funnel-shaped disposal machine was giving off a steady hum. Waste that could neither be recycled nor used as fuel were turned into dry chips here to be sent to the incinerator. Wastewater dripped from the spout of the machine into the pool below. The water flowed slowly toward the filtration facilities outside. It was murky, like a river after a bout of heavy rain. But in this river there were no living things. As they descended the stairs and drew closer to the water, an acrid smell assaulted Shion's nostrils. The floor beneath their feet was coated with slime, and threatened to trip him up any time. Nezumi stopped, and tossed something at Shion.
"Yup. They have infrared sensors, so you should be able to see even in this water."
Nezumi pointed at the sewage. "Happen to like scuba-diving?"
"So we're diving in here, huh...."
"That we are."
Shion took a deep breath. The odour filled his lungs. Without another word, he put on the goggles.
"Wow, you're picking up quickly," Nezumi remarked in mild amusement. "I thought you'd whine and stamp your feet."
"I don't wanna die," said Shion firmly. "I'm not going to be stepped on like some ant. I'll do anything if it'll save me, and that includes diving into wastewater too."
Nezumi turned to Shion and gave a slight smile.
"Then follow me."
The low hum of the machine stopped. The ceiling lights lit up at once. The sound of footsteps could be heard above them.
"They're coming." Nezumi extended a hand to the river of sewage. A mouse scurried down it and leapt into the water.
"He'll be our navigator. Try not to splash. Get into the water slowly."
Shion did as he was told. He sucked in a deep breath before going in. Just before he hit the water, an image of his mother's face crossed his mind.
Read Chapter 4.