Tuesday, August 23, 2011

[Novel] NO. 6 - Vol 2 Ch 3 (a)

These are English translations of the novel NO. 6 by Asano Atsuko.
Please see annotations on mouse-over.

Sin and Sanctity

Humans are shapeshifters; there's naught that's not in this world. [1]
         - Ihara Saikaku, 'Saikaku's Tales from Various Provinces'

The slope that Shion had skidded down turned out to be an enormous pillar tipped over on its side. Upon closer inspection, he could see that the base was carved out with the figures of several women robed in thin, translucent cloth. Rusty metal foundations were all that remained of what probably used to be an arched ceiling, and several withered vines feebly clung to them. The wall had collapsed entirely, and chunks of stone in all sizes were scattered hither and thither.

If he had accidentally struck his head on one of those― Shion shuddered.

The scene before his eyes was something Shion was seeing for the first time. Naturally, there were no such dilapidated buildings to be found in No. 6. All buildings were built accordingly to their purpose, with efficiency and functionality prioritized above all. Remains such as these, which had drifted through time, exposed to the wind and rain, were synonymous to illusion, and were not a product of reality.

He drew a breath, and let his gaze wander about him again. The wind whipped about in a fierce dance. As if continuing its journey toward yet a more ruinous state, a portion of the wall made a dry, crackling sound as it crumbled right before Shion's eyes.

"Nezumi," he called. It wasn't a plea for help. He had just wanted to call his name. "You're there, aren't you? Come out already."

"You're getting sharper," said a voice somewhere from above. Shion looked up to see Nezumi sitting on a window ledge several metres up. Nothing remained of the window itself except for the frame. The rectangular void, which was bordered in black, looked like a yawning mouth on the face of the crumbling wall, opened wide to let out a scream.

Nezumi jumped down from his spot several metres up. He landed squarely on the soft dirt.

"You're light on your feet," Shion commented.

"I am most humbled by your gracious compliments, your Highness."

"Quite something," Shion quipped. "Not to mention how amazingly fast you seem to disappear when you get into a tight spot."

Nezumi shrugged his shoulders slightly, and gave a soft chuckle.

"You've even learned how to be sarcastic. Quite something, yourself. Grown up a bit, haven't you?"

"I must've gotten ten years' worth of experience from walking through that market."

Nezumi's hand waved languidly in front of Shion's face.

"So you nearly got mowed down by a gun, got seduced by a woman, tripped over a dead body, and got hit on by an old man. Well, I guess for a little boy like you, that counts for about ten years. But―"


"You really have gotten better at running away," Nezumi said approvingly. "Way better than your last try with the fat guy."

"The Disposers, you mean?"

"Yup. It looked like that geezer was seriously into you. To be honest, I thought you'd be good as gone if you managed to get dragged inside."

"You disappeared awfully fast for that."

"I don't get involved in more trouble than I need to," Nezumi laughed silently. "But you did a good job of making a getaway. Let me tell you, though, those guys don't give up easily. And you stand out on your own as it is. I'd be careful if I were you."

"It is with utmost gratitude that I accept your words of advice, your Majesty."

"Oh dear, and your comebacks have gotten better too," Nezumi laughed out loud this time, but softly. The thin dog was sprawled out on the ground, wagging its tail from side to side. The squalor of the market felt like a dream. A silent stillness pervaded the place as if the mountains of debris were absorbing all the sound around them.

"Nezumi, where are we?"

"Take a guess."

"I don't have a clue― looks like it used to be a pretty big building..."

"It's a hotel. There used to be a hospital across from here. Beside that was a playhouse, I think― I don't know much about this place, either."

A hotel, a hospital, a playhouse...

"So this really used to be a decent town."

"I guess so. I mean I don't really know what a decent town is supposed to look like, but there probably weren't bodies everywhere, to say the least. At least back then."

"Back then?"

"Before No. 6 was established."

Shion wasn't surprised. He had expected as much. He closed his fingers lightly over his palm.

"I've learned about the history of No. 6, and how it came to be. It was one of the very first classes we took."

"Mm-hmm," Nezumi replied offhandedly.

"A series of large-scale wars erupted all over the world as the last century was coming to a close. It was before neither of us were born. As a result of the massive amount of bombs and biological weapons that were used, the land was utterly destroyed and the climate deteriorated severely. The majority of all landmasses, with just a few tiny exceptions, lost all ability to sustain human life. There were an enormous amount of casualties. The people that remained vowed never to war again, and in those regions that were spared destruction, they founded six utopian cities. And No. 6 was one of them."

"That's what you learned."


"And you've always believed it to be true?"

"That's the truth that we were taught to believe."

"You remember what you said on the day we first met?" Nezumi said. "You said you didn't think No. 6 was perfect."

"I did."

"Was that a lie?"

"No," Shion answered. "I honestly thought so. But before I met you, I didn't realize that was how I really felt. I met you― and that's when I finally knew."

He had met Nezumi, and realized. He had finally heard the sound of his own conscience creak as it strained against its shackles. He had always felt suffocated. In No. 6, he had everything. He had plenty of food, a warm bed, and full access to medical care at his fingertips. And it didn't stop there― at the age of two, when he had been acknowledged as a top-ranking individual in his Examinations, he had acquired the privilege to live in the luxury neighbourhood of Chronos. All its residents were provided a first-class environment on many facets.

Before he had met Nezumi on that stormy night of his twelfth birthday, he had been surrounded by everything he could wish for, all of first-class quality. But that day, gazing at the wind and rain that rumbled out his window, what Shion had felt was a destructive impulse that seared him to the very core.

He had felt unbearably suppressed. Like a corralled animal that instinctively rams itself against the fence, Shion had wanted to be released from the invisible cage that trapped him. At the very bottom of the deepest part of Shion's subconscious, a voice had been resounding.

This is a facade.
Here, everything is given to you.
But there is nothing here.
You can't live here anymore.
So escape.

Break it.
Destroy it.
Destroy what?

When the voice within him had overlapped with Nezumi's words, Shion had finally understood. I don't know the truth. I don't know anything.

Nezumi's gaze slid away from Shion as he turned his back to him. Shion grabbed his arm.

"Nezumi, tell me."

Tell me the truth. Not a lie, or a haphazard excuse. Tell me its true form― of the Holy City, of No. 6.

His fingers were shaken off roughly.

"I'm not your nanny. If you want to know, then find out for yourself."

He was shaken off again. No matter how many times he tried to grasp at Nezumi, he was always pushed away. Rejected ruthlessly. But still, Shion kept extending his hand.

The dog was pressing its body against him. It was so thin its ribs jutted out, but it was still warm. Very warm. It had the warmth of something who was alive.

"Are you feeling sorry for me, by any chance?"

The dog twitched its drooping, light-brown ear. For a moment, it looked like it grinned at him. Then it lumbered ahead of him to Nezumi's side. Nezumi's hand slowly and gently petted the dog's head.

"So you're nice to dogs, huh."

"Dogs don't act like babies."

"But dogs can't sew."


"Dogs can't suture a wound. I noticed the suturing kit was still in tact in the emergency case. If you ever get hurt again, I'll sew that wound right up for you."

"Why, thank you," Nezumi said sarcastically. "Your offer is so great it's sending chills down my back. That face came into my dreams for quite a while after that day, you know."

"Did I look that great?"

"You were grinning. You had this look on your face like you were having the time of your life. Every time I dreamt about it I had nightmares."

"Well, it was the first time in my life doing a suture. I remember being really excited. Say," said Shion enthusiastically. "So did you take out the stitches yourself?"

"Of course. It was easier than making soup."

"Did it leave a scar?"

"Yeah. But I won't show you."

Shion stuck out his lip.

"Don't be stingy."

Watch your feet, Nezumi interrupted loudly.

"The stairs start here. We're going up."

The sun was setting lower, and darkness was setting in thickly. A large part of the stairs had crumbled away like the wall, and what was left of it wound upwards in a wide clockwise curve. Here, the ceiling was still in tact. It looked like it had originally been painted white, and although most of it had peeled away, there were white flecks of paint still left over here and there. A chandelier was hanging over the stairwell, and to Shion's surprise, it was relatively undamaged.

"So this place really was a hotel."

"It still is."


"This place is still used as a hotel."

"No way."

They emerged at the top of the stairs and were greeted by a large, vacant chamber. It had probably been the lobby. There walls were set in glass from floor to ceiling. The panes in the top half had been shattered and strewn over the floor, but the bottom panes still remained unbroken. Ripped and faded drapes hung lifelessly over them. Vines that had probably intruded through the broken windows clung densely to the walls, criss-crossed like a network of capillaries. Leaves were falling from them, adding to the thick layer that had already carpeted the floor.

It was thanks to a dim light in the room that Shion had been able to decipher this much despite the settling darkness. It came from a candle that was burning on top of a stone table.

"Nezumi, do you smell something?"

"The candle burning, maybe?"

"No, it's not wax. It smells― almost like some animal..."

Nezumi gave a laugh.

"You really have come a long way. Your nose has gotten sharper. Now let's try working on your eyesight. Look."


A shadow moved in the darkness where the light could not reach. It was not a human. It had four legs, two pointed ears, and was growling menacingly.

"A dog," he whispered.

It was a large dog, covered in short, dark-brown fur, with a fierce glint in its eye. Its throat was rumbling in a low growl. Shion took a step backwards.

"He's not the only one," Nezumi added.

There was a note of amusement in his voice― he was enjoying Shion's reaction. Shion resisted the urge to turn and give Nezumi a glare. He had no attention to spare for that.

With the first dog in the lead, several dogs of all shapes, sizes, and colours were emerging from the darkness. They were far from what would be called pets. They were dirty, their eyes glinted viciously, and their teeth were bared.

"Is this a nest for wild dogs?"

"Might be. What do you wanna do? Run away? If you don't decide soon, you'll get your throat torn out."

The dark-brown dog approached him warily. It wasn't growling anymore. It silently but steadily drew up to him, without ever lowering its gaze.

Shion gazed back into the set of caramel eyes that were the same colour as its fur. Behind the savage light in its eyes, there resided something surprisingly gentle. Shion could feel its presence there.


Shion lowered himself into a kneel. The shattered glass crunched underneath his denim-clad knee. Nezumi fidgeted. Shion didn't move. Crouched on the ground, he stared straight at the dog.

The dog stopped. It stood still in front of him. It opened its mouth, lolling its pink tongue, and licked the tip of Shion's nose. Then it lay down on the spot, and gave a yawn. All the other dogs began moving about on their own. Some began to groom each other, others sprawled out on the floor; still others began sniffing at their surroundings, and none of them seemed to have any concern for Shion's presence.

"I passed the interview," Shion grinned as he looked up at Nezumi. Nezumi clicked his tongue, and turned away.

"Didn't the wild dogs scare you at all?" he said sourly.

"They did. But wild dogs don't light candles."

Nezumi sniffed in derision. "You've never even seen a candle before."

"I just did for the first time. It was brighter than I imagined it to be. Hey, Nezumi, does someone live here?"

Laughter rang out. It echoed off the ruins, and faded into the darkness.

"Pleased to have ya, guest."

It was a human voice, but he couldn't see who it belonged to. The voice was echoing from so many directions that he couldn't tell from whence it came. It ricocheted and overlapped in countless layers. Just listening to it made him feel dizzy.

"Stop shitting around." Nezumi bent down. He picked up a piece of debris, and flung it straight into the darkness where the dogs had come from. It was sucked into the gloom, but he could hear a definite sound in the distance as it hit the floor.

"Watch it." The focus of the voice settled to one point in the darkness. It was a young voice. A light flickered in the inky-black pool.

"That's some violent way to greet someone, Nezumi. You've got no manners."

"You could use some manners yourself, if that was what you call the proper way to welcome a guest."

A figure was weaving through the dogs toward them with a candleholder. Even by the candle's flame, the person looked like he was thrown in shadow.

His waist-length hair, his eyes, his trousers that were ripped at the knees, and his baggy sweater were all black. He had tan skin.

Was he a boy? A girl?

Shion couldn't make the distinction. The stranger's pointed chin and round eyes reminded him of a small rodent. He was very small and thin, and reached only up to about Shion's shoulders in height.

"He lives here," Nezumi said. "I don't know his real name. We just call him Inukashi."

"Like― dog lender?"

"That's the one," the stranger answered. "Lending dogs is my trade. Nice to meet ya, Shion." Inukashi grinned. Shion was taken by surprise.

"You know my name."

"I'm quick to catch onto things around here. As long as I have my dogs, getting any information about these parts is a piece of cake. I know your name, and I know that you kicked the Disposer guy in the nuts before you came running here. This guy told me everything."

The emaciated dog wagged its tail from its place beside Inukashi.

"You can speak with dogs?"

"I'll hold conversations with anyone, as long as they're not human. Whenever you want any information, feel free to come to me." Inukashi extended his hand with a smile. He was wearing a thick, silver ring. It matched well with his tan skin.

"Nice to meet you, too." Shion also extended his own hand.

It had been a while since he had shaken hands with someone. So far, his experiences had only consisted of running away, yelling, or rolling around. Inukashi's face was open and affectionate, and reminded him of a puppy.

A sharp pain ran through his palm.


Shion withdrew his hand hastily. At the base of his index finger, there was a small wound about the size of a pinprick. Blood was already starting to well up from it. It ran down the palm of his hand in a single, red stream. He thought he felt the tips of his fingers go numb.

Inukashi threw his head back and cackled.

"What was that for?" Shion said in disbelief.

"'What was that for' he says!" Inukashi crowed. "Haha, what a surprise! You fell right into that handshake, and you're turning on me and asking me 'what was that for'? Classic."

Inukashi showed his palm to Shion, and bent his fingers slightly. A tiny needle-tip poked out of the middle of the ring. When he straightened his fingers, it retracted again.

"It's been used as an assassination weapon for ages. Well, the proper way to use it would be to coat the needle-tip with poison. But I haven't done anything to these, so you can relax."

Shion pressed hard on the base of his finger. He licked his dry lips, and opened his mouth in question.

"Why would you do that?"

"Oh dear," said Inukashi exaggeratedly. "Now he's asking me, why would you do that?"

Inukashi's gaze moved to Nezumi, who stood by silently.

"Haven't you taught this guy anything about how to live here?"

"That's not my responsibility."

"You picked him up and brought him home, didn't you? If you're gonna pick up a stray, you gotta take care of him properly. He'll make himself useful one day."

"I'm not so sure about that."

Inukashi laughed again.

"If he doesn't, just eat him. Or is he―" Inukashi's gaze travelled to Shion's hair. "He's got interesting hair. Has he got issues, or what?"

Nezumi turned up the corner of his mouth and answered shortly.

"As many issues as the dogs you have. Too many to count."

"Uh-huh. So the rumours were true. You really are keeping a young boy as a pet." Inukashi's face turned serious as he stared at Shion from head to toe. It was a bold and insolent gaze. The thin dog suddenly raised itself off the floor, and barked once. Two furry brown balls came tumbling out of the darkness. They were puppies, probably a month or two old. Their noses and tails were tipped with white. The skinny dog lay down again, showing its belly. Its teats drooped pitifully. The puppies eagerly latched themselves onto them. Their round bottoms wagged from side to side.

"Wow, puppies!" Shion exclaimed. He gently petted their backs so not to get in the way of their feeding. "Wow, Nezumi, look. They're so soft. Why don't you try petting them too?"

"No thanks."

"But look, they're puppies. So you're a mom, huh. It must be tough for you, raising all these kids."

Inukashi furrowed his brow and retreated half a step away from Shion.

"What's up with this guy? What's he doing having a serious conversation with a dog? Is he unbalanced or something?"

Nezumi pointed to his temple.

"He's a little vacant up here. It comes naturally to him."

"Comes naturally, huh? Why are you taking care of this weirdo?"

"Like I said, he's got issues. And he might not look it, but he's pretty good with his hands. He can even pull off a simple surgery."

"I don't care what he can do, I wouldn't have any of it. He'd never be anything more than a dead weight."

"Couldn't have said it better myself," replied Nezumi. "So have you looked up what I asked you to?"

"Of course. A job's a job. Let's go upstairs." Inukashi took his candle holder in his other hand and disappeared back into the darkness. There were more stairs. Like the ones before, they wound upwards in a gentle curve. These ones weren't crumbled as badly. The rubble was cleared with a space just wide enough for a person to walk through.

"Oh―" Shion murmured in surprise as they emerged at the top of the stairs.

A narrow hallway ran straight before them. There was a person curled up at the edge of the hall. Beside him were a pair of dogs. They had long white fur, and they were nestled closely against the person as if to protect him. Shion squinted his eyes, and he could make out several more of these groups of people and dogs curled up together.

"What are these people doing?"

Inukashi answered over his shoulder.

"They're my customers."


"This place used to be a hotel, and it still is now. Rumour says this place used to be quite grand, but now it's just somewhere people can bunk for a bit of money if they have nowhere to stay for the night. We have beds, too. If you can cough up the cash, I can get them ready for ya."

"What about those dogs?"

"I rent them out for heating. It can get pretty cold at night, but it's not so bad if you curl up with a dog or two like them. You won't freeze to death, at least."

"So that's where 'dog-lender' comes from."

"Dogs are useful for other things too. They'll collect information, guard your property, or carry your stuff. They'll do anything. They're probably much more useful than a natural airhead like you."

Nezumi clucked his tongue.

"That's my line."

At the very end of the hall was a wooden door. Beyond it was a small room, with a low ceiling and no windows. A round table stood in the centre of it. Inukashi placed the candle holder down, and spread an old map over the surface of the table.

"This map that Nezumi got his hands on is from around twenty years ago. This is my hotel here, and LK-3000 should be somewhere around here."

"Latch Building isn't marked on this map," Nezumi added. "I asked Inukashi to look into that."

He ran a finger lightly over the map. It was a casual gesture, but one of understated elegance. It was a movement calculated and honed to perfection, fully aware of watching eyes.

"What?" Nezumi tilted his head at Shion's gaze.

"No― I just thought that sometimes you move really elegantly."


"Sometimes your gestures are really captivating. I couldn't help but stare."

Inukashi looked up at them, his gaze alternating between Nezumi and Shion's face.

"How can you say something like that in front of his face?" he asked in disbelief. "Nezumi, this guy really is naturally oblivious. How do you put up with him?"

"I manage somehow."

"Shion, haven't you heard what this guy does for a job?"


Inukashi thrust his open palm toward Shion.

"If you pay up, I can tell you. Selling information is another one of my trades."

"I don't have any money."

"What? You don't? Nezumi, you're taking care of a penniless bum?" Inukashi's eyes narrowed. "So he has weird hair, he's an airhead, shakes hands without a second thought, and has no money― Nezumi, where did you bring him from?"

"Where do you think?"

"I'm asking the question here."

"If you pay me, I can tell you."

"Don't mess around," Inukashi snapped. "You're the one who should be paying up."

Nezumi took out a small leather pouch from his pocket.

"There you go."

The contents of the pouch fell on top of the map. It was a small, grey mouse.

"It's a mico-robot. It has audio and video recognition and recording sensors, and it's mounted with a solar-powered micro-battery. One charge will make it last for thirty-six hours. It can move around freely to gather information. You'll find plenty of use for the places your dogs can't get into. You were telling me you wanted one, right?"

Inukashi nodded wordlessly. He moved his head up and down in an exaggerated way, much like how a small child would nod.

"Are you really going to give this to me?" he asked.

"Yeah. If your information is worth it."

Nezumi put the mouse back into the pouch again, and clenched it lightly. Inukashi's tone of voice sped up.

"Fine. I'll jump right to the conclusion. Latch Building doesn't exist."

"Is that all you've got?"

"Of course not. It doesn't exist, but there's something that goes by that name."

"Latch Building?"

"Latch Bill, and it's the name of a newspaper. A long time ago, there used to be a newspaper company by that name, right behind this hotel. It went bankrupt and got torn down to be made into a parking lot for this place. It happened before this map was made, which is why it doesn't exist."

"So Latch Bill 3F means―"

"If it means the 3rd floor of that newspaper company, then―"


"I have no idea," Inukashi said abruptly. "There's no way for me to know what could have been on the 3rd floor of a newspaper that went out of business twenty-something years ago. You should meet up directly with the guy who has ties to that place."

"There's someone with ties to it?"

"Yeah. I got the location of one guy who had ties to Latch Bill. And said guy also has interesting connections to No. 6. Listen carefully―"

Nezumi leaned forward. Shion swallowed.

* * *

No. 6 was shrouded in the red glow of the sunset. Nothing was more exquisite than the sunset of late autumn. The man let out a satisfied sigh.

What beauty this was, what a tranquil scene. The Forest Park only days ago had been showing a vivid contrast between turning leaves and those that were still green, but now most of the trees had lost their leaves. It was a peaceful kind of beauty, of nature that was quietly preparing for the approaching winter.

He had gathered here the pinnacles of modern science; he had nature under his management, and the ultimate utopian city was nearing its completion. People were fortunate to be able to be born, raised, and live to an old age here. They were the chosen ones.

There was no such thing as misfortune here. Even the occasional hurricane that came upon them was an abundant source of natural irrigation that watered the agricultural and farming pastures that spread from East to Southern Blocks.

All it needed was a little more. A little more, and the land of the gods would finally be complete. A utopia, where only the chosen ones would reside. It only needed a little more.

"You really must love the view from here." A voice said behind him, with the hint of a laugh.

"Wouldn't you agree that it's excellent?"

The man that had laughed silently shook his head in an expression of refusal. He was wearing a white lab coat.

"I prefer the micro-universe. The world of bacteria, microbes, neurons, macrophages, viruses. When you get to something like viruses, you're at the nanometre scale. You could only see them through an electron microscope. They're very beautiful, you know. The really beautiful things are things you can't see with the naked eye. There's only so much that your eyes can show you as is."

"That's always been your mantra, hasn't it. You've been saying that for as long as I can remember."

"It's my unchanging mantra."

"And you also still drink strong coffee before and after supper."

"That's another unchanging habit of mine."

The men looked at each other and chuckled quietly. They had known each other for decades. They knew well what part of the other had changed, and what remained the same.

"So what now? I think it's about time." The man raised his custom-made coffee cup. The coffee in it remained steaming and fragrant as if it had just been poured, thanks to the adjustment mechanism built into the cup. The man robed in the lab coat licked his bottom lip. It was his habit when he was immersed in thought.

"You're talking about collecting more samples," he said.

"Live ones."

"Yes, we've already collected a few dead sample bodies. But we can't say they're nearly enough, though. We want a few more."

"If you want, I can find ways to go about it. How many do you need?"

"I'll report to you later with how many we want for each condition based on sex, age, and history of illness."

"That would be great. So how about the live ones? Do you want me to go into collection preparation?"

"No, I need more time."


"The data from the collected samples is still incomplete. We're still running analyses and uploading it to the database. I want to flesh that out first."

"It's taking unusually long for you. How rare."

"If we were able to do it publicly, things would go much more smoothly. But doing this much under wraps is going to take double the time. I want you to keep that in mind. Besides, we should have entered the live samples stage only after the dead sample database was complete. That was an unexpected occurrence― we have to investigate as to why that happened in this stage. It'll all take time...."

"I know," the man conceded. "I'm not rushing you. Make sure that everything gets carried out carefully, thoroughly, and perfectly. This is all connected to No. 6's future roots. Yes― and this is the final piece."

"The final piece to make this place a Holy City in the actual sense, hmm." The lab coat chuckled. "Cheers to the Great Leader." He raised his coffee cup lightly.

"And cheers to the Great Brain behind it all." The man lifted his cup as well. There was a moment of silence. The man in the lab coat spoke with a slightly lowered voice.

"But is it really good to go?"


"Collection of the living sample. I heard a certain Rat is with him."

The man placed his coffee cup down, and wiped his lips with his fingers.

"It's just one rat. It should barely be an obstacle at all."

"If you could get him alive as well― I'm interested in him."

"You want to cut him open?"

"An autopsy, hmm. That would be rather nice. I would like to investigate every corner of his body. But before that― we need more samples."

The man in the lab coat suddenly stood up, and began soundlessly pacing on the thick carpet. He strode impatiently, taking large steps with his hands behind his back. It was a bad habit of his that he had since he was young. Following the movements of the tall lab-coated man with his gaze, the man reclined deeply into his desk chair.

"Yes that's the main issue," the lab coat continued. "The total number of samples is severely lacking. We need more, Fennec." Fennec was a nickname that had been given to the man when he was young. A desert fox. It had the smallest body and largest ears of its kind. Its ears, which could reach up to fifteen centimetres long, was not only well-suited for releasing body heat effectively, but possessed keen hearing ability that could detect even a grasshopper hopping in the sand. He had also heard that, contrary to its cute appearance, it had a vicious personality.

It was not a nickname that he liked very much. He had not used it, nor been called by it for quite some time now. He had almost forgotten about it. But he didn't feel the same repulsion toward it as he did in his younger days. He even felt somewhat fond about it now.

Fennec. The desert fox. Not bad.

"We don't have enough living samples either. I'd want at least two, no, three more on hand. But that could be difficult...."

The man in the lab coat continued muttering to himself, and paced increasingly quickly. He was completely oblivious to everything else around him. He had probably not even realized that he had called the man Fennec. He had been like that since he was young. His research and experiments, his speculation, his satisfaction. It was only ever about him. He had never shown any interest toward things external to him. He showed no attachments to power, money or women. He had no need for faith, philosophy or morals in his life. A brain of rare intelligence and a vacant soul....

―Which is why he's useful all the more.

The man trained his gaze on the pacing figure clad in the lab coat, and smiled.

―You would have no use for a soul. If you did, it would only be to declare your loyalty to me.

The lab coat stopped pacing.

"Fennec, let's make another living sample. I want a female this time. It might be difficult. Yes, at this stage it will be very difficult... but that's why we should prepare one ahead of time."

"Let's do it."

"There's a great risk of failure, however―"

"Failure and sacrifice are all things we must go through in order to gain progress. Don't worry, we'll be able to overcome it to hold the final piece in our hands."

"I guess you're right," the lab coat agreed.

"Let's have supper then, shall we? This probably won't pique your interest much, but I've had it all prepared, and the main course will be lamb. I've also a remarkable wine to go with."

"And coffee after the meal?"

"Of course. But I beg you, at least take off that lab coat while we eat."

The man lightly clapped the lab coat on the shoulder. Then he gave a sidelong glance at the scene out his window. Beyond the pane of thick, spotless glass, the stars were beginning to twinkle.

Continued in PART B.

  1. My own translation; most Japanese and English sources seem to take this quote in an ominous way, but I preferred to use the more optimistic interpretation of Shirane, which interprets the passage as, because humans shapeshift, anything goes.

    Shirane, Haruo, & James Brandon. Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900. New York: Columbia UP, 2002. 57-58.

    Original source:
    Ihara, Saikaku. Saikaku Shokoku-banashi. 1685. (back)