Act One Scene Two
No, you've got it all wrong.
because we want to live.
- Tezuka Osamu, Grand Dolls
The sighs of the wind grew louder. High-pitched and somewhat plaintive, it whistled through the ruins. The man awoke to hear the sound of the wind around him. He hadn't lost much of his composure. Bound and sitting on the floor, he let his gaze roam around the room.
"What's going on?" He questioned hoarsely. No one answered. "What's going on, Rikiga? You understand what you're doing, don't you?"
"Let me go." The man twisted in his bonds. But he realized that the more he struggled, the more the ropes dug into his body, and he soon quieted down. He let his gaze wander about again, and cleared his throat. He remained unruffled.
"What are you after?" he said calmly. "Money? Surely you don't think you'll be let off easily for doing something like this?"
"Our point is not to be let off at all." Nezumi knelt down in front of the man. The man widened his eyes in surprise, and murmured appreciatively.
"You're a beauty." A smile spread across the man's face. "Rikiga, this one's a much finer gem."
"If it pleases you to have me," Nezumi said, hooking a leather-gloved finger on the man's chin, "then you can have me to your heart's content. But it'll be expensive. Five gold coins isn't nearly gonna cut it."
"Hmph," the man sneered. "So it is money you're after. How much do you want?"
"I don't want money."
The contemptuous smile vanished from the man's face. He tried to draw his chin back, but Nezumi's fingers held fast and didn't let him.
"If it's not money―then what?"
"Information," Nezumi repeated. "I'm going to have you spit out every piece of information you have, right here."
"And after that, I'll give you plenty of my company. I think it's a good deal, don't you?"
"Don't make me laugh," the man retorted. "Mere West Block residents, having the audacity to ask for information? And what will filth like you do with information about the Holy City, hm? What use would it be to you? You ought to go back to crawling around in the dirt where you belong."
There was a slap. Nezumi's right hand had struck a fierce blow across the man's cheek. The man fell to the floor on his side. Nezumi yanked him upright by his hair, and sharply slapped the other cheek. Once more. Twice. The man never so much as raised a groan, and only crumpled to the floor each time.
Shion stood frozen and staring with his breath caught in his throat. Lit in the glow of the candle, Nezumi's profile had no expression. Blank-faced, as if wearing a mask, he continued to abuse the man.
"Nezumi―" His body shook.
Please. No more. Stop―
As Shion took a step forward, a tan arm barred him.
"Shut up and watch, little boy," Inukashi hissed quietly, licking his lips with the tip of his tongue. "The fun's just getting started. Don't get in the way."
"But this―this is too much."
"Shion, remember what you said before?"
"You said to me once that Nezumi was kind. I think it was in this room, actually. Have you forgotten?"
A quiet chuckle escaped Inukashi's lips.
"It's just getting started, Shion. Make sure you get a good look at exactly how kind your dearest Little Mouse is."
There was a cut on the side of the man's mouth. It looked like he had cut the inside of it too; a mix of saliva and blood oozed from his lips.
"Stop it―please―" the man moaned. Nezumi's hand stopped.
"Feel like speaking truthfully now?"
"I... don't know... anything..."
"A high official of the Central Administration Bureau like yourself, know nothing, sir? That doesn't even make a good joke."
"All information is managed and processed by computers... there isn't... much that I know..."
Shion thought that he had a point. Even if he was a high official, it didn't mean he would have access to all internal information about No. 6. The more classified the information, the more barriers there would be, so that only a select handful of people would know its entirety. Only a select handful―
Who were they? he wondered. It was a question he had never considered up until now. In No. 6's City Hall, inside the oval-shaped dome of the Moondrop, a certain man reigned.
He was a figure who was at the centre of the citizens' overwhelming support and admiration for building up the prosperity of No. 6. Apart from the first one, all mayoral elections had been without any other competitors.
Could it be him?
The image of the mayor's face on television rose in his mind. It was wearing a gentle smile. He had seen it in no other expression. He had not been able to. The more steps the city took toward prosperity, the less he began to see the mayor's unmediated face in public. And at the same time, enormous support and political power were beginning to concentrate around this one man. The mayor, as he spoke to the citizens through the media, was always a mild-mannered gentleman, full of intellect and compassion.
"I don't like him."
Shion's mother Karan had said so once, and turned off the television soon afterwards. Shion was not yet ten, but he nevertheless remembered being surprised at the harsh tone of his mother's voice, and the fact that she had spat out those words about the mayor, whom everyone else praised.
"Why don't you like him?"
"I don't like his ears. They're so vulgar."
"They twitch. Like some kind of beast that's after his prey."
Was the mayor twitching his ears as he was being broadcast? Shion had tilted his head, perplexed. Then Karan's face had grown serious, and she had said, that's a secret. By that time, there had been a generally discouraging air throughout the city towards people who criticized the mayor, and it was best to keep criticisms to yourself. It had been nearly ten years since then, and the mayor was still sitting at his post of highest power in No. 6, while Shion was here, outside the wall.
"Answer my question." Nezumi's low voice reached his ears as if crawling stealthily across the ground. "This new facility that's been built inside the Correctional Facility―what is it? What's it for?"
The man shook his head.
"I don't know."
"Then which Bureau is it under?"
"I don't know."
"A few days ago, a young woman―an elite candidate―was taken into custody by the Security Bureau. She's been imprisoned in the Correctional Facility, but that's as far as we know. Does her case have something to do with that new facility?"
"I don't... know..."
"I've heard that lately there have been patients sprouting up inside the city with an unidentifiable illness. Is that true? What are the symptoms? How many patients are there?"
There was no answer. Nezumi straightened up, and shrugged slightly.
"You don't have much of a vocabulary for a high official. Didn't you have to be a little smoother than that to pick up girls?"
The inside of the man's mouth was probably swelling, for his voice came out strangely muffled. "Untie me, and let me go. If you do, I'll forget about this incident. I'll do you a favour and pretend it never happened."
"Why, thank you. A judgment of clemency. I'm so grateful―Inukashi," he said abruptly.
"Uh?" Inukashi answered lazily.
"Keep him still."
"A'ight." Inukashi quickly stepped in behind the man, and held his shoulders and arms down. Nezumi unsheathed his knife.
"What are you doing?" the man cried frantically. His forehead was moist with sweat.
"Quiet down. I'm just granting your wish."
The white blade flashed in the hazy light. The knife, clean of any ornament or decoration, was eerily beautiful. The ropes fell away. Nezumi, with an almost languid air, took the man's hand in his own. He held it by the wrist, and peered into the man's face. The man stayed frozen and unmoving, although he had long been freed. Perhaps he was not able to move. The pair of grey eyes had arrested and trapped him in his spot.
Leather-gloved fingertips stroked the man's palm.
"I figured a high official of No. 6 like you would only need a little pain before he started bawling and spilling the beans. Looks like I underestimated you by a lot."
Nezumi traced the man's hand, finger by finger, and gave a small sigh. It was almost almost like a loving caress.
"You've got guts. It's quite something. Let me give you a reward."
A shard of glass was placed on the man's hand. It was a piece from the shattered liquor bottle.
"And one more."
The pointed end of the shard shone dully.
"What―what are you doing―?" The man shook his head, his voice and body quaking uncontrollably. "Stop―stop it, please―"
"Why? The reward's all ready for you. Take it."
Nezumi's hands cupped around the man's, and closed it firmly.
The wind grew still. For a brief moment, a bloodcurdling scream rang out in the silent room. Rikiga's face contorted as he averted his gaze. Inukashi also closed his eyes, and bit his lip while he held the man down.
"Answer me!" Nezumi commanded, still clenching the man's hand closed. "Answer everything I've asked you, or else I'll make sure you can never use any of your five fingers again."
"Nezumi!" No sooner had Shion yelled his name than he found himself springing forward. He rammed himself into Nezumi. Bloodstained shards of glass fell out of the man's hand onto the floor.
"Stop―stop, please." Nezumi showed neither surprise nor anger, and remained expressionless as if he had expected Shion to act this way all along. The only thing he did was to click his tongue lightly in irritation.
"Don't get in my way."
"You can't. You can't do this. This... this is torture."
"What other way do I have? If I bow my head and say will you please, is this guy gonna tell me everything?"
"Well―but―but this isn't right. I don't want you to do something like this."
"Shion, get over yourself and your indulgent thoughts, or else we're never gonna get anywhere. We aren't playing house. This is a war."
Shion knew. He knew very well. He was aware of the hardships that awaited him in the future. But―
"But―it's not right. Torture isn't right. Don't do it."
"He's a human. We can't make him suffer."
Nezumi snorted. He turned aside, and laughed silently with his mouth closed. The man was sobbing pitifully, his hand bloody and shaking. Poor guy, Inukashi muttered under his breath. Nezumi nudged the man's thigh with the tip of his boot, and looked Shion straight in the eye.
"You heard what he said. Us West Block people are filth to guys like him. Like bugs that scuttle across the ground. He's probably never even thought of us as humans, with blood running through our veins, and emotions like everyone else. Whether we bleed, or starve to death―or writhe in pain, it has nothing to do with him. That's what he thinks. So why do we have to treat him like a human? If we're insects to them, then these guys aren't even―"
"I don't want to see it!" Shion found himself yelling, more loudly than his last outburst. He yelled to block out Nezumi's voice.
"I don't want to see it. I don't want to see you harm someone like this." He felt nauseous. At himself. A thick, black self-hatred coiled within his body. Don't want to see? Then drop your gaze. You're always like this. You've always averted your eyes from everything you don't want to see, and pretended you didn't notice. For whose sake is Nezumi exercising this brutality? Isn't it all for you? Didn't you force him to do this? Haven't you burdened Nezumi with a sin that should have been your own―and now you're crying saintly things? They're just pretty words, Shion. Everything you say and do, just a pretty facade. You never dirty your own hands, never bear a wound on your soul, never get hurt, and yet, you mustn't hurt others, you say, brandishing justice.
This self-righteousness, this arrogance, this falseness, superficiality, your unsightly and hideous nature.
It's all you.
None other than his own voice was speaking to him. Shion felt nauseous. The hatred slithered and twisted inside him.
But he didn't want to see it. Despite everything, he didn't want to see it. He could be certain of that much.
"I don't―want to see you like that." Nezumi, I don't want to see you cold and ruthless. Because it's a lie. Everything you've taught me has always led to rebirth and creation. You told me to live, and you told me to think. You taught me to love another, to understand another, to seek a connection, to yearn―and yes, everything you've taught me is the bare opposite of ruthlessness. I don't want to see you as someone you're not.
"Eve." Rikiga swayed and stepped forward. "Shion's right. Leave it at that. Fura's grown up as an elite since he was a kid. He probably has no resistance at all against pain. Put him through any more, and who knows, you might finish him off with a cardiac arrest."
Nezumi shrugged. Expressionless eyes flitted between the wailing man and Shion. Without another word, he withdrew a step. Then, he slowly pulled off his bloodstained gloves.
I'll step down and leave the spot free for you. Do as you would, until you're satisfied.
Shion knelt down on the blood-spattered floor. He spoke to the man.
"Fura-san. I want you to listen to me. The girl that was apprehended by the Security Bureau is my very precious friend. I'm willing to do anything it takes to save her. And to do that, I need information from you."
"It hurts... it hurts... so much blood..."
"If you speak to us, then I'll treat your wound."
"Please, stop the blood," Fura implored. "Stop the pain. Hurry!" The man offered his palm. He thrust it out, with tears streaming down his face. There were bleeding cuts in various places, but the wounds themselves were not that deep. As long as they didn't get infected, they were surely of no threat to his life.
"A couple licks from a dog, and it'd be gone in a night," Inukashi cackled, showing his teeth.
"Rikiga-san, can you bring me some clean water and alcohol?" said Shion.
"Don't have much to disinfect with except my booze."
"And the water―I can just draw it from the stream?"
"Alright, I'll bring some." Rikiga sighed in relief, and left the room. His footsteps were light, as if he couldn't wait to get out of the place. Shion renewed his composure, and turned back to the man's exhausted face.
"I'll treat you, so talk to me. I don't have time. I want you to answer me truthfully."
"Oh―" the man whimpered. "Fine―hurry, just make the pain stop―please, quick―"
"What's the facility that's been newly built inside the Correctional Facility?"
"I―I really don't know."
"So even someone of your rank doesn't know―does that mean it's top-secret information for the city? As classified as it gets?"
"Yeah―there's a project team that's directly beneath the mayor, and everything happens between them... we have no involvement in it... we aren't allowed."
"You aren't allowed to be involved. But you know that some project or other exists, am I right?"
"The city's―in-invested a lot of money into it," the man stammered. "It was declared in the budget on the pamphlet we got at the assembly... and..."
"Was it a problem at the assembly?" Shion asked. If it was, then naturally, a question would be raised from the assembly, and the mayor would have no choice but to give an answer. For what reason was this enormous budget set aside? What was this project for? If there had been a diet member who had raised the issue―
"Of course not," the man's mouth twisted in derision. "There's no way anyone could object or question a project proposed by the mayor himself. The budget was simply printed in the document―until seeing this, we hadn't known about it... and by that time, it was already―"
"The facility had already been built in the Correctional Facility."
"Anything about the project team members?"
"I don't know... I don't know names... even how many there are. No one... should know."
"That's amazing. No one knows anything about it, there's no explanation, and yet just because it's the mayor's project, he gets free reign with the funds. And no one complains? Yeesh, I'm so jealous, I could topple over from envy. Wish I could get a piece of that." True to his word, Inukashi promptly hugged his knees and flopped backwards on the bed.
Rikiga entered, carrying a pail of water. The stream that ran by the ruins apparently traced back to a natural spring in the wood, and it was constantly brimming with clear, cold water. Come spring, clusters of little blush-pink flowers would line the edges of the river―a girl called Kalan, who went by the same name as his mother, had told Shion.
The clear water lapped inside the worn pail.
"We're going to clean the wound. Put your hand in the water―Inukashi, do we have clean cloth?"
"Clean? Not a word I have a close relationship with. This is the West Block, you know. The cleanest thing here is probably a dog's tongue."
Rikiga silently handed him a roll of gauze. It was a little old and yellowed, but nevertheless unused. It was a luxury item in the West Block.
"I figured something like this would happen," Rikiga said. "So I had some ready. I don't have anything fancy like antiseptic, though. Use this, if it'll do."
A small liquor bottle was tossed into Shion's lap. There was a colourless liquid inside.
"Gin, from my precious stash."
"Thank you." Shion dipped the man's hand in water. Streams of blood ribboned and swayed in the water like crimson seaweed.
"This will sting a bit." Shion pressed a piece of gauze soaked in gin against the wound. The man grunted in pain, but didn't struggle. Shion wrapped the gauze around his hand, and knotted it tightly.
"You haven't cut any nerves or tendons. If you re-dress the wound properly later, it shouldn't pose a huge problem."
"It still... hurts..." the man protested feebly.
"We don't have painkillers here. You'll have to bear with it."
The man's gaze beheld Shion steadily for the first time.
"―How old are you?"
"How did your hair turn like that?"
"Oh, this―" Shion brought a hand to his hair, now almost entirely drained of its colour. He had been so busy trying to live each day in the West Block, and these past days he had thought of nothing except Safu. It had been a long time since he had bothered to think about his hair colour. He had forgotten about it. His hair still held its shine, and Nezumi had said that some would perhaps find it beautiful. But Shion's white hair was still a mismatch for his young age of sixteen, and seemed to appear odd to some people.
"There's a slew of reasons behind this. I didn't bleach it on purpose," Shion explained.
"You're not a resident of this place, are you?"
"Where did you come from?"
"From within the wall."
"From within the city? Impossible!"
"I was living in No. 6 until recently."
"What's a city resident doing here?"
"That―well, there are a lot of reasons for that, too."
Shion had moved from inside the wall to outside of it. In numbers, it was not a considerable distance. But if he were to explain why he had crossed the border between two distinctly separate worlds, to be where he was now―he felt like no amount of words would be enough.
"What did you used to do inside?"
"I did cleaning duties at a park. I was a student as well―that was my main occupation."
"Hey, hey," Inukashi butted in. "That's enough. What're you doing answering his questions? Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?"
"How can you be so slow?" Inukashi said exasperatedly. "Buck up a little, I'm begging ya. You're making me start to feel bad for you, man."
"Uh―right, okay. Sorry."
"Apologizing to me isn't gonna help. Geez, talk about unfit for interrogation. It's like trying to teach a mole how to swim. My dogs would probably do a better job."
Inukashi raked a hand through his black hair, scratched impatiently, and gave an exaggerated sigh. Shion turned red. Inukashi was right―he'd never even known how to interrogate someone, and he couldn't see himself doing it well. Still kneeling, he looked up at Nezumi.
In a dim patch of darkness out of light's reach, Nezumi was leaning back against the wall with his arms folded. His expression was indiscernible.
Shion knew there was simply no time to be complaining that he would rather not, or that he couldn't do it. He bit his lip.
"Fura-san, so basically you're saying that you don't know anything about the Correctional Facility."
"Then what do you think it is?"
"Why do you personally think those facilities are there?"
"Why do I personally―"
"Yes. I want to know from your personal perspective―what sort of thing would the mayor build that he would keep in secret, and not let anyone else interfere with?"
"Th-There's no way I would know. I don't have any information―I don't have any files or resources."
"Then just make a prediction. Imagine what it would be, even."
Imagine. The man enunciated the word slowly. He let it roll off his tongue cautiously, like tasting a fruit that he had never seen before.
The stench of alcohol and blood mingled together in the air. The wind renewed its forceful gusts, and whistled high-pitched and forlorn.
The man's bloodless lips moved.
"I reckon―the Health and Hygiene Bureau might have something to do with it."
"Health and Hygiene Bureau? Not the Security Bureau?"
The Bureau of Health and Hygiene singly managed the city's hygiene and the health of its citizens. It presided over all hospitals and health clinics in the city. This Bureau administered the Children's Examinations to select elites at an early stage, and also ran the yearly physical assessments that were mandatory for every citizen. It was an important bureau, but from Shion's knowledge, it didn't have a close connection with the core of the city as much as the Security and Central Administration Bureau did. Since his former workplace at the Park Administration Office had been a distant branch of the Health and Hygiene Bureau, he had a little knowledge about the Bureau's activities from the information that trickled in.
The Correctional Facility and the Health and Hygiene Bureau―two organizations that seemed to be most disconnected with each other in fact turned out to be closely entangled.
"Fura-san, why do you think so?"
"It's just what I imagine. You told me I could."
"Yes, I did."
"Just my imagination. But..."
"At the Municipal Hospital―" The man broke off, and swallowed hard. He wasn't keeping Shion hanging on purpose―he was hesitating. He was hesitating whether he could talk about something like this.
Shion waited. He waited for the man to speak to him, to put into words what was in his heart. He could do nothing but wait. So he waited. That was his way.
The man lifted his gauze-wrapped hand and wiped his mouth with the back of it. His lips had swollen and turned a reddish-purple colour.
"A few months ago, there was a transfer of posts at the Municipal Hospital. Doctors―all highest-ranking in work ethic and skill―a few of them, along with some nurses, were transferred out. I don't know where they were transferred to."
"You don't know?"
"It's not recorded anywhere. All data of the citizens are collected at the Central Administration Bureau. Every action taken in the day is recorded without fail to the database. Anything as big as a workplace transfer, even more so for doctors and nurses that work for the Municipal Hospital, would be recorded strictly and with detail."
"But it was missing."
"Right. It wasn't there. I thought it was strange. I thought―but that was all I did."
"Did you look into it?"
"I didn't even think about it. Even if I wanted to, it would be impossible. And if I slipped and somehow ended up with confidential information, I would be in huge trouble."
I can't believe you've asked me such a stupid question, the man seemed to say, as he turned his face aside.
The Health and Hygiene Bureau; talented and skilled doctors and nurses; the Correctional Facility―an idea flared in Shion's mind.
"I've heard that there have been strange incidents inside No. 6. Do you think it has anything to do with the Correctional Facility?"
"There have been people struck ill. Am I right?"
"You've done your research," the man observed. "Where did you get that information?"
Rikiga swayed, and exhaled a stench of liquor.
"You're not my only customer who comes from No. 6," he said, "though none of them are the kind of big-shot you are. The lackeys give me their own kind of information. Like when they're giving bedtime stories to the girls they've slept with―just spills out."
"You call that information? They're probably just rumours."
"Rumours usually happen to be closer to the truth than what public organizations shove in your face. But speaking of which―" Rikiga knitted his brow, and narrowed his eyes.
"These days the authorities seem to be getting stricter on their regulations. It's almost over the top. Apart from big-shots in your rank, it's becoming harder and harder for the lower ranks to sneak their way out here. I've even heard that soon, it's just going to be banned outright. Poof, there goes half of my business."
"And look what you've done to your best customer," Inukashi chimed in. "Forget half of your business, you're going completely bankrupt, old man," he cackled. Rikiga glared at him, and tsked his tongue irritably.
"Either way, it's all over. For me, and for you."
Inukashi retracted his laugh and fell silent.
"If someone fell ill, they'd naturally be taken to the Municipal Hospital, right?" Shion continued. "But what happens to them afterwards?"
"I don't know."
"It's not a contagious illness, is it?"
"There's been no public announcement from the city. Besides, there would be no way a contagious illness could spread in No. 6."
Shion lowered his eyes, and looked at his own hands. They were scarred, the skin was rough, and on the whole, they had become rather bony. They had lost all their softness and smoothness that they had when he was inside the city, but he thought his hands now showed more strength. They were hands that were alive and trying to get a firm grasp on things. On these hands, stains would spread, fingers would bend out of shape, and they would age at the blink of an eye. He could still clearly visualize how Yamase had died.
"The patients wouldn't have survived―I'm thinking it would have been an unnatural death. They would age rapidly until they finally died―maybe that's how―"
The man drew his chin back, and narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
"What are you talking about?"
Shion stared at the man, and then slid his gaze to Nezumi. The darkness was spreading, growing thicker, and trying to shroud the boy who stood as still as a statue.
This man did not know. He really didn't know a thing, about the parasite wasps, or the queer incidents, or the grisly deaths. Even someone like him, in the post of a high official, did not know a single thing.
"Samples," the man suddenly muttered.
"Sample Collection Status―I remember there being a section like that in the Health and Hygiene Bureau's data."