The bluish-grey elevator doors were closing silently. The moment their edges met as they closed completely, Fura let out a deep sigh. The Security Bureau officials flanking him on both sides were as still as stone statues.
He knew it was useless to ask, but he couldn't bear to be silent.
"Why are you arresting me?"
Just as he thought, there was no reply. He posed a second question.
"Is this... the Correctional Facility?"
"The edge of your mouth still looks painful."
"It's nothing. You can't even tell."
"Silly you, falling down and getting yourself hurt like that."
"Don't tell anyone, now. I'd be so embarrassed if anyone found out I got this from falling down the stairs at the park. I've been keeping this a secret."
His wife's face suddenly grew concerned.
"Be careful. Thank goodness it was just a small wound this time. But every time I think something might happen to you―I get chills all over."
"Nothing's going to happen to me. I have to get going now."
He had kissed his wife on the cheek, and gotten into the car that had come to fetch him from the Central Administration Bureau. Just before he got into the car, his wife had called him.
"Dear, you'll keep it in mind, won't you?"
"Keep in mind?"
"My going back to work. I'd like it to happen in the new year."
His wife had a career at the Traffic Administration Bureau. Since their son had been recognized as an elite and guaranteed a perfect educational environment, she had expressed a desire to return to her workplace and resume her work.
"It should be no problem."
In No. 6, a woman who had given birth but desired to go back to work had an almost-one-hundred-percent chance of obtaining support to achieve it. Fura's direct superior was a woman with two children. When people were given jobs, they were chosen not by gender but through judgment of their individual skills.
"You should start making preparations for returning. If there's anything I can help with, I'll be there to do it, of course."
"Thank you. That makes me so happy." His wife smiled. Their son wriggled in her arms. He flailed his arms at Fura.
"Papa, a bug was flying."
"A bug was flying. A black bug."
"When it's so cold outside? Ha ha, it would have to be a little warmer for there to be any bugs flying around."
It was sunny, but a biting northern wind was blowing. Perhaps it would snow in the afternoon. Maybe I'll leave work early today.
He waved to his wife and son. The car glided forward. It was a morning like any other. Other than the wound on his palm that throbbed with a dull pain, there was nothing out of the ordinary. It was a morning like any other.
Things began to change when they had passed through the gates of Chronos. His car was stopped by Security Bureau officials, and he was asked to comply.
"We're very sorry. On mayoral orders, we've been told to change your destination." The two men were wearing uniforms from the Law Enforcement division, and spoke in a polite but firm tone that left no room for argument. Fura felt a violent chill run down his spine. It was a kind of chill that had nothing to do with the frigid wind that swept by him.
"You will be transferring onto this car which we've prepared."
"Where... will I be going?"
"The mayor is waiting."
"City Hall? Then there isn't any need for―"
"We will escort you there."
They transferred onto the Security Bureau car.
"If you will excuse my intrusion―" Vapid words of courtesy were followed by something covering his eyes. A special eye-mask shut out all the light from his vision, and Fura was plunged into a world of darkness.
At first he compared it to the darkness of the West Block, but quickly changed his mind. It was much too different. The darkness of the West Block was deeper, and more beautiful. It was a deep, deep darkness that seemed to hide something in its depths. It was frightening and unnerving, but nevertheless he was attracted to it. He was attracted to the fact that it made him certain that there was something mysterious lurking there. He had a healthy attachment for the women in the West Block, but he had also gone beyond the walls out of a desire to encounter that darkness. He was perhaps three when he had first felt like there was something lurking in a dark corner of his yard. He was scolded severely by his parents for saying so. There's nothing in this world that we don't know about. Don't ever say something stupid like that again. His mother and father―usually so kind, almost too kind―had both risen unrecognizably in anger, and chastised their son.
From then on, Fura never made mention of the thing that lurked in the darkness. In time, he forgot about it. In the West Block he encountered true darkness, and rejoiced even as he cowered at it. The sensations and memories of his childhood, long buried, resurfaced again. He was attracted to it. Yes, he had most certainly been attracted to that place.
But would that become a threat to his life?
So my trips to the West Block must have been found out.
But what would happen then? Rewriting records is a serious crime. If it's been exposed, it wouldn't go without grave consequences.
He would be stripped of all qualifications; his special privileges would vanish; he would be exiled from Chronos.
He thought of a worst-case scenario. Fura's heart was unusually calm. He had no attachment to his qualifications, privileges, or Chronos―not as strong as the attachment he had for the darkness of the West Block. It was strange. They were perplexing feelings which even he could not explain.
A boy's face floated into his mind. A snowy-haired, odd boy. He had announced clearly that he had no intention of returning to No. 6.
He had probably been able to declare it so firmly because of his age; he was young, reckless, and ignorant. But even so―even if he was young and foolish, was it possible to cast a place like No. 6 aside so easily? That was the part he could not understand.
This is taking rather long.
This was taking too much time for a trip to City Hall. With this amount of travel time, they would have passed through the centre of the city a long time ago.
"Wh―Where are we going?" His voice cracked nervously.
"The mayor is waiting."
"But haven't we passed the Moondrop already?"
"Quiet, please. If not―"
"If not, what?"
He heard a muffled chuckle. It was even more terrifying than threatening words.
"T-Tell me the reason why I'm being escorted―the real reason. I'm begging you, tell me."
"Quiet, please," the man on the right said. The man on the left tapped Fura lightly on the shoulder.
It was a fair amount of time after that before the car finally came to a stop. When it stopped, he was unloaded and seated in an electrical wheelchair, still blindfolded. He was wheeled down a long hallway. It was a very quiet place. He could only hear the subdued sound of the motor of his wheelchair. The two Security Bureau officials made no sound as they walked, perhaps due to some special footwear or because they had been trained to walk silently. When Fura's eye-mask had been removed and he had gotten up from his chair, the first thing that jumped into his vision were the doors of an elevator about to close. Beyond the door he could see a glass-paned room filled with men and women clad in white lab coats.
A hospital? No... this surely isn't―
Why are you arresting me?
Is this the Correctional Facility?
He continued to pose questions that received no answer.
Tell me. Somebody.
The elevator stopped.
It had descended―gone down.
Correctional Facility. Basement. A place newly-built. A new elevator.
He had abused the powers of his profession to rewrite records. He would be held responsible, and receive a stern warning from the mayor himself. Admonition. Punishment.
No, it was nothing like that. Not even half as forgiving.
Terror pierced his body.
"Let me go back!"
He twisted his body.
"Let me out of here. Let me out."
There was a jolt in the base of his neck. It was electric current. His whole body went numb.
"I told you to be quiet."
He heard the Security Bureau official give another muffled chuckle.
"It looks like the preparations are complete," the man in the white lab coat said as he turned around. The mayor of No. 6, the first in his generation, brought his white porcelain mug to his lips, and sipped the dark brown beverage inside.
"I see. Alright."
"Hmm? Something the matter? You look a little pale."
"I've been busy lately."
"Tired? That's not good. Exhaustion opens the door for all sorts of ailments. I would advise you to be careful. I'll write you a prescription later."
"The project is almost finished. And until it's complete―no, even after that―you have to stay healthy. Shall we go, then?"
The mayor put his mug down. It was a perfectly ordinary mug at first glance, but upon closer examination one could see intricate patterns engraved onto the back of the handle. It was a considerably expensive item.
"You're sure you're going to do this?" The man in the lab coat gazed at him in disbelief for a moment before letting his shoulders shake with laughter.
"But unlike the girl before, this time―say, what have you done with that girl?"
"Her? She's well. She's having a little trouble coming to, but soon she'll be fully alert. She's a very beautiful girl, and I've taken a liking to her. I'll treat her well."
"She might have been an elite, but she was still a student. The elite we have in our hands this time is in an actual profession."
"He will be all the more useful because he's in a profession. In more ways than one. And besides, he was a defective product, was he not, according to your research? Despite pledging allegiance to our city, he was exercising treason."
"Well, you're right about that―he was going out to the West Block without a valid reason. He's recently gotten wounds on his face and hand, which were probably received in the West Block as well. There are strong suspicions that he's manipulated records. It most certainly is treason, but―"
"He ought to be punished."
"In this sort of way?"
"Fennec." The man in the lab coat called the mayor by his old nickname. Was it this man who gave me this nickname in my school days, after a small desert-dwelling fox?
The man stood in front of the mayor, and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Fennec, you are going to be King."
The tall man bent forward slightly, and spoke a little faster.
"Your days of overseeing politics as mayor are over. From now on, you will reign. As the absolute King, you are going to dominate this land."
"Then why are you hesitating? Who cares about one or two defective products?"
"You're right," the mayor relented.
"And this is a contribution. He is contributing to our good. It's an honourable thing for the man as well."
The man in the lab coat muttered once again.
You will reign as the absolute King.
The mayor nodded, and squared his shoulders. Let us go, then, he said, as he ushered the man in the lab coat out.
The room was bare. It was called Experiment Chamber I. Walls of special alloy ran all around, and there were no windows. The only piece of furniture was a single chair. A man was bound to it. Fear and confusion swam in his eyes.
From this side of the wall, they could see everything that was going on in the room. The man in the lab coat was tapping his fingers lightly on a control panel with several buttons and lamps. His thin white fingers moved rhythmically across the panel, keeping the beat, as if he was playing a clavier.
Tap, tap, tap, ta-ta-tap, tap, tap, ta-ta―
Is it some kind of musical piece? An unsightly switchboard, no matter how many times I look at it. It looks like a misshapen toy. Couldn't he have made it something more appealing to―
"What now, Fennec?"
"What are you talking about?"
"As mayor, will you declare this man's sentence?"
"No, there's no need."
"The woeful criminal doesn't even understand what kind of situation he's in. Look how terrified he is, the pitiful man. Won't you save him?"
"Save? What do you mean?"
"Give him a chance to acknowledge his crime, and beg God for forgiveness."
The mayor gave a hearty scowl.
There he goes again, spouting strange things out of the blue. Has he always had these odd tendencies?
"Do you believe in God?"
"Of course not. But aren't there people who wish to obtain mercy from God before taking their journey, peaceful at heart?"
"There might be. But those people don't exist in No. 6."
"I see. I haven't said anything offensive, I hope?"
"You wouldn't normally make that kind of joke."
"My apologies. Then let us begin."
His fingers, which had been tapping out a light rhythm only moments before, moved almost carelessly this time to push a button. A part of the wall turned into a white screen, where various numbers and lines mapped themselves out.
"It's current data about the criminal on hand. His heart rate, brain waves, stiffening in muscle tissue―various measurements of each body part are recorded here."
"In that room right now, there are waves being emitted at a frequency beyond the level of human hearing. Sounds are essentially air vibrations. For humans, those vibrations are transmitted through the eardrum, malleus, incus, and stapes before they reach the cochlea. You know that, right? And the range of frequencies that humans can perceive―"
"Nothing is changing." Fennec stepped forward, and surveyed the scene in the next room intently. There was no change. The man bound to the chair, who had been gazing about uneasily, had just cast his eyes to his feet.
"There's nothing to fret about. It's starting. But this will take a little time. Will you have a seat?"
"Then shall I treat you to a cup of coffee? I have the best blend of beans."
"You're offering me to drink coffee? Here?"
"Would you prefer wine instead?"
"No―that's quite alright."
"It seems you're not in the mood to listen to my lecture."
"I'm sorry to disappoint, but I don't have much of an interest in organs of the auditory system."
The man in the lab coat shrugged, and lapsed into silence. Nothing happened.
"Are you sure there hasn't been some failure?" the mayor muttered in a low voice.
"Me? Allow a failure to happen? A rather flat joke yourself, Fennec."
The lab coat's face stiffened. His bloodless face turned even paler, and a vein in his temple twitched.
Ah yes―he remembered that the man hated the word "failure" more than anything else. He detested the word as if it had the power to physically harm him.
He changed the subject.
"So about the incidents that have been happening lately―they appear to be quieting down for the time being. There have been no other reports."
"There will probably be no more of them in the future."
"Can I count on your word?"
"I'm counting on you. If those things keep continuing their activities in the city, things will get out of hand."
"Those were outlier cases."
"But why are outliers even occurring? And they're all occurring in people who aren't registered to be samples."
"There must have been instances of carelessness in the preliminary stages of the project. But it's nothing to be upset about. Outliers are nothing more than outliers. ―Ah―"
"It's happening." The man in the lab coat pointed.
The so-called criminal had grown rigid in his chair, his chest thrown out and his head flung back. He was shaking his head from side to side, screaming something.
"Would you like to hear the audio?" The lab coat asked him with a finger poised over a green button.
"No, that's quite fine," Fennec replied hastily, shaking his head, yet taking care not to make his agitation visible.
If he could, he would not have wanted to see something like this. He wanted to leave this barren room and return to his office. My room, on the top floor of the Moondrop. Exquisite furniture and a magnificent view―indeed, a place most suited for me.
"See, take a closer look. It is coming out." The lab coat's voice was trembling. His face wore a dreamy expression. The man in the chair was no longer moving. How easily defeated he was. The man's hair had grown white. The snowy strands fell softly to the floor, as if they had lost the strength to hold on. Senile plaque was starting to dot his translucent skin. Fennec could tell even from where he was standing.
"Let's zoom in. See," the man in the lab coat jerked his chin at the monitor. A larger image of the man, his head bowed, filled the screen. His eyes were wide open, and his mouth twisted; he had the face of one who had lost his life even before he could decipher what was happening to him. Brown spots were scattered all over his face, which was lined with deep creases. His teeth, peeking out from his half-open mouth, looked like they were about to fall out any minute. He looked like he was nearing a hundred in age. And the base of his neck―there was a darker stain there, swollen and stirring. All sound was blocked out in this room. But for some reason, Fennec felt like he could hear the sounds of human flesh being eaten through.
It came out.
Wings that shone silver. Antennae. Numerous, constantly moving legs. A single bee had been born from a human body.
"We're going to capture you," the man in the lab coat muttered. His face still wore a dreamy look. A clear bubble emerged from somewhere below the chair. It was ball-shaped entrapment robot about ten centimetres in diameter. Like a soap bubble, it floated up. It enveloped the bee just as it took flight, and trapped it inside its spherical body.
"Success!" The lab coat cried. His eyes were bright with tears of joy. "We've finally succeeded. Ah, I mean―no, this is just the first step to success. But we've made certain progress, Fennec."
"It's still not perfect―no, not near perfect. But success is still success. A little more―just a little more, and they will be completely under our control. Hatching, acceleration of development, eclosion, and the laying of eggs. We'll control it all. We'll be able to move them however we want. Brilliant. Finally, we've finally come this far."
The man in the lab coat clenched his hand into a fist, and paced restlessly about the room. His cheeks flushed in excitement, while his lips lost their colour.
"With our last sample, we couldn't control the eclosion phase. With the male index case, and the male Park Administration worker, the best we could do was predict the period of eclosion. It's been how many months since then? In a mere few months, we've been able to get this far. Ah, it's as if all those long hours were but a dream. Once we've come this far, it's only a little more. A little more―"
Some say there is a but a thin line that divides a genius and a madman. I couldn't have said it any better.
Fennec took his gaze off the man who was pacing and muttering to himself, and glanced beyond the wall, inside Experiment Chamber I. He thought "Execution Chamber" might be a better name for it.
The body was gone. It had been carted off to the autopsy room. The chair had been stored away automatically as well, and the room was now a barren, empty space. There were no remnants of death. It was a void.
"No, no, I mustn't overindulge in my happiness. Just because we can perfectly control eclosion doesn't mean that it's free of any problems. Of course―it's not like we have not had any problems. Ah, yes, we still have one very large problem. Now, as for what to do with it―Fennec!"
The man's voice cracked in excitement as he barked the mayor's nickname. Displeasure became little jabs that pricked at his skin irritatingly.
"What is it?"
"I need people."
"I need those too."
"What type? How many?"
"This time, type doesn't matter. I want numbers."
"Do they have to be people from inside the city?"
"That doesn't matter. I want quantity, not quality. Numbers, Fennec."
"Perfect. I've scheduled a Clean-up."
"Brilliant! I'd like one soon, please. And manpower."
"A capable workforce. I need staff that can be extensions of my own limbs, but also have the highest levels of intelligence."
"Are the people you have at present not enough?"
"Far from enough. I need more intelligent individuals."
"That would be hard," the mayor said hesitantly. "There's a shortage of elites as it is. If I transfer any more of them here, we would be severely deficient overall."
"I want you to give this top priority," yelled the man in the lab coat. At the same time, the lamp on the wall flashed.
"The preparations are complete in the autopsy room. I must go. What will you do?"
"I'll go back to the Moondrop."
That is my proper place, after all.
"I see. I'm counting on you, then. For both samples and manpower."
A section of the wall slid soundlessly open, and the man in the lab coat walked out.
Do we really need him?
A suspicion suddenly surfaced in his mind. It was so sudden, he had to clutch his chest to calm his jagged breaths.
Do I really need him here? Is this project itself even needed? Can I not rule this land without relying on him or his project?
He took a few deep breaths to resume his normal breathing pattern. He stared at the empty space before him.
How to dispose of the executed man?
Instead of publicizing it as an illness-related death, what would happen if he announced that he had been executed? He would let it be seen and known far and wide, what happened to those who broke the rules of the Holy City of No. 6; those who tried to trick it; those who retaliated and refused to submit obediently. He would not allow so much as a strand of hair to rebel against him. He would make that attitude clear. He would strengthen its enforcement. He would strengthen it enough so that everyone would know. All suspicious individuals were to be arrested and escorted away. If circumstances called for it, he could close the congress.
What would happen? Would the citizens rebel? These were people who had lived their lives devoid of anything like retaliation or objection: did they still possess any mind or method to object? Would my beloved citizens, as loyal as dogs, as powerless as kittens, dare to post a rejection against my name?
His lips curled, and a chuckle escaped them.
There's no way that would happen. They will all cower in the face of power, grovel, and obey me.
"Mayor, your scheduled meeting is approaching," his secretary's voice informed him from a speaker embedded in the city emblem.
"We have a car waiting for you."
But I can't get ahead of myself. We've come this far. There's nothing to be over-excited about. I will make things proceed discreetly and artfully.
He walked towards the wall. The door opened, and he could see the dimly-lit hallway beyond. It, too, was silver.
Read Chapter 4.