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Did you come to me
because I dropped off to sleep,
tormented by love?
If I had known I dreamed,
I would not have awakened.
- Ono no komachi 
"You should write a letter," Nezumi said, without looking up from his book.
"A letter―to my mother?"
"If you have other pen pals, them too."
"Will you deliver them?"
"Thank you, Hamlet."
"You don't need to thank him. Every time he goes to see your Mama, he gets to stuff himself with tasty bread. So he's in a good mood."
Shion scribbled a few words on a torn slip of paper. A score of letters. Just a single line. What feelings would he instill in them?
He finished writing, and stuffed the slip into a capsule. Hamlet took it in its mouth, and gave its tail a smart flick. Nezumi closed his book with a snap. It was a beautiful book bound in blue, with white flower petals scattered across the cover. Shion decided to ask him about it.
"What were you reading?"
"An ancient story from a country far, far away, at the ends of the earth. A very ancient tale."
"A tale about humans." Nezumi stood up, and slid the book back into the shelf. The room filled with books was warm, thanks to the old heater. It wasn't like when he was living in the luxury neighbourhood of Chronos in No. 6, where he was protected by the atmosphere control system, and was able to live in just the right temperature and humidity regardless of the season, hour of the day, or the weather outside. There was no hope of that kind of environment here, but he found the uneven heat of this room much more comfortable than something controlled by machines. If he was cold, he would don a blanket and draw closer to the heater. If he was hot, he would back away, and shed his overcoat. That was all there was to it. And he had not even known. He had learned, here, in this room.
"Say―" Shion began, as he poured himself a cup of hot water that was boiling on top of the heater. "Does it get hot here in the summer?"
Nezumi turned towards him from the bookcase, and narrowed his eyes.
"What about the summer?"
"Well, I mean―I figure since it's underground it would be pretty cool, and since the books aren't mouldy, it probably doesn't get that humid either... but I was just wondering if it's comfortable."
"It's alright. Better than Inukashi's hotel."
"But what should we do with the heater?"
"In the winter we can just use it like this, but it probably wouldn't do in the summer, would it? But how else would we cook our food? We won't be able to boil water, either." He handed a cup of hot water to Nezumi. It was the only kind of drink available here.
"Are you telling me you're worrying about food for the summer now?"
"I'm not worried, I was just wondering how―oh! You must cook outside. Get a fire going, and cook the food there."
"Well―that's one way to do it."
"Ahh, I see," Shion hummed in a satisfied way. "Oh, but it must be a hassle if it rains."
"Shion." Nezumi lifted his cup slightly. Shion could see a pair of dark grey eyes looking at him through the rising steam.
"Are you planning to stay here in the summer, too? I mean, do you really think you can?"
"As long as you don't kick me out."
"I'm not that pitiless. You can stay here as long as you like."
"Thanks. I'm relieved."
"Summer, huh," Nezumi said pensively. "Wonder what it would be like. I've never thought that far ahead. ―Wonder if you'll still be here."
"I'm planning on it."
"Alive, you mean? Or would you be a handful of bones in an urn or something?"
"No bones. I wouldn't wanna be buried in the ground, either." I want to experience summer as a living being by your side. I want to live here, in this room, buried in thousands of books. I want to feel the sweat streaming down my body, and the sun's burning rays pricking at my skin.
"Nezumi, I want to see summer here."
"A modest wish. But it'll be hard to grant." Nezumi leaned back on the bookcase, and abruptly changed the subject. "Shion, do you think the commotion inside the city has something to do with the parasite wasps?"
Shion seated himself on the floor, and raised one knee. A mouse scurried up on top of it. It was a third mouse, which Shion had named Tsukiyo from the dark colour of its fur.
"Yeah, I do. I'm not quoting Fura-san, but I find it hard to believe that an unknown disease would suddenly begin spreading inside No. 6."
"Really? It might be due to a new virus. Transmission via emergent virus. Not impossible, is it?"
In 1980, the World Health Organization announced the complete eradication of the smallpox virus. Ironically, in the following years, a continuous stream of viruses unknown to humankind began to make their appearance.
Ebola, HIV, the Sin Nombre, Nipah, Lassa, Hantan―to refer to such viruses that cropped up continually, people used the blanket term "emergent viruses".
Shion shook his head in disagreement.
"I don't think it's a virus."
"Emergent viruses were originally naturally occurring parasites to animals living in the tropical forests. Viruses probably only began emerging from the sealed depths of the jungle because of deforestation―that's how humankind came in contact with them. So what I'm saying is that the viruses didn't come walking in themselves; it was a result of mankind stepping into their territory. But No. 6 is different. It's closed off, isolated. It runs its walls all around, and doesn't mingle with other realms. They manage and inspect every little thing that comes through the gates, right down to the nanometre scale. I don't think it's possible for a virus to enter from outside."
"Awfully confident when it comes to these kinds of topics, aren't you?" Nezumi said sourly. "But there are guys like that womanizer who come to the West Block in secret. He could've picked up the virus here. That's possible, isn't it?"
"Then there should be patients cropping up in the West Block as well. Given the population density here, there should be double, triple the number―all people who've suddenly collapsed, showing symptoms no one's ever seen before. If such a situation actually arose, all the gates would be closed. No one would be able to go into or out of the city."
"So you're sticking with the parasite wasp theory."
"Nezumi, I've seen it with my own eyes. Yamase-san collapsed, aged, and died right in front of me. And afterwards, a wasp appeared out of his―the base of his neck―his body. It was an unnatural death. I can't think of any other cause. What's happening inside the city right now has to have something to do with the parasite wasps."
"But where did those wasps come from? How can an insect that's several centimetres long enter the Holy City that can weed out viruses only electron microscopes can catch? They're not normal wasps. They plant themselves in people's bodies and kill their host. They're skilled hitmen―or hitwasps, I should probably say."
Nezumi fell silent. He cupped the warm mug in both hands, and looked Shion in the eye.
"Shion―are you thinking of the same thing I am?"
His throat was dry. So dry, it hurt. Shion sipped a mouthful of hot water, and swallowed it slowly.
"The wasps didn't come from outside."
He took another mouthful of water.
"They were inside No. 6 all along."
Nezumi also brought his cup to his lips. Perhaps his throat was dry as well.
"You said something similar before―that maybe it originated in the Forest Park. You said the admin system somehow overlooked the monster when it was born."
"Yeah," Shion agreed. "I mean, seeing how there were already two casualties in that park, including Yamase-san, I figured―but that sounds way too unreal..."
"So you're saying regular wasps that were living in the city suddenly turned into man-eating ones. Is that what they call 'mutation'?"
"But it's a type of mutation that's never been seen before. But the fact that they're still active in this cold―it's impossible in the natural world."
It was impossible in the natural world. Then maybe―
"No way," Shion muttered to himself. "How could that―"
Thunk. There was a dull noise. A cup grazed Shion's arm as it fell, bounced off a book, and rolled on the floor.
In a corner of his vision, Shion could see Nezumi falling forward. He gradually crumpled to his knees, as if in slow motion.
"Nezumi!" Shion sprang forward to catch the falling body in his arms. "Nezumi! Hang in there!"
Nezumi was heavy and completely limp. He was unable to keep his own body standing. Shion couldn't believe it. His mind went blank―he couldn't think of anything. He couldn't make a rational decision. He couldn't take appropriate action.
"Nezumi, Nezumi!" He desperately kept calling his name, and and hugged him tightly. He could feel the body tremble beneath his fingers. Through the cracks of Nezumi's own fingers as he covered his face with his hands, he could hear Nezumi groan.
"Nezumi? What's wrong? Stay with me, Nezumi!"
"Stop―who... who's..." Nezumi's fingers latched onto Shion's arm and dug in. They were shaking violently.
Shion slipped on the spilled water, and collapsed on the floor with Nezumi still in his arms. A stack of books fell over, and the startled mice darted out of sight.
"Nezumi, what's wrong? Tell me what's wrong."
Hang in there. Get a grip on yourself. He told himself. But completely arrested by fear, his own body was also shaking. Nezumi. Don't tell me―not you too―
A wasp would come crawling out. It would come crawling out, breaking through his smooth skin. If it did―if that happened―
No. No. No. No. No. I can't bear it. If I lost you here, right now, I wouldn't be able to stay sane. I would go mad. The world would turn upside-down.
No. No. No.
Confusion inflated his fear, and ground his thought processes to a halt.
No. This is too much. What should I do? Someone―somebody, please―
Nezumi's body began to burn. The perspiration that broke out moistened Shion's hands.
"―Shion―" Nezumi called his name weakly between his groans.
Shion felt like he had been given a sharp slap. He was now wide awake.
Move. Move, before wailing and crying. Can't you do anything other than hold him in your arms?
He bit his lip, and willed strength into his arms. He laid Nezumi on the floor, and tore his shirt open. He put a hand to the base of Nezumi's neck. It was drenched with sweat, but there was no abnormality. There was no stain or bulge. He pressed his ear to Nezumi's chest, and listened to his heartbeat. He measured his pulse. It was quicker than normal, but it was not erratic. There was no breathing trouble or vomiting. There was probably zero danger of choking. And his consciousness?
Shion squeezed Nezumi's hand, and leaned in towards him.
"Nezumi, can you hear my voice?"
Listen to me. Let my voice reach you. Open your eyes, and answer me.
"I'll help you, I promise I will." I'll help you this time. So please. Give me a response. I want you to answer me. No―I know you'll answer me. You have to.
"It's a type of mutation that's never been seen before. But the fact that they're still active in this cold―it's impossible in the natural world." Shion abruptly clipped his words, and lapsed into silence as he looked down. It looked like he was trying to settle into a contemplative state.
Guess I better not disturb him.
Nezumi thought to himself as he sipped his hot water. Whatever the case, today was over. He couldn't predict what would happen tomorrow. But that meant it was all the more meaningless to be dismal, fearful, or to brace oneself for tomorrow. He didn't believe in any God. He knew right down to the marrow of his bones how banal a word like "fate" was. He didn't think of entrusting himself to a word like that. He would not be swept up in its flow. If he gave up and abandoned his struggle, the only way to go would be down. He would descend into death, or something worse.
So he would continue to rebel. How many years had passed since he had decided to? But he would continue to rebel.
It meant that he would not abandon his will to fight, and that he would hold his ground against a tomorrow he could not predict. It also meant that at times, he would probably sink into deep contemplation like Shion. It was certain that Shion was struggling and fighting in his own earnest and singular way. It was clumsy, off-the-mark, and poorly developed, but he was still fighting. He was taking his stance in his own way. He wasn't trying to run away from battle. He had never run away once. Inukashi was right―Nezumi was a little impressed.
Shion's white hair shimmered orange, lit by the light of the heater. He never said it out loud, but Nezumi liked Shion's hair. He thought it was much more beautiful than the black hair he had before.
Maybe he would give that hair a light caress before telling him he was heading off to bed. He would disappear for the time being, so as not to disturb Shion's struggle.
He reached out.
A flash of light pierced his head. His breath caught in his throat. A wind, a turbulent gust whipped around the inside of his skull. His body teetered. He was falling. Crumbling. His consciousness was being stolen away.
He heard Shion scream. Simultaneously, a song came flowing into his ears. Someone was singing. Someone was singing a song that sounded like murmurs of the wind―
He wanted to plug his ears, but his hands would not move. He was being dragged in. What was this? What was happening? An expanse of greenery spread before him. He could feel the humid heat of the grass. Hot vapours rose, filled with its grassy scent. Numerous trees nestled together, and ferns grew in clumps. Layers and layers of tree leaves and underbrush covered the ground in every shade of green. And he could hear a song from far away. Song? Was it a song? It was. For sure―but what mingled with its sound... the buzzing of wings. Countless insects were flying around.
This sound, this song, this scene―he had seen it before. Somewhere...
No, I'm being dragged in.
A scream tore through. Was it his own? He was clasping something. He was being embraced by someone.
This was a lifeline. He would not let go, no matter what.
He used all his strength to dig his fingers in.
The firm sensation of flesh brought his consciousness a little closer to the surface.
He clung desperately.
- Carter, Steven D., trans. Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology. Stanford, California: Stanford UP, 1991. 84. (back)