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"E-Escorting me... where?"
There was no answer. The two muscular Bureau officials, alike in height and shoulder width, remained silent with their guns pointed at Getsuyaku.
Nothing spoke louder than their lack of words.
Destruction was approaching. Getsuyaku understood that he was in no position to escape. But he couldn't relent.
This time, there was a response.
"You exhibited suspicious behaviour. At the Mannequin."
"S-Suspicious behaviour? That must be some kind of mistake," Getsuyaku stammered. "I... I was just cleaning―it was the robot's fault. I was summoned because the floor was dirty, and―and so to clean it up, I―"
"You were responsible for the maintenance of the robot, were you not?"
The muzzle of the gun moved up and down as if to cut off Getsuyaku's desperate words.
"And you performed it a whole week earlier than was planned."
"That was because―um, they didn't seem to be in very great shape, and... it happens often, actually, and..."
The officials said nothing more. Their lips were sealed, and no emotion could be read from their eyes. The two looked like robots themselves.
Only destruction awaited Getsuyaku if he let himself be escorted by these robots. An inescapable destruction.
No. No. No.
I'm going to go home. I'm going to return to Lili and Renka.
He threw down the glass in his hand, and dashed outside.
I have to run. I have to run. I have to get away.
If I run straight down this road, and get through the gate, I'll be in Lost Town. Once I get on the bus, I'll arrive at the usual bus stop in ten minutes. Lili would probably be there to pick me up.
"Welcome home, Daddy."
"Feels good to be back, Lili."
"Mommy's waiting. Today, we're having your favourite ― stew. We have bread that Auntie Karan baked, too."
"That sounds terrific. I'm starting to get hungry already. Oh yeah, Lili, Daddy's going to buy you some brand new clothes soon."
"Really. Let's go shopping on my next break, okay?"
"Yay! Thanks, Daddy."
"Ha ha ha. Alright, let's go home. Mommy's waiting, right?"
A white-hot impact hit him in the chest.
Blood and bits of flesh splattered before his eyes.
What is it?
The world teetered off-balance. Darkness closed in on his vision.
No, no, no. I'm supposed to go home. I'm gonna go home. I'm gonna...
"Daddy, welcome home."
"It feels great to be back, Lili."
Getsuyaku crumpled as he was shot through the chest.
Inukashi averted his eyes, and clenched his hand into a fist.
What the hell.
"Hey, that guy just got taken down," growled Rikiga.
They were crouched behind some shrubs that dotted the surrounding area of the Correctional Facility. The Cleaning Management Room right before their eyes was the only department that connected the Correctional Facility directly with the West Block without a set of gates to pass through. The door that led into the Facility could only be accessed from the inside, however, so it was not possible to access the Facility from the side of the Cleaning Management Room. The doors were said to be made of a special alloy that even a small missile wouldn't be able to damage. Infiltration was impossible as long as these doors were closed. In that sense, Getsuyaku's workplace was more similar to the West Block, insofar as it was completely cut off from No. 6.
For Inukashi, it was no problem if they were cut off. The Facility was one place he didn't want to step into if he could help it. He had no interest in it whatsoever, and he would have liked it to stay that way for the rest of his life.
He was more drawn to the grade and quantity of leftover food and clothing that Getsuyaku picked out from the waste collection depot adjacent to the Cleaning Management Room. These were more important to him than the Facility itself.
He and Getsuyaku had known each other for a while now. It had probably been at least three years. They were not particularly close or friendly with each other. They had just used each other as business partners.
Getsuyaku was straight-laced and cowardly, with a decent smattering of both good morals and greed. A typical man you'd find anywhere. He was just one of countless many that one could find.
But he did care about his family. Inukashi remembered him saying many times that he valued them more than anything else in the world. He had looked truly happy as he smiled and talked about his little daughter, who was on her way. Inukashi had once asked him, 'Isn't it a pain in the ass to take care of another human? You can't take care of 'em like dogs.' Getsuyaku had lapsed into silence, his mouth half-open. He had looked astonished. Inukashi remembered the look of pity that then crossed Getsuyaku's face as he closed his mouth.
At that time, he had not understood the reason behind Getsuyaku's expression. Now, Inukashi felt like he had a better idea. It was thanks to Shionn―no, it was all his fault.
Inukashi felt like he could understand a little―just a tiny little―of the kind of love Getsuyaku felt for another tiny soul. And for the family that awaited its father, its husband, Getsuyaku was definitely not one of countless many. He was the one and only irreplaceable existence. Inukashi understood that too.
"I see. So they won't stop at West Block residents. They'll even kill their own people, too, huh," Rikiga said, wiping the sweat from his brow. His body was tense despite his airy tone.
"He lived in Lost Town," Inukashi said. "He was probably practically―trash for those people." Inukashi put up a front of unruffled calm, but he was also nervous and tense. The nape of his neck was so taut, it was painful.
To think they'd actually kill him.
He hadn't even dreamed that they would kill Getsuyaku. He had, however, expected the man to blow his cover. There were plenty of possible instances when Getsuyaku might slip up and give something away. In a worst-case scenario, he would have been taken into custody and imprisoned.
But if the Correctional Facility itself would eventually collapse, as Nezumi said, then it was only a matter of time before Getsuyaku could get free. They would take advantage of the confusion and rescue him from his cell.
"God, the amount of trouble I had to go through because I fell for your smooth talk. That teaches you not to take a dogkeeper's word seriously. Damnit, I fell right into your trap."
Inukashi wouldn't mind bearing with a complaint or two from the man. In fact, he wouldn't even mind bowing his head and apologizing. Then, he would humbly and graciously hand over the promised gold. Three coins, plus another, "for your trouble," he would say. That was sure to restore Getsuyaku's spirits.
The demolition of the Correctional Facility meant the end of his business with Getsuyaku.
Thanks for all the years of business.
No problem. And I think I've had enough risky jobs to last me a lifetime.
They'd shake hands, perhaps, and then part ways. In Inukashi's mind, that had been his ideal way to say good-bye. But Getsuyaku lay face down on the arid ground without a single twitch. Only the wind blew over his body.
To think he'd get killed.
To think he'd get killed so easily, so unceremoniously. Gestuyaku is a citizen. He's someone who lived inside the walls. He may have been in the dregs of No. 6, but he was still registered as a proper citizen. He's different from us. They wouldn't murder him pitilessly. They wouldn't dare.
He had believed so wrongly all this time.
I was hopelessly naive. I knew in my head how cold, how brutal No. 6 could be towards people who betrayed it, refused to obey it, struggled against it... I thought I knew, but I didn't know anything. I was naive. I should have told him to get his ass out of there as soon as he pressed the button. Tell him to get out, and...
He felt like someone had grabbed his hair and yanked it up. His scalp hurt from how taut it was. A scream threatened to come up through his throat.
I remember now. It said so in Nezumi's letter.
Order any collaborators to escape immediately.
He remembered clearly that single line. Nezumi had predicted this ruthlessness, this brutality. But I overlooked it. I was too caught up in trying to lure Getsuyaku in to devote any thought to the safety of the people I'd be getting help from. It hadn't even crossed my mind until now. Until now, when it was too late.
I was careless. A careless, fucking naive moron.
He chewed his lip.
But regretting it now wouldn't undo what he had done.
"Terrible." Rikiga wiped the sweat off his brow again.
Two men who looked like Security Bureau officials were stepping on Getsuyaku's body with the tips of their boots. They were looking at each other and nodding. They each took ahold of one of Getsuyaku's legs and began to drag the body along. The blood flowing from the corpse left red streaks on the dry ground.
"Are they really human?" Rikiga's voice turned raspy.
The dogs growled lowly beside Inukashi.
You're sure right about that. These dogs are a hundred times more decent. They've got hearts worth a hundred of those men.
Inukashi gave a quick snap of his fingers. The dogs all sprang to their feet at once. Rikiga blinked.
"Hey, wait. What're you planning to do?"
"Make them tear those guys' throats apart, obviously. I'm gonna avenge Getsuyaku."
"Are you stupid?" Rikiga said in disbelief. "Even your dogs couldn't stand a chance against armed Security Bureau guys. If they find out where we're hiding, we'll be shot to death, too. Do you think people who can shoot up their own citizens are going to cut us any slack?"
"But if I don't―"
"If he was alive, you could still flail around and do your thing. But he's dead. He's gone completely. He's not going to feel anything. He doesn't feel any anger or suffering now. He's as good as that piece of dirt. Tell me, should we throw our lives away for a piece of dirt? I don't know about you, but I'm definitely excusing myself from this one."
Rikiga's bloodshot eyes hardened.
"We can't die yet. We still have an important job to do: save Shion. We can't do it if we end up as ghosts. That's the most important thing, and don't you forget that, Inukashi."
What Rikiga was saying was true. They still had a job to do. And it was a job that couldn't be done if they weren't alive.
He snapped his fingers again, this time more slowly. The dogs lay back down on the ground. Rikiga exhaled a long breath.
"Really, I wish you wouldn't act on every emotional whim. This is why you can't trust young people."
"So you do say some decent things, once every ten years or so, anyway. You weren't just a dead weight after all. I see you in a new light now."
"Say what you will."
"And while I'm saying what I will, lemme remind you that we're splitting the gold even. Don't you forget that."
"I know, I know. Even half of the treasure is enough for me to live a freewheeling life. But if that guy's gotten himself killed, how are we going to get into the Cleaning Management Room?"
"I have the key." Inukashi held a magnetic card key between his fingers and thrust it under Rikiga's nose.
"You had a key?"
"Yeah, a spare. In all of the Correctional Facility, the Cleaning Management Room is the only one that still uses a simple magnetic card key. There aren't any signsof-life sensors, security systems, object sensors, or surveillance cameras in there. It's a paradise if you wanna hide out."
"Well, I guess they wouldn't have a reason to spend money to watch a place that only collects garbage. So you nicked that key from the poor guy's pockets, huh?"
"Not his pockets. I took it out of Getsuyaku's small desk, where he eats his lunch. I borrowed it from his drawer."
It was an old, worn desk that looked like it'd been picked out of the garbage. Getsuyaku used to eat his lunch there by himself. Once, I remember him giving me this small, sweet pastry called a muffin. It was delicious. I thought my tongue was gonna melt, it was so happy. He said he'd bought it from a local bakery.
"I guess you don't have to return it to him now," Rikiga muttered, with an unusually heavy tone.
"You're right. I don't have to give it back. So instead, I'm gonna make as much use of it as I can."
When I see the Correctional Facility crumble, I'll dedicate the scene to you, Getsuyaku. I'll make sure to dedicate something that's worth the blood you spilled. I know it probably won't be enough to make up for my carelessness, but it'll be the best sending-off to heaven that I'll be able to give you.
Inukashi pressed a hand to his chest. Nezumi's letter was there under his clothes.
This time, I won't mess up. I won't overlook anything. I won't let my guard down.
Their lives are depending on it―Shion and Nezumi's lives. I can't fail them again.
He hadn't noticed the two mice sitting at his feet. They scurried up his arm and onto his shoulder. Hamlet and Cravat. I think those were their names. Two small animals with intellect and their own will.
"You're here," he said to them. "Well, old man, it looks like all the supporting actors are here."
"Indeed. Now, all we have to do is get the stage perfectly ready, and then wait for the main actors to make their entrance."
"Yup. The actors of the century. We need a flashy fanfare to welcome them."
A one-act play, but a massive one nonetheless.
Hope or despair? Success or failure? Heaven or Hell? Life, or death? The curtains had already risen for this stage without a script.
It's our turn now. We're waiting for ya, Nezumi.
Cheep-cheep, cheep cheep cheep.
Perched on Inukashi's shoulder, the two mice raised their heads and squeaked together, as if to call out to someone.
Nezumi tilted his head slightly in perplexity at Shion's words.
"What're you talking about? It hasn't stopped yet."
The elevator was still ascending. It continued to glide smoothly up. Shion lightly placed his finger on the edge of his eye.
"No, the tears. Look, they've stopped."
Nezumi's cheeks suddenly emitted a furious glow.
"Idiot. This isn't the time to be making lame observations. If you have time to be making fun of me, concentrate on the damn door. Once it opens, we don't know what's gonna hit us."
"I wasn't making fun of you. I just saw that they stopped―"
"Shut up. Just―shut up."
Nezumi turned obstinately aside. His gesture was that of a sullen child.
Shion found it humorous.
Cool, ironic, stronger and more beautiful than anyone else―that was the kind of person Nezumi had always been, and that never changed. But behind it all, even he had a childish, emotional side like this. He still had some immaturity left in him to feel agitated when he was unable to control his emotions.
Shion had seen Nezumi's tears for the first time. When he saw the boy choking on the unbearable tumult of his emotions, there was only one emotion that welled up inside Shion, and it was love. It was neither friendship nor adoration. Neither romance nor awe. Just love.
He felt an uncontrollable pull of love for the boy's vulnerable tears. He wanted to protect him with his life.
The howling wind and the sound of rain echoed in his ears.
It was the sound of that storm. The emotions he had felt on that stormy night when he met Nezumi were revived in himself. And like he had been so many years ago, he had been stirred to action by these feelings.
I want to protect him with my life.
Of course, this was only Shion's self-absorbed and one-sided sentiment. Nezumi wasn't fragile to the point of needing Shion's protection. He would learn this the hard way, much later. Shion had been the one being protected. It had always been this way.
The sounds of the storm showed no signs of dying down. It still roared vividly.
Shion thought of the boy who had appeared before him that night, his shoulder drenched with blood much like he was now, except the boy had been so slender and delicate then. He was so small, and wounded so badly that he could barely remain standing. But despite that, his eyes had glowed brilliantly, full of life, and carried no shadow at all. The boy had neither clung to him, nor begged for his help. On the contrary, he had coolly scrutinized Shion.
What kind of person are you?
Even now, the question still remained sitting before Shion's eyes. He had not given an answer yet.
What kind of person am I?
My reason, my passion, my folly, my greed, my justice―what shape do they take?
He spread his fingers. There was blood caked on them. Was it his own, or that man's? His palm and five fingers, dirtied in muddy red.
Could I stand and look my own self in the eye?
"I look horrible," Nezumi sighed. He glanced in the mirror, and furrowed his brow in discontent. "My hair is a mess, my face is dirty―it doesn't get worse than this. Even the witches from Macbeth wouldn't want to come near me. I can imagine the look of horror on my manager's face if he were to see me like this."
"You look good enough to me."
"Shion, you don't have to try to make me feel better. Geez, look at me, my beautiful face is ruined."
"I didn't realize you were so narcissistic."
"I just have an accurate idea of myself. What's beautiful is beautiful. Unsightly things are unsightly."
"Are you just talking about looks?"
Or are you talking about how people are deep down, too? Can your gaze penetrate even the beauty and ugliness that lies within them?
My reason, my passion, my folly...
Nezumi recited a segment from Macbeth, the witches' line.
"Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air."
The elevator stopped. Shion stared at the door.
He was being called―he felt strongly that Safu was calling him.
The doors glided open noiselessly.
"Don't go running out just yet. Take your precautions." Nezumi's arm held Shion back as he exited first. He was dragging his foot, though only slightly. His bleeding had stopped, but it was probably quite a serious wound. If he moved too much, it would probably begin to bleed again. Both Nezumi and Shion were nearing their physical limit.
Safu. Are you alright? Would I get to see you? I've come to get you so we can escape together. Lead us on.
A hallway stretched before them, black and glossy. The side where the elevator was located was just a plain wall. On the opposite side, there were three evenly-spaced doors. It was deserted. The elevator closed silently behind Shion.
"Which door is it?" Nezumi turned around to ask. "Right, left, or middle? Maybe they've got tigers or wolves ready to spring at us if we open the wrong one."
"No―it's none of these."
Shion walked straight down the hallway. It was neither right, left, nor middle.
Suddenly, one of the doors opened, and a woman clad in a lab coat appeared.
"What―" Her electronic tablet slid from her hand. "You―how did you outsiders get in―?"
They continued past the woman as she stood in stunned silence.
"Wait―where are you―"
"M'lady." Nezumi picked the tablet up, and placed it back in the woman's hand. "I'm terribly sorry for startling you. We're not suspicious people―okay, maybe we are―but you don't need to worry. We have no intentions of harming you. So hush now, please."
Shion stopped where the hall reached a dead end.
The wall split smoothly in two.
The woman screamed. "How―how did that door open?"
Nezumi whistled. "It's like the caves you see in the Arabian Nights. Shion, what kind of incantation did you use?"
"No―how could it―" The woman squatted to the ground. She was fainting from shock from the looks of it, for her face was whiter than paper.
There was another door beyond: a crimson door.
"Garish." Nezumi clicked his tongue, and drew up beside Shion. "Will it open?"
"Probably." Shion placed a hand on the door. Nezumi trembled. He closed his eyes, and pursed his lips.
"I heard... a voice."
"You can hear Safu's voice, too?"
"No. This... isn't a human voice. This... whose voice is this?"
"What's it saying?"
"...Finally, you are here." Nezumi made a fist over his chest. He let out a long breath. "Finally, you are here. I have been waiting for you."
Finally, you are here. I have been waiting for you.
I've been called here by Safu. Who's calling you? Who's waiting for you beyond this door?
Shion felt a vibration against his palm. The crimson door opened.
"Gh..." Both Shion and Nezumi made a strangled noise. Their voices stuck in their throats.
There were several transparent pillars filled with clear liquid. These columns, thick enough for a small child to barely get his arms around, stood in a neat line.
"Brains." Nezumi swallowed hard.
In each column floated a brain. Several clear tubes connected the brain to the lower part of the column. These tubes glowed bluish-white from time to time.
It was a bizarre scene. Shion hadn't imagined in the faintest that he would see something like this. He couldn't have imagined it.
The crimson door closed. Just before it shut completely, he thought he heard the sound of the wind. Was it an auditory hallucination? It probably was. But what he was seeing now with his own eyes was no illusion. It was reality. This scene was concrete. It existed.
His legs quaked. His heart quailed.
Nezumi's hand slid under his arm.
Oh, here I am again, being supported by you.
They proceeded slowly through the columns.
How far do we go? Is there an end?
"Shion." He heard himself being called. He looked up.
Safu stood there. She was wearing that sweater.
The black sweater which had been hand-knitted by her grandmother. There were dark pink stripes on the mouths of the sleeves and across the chest.
There she was.
He could hear the wind.
Shion stretched his hands straight out before him.
Read Volume 8 Chapter 1.
- Shakespeare, William. Macbeth Act I Scene I. Project Gutenberg.(back)