"I've done with fancies, imaginary terrors and phantoms! Life is real! haven't I lived just now? [...] The Kingdom of Heaven to her- [...] Now for the reign of reason and light... and of will, and of strength... and now we will see! We will try our strength!"
-Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
Lili was sleeping. She breathed softly, lying on the tattered sofa at the back of the shop.
She was in a fetal position, and with her furrowed brow and her pursed lips, she looked anything but peaceful. Tear streaks still stood out on her face. Out of anxiety, perhaps, she had curled up into a ball, clutching tightly onto the blanket Karan had covered her with.
"Lili... poor thing." Karan smoothed the blanket's wrinkles out. Lili's lips moved imperceptibly.
Tears sprang into Karan's eyes, and she hurriedly pressed her fingers to her tear ducts. Crying would not do anything. Tears had never solved anything for her; she had wept herself dry when Shion had disappeared.
She had wept, and wept, and wept. Certainly, there were times when her tears supported her. Sometimes, crying allowed her to change her mindset and take a step towards tomorrow. She had numerous such experiences. Karan had no intentions of dismissing or being ashamed of her tears.
But this time, it was different.
I have to protect this little girl. I can't sit here and cry. I have to become stronger.
Karan gently stroked Lili's hair. She had to protect Lili from any sort of peril. I won't let her be sad any longer. I won't let her suffer. I couldn't protect Shion; I couldn't protect Safu. But because of that, I have to protect Lili with all it takes.
I've been given almost no power at all: no power to change the world; no power to ward off the rain of misfortune; no power to save the ones I love. I am weak, but I am not powerless. There is still a little strength left inside me. I'll use that strength to open my arms wide, and become a shield to the ones weaker and more fragile than me.
"Daddy... daddy... I'm scared."
Karan kissed Lili softly on her forehead. "Lili, it's okay. It's going to be alright."
There was a knock.
Someone was knocking at the shop door in an apologetic but hurried manner. Every time she heard a knock, Karan's heart used to soar at the idea of Shion coming home. She used to be overcome with the urge to run up to the door. Now, she was calm enough to tilt a cautious ear to the sound of the door being struck.
It wasn't because she had lost hope. As a mother, her hope for her son's return was firmly rooted in her heart.
It was Nezumi's message. That short letter was hope itself. Hope brought ease and resolution back to Karan. It bid her to be calm. It gave her something to believe in.
Yes, that's right. You'll definitely come home some day, Shion. Definitely. Karan stood and crept up to the door.
"Karan, aren't you home? It's me," said a somewhat tired male voice. It was Yoming, the elder brother of Lili's mother, Renka. He was Lili's only uncle and one of her few blood relatives.
"Hold on a minute, Yoming. I'll open it now." She pulled the blinds up and unlocked the door. A tall man entered on unsteady feet. He looked even more exhausted than he sounded.
"How's Renka?" she asked as she closed the door. The man had sunken into a chair. According to him, Renka had worked herself into a panic over worrying about her husband, who had not returned home from work.
"I gave her tranquilizers and finally got her to sleep. She cried and screamed... it was horrible. I never imagined that she'd bawl like that. She's a little tougher most of the time."
"She must be worried sick."
"You bet. No matter how long she kept waiting, Getsuyaku never came home. He didn't show up on his usual bus, nor on the one after that. This is the first time this has happened since they got married. She figured something had happened to him, and she didn't know what to do. It was all she could think about. I told her to calm down, but she wouldn't listen to anything I said... it was a pity to watch."
"But someone would call if something happened at his workplace, right? If there hasn't been a call, then..."
Yoming shook his head weakly. The bags under his eyes grew more pronounced, and the creases deepened between his eyebrows.
"I don't know where he works. I have no idea where to call, or who to ask questions to. Getsuyaku didn't even tell his own family where he was working."
"His workplace? Even Renka doesn't know?"
"Yeah, she said she has no idea. She'd questioned Getsuyaku before, soon after they'd gotten married, but he didn't give an answer. He said he wasn't doing anything shady, but he couldn't say on corporate orders. He begged her not to ask because he'd get fired for telling her. Renka said she had no choice but to close her mouth after that. His salary wasn't exactly high, but Getsuyaku made more than the average Lost Town resident, and he used to hand it all to his wife. Renka eventually stopped being bothered by Getsuyaku's workplace, and reckoned that he'd tell her when the time was right. She had Lili, and another baby was on the way. Sure, it bothered her, but a stable means of living was her main concern. So she turned a blind eye. The result― this."
"But what kind of workplace would you have to keep secret from your own family?"
"Where do you think?" Yoming looked up at Karan. A sharp light glinted for a moment in his bloodshot eyes. Karan swallowed. Secrets, concealment, silence.
"The Correctional Facility." As soon as the words slid off her tongue, a bitter taste spread inside her mouth. She knew it was an illusion, but it was bitter enough to make her shudder.
"Yes, that's what I think, too. I don't have evidence, but I'm almost positive it's there. Getsuyaku was working at the Correctional Facility. Of course, it probably wasn't such an important department. But a workplace that needs to enforce a gag law right to the bottom rungs of its organization... yeah, that place is the only possibility."
"But... even if Getsuyaku-san did work for the Correctional Facility, he still came home every day at the same time, right?"
"Yeah. He left home and came back every day on the minute, like clockwork. But today, no matter how long she waited, he never came home. And on top of that..." Yoming hesitated to speak.
"Did something happen?"
Yoming extracted a small bag from his breast pocket, and emptied its contents into the palm of his hand. Karan held her breath.
"Oh my, gold coins."
Three gold coins. One gold coin amounted to about half a year's worth of wages for Lost Town residents. Three gold coins. It was an enormous sum.
"Getsuyaku gave them to her."
"Heavens, how did he come by such a large amount of money?"
"Renka asked him the same thing. But knowing her, she probably interrogated him, more like."
"He didn't give her a clear answer. He said it wasn't shady money, and kept repeating that it was legitimate payment. In the end, it was left in the dark. It's just that... afterwards, Renka overheard him saying to himself that it should be enough to sustain them for a good while. Renka's insisting that Getsuyaku meant that they would be okay if he disappeared. As for me, I don't think she's being delusional."
"Did Getsuyaku-san feel some kind of... premonition that something would happen to him?"
"I suppose. Renka says he'd been acting strange these past couple of days. He seemed to be lost and afraid of something, and there would often be times like yesterday, when he'd be dazed and unresponsive."
"It seems like Lili had the same feeling. She was very worried about Getsuyaku-san." Karan's voice trembled at the end of her words. Her heart pounded frantically.
A large amount of money with no identifiable source; an utterance predicting his failure to return; his inscrutable behaviour―it all smelled of destruction. She could understand why Renka had become upset, unable to bear her anxiety. Adding to this fact was that Renka had witnessed her previous husband's sudden and mysterious death.
The same thing will happen again.
That thought would make her fear and anxiety burgeon. Renka's household with Getsuyaku was her small paradise, attained at last after a hard struggle with her daughter. For her to have it wrenched from her, for her to lose it all again―it was too cruel.
Yoming suddenly stood up. He began pacing inside the small store. His footsteps echoed.
"Are they linked?" His footsteps almost drowned out his low voice, now almost a mumble.
"Hm? What did you say?"
Yoming's feet stopped abruptly. He turned his body to stand in front of Karan. His face was tense, but his flushed cheeks betrayed his excitement.
"Is there a link between the incident with Getsuyaku and the incidents in No. 6? What do you think, Karan?"
"No, why, there's no way―"
"―that could be true? Are you sure?" Yoming's eyes harboured a feverish dull light. In a matter of minutes, his whole countenance had changed. Or had Yoming simply showed a side of him he had kept hidden before?
"If Getsuyaku wasn't able to come home, it wasn't from personal reasons. You know him; if it was, he would definitely contact his family somehow. Right now, he's in a situation where he can't contact them even if he wanted to. Maybe he's completely forbidden to make contact with anyone."
"You mean he's been detained somewhere?"
"Yes. But if he was detained, there would be some kind of notice to his family from the Security Bureau. At least, that's how it's been up until now. But there hasn't been any contact. If his workplace happened to be the Correctional Facility... can't we say that maybe some abnormal incident has occurred there?"
Correctional Facility. Safu was probably taken there, and Shion was likely there as well.
"It's not only the Correctional Facility... hey, Karan. Right now, this city, No. 6, is undergoing a huge shift. You feel it too, right?"
"Yes," Karan said hesitantly.
Yoming resumed walking. Click, click, click. His footsteps rang out more loudly, more incessantly. "Holy City citizens are dropping dead left and right. The authorities aren't trying to deal with it. In fact, they can't. No one knows what to do. This is probably the first time something like this has happened. No. 6 was the ultimate utopian city, called Holy City by people, even―and it's crumbling. By tomorrow, it may be completely gone."
"Yoming, you're getting ahead of yourself. It can't possibly be―"
"No, I know," Yoming interrupted Karan firmly, and a smile crossed his lips. "There's a horror circling within this city, a horror no one's experienced before. It's the horror of having your life threatened. Soon, it'll turn into discontent towards the city authorities. In fact, the discontent has swelled up so much, it's probably almost bursting by now. Citizens were used to obeying and accepting the false prosperity thrust upon them, but now they've woken up. They've woken up, and realized what an unfair and confining world they've lived in. Yes, yes, they've finally awoken. And they're nearly out of their wits panicking. Goodness knows why they didn't try to wake up sooner. No one tried to look at the truth."
"Yoming..." Karan took one step back. Yoming appeared not to notice Karan's unease. He looked like he had forgotten about Getsuyaku and his only younger sister, Renka, as well. Getsuyaku, Renka, Lili, and Karan. Jarred by the tumult of his emotions, Yoming was not able to spare a thought to any individual person around him.
Karan knew people with eyes like these.
It was a long, long time ago, when Karan was young. No. 6 had not even developed its outline. Those people were carried away with their words and ideals; their gazes smouldered with passion and their voices were ablaze. They blinded others with their brilliance, but they were also terrifying. Humans were nowhere to be found at the other end of their heated gaze. They discoursed of ideals, but they were barely interested in people. Perhaps they had not even realized that they no longer regarded the existence of humans. They spoke of the foundation of the ideal city as something of the near future, and yet humans never factored into those thoughts... it was unnerving.
Karan gradually distanced herself from them. She was afraid of being with them. She was afraid of their gaze. Those men were people who gradually went on to build the foundation of No. 6, and yet she found them terrifying, unnerving, and hard to relate to.
They had similar eyes. Those men discussed the creation of the utopian city. The man in front of her spoke of its destruction. They stood on opposite ends, and yet they had similar eyes.
"Karan, this is our opportunity. Our one in a thousand chances of choking the life out of this artificial Holy City. Who knew it would come so soon?" he chuckled. "Even heaven has turned its back on No. 6."
Yoming stopped and began to laugh out loud. Karan felt a chill. She felt her back tense with cold.
"Yoming... what are you thinking? What are you planning to do?"
Yoming's eyes shifted aside, and his eyes trained on Karan.
"What am I trying to do? Hmm... well, Karan, I guess I can tell you everything. You're almost like one of us anyway."
"One of you...?"
"There are many people like me in this city who have had their family torn from them ruthlessly. You're one of those people too, aren't you?"
She had no choice but to answer 'yes'. She had certainly been ruthlessly and suddenly torn apart from her son.
"It was almost impossible to make contact with each other because the authorities were so strict with their surveillance. It's almost a miracle that you and I were able to meet and talk freely like this. By coincidence you happened to be friendly with Renka as a neighbour, and that must've worked in our favour. But with this commotion, their surveillance should be even more lax. The authorities have probably got their hands full dealing with the emergency. We're going to penetrate that gap. Just watch, Karan."
"Yoming!" Karan said shrilly. "Answer me. What are you planning to do?"
"Shh, don't raise your voice," Yoming warned. "Be cautious. We can't let our guard down yet. Look here, listen carefully. Soon, I'm going to use the electronic information network to call on the citizens. I'll tell them: the authorities are going to watch their people die, and do nothing about it. Instead of taking any effective steps to battle the emergency, they're just twiddling their thumbs and watching their citizens perish. Let's all storm the Moondrop. We have to drag the mayor out. The higher-ups intend to give themselves a special vaccine so that only they survive. We can't let that happen. That's what I'll say."
"Wait, what special vaccine? Does that exist?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know... you mean it doesn't exist, then?" Karan said incredulously.
"We have no time to be worrying about whether it exists or not. But don't you think it's a likely story?"
"That's much too vague to circulate... Yoming, do you plan on releasing a false story to cause an uproar among the people?"
"Yes," said Yoming promptly. "The citizens' discontent is reaching an all-time high. This will hit the spot. It's the last drop that'll burst the entire dam. Karan, think about it: the majority of No. 6's citizens are going to gather in droves to the Moondrop, their faces drawn in anger and fear. What a sight it'll be. Just thinking about it makes me shiver in glee."
"No, stop. You mustn't do that."
"I mustn't? Why not? Why are you saying things like that?"
"People will die." Karan looked straight into Yoming's face and spoke slowly, as if to chew on each and every word. Her tongue felt heavy and sluggish. A part of her head felt numb. "Many people will die. Yoming, don't tell me you can't imagine what will happen. What will the authorities do to that mob of people? You shouldn't even need to think about it; they'll try to suppress them with brute force. No. 6―this city-state―never, ever forgives people who rebel against it. They'll try to suppress each and every person with the military... with military force... Yoming, you understand, don't you? You understand, very, very well."
Yoming looked away from Karan and sighed.
"But if tens of thousands of citizens storm in, even the authorities will have no way to deal with it. Only an army would be able to handle that."
"And what if they mobilize the army?" Karan raised her voice.
"Don't be foolish. No. 6 doesn't have an army. Every type of military force is forbidden by the Babylon Treaty."
Yoming closed his mouth. His jaw was rigid and taut. Karan felt like laughing.
No. 6, honour the treaty? How can you say such rubbish when you don't even believe in it? Were you always the sort to speak so easily what you didn't mean? Yoming, you told me once: this city devours people ruthlessly. Weren't you fighting against the ruthless state who refused to treat humans like humans? Weren't you fighting to honour people's lives?
"People will die," she repeated. And she would repeat it as many times as she had to. "If the civilians and the army collide, lots of... lots of blood will be spilled. You can't let that happen. Yoming, think. All those people who will die―they have families of their own. They have people whom they love. They have family, like Lili here, or Renka. You can't murder them."
"It can't be helped." Yoming's mutter put a stop to Karan's words. For a moment, she didn't understand what had been said to her.
"What? What did you say?"
"Karan, the world is about to change. People will be sacrificed, but we can't help it. Nothing will change if we keep fearing bloodshed."
"Yoming... are you insane?"
"Am I insane? Of course not. I'm not the one that's insane; it's them, No. 6. I've got my wits about me, and I'm not afraid. Even if I were to lose my life now, I'd have no regrets. I only have to accomplish what I set out to do. Yes, I know my death won't be in vain. For the founding of a new world, I would gladly offer my life. I'd become the stone upon which the new world stands... a true hero."
Do you need sacrifice to found a new world? Must you offer up lives? A world that seeks sacrificial offerings is just the same―just the same as the Holy City you're so desperately trying to destroy. It's not new at all. Not a single thing will change.
She felt a tightness in her chest. Her breathing grew ragged, her words were thrown into disarray, and she gasped for air.
"Do you think your wife... do you think she would have wanted you to die... all those people to die?"
"My wife... you're right, I'll finally be able to avenge my wife and son. They're probably overjoyed."
"Yoming, your wife wouldn't want revenge. I'm sure she definitely wouldn't want you to die. Snap out of it, please. Peace won't come from vengeance. Hatred only gives birth to more hatred. You have to keep living."
Yoming's eyes hardened. Wrath flared within them.
"Karan... why are you stopping me? Are you not one of us? Are you siding with No. 6?"
"No one said I was. I'm just―"
"Enough." Yoming strode swiftly to the door, and put a hand on the doorknob. "Karan, I'm disappointed. I thought we could have understood each other more. It's such a shame. I've lost hope in you."
"Yoming," Karan protested.
"In time, you'll realize how right I was. And when that time comes, celebrate for me. I'll forgive you."
I'm right, I'm right. There is no way I could be wrong. Once a man completely believed that he was right, that he would never err, he was already wrong.
"Look out for Lili and Renka for me. I probably won't be able to see them for a while." The door opened. The wind blew in. She could see the darkness. The sun had already set, and a breeze crawled across the ground. The man's tall figure disappeared into the wind and darkness. The door closed, and only the scent of nighttime remained.
Karan had crumpled to the floor. She covered her face with her hands, and screwed her eyes shut. She felt dizzy. She felt ill.
"Ma'am," called a girl's thin voice. Lili had sat up on the sofa and was watching Karan. "What's wrong?"
"Lili... no, it's nothing, dear."
"Really? Is there really nothing wrong?" Lili held her hands out. Karan embraced her, blanket and all. Her tiny body was trembling.
"It's alright, it's alright. You have nothing to worry about. It'll be alright," she murmured slowly as if in song. Lili's trembling stopped, and her quick breathing calmed down again.
"Daddy isn't home yet."
"No, he isn't. He must have had a busy day at work."
"Ma'am, I'm gonna go home. I have to stay with Mommy. I can't leave poor Mommy by herself."
"My, Lili." Yoming, do you see this? Your niece is so young, so weak, and yet she's still concerned about her mother. In her own way, she's trying to protect those who are important to her. There are many children out there like Lili. We can't make them suffer. We can't take their loved ones away. Please, let no one be killed. Don't die, Yoming. Don't be killed.
"Lili, your mother is asleep right now. Let her rest for a while. We'll wait a bit, and then go and call on your mother, alright? For now, we have to wait here for your father."
"Here at your bakery, ma'am?"
"Yes. We have bread here―fresh bread and milk, and a little fruit. I know! Let's have a party with the three of us. When your father comes home, he can join."
"A party?" Lili blinked. A faint blush crept into her cheeks. "I'd love a party."
"Right? I can't bake a cake now, but I do have some muffins. I also have some chocolate cookies left over, and I think I had some marshmallows, too. Lili, would you arrange them on a plate nicely?"
"Yeah! I'll do it, I wanna do it!"
"Then I'll leave it up to you. We'll arrange everything nicely, get prepared for the party, and then we'll go call on your mother together. Renka would be happy, right?"
"She'll sure be happy!" Lili said ecstatically. "Mommy likes your muffins as much as I do... oh, Cravat!"
"Hm? Cravats?" Karan instinctively glanced at the display case, which had barely anything left inside. She had not sold out; rather, she had not been able to bake a decent amount of pastries or bread in the first place. Her usual supplier had not come. Stores everywhere had closed their doors. She was running low on flour, sugar, butter, and oil. If she continued without replenishing her stock, she would run out within a few days. Karan had no choice but to close her shop.
The distribution chain was crumbling.
"Lili, I haven't made any cravats," she said aloud, and realized immediately that Lili was not talking about the pastry. It was Cravat, the small brown mouse.
"―No," Lili exhaled. Disappointment etched her face. "I thought I saw Cravat, but it was just me."
"Do you want to see Cravat, Lili?"
"Yeah. I really like that little mouse. He has such beautiful eyes, and he's so soft and warm when you hold him in your hand. I like him lots and lots. Ma'am, where does Cravat live?"
"Hmm... I wonder where."
"You don't know either, ma'am?"
"I don't, unfortunately. I have no idea."
"Oh," Lili said. "You know, I really wanna go see Cravat's house. I feel like it would be so much fun. There are probably lots of other little mice beside Cravat, too, right?"
"Hmm, I think you're right. I feel like it would be like that."
Cravat's destination and his home―that's where my son is.
Shion, what are you doing now? How are you doing? Are you with Nezumi? You, Nezumi, and Safu are all alive, right? I can't do anything for you. I know I'm undependable, but these hands don't reach far enough to touch you.
Live, Shion. Please cherish your life. Treat your life and the lives of others with compassion.
Yes, of course. We will not be beaten. No matter how dire the situation, we'll live to meet again.
"Ma'am, I'll get the plates."
"That would be great, dear. I want you to get the big painted plate at back of the cabinet. There are tea cups and a tea pot that match. Can you find them?"
"I will. Leave it to me!" Lili bounded up to the cabinet on light feet.
Karan placed a hand on her chest, and quietly took several deep breaths.
No matter what, we will survive. We'll reach the end of our lives, not as glorious heroes whose names will remain beyond our time, but as ones who have lived modestly. We'll hold in our hands a life not forced upon us, but a life we decided for ourselves.
That will be our victory.
Right, Shion? Right, Nezumi?
- Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Constance Garnett. EBSCO. 114. (back)