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"How long do we have to stay like this for?" Rikiga stifled a yawn. He fished out a flat metal bottle from his jacket pocket. The stench of alcohol stung Inukashi's nose.
"That stinks. What's in there?" he asked as he pinched his nose.
"Do you want to know?" Rikiga flashed a vulgar grin, and lightly shook the bottle. Inukashi could hear liquid sloshing inside.
"I don't even have to ask. It stinks of cheap booze. Ugh, that smell! Makes me wanna throw up." He pulled his face into a scowl. It was no act. The bottle was not even open, but the nauseating odour radiating from it assaulted his nose.
"I was bored, alright?" Inukashi retorted. "Unfortunately for me, the only person I have to talk to is an alcoholic geezer. Can't start a conversation without a topic, right? I'm doing a lot of work on my end here."
"You have your dogs." Rikiga jerked his chin underneath the desk. A large black dog was stretched out on the floor. In a corner of the room, there were also three dogs lounging in various comfortable positions. The small mice were curled up and asleep on the back of a black and white patched dog. In a way, it was a peaceful pastoral scene.
Rikiga did not seem to take a liking to this, for he furrowed his brow and growled.
"Take your choice of the dogs or the mice as your conversational pals. They suit you."
"It's important for them to get their rest. I don't wanna disturb 'em."
"Hah, talking big, huh? As if this room wasn't small enough with the dogs taking over the space. I'm human; why do I have to curl up in this tiny chair?"
"It's a matter of rank."
"I mean class. I'm just saying that my dogs are at a much higher level than a drunk man blinded by greed."
"You go on saying what you will. You're just an underdog howling about its loss." Rikiga shrugged, and emptied the contents of the bottle into his mouth.
"Underdog? Old man, don't tell me you're waving your white flag already. Let me tell you something: if we've come this far and we lose, it means―" Inukashi cut himself off, and reached for the bag on top of the desk. Rikiga glared at him with bloodshot eyes.
"If we lose, it means what? Stop being mysterious about it. Or have you just forgotten how to speak like a proper human? Ha ha ha, Inukashi, you're becoming closer to a dog every day. Soon you'll grow a tail, turn furry, and start prowling around on your hands and feet. Ha ha ha!"
Inukashi glanced at Rikiga's flushed face, and clicked his tongue softly.
"Become a dog? Bring it on. I couldn't wish for anything better. If I could turn into a dog by praying, I'd pray to any God out there." He was almost serious.
If I were to be reincarnated, would I choose to be a dog or a human? What would I say if someone―or even God―asked me? I would probably puzzle over it, unable to come up with an answer.
He could not say that humans were loftier or more decent than dogs. Inukashi knew of both the noble souls of dogs and the foolish hearts of humans. Dogs only sought food enough to keep them alive, but human greed knew no boundaries. Once a man's belly was full, he desired wealth; when he had wealth, he desired more wealth and power.
Were not dogs more intelligent and sound in judgment? They knew when they were fulfilled, whereas humans continued clawing for more and more.
Rikiga burped rudely.
"They're more intelligent than this old man, at least."
"Huh? Did you say something?"
"Nothing. I was just speaking in Dog."
"Hah. So, what was that? If we lose, what will happen to us?"
"We'll become like Getsuyaku."
Rikiga's hand froze, his bottle poised mid-air. Whiskey spilled from the mouth and splashed on the floor.
"We'll turn into corpses and be dragged across ground," Inukashi continued. "Or maybe we'll be dragged across the ground before we become corpses. Either way, it doesn't make much of a difference. Right?"
"Right," Rikiga answered. He twisted the cap tightly on the bottle, and tossed it back into his pocket. He seemed to be remembering Getsuyaku getting shot through the chest, and his sagging cheeks began to tremble.
Rikiga was afraid of death. Inukashi didn't have the heart to sneer at him and call him a coward. Inukashi was afraid of death as well. He was afraid of it more than anything.
Getsuyaku had died almost immediately, with next to no suffering. In a sense, his last moments were lucky. For Inukashi, who had seen countless grisly deaths, a painless death was like a gift from heaven. If he was going to die anyway, he wanted to die without pain. But if it was possible for him to survive, he wanted to do anything he could to live. If only death awaited at the end of his suffering, he wanted none of it. But if suffering meant he could live, he could bear it. He would endure, and live on.
He did not want to become like Getsuyaku.
I won't become like Getsuyaku. I won't let No. 6 kill me so easily. I'd like to see them try to hunt me down.
He drew the zipper on the bag, and examined its contents. Two foldable automatic rifles. A few grenades and magazines of ammunition. All were outdated secondhand items.
"Pathetic," Inukashi muttered under his breath with a sigh. Rikiga didn't miss it.
"If you've got complaints about it, secure us some supplies yourself," he said indignantly. "How hard do you think I had to work to prepare that many weapons, huh? Tell me where in the West Block I would be able to buy the latest photon or electric gun, or a controlled-detonation automatic microbomb. I'd like you to introduce me to those suppliers if you've got contacts."
"Huh, well I thought getting weapons would be nothing with mighty Mr. Rikiga's connections and networks. I guess I overestimated you. What a disappointment."
"Oh, there's nothing that delights me more than Eve or you being disappointed in me. I'm telling you never to expect anything from me again. I'd rather all the the women in the world get sick of me than you lot having expectations for me."
"No need to worry, the ladies are probably sick of you already." Inukashi dismissed Rikiga's insult lightly, and began building the automatic rifle.
"Do you know how to use a gun?"
"Have you... well, it doesn't even have to be a person. Have you ever shot a dog or cat, even a rat?"
"I've been shot at before, by the old butcher guy. It was when I nicked a joint of meat. He flew into a rage and started firing his rifle. I almost came away with a hole in my forehead. Thank heavens I didn't."
"Well, that's unfortunate," Rikiga replied sarcastically. "Maybe a few holes would have aired out that brain of yours. Then you'd learn how to speak to people properly."
"Hah, well, too bad for you. As you can see, my skull is still chock full with brains. The old butcher, on the other hand, is probably turning into a rotting hunk of meat under the rubble."
"Did he die during the Hunt?"
"Yeah. Looked like his arm was torn clean off. I don't think he'd ever be able to fire a rifle with that."
Rikiga wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and questioned Inukashi again. "So, what about you? Have you ever fired a gun, even once?"
Rikiga's pupils darted about. His uncertainty was apparent in his roving gaze.
"How about you, old man? Have you ever gone on a long romp with any of these ladies?"
"...I can't say I haven't. But let me tell you, my shooting skills are no better than a blindfolded monkey."
"Stop being modest."
"Besides, why did Eve make us prepare this? This is the hygiene management room. What does he plan to do, making us wait with these weapons?"
Inukashi suddenly spun around, gun in hand. He aligned the sight with the chest of the man sitting in front of him, and stood poised.
"This is it, old man."
"What? H-Hey, Inukashi, what's this about?"
"This is what it's about. Relax, I won't miss. I'll send you underground in one shot."
"H-Hey, idiot, stop it. I said stop!" Rikiga yelled, and sprang to his feet. His momentum made him stumble, and he fell to the floor.
"No, Inukashi. Have you gone insane? Stop!"
"Bang!" Inukashi pointed the barrel at the ceiling and grinned. "Oops. I forgot to load it."
Rikiga looked up at him, curled up and gasping.
"Inukashi... don't you get carried away. What would you get out of teasing me, anyway?"
"It kills time. I just wanted to give you a little scare. I didn't realize you'd live up to my expectations this much. This is awesome."
"Stop messing around, damnit!" Rikiga said angrily. " I'm not going to let some doggy boy get the better of me. I'm going home. I've had enough of being alone with you in this stinking place. I can't take it. I'm gone." He appeared serious, for he stood up and made for the door.
"If you take one step out that door―" Inukashi aimed his gun again. "I'll shoot for real this time."
"It's not loaded."
"Know a joke when you hear one," Inukashi retorted. "Sure, I might not have any shooting experience. But even a blindfolded monkey can hit its target at point-blank range."
Rikiga clucked his tongue. Cluck cluck cluck. Then he looked around, and gave a sigh.
"It's dark." Rikiga's fat fingers felt for the light switch. The lights came on; they were bright, too bright for Inukashi's eyes which were used to being guided by the moon or a candle. He had barely any time to blink when his gun was violently yanked from him. He staggered, took a step forward, and was struck across the face. For a moment, his mind went blank. This time, Inukashi was the one to land with his bottom on the floor.
Rikiga began to shower him with abuse.
"You good-for-nothing brat," he roared. "As soon as I'm a little nice to you, you start thinking you're entitled to everything."
The black dog snarled menacingly as it got to its feet. The other dogs also acted swiftly. They circled around Rikiga, growling softly. The mice huddled in a corner of the room with a steady eye on the proceedings.
"Stupid mutts, don't underestimate us humans. Come at me, but before you do, I'll blow a hole through your master's head."
"Wow, old man. Those were some moves. Almost as fast as Nezumi, I'd say―but that would be giving you too much credit. Impressive. Ah, I see you in a whole new light now. You're a fast drunkard, aren't ya?"
"Go on saying all the crap you want. I'm actually angry now. I'd feel so much better if I could swing two or three punches into that face. Hmph, you better watch yourself."
"Unfortunately―" Inukashi smiled wanly, and stuck his finger down the barrel. "There aren't any bullets in here after all, Mr. Rikiga." Then he whistled lightly. The tension in the dogs unravelled immediately, and they rolled onto their sides on the spot. The black dog wagged its bushy tail. No hint of its previous aggression remained.
"Did I go too far with my joke? Sorry, old man." He stood up and bowed his head to Rikiga. His battered cheek still burned.
"Goodness..." Rikiga threw his gun down onto the desk, and collapsed into a chair like a broken marionette. "What the hell are we doing here? In a place like this... forced to do nothing... only to sit still and wait..."
"Can't bear it?"
"If I said I couldn't, would you laugh?"
"Nah. I don't think I can bring myself to laugh, old man. I'm not in the position to. Which means I feel the same way."
"How, now. You and I are at a consensus for the first time."
"You can say that again. This must be some kind of evil omen. It's bad luck." Inukashi tried to make light of it, but his mood remained gloomy. He had never expected waiting to be so hard.
They were to wait for Nezumi and Shion in this room, which had been Getsuyaku's workplace.
That was all he knew right now. Inukashi couldn't even imagine how the two would arrive here. Rikiga, of course, knew even less. Maybe even Nezumi himself wasn't sure of the details. Yes―what if neither Nezumi nor Shion arrived? What if they waited and waited, still waited, and were fruitless in the end―? Stop it, don't even jinx yourself. This will make me an underdog for sure. I don't want to be a loser before the fight even begins.
But it was hard.
How long did he have to wait? What was about to happen? It was hard to wait without being able to predict the future. It was like being pricked by countless transparent needles. It was like being broiled over an illusory fire. His heart, which had been so jaunty when he had set foot into the room, had now shrunken and shrivelled like an exhausted old man. He was ashamed. He was embarrassed. He felt lame, and he knew he was. But...
His heart was resolute; he had prepared himself; and yet this purposeless passing of time made doubt creep into his decision and set will. He didn't want to quote Rikiga, but he wanted to get out of here. He was also worried about Shionn. It was almost time for him to wake up.
Shionn would probably cry if he woke up and didn't see me there. Oh man, what if he's wailing for me? I wish he would just keep sleeping forever, protected by the dogs, but of course things aren't always going to go that well.
He shook his head.
I can't think about Shionn. It'll make my heart weak. It'll make me want to go running back home. I can't think of him now. Forget him. Forget. Think... think of... Nezumi's letter. He put a hand on his chest.
On Nezumi's scribbled note, there was but one message which ordered them to prepare weapons to defend themselves with.
Would that mean they would be faced with a fight? Would that fight be with Security Bureau officials stationed at the Correctional Facility? But there was no way Bureau officials would come all the way down to the hygiene management room. The one man who had worked in this room had been killed. He was already a corpse. No one would have business here.
He swallowed his saliva. Wait with utmost caution. Never let your guard down. Inukashi pounced on the wall switch, and turned the lights off.
"Hey, what was that for? Now I can't see anything," Rikiga complained.
"That was bad."
"Bad? What was?"
"The lights. We turned the lights on."
"So what? When it's dark, we turn on the lights. Electric lamps might be a luxury in the West Block, but here in No. 6 they're commonplace."
"Dumbass, that's not what I'm talking about!" Inukashi said testily. "What are we gonna do if someone saw that light?"
Even in the darkness, he could see Rikiga's features tense. Inukashi's eyes were naturally used to the dark. Damnit, we didn't even need these lights in the first place.
"It'll be alright," Rikiga muttered. His voice was hoarse and hard to hear, like he had forced it out of his throat. "No need to get so jumpy. Stop acting like a lost rabbit. That light was on for maybe one, two minutes max. Who the hell is going to care if the hygiene management room burns down? You said it yourself: this place is like Paradise. It doesn't even have surveillance cameras."
"It has been, up until now."
On one hand, Getsuyaku had been marked as a suspicious person, and had been shot and killed. On the other, Nezumi and Shion had been able to infiltrate the Correctional Facility successfully. This connection had raised the question of whether the cleaning staff were on the same side as the intruders, or whether they had collaborated together.
If that was so, was not this room more of a dangerous territory than a Paradise? It was likely that surveillance had been tightened around the area. It was very likely.
The black dog suddenly got to its feet. It cast its eyes around with a low growl. Its gaze quickly trained on one point―the door. The door connecting to the Correctional Facility. The black dog continued growling at the metal door that only opened from the Facility side.
Inukashi snatched a gun and hurled it at Rikiga. Rikiga barely caught the outdated carbine in his hands. His lips trembled.
"Inukashi... what's going on? What's going to happen?"
"A visitor, old man. An unwanted one at that."
Thud. This time, there was a sound behind them. The entrance. He could feel the moving presence of people through the worn grey door.
"A pincer attack. You must be kidding me." Shit, we've done it again. We've made another mistake. A life-threatening one. Inukashi chewed his lip. He knew it was useless. He could chew his lip to shreds and it would undo none of the mistakes they had made.
Inukashi, get moving.
Nezumi's voice echoed in his ears.
A thousand regrets aren't going to open a path for you, but one act will. Move. Just move.
Why do I hear his voice? Even at a time like this―no, maybe it's because we're in this situation that I hear it.
Move. Search for the path to life.
Shut up, Nezumi. I've learned my own fair share of tricks to keep myself alive.
He grasped the bag.
He rammed his body into the door that led to the waste collection area. The door did not budge. An alarm went off. The metal door was opening up. He could see the tips of military boots.
"Inukashi, this." Rikiga touched the switch on the wall. The doors slid sideways.
"Alright!" Inukashi roared to cheer himself on. The dogs swarmed into the collection area behind Inukashi and Rikiga. Hamlet and Cravat wove swiftly between their legs.
"Ugh, it smells." Rikiga broke into a coughing fit. He was right; there was an odour. The stench of rotting meat juices filled the air. It was no doubt the odour from the capsule that he had given Getsuyaku. The capsule had been sucked in through a vacuum and brought to the collection area along with other waste. If he had not been shot through the chest, Getsuyaku would probably be sorting through this pile of trash tomorrow. He would have been at his usual job.
"Makes me want to throw up," Rikiga groaned softly. A light flared inside Inukashi's head. He swung around to see Security Bureau officials with guns in hand beyond the glass. They had stormed into the small room.
One, two, three, four... four people.
"Follow me, old man."
There was a small power shovel in a corner of the collection depot, near the waste outlet. With this, Getsuyaku would deposit the waste onto the conveyor belt and take it to the incinerator. Inukashi hid himself behind the yellow-painted heavy machine.
The lights came on, illuminating everything with a glare.
Why do people from No. 6 hate darkness so much? Inukashi thought idly. Why do they hate what they can't see, places light can't reach, and the fact that darkness exists? Why do they try to illuminate it all?
Security Bureau officials opened the door and stepped in. Suddenly, they covered their noses and mouths with their hands and bent over double.
"What is this?"
All four of them retreated. All of their faces were contorted. One of them fell to his knees and vomited on the spot. Inukashi grinned in satisfaction, and still grinning, aimed his gun.
Hah, what kind of Security Bureau officials are these? They've got huge egos but no balls to go along with them. I can't believe they're making such a fuss over a little smell. Hmph, so that makes them softies as well as crazies. Makes me laugh. You guys should all go home and suck on your mommy's nipple.
He pulled the trigger.
An impact slammed into him. He felt like he had been hit hard in the forehead. He tumbled backwards, and he felt a dull stinging from his neck up.
"Horrible. What kind of aim have you got?" Rikiga shouted.
"Cut me some slack, it's my first time. Why don't you try shooting, old man?"
"Never. I'm a pacifist through and through. I could never fire at other humans, even if they're Bureau officials."
"I'd like to see you hit your target at least two, three times before you make a sick joke like that."
The Security Bureau officials fled desperately from the stench. They would probably not set foot into this place again without gas masks.
How fragile they were.
They were not civilians; they were specially trained Security Bureau officials. Yet, they could not even endure a mild odour like this.
But at this point in time, Inukashi wanted to thank them rather than scorn them for their fragility. The officials had bought them some time. He was not foolish enough to be relieved, thinking that danger had passed. But bought time was bought time. He could draw a breath.
But what'll I do with the time I bought?
After I catch my breath, what'll I do next?
He licked his bottom lip. His tongue ran across the dry membrane.
This room had only one entrance and exit: it was the door they had come running through. The Security Bureau officials―their enemy―were stationed outside. They were in a sealed room. There was no escape route. Soon, those crazy softies are going to attack us. When that happens―
The more he thought about it, the more hopeless the situation seemed to him. But Inukashi did not give up. We'll manage. There's no way we'll end like this. Isn't that right, Nezumi?
He didn't know whether he was believing in Nezumi or himself. But he knew that he believed. He believed―so he did not give up.
We'll manage. We'll make do. We won't be finished off like this.
"Inukashi." Rikiga grabbed his shoulder. "What are they planning to do?"
Inukashi glanced at the small room, and inhaled sharply. He stood rooted to the spot.
The Security Bureau officials were loading in an odd-looking device. It was about as big as the black dog growling fiercely at his feet. One end of it fanned out widely, and the other end narrowed to about a third of the width. Numerous spiralled tubes extended from it, but Inukashi could not see where they led. The body, as well as inside the mouth of the machine was a colour between grey and blue, and shone in the light. It reminded him of a highly- polished brass instrument.
"What's that? A huge trumpet?" Rikiga's face relaxed comically, but his voice was a mixture of tension and fear. "They should have told me there was going to be a recital. I would have worn my dress coat."
Inukashi was too on-edge to respond to Rikiga's joke. He couldn't swallow the breath caught in his throat. The thudding of his heart rang in his ears so loudly, he felt like his eardrums would burst.
Various scenes in the West Block came back to him vividly. It was right after the Hunt. His surroundings were an expanse of rubble.
The market, where throngs of people moved to and fro among the barracks, tents, and two-storey brick houses that lined the street, was razed completely. All had turned to debris.
This destruction did not come from blasting explosives. There had been no distinctive smell of gunpowder. He had also not seen any burns or singes. There had been no embers, nor rising smoke. No. 6 had not used firearms as it usually did for this Hunt. He even felt like No. 6 had used a giant hand to crush the whole market.
But what had No. 6 used instead of a giant hand?
Rikiga's ear twitched."Wait, what did you just say?"
"No. 6 used acoustic shockwaves for the Hunt. Like spleen whales do, or sperm whales, or whatever they're called."
"What are acoustic shockwaves? Where did the whales come from? Can you explain it in a way I can understand?"
"I can't. I'm just repeating what Nezumi's told me. Old man, you saw for yourself what happened to the marketplace."
"Yeah―it was a clean sweep. The perfect model of a cleanup. And you're saying they used acoustic shockwaves for that?"
Rikiga's eyes opened wide. They bulged so much, Inukashi could count each capillary running along his eyeball.
"Inukashi, so you're saying that weird trumpet―"
"It might be a smaller version of what they used in the West Block."
Might be? Hey, Inukashi, you can't fool yourself anymore. That has to be a miniature sound cannon. That's what No. 6 was developing.
"And―and they're going to fire that on us?" Rikiga bellowed.
"Don't ask me; ask them. They're the ones with the answers."
Rikiga growled still. Through the darkness, Inukashi could see his face growing pale. Inukashi aimed his gun, and fired at the blue-grey weapon of destruction before him. This time, he did not stagger. With great effort, he held his ground and maintained his posture.
He could not discern where the bullet had hit. Perhaps it had not hit anything. Perhaps it had flown away into the distance like a whimsical crow.
"Couldn't you have attached an automatic target tracker?" he grumbled.
"Do you think the West Block would have such a luxury item?"
"Hah, I'm sure you pinched as many pennies as you could. Look what you've ended up with: something slightly better than a toy."
"That's not the gun's fault. It's your aim."
They peeked out from behind the power shovel at the small room. The Security Bureau officials were moving busily. They showed no signs of retaliation. They did not fire a single shot back.
They don't need to. They did not need to hit a wretched man right before delivering his execution. That was probably their concept.
How compassionate of them. Brings tears to my eyes.
"Inukashi, hey, Inukashi. What are we going to do? If we go on like this, we'll be―" Rikiga yelled and ducked down. He cradled his head and arranged himself in a defensive position. His whole body was shaking.
There's no way I'm gonna die here. I haven't been born into this world to die in a place like this.
Violent emotions churned in his chest. He had never thought about why he had come into this world. Not once. It had seemed so trivial, he had never felt the need to think about it. To Inukashi, finding a reason for being born was nothing more than a foolish game. He had been born into this world, and that was why he was going to live in it. That was it. His life was no one's but his own.
I'm going to decide whether I throw this life away or protect it. It's no one else's business.
He fired wildly. Shooting skills? Go to hell. The glass dividing the room and the collection area shattered with a mighty crash. The Bureau officials' panic was apparent.
The stench had become a torrent, tiding into the small room.
Move! Nezumi's hand thumped his back. Move, Inukashi. Act in order to live!
Just what I was planning to do, Inukashi answered in his head.
He sprinted up.
The black dog bounded past him and gave a great leap. It soared through the broken window, making straight for the Bureau officials.
- Font credit to David Kerkhoff for Sunday & Monday (Nezumi).
Read Chapter 3.