Cease from the struggle
of war's impartial contention
"Zeus-sprung son of Laërtes, Odysseus of many devices,
hold back, cease from the struggle of war's impartial contention,
lest wide-thundering Zeus son of Kronos be angry against you."
-Homer, The Odyssey
The door of the elevator was open by a crack. Nezumi hooked his hand on it.
Give me strength. Please. He prayed, but not to God. He prayed to the girl with the wilful gaze. Safu, give us strength. A little more, just a little strength for us...
The door opened, but not by enough. They could not escape yet. Nezumi heard laboured breathing behind him.
Shion was getting to his feet. He silently stretched his hands out, and his fingers grasped the door. They looked at each other. Tsukiyo poked his face out of the folds of superfibre and cried once, loudly.
Nezumi and Shion took that as their signal to push the door with all their might. The gap widened so that one person could slip through with some effort.
The elevator careened. His feet stumbled unsteadily.
"Hurry, get out!" Nezumi pushed Shion out before squeezing through the gap. The elevator gave an irritating screech, which turned into a rumble. It hurtled downwards as if it had been waiting for the two to escape before setting off.
Nezumi closed his eyes for a moment. My gratitude, Safu. Sweat poured down his cheeks. The wound on his leg throbbed. His heart pounded against his pectoral muscles from the inside.
He was in pain.
His mental and physical strength was whittled down, crumbling off, and barely remaining. He was in pain, yet―this pain, this throbbing, this heartbeat was nothing less than proof that he was alive. He was still alive. Still alive.
He opened his eyes and took in his surroundings.
He saw scattered glass shards and a wet corridor. Two men lying dead. The black-haired soldier and Rashi were unchanged from how Nezumi and Shion had left them.
One was lying in the corridor covered in blood, and another was thrown out on the ground near the wall. The barriers were gone. The sprinklers were off. There was no human shadow or presence.
Nothing. Only Nezumi and Shion's breathing could be heard, almost too loudly.
Whoom. Something exploded. He spun around and saw smoke coming out of a room at the end of the hall. It was the room they had fallen into after destroying the ventilation duct. Flames soon licked through the door left ajar.
It was burning.
A similar-sounding explosion rocked them from the floor below. He could hear the commotion and people screaming.
The computer systems on each floor were executing the same program of exploding and bursting into flames. Like loyal subjects, all devices within the Correctional Facility were following after the mother computer.
Were these machines following in their master's footsteps, despite the fact that they had no soul? No; they had only been programmed to do so. The mother's failure meant death for all systems within the Correctional Facility. They were configured to self-detonate as soon as they stopped receiving signals from the mother. It was nothing as lax as the information being wiped or deleted, or the device itself going out of operation. They were forcibly destroyed.
So were they following the master to her grave after all? It was forced suicide. The system ended everything along with itself. It allowed nothing to survive. Had the creator of this system directly applied the dictator's logic?
The flames had crawled into the corridor. The heat attacked them. Smoke filled the air thickly. None of the extinguishing devices were operating. Neither smoke extraction devices nor air filtration devices were working. A system which had been so flawlessly tuned to eradicate unwanted objects was completely useless.
"Shion, go down. We have to escape downwards."
They clambered down the stairs. Hot air blew at them here as well. Personnel were screaming and rushing to escape.
"Fire! It's a fire!"
"No, it was an explosion! Suddenly I couldn't control the thing anymore. Oh, look at this mess!"
"Help me! My arm, it's been blown off―a doctor―"
"Oh, I'm so scared―we have to escape, quickly!"
"What's going on? What's the matter? Nothing seems to work. The automatic doors aren't opening. What's wrong with the lights?"
"Someone, this person's covered in blood. Someone, please!"
"The smoke... it's choking me."
"We can't use the elevator. The stairs―only the stairs are left."
It was truly a pandemonium. A mob of lab coats stormed the stairs as each one tried to get down before the other. Some slipped and fell on top of others. Some tried to help their friends; others stepped over the fallen ones and fled; some wept; some cried out directions for the emergency route. A woman helped a bleeding man to his feet; a man shoved a staggering woman out of his way as he ran past her―each one showed his true colours in this tragic scene.
An even louder explosion shook the air.
It had evidently blown a hole somewhere, for the air began to move in a current. The smoke cleared somewhat. If even for a moment, they could catch their breath.
Again, the same sound, and the faint roar of a crowd.
Nezumi turned around and confirmed that it had come from the direction of the prison wing. The trapped prisoners were causing a commotion. But if all of the prisoners' wing had been computer-monitored, then every door should be unlocked by now. Perhaps that noise was the sound of the prisoners cheering and roaring at being set free.
But if that was so...
They reached the third floor. The flames, smoke, and confusion were more subdued than the fourth. Some people had caught a breath on the stairwell, restored their reason and were attempting to escape this hell by supporting each other.
Can we keep at it and escape? Hope flared. A ray of light pierced the darkness.
All systems had died. The Correctional Facility was being reduced to a mere building, an empty shell with no function. With the addition of the prisoners, the chaos was bound to get worse.
And when that happens.... Perhaps it would be easy to take advantage of this situation to escape. There was not much blocking their way.
"Shion, let's go." Nezumi restrained his over-eager heart, and grabbed Shion's wrist. Shion did not move. "Shion!" he said urgently. "What is it? We have to get out of here."
"Why did you kill her?" Shion muttered, barely moving his lips. It sounded almost like a gasp. Nezumi let his hand go, and met Shion's gaze. He could feel his blood turning cold. He was freezing over gradually from his extremities.
"Nezumi, answer me. Why did you kill Safu?" Shion's voice caught in his throat, and took on an unnatural murky tone. Nezumi felt like he was listening to static-filled music through outdated speakers.
"We― I came here to save Safu. Save her... not kill her." Shion's whole body began to tremble, but no emotion could be read from his face. Not agitation, nor wrath, nor sadness, nor anguish.
"Shion, we were too late. She was already―"
"Safu was alive." Shion's murky voice jolted him sharply. He felt like he had been slapped on the cheek. "She was living, and standing right in front of me."
"That was an illusion. You should have known yourself. That wasn't her. It was just an illusion."
"No! No! No!" Shion yelled. "Safu was alive. She was alive, and that was why she could appear in front of me. Nezumi, I don't care what form she took. Safu was definitely alive."
"...No matter what form, huh."
"Yeah. Safu may have lost her body, but she was alive. She was alive and waiting for me. I needed to save her. I should have stayed here with her. Isn't that right, Nezumi?"
Safu was alive. Was she? Had she really been? Nezumi ground his teeth. She had been alive and waiting for Shion. She had been waiting devotedly, just for him. She had been alive just to see Shion once again. And her wish had been granted.
Safu, Shion overcame hardship and danger to come to you. You were able to meet your most beloved person. But what you wished for next was to disappear from Shion's sight. Yes, you wished for it.
You didn't want Shion to see you.
That was why...
"Shion, we couldn't have saved her. She and the mother were fused together. And she... she chose to die with it."
"Is that your reason? Your reason for murdering Safu?"
"Then what should I have done?" Nezumi yelled. His blood, which was supposed to be frozen, boiled and raced through his body in a hot stream. "Don't you understand how she felt? She summoned us because she wanted to see you. And―and couldn't you see it was because she wanted to be saved? I don't mean escaping from the Correctional Facility. She'd already known it was impossible. That was why she wanted you at least to save her from that wretched situation. You were the last person whom she wanted to see her like that. I mean, wouldn't you feel the same? You understand, right?"
Nezumi's breathing was erratic. Shion's expression did not change. Not even a twitch of an eyebrow. The smoke stung at Nezumi's eyes.
We have to run. We can't waste any more time here. His thoughts were clear, but his feet would not move. They quaked at Shion's eyes.
"Shion, I can't think of it as you do. We were too late. Safu was already dead." They were his true thoughts. "You aren't looking at reality. It would have been impossible to separate her from the mother. She even said so herself: she had no body, but she was still trapped. She said it hurt, that she wanted you to set her free. She wished to be set free from that situation, from her humiliation."
He was not wrong. Shion was the one with the wrong idea. He was unable to accept the reality of losing Safu. He was trying to avert his eyes from the truth.
"You used her." A low, low mutter. Nezumi did not catch it.
"You used Safu to destroy the mother. Isn't that right?" Shion's eyes shifted slowly from right to left. Tsukiyo peeked out from the superfibre, but soon ducked back inside again.
"Destroying the Correctional Facility was your purpose from the very beginning. Your object was never to save Safu, it was to destroy the Correctional Facility, and to use it as a gateway to destroy No. 6. You were waiting for that chance all along. That was why you didn't hesitate to destroy the mother. You didn't hesitate at all. You used her for your own purposes. You sacrificed her."
Nezumi stared at Shion. Used her? Didn't hesitate at all? Sacrificed her? Shion, you really think so?
But is he wrong?
He heard a voice questioning him back. It was not Shion's. It was his own voice. Did you not use her? Did you not sacrifice her? Did you not prioritize your own wishes over saving another life?
Didn't you? Didn't you? Didn't you?
A knot of people wearing dark green shirts came storming down the stairs, screaming. They were prisoners. Their loud cheering hit the walls around them, bounced, and echoed clamorously.
Roar. Roar. Get out, get out.
"Stop! I said stop!" The Security Bureau official's orders were drowned out by the din. Suddenly, a gunshot rang out. A man trying to run past Nezumi careened backwards and fell onto the floor in the corridor. He had been shot through the head.
"Stop! Stop, or I will shoot!"
"Run! Get outta here!" the prisoners yelled. "Don't stop! Escape! Hurry, hurry and get outta here!"
All the prisoners had bloodshot eyes. Some were foaming at the mouth. Every one of them roared like beasts as they ran.
To become a prisoner of the Correctional Facility meant death. Whether guilty or not, regardless of the severity of the crime, as soon as they were imprisoned, they were on death row.
We're going to get killed anyway, so why not cling to this miracle? We'll latch onto this one-in-a-million chance, and be free.
To the outside world. To the outside world. Run to the light.
Gunshots. Sprays of blood. A white-haired prisoner crumpled over the railing. Gunshots, explosions, smoke, fire.
"Shion, it's dangerous here." Nezumi grabbed Shion's arm and yanked. He met no resistance. Shion staggered and bumped his shoulder on the wall. He slid to the ground, still leaning on the wall.
"Nezumi... I'm sorry." A whimper spilled from his bloodless lips. "I'm sorry. I―I―" Shion covered his face with his hands, and drew several ragged breaths.
"I know," Shion said. "I know we had no choice but to do it. You granted Safu's wish... I have no reason nor right to blame you. It was me... I should have been the one to do it. It was my job to set Safu free. But I couldn't. I was scared... and I couldn't do it. I leaned on you again, thrust everything onto you, and made you do the dirty work. I didn't want to acknowledge my cowardice, so I blamed you, ran you to the ground..."
Nezumi looked down at Shion's snowy hair. Despite having been through such a hellish ordeal, it had not lost any of its lustre. Every single hair shimmered elegantly.
"I got you involved, and even dragged Rikiga-san and Inukashi into it... and if the result was this.... Nezumi, we didn't come here for destruction. We came here to give salvation. But look―"
"We came for destruction."
Shion lifted his face. It was smeared with sweat and blood.
"You're right. I had only one purpose, and it was to destroy the Correctional Facility. I never had plans to save Safu from the beginning."
Nezumi looked away from Shion. He couldn't hold the other boy's gaze.
"I needed you. I knew that without your memory and judgment skills, it would be impossible to get around inside the Facility. You were my last, and my best trump card. I thought for a long time how I would use you, and... this is the answer. The thing about Safu was just an excuse. I just... used you and her to satisfy my own purposes."
Yes, Shion, you aren't wrong. I betrayed you. I was tricking you all along. You didn't get me involved; it was the other way around. I set the cunning trap.
"My plan was a success. Look at this confusion. The Correctional Facility is crumbling. Shion, I―I directed things to proceed according to my intentions. Frankly, I didn't expect it to turn out so well. You served your purpose a hundred times better than I expected. You were... really useful to me."
Shion stood up unsteadily.
"Nezumi, what are you talking about?"
"I never believed that Safu would be safe. The moment she was imprisoned, I knew the possibility of her escape was close to nil. Shion― saving Safu never mattered to me. When I planted the bomb in the mother, I was only thinking of destroying it and getting out of there as soon as possible. That was it."
The superfibre cloth slid from his neck and fell at his feet. Had he been bowing his head unwittingly? Nezumi stooped to pick the fabric up, and stared intently at the boy in front of him.
"I'm not asking you to forgive me. It's not something I can apologize for and be done with."
"What are you talking about?" Shion said loudly. "I'm not getting a single word."
Really? Can you really not understand?
You're a liar, Shion. You do get it. You understand every single word. And you'll never forgive me. You'll lose faith in me and loathe me. Or would you―
Tsukiyo squeaked sharply. Nezumi felt his spine tense. He felt like transparent arrows were stabbing into him. It was murderous intent.
He turned around. A man stood there, aiming a gun at him. He was not a Security Bureau official. He was one of the soldiers who had been under Rashi's command.
Nezumi had noticed him too late.
"Shion, duck!" He shoved Shion as hard as he could. Immediately, the impact came. A beam of light seemed to pierce his entire body.
It scorched him.
He tried to scream.
Escape, Shion. Hurry, he thought, but no voice came out. Somewhere― somewhere in his body, he was burning. It was hot.
He could see Shion, wide-eyed. He could see clearly the boy's screaming mouth, his extended hand, and the shape of his fingers. The image was so vivid, it seemed hardly real.
The vivid scene blurred, and darkness closed in.
All colour faded.
The black dog was thrown out across the floor. Its limbs convulsed as it foamed at the mouth. The Bureau official had propped himself up and was holding a small gun in his hand. The black dog eventually stopped moving. Despite its aggressive nature, it had loved to nap in the sun. It would often lie in the sunlight much like it was doing now, stretching its legs out. It had a temperamental disposition, but it was loyal to Inukashi,
Inukashi cast a glance over the dog, and apologized inside his heart. I'm sorry for putting you through this. Forgive me.
He could see down the barrel of the gun. He could see the hollowed cheeks of the thin-faced man who held it. Inukashi did not flinch. He did not stop. A moment of hesitation, a moment of confusion could cost him his life. Once he started to move, he had to keep moving. With the enemy before him, he had no option to cower.
He aimed his gun and fired blindly in furious succession.
Damnit, damnit, you bastards. You arrogant murderers. You're all cruel, dirty thieves. Give back everything you've stolen from us. You guys have trampled over everyone in the West Block for this whole time. You killed people indiscriminately. You cold-blooded murderers. Have some shame. That's right. You shameful, despicable people. Damnit.
He mentally hurled as many insults at them as he could. He could not voice his vilification. If only his wrath could turn into bullets and shatter that blue-grey weapon.
Can't you give us a miracle like that for once, God? You were quick to turn your back on the West Block, like a mother abandoning her infant on the barren plains. Doesn't your moral conscience bother you at all? So give me a miracle, at least, to make up for it. Hand over that miracle so we can survive.
His foot slipped. He lost his balance and landed on his bottom. Bullets bounced at his feet. If he had not fallen, he would have been shot cleanly through.
Phew, I still have some luck left.
"Don't move, filthy sewer rats." Bureau officials pointed guns at them. Simultaneously, a nerve-racking bass rumbled.
"We'll exterminate you well. Be prepared."
Sewer rats? Don't you dare put me on the same level as those lowly animals.
Inukashi tried to pull the trigger, but realized the gun was out of bullets. He glanced at the power shovel.
What the hell are you doing behind there, old man? The baritone rumble was issuing from the somewhat comically wide mouth of the shockwave cannon. Preparations seemed to be set.
What? No way. Is this it? A frigid wind blew up at him. Is this the end? Am I gonna die here? That can't happen. You gotta be kidding me. Nezumi, this isn't what you promised. The whole show is gonna be ruined before the main actors even appear. What the hell do I do now? Do something, do anything, Nezumi!
Suddenly, the lights went out. An alarm sounded.
"What? What is it?"
"I don't know. Something's happened inside."
"Hey! Did you hear an explosion?"
"Huh? Oh, now that you mention it―"
Inukashi could feel strongly the agitation of the officials.
"I can't see! I can't see anything in here!"
Shrill screams, almost shrieks, echoed in the darkness. It's the same as with the smell. They're really, really weak. Inukashi smirked.
The people of No. 6 were so unbelievably, so laughably weak when even a small change occurred in their clean and comfortable environment. Perhaps soldiers would have had a little more resistance. But the Security Bureau officials were cowering, clearly exposing their fragility.
Look at what a loss you're all at. You build that murder weapon with a cool face, but you're afraid of the dark. Disgusting. Inukashi hurled abuse at them, still sitting on his bottom. He restrained himself from rushing out.
"Not yet. Don't rush it," he told himself.
The alarm grew louder. Its enormous volume rattled his eardrums.
Emergency alert. Emergency alert.
Level 5, Level 5.
Emergency evacuation. Emergency evacuation.
All personnel, evacuate immediately.
Level 5, Level 5.
"Level 5!? What is it, what's going on?"
"I don't know, but we should evacuate. We have to get out of here, or we'll be in danger."
"Hey, there it is again. I heard it. Things are exploding everywhere. Get out!"
"I-I wish I could, but it's so dark... why aren't the backup lights coming on?"
"This is a trash depot. Do you think they have backup lights?"
Now! Inukashi leapt to his feet, using his whole body for leverage. I'm used to the dark. You'll see how different I am from all of you.
"Bastards!" He yelled as swung his gun around. It hit something. The dogs snarled and pounced. Inukashi started yanking out all the pipes and cables attached to the cannon.
Bastards. Bastards. Making crap like this. You guys made a monster that's good for nothing but killing people.
Level 5, Level 5.
Emergency evacuation. Emergency evacuation.
"Outside! Get outside! It's dangerous in here!"
"Yeah, get out! We have to evacuate!"
The Security Bureau officials fled through the door leading outside.
Inukashi stood, breathing heavily. Sweat poured off his whole body. But he was shaking. He could not stop. His teeth chattered. His heart was palpitating so badly, he had trouble catching his breath.
He fell to his knees as the strength left him. His dogs approached. One with a patched coat pushed its nose up against him. Inukashi latched on to its furry collar and buried his face in its soft fur. It smelled like dog. He had known this scent for as long as he could remember. It was the scent of his mother, his siblings, and his friends. It smelled more sweetly than any flower.
Tears spilled over. They streamed down one after another. We're saved. We've been saved. The dog licked away the tears on his cheeks. It's warm. Oh, it's so warm. I'm still alive.
"I owe it to you guys. Thank you. Thanks so much."
"Inukashi..." Rikiga came crawling out through the door of the waste collection area. "Looks like they ran off."
"Yeesh, old man," he gave a purposely long sigh. "What good are you gonna be now? Were you off shopping for today's dinner or something?"
He gently brushed his tears away so Rikiga wouldn't see them. Rikiga shrugged, and laughed softly in the dark.
"I told you, I'm a philanthropist. I'm also a born and bred gentleman. No one is more ill-suited for killing than me. Fortune could turn every which way, but I would never be able to go wild and let loose like you."
"Well, you can turn right back around and never come back again. You're just a useless drunkard even when you're around, anyway. You'd only hold me up."
"Nothing to be angry about," Rikiga said lightly. "Ah, but I have to say that was an impressive fight. I have a new regard for you now. If I were a girl, I'd have fallen for you right there. Bravo, bravo."
Inukashi wrinkled his nose at Rikiga's applause.
"You falling for me, old man? What a horror story. You just gave me the goosebumps. I just came out of deadly territory, alright? I'd appreciate it if you could lay off that stuff, it's bad for my heart. The last thing I wanna do is keel over from fright here."
Rikiga paid no attention to Inukashi's insults. He cupped his hand around his ear and listened intently. The alarm stopped as abruptly as it had started.
Inukashi also pricked his ears.
He could hear something like the distant rumble of the sea, or distant thunder.
What is it? What is that sound?
"Something's exploding inside the Correctional Facility," Rikiga said in a queerly languid voice. "And that's not it... I can hear screaming in there, too. It's in there. Yeah, I can hear it."
The door connecting the Correctional Facility to the waste processing area was still open, which was why they could hear what was going on inside. Two spaces which had always been firmly divided were now connected.
"Hey, Inukashi. Is this a precursor? Is this the beginning?" His voice quavered as it tapered off. Inukashi could not see his face, but he knew that Rikiga was probably flushed with excitement. He did not even need to look. My face is probably that colour, too, Inukashi thought. I'm excited. I'm restless.
It's beginning. It's finally beginning. It's actually beginning.
Nezumi, Shion, you guys actually did it. I don't know what the hell you did, but you did it. You set the alarms off throughout the Correctional Facility. Level 5. Is that the highest hazard level? If it was... hah, this is getting interesting. This is gonna be fun.
Those must be gun salutes in the distance.
Inukashi had been licking his lips unwittingly.
Nezumi, that fraudulent bastard wasn't just a talker. He did what he promised.
"You think the Correctional Facility's going to come tumbling down?" Rikiga murmured, his voice still trembling.
Suddenly, the lights flashed. They went out again, and the room sank into darkness. The door closed, opened, tried to close again, but stopped at about two-thirds of the way.
"What is it? Is it practicing a dance?" Rikiga cracked a lame joke. Inukashi didn't even feel like laughing.
"Go dance along with it, old man." He was licking his lips again. This isn't a dance. These are its last spasms. Its last struggles before its life gives out. Just like that black dog, the Correctional Facility is writhing in pain at the brink of death.
- Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Rodney Merrill. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. 405. (back)