Utsurigi Gaisuke, Criminal Judge Green Green Green (Malignant Bacteria).
Hinemosu Suzu, Consigned Stillness Double Flick (Double-layered World).
Gotodoroki Seigo, Scornful Compatriot Reverse Cross (Night-travel Crime).
Munefuyumu Tsuki, Clamoring Bloodshot Eyes Cubic Loop (Infinite Three-dimension).
Nadekiri Hakuraku, Disheartened Parting Gift Dancing with Madness (Dancing Wildly).
Ayanami Hyou, Spinning Suzuki Cheetah (Wild Beast).
Shikigishi Kishiki, Squirming Ruination Bad Kind (City).
Shigai Touno, Resurrecting Debasement Trigger-happy End (Corpse).
Kunagisa Tomo, Walking Wrath Dead Blue (Blue Verge of Death).
Not so much an epilogue so much as the behind-the-scenes that must never be spoken about.
As for where I return, for now the only place for me to return to is that apartment in Kyoto. That night -- after having wrapped everything up, without waiting for nightfall, we left the Shadou Kyouichirou Research Facility using the Fiat we refueled with Shito-kun's help. Suzunashi-san reserved a hotel while in the car, and we spent the night in Nagoya. While it was an inn we settled on at the last minute, it boasted an enormous room and top-notch service -- well, not that much, but it was still much better than the Haunted House in the research facility. The three of us slept like corpses in the same bed (Me → Kunagisa → Suzunashi-san). Well, we did not really, but it definitely felt like it had been a while since I had slept.
When the sun rose, Suzunashi-san's lecturing began. It lasted several hours, and I sat in seiza posture the entire time in silence without being allowed to talk back, sometimes having my head bopped while she vented her anger. While that happened, Kunagisa woke up, and we spent the entire day touring Nagoya. While keeping watch over Kunagisa, who ran around like a child, I bought the uirō Hime-chan had requested of me (conveniently, there was a five-color set, immediate buy) as well as some for Miiko-san and the others in the apartment, for a total of ten bars.
On the way home that evening, we dropped off Suzunashi-san in the Hiei mountain range in Higa Prefecture.
"Well, give Asano my regards. We'll continue the lecture another day."
So she said. Apparently she was still not through. Part of me felt exasperated, but the other part of me looked forward to it.
And then I stopped the car in the high-end residential area Shirosaki that Kyoto boasted to the rest of country (or perhaps more accurately felt embarrassed about), or more specifically in front of the most flamboyant mansion in town that Kunagisa lived in, and helped her to her room.
"Well, later." "Yup, later."
I did not know what she meant by later but I returned her greeting, returned to the Fiat, and then this time headed for the apartment in which I live. I parked the Fiat in the parking lot, and then less than a minute of walking. I entered the apartment, and before heading to my room, knocked on the door to the room next door.
"Yo, welcome home," Miiko-san was fortunately home, and with she welcomed me with her usual, unkempt sight. It seemed she had downed a little, no, quite a bit of sake, and her face was red. "That was fast. Two days three nights."
"Two days three nights....."
Indeed. The three of us had only been in that facility for two days. Yet look at us, it felt like we had been imprisoned for a whole month.
"Well, yes. Thank you for letting me borrow your car. Here is the key. And money for gasoline..... also, a souvenir, uirō."
"Right... hmm?" Miiko-san noticed my left arm. It had been re-patched by Kokoromi-sensei, and was now covered in a cast instead of just bandages. "..... Inoji, did you drive from Nagoya to here with that arm?"
"Huh. Well, yes, see, my fingers move. And I use my right hand for the transmission."
"I see..... well, that's alright then."
Miiko-san stopped asking questions then, and did not ask about what happened to my arm.
"Come in. Let's eat uirō. These things taste better eating together with you."
"Usually you're supposed to decline, but....."
But, even I struggled to turn down this nostalgic sense of human decency.
"I shall accept today, Miiko-san."
"Mmhmm. C'mon c'mon, get closer."
And so in that way I ate uirō and drank tea in Miiko-san's room -- and while it was quite a hassle to deal with a drunk Miiko-san -- I then returned to my room. There was nothing in it.
Wait, wait, while it was normal for there to be no furniture, my clothing and my books being nonexistent was not. I did not see my cell phone nor its charger, either. Woah, even my health insurance card and my accounting book are gone. For a moment I was in a bit of a rush thinking I had been robbed, but the next moment I realized what had happened, and headed to Hime-chan's room on the first floor.
"Because you said you'd give me everything, Master."
The suspect was Hime-chan.
"Hime-chan cleaned your room. Even threw away your trash."
There was no doubting that the trash Hime-chan referred to included my living items.
"..... Hime-chan. That was supposed to be if I did not return safely....."
"But. But but, looking at your arm, Master, you didn't get back safely."
Jeez..... if every case could be solved so easily.
I took back my accounting book and health insurance card from Hime-chan, gave her the uirō in exchange, and then returned to my room once more.
"Ahh..... you know."
As if I had awakened from nihility. As if I had awakened from a nightmare. That is, of course, nothing but misapprehension similar to a delusion. Because the Mad Demon Shadou Kyouichirou Research Facility was indeed real.
"Real -- how is that any different from an illusion?"
What will happen to that research facility now? I thought about that at length. With its leader Professor Shadou Kyouichirou in such a state, it probably does not function as a research facility anymore, so it may have already been absorbed into another research syndicate, is what Kunagisa had told me. Indeed, it no longer held any meaning -- literally -- and I could not imagine the Kunagisa household pouring money into the Mad Demon forever. So then what would happen to the other researchers.
Neo-san would not be troubled. He was a turncoat from the start. His profession is betrayal -- an immoral who lived on the extreme in terms of not belonging anywhere. He would just return payment equating to the aspects of his job he was unable to fulfill, and as a professional traitor, move on to his next job.
"-- but you know. I want to try working as a pair with you once. I actually want to recruit you and take you along here and now."
"That is not a funny joke..... please do not say something like you seem well-suited to betraying."
"Naw, you're not the type to betray people. If anything you're more the type to abandon them in their face."
"Hmm? That was supposed to be a laughable joke."
-- although we would likely never cross paths again, much less have any run-ins with each other, in retrospect, it is fascinating to realize that I had found him a very amusing fellow. There are not many who have defined so clearly what it means to betray.
Miyoshi Kokoromi -- Kokoromi-sensei said she would return to the ER3 System again. Well, I do not imagine they have any reason to reject someone of her talents, so all should be well on her end.
"Well, we shall not meet again, sensei."
"Mmm. Y'sure? I think we'll meet again soon, y'know."
"And y'know, it'll be in an even more, more and more ridiculous and terrible a situation, but it'd sure fit ya fine. So, y'know, adios!"
Sensei left an ominous prediction for me yet again. Jeez, why is that person so bad at parting scenes? Cut me some slack, seriously.
Kasugai Kasuga. Kasugai-san -- what is that person doing? She will do anything, to the point where I should really not be paying it any heed. In the truest meaning of the phrase, she will do anything. Of all people, I cannot imagine her ever being in a situation where she cannot find a way out. A human being that has nothing from the start except talent. There is nothing she wants and nothing she does not want, no satisfaction nor dissatisfaction, no fortune nor misfortune, nothing to protect and no idea what it means to want to destroy, not alive and thus no concept of death, has values but no sense of valuation, no problems and no solutions -- that is the sort of person she is.
If I may allow one prediction, I think she will end up being pulled into some part of the Kunagisa Syndicate. Because she is too talented as a scientist to be allowed to roam free. She, too, was someone I expected never to run into again, but - no, specifically for her, there are no buts.
Oogaki Shito -- Uze Misachi. The two of them said they would tag along with Shadou Kyouichirou. Follow him wherever, forever. I did not say anything. There was nothing to say. There is nothing a person with no convictions can say to people with strong convictions.
Koutari Hinayoshi -- escaped.
The security guards standing guard over the foothills were said never to have seen him. Truly, like smoke, he disappeared like a puff of cloud.
"Disappear -- although human beings do not just disappear....."
However, you can vanish a human being.
And that is what happened.
"..... whoops, there was one more."
Yes, one more, one that I cannot forget. One that I must never forget.
I thought that as I fell asleep the night of that day.
And then the next day. I forget easily, but I am a university student, and so I must go to school on weekdays. To be honest, I wanted to get some rest for another day, but I had already rested for three days for a little trip like this, and counting my hospitalization the previous month, I had already missed too many days of class. We were right before the exams, so no matter how bad my body is feeling, I have an obligation to drag myself to class. I prepared to head to school (I could not use my arm, so Miiko-san helped me change), and then left the apartment. At the side of the alley, Houko-chan, who lives upstairs in my apartment building, was crouched over. The straw hat she wore to block off the sunlight fit her well and made for a cute scene.
"Yo, good morning, Houko-chan."
"Good morning, nonsense-using big brother," Houko-chan bowed her head without turning to face me. "Big brother is heading to school now?"
"Yes. What are you doing, Houko-chan?"
"I am killing bugs."
"..... I see. Keep at it."
"Yes. I will."
Just as I was about to walk past her, Houko-chan grabbed my trousers without turning her head to stop me. "Nonsense-using big brother."
"Big brother, if you go to school today, you'll probably die."
She said, casually.
And I answered, casually, "I know."
"You know but you're still going?"
"It is a worthless life anyways," I shrugged. "Plus, I have exams soon."
Is that so, Houko-chan let go. She still did not turn to look at me, but in any case, I waved my hand and resumed walking to university.
Class was as boring as ever. Thinking it boring is just a personal problem, so there is no point in complaining. That is what university is about. Regardless of whether we were just before exams or not, regardless of whether I attended or not, this system will never, ever change. I passed time in the class that I found boring due to my own fault by reading the book Shi no Kaisousen that I had borrowed from Nanami. The cover and the book itself was so old that it was somewhat hard to read. It was a box-bound hardcover, and it was oddly-shaped so that it did not fit in my bag, such was the incomprehensible taste of Nanami. However, I found the content of the book extremely amusing and interesting.
And then after lunch break came basic exercise. I bought a snack pastry for lunch, and then climbed the stairs to go to the fourth floor, where the basic exercise room resided. I wanted to use the elevator, but for whatever reason I did not feel like using the elevator today.
"..... what does not feeling like using the elevator mean, anyways."
Come to think of it -- Utsurigi hated elevators. Not that it mattered any, but I wondered why.
Was it because it made him feel trapped.....?
I arrived at the classroom while thinking that, and found myself looking upon a rather bizarre spectacle. Several of my classmates were lined up by the door, as if they were peeking in. They should just go in, but they all had a serious expression, peeping in on the classroom after cracking the door open just a bit.
"..... what are you all doing?"
"Oh, Ikkun," Yashige-san (Wears coats during the summer. Collects beads as a hobby) looked in my direction. "Long time no see. Ah, you're hurt again, too."
"Mm. Hey you're right it's Ikkun," Manayama-san (Jersey and high-heel. Considers Dogla + Magla scripture) also noticed me, and waved me over. "C'mere'sec! Look, Ikkun, don't jus' stand there an' c'mon an' look, lookylook."
"What? Just go in already--"
"Nowaynowaynoway!" Yoshimaki-kun (Combed-back blond hair and short jeans. Wants to become a space pilot) became agitated and held down my hand when I grabbed the knob. "What're you doing what're you doing, to our precious treasure?"
"There's a strange woman inside right now," Marchen-san (Hamster on the right shoulder. Goth-loli) explained. "And that's why it feels kinda -- weird to go in?"
"Strange woman? Not a classmate?"
"Yeah! But she's really cool!" "Yeah! Seriously!" "Really pretty," "And really tall-- with pretty hair--" "And long legs--" "Kinda seems like a wild type?" "Looks really strong!" "Like she can have her way with me?" "-- and red--" "Feels hard to approach for some reason--" "Elegant but kinda manly, and really--"
I stopped them.
"Did someone just say and red?"
"Yup? I did, why?"
"-- I have a feeling. Can everyone step aside and let me go through?"
Instantly, their eyes sparked. And as if they were waiting for the moment, their voices went in sync,
"Wow, Ikkun! He does something we never could, without even blinking! What a guy!"
And they shouted with joy.
I hate them.
I ignored them and opened the door.
And then, of course.
Displaying too pompous an attitude was mankind's strongest contractor, Aikawa Jun, seated with both legs on top of my desk. As usual, she wore an insanely red suit and gave off an intimidating aura. Her appearance alone was like a work of art.
"What a coincidence to meet in a place like this, Ii-tan."
"-- if this is a coincidence, no one would ever roll a die....."
"Hahah. True that," Aikawa-san laughed sarcastically, and then she jumped while remaining in that posture. She flew over a desk, and landed in front of me. "Yup. To tell you the truth, I came to see you."
"Uh huh..... well, sure, but please do not jump while in a seated position."
"Oh don't be like that between the two of us, after all we've been through," Aikawa-san wrapped her arms intimately around my shoulder. Our faces, our chins became inordinately close. And then she faced my classmates and said, "So then, Extras, I'm gonna abduct this bride."
"Go ahead, please."
They said in unison.
I hate them so much.
The powerless nineteen-year-old bride was thus escorted, I mean dragged out of the classroom. Aikawa-san kept her arm around my shoulder and did not let go, or if anything it felt more like she locked her arm around me and kept our bodies together. As if she were trying to hug me to her. I wondered how we looked to others.
Certainly not lovers.
..... is what I immediately thought after simulating it in my head, and a part of me felt a bit downed by that.
"Hmm? 's wrong, Ii-tan? You're even quieter than usual. Ya feeling down?"
"No..... and more importantly, could you please get off me?"
"What? That's harsh," Aikawa-san responded to me with a mocking tone. "Sister's all hurt now, all hurt, if you're gonna be like that. Ii-tan's so cold. You cold person. Meanie meanie, monster-."
"It's hot. It's summer. It's hard to walk."
"You just gotta admit you're embarrassed. Such a boy," Aikawa-san giggled and she finally let go. "Well, can't say that's not a cute point of yours. Maniacs into that stuff probably can't get enough of it. So, how're you doing?"
"..... what do you want? Coming to university. You seem surprisingly bored."
"Mmm. More like I put a lot of effort into getting bored. I finally finished a job."
"Is that so. A job."
"Really cold, Ii-tan," Aikawa-san said with a forced chuckle. "Alright, alright..... I'll fess up then. Alright, I came here to see you."
"Well of course. You said that earlier, too."
We left campus. It was still lunch break, so campus was filled with people milling about. Aikawa-san and I weaved through the crowd. It seemed she had an objective, as she had no hesitation in her steps. I felt a bit of anxiety over where we might be headed, but I followed her anyways.
"In other words, I want to make up with you."
Aikawa-san said. I was so incredibly surprised at how frank she was that I became speechless for a bit. And then right after that I felt like I had become extremely happy -- but at the same time, it felt a bit lacking.
Hmm. No. Not like this. Our Aikawa Jun is more--
"So I'm gonna make you apologize."
Aikawa-san continued without nary a hitch. I balled my right hand and did a fist pump. That is it. That is it that is it that is it. That is Aikawa Jun.
"I do not mind -- I do not mind at all," I nodded. "Ishimaru Kouta-san. I was in the wrong, so I apologize."
Aikawa-san puckered her lips in response and said, "Alright, forgiven."
"Yup. I mean, I had to punch you there. But I wanna make up with you, so I'll acquiesce."
Ooph, is that her definition of acquiescing?
This is how Aikawa Jun needs to be.
"I do not mind then. I want to make up with Aikawa-san too--"
"It's Jun," Aikawa-san showed no mercy even now. "I keep telling you not to call me by my name. Cut it out and remember it already."
"-- I, too, do not want to fight with Jun-san....." I mean, really, seriously. "..... so, was that braided hair a wig or something?"
"Yup. Disguise equipment. The hat and the glasses. Well, it was pretty comically typical," Aikawa-san answered while combing her hair up. "But you know, you didn't notice for so long. I mean, I knew you knew how much I love disguising myself, but part of me wondered if you ended up never realizing it. Guess you aren't that bad, though."
"Well, of course..... I had completely forgotten, but if one is to take the Lupin III role, that would be it."
"Hahah, maybe. But you know, I don't think I gave any hints about it this time, but Ii-tan, when'd you realize?"
"No, you gave a lot of hints..... for example, when we escaped the seventh ward, we got through the voice recognition system..... and Kouta-san called it simple, but there is no way it is anything simple. It is a defense system built by none other than Kunagisa Tomo, after all. Just any vocal mimicry would not cut it. And, you gave me the lock-picking knife. This is also strange. After giving me that, how in the world did Kouta-san go through other locks? But when it comes to these two, mankind's strongest's vocal mimicry and lock-opening skills would suffice....."
"So you came to that determination after using the same forced logic as Shadou Kyouichirou."
Aikawa-san playfully shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, you're right. Anyone can perform vocal mimicry well enough to dupe people -- but I'm probably the only one that can mimic vocal wavelengths. I had to then, though."
"Jun-san was also the one that told me that no one would use the surname Zerozaki, too."
"Did I? I don't remember that."
"Indeed. But you know, all of those are after-the-fact reasons..... I realized, or rather, I thought something was wrong with Kouta-san at the very, very end. At the end, when Kouta-san gave me the lock-picking knife, she said, something like The knife in your right pocket is not enough, is it?."
"Hmm. I did, didn't I."
"But, I had equipped the knife in my left pocket," I said. "I moved it over because I thought it would be easier to reach that way. That morning. Yet despite that, Kouta-san said the right pocket. If she had said the knife in the left pocket, it would simply be observational skills -- but the knife in the right pocket meant it was simply prior information. And the only person who would have that prior information would be the person who gave me the knife and holster in the first place, Jun-san."
Aikawa-san slapped her forehead.
"Ahh..... I see. What a dumb slip."
"So Jun-san makes mistakes, too. I wondered if you had done it on purpose."
"Nah. I probably let down my guard a bit. Nah, not that. I was probably that pissed at you," she cynically laughed. "I'm still in need of training, I guess."
"Training. That is what Ishikawa Goemon said -- however, this was quite mean of you, Jun-san. Why did you not just tell me? If I knew Ishimaru Kouta was Akawa Jun, I would have trusted you more--"
Trust. Oh come on, it was a job for me too. And you've got pretty loose lips. And above all, it was pretty funny seeing how you reacted."
"So that was the reason."
"I just meant to make fun of you when I first called out to you. But then the next day you got caught. Well I mean, I can't just leave you there then, can I?"
She said, as if it was the natural course of action to take.
"So, I figured I might as well keep teasing you while helping you, so I kept up my disguise--"
..... she said that as if it was the natural course of action to take, too.
"But then you started saying you didn't need my help. And you know, as a contractor I can't really help people who say they don't need help, so I was like what gives? ..... well, no," Aikawa-san shrugged. "Mmmmm, since we're at it, I'll be honest, but I was moved by your line then. Glad that you were able to be friends. That one, I missed my chance to talk."
Ahh -- that time. I did say something like that. Without thinking that I was saying it in front of the person. I said how I felt because I thought I was in front of Kouta-san, who I would never see again.
"I've been grateful that we'd become friends for a long time now," Aikawa-san said to me, mockingly. "I love you, Ii-tan."
Guah. Embarrassing. Very embarrassing. I. Eek. This is bad. Topic. Need to change topic. What. To what.
"B, but, why did you use an alias? How unlike Jun-san. Leaving Zerozaki Itoshiki aside as a bad joke, what was Ishimaru Kouta?"
"It's a bit complicated to explain, but..... well, to repeat myself, it was a job, so I couldn't help it. Well, there're work secrets so I can't really tell you much -- but this job was actually a burglary contract, and basically Ishimaru Kouta actually exists."
"Huh -- then Jun-san was burglarizing in that person's stead?"
"Yeah. Kouta and I don't get along. She talks politely like that, but she's really vile. She's not so much Lupin III so much as she's Kaijin Nijuumensou . The real Kouta wouldn't have asked for assistance nor have helped you. Well, I was gonna turn her down because it's a request from Kouta, but then I realized it put me in the same exact spot as you and Kunagisa-chan. And I was worried about you two, so I accepted the job."
This person was putting personal feelings into her work!
"But, why did that -- Kouta-san, the real one, ask Jun-san instead of doing it herself?"
"Mmhmm. That Kouta. She hates Neo."
That one put personal feelings in, too.
"I kinda like him though. You know, he's doing the most scumbag thing, but it's hard to hate him. Like a mouse? Hahah, maybe Ii-tan's a bit like that too?"
"Please do not put me in the same vein as that person..... but, that would mean Neo-san has been acquainted with Kouta-san in the past? But he still did not notice?"
"Of course he wouldn't. Leaving aside how good my disguise is, people don't really look at other people. Just the same as you not having recognized me. Ah, but Kunagisa-chan might have noticed."
Yes, with Kunagisa Tomo's eyes and memory, it would not be surprising if she had noticed. Although the problem is that she would not bother to tell anyone. Maybe that was why Kunagisa ended up spaced out when Kouta-san appeared in front of the cage in the basement of the fourth ward. Not that I had asked her, and I did not intend to ask her, for confirmation.
"Well, yeah. I guess it means this time I was Tuxedo Mask."
It appears mankind's strongest contractor enjoys comics for little girls.
"However -- I guess you would not notice. Even though it was not like you had changed your height..... or did you?"
"I could, but there's no reason to. Once they've fixated on a thought, people are really easy to trick. -- ahh, but just one thing, the real Kouta doesn't wear glasses. That was just to trick you."
"Uh huh..... but just glasses.....?"
"That's how it goes. You know, they block out the eyes for juvenile suspects with a black bar, right? It's the same thing. Did you know if you cover the eyes it becomes really hard to recognize someone? You know. No matter what people wear, there's nothing you can do about the eyes and fingerprints," Aikawa-san continued. "That's why aside from that, you can crush the eyes, wear sunglasses, or in other cases growing your hair long and hiding your entire face, or suddenly cutting the hair to turn into a skinhead are pretty good tactics, kinda like wearing gloves."
"..... uh huh, I see," I tried to answer with as calm a voice as possible. "I see."
"There's nothing more I see than that. Well, that's all. So basically I was just using the name Ishimaru Kouta to trick Neo. Pretty good job by mankind's strongest contractor, right?"
Ahh, shit. Yes, yes, you're cool.
I feel like I am in love, literally.
"..... so, how did your job go?"
"Hmm? Like I said, I finished a job. When I say that, it means I finished it. This Aikawa Jun has never failed a job."
"Of course..... that was because you helped me, Ii-tan," Aikawa-san slapped my back again. "That was what you were doing, right? You gathered everyone in one spot, and that let me roam freely around the facility. I'm especially grateful you make the first ward uninhabited."
"..... you are welcome," I absent-mindedly nodded. "Well, that was..... returning the favor a bit."
"How conscientious of you."
"I lie but I do not break promises."
"Mmhmm..... though that sounds like a giant lie. Do not judge people by their appearances. Except for the wanted, or something?"
"..... um, that, can we forget about that..... Mikoko-chan will be angry."
"Fufufu. This joke is mine."
"You are plagiarizing."
"Sounds like you don't know about conservation of energy. Like Go forward while moving backwards, but moonwalk!"
She has perfected it.
And then Aikawa-san stopped walking, and put out her right hand to me.
"And so. Handshake, for making up. Or would Ii-tan rather a kiss for making up?"
"Uh. Umm," I wavered, but I ended up just taking her hand, such a chicken I am. "Well, thank you."
"And you," Aikawa-san smiled seductively. "For a long, long relationship."
We left the university grounds, and Aikawa-san continued walking. Where in the world was she headed? Given how she was walking, it was clear she had a specific objective in mind, and I also did not expect her to tell me before we reached the place.
"Mm? What's that what's that? You're reading a pretty old book."
I did not know whether she knew how I felt, but regardless, she spotted Nanami's book jutting out of my bag.
"It is a book I have borrowed from a certain witch. Apparently a mystery novel."
"Hmm. Let me see," and then she pulled the book out of my bag, took it out of the box, and then flipped through the pages. But she seemed to quickly lose interest, and put the book back in the box. "Hmph. Boring. Just throw it away."
And just as she said that, she ripped the book, box included, in half, and then threw the remains toward West Main Street. Several trucks passed by right on time, and Nanami's book was extinguished from this world.
"Feels good to throw away garbage."
"..... yes, indeed."
Goethe's words and Taishi's words were nothing in the face of Aikawa Jun. And of course, I have no words to offer to someone who can rip a hardcover book in half vertically, either. Ahh, jeez, it was a borrowed item, too..... well whatever, it was Nanami's, anyways. And it was all ragged anyways, I can just buy her a replacement. Should be about three-hundred yen at a used book store.
"Actually, I hate mystery books."
A bombshell statement.
"They say they like unexpected solutions but at the same time they fixate on including logic. And then they seek tantalizing mysteries. Don't they realize that if you stick to reason all you'll get are boring solutions? I mean, maybe I'll snort if 1 plus 1 became 3."
"Uh huh..... then what genre of books does Jun-san like?"
"A good question. Ii-tan, I hate things that try to shed light on the strange or try to put meaning to things. I love stories that're all mushy, like a boy staking his life for a girl. The stereotypical happenings, a royal road story, a cast of characters you've seen before, a familiar type of villain. The overused conflict of justice and evil, the hot-blooded idiot and the logic-bound idiot. A tearful happy end for the rival friends. I really love those."
"..... I see. Royal roads."
"Yup. There's no need for the unexpected. There's no need for surprises. I don't mind cheap tricks..... a royal road to fit the king. In the end, off-road paths and cunning schemes are for the clowns and side characters. Don't you think so? Hmm?"
"..... I have no words."
"If you say so," Aikawa-san smiled, satisfied.
"Right, royal roads reminds me -- don't you think this Shadou Kyouichirou Research Facility story has similarities with the Wet Crow's Feather Island incident?
The gathered geniuses. The isolated situation. And the sealed-room death, the body parts that were never discovered after having been taken away--
"Yes. Now that you mention it, it does seem as similar as mystic eyes to contrition."
"Come to think of it, without that incident, I would have never met you--"
"What is with that line. You are making it sound like a tearful final episode."
Aikawa-san simply curled her lips and laughed at my joke. "Ii-tan, do you believe in meetings of destiny?" I thought for a moment, and then shook my head.
"I can believe in destiny -- but I do not believe in meetings."
"I see. Figures," Aikawa-san said. "-- however, while it was similar to the April case, there were several absolute differences. First, in that case there were two, three -- or four? anyways, there were a few, but in this case there was only one. Well, the reason for this is just that you got just a bit serious this time. Well, the bigger difference is that this time all the geniuses that were gathered were enemies of yours. You were hardly noticed on the island that time -- you were hardly an enemy, but this time you were a fantastic enemy."
There was not one person who was fond of you, and even the victim was an enemy of yours. Seriously, isn't that rare? The structure of the incident was essentially identical but the end result was the exact opposite. You did the same thing, but that the result was completely different is not something that logically happens often. This story makes you realize that what's important isn't the plot but the characters. That's right, it's like we took the Wet Crow's Feather Island case, turned it over, and gotthe backside of it."
"-- Sounds like a boring story for Jun-san. I do not remember anything about that whacky island except for my love story with Akari-san."
"I see. That's fine."
So said mankind's strongest in a carefree tone as she yawned and walked. However, I was not allowed to be duped by that carefree attitude.
Yes, I must not forget.
The role of the contractor in the story.
The meaning of this person that appears at the end.
Yes -- if the truth of this case, was that it was a turned-over version of the Wet Crow's Feather Island case that had caused Aikawa-san and I to meet -- then what royal road twist lay in wait ahead?
As we passed by high school students on a school trip, we crossed Imadegawa Street. And after going a bit further, Aikawa-san finally stopped walking, and entered a cafe there. The cafe, which played an FM Radio station through its speakers, was pretty filled, perhaps because it was around noon. Was Aikawa-san going to treat me for a meal? Then why should I do with the pastry I had bought? Wait, no, this is not the time to be wondering about such carefree things.
I sat, and Aikawa-san sat herself opposite me. And then we ordered drinks without much thought, and then she said, "So, Ii-tan."
"Do you know what my other business is?"
"-- about the case? Probably."
"A businesslike answer. If you could crack a joke here your life would be so different," Aikawa-san laughed. "Well, if you want to say it's about the case, you'd be right -- but let's chat a bit more before then. We still have some time."
Aikawa-san said, without looking at a clock. This person's internal clock was as accurate as an atomic clock, so she had no need for digital nor analog clocks. However, it bothered me that she used the word still. Or rather -- I finally realized it because of that word. Just as I had realized Aikawa-san's disguise because of knife in your right pocket.
I see. So that is why he was able to escape from that facility without being caught by anyone. Indeed, with this person's help -- it would be possible against anything.
Perhaps -- that. That was this contractor's job all along. Following that theory, would it not explain why Aikawa-san did not reveal her identity to me?
..... I think that may be overthinking it, however -- however, I cannot throw away the illusion. In that case, including the case of Neo-san, would it not mean that by the point mankind's strongest had acted, that research facility -- had in fact long since been left and abandoned?
My mind raced, but caring not for my inner thoughts, Aikawa-san asked,
"So, what's happened between Kunagisa-chan and you, since then?"
"What has happened..... nothing. Nothing has changed, why? We toured Nagoya together, and then I helped her home yesterday, and I have not seen her since."
"I see," Aikawa-san nodded. "Well, that's, how it would be I guess."
"Why do you ask?"
"No no, I just thought you like being hugged more than you like hugging."
"I do not understand, Jun-san."
"That's because I'm making it unclear. It'd be a pain if you got it. Anyways, your loyalty to Kunagisa-chan surprises me -- loyalty. Like a medieval knight."
"You are praising me too much."
"Am I. I'm being pretty objective. Yup, but that said, your clumsiness really stood out this time."
It did, Aikawa-san laughed.
"Especially -- what was that? Narrowing down the suspects through process of elimination, that theorizing. Were you trying to elicit a laugh?"
"You were listening?"
"Just the start. It was so stupid I couldn't listen after a while. So I heard most of it afterwards -- and I had to jump around in darkness while Ii-tan was doing a puppet show. That was more important."
Heard most of it afterwards.
Now, who did she hear from?
"Rooftop route. You know, I should say something about your naming sense--" Aikawa-san said. "Can't use it because a woman. Can't use it because rotund. Can't use it because old. Can't use it because bad sight -- hey hey. None of those are actual reasons, you know?"
"Is that so?" I feigned ignorance. "I do not think so."
"Well it's risky, for sure. But that's why you'd want to take the risk, I'd think? Take it the other way and it means as long as you handle that risk, you escape suspicion. --and you know, to be frank," Aikawa-san pointed her thumb at herself. "I -- this Aikawa Jun. Regardless of gender, while carrying a 250 kilogram dumbbell, even if I've become a grandma of a hundred years, even with my eyes closed -- I'd still jump ten meters."
"Well, Jun-san..... is out of the question. I mean, you can run along walls."
"I can run along ceilings, man. And you know of outliers like me, so why would you throw away outliers like that? Did you forget what happened last month already? Of course not."
"Last month..... well, true. But not one person said no, I can jump this distance."
"Of course they wouldn't. It'd put them back on the list of suspects. Maximizing the system of process of elimination like you did was something, I'll give you that. Process of elimination -- anyone would pipe up if they were told you're the suspect, but no one pipes up after being told you're not the suspect. They wouldn't retort when things are in their favor."
Process of elimination.
From a psychology standpoint -- there is no more foolish a methodology. However, there are situations in this world where that foolishness is the greatest weapon available -- and not just a few.
"-- but really, I think that distance is pretty difficult. Even I would not want to try that without being in such a situation."
"If you wanna go there -- then you could use the theory of process of elimination and wonder if it were possible even for Koutari. It's one thing if he were an athletic muscle man, but he's a middle-aged science geek, you know? Can he really jump that?"
I still maintained feigning ignorance. There was no meaning to feigning ignorance, but it was fun having Aikawa-san corner me like this. Though it may be a bit masochistic.
"But, otherwise you would not be able to explain what happened. It was the only feasible solution, so I could not refute it."
"Hmm. I see. You're gonna be like that, Ii-tan. How cute. C'mere," Aikawa-san took the opposite side of the spectrum and smiled sadistically. "Then..... you know. That story about going back, about how Koutari made a rope with his hair and used Utsurigi's arm as a hook to escape the seventh ward -- you seriously believe that."
"Seriously seriously, and an extra, third seriously, at that."
"Swear to god?"
"Swear to god."
"Swear to Chiga Hikari?"
"-- you're so friggin' cute....." Aikawa-san laughed, exasperated. "Well..... let's say you could sling a rope from the seventh ward to the sixth ward that way."
"-- so, what then?"
"It can support the weight of a human being. That's great. But what then? You make rope, use centrifugal force and momentum to hook it on the building. This is already pretty nutty -- but what do you do after? Tightrope walking or something?"
"Maybe you do?"
"With the strength of a science geek? Not even circuses nowadays try tightrope walking without even carrying a stick. Even if you pulled out the kids from that school, Saijou Tomoe's probably the only one who could pull it off, you know? And then considering your life is on the line, you wouldn't be able to do it with any normal sense of calm."
"No, you cannot say that for sure. While the probability is low, it does not mean that it is zero. You never know what people with their lives on the line can do."
"You're saying the opposite thing as you did earlier, Mister Whatever Works Now," Aikawa-san laughed. "Then I'll say the opposite, too. -- hey. If you're putting something as precious as your life on the line, why would you take such a dangerous gamble?"
"If you're gonna try such an idiotic attempt at tightrope walking, you've got a better shot living by just jumping down."
"No, but. That would just be faultfinding," I tried escaping by leaving a red herring, like in mystery novels. "The solution offered at the end is the truth. And in the end, Koutari-san completely accepted the suspicion--"
"Accepted, eh -- hahah," Aikawa-san laughed drily.
"Umm, what was it? The proof -- was the hand print on his arm? But you know, Koutari never actually showed that hand print did he?"
"He must have given up."
"Given up -- laughable," Aikawa-san really laughed this time. "Ahh, whatever. I'm tired of talking, Ii-tan, come over here."
"-- what are you going to do?"
There is no idiot that would hear that and walk over. I did not move, and replied by showing her both of my palms. Aikawa-san saw that and motioned to come over, saying, "alright, alright."
"I won't punch you, so come here."
I heard that and felt relieved, and walked over.
She kissed me.
"Hmm? What's with that look. It's not like it's your first time kissing is it?"
"..... well, that, is true....."
I shrugged my shoulders again and showed composure. With a completely unbothered attitude, I combed back my hair, crossed my legs, sipped coffee, and then spread my arms out.
..... actually, it was my first time.
"Anyways, what I want to say, User of Nonsense. Is that if you're going to come up with a farce, you should bring a more believable lie."
Farce -- exactly. As Professor Kyouichirou said, it was what a stereotypical scam artist would do. Replacing the truth with a memorable lie. And then to truncate the conclusive half of reasoning. To output a vague, half-finished solution, to offer a solution that could be interpreted in any number of ways, and to replace the truth with confusion.
There was no need for a correct solution.
There just needed to be an unexpected solution.
Yes, there was never a need for me to uncover the truth.
I just needed to surprise them.
No matter how you look at it, psycho logical.
Not actions, but logic of recognition.
"There was no helping it--" I shifted my eyes away in an effort to divert attention. Of course, Aikawa-san did not take her eyes off me. Ahh, what would you call it, a verge of white? "I had no time. There was no helping the lack of fine-tuning of details. I realized what was going on really at the last second, you know? And I had to come up with it while I had painkillers numbing my thoughts after Kokoromi-sensei treated me, so of course there would be holes."
And, and more than anything, having to act out the unexpectedness was difficult. For example, there was a ladder in one of the research wards or used a helicopter would be so ridiculous that no one would believe it. But it still had to be surprising.
"Stop making excuses, idiot."
Wow, so harsh.
"You know -- the detective and the suspect and the victim were all accomplices, so you would end up with an admission of guilt by the suspect no matter what you said. So you might as well come up with something more elegant."
"But according to Koutari-san himself, it was a sixty, so I was given a passing grade."
"That's too nice. I woulda given you a one."
"You are really harsh."
However, I cannot deny that I had every card going for me. As the role of the suspect he had already prepared a solution for me -- so all I had to do was decide how to cook it.
And that was not all, because I also had a favorable set of cast members. The researchers, the academics that had gathered in that research facility. They are used to wonders being wonders. They understand that this world holds secrets aplenty. A puppet show is a very simple performance for an audience like that.
That was why all I had to do was point out their oversights -- point out their obscure and irrelevant oversights that they had subconsciously avoided because they were not worth any time. Given the suspect was an accomplice, it was like a rigged race.
And -- pointing out oversights is the forte of the user of nonsense.
A bluff to buy time, a counterfeit philosophy.
If all I had to do was surprise them, then it played right into my hands. The smarter they are, the sweeter the sound made by nonsense.
"Well, considering that the one point was for the one point needed, it might've been a passing grade anyways."
"What was rough for me was that I realized things in reverse order. You know..... when did you realize the truth, Jun-san?"
"Don't ask. These things are better left unsaid," Aikawa-san raised both of her hands. "And, you'll feel better not knowing."
"..... well, looks like it's about time. See ya, Ii-tan," Aikawa-san gulped down the rest of her cup and leaned back. And then she pulled out red sunglasses from her pocket, put them off, and then faced me. "I'll go ahead and ask, because this might be the last chance to ask. Hey, Ii-tan -- did you really never, not for a moment, not in the slightest, ever suspect Kunagisa-chan?"
She asked that, as if she were asking on the side.
And that made me pause for a moment.
"For Kunagisa, the lock to the seventh ward is like her pinky finger. You understood that, didn't you? The Professor wasn't just blaming her for the sake of it. I'm pretty sure to some extent he was dead serious. Because there's no other logical solution. Mmm, no, no, forget about that unimportant boring garbage like feasibility or impossibility or motives or reasons -- Ii-tan. Were you sure Kunagisa Tomo would never kill Utsurigi Gaisuke?"
Mine even if I threw it away.
Unpleasant, for someone else to pick up my trash.
"You don't need to answer. I just wanted to ask," Aikawa-san placed a finger over my lips as I began. "You worked hard this time. So, give it go for just a bit longer. I'm, I'm glad, that my friend is an awesome guy."
Aikawa-san said as she stood up with the check in one hand. She looked terribly dashing, incredibly gallant, unbelievably cool, magnificently red. So bright, that it was hard for someone like me to look at her directly. No, probably, I had never been able to look directly at her.
However, even so, while looking straight at the red that hurt my eyes, I opened my mouth.
"Aikawa-san. If we meet again....."
"Will you sleep with me?"
A voice that was clearly forced into being calm.
I knew, that I was covering it.
I knew, that I was not covering it well.
Aikawa-san looked a bit surprised at me, and had a stunned expression, a rare show of infantile-ness, but the next moment she reverted to her sadistic nihilistic grin, and stuck out her bright red tongue.
"You're a hundred years early, virgin."
And then she flipped the bird at me.
"Well, if we find ourselves in a consummate situation, let us meet again, dear friend."
So she said in the end with Kouta-san's voice, and without waiting for my response, turned her back to me, and left the cafe. I was left behind alone at the two-person table. I did not think anything for a while. I did not want to think anything. However -- that was not a luxury I could afford. I must always be thinking. By the time I realized it, I had found myself in such a situation.
In the end -- who was her employer?
Or perhaps -- Koutari Hinayoshi?
"..... however, next time."
If such a thing.
If such a thing were actually an option for me or not. What a difficult question to answer. However, if Aikawa Jun were to remain a friend of mine, then it did not sound like a bad idea to devote some effort into making a next time happen. It might not be a bad idea to live a million years.
"Do not judge a person by their appearance -- well, you are right, Aikawa-san."
I thought as I sipped the coffee in front of me. If one were to ask if it were possible or impossible for Kunagisa to perform the crime, I can say without a doubt that it were impossible. Kunagisa has that bizarre trait -- or perhaps more accurately an oppressive illness that prevents her from moving vertically on her own. As such, using the stairs or elevator, or other such transportation mediums are not an option for her. Theoretically and physically impossible.
If one were to adhere to untheoretical, unphysical hypotheticals. If you were to ask if Kunagisa would kill Utsurigi.
Kunagisa might not do it.
However, Dead Blue might.
Is what I thought.
"-- such nonsense."
Yes, this is of course simply nonsense.
Even if that security were meaningless in front of Kunagisa. Even if on one else could bypass that security. All that meant was that Kunagisa held the master key -- and even if Kunagisa herself could not actually execute the crime, if she were to hand the key over to someone else. Like how Kouta-san -- like how AIkawa-san had given me the anti-lock blade.
It would have been possible.
"In the end, it depends on what Kunagisa and Utsurigi said to each other that day," I mumbled, complaining. "I cannot imagine, a conversation between those two geniuses--"
I cannot even begin to imagine.
But if Kunagisa had told him.
It would mean Utsurigi was able to walk around the facility at his leisure. He could disarm the security, erase the logs. He could walk around the facility as he wished.
If he knew the back door -- he just needed to use the backdoor. Refraining would simply be the last shred of dignity for the underhanded, anyways.
Of course, if Kunagisa had told me the backdoor, I would not have been able to carry it out. I lacked the skill to use the backdoor. However, Utsurigi -- that malignant did have the skill. And the brain to understand it -- and the arms to carry it out.
Then of course, Kunagisa must have told him. You can escape from here if you use this. She would have taught him every last detail.
But Utsurigi rejected it. He was not able to accept that offer. He was not imprisoned in the small building called the seventh ward. He was imprisoned in the palm of Shadou Kyouichirou.
That was why Utsurigi destroyed his own existence.
"And he also destroyed Professor Shadou Kyouichirou."
Truly a cracker, truly malignant bacteria.
It was a story that made you wonder who the Mad Demon truly was. Truly just destroying. Truly, doing nothing but destroying. No saving, no forgiving, no cursing, no killing, just destroying. A story that was too ridiculous, too ironic, too unshapely.
In the end -- even though it was unnecessary, even though it was obvious Utsurigi would never escape for as long as the Professor used Kunagisa as a shield -- even so for Professor Kyouichirou to have locked up Utusrigi in the seventh ward -- why he was forced to lock him up.
Fear toward Utsurigi Gaisuke.
Fright toward Utsurigi Gaisuke.
Fear and the same toward Kunagisa Tomo.
"That Professor knew all along, too....."
Ahh, I see, I finally realized.
The Professor found out that I had escaped from the cage not because of any reason like foresight, but rather because he had been passed the word. I see. He was annoyed because I was unable to solve the mystery -- that I was unable to reach the conclusion that he had already prepared.
Including his conversation with Neo-san, I realized now just how many hints he had strewn so brazenly about--
"But you still never notice--" I put the emptied cup of coffee back on the plate. "But how are you supposed to notice? Although I suppose you could also ask who was supposed to notice."
It was quite absurd.
Did I really have to put up with that absurdity? Did I really have to go along with that absurdity? Akawa-san gave me one point for my reasoning -- but even that one point may have been too much for that reasoning. And even I could not rate this truth.
Ahh, Professor Kyouichirou.
Now, finally, I truly understand how you felt.
And Kunagisa Tomo.
"There is no way I can think and understand, or even listen and accept how you guys feel....."
Much less predict their thoughts.
But the solution offered at the end is the truth.
That is the rule.
The puppet show rule.
It does not need to be understood. It did not need to be accepted.
It did not need rewards, it did not need ratings.
Nor demand, nor request.
Silent like a lamb, feed like a pig.
"-- the upmost logic, you scum."
Make Hell the Hell named Hell.
Massacre the Massacre named Massacre.
Guilt the Guilt named Guilt.
Despair the Despair named Despair.
Confuse the Confusion named Confusion.
Dominate the Domination named Domination.
Don't hold back, none can obstruct us.
Be proud, we, of this beautiful world.
This is the bedroom of the verge of death, rampage all you want as the verge of death allows it.
"..... freedom as you like and do as you wish, dying and reviving -- what are you all, Otokojuku?"
Truth..... the truth?
How stupid. How stupid. How stupid.
What is truth. What is real.
Cut it out.
This is -- just a result.
If you come up with results -- no one can complain.
"No matter how you explain it or interpret it -- it is nonsense."
It is not that I do not understand.
I do not know.
That is why my explanation, is to not explain.
Go forward while moving backwards.
The last wall.
-- and then the waitress hurried over, having noticed the empty coffee cup. She asked if I wanted seconds, but I turned her down. Is that so, she parted with a smile. It was just a business smile, but even if it were a fake smile, smiles were great. Great things -- never disappear.
"-- and this is it for nonsense."
That sound echoed above the endless FM Radio sounding through the cafe.
Thump -- thump thump -- thump thump thump -- thump thump thump thump -- thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump -------
My left arm throbbed at that sound. I thought of the knife I still had equipped under my jacket, at the Jericho still hanging off the belt of my trouser. Well well, how unreliable an armament.
And then the footsteps passed by me -- and sat down across from me. In the seat that was until just now occupied by mankind's strongest, without any hesitation whatsoever.
Legs crossed, and arms folded elegantly, too.
Covered in a rather stylish fashion. Probably from some famous brands, a pure white suit. Gloves. Shoes. Wristwatch. Instead of a lab coat, this was probably the standard fashion. But everything seemed to fit oddly with the bald head, resulting in a unique but intimidating aura.
While he wore sunglasses just as he did in the facility, the lenses were no longer orange nor black, but rather an opaque, as close-to-translucent-as-can-be green.
And on the other side of the green were his grinning, grinning, laughing eyes. But the back of his eyes were not smiling at all.
And he, continued, to say nothing.
"-- ahh, it was my turn."
He was a surprisingly conscientious fellow.
Despite the situation, I felt a bit pleased.
The face of the rolled dice was pleasing.
I did not hate, nor did I find it unpleasant.
"Did you cut off the arms simply because of the fingerprints?"
Silently, affirmed. As if smiling, nodded.
It was a very easy answer. Truly, an easy solution.
If every -- if every time, problems could be solved like this, so cleanly, so clearly, so acceptably, so satisfyingly -- it would be great.
"Come to think of it -- you were the only one that called Kunagisa Dead Blue -- no one else knew of that alias to begin with."
Shut up and watch, Kunagisa Tomo.
Kunagisa -- probably knew everything from the start.
That Ishimaru Kouta was Aikawa Jun.
The truth, the reality behind the scenes.
And this conclusion.
And yet she remained silent.
She remained silent, and watched.
Alright, that is not bad at all.
That is not betrayal.
There is no betrayal where there is no conviction.
There is no betrayal where there is trust.
Learned how to remain silent.
Well then, everyone.
Please bear with me just a bit longer.
I cannot quit such -- amusement.
Let us begin the beginning of the end.
"You actually hate Kunagisa Tomo, don't you?"
Utsurigi -- Utsurigi Gaisuke, suddenly, without any forewarning or prefacing, as if it were the most natural of natural things in the world, without one bit of wavering or holding back, without a moment of hesitation or a trace of mercy, yet without any sense of pressure or any sense of accusation, as if admiring and disdaining, as slick and smoothly as if he were saying the most obvious of the obvious, asked.
"I don't know."