(WARNING: COMPLETE SPOILERS FOR CHAOS;CHILD)
Chapter 4: Kunosato Mio
The moment she laid eyes upon that scene, Mio discerned that it was a dream.
It was a location she was familiar with, the Cognitive Science Research Laboratory in America she belonged to before. Several beds were lined up along the walls of the sterile room. Syringes, laryngoscopes and tubes used for collecting blood lay on a silver tray. Mio was standing in the experimental area.
Even though she knew it was just a dream, her heart palpitations made her grimace. Sweat poured from her pores and she tried to shout something. It was probably something to the effect of ‘Stop it!’ She lost her balance in discomposure and clung to a nearby bed for support. At the same time, she could feel tears streaming down her cheeks. It was a sensation she had been tired of feeling in the dream.
The ones sleeping in the beds were a young girl and boy. She knew both of them. They were her friends with whom she spent time together and laughed along with. They had gone on day trips before, and always ate their meals together. To Mio who had virtually no friends, the two of them were an existence that occupied a central part of her heart.
Mio took the hand of the girl and stared at her face. Her pupils were dilated to their maximum. Mio knew that the girl’s sight was probably even blurrier than her own which was clouded by tears. Or perhaps she couldn’t even see anything anymore already. The machine displaying her pulse and blood pressure gave off a warning sound.
Mio called out with a wavering voice, “Hey.” Simultaneously, she shouted at herself not to wake up.
However, her screams were ignored, and the world turned awash in white as always.
The girl opened her mouth.
It was most likely a single phrase.
Nonetheless, her vision was bleached of color without her knowing what she said, and the dream ended.
C: Just who are you?
K: The same as you.
C: What do you mean?
K: An adherent of Miyashiro Takuru and Itou Shinji. Am I wrong?
C: So, you investigated me?
K: It seems that you are pretty used to hiding around, but your defenses in comparison to others who conceal themselves are sorely lacking. It would be a stretch to call that an investigation.
C: Are you planning to report me?
K: Were you even listening. I said I want to team up.
C: I can’t trust you.
K: That’s fine with me. I wouldn’t bother collaborating with any idiot who’d trust anyone here.
K: That info you got, it matches with mine.
K: 30th December 2016. The timing is still unconfirmed, but Itou Shinji will be transferred to the Kantou Medical Reformatory for Youths on that day.
C: How did you know that?
K: Even if I told you, how are you going to confirm the validity of my answer? What, are you going to investigate me? A word of warning, but I’m not the same as the fools that you are used to dealing with.
K: At this point, your plan is going to fail without a doubt. Or rather, it’s completely unrealistic.
C: That’s not true.
K: A phone threat and a homemade bomb is not going to do anything. I don’t think you have even thought of what to do after that, am I wrong? Let me assist you.
K: We will attack the police transport Itou Shinji is in and get him back.
When Mio awoke in her futon, she felt a sense of discomfort near her chest.
“…You again. Didn’t I warn you so many times not to snuggle in as you please.”
After discovering the source of the weight and rebuking it in an exasperated voice, a laid-back ‘Meow’ greeted her in return. It was a black cat. Back when her electric heater broke and she couldn’t stand the cold, she had beckoned the stray cat in to use as replacement for a hot-water bottle. Her heater had since been fixed, but the cat continued to scratch at her window everyday until it was let in.
Mio lived in a single-room apartment in Shibuya. The rent for the place was undoubtedly one of the cheapest in Shibuya, and it was as cramped and decrepit as the price warranted. The room wouldn’t have looked so shabby if only the place was kept clean, but regrettably, Mio wasn’t the type care unless something posed a difficulty to her living. Worn clothes and digitized documents lay around here and there.
Mio pulled off the thin and lacking blanket, grabbed the cat by the neck which then purred in resistance and placed it at a corner of the room before heading to the bathroom.
Her head felt heavier than usual. Was it due to her staying up late just now to chat online, or was it because of the tiresome dream she saw. It was probably both, cursed Mio internally as she turned up the temperature of the water. Through the clouded mirror, she could see her old wound at the tip of her shoulder. The marks were difficult to see without squinting, but they were bite wounds.
It was inflicted by a girl whom she held precious.
Mio shook her head when memories of that dream drifted up again. Not that she could ever recall what happened after that despite the innumerable times she had tried.
When she was done with her shower, she checked her email and the website she personally managed, followed by the websites of the major news networks before the time to leave her house came.
“Today is Christmas Eve. If you want to stuff yourself with chicken, then you better go to the parks or shopping districts where those merry-making bunch are, okay?”
Mio said as she released the cat out of the window, where it landed above the fence with practised movements and meowed once as if to indicate comprehension before running off.
There was less than a week before the aforementioned 30th of December.
“…Looks like there’s no problems. With this, there’ll be only one last complete physical a few days before his transfer, but that’ll just be a formality. Since it’s unlikely for anything to come up,”
After listening to Mio speak as she looked at the data on the screen, Shinjou nodded in relief.
They were inside a room in the AH Tokyo General Hospital in Yoyogi.
It was a room prepared for Mio for the research of the Chaos Child Syndrome as authorized by the police. As a nurse came by to clean up regularly, the room was orderly unlike her room except for the area around her desk where documents and data lay haphazardly. A tiny artificial Christmas tree stood by the windowside which was not there the previous day, probably added as part of the decoration of the entire hospital.
The data displayed on the monitor was that of a person Mio had gotten used to seeing.
Along with Miyashiro Takuru who was the mastermind behind the series of incidents, Itou was convicted for the murder of Tachibana Yui. When the court took into account that the atrocious manner of killing was instigated by Miyashiro, and that he was a patient of the syndrome, he was sentenced to a medical reformatory.
The data consisted of those taken here at AH Tokyo General Hospital as well as at several other specialist centers. Included in it were the results of projective psychological tests such as the Baum and Rorschach tests.
Mio spoke with a sigh.
“With all this data, even if he was sent to the medical reformatory, the other research institutes would immediately drag him out of there.”
Shinjou raised a look of confusion at what she said. Then, he asked while staring at the data on the screen again.
“Are the data that objectionable?”
“To be honest, I’m at a complete loss. That probably goes for all the other centers too. All these psychological tests serve as proof. The fact that all these tests, which are supposed to give subjective results based on the tester, all point to the same conclusion is beyond my comprehension. Just how many reports do you think I have read that said ‘and we conclude’ this and that.”
“What about his physical condition? Is he feeling okay?”
“You haven’t met him?”
Mio replied to Shinjou’s query with a question, which darkened his expression.
“It’s been a while since the last time. Even his parents aren’t allowed to see him. I wanted to at least talk to him for a while before he gets transferred, but…”
“…I thought you would’ve been able to conduct yourself more skillfully than that and take action.”
“Don’t ask for the impossible. I’ve already been overstepping my boundaries for the case so far.”
Mio already heard from before about how Shinjou had been pressured by the higher-ups in the police. The detective who was most closely involved in the series of incidents had been Shinjou. However, now that the cases had concluded for now, the management of the aftermath was left to the organization known as the police themselves. Shinjou did not share the truth of the incident with the police. For one, there was nothing they could about it, and that it would just cause further uproar. What’s more, he couldn’t disturb the serpent that lurked in the shadow of the truth.
They must have sensed it from his attitude and actions, as they gradually and intentionally distanced Shinjou from the matters related to the incidents.
That arrangement extended to Mio, whose assistance was first sought by Shinjou. Mio herself had not met Itou face-to-face for some time. It was also ineffective to use her research as a pretext when she wasn’t producing results.
She had also been removed from being in charge of Itou’s medical examination after today.
“So, I guess the transfer is not left up to you, huh,” commented Mio.
“Yeah. They did inform me about the move itself, but it was pretty much an ex-post-facto notice. The transfer on the day itself will also be handled by a different team. …Well, at least this was better than if I had requested for it only to be rejected.”
He may have spoken with a self-deprecating smile, but his voice reflected his chagrin.
Shinjou would not be in charge of the transfer as she had expected.
It can’t be helped, muttered Mio in a soft voice.
“Shinjou. What time are you working till today?”
“Hm? Why do you ask.”
“Today’s Christmas Eve. You don’t have a partner, right? I’ll let you treat me to something.”
“…Did the sun rise from the west today? For starters, shouldn’t it be manners for you to first confirm if I had a partner or not?”
After a short silence, Shinjou replied sheepishly, “Don’t be expecting anything extravagant.”
“Understood. We also currently have a Christmas special on offer, which is the raw oyakodon…”
“Then, I’ll have that too. Also, can you refill my Oolong tea?”
Mio watched the waiter leave after saying, “Right away,” before she turned back and her eyes met with Shinjou’s.
“Do you even have an iota of restraint in you… No, never mind…”
An hour had passed since the two of them entered a yakiniku restaurant in Yoyogi. It was the kind of shop which students wouldn’t normally frequent, nor would someone who seeks authentic flavor patronize. Even today, on Christmas Eve on a weekend, there were no couples to be seen, but only a mess of laudable salarymen who had just been let off from work.
Looking in stupefaction at Mio who was guzzling down the additional orders one after another, Shinjou, who hadn’t moved his chopsticks in a while and was just drinking his beer, asked.
“What? You’re not eating?”
“What do you need?”
Mio’s hand came to an abrupt stop.
“Need, as in?”
“You wouldn’t have possibly asked me to bring you out to eat if you didn’t have a reason to.”
“Is that how I seem to you?”
Mio smiled as she listened to his words. Indeed, she had never gone out to eat with Shinjou even once before.
He took a swig of his beer as if to say ‘how ridiculous.’ Unexpectedly, his alcohol tolerance seemed to be quite strong as his face wasn’t flushed despite the amount he had drunk.
“Of course,” replied Shinjou.
“As a matter of fact.”
Mio resumed eating and swiftly swiped away several pieces of meat which Shinjou was painstakingly cooking on the grill without any reserve.
“—I’m in quite the pinch this month.”
“The jobs at Momose’s place only come by sporadically. And, expenses have piled up since I came here. In other words, I’m broke.”
“Stop eating already!”
Their chopsticks clashed into each other atop the grill. Mio clicked her tongue and reached out for the cold noodles.
Shinjou sighed in exasperation.
“…I was planning to tell you to not do anything fishy in return for this meal.”
Hmph, Mio snorted.
“You’re expecting too much of me. Ah, can you get me some rumen, neck and two servings of scallions. And also, some Oolong tea.”
“That was not a request! And where do you get the space to eat all of this?”
“There’s always room for food when you’re being treated. I’ve always been like this since when I was in America.”
“…It’s precisely because you’re like that that you don’t have a partner on Christmas Eve.”
“I don’t want to be told that by you.”
Mio gulped down the cup of Oolong tea which had been brought to her, and Shinjou replied, “…Do as you wish,” and got up from his seat.
The moment he disappeared to go to the toilet, Mio moved.
She opened up his bag, took out the tablet inside and stuck a memory card in. The password was cracked in an instant and she began to copy the data inside immediately.
“…Sorry about this.”
Mouthing an apology that would not reach him, Mio tapped on the screen.
K: The time of transport is 10am in the morning. From AH Tokyo General Hospital, they should reach the Kantou Medical Reformatory for Youths by 11am by travelling at a high speed. They probably timed it to be after the morning rush hour.
C: How did you get that info? Don’t tell me you hacked into the police’s database?
K: Who knows. I’ll send you the image and number plate of the car later on. There are four officers including the driver. Only one car will be used for the transport, but frankly, this amount of security is unusual for the transport of a criminal whose crime occurred over one year ago.
C: That just goes to show how significant Itou is. We have to get him out no matter what.
K: I’ll send over the materials for the bomb to your end tomorrow. Just assemble it as the manual says.
C: You’re kidding. Wait a minute, how do you know my location?
K: Didn’t I mentioned it before, your security is too shoddy.
25th of December, Christmas.
When her work at the hospital ended, Mio headed to the Freesia Trustworthiness Investigation Company which was her real vocation and found an unexpected guest.
“Pardon me for the intrusion.”
It was Minamisawa Senri. She appeared to be having a pleasant chat with Momose, the president of the company, as there were two cups of coffee on the table.
Having difficulty dealing with her, Mio questioned with a stiff expression.
“…Why did you come here for?”
“She came here to bring us some amazing sweets since it’s Christmas, she said. Come and take a seat too.”
Momose was the one who answered. She must have noticed that Mio did not get along well with Senri as she flashed her a provocative smile.
There was a box of cookies on the table that seemed more exquisite than the ones available on the shelves. Momose got up to pour a cup of coffee. Mio gave in and took a seat seeing as that cup was probably meant for her.
“Senri here has been waiting for you.”
Senri nodded slightly to affirm Momose’s words from afar. Mio stretched her neck as she urged her on.
“What is it?”
“I came to give my greetings for the end of the year and to wish you a Merry Christmas. And also, to give my thanks to you and Ms. Momose for tutoring Yuuto and letting him use this place.”
“…It’s not like I did anything much.”
Senri gave a bitter smile.
“Yuuto does not think so, however.”
Mio clicked her tongue with a ‘Tch’.
It was right about after their discharge from the hospital following the completion of their rehabilitation that Yuuto came to show up at Freesia.
Mio also wasn’t sure how that came to be. They had become acquainted during the time of the incident, but they’d never had a deep conversation before. She also had no memories of having any particularly engaging conversations with him after that. However, during their rehabilitation, Mio spent quite some time with those related to Miyashiro including Yuuto as part of the research into the Chaos Child Syndrome.
It was then when she heard that Yuuto was aiming to become an attorney in the future. And, when she saw that amongst their belongings, there were plenty of reference books for nurses but none for an attorney, she recommended some relevant texts for him. That was the extent of their conversations.
But, Yuuto began to show up at Freesia after his discharge from the hospital. He would usually go to the library with his friends, and would come here to ask Mio about any doubts or points he did not understand.
“It’s because Mio is weak to children.”
“Is that so?”
Momose said so amusedly as she brought over the coffee, to which Senri’s eyes widened as if she found that very unexpected.
“Don’t go around telling her unnecessary things,” said Mio in an obviously prickly tone. Yet, Momose brushed it off with, “It doesn’t matter, does it?” and continued, seemingly entertained.
“Back when Mio was still in America, she looked after some kids. Although it wasn’t as a guardian, but just as a researcher. Still, they were even younger than Yuuto then, and it wasn’t even just one, there were many of them.”
“I see. …So that’s why.”
Senri nodded as if she just understood something. Mio turned to face away and slurped her coffee.
“Yuuto said this sometimes. That Kunosato feels like a homeroom teacher somehow.”
Hearing that, Momose burst into a light laughter.
“Although she sure has a nasty mouth for a teacher.”
“Just leave me be.”
Mio cussed and a faint smile crept up on Senri’s lips. Then, she bent forwards slightly and spoke.
“A few days back, when Yuuto was here. …You were to one who told him about Itou’s transfer, right?”
Mio’s shoulder shook slightly. She returned her gaze to Senri and lowered her head until her eyes were downcasted.
“This is also as thanks for that. I intended to tell you straight away initially, but was a bit reluctant… since that is the same as admitting that there’s no hope.”
Isn’t this ironic, thought Mio as she stared at Senri. Here she was glaring at Senri so transparently without a single word of apology, but all Mio felt from her was a sense of regret.
The awkward atmosphere made Mio fidget.
“…Did Yuuto say anything?”
Senri sounded truly concerned. That part of her was precisely what Mio had trouble dealing with.
What was she worrying about. The answer was obvious, it was none other than Yuuto. Because he was her family. Having that displayed before her rattled Mio’s emotions, and frankly made her feel unpleasant.
When she saw that Mio did not reply, Senri spoke up again, not knowing what to take of her silence.
“What did he say?”
Mio thought back to the look on Yuuto’s face a few days ago. Regardless of the cause, the man who killed his sister was going somewhere far away. She recalled his expression when he was told that.
The single sentence he said as if it had come spilling out.
“…Nope. He didn’t say a thing.”
For a while, Senri seemed like she was trying to hold back some words. Finally, she said, “I see,” and left Freesia soon after.
Mio returned to her work after seeing her off, but wasn’t able to stay focused. The faces of Senri and Yuuto would flash by her mind, causing her hands to come to a stop. She clicked her tongue and forced her attention back to her work.
When she returned home and switched on the lights, the cat started to scratch at the window as if waiting for her.
For some reason, Mio did not feel like opening the window which had become a habit, and just stood in the middle of the room listening to the noise.
There wasn’t any particular need for her to lie to Senri. Back then, Yuuto had answered her in a small voice. Because of that, Mio hadn’t been able to sleep well these past few days. She was now involved in something troublesome. However, there was no way for her to tell Senri what that troublesome matter was. It should have been fine for her to tell Senri what Yuuto had said in the first place.
She thought back to the worried expression of Senri again.
“…What a bother.”
That must have been the expression of a mother, thought Mio. Furthermore, it was that of an ideal mother which could only be found in fiction.
Mio did not have any memories of her parents looking at her with that expression. Several years had passed since she broke off relations with them. It was no exaggeration to say she did not know if they were even alive now. To begin with, they never had any interest in each other’s business.
If she remembered correctly, the moment they made clear to cut off their relations was while she was still in America. It was through a phone call when she was out with the young girl. They had gone on a day trip to her old home then.
The scratching sound from the window intensified.
Mio came to a realization that she had been reminiscing and heaved a sigh. That talk with Senri really threw her off.
She opened the window to let the cat in, and it leapt into the room and meowed at her for food brazenly as if to scold her for taking her time. She opened the packet of tuna sandwich which she bought for dinner, and tossed the tuna filling on the floor which the cat ate without much gratitude.
Mio touched the wound on her shoulder through her clothes.
The words spoken by the girl.
As always, Mio could not recall what they were.
K: Tomorrow’s the day. Are you finished with your preparations?
C: Of course. So, what should I do next? What do I say on the phone?
K: After the plan begins, call the following number with the cell phone I sent you previously. 090-XXXX-XXXX.
C: This is?
K: The number of the guy driving. First off, tell him to halt the transfer immediately by getting him to take you as seriously as you can. Namely, with the bomb that’s loaded onto the car. Then, tell him about the mechanism of the bomb. That will make him believe that it’s real.
C: What’s next.
K: Tell him to call a detective named Shinjou.
C: Who is that?
K: The cause behind everything. He is the reason that Miyashiro and Itou got caught. Inside the police, the one overseeing the investigation of the case is none other than him.
C: Is that true?
K: There’s no doubt about that. I absolutely cannot forgive him.
C: I feel the same. Are you completely sure it’s him?
K: Yeah. That’s why I’m going to take revenge at the same time as we retrieve Itou.
C: Are you planning to kill him?
K: Naturally. Don’t you want to too?
C: Of course, I do too. That goes without saying.
K: Keep the call going until Shinjou arrives at the location. At the same time, keep telling them what a fool Shinjou is. I’ll finish up the rest.
C: Wait. Let me know one thing.
K: What is it?
C: Why are you going so far?
C: What do you want?
C: Can we meet for a bit?
K: Didn’t I already mentioned at the start. I’m an adherent of Miyashiro Takuru and Itou Shinji.
30th of December.
Yuuto arrived at Freesia at 9am as instructed by Mio. On his shoulders was his bag which was filled religiously with books and stationery.
When Mio pointed to his bag, Yuuto returned a look of puzzlement.
“It’s just my materials for studying…”
“Who told you to bring those?”
“Are we not going to study?”
At his frank query, Mio became lost for words. Momose laughed out when she saw them.
“Of course, that’s what Yuuto would have thought when you call him out, Mio.”
Mio scratched her head awkwardly.
“…Never mind. Since we still have some time.”
Mio continued on her work as Yuuto laid out his stationery on the table he always used.
He would ask her questions occasionally which she perfunctorily answered. Yuuto primarily did his own self-study, and only relied on Mio for help when he had doubts in the area of the sciences and English which she specialized in. In any case, the problems were at a middle school level. They were all questions Mio could answer half-heartedly.
Indeed, the relationship between Yuuto and her was just a perfunctory and half-hearted one after all. Even if he were to die now, she would not have made the same expression as Senri would. However, it was all because of something foolish she did that she had to wait laboriously like this with a frown.
Mio stopped with her work and left Freesia quietly so as not to disturb Yuuto who was still focused on his studies.
After waiting next to the entrance for a few minutes, she dialled a number.
She was going to call as many times as it took until the other party picked up, but it seemed she did not need to as they picked up on the first call.
[Sorry, but I’m busy right now. Call back again later.]
“Did those guys in charge of the transfer contact you?”
She could hear Shinjou take a breath over the phone.
[…What do you mean?]
His voice was irritable. Mio continued heedless of that.
“So, they did?”
“They should have sensed the enmity directed towards you—no, the suspect must still be cursing you on the phone even now. For now, those guys would probably follow your instructions temporarily, at least until they’ve confirmed that you have an idea of who the culprit is.”
[Don’t mess around with me. What have you—]
“Itou’s safety is the top priority. Tell them to circle around Freesia.”
[You better explain to me what’s going on.]
“There isn’t any time. For the time being—”
*Bang* The sound of a thunderous impact reached Mio’s ear. Shinjou seemed to have slammed his fist onto something hard on the other end.
[I said, explain what the hell is going on!]
The corners of her lips raised into a smile. It has been such a long time since anyone shouted at her as such that it made her feel relieved instead.
“They will soon realize that there’s no bomb on the car they’re using for transport. The smoke coming from the police station and the vending machine near AH are also not from a bomb, but a plain smokescreen. The culprit will soon be back-traced in no time and arrested. It will be all over once the chain of command settles down. There’s no time already. Quickly get them to send Itou over here to Freesia while you can still interfere.”
Mio then cut the call without waiting for a reply and even took out the battery from the phone.
Then, she returned to the room, waited for Yuuto to finish writing his sentence and called out to him.
Yuuto stared at her blankly.
“There’s going to be a guest coming to meet you.”
That’s right, nodded Mio.
Senri’s countenance flickered by her mind. “This is unlike me,” muttered Mio to herself before she continued.
“When I told you about Itou’s transfer a few days back, didn’t you say as such. That you wanted to meet him?”
In an instant, all expression was gone from Yuuto’s face.
“What are you going to do after seeing him?”
“Don’t you have something you want to say to him? Or, perhaps you want to kill him?”
“There’s no way…!”
Yuuto exclaimed loudly as he got up from his seat. Mio thought he had turned very adult-like for his age recently out of nowhere, but the wavering of his body and eyes at that moment betrayed his immaturity.
“Well, that’s fine too. Just do as you like.”
The bell rang just then, as if in wait. Yuuto turned towards the door in shock.
Momose exhaled in exasperation. Mio bowed her head slightly as she apologized, “I’m sorry,” at which Momose griped in resignation, “You really should be,” and directly addressed the other party behind the door without using the intercom.
“Yes, who is it?”
“This is the police. Please open up.”
Momose glanced towards Mio for confirmation and she nodded.
Momose opened the door and found two men in suits standing there. They entered as they spoke without even taking out their identification badges.
“Excuse our sudden entry. We are—”
“Associates of Shinjou, right? Is there something you need?”
Watching Momose beat them to the punch and cause them to swallow their words, Mio couldn’t help but smile wryly. Despite her appearance of a commonplace middle-aged woman, she was in fact a wily old fox. She would make use of the dissonance between her appearance and character to instantly gain the upper hand over her opponents.
The two men seemed to hesitate over what to say momentarily before eventually settling on these desperate words.
“Please allow us to intrude upon here for a while. This may appear strange, but we are currently in the midst of transporting a young man when—”
“No problem. Feel free to use the place as you please.”
Following that, Momose retreated to the side to let them through. The men were dumbfounded.
“Eh, is that okay?”
“Aren’t you the ones who brought it up? Come on in, it’s cold outside, isn’t it.”
“T-thank you very much. Erm, I hesitate to mention this, but—”
“Sweeping, right? Try not to make a mess.”
Sweeping referred to the inspection of a place to ensure its safety. The men went inarticulate at being preempted again, but lowered their heads with a, “Y-yes,” as if they were facing their superior, and entered the office.
While the men conducted a simple search of the rooms and even the toilet, Mio leaned at the side of the wall boredly. Yuuto stood beside her with his face hanging down.
They completed their check within a few minutes and spoke into their transceiver. Outside the office, the sound of a car door closing could be heard faintly.
Yuuto was motionless.
The door to the office opened again. This time, two men entered the room with Itou sandwiched between them.
He was dressed in sweatpants and a parka. They were probably provided by the police. He looked slightly emaciated, but much better than before. They must have given him a wipe down at the hospital before the transfer as he looked neat.
His eyes went wide when he entered and his feet came to halt.
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
Mio stood before him and said. The men turned towards her in suspicion, but Momose set them at ease by saying, “You guys know how Shinjou have an associate assisting him with the research of the Chaos Child Syndrome, right? It’s this child here.”
Mio looked him over as if examining him as he remained speechless.
“There’s been no irregularities since we last met?”
In response to her question, Itou only nodded slightly without speaking. He did not appear to be ignoring her. Rather, his eyes were glued over to Yuuto who stood by the side of the wall as he was frozen.
Mio followed his gaze. Yuuto was still standing there with his face downcasted.
This was the first time since the incident that Yuuto and Itou had met face-to-face. In fact, of the people who knew the truth about the incident, only Mio who was cooperating with the research and Shinjou who was the investigator had met him since.
Watching Itou’s behavior, the men cast looks of suspicion at Yuuto.
Even so, he did not move.
Mio could have urged him on by calling out to him. However, she did not do so, but walked toward him instead.
She came in front of Yuuto and placed a hand on his left shoulder. He sniffled as if in response and placed his hands over Mio’s. They were shivering. She watched on as the falling tears stained his clothes.
He should have felt hatred. He must have felt grief. Perhaps, more than anything, he might have felt anger.
No matter the reason, Itou was the one who killed Tachibana Yui, the person who was precious beyond any to Yuuto. She was his one and only blood-related sister. From what Mio overheard from Senri, when they just entered Aoba dorm, Yuuto and Yui were always together, and he wouldn’t even let go of her hand when he slept. As for Yui who got scared of the opposite sex during the earthquake, Yuuto was the only one she could accept.
The two of them were each other’s support. They were truly family.
This was not an area for Mio to interfere.
But, the one to bring them together was herself, she thought as she felt the warmth of Yuuto’s hand. This wasn’t like her. It really didn’t suit her to something like this.
She felt irked at herself for not carrying a handkerchief around at this time. With no other options, she wiped off the tears from his eyes with her fingers.
“Aren’t there things you want to say?”
Gradually, Yuuto nodded. He gently brushed her hand aside and wiped his tears away with his sleeves.
Then, he looked up and spoke.
“…I’m fine now. I’m sure Big Brother Takuru feels the same as I do.”
Mio froze when she saw the expression on Yuuto’s face. To be more precise, her attention had been robbed. His countenance was more serene than anyone else’s in the room.
Yuuto wiped his face one last time and walked with steady steps.
He came before Itou.
Itou spoke in a murmur. Then, he lowered his head as if he couldn’t stand to meet him in the eye anymore.
The next moment, Mio’s eyes went wide.
Yuuto had hugged Itou. His arms circled around to his back as though he was trying to press himself into his chest.
She could hear him trying to hold back his sobs.
Itou’s face also crumpled into a mess and he dropped on his knees. He cried while hugging Yuuto back.
“…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…”
Yuuto repeatedly shook his head buried into Itou’s shoulder, his back quivering.
From that angle, Mio could not see his expression. But, she knew that he was weeping.
Yuuto’s muffled sobs reverberated through the room.
“I’m really… …really so sorry for everything.”
Itou was holding Yuuto in his arms with all his strength, also shaking his head furiously.
Looking at the two of them, no one in the office could move.
Mio’s eyes still couldn’t move from this sight.
Eventually, Yuuto spoke out so softly as if he was doing his best to wring out a voice.
It was a voice tinged with sobs.
“…Thank you. Thank you, so much…”
In that instant, her sight wavered.
She could still hear Itou wailing and bawling. However, that sounded as though it came from a place very far away.
Mio did not try to resist the scene that appeared in her eyes beyond the spreading whiteness.
It was the scene from her dream.
Back when she was in America. In the experimental facility. The young girl opened her mouth.
The voice echoed in her mind, erasing the stifled whimpers of Yuuto and Itou.
Tears flowed down her cheeks soundlessly.
They poured out so naturally she did not even realize she was crying.
The moment Mio opened the door, someone grabbed her lapels.
“Why didn’t you mention anything to me?”
It was night-time.
Shortly after Mio returned home, her doorbell rang out noisily again and again. Since she already knew who it was, she just opened the door without bothering to verify who it was.
This was the first time she had seen Shinjou get angry to this extent. Without the energy to fling his hand away, Mio just let him do as he liked.
“It’s probably too late for me to say this now. But, you’d better—”
He was about to go on when he stopped. Mio wanted to droop her head, but couldn’t do so with her lapels being grabbed.
“…What’s the matter?”
“…Nothing in particular.”
She replied as such knowing that it was futile, but there was no vitality to her voice. She knew the area around her eyes must have been puffy from crying and looked horrible.
Shinjou released his hand and entered the entranceway. Mio wanted to rebuke him for entering a lady’s home without her permission, but she was feeling too sluggish to even do that.
She returned to the center of the room without saying a word and he followed behind her silently. The cat, seeing this intruder for the first time, turned wary and ran to a corner of the room.
“…You’re raising a cat?”
Mio finally smiled bitterly at the consideration that he was showing. She hit her cheeks lightly to change gears, and turned serious as she faced Shinjou straight on with her doubtlessly hideous-looking face.
“I’m not raising it. Did you come here just to ask about such things?”
A look of surprise appeared on his face, which changed into a myriad of complicated-looking expressions one after another, until he finally sighed in resignation.
“…The culprit behind the phone call threat and the failed bomb has been arrested.”
I see, Mio uttered.
Silence followed after, and an unsatisfied expression remained on Shinjou’s face. He still did not say anything for a while before he eventually started again.
“…Aren’t you going to ask about anything?”
“I’m not interested. Or rather, aren’t you the one who came here to ask something?”
He heaved a deep sigh at her answer and spoke.
“The suspect is a male minor who lived in Yokohama. He already admitted to his crime, but also mentioned he had an accomplice. He said they only spoke online and that their handle name was ‘K’. But, when we took back his computer and scanned his files, no such logs existed.”
‘As expected from him,’ commended Mio to that man inwardly. She had help from a super hacker who was her acquaintance to wipe the man’s computer, but had no idea how he did it as always. There wasn’t anyone else she knew of who could beguile even a police investigation.
“According to the man, everything was incited by this ‘K’ person. Why didn’t you mention anything about this to me?”
“There’s no evidence that points ‘K’ to me, is there?”
“You were the one who called me directly.”
“Let me rephrase that. There’s no evidence that can be used publicly that points to ‘K’ being to me, is there?”
“…So, you don’t plan to tell me anything, huh.”
“The culprit has been apprehended. What’s the issue?”
It was only the day after the date of Itou’s transfer was decided that Mio had gotten ahold of information online that a foolish man known as “C” was planning to execute something dangerous on the day of his transfer. His plan was a lousy one where he would plant a shoddy home-made bomb on the car and use it to rescue Itou. From the details mentioned in the website “C” was using, she had deduced that they could possibly assemble an explosive even in their amateurity, and wanted to report the matter to Shinjou at first. After all, Itou was a precious research sample that she could not afford to lose.
But then, there was that matter with Yuuto.
By whatever means, she had to find a way to get Shinjou in a position where he could intervene officially with the transfer. She had sent over some materials for the bomb that would make it non-lethal, but it had cost her an arm and a leg. Knowing that Shinjou would definitely be against the plan, she did not mention a word of it to him.
“…Was it for Yuuto’s sake?”
“…Who knows. Right, one more thing. Did Itou’s relocation go without trouble?”
“Without a hitch. All thanks to ‘K’ or whatnot not pulling anything else troublesome.”
Mio shrugged her shoulders at the sarcasm. She then flicked her hand with a *sh-sh* at him, and Shinjou headed to the door without even the energy left to feel exasperated.
Just before he left, he spoke without turning back.
“…Sure enough, it may be uncertain about whether or not Yuuto would be allowed to visit Itou considering his position. But, when enough time passes, they should be able to meet without much trouble. Even without you doing such things. …You would learn well to rely on others more.”
With that, he closed the door.
Right after, Mio collapsed onto the floor of the room which was filled with gloomy silence and frigidness.
“You don’t need to tell me that, I know already.”
Even after Itou was sent to the medical reformatory and hoisted here and there amongst the research institutions, as time passed, Yuuto would eventually be able to meet him after going through the proper channels.
She understood that it was rash of her to proceed with this plan arbitrarily. However, she wanted to grant Yuuto’s request as soon as she possibly could.
Yuuto was different from those children in America. She knew that too. Not just in terms of their age, but even in their appearances.
If she had to state a reason, it would be that she wanted to find out. What would Yuuto say before the one who had taken away his most precious person. What would he feel, and what actions would he take.
She wanted to know.
“…Thank you, huh.”
Tears threatened to spill out of her eyes before she even realized and she held them back.
Yuuto knew the truth behind the incident. That Itou had not done that to Yui of his own volition. Even so, he was just a child. There was no way he could accept that at face value.
But, that expression of his that she couldn’t take her eyes off of.
And, the girl in America—her name was Beth. That sassy, impudent girl, who was neglected by her parents similarly to Mio, and ended up at the experimental facility. She said, “Thank you,” at the moment her life ended, under an experiment run by none other than Mio herself.
Towards Mio, the transgressor.
She said thank you.
Mio roughly wiped off the tears streaming down her cheeks.
When she looked at the clock, she found that the date had changed.
The 31st. New Year’s Eve.
On the last day of the year, the thought of what she should do from now onwards predominated Mio’s mind.
“…I see. Go on ahead, if that is what you have decided.”
“…You don’t sound very surprised.”
“Well, I always thought it was just a matter of time.”
When Mio informed Momose of what she had decided in a bolt out of the blue, that was all she said indifferently. It was the usual for Momose to remain detached to just about anything, but Mio still felt something was off.
“Did you know about it already? Of my time in America.”
“Well, more or less. Didn’t you come over to my place because that’s what I told you?”
She had the feeling that Momose was just trying to glaze things over, but immediately abandoned that train of thought. It would just be something she would have to go confirm by herself now.
“Anyway, I’ll just go with what I have now. I’ll contact you if I need anything else, so would you be able to send them to me?”
“No problem. I’ll put them on your tab, since it’ll be such a waste to let go of such an excellent information broker.”
“That will be a great help,” thanked Mio as she lowered her head respectfully. No matter what transpired, this was a place which served her well. A major aspect of her freedom to do as she pleased laid with Momose’s personality and influence.
“That reminds me, Mio. I have just one piece of advice for you.”
Momose said just as she was about to leave. When Mio turned back, she found Momose with an expression that could not be described in any other way except for a grin.
“You look great when you are trying to stay all aloof, but I still think you look the most cute with a tear-stained face. That’s what I thought seeing that for the first time yesterday.”
Feeling the blood rushing to her cheeks, Mio turned back flusteredly and opened the door.
Spouting such words unsuited for a farewell, she closed the door with a slam.
It took roughly one and a half hours to travel from Freesia to Narita Airport.
The clamor of the crowd travelling abroad over the New Year reverberated shrillingly in Mio’s sleep-deprived head. She thought in self-praise as she looked for a bench to sit: this sure was decisive action for something just thought up yesterday, or rather this morning.
There was still some time before her flight took off as they waited to fill up the seats. Mio wanted to check-in quickly and rest at the quieter departure lobby, but the queue was enormous and the person at the front was arguing with the staff to top it off. She couldn’t find the energy in herself to line up with them.
However, all the benches were occupied. The excited voices of vacationing families could be heard ubiquitously. Mio was sick of it all and resigned to sit around them as she looked around when someone grabbed her shoulder all of a sudden.
When she turned around, the first thing she felt was surprise. She then asked without hiding it.
“…What are you doing?”
It was Shinjou. He must have ran here as his shoulders heaved up and down. Same as her, he probably did not get any sleep last night as he needed to deal with the aftermath of yesterday’s incident, and it showed on his face.
“That’s my line. You say you’re returning to America?”
“Yeah. There’s something I need to confirm.”
“Look here… What are you going to do about your research and room at AH?”
He spoke while panting for breath. When Mio held out the bottle of water she bought, he grabbed it away as if snatching and guzzled it down.
“Didn’t I already mention that I’ve reached the limit of what I can do there. No one will be overly inconvenienced even if I’m not there. I’ll contact you on my end after I’ve settled down over there, so we can just talk over the net, no?”
“There is plenty of paperwork that needs to be done, you know. And right after all that yesterday too.”
“You can just do something about that anyhow.”
“Look right here…”
They could feel the dirty glares of the people around them, probably because they were standing in the way. Mio and Shinjou moved over to the side of the wall.
Shinjou’s cell phone rang. He grimaced when he saw the name on the display, but returned his phone to his pocket without answering.
“That was probably from the scene, isn’t it. Are you sure about not answering that?”
“You don’t get to say that. …This is too sudden. At least tell me the reason for it.”
Mio kept quiet since she did not really know how to explain it. Shinjou did not press her, but just waited patiently.
Unable to completely sort out her feelings still, she spoke.
“About the culprit from yesterday.”
“His handle name was ‘C’.”
Shinjou quietly cursed, “So, you do admit it,” but she ignored him.
“It seemed he got it from the initials of Chaos Child. Since he wasn’t one of the patients, he wanted to at least share their name, he said. He claimed to be an adherent of Miyashiro and Itou.”
“It’s exactly as the word means. Similar to how those lunatics revere murderers as gods. In order to get in his good books, I also pronounced myself as a fellow adherent. However, it just may be the case that that’s on the mark.”
On the day before the execution of the plan, the 29th, when “C” asked why she was going so far, her fingers came to a halt unexpectedly. She was at a loss over how to answer. After a short hesitation, she replied that it was because she was also an adherent of Miyashiro and Itou.
“…When I was in America, the Committee took away something important to me. I will surely exact my revenge over them for that. However, what is it that I bear a grudge over, and what did I do when that precious thing was taken away from me. Honestly… some parts of it feels vague.”
“It’s a bit late to be thinking about that. But, when I saw Yuuto yesterday, I felt like I remembered just a little. I want to know the full picture. Even now, it still feels like I’m forgetting something.”
Shinjou listened to her without breathing a word. Mio did not even realize that her lethargy was gone as she continued.
“I don’t know what happened. But, I have no doubt it’s nothing good. After all, I was crying, you know? It can’t have been unimportant.”
Pff, she heard the sound of him laughing.
“Yet, both Miyashiro and Itou accepted the things they wished they did not know.”
And most likely, so did Yuuto. As did all the other people who knew the truth behind the incident.
“—It’s my turn. It is now my turn.”
When she glanced over, the one arguing with the staff was gone and the queue was steadily progressing.
As always, the benches were still full. It would probably be better to enter the departure lobby, thought Mio as she snatched back the bottle.
“Satisfied? Then, see you. I need to get a seat already.”
Yeah, Shinjou waved his hand.
As she joined the queue, Mio was suddenly reminded.
“Oh, right. I have a request.”
Saying so, she took the key to the cheap apartment out from her wallet and tossed it to him.
“The key to my house. When you go there at night, the cat should be scratching at the windows. Capture it and find someone to take care of it, will you?”
“…Are you sure? Isn’t it yours?”
“Didn’t I already say that I’m not raising it? I just feed it some scraps from time to time.”
“That’s rare, coming from you.”
When she was told so directly, Mio became speechless.
Was it something rare? Perhaps, it was.
Suddenly, she was reminded of the time she kept quiet to Senri about what Yuuto had said. There hadn’t been any reason for her to stay silent about him wanting to meet Itou. In fact, he had probably already told Senri about it, now that she thought about it.
Why didn’t she just tell her.
A certain reason came into her mind, but the absurdity of it made her smile bitterly.
“No, you may be right. If it’s not too much trouble, how about you be the one to take it in?”
“…I don’t really mind, since I also had a cat at my parent’s home before.”
“Living alone with a pet lowers your chance of getting married, you know.”
“Mind your own business. …So, what is its name?”
“Eh?” Uttered Mio taken aback.
“Yeah, its name. After all, it’s the cat you picked up and took care of, right. What did you call it?”
“I didn’t call it any fixed name or anything. I’d just call out, ’Hey,’ or ’Cat,’ or something.”
“Look now,” sighed Shinjou.
“Then, pick one now. Since it’s your cat.”
“Like I said, it’s not mine.”
However, Shinjou would not back down.
Mio sighed and brainstormed for a while before answering.
“…Then, how about Blackie.”
Shinjou’s eyes turned wide.
Following which, he burst into laughter. Mio interjected unhappily.
“What. It’s just right for it since it’s a black cat, isn’t it.”
“No, my bad. Blackie. Blackie, huh. Isn’t that just fine?”
Annoyed by the stupid grin on his face, Mio turned to face away.
“You should decide after all.”
“No, I apologize. Blackie it shall be. It’s just…”
“What is it?”
“I didn’t expect you to have such a bad naming sense.”
“Shut it,” replied Mio as she headed for the queue.
The boarding announcement for her flight came and people started boarding the plane in order.
At the same time, Mio dialled a number.
When she did, her call was immediately transferred to voicemail.
When she took into account the time difference, it would be night for the person she was dialling, but not so late in the middle of the night. They were probably engrossed in their research, thought Mio with a faint smile.
It was just perfect for her to reach voicemail where the other party could not reply.
“Kurisu. This may be a bit sudden, but I’ll be staying over at your place for a while. And also, I need to borrow some money. The cost of the air ticket to fly over there has left me penniless. Thanks in advance.”
Mio said so while imagining the look of anger that would appear on her face when her friend hears the message. She then added the expected time of arrival of her flight, and was just about to end the call when she paused.
She really wasn’t being herself today. With that thought in her mind, she continued.
“…Say, Kurisu. There’s so many things I want to share with you when I get back. So much happened. Although I didn’t accomplish a single thing that I set out to do. Even so, there’s really so much that occurred. Just like how you encountered so many new people in Japan, so did I. I want to tell you all about them. I haven’t really listened properly about all those people you met back then, but if it’s okay with you, will you tell me about them again?”
Mio smiled bitterly at what she was saying and ended the call.
About the reason why she hid that matter from Senri.
Perhaps, it may have been due to some parts of her wanting to be the only one who shared that secret with Yuuto.
She most likely wanted to feel what it was like to have a family or something close.
The announcement calling for the boarding of her flight resounded again.
Due to the time difference, she would be welcoming the new year over there instead.
“To a year without regrets.”
Whispered Mio as she passed through the gate.
1. A Korean dish made from salted Pacific cod entrails in spicy sauce. 창난젓 (Changnan-jeot). ↩
2. Korean cold buckwheat noodles. ↩
3. A Japanese rice bowl dish with chicken and egg on top of rice. ↩
4. Barbequed meat. ↩