A mouse crawled into a hole.
He breathed in quietly, wrapped in pitch black. He could smell the faint odor of damp soil. He continued on, slowly and cautiously. The hole was narrow. It was scarcely big enough for a mouse to squeeze through. And it was dark. There was no light to be seen. But he felt at ease. He liked dark and narrow places. The larger creatures bent on catching him couldn’t get to him in places like this. It was a fleeting moment of peace and quiet. The wound in his shoulder was aching, but it didn’t really bother him. The real problem wasn’t the pain, but the amount of blood he was losing. The wound wasn’t especially bad. It was just a small hole in his shoulder. It should have started to clot a while ago. But… The wound… Still felt slimy and warm. It was still bleeding.
––They must have put an anticoagulant in the bullet.
The mouse bit his lip.
I wish I had some hemostatic agent. I’m not asking for anything fancy. Thrombin or aluminum sulfate, either would be fine with me. At the very least, I wish I had some clean water to wash the wound.
His legs buckled. He was feeling light-headed and dizzy.
––This is bad.
I’m probably going into shock. In which case, I’m in serious trouble. I won’t be able to move anymore.
I heard a voice in my head.
Maybe it’s fine if you can’t move in this damp darkness. You’ll drift off to sleep and die peacefully. You probably won’t suffer much. I bet it’ll just feel kind of cold. No, that’d be too easy. Your blood pressure is dropping, your breathing slowing, your body becoming numb… of course you’re going to suffer.
You’re sleepy. You’re cold. You’re in pain. You can’t move. You only have to suffer a little longer. Come on, just give up this futile struggle and sit still. Even if the people chasing you get here, no one’s coming to rescue you. No one will save you. So just give up on living already. Just curl up here and fall asleep. Just give up already.
He forced his feet forward, bracing himself against the wall. The mouse smiled wryly.
His body is defying the voice telling him to give up. What a pain.
––An hour. No, thirty minutes?
I can only keep moving in this condition for about thirty minutes. During that time frame, I need to stop the bleeding and secure a place to rest. That’s all I need to make it through this.
The air stirred. The darkness in front of him began to lift just a bit. Step by heavy step he walked on. He emerged from the dark, narrow tunnel into a vast space surrounded by white concrete walls. The mouse knew that it had been in use as part of the sewer system until ten-some-odd years ago at the end of the 20th century.
Compared to the surface sections of No. 6, abandoned underground installations were quite commonplace. Installations left untouched from the previous century were scattered about underground. It was a most appropriate environment for a mouse. He closed his eyes and recalled the map of No. 6 that he’d pulled down from the computer.
This sewer should be disposal route K0210. It ends up near the upper class residential area, Chronos. Of course, there might be dead ends before that.
If you want to survive, you have to keep moving forward. Right now, the mouse could not allow himself to waver or get picky.
The air is stirring. It’s not the stale, damp air from before, but fresh, humid air. Speaking of which, it was raining heavily on the surface. This place is surely connected to the outside world.
The mouse breathed in the smell of rain.
September 7th, 2013 was the day of my 12th birthday.
On that day, a tropical cyclone, in other words, a typhoon, which had developed in the southwest portion of the North Pacific, strengthened as it headed north and made landfall in the city where I lived, No. 6.
It was the greatest present I’d ever received. I’m so excited. It’s just past four o’clock in the evening, but it’s still dim. The trees in the yard sway in the wind, and the leaves are torn off. That rustling sound is so nice. It’s a complete change from the dead silence of this residential area.
My mother preferred trees to flowers, so she ended up planting flowering plums, Camellias and Japanese maples all about the yard. Instead of a garden we had a small grove of trees, so the noise today was so full. Each tree had its own groaning voice. The leaves and twigs hit the glass and clung to it before being blown off again. Even the wind itself hit head on.
I was terribly tempted to open the window. There was no chance that a natural gust would break the impact glass. In this environmentally controlled room, the temperature and humidity were constant, nothing ever changed. That’s why I wanted to open the window. I want to open the window and invite in this wind and rain which are so different from the normal atmosphere in here.
My mother called to me over the intercom.
“Don’t try to open the window or anything like that.”
“Alright, good but… Did you hear? The lowlands in the West block are under water. It’s terrible.”
My mother’s voice didn’t sound even remotely troubled.
No. 6 is divided into North, South, East and West blocks, the majority of the West and South blocks are farm and pasture land. They provide 60% of the produce and 50% of the livestock for the residents of No. 6. The North block is comprised of mountains and forests of broad-leaved trees. The region is completely protected by the Central Control Committee.
You can’t enter the area without permission from the Committee. Not that anyone would want to set foot in an almost completely unmaintained, wild forest anyway.
In the city center, over a sixth of the area is covered by an enormous woodland park. You can enjoy the nature of each season, and there are about a hundred different varieties of small animal and insect with which you might come into contact. The nature of the park is more than sufficient for most of the citizens here. But I’m not very fond of it myself. I always hated that the town hall towers over the center of the park. It’s a dome shaped building with five floors below ground and ten above. It’s pretty tall for a place like No. 6 that doesn’t really have any skyscrapers, but maybe it doesn’t really “tower” per-say. But, for whatever reason, it’s rather intimidating. There are people who call it the “Moon Drop” because of it’s round, white exterior, but it just reminds me of a blister. It’s a blister in the center of town from a beating or a burn. The city hospital and public affairs office are lined up around it. They’re connected by passages that look like glass pipes. And then, all of that is surrounded by a green forest. That forest continued into a quiet and relaxing woodland park for the citizens. The flora and fauna that live here are minutely controlled. They know everything, from when and where a flower blooms and bears fruit to where the animals live.
The citizens can even look up the best locations and times to observe and admire the area through the city’s service system. What meek and mild nature. But, at least today it’s quite lively. It is a typhoon after all.
I opened the window. The wind blew the rain in. It was the first time in a long while that I could hear the grumbling sound of the wind. It was almost like the sound of the ground shaking. I brought both my hands to my face and tried shouting. My voice was erased by the wind, not a soul could hear me. I made a wordless cry. Raindrops fell came flying into my throat. Even I knew I was acting childishly, but I couldn’t help myself. The pouring rain started falling even harder. I wonder how nice it would feel to take off all my clothes and leap out into the rain. I imagined myself, naked, running around in the storm. I would probably look totally delirious. But, it was an irresistible temptation. I opened my mouth again and drank in the rain. I tried to suppress this strange urge. I’m scared of what’s inside me. Harsh and violent emotions assail me from time to time.
I heard an electronic noise. It was a warning sound indicating that the internal environment had been compromised. If things were left alone, the window would shut and lock automatically. Humidity and temperature control would kick in and the area wet with rain, myself included, would be dried out. I wiped my dripping wet face on the curtains and walked over to the door to turn off the environmental controls.
I wonder… what would have happened if I had obeyed the warning noise back then? If I had closed the window and decided to stay in the more-or-less dry room, how differently my life would have turned out. I don’t regret it though. Not one bit. It’s just curious. It was curious that the thing that changed my, up until then, strictly-controlled world, was the act of the window during the typhoon on the seventh of September, 2013, purely on a whim.
I don’t believe in God, but once in a while the phrase “the hand of God” seemed appropriate.
I turned off the switch. The electronic noise stopped. The room fell silent right away.
I could hear a weak laugh at my back. I instinctively turned around and let out a little whine.
A soaking wet boy was standing there. Though, I didn’t realize it was a boy right away. He had hair down to his shoulders and his small face was buried in his hair. The arms and neck protruding from his short sleeved shirt were all quite thin. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, young or old. More than anything, my eyes and mind were fixated on the part of his left shoulder stained red, nothing else entered my mind.
It’s the color of blood. This is the first time I’ve ever seen someone bleeding so showily. I reached out toward him almost unconsciously. Before my hand reached him, the intruder disappeared. At the same time, there was a crash. A strong force pressed me against the wall. A cold and terrifying sensation hit my throat. Five icy fingers closed around it.
“Don’t move,” he said.
He was shorter than me. I looked into his eyes as he was reaching up to grasp my throat. His eyes were dark grey. I’ve never seen eyes that color before.
His fingers dug into my neck. I could have never imagined that he’d be so strong, my whole body was frozen. He knew what he was doing.
I said in a reckless tone.
“You know what you’re doing.”
His ash-colored eyes didn’t blink even once. Those unwavering eyes were calm as flat ocean, I sensed no threat, fear or intent to kill from him. They were really clam eyes. I was suppressing my own agitation.
“I’ll treat your wound.”
I said, licking my lips.
“You’re injured, I’ll treat the wound.”
I could see myself reflected in the intruder’s eyes. I could feel him inhale sharply. I lowered my eyes and slowly repeated the same words.
“I’ll treat the wound. You need to stop the bleeding. I’ll t-r-e-a-t the wound, okay?”
The force grasping my neck let up a bit.
My mother’s voice came over the intercom.
“The window is open, isn’t it.”
I tried to take a deep breath. It’ll be fine, I thought. It’s fine, I can act like nothing’s wrong.
“The window? …Yeah, it’s open.”
“You shouldn’t have opened it. You’ll catch a cold.”
My mother started to laugh all of a sudden.
“Even though you just turned 12 today, you really are still a child.”
“I said okay… Oh, mom.”
“What is it?”
“I’m working on a report, so please don’t bug me for a while.”
“A report? But you’ve only just decided to enroll in the special course.”
“What? …Whatever, there are a lot of subjects…”
“Okay… Don’t work too hard. Please come out for dinner.”
He took his icy cold fingers off my throat. I was freed. I stretched out my hand and let the environmental control system do it’s thing. But I left the foreign body detection system off. Without it, the intruder wouldn’t be recognized as a foreign body and the obnoxious alarm wouldn’t sound. Confirmed legal residents of No. 6 won’t set off the detection system when in the room. It doesn’t consider them foreign bodies. But, I didn’t think there was any way this drenched intruder could be a legal resident of the city.
I closed the window and warm air started to flood the room. The grey-eyed intruder sat down, clinging to the bed as if he might collapse. He took long, deep breaths. He looked incredibly worn out.
I pulled out the first aid kit, and tried taking his pulse. I cut off his shirt and cleaned the wound.
I couldn’t help but stare. I’d never seen anything like it before. Shallow groves were carved into the flesh of his shoulder.
“A gunshot wound?”
He responded in the positive right away.
“A bullet grazed me. What’s your people’s technical term for it?”
“I’m not a specialist. I’m still a student.”
“In the special course?”
“Starting next month.”
“Heh, nice. You must have a high IQ.”
His tone had a tinge of playful teasing to it. I looked up from the wound and met his eyes.
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Making fun of you? Now why would I make fun of the person tending my wound? Not a chance! So, what’s your major?”
I told him it was ecology. I’d only just decided to enroll in the special course. Ecology. I’m not at all prepared to be treating a bullet wound. It’s my first time. It’s a bit exciting. Um, so what should I do first? Disinfect it, stop the bleeding… right, I have to stop the bleeding first.
“What are you doing with that?”
He stared at me as I took the syringe out of it’s sterile case and suddenly gulped.
“It’s a local anesthetic. Alright, here it comes.”
“Hang on a second. What do I need anesthetic for?”
Of course this is me talking about it long after the fact, but at the time, I think I was smiling like I was so happy I couldn’t bear it.
“Stitches! You’re going to use such a primitive treatment?”
“This isn’t a state-of-the-art hospital. And moreover, a gunshot wound is pretty primitive in its own right.”
The city’s crime rate has always been nearly zero. Public order is maintained, so there really shouldn’t be any ordinary citizens who carry firearms. The only exception should be for hunting. The ban on hunting is only lifted twice a year. People take old firearms into the mountains. My mother doesn’t like those people. My mother wasn’t the only one either. Regular opinion polls show that 70% of the population is uncomfortable with the idea.
Killing animals who haven’t done anything wrong is terrible. It’s cruel. Awful…
But, bleeding before me was no fox or deer, but a person.
“I don’t believe it.”
“Don’t believe what?”
“That there’s anyone who would turn a gun on another person… Don’t tell me a hunter shot you by mistake.”
He closed his lips a bit. He was smiling.
“It wasn’t a hunter. Well, I guess they’re sort of like hunters. But it wasn’t an accident.”
“They knew you were a person and shot you anyway? Isn’t that illegal?”
“I dunno. Instead of hunting foxes they just hunt humans. A man hunt. It’s probably not really a crime.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are those who hunt people, and people who are hunted.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I know, right? That’s probably a good thing. Anyway, are you really going to give me an injection? You wouldn’t happen to have any topical anesthetic, would you?”
“I’ve always wanted to give someone an injection.”
After I disinfected it, I injected the anesthetic three times in areas around the wound. I was nervous, so my hands trembled a bit, but somehow it worked out fine.
“Then, I bring thread to the wound and…”
“Have you ever done this before?”
“Nope. I have no interest in medicine, so of course not. But, I do know how blood vessels work at least. I saw a video about it.”
“So you’re totally clueless.”
I took a deep breath, he was staring right at me. His lips were thin and drained of blood, his cheeks sunken and his skin was pale and dry. No matter how looked at it, this wasn’t the face of a living person. He really seemed to be some game which had been chased down, worn out and forced from its hiding place. But, his eyes alone were different. Even if they revealed nothing about what he was feeling, I could sense that he was alive. You might call it a spark of life. Up until then, I’d never met a person with such impressive eyes. Those eyes stared at me unblinkingly.
“You haven’t even asked me my name.”
“Oh, right. But you didn’t give me your name either, so we’re both to blame.”
“You’re Shion, right? Is that the name of a flower?“
“Yeah. My mom loves trees and wildflowers. What about you?”
“That’s my name.”
“Mouse… That’s not right.”
His eyes weren’t mousy at all. They were much more elegant than that. They’re kind of like the color of the sky just before dawn breaks…
I blushed. I was embarrassed at the clumsy poetry I was thinking up. I spoke loudly on purpose.
“Alright, here I go.”
Come on, remember the basic process for suturing blood vessels.
I should anchor it in two, no three spots, and then use that to support a running stitch… I have to do it accurately…. To do a running stitch I have to…
My fingers trembled. Mouse was wordlessly fixated on the tips of my fingers.
I was nervous, but I was a little excited too. I was putting something that had previously only been a piece of information in my head into practice. It was a pleasant kind of excitement.
I finished the sutures and wrapped it in sterile gauze. Sweat was dripping from my forehead.
Mouse was sweating a bit too.
“I just have talented fingers.”
“It’s not just you fingers, you’re bright too. You’re only 12 years old, right? You’re a super elite to be entering the High Institute’s special course at this age.”
This time, it didn’t sound like he was teasing me. Or praising me for that matter. I silently cleaned up the used gauze and utensils.
Ten years ago, during my 2nd-year city checkup, I was certified as top rank in intelligence. If you’re certified as top rank in intelligence or physical ability, you are guaranteed a top-notch education from the city. I took lessons in general education and fundamentals from expert teachers with several others in a state-of-the-art classroom until I turned 10. After which point, we were all expected to specialize in the field to which we were best suited. I was given my own personal teachers. My future had been arranged ever since I was certified as top rank at age two. Unless something crazy happened, that is. Nothing crazy should have happened.
“Your bed feels comfortable.”
Mouse whispered, still leaning on the bed.
“You can use it. But change first.”
I tossed a clean shirt, towel and box of antibiotics onto Mouse’s lap. Then I got the idea to make some cocoa. With an induction cook top even I could make a simple drink like that.
“Is it to your taste?”
Mouse picked up the plaid shirt and snorted.
“Well, it’s preferable to a bloodied, stained and torn shirt.”
I handed him a mug full of cocoa. That was the first time I saw any trace of emotion in his grey eyes. Joy. Mouse took one sip of the cocoa and murmured that it was good.
“It’s good. Much better than the suture operation.”
“Don’t compare the two. It was my first time. I think I did a pretty good job all things considered.”
“Are you always like this?”
“Do you let your guard down for anyone like this? Or are all the pure elites this unaware?”
Mouse continued, holding the cup of cocoa with both hands.
“You all live without fear or wariness of intruders.”
“I am wary. And I am fearful. I’m scared of dangerous situations. I’m not so naive to believe that someone crawling in through a second floor window would be an upstanding citizen.”
Yes, why indeed. Why did I tend an intruder’s wound and bring him cocoa? I don’t think of myself as a particularly cold hearted person. But, I don’t think I’m the sort of saint who would reach out to just anyone who was injured. I hate bothersome things and causing problems. And yet, I took in an intruder. If the city authorities find out, I’ll be in serious trouble. Maybe I’m just lacking in common sense. But if then…
I met his grey-eyed gaze. He looked like he was smiling slightly. Almost as if he knew just what I was thinking. He shot me a profound glare.
“If you had been a threatening man, you’d have tripped the alarm right away. But you look like a little girl and even now you look so pale you might collapse at any moment. That’s… That’s why I helped you. And–”
And, your eyes are a fascinating color that I’ve never seen before. That piqued my interest.
“And… I wanted to try doing sutures.”
Mouse shrugged and finished his cocoa. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand and lightly caressed the sheets on the bed.
“I can really sleep here?”
That was the first time he thanked me since he barged in.
I sat down on the couch in the living room. My mother was staring at the LCD panel on the wall. She pointed at the screen when she noticed me. A female announcer with long, straight hair was reading a warning to the residents of Chronos.
One of the prisoners in the correction facility in the West block had escaped and was on the loose near Chronos. As the Typhoon was approaching as well, the whole region was put under curfew. Tonight, all outings are prohibited save for special exceptions.
Mouse’s face appeared on the screen. The letters VC103221 were emblazoned in red under his face.
I ate one piece of the cherry cake that was sitting on the table. My mother would always bake cherry cake for my birthday. Since my dad brought home cherry cake the day I was born. According to my mother, my father was careless with both women and money, but he loved alcohol more than either, a borderline alcoholic. He sounds like he was a hopeless man. The three cherry cakes that man bought under the influence were delicious and I guess she still remembers it every September 7th. My parents divorced just two months after they ate that cherry cake, but I don’t remember my good for nothing, borderline alcoholic father at all. It never really caused me any trouble. Ever since I got stuck in the top rank, my mother and I were granted this perfectly secure lifestyle, living in this house in Chronos that’s cozy and plain, yet furnished with state of the art creature comforts. No troubles at all.
“Speaking of which, the alarm system in the garden is still off, but it’s probably fine.”
My mother stood up slowly. She’d suddenly started gaining weight lately and her body seemed sluggish.
“What a pain. If a cat came over the wall, the alarm would sound and the public affairs department would come to check it out right away, it’d be such a pain.”
My mother’s use of the phrase “such a pain” increased in proportion to the weight she put on.
“At any rate, he’s so young. I wonder what he could be doing in with a VC.”
VC. A V-chip. Short for Violence Chip. In the past, it was the name of a silicon chip used in American televisions to restrict access to certain kinds of programing. If you installed it in your TV, you could set it to avoid especially violent scenes and so on. If I recall correctly, the name came from the American FCC in 1996.
But, in No. 6 VC is something much more serious. People convicted of murder, attempted murder, robbery and assault have the chip implanted in their bodies, through which a computer can track the prisoner’s location, physical condition and even emotional state. VC has become a colloquial shorthand for someone who’s committed a heinous crime.
––I wonder what he did to get a chip.
If he still has the chip in him, the search system should be able to locate him easily. They should be more than capable of arresting him without alerting the citizens. Yet, they went as far as to make a public announcement that a VC escaped and instituted a curfew, so they probably can’t locate him.
––Could that gunshot wound have been… no, that’s impossible.
That was the first time I’d ever seen a gunshot wound to human flesh, but that was definitely caused by a shot from some distance. If he had tried to dig a chip out of his shoulder himself, it would be a more serious wound accompanied by a burn. It’d have been much worse than what I saw.
“Even though it’s your birthday, it’s been pretty dull, hasn’t it?”
My mother sighed as she sprinkled parsley into the stew sitting on the table. She had developed a habit of describing things as “dull” too lately.
My mother and I were quite alike. We were both neurotic and socially inept. The people around us were all fine, unremarkable people. Both my classmates and the people in this region were quiet, intellectual and well mannered. No one was ever verbally or physically violent. There were no strange or out-of-place people. Everyone had access to proper health care, so even slightly heavier people like my mother were rare. In this world where everyone enjoyed the same stable tranquility, where my mother was growing fat and complaining about things being “a pain” and “dull,” I became acutely aware of how bad I was at dealing with other people.
The spoon slipped from my hand.
“What’s wrong? You’re spacing out.”
My mother looked over at me. Her round face suddenly cracked a smile.
“What a rare sight. You, spacing out! Do you want me to get you a new spoon?”
“No, it’s fine.”
I forced a smile smile. My heart was beating so fast it hurt. I drained my glass of mineral water in one gulp.
Gunshot wound, blood, VC, grey eyes, what the hell was all that? Those things didn’t exist in my world until today. Why did they come so unexpectedly, so abruptly into my life?
I had a premonition. A premonition that something big would change. Just like a virus infiltrates a cell to change or destroy it, perhaps that intruder would end up changing or destroying my world.
“Shion? What’s really going on?”
This time, my mother gave me a serious look.
“Sorry, Mom. I’m worried about my report, so I’m gonna eat in my room.”
I lied to her and stood up.
“Don’t turn on the light.”
He said quietly when I entered the room. I hate the dark so I usually leave the lights on in my room. Now it was completely dark.
“But you can’t see anything.”
“That’s a good thing.”
I can’t move if I can’t see. I was frozen holding the plate with cake and stew on it.
“That smells good.”
“It’s stew and cherry cake.”
I heard him whistle in the dark.
“In the dark?”
I slowly started to walk. I heard him laugh a little.
“You can’t walk comfortably in your own room?”
“I’m sorry but I’m not exactly nocturnal. Can you see in the dark?”
“I am a mouse after all. Obviously I’m nocturnal.”
Mouse froze in his tracks.
“You had a closeup on the TV. You’re famous.”
“Heheh. The real thing is infinitely better. Oh, this cake is good.”
I sat down on the bed and as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could see Mouse.
“Did you run away?”
“What about your chip?”
“It’s still in me.”
“Are you going to remove it?”
“Another operation? Gimme a break.”
“I’ll be fine. It doesn’t work anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“The VC is just a toy. It’s easy to break it.”
“The VC is just a toy?”
“It’s a toy. For the record, this whole city is like a toy. It’s a cheap toy that just looks pretty on the outside.
Mouse seemed to have cleaned his plate of stew and cake. He gave out a sated sigh.
“So, are you sure you can escape from the middle of this high-security city?”
“People who aren’t registered citizens are labeled trespassers, and there are strict checks for them. The system stretches throughout the entire city.”
“I dunno about that. That system that you think is so perfect, isn’t functioning at all in this city. It’s full of holes.”
“How can you be so sure of that?”
“Because I’m not part of the system like you people are. Because you fit neatly into the system, you think this fake city, riddled with holes is a utopia. Well, maybe that’s just how I see it.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I don’t think this is a utopia.”
The words just slipped out. Mouse fell silent. There was only darkness before me. There was no hint of his presence. I see, he really is a mouse. A little, nocturnal animal lurking in the dark.
He said, in an even quieter voice than before.
“You’re weird. That’s not something a super elite should say. Wouldn’t you be in trouble if the city officials found out?”
“Yeah, serious trouble.”
“You’re harboring a fugitive VC and you’ve failed to alert the authorities… That’d also get you in trouble. Sorry for all the trouble.”
He grabbed my arm all of a sudden. His thin fingers pressed into me.
“Are you seriously okay with that? What happens to you is none of my business, but it’d bother me if something I did ended up ruining your life. I’d feel really guilty…”
“You’ve got a strong sense of duty.”
“My mama raised me not to cause other people trouble.”
“So, you’re going to leave?”
“I don’t want to. I’m tired and there’s a hurricane outside. Since I finally secured a bed, I think I’m going to sleep here.”
“Papa taught me there’s a time and a place for everything.”
“Sounds like you had a good father.”
He let go of my arm.
“I’m glad you turned out to be a weirdo.”
“How’d you get to Chronos.”
“You escaped from the correctional facility into the city? Is that even possible?”
“Of course it is. But I didn’t sneak into No. 6 by myself, I was brought in. Although, I didn’t really want to.”
“You were brought in?”
“Yeah. More commonly described as being escorted [under armed guard].”
“Escorted! Where to in the city?”
The West block where the correctional facility was had heightened security. Office which handles requests for permission to enter No. 6 is there. It’s easy for people with special licenses from the city officials, but for those without it takes at least a month after submitting the application, at the earliest. And then, less than ten percent of applicants are granted permission to enter the city. And on top of that, the length of their stay is strictly limited. Naturally, people are piling up in the West block. Naturally, there are people waiting for their permits to come, and there are lodgings, restaurants for those people, along with many people who work and do business there. I’ve never set foot in there, but it seems like a diverse and busy place. There is a lot of crime too. The VC of the correctional facility are largely residents of the West block. At the correctional facility, the incarceration period, from as little as one year to a life sentence, is determined based on age, criminal record and severity of the crime. There is no death penalty. In a sense, the West block is a crime breakwater. It’s been given the role of a fortress to prevent anything crime-related from entering the city. And a VC was escorted from the West block to the city. Where to and for what purpose…
Mouse crawled into bed.
“Probably close to the ‘Moon Drop’.”
“The town hall!”
I was surprised.
“Why were they taking you to the city center?”
“I won’t say. It’s probably better if you don’t know.”
“I’m tired. Would you let me sleep already?”
“Do you mean you can’t say?”
“Can you forget something after you’ve heard it? Can you make like you never heard it? Can you play dumb? You might be smart, but that’s a skill only adults usually have.”
“Then don’t ask. In exchange, I won’t say a word about that.”
“Huh? About what?”
“That you were shouting from the window.”
He saw me. My cheeks burned.
“You startled me. I’d just snuck into the garden and was trying to figure out what to do when you stuck your face out the window.”
“Hang on a second.”
“So, I went to see what you were doing and you startled me again when you started shouting. To see a human making that face and shouting…”
I leapt at Mouse. But I just landed on the pillow. Mouse flew at me with unbelievable speed and twisted my outstretched hands. My body abruptly made a half-turn. I ended up on my back with him straddling me, pinning both my arms with one hand. He tightened his legs around my waist. My toes started to feel numb right away. It was so vivid. I was being pressed into my own bed so hard that I couldn’t move or offer any resistance. Mouse twirled the stew spoon with his free hand. He put the handle to my neck and dragged it across my throat.
“If this were a knife…”
He leaned over me and whispered right in my ear.
“You’d be dead.”
The muscles in my throat twitched. But, wow.
“Wow. You know how to do that?”
“How do you disable someone so easily? Is it pressure points?”
The force pressing down on me let up. And at the same time, Mouse’s body hunched over. He was trembling with laughter.
“You’re funny. You’re really funny. You’re totally clueless.”
I wrapped my arms around Mouse’s back and stuck my palms under his shirt. He’s hot. His skin felt hot and sweaty.
“This isn’t good… You’ve got a fever. You should take the antibiotics.”
“Don’t worry about it… I just want to sleep.”
“You’ll just get weaker if that fever doesn’t go away. You’re burning up.”
“You’re pretty warm too.”
Mouse whispered softly as he took a deep breath.
“People are warm when they’re alive.”
He had fallen right asleep. And before I realized it, I fell asleep holding his feverish body.
The next morning, Mouse had disappeared. The plaid shirt, towel, and first aid kit disappeared with him.
Continued in Chapter 2: Quiet Beginnings
 ネズミ – This is the name of one of the main characters, but this “spelling” is also used interchangeably with references to the animal, so I’m translating the name. In this section, it’s ambiguous whether it’s using it as his name or using it metaphorically to compare him to the animal. In Japanese the distinction is insignificant and both uses can be carried simultaneously with 0 effort, but it doesn’t work that way in English. I was going to use Rat because it works better for most things, but Shion makes a pun (sorta) on his name ネズミ色 and mousy just fits so perfectly.
 紫苑 – The other main character’s name. Leaving it as “Shion” because it’s not used the same way Mouse’s name is. But for reference, Shion is Aster tataricus. It has antibacterial properties.
 – Noting it now since this is the first time in my TL that it becomes really obvious (tl;dr I’m a terrible writer), but Mouse speaks in a different dialect than Shion. The main thing is that he uses や instead of だ for the copula, but that’s not really enough to say what regional dialect he’s speaking (several of them do that). It’s probably not meant to be indicative of a particular region in Japan so much as the idea that he speaks differently/less properly than Shion who was raised in the high-class neighborhood, Chronos. Anyway, like I said, I’m a shitty writer so I’m sorry if this doesn’t come across much in the English text.