an English translation of the novel

Page 335-336

I took a deep breath. Surprisingly, I was calmer than I thought I would be. I couldn’t answer this question with a complete lie. If I fudged the details of Mamoru’s story and left out the tainted cats, maybe…

“What’s wrong? Answer the question!”

I hesitated.

“Do you know what is happening in Kamisu 66 right now?” Masayo shouted. “An order to remain indoors has been enacted and the people tremble with fear. All because of the selfish actions of one student!”

Why was there such an overreaction to a missing student? At the time, I simply couldn’t understand it. Instead, an irrepressible anger boiled out of me.

How dare they call Mamoru selfish. The Board of Education was the one who had driven him nearly insane and even tried to kill him.

My silence seemed to arouse suspicion and the people at the table began to stir.

“What’s the matter? Why do you remain silent? Say something,” Masayo drummed on the table impatiently with her fingers.

“I believe Mamoru ran away because he didn’t want to die.”

I finally said it. There was no going back now.

“What…don’t say something so absurd.”

“I’m just answering your question.”

Was I really this brave? Even I was surprised by my response.

“I heard this directly from him. Recently, he had been approached by two copy…tainted cats. The first time, it appeared to only tail him.”

“Stop! Do you have any idea what you’re saying?”

“The second time was after school two days ago. The Sun Pr…Mr. Endou kept Mamoru after school and sent him to the inner courtyard in a deliberate attempt to isolate him,” I continued, ignoring her. “There, Mamoru was almost killed by a tainted cat. He saw it clearly. He even said that it had white fur. So he…”


Page 337-338

“Enough! Quiet! You have made a farce of the Board of Education and this hearing! Your actions constitute a grave violation of the Code of Ethics!” Masayo shouted hysterically to the entire room.

“I am very disappointed as well. Your parents are both splendid people. I’m sure they will regret that it has come to this,” Hiromi sighed.

Although her voice was still soft, I began to feel afraid of her for the first time.

“Are they in a different room? …yes, I understand,” she spoke quietly with one of the committee members, then turned toward me again. “Please leave the room. But you will not be allowed to return home with your parents. You will stay in this building…I truly regret that this is the conclusion we have come to.”

That was as good as a death sentence.

“Will I be disposed of?”

Hiromi looked disgustedly at me. “What a repulsive girl you are. To say such things so calmly,” she whispered.

As she stood up, there was a light knock at the door.

“Who is it? The committee is in meeting. Await your time!” Masayo said sharply.

The knocker ignored this and opened the door.

Everyone else froze. I relaxed.

“Perhaps I came at a bad time. But I’m afraid I must speak here.”

Wearing a fur shawl over her kimono, Tomiko Asahina smiled charmingly around at the room. “I know you have all worked hard on this, but may I handle Saki’s case?”

“Unfortunately, the Board of Education has exclusive jurisdiction over matters pertaining to juveniles. Outside interference would not be wise, even if it is the request of one such as you…” Masayo’s voice was so low it was almost silent.


Page 339-340

“You’re right. My apologies. I never intended to do this, but I’m partly to blame for this.”

“Please, Tomiko, let’s talk about this elsewhere,” Masayo glanced at me as she spoke.

Tomiko ignored her and turned to Hiromi.

“…what do you mean you are partly to blame?” Hiromi asked.

“I’ve told Saki a number of things. Including the tainted cats.”

“That is quite…unprecedented.”

I could see Hiromi turn pale even though her face was hidden in shadow.

“Yes, it is. But it is required to rear the the person who may be the future leader of our town.”

“She will?” Masayo exclaimed.

“So, Hiromi. Please be lenient with Saki.”

“It’s not that simple, Tomiko. It’s not only the boy who is missing, now the girl has disappeared too!” her voice shook.

“I know. It’s a serious matter. But isn’t it largely the Board of Education’s fault?”

“Our…fault?”

The members of the committee stirred.

“Yes. I believe the decision to dispose of Mamoru Itou was rash and unwise to begin with. That plus your inability to successfully bring about the disposal is what caused this whole situation.”

“That’s…” Hiromi went quiet, her face strained.

“No one here is free from fault. Including me. Perhaps I must take the blame on an even deeper level. After all, I was the one who ordered the experiment to be performed on team one. But now is not the time to dwell on the past. We need to discuss how to proceed from here. Am I wrong?”


Page 341-342

The members of the Board of Education, people with even more power than the mayor and head librarian combined, hung their heads like guilty schoolchildren.

“You are absolutely right,” Hiromi mumbled.

“I’m glad we’re on the same page. So, let me look after Saki. It’ll be alright. I will consider everything you have to say.”

There was no room for disagreement.

“May I use the hearth in the inner parlor? I would like to talk to Saki.”

“Umm, right now, that room is…”

“Well, well. Were you planning on taking her in there?” Tomiko smiled sweetly. “It’s okay. Just leave it as it is.”

 

It was a large room about the size of thirty tatamis. There was a big hearth in the middle, full of crackling red flames. A steaming pot of water hung from a long hook in the ceiling.

“No need to be so uptight.”

Tomiko ladled out some water and warmed a pair of yellow teacups. She swished the water around three times with a tea whisk and poured it into the waste container. She wiped out the cups with a towel, opened a grey container and scooped powdered green tea into the cups. Once again, she used the whisk to quickly mix the water with the tea.

I took the cup from her and sipped slowly.

“No need to follow such formalities. Drink.”

I nodded, but it only made me more nervous.

As much as I tried to, I couldn’t ignore the three tainted cats sleeping on the other side of the hearth. One had a tortoiseshell pattern, the other two were striped yellow-white, and black-gray. Their eyes were closed contentedly, and every now and then their ears and tails twitched.


Page 343-344

The scene was deceptively peaceful; from the other side of the large hearth, it was difficult to tell how big the cats truly were.

“Well, I guess you can’t help noticing the cats. But don’t worry. They never attack unless ordered to.”

“…why are there three of them?” I asked the first question that came to mind.

“They are trained to work in teams of three. It’s an offensive strategy called the trinity, based on the elements of heaven, earth, and man.”

“All three attack at the same time?”

“Yes. In cases like these, the target is usually unresponsive to hypnotic techniques. But no matter how powerful you are, it’s almost impossible to defend three simultaneous attacks,” she said, smiling.

“But the Board of Education had already decided beforehand that we were to be disposed of. Wouldn’t one cat be enough?”

Even I was surprised that I could discuss this so calmly.

“You most likely don’t remember, but you’ve repelled the cats before. Once, maybe twice.”

“I don’t remember at all…”

I fidgeted. Every time I was made aware of a missing memory, I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Can I ask something else?” I broke the silence after a pause.

“Go ahead.”

“Tomiko…Tomiko-sama.”

She chuckled, “Tomiko is fine.”

“Earlier, you said that you ordered experiments to be performed on team one, right? What did you mean by that?”

“I see you were paying attention.”

She turned the teacup slowly in her hand. The white glaze on the clay gave it a beautiful pink glow.

“You all must have realized to some degree that team one is special.”

“Well…I guess.”