an English translation of the novel

Page 8-10

I washed the daikon, burdock, carrot and other root vegetables and cut them into bite-sized pieces. I scooped everything into a bowl and brought it to the naked mole rat nest box in the breeding center. They usually live in burrows underground, but at the present were doing quite well in a complicated network of glass tunnels.

I opened hatch to the feeding area and emptied the contents of the bowl inside. Hearing the sound of tumbling food, the mole rats hurried through the tunnels to feed. As subterranean creatures, they have poor eyesight and are sensitive to sounds and vibrations.

They were all completely hairless and resembled wrinkly sausages or ham with stubby legs. In order to easily identify the worker rats, the sides of their bodies were labeled in permanent ink with numbers from P1 through P31 in order of birth. The ‘P’ meant that they were property of the public office, but we also said it was because they were little porkers1.

As the workers started eating, a naked mole rat twice their size appeared. It bumped into P8 coming in the other direction in one of the tunnels, but continued forward as if nothing were there. P8 scrabbled desperately for a foothold, but was flattened as the big mole rat walked right over it.

The big mole rat was Sarami, the queen of the nest. She was a darker red than the workers and had white and brown spots on her body, making her look like a salami sausage, hence her name.

Three mole rats labeled ♂1 through ♂3 followed behind her. Since there were few fertile males in a colony, these three were not required to gather food or protect the nest. Their only duty was to mate with Sarami to produce more mole rats, even though they are originally Sarami’s sons.

When Sarami approached the feeding areas, all the workers moved aside to let her through. Queen Sarami and her beloved sons had the first pick of the meal.

It’s rare to find an animal whose appearance and behavior makes you feel so depressed. And even though I’d developed some compassion for the naked mole rats as I looked after them, I couldn’t help disliking them every time I noticed how similar they were to their cousins, the queerats.

And therein lies the question. What in the world were people of the past thinking when they decided to selectively breed these ugly creatures to the point of having near-human intelligence?

Granted, other than naked mole rats, there were no mammals that exhibited eusocial behaviors like that of a worker bee obeying its queen. But if all they wanted was an animal to subjugate and use as servants, I could think of a number of more appealing animals. For example, if they wanted subterranean animals, meerkats were much friendlier and easier on the eyes.

Anyway, raising naked mole rats was my job, whether I liked it or not. But it was not my main duty. My real responsibility was the investigation and regulation of queerats in the Exospecies Control Division of the Department of Health in Hayring.

1 The kanji is 公, meaning “public” (or “government” in this case), but it’s also a pun because the character is made up of the katakana ハ and ム, which reads “ham”.

Page 11-12

July, year 237. I was 26. Six years ago, I graduated from Sage Academy and found a job at the Department of Health. Those who had graduated with top grades in cantus were entered into a lottery where various studios could bid to have them as an employee. On the other hand, people like me, who were average at cantus but had excellent academic grades, usually found administrative positions at various departments in the district.

To be honest, I had fantasized on more than one occasion that when I graduated, the Ethics Committee would call upon me to assume the position of future leader of the villages. But for some reason, Tomiko had maintained an air of complete indifference, and I had to admit that assuming I would be invited to work in the very heart of the town’s governing body was a huge overestimation of my abilities.

Given all the things that had happened in my life until now, I didn’t exactly trust the Board of Education (rather, to say I hated them would be more accurate), so I couldn’t look for work there. The library would have been okay, but I wanted to escape my mother’s protective grasp as soon as possible. And since my father was still the mayor (he held office for an unusually long time), I avoided any positions directly related to the town hall. In the end, there was nowhere else for me to go but the Department of Health.

Just to make it clear though, I didn’t choose this job based purely on the process of elimination.

I don’t know how to explain it, but I had a bad feeling about the queerats. Sometime in the future, the queerats were going to cause a catastrophe. This idea had become an obsession of mine. The fact that most people viewed queerats as nothing more than disgusting animals with monkey-like intelligence was another reason for this sense of danger.

When I said that I wanted to work in the Exospecies Division, all I got were dumb stares and quiet sniggers in response. It appeared they all thought I just wanted the easy job.

“Saki, you’ve got a visitor.” Mr. Watabiki’s voice came slowly over the speaking tube.

“I’ll be there in a second.”

I finished scooping out the rest of the feed, washed my hands, and left the room. No one ever came to our division. I had no idea who the visitor could be.


Page 13-15

Mr. Watabiki greeted me with a smile when I opened the door to the Exospecies Division office. He had graduated from Sage Academy forty years ago and worked at the Department of Health ever since. His last job before retirement was to train me to take his place as the manager of the division. He was a soft-spoken man and a good boss, but I wondered what he was like outside of this easy job.

“So you and Asahina were in the same year?”

Satoru stood before Mr. Watabiki.

“…yes, that’s right,” I said, a little confused.

“I see. Well, it’s a little early, but why don’t you take your lunch break? There’s not much work today anyway.”

“No, I-” I started to protest.

“Um…Mr. Watabiki. I’m here on business today,” Satoru said hurriedly.

What business was he talking about?

“I see, I see. Well, I’ll head out for lunch then. You guys can talk here.”

He gave us a knowing look and left. Before I even had time to reply, we were alone in the room.

“Your boss has quite the imagination,” Satoru said, trying to break the awkward silence.

We hadn’t talked to each other in over a month after having an argument about something I could no longer remember.

“Well? How can I help you?” I said coolly.

I wasn’t trying to continue giving him the cold shoulder, I was just focused on what he was here for.

“Uh, yeah. I have a couple questions about the queerats.” His voice was a pleasant baritone.

As a kid, he had always given me the impression of a playful little puppy, but once adolescence hit, he had transformed into a tall, slender young man. Even though I was taller than most girls, I still had to look up to talk to him.

“Are there any colonies at war right now?”

His question caught me so off guard I forgot I was trying to be formal with him.

“War? …no, there shouldn’t be.”

“Are you sure? Not even skirmishes between small colonies?”

I pulled open a desk drawer and took out a couple of ledgers. I gestured for Satoru to sit down at the reception table.

“Look. They have to fill out this application before going to war. They risk annihilation of their colony as punishment if they don’t, so it’s unthinkable that they would fail to do so.”

He looked curiously at the papers I handed him.

“‘Exospecies A. Form ①: Application for Intercolonial War’…? Do they have to fill this out even if they want to launch a surprise attack?”

“It’s not like we’d leak information to the other side.”

“‘Exospecies A. Form ②: Intercolonial Reorganization Notice’ and ‘Exospecies B. Form ①: Application for Whelp Transfer’. I see, I guess that’s why they need a literate member in each colony,” he said.


Page 16-17

“Yes. Every form needs to be signed by way of noseprint by the one who reports directly to the Queen as well as another queerat in a high administrative position. …don’t you think it’s ridiculous?”

“What?”

“This job, you must think it’s stupid. All this pencil-pushing is just for show. What you do is different and actually helps the villages.”

“You’re putting it too harshly.”

Satoru was right.

He had been in the top three in our class in both cantus and academics, and had gotten offers from multiple studios. He could have entrusted his future to the lottery, but instead he chose to work at the Lotus Farms. There was a system in place for public institutions that let him nominate where he wanted to work. Like me, his choice came as very unexpected. But after seeing him do research at the genetic modification lab with Yuu Tatebe, who is second to none in the field, I couldn’t help but think that he had made the right choice.

Since Satoru’s main skill was manipulating light, he was working on creating a new microscope whose magnification would be supplemented with cantus.

“It’s just…the wording is peculiar. Your division deals mainly with queerats, right? So why do they use the word “exospecies” and not “queerat”?”

“Because ‘Department of Queerat Control’ is kind of strange too.”

As I said that, an old question I’d always had popped in my mind. It seems like we purposely avoided using “queerat” and only used “exospecies” at work. They’d even correct you if you said it in casual conversation.

“…anyway, what were you saying about the queerats fighting?” I turned back to the original topic.

“Oh yeah. You probably know already, but our research often relies on queerats gathering samples for us. Sometimes they have to dive to the bottom of the swamps in the forest to find samples.”

“You’re using the Spider Wasp and Ground Beetle colonies, right?”

“Yeah. The Spider Wasps were sent to gather slime mold on the far side of Oakgrove. They were ambushed there yesterday morning.”


Page 18-19

“Attacked?”

“They aren’t sure which colony the attackers are from, just that they suddenly fired upon them. The Spider Wasps were unprepared for fighting and had to retreat. Still, a number of them died.”

“…maybe some hunters made a mistake?”

“No, the Spider Wasps were in an open area. The attackers hid themselves and ambushed them. It was clearly on purpose.”

I thought about it. The queerats were a warmongering species, but I couldn’t think of a colony that would make such a show of force in a time when there wasn’t much tension between the groups.

“I wonder if they knew they were attacking the Spider Wasp colony.”

“I don’t know. Why?” Satoru looked a little indignant.

“For one, the Spider Wasps aren’t a weak colony. They have considerable fighting power and they’re allied with the Giant Hornets. It would be like sending a declaration of war to the Giant Hornets.”

“Going against our rules, provoking the strongest colony…it must be a foreign species.”

We were both remembering the Ground Spiders. Only a foreign species unfamiliar with the rules here would take such reckless action.

“But there haven’t been any foreign colonies around in a while. Whenever foreign scouts are spotted, the colonies report it to us immediately.”

Satoru stood up and went over to the window. He crossed his arms and looked out.

“I thought someone here would know something. But the mystery’s only deepened.”

“So did the Spider Wasps come to you to tell you about the attack?”

I suddenly had a strange feeling about this.

“No, one of our men ran into the Spider Wasps in the forest. They asked for help so he searched the forest with them, but the attackers were long gone.”

“Hmm.”