an English translation of the novel

Page 511-512

I walked back and forth gathering vegetable and plant scraps and tossing them in a bowl. It wasn’t enough food for the voracious naked mole rats, but food was scarce even for humans nowadays, so there was nothing I could do.

I walked through the Department of Health, which still bore the damage from before, and entered the wrecked nursery. The roof of the building was entirely gone, exposing everything to the elements, but at least most of the walls were intact. Part of the network of glass tubes that had been their nest were broken, making them too dangerous to use, so the 35 naked mole rats were now living underground like they would in the wild. The walls extended deep underground so there was no risk of them escaping.

I dumped the scraps into the feeding area. The worker rats, sensing the vibration, began to emerge The last to come was the queen, Salami, and her male mates. The worker rats scattered in the presence of her giant, sausage-shaped body as she staked her claim to the food.

When I found out that these mole rats had survived despite the destruction, I felt a strange sense of disappointment. Of course, the mole rats were innocent. We couldn’t kill them, and letting them go might harm the environment. So we decided to keep taking care of them.

Still, they were depressing creatures. They were ugly, incestuous, and coprophagic. It was hard to develop any sort of sympathy for them. Even before all this, I had wondered why we had taken such an ugly creature and modified it with cantus into something with an intelligence equal to humans.

After feeding them, I went back to the Department of Health. Although the building was badly damaged, it hadn’t been burned, so most of the books were still intact. I’d have to pick out the more important ones to be moved into a new building in the next few days.

Under the new council, the Exospecies Division no longer operated under the Department of Health but reported directly to the Ethics Committee. I was slated to be a member of the Ethics Committee as well as the first head of the Exospecies Division. My first job was to convince the Ethics Committee to revoke its decision to exterminate all the queerats in Kanto. No matter how you looked at it, it was pointless to punish all the loyal colonies along with the treasonous ones. And at the very least, I needed to keep the promise I made to Kiroumaru that I would save his queen.


Page 513-514

It wasn’t easy sorting through 50 boxes of documents, but I had resolved to tackle it on my own. As I dug through the Exospecies Division’s library, I flipped through many papers I had never had the chance to read before, and with them came a wave of questions.

Some of these documents would probably be forbidden to those who didn’t work in the division. Something in the back of my mind seemed to be aware of that.

Today too, I became absorbed in the books I brought out to check. I still had a mountain of documents left to sort through, but I just couldn’t resist looking through each one.

But there were other things I had to get done today, so I didn’t have the time to sit around reading.

“Saki.” Satoru wandered into the room through the broken door.

“Hey, I found more weird documents. Want to hear about them?”

Satoru looked like he had something to say, but simply answered, “Sure.”

“It looks like it was translated from English, and has to do with the scientific name for queerats. Their ancestors, the naked mole rats, were called Heterocephalus glaber. Heterocephalus is Greek for ‘strange head’, and glaber means ‘bald’…”

“Okay, and?” Satoru raised an eyebrow.

“Humans are called Homo sapiens, right? Don’t homo and hetero have opposite meanings?”

“Isn’t that just a coincidence? Both names were given by the ancient civilization.”

“Yeah, but this document proposes a different name that sounds like a combination of the two, Homocephalus glaber. Isn’t that strange?”

I thought he would scoff at me, but Satoru had surprisingly serious look on his face.

“…did they use that name in the end?”


Page 515-516

“I don’t know. I’d have to look at library documents. And here’s the document that proposes the scientific name for queerats. The date is too faded to read, but the paper looks at least a couple hundred years old.”

“It must be from around the same time the queerats appeared.”

Satoru looked around at the rubble all over the room, found an undamaged chair, and sat down.

“It cites an ancient kanji dictionary concerning the etymology of the character for ‘queer’. ‘By combining the symbol for ‘man’ with an inverted ‘man’, it expresses a person changing form or simply, ‘change’… I checked one of our kanji dictionaries, but the entry is gone. It was classified under ‘sinister’.”

He stood up again and paced back and forth across the room.

“Satoru…what’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I didn’t want to tell you, but-”

“What?”

“I looked into their genes. The queerats’.”

I stood up too.

“What about it?”

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What Yakomaru…Squealer said at the trial.”

“…me either.”

In response to Kimoto’s question, “If you aren’t beasts, then what are you,” Squealer had answered, “We are humans!”  Those words were stuck in my head. Didn’t he hate the entire human race? Why did he call himself “human”?

“I secretly froze part of the corpse of a queerat near the farm. You might not know, but the Code of Ethics forbids the study and analysis of queerat DNA. Though I didn’t know why until now.”

“And what about it?” I asked with bated breath.

“I didn’t even have to sequence the DNA to find out. Queerats have 23 pairs of chromosomes, including sex chromosomes,” Satoru said, shaking his head slightly.


Page 517-518

“And? I don’t understand what this means, explain it to me.”

“Naked mole rats, their supposed ancestors, have 30 pairs of chromosomes. It means they’re fundamentally different organisms.”

“In other words…queerats are originally unrelated to the naked mole rats we’re raising?”

“Not quite. I think the only possible explanation is that the queerats’ physical characteristics come from mole rat genes inserted into their genome. But the base organism is something else.”

“No way…”

“Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes too. The only other species with the same number, that I know of, is the olive tree. But would you believe that queerats were created from trees?”

When did I start suspecting that queerats might be human?

I suddenly remembered a question Shun had asked the false minoshiro we captured during summer camp.

 

“The commoners of the slave empires and the hunter-gatherers didn’t have cantus…PK, right? Where did they go?”

“There are few reliable sources from the past few centuries. Unfortunately, I cannot answer your question,” the false minoshiro said evasively. 

 

A chill went up my spine. Did our ancestors with cantus turn those who did not have the power into queerats?

“But why? Why would they do that?”

“Their objective is easy to see,” Satoru said gloomily. “People who acquired cantus have made history bloodier than ever. When peace finally came, they reprogrammed their genes to include death feedback and attack inhibition to disable the ability to attack humans. But once they did that, those without cantus became a problem.”


Page 519-520

“How come?”

“Up until then, those who had cantus were of the highest class. The so-called power elites ruled over non-cantus users and did all they could to stay in power. But with attack inhibition and death feedback, their positions would be reversed. Cantus users could not attack those who didn’t use cantus, but the opposite did not apply. Their relationship was like that of the fiend…Maria’s child and the queerats.”

“Couldn’t they have just given attack inhibition and death feedback to non-cantus people?”

“There are two reasons they didn’t. First, cantus-users did not want to give up their absolute power over all those who could not use the power. Second, leaving aside attack inhibition, it isn’t possible to build the mechanisms into non-cantus people. Remember how death feedback works? First you have to realize that you’re attacking another human. Once that happens, their PK subconsciously activates and causes a massive secretion of hormones that eventually stops the heart.”

In other words, death feedback was forced suicide by cantus. So those without cantus could not have death feedback.

“So you mean they changed the people who were in the way…they changed those without cantus into beasts?”

I shuddered as I realized that the society I had lived in was so steeped in sin.

“Yeah. Just having a caste system wasn’t enough. They inserted enough naked mole rat genes into non-cantus peoples’ DNA until they could no longer trigger attack inhibition or death feedback. …they were turned into slaves and forced to pay tribute to those with power, all to maintain the position of the privileged class.”

Then “humans” with cantus turned their fellow humans into beasts and continued to kill them without mercy.

“But why did they turn them into such ugly creatures, of all things?”

“Probably for that very reason. Their ugliness.”

Satoru’s answer brought no comfort.

“Their ugliness helped us to think of them as an apparently different species and suppressed any feelings of empathy we might have, so that we could kill them. …of course, another reason might be that the mole rats’ eusociality, which is uncommon among mammals, makes them easier to control.”