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Zaregoto - Volume 6 - Chapter 1

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I grow tired of hearing your lies.

1

To be honest, I had prior knowledge about Kigamine, an assistant professor at the Human Biology Department of Kouto National University. Contrary to expectations, it may not have been enough information to be called prior knowledge, but if I remember correctly, I heard that name from the mouth of Aoi Mikoko, a classmate of mine from the same department of Meikan Private University, around May this year at the Shinkyogoku[1].

’’Umm. Kiga? Kigamine[2]?’’

’’Wrong! You're pronouncing it like some starving person! That's scary!’’ Mikoko-chan straightmanned me with an exaggerated motion. ’’No way! Ikkun, you don't know about that famous professor? Like a giant homerun to the backscreen, except during the season-opening ceremony!’’

’’Famous,’’ I said after a moment of pause with a straw clenched between my lips. ’’Why would I know about a professor at a different school?’’

’’She comes to our school, too! I'm even attending one of her classes! Third period on Fridays! Right after lunch break!’’ Mikoko-chan energetically rattled on. ’’It's a super popular lecture, so it's like baaaam, and then boooooom, the huge lecture hall's packed together like potatoes being washed! Some people even skip lunch to get seats!’’

’’Huh. Third period on Fridays, that would be language study for me..... Italian. Hmm. So, what is the name of the class?’’

’’Hmm?’’

’’Name of the class.’’

’’Uhhh.’’

’’What is the class about?’’

’’Hmm?’’

’’Class, about.’’

’’Uhhh.’’

’’You are just skipping that class!’’

’’I'm so not! I'm just always sleeping!’’

’’...............’’

We were in the McDonalds located near the center of Shinkyougoku Road. We had come here because I had been dragged along by Mikoko-chan to help her with shopping, and I had come to realize that one must not incidentally tag along with a girl's shopping, and just past noon I had become completely worn out, and so we were in the midst of a small break. There were quite a few paper bags next to the table. And in the paper bags were what I could only presume were abnormally-priced clothing. Mikoko-chan was apparently surprisingly rich. I thought or did not think that it may not be bad to tag along with her, after all.

’’But you know, Assistant Professor Kigamine is really, really famous!’’ Mikoko-chan reverted the topic as to avoid having to talk about something inconvenient to herself. ’’And she's really pretty. Mikoko-tan admires her!’’

’’Pretty? Oh, a she?’’

I could not tell by the name Kigamine Yaku, and given the way Mikoko-chan described the person, I had figured them to be a man, but one also does not usually refer to a man as pretty.

’’Yup! She teaches while wearing a lab coat. Lab coat, a lab coat! I usually don't like science teachers because they're hard in the head, but once you get past a certain point, they're kinda cool. Ah, now that we mention it, maybe we can stop by and buy a lab coat since we're out here already. Ikkun, where do you think they sell lab coats?’’

’’I feel like I have seen some at stores that specialize in uniforms... also I would think art universities would sell them in bulk in their stores.’’

’’Art stores? Why?’’

’’Artists usually wear lab coats when they are working with oil. That or aprons. Because it gets dirty. Even science types normally wear it because they do not want to get dirty, right? These are not wedding gowns, after all.’’

I said as I imagined Mikoko-chan in a lab coat.

..........

Not bad at all.

’’Although in that case, you must keep the glasses.’’

’’Huh?’’ Mikoko-chan tilted her head to the side. Given her expression, it seemed her intent to buy a lab coat was in jest, unfortunately. ’’Ikkun, so weird. Oh well. You're Ikkun because you're weird. So, as I was saying... are you listening? Hello? Ikkun, what're you thinking about?’’

’’Hmm? No, I am listening. I was not at all thinking about Tomoe-chan in a lab coat or Muimi-chan in a lab coat or anything. I was not at all thinking that Tomoe-chan would look the best in it while Muimi-chan looks absolutely terrible in it.’’

’’Gosh! Ikkun, you're going on about silly stuff again! How vulgar! Like it's not scary if we cross it together, as long as we pick a log bridge!’’

’’..........’’

Ahh... it is wonderful to be with a girl who plays the straight-man properly. Kunagisa and Aikawa-san and most people seem to play the fool, and it exhausts me.

’’So, what were we talking about?’’

’’You were really not listening... shock~,’’ Mikoko-chan doubled over in despair. Five seconds later, she revived. ’’About yesterday! Mikoko-tan ran into Doctor Kigamine in the university lecture hall!’’

Mikoko-san said emphatically, as if announcing a tremendous incident.

The girl boasted a firm set of vocal chords.

’’A near-miss!’’

’’You missed?’’

’’It wasn't a miss though!’’

’’Hmm..... wait, yesterday was Friday..... right? Does this Assistant Professor Kigamine have classes other than on Monday?’’

’’Dunno. Even if she didn't, she probably was just there for some other reason,’’ Mikoko-san continued, not considering this a big deal. ’’And then! Because I wasn't paying attention, wham!’’

Wham! Mikoko-chan held out both of her palms.

’’..... I ran into her.’’

’’Ran into her.’’

’’Yes. Doctor Kigamine's files and papers and books spilled all over the hallway. Wabam, flutter flutter-.’’

Mikoko-chan hung her head in shame. Really, she had such exaggerated responses. Although, if one were to say that it is not at all boring watching her, they would be right.

’’Huh-..... so?’’

’’And so I apologized and apologized, but Doctor Kigamine smiled serenely and said, it is nothing to worry that much over.’’

’’Handled like an adult.’’

’’I had already predicted to some certainty that we would collide in this hallway. Our crash here was but guidance from the tip of the greater destiny.’’

’’Handled so strangely.’’

Or rather, run away.

Run away run away run away!

’’So I asked. What do you mean?’’

’’It does not seem to me like the time to be asking such questions.’’

What are you, a hero?

’’However, by that point, Doctor wasn't looking at me anymore. She was picking up her files, and then she mumbled something like, in other words, in this world this girl and I only have the relationship to collide in this hallway..... that is destiny. That is karma. However, a means for avoiding the chosen inevitability, too..... must certainly, inevitably exist..... no matter how great an existence destiny may be, that is still but a mere landmark..... yet more destiny exists outside the scope of destiny..... resolutely, and without any sort of opposition effect</span>. And then as Aoi Mikoko looked on with a flabbergasted look, Doctor Kigamine turned her back to me and left. Chalacha-n, cha, chacha, cha-n. Chalalala-n.’’

’’.....’’

The peaceful BGM she sounded did not suit the scene.

’’So, Ikkun, what'd you think?’’

’’That person is definitely whack.’’

One cannot underestimate university faculty.

Well, what can I say, because after all, educational faculty at universities, are people who had always devoted themselves to studying..... (distant look).

’’Mmm.’’

For some reason, Mikoko-san had a displeased expression. She puckered her lips, puffed her cheeks, and showed an extremely obvious displeased look. It seemed she did not appreciate my thought of that person is definitely whack. It seemed Mikoko-chan had been hoping for something more positive and in agreement.

’’..... was I supposed to say something like sounds like a cool person?’’

’’Uhh-..... gosh! Like firing a hundred rocket-style fireworks in quick succession, except under a clear, blue sky!’’ Mikoko-chan slapped down on the not-particularly-sturdy-looking table in McDonalds. ’’Sure, you might think she's just a weird person based on what I said! But she was really cool! The way she moves, or more like the way she acts! In a way that I can't get across in words!’’

’’Even if you say that.....’’

’’You know, as a girl, she just makes you think she's really, really cool! That's what I wanted to say! I just wish you could get what I meant to say!’’

’’You do not need to be so insistent.....’’

I tried to play it cool by sipping at my drink.

’’Really, really, certainly, you could tell she's cool! Like, as a girl, the ideal form! Made me want to become someone like her down the line!’’

’’Cool-..... well, I know a few cool women as well. But, without exceptions they are all tall. At the very least, 175 centimeters. Mikoko-chan, it is impossible for you.’’

’’H- how cruel!’’ Mikoko-chan stood from her chair and made a boxing pose. ’’It- it's something I fret over! My height, I think about it a lot, absentmindedly! Ikkun's short, too! Not much different from me, too! Abominable, Ikkun! Brute! Repulsive! LikeMillion-dollar smile, except it's McDonalds and we're entering summer, except you're a vampire and your face is safe, except you're boxing!’’

’’Mikoko-chan, you are the best.’’

Triple combo.

’’Ikkun's stupid!’’

Mikoko-chan spun around, turning her back to me at one point, and then chopped at me with enough force to crush my windpipe (although she stopped right in front).

Haa.....

But you know.....

’’The real deal is different, after all.....’’

’’Did you say something?’’

And so.

What pulled me out of my pointless flashback scene and back into reality was a cool, clear voice. I stopped staring meaninglessly at the ceiling and returned my gaze to the source of that voice in front of me.

The location was no longer the Shinkyougoku McDonald's, but instead a certain large domestic hotel located x notches in a different direction, in its first-floor cafe. We sat facing each other at a table for four. One was myself of course, and the other -- was, well, Assistant Professor Kigamine Yaku.

She was of course not in a lab coat, but rather a navy-colored suit properly adhering to social norms. Her fairly long hair was loosely tied together near her nape, and she wore frame-less glasses. Slightly thick eyebrows, and a beauty spot below her right eye. Her front hair was parted toward her right, and I see, even with both of us seated I could discern her height thanks to how she kept her back straightened. She may not be as tall as Suzunashi-san, but she could probably line shoulders with Aikawa-san. Mikoko-chan's description of her as cool fit perfectly.

However.

Even so.

It was a shame.

Even acknowledging her as beautiful and cool, if I could add but one more word--

’’-- you look like you're appraising people.’’

’’Eh? Uh, uh huh,’’ I hurriedly responded to Assistant Professor Kigamine Yaku. ’’Ah, if that bothers you, I must apologize. It is like a habit of mine.’’

’’A habit.’’

’’Unfortunately, I have terrible memory. I would not consider myself as having an observant eye, but as a result, or perhaps out of necessity, when I meet someone for the first time, I must hammer some characteristics into my head or I forget them entirely.’’

’’I do not mind. I had already predicted that you would be someone whose se*ual preferences were of that like. Assistant Professor Kigamine brushed my apology and excuse aside, and then she nodded. ’’I would not call it a habit so much, but I also have a custom I follow. Or should I call it a custom, or something else..... anyways, when I meet someone, I cannot help but think about what that person means to me, and where that person is positioned within my flowchart of decision-making. Fufufu..... in general though, people do tend to look alike, and it's hard to distinguish between them without taking a careful look, right?’’

’’Uh huh.....’’

’’All of them just imitate others..... like they're afraid of being distinguished from others..... like they've learned to find comfort in being a follower, in being mass-produced -- as if they have resigned their unique names, which is just like saying that they've laid themselves at the feet of destiny, or perhaps accepted it..... fufufu.’’

For a moment I thought she was making a joke, but it seemed by the latter half she was just talking to herself. In that case, she was not making a joke, but rather that was her true color.

’’Well then.’’

Assistant Professor Kigamine returned her gaze to me, as if she were firing lasers through me. Her lips were curled in a smile, but her smile seemed filled more with intimidation, and her expression hinted less friendliness and more wariness.

’’While you are currently in the midst of summer break..... us professors do not have anything called a break. As such, there does not exist such a thing as idle time for this Kigamine Yaku..... so, allow me to get right to the point.’’

’’Yes.’’

Incidentally, today is the first of August. As Assistant Professor Kigamine implied, university exams ended yesterday, and so I was beginning my summer break today. However, having summer break equated to idle time so simply rubbed me the wrong way. While it was true that I was not particularly busy, that did not mean that I was simply lying around being lazy, and I have a couple problems of my own. For example, the left arm I injured last month in Aichi (regrettably, it seemed Kokoromi-sensei's treatment went above and beyond satisfactory, so while I would still have scars, I was told it would heal with no lingering effects, but still, it was too early for me to have removed the cast), or having to watch over Hime-chan's studies because she managed to score in the red for every single semester exam she took, or that I feel sluggish and began accompanying Miiko-san on her morning training routines (which are pretty rough), or, well, and so on and so forth. Anyways, I meant to say that I am not simply lying around. To the point where I could have been excused if I had ignored the call-out by a professor of a class I do not even take.

I should also mention that I was told to meet her at 3PM. Yet Assistant Professor Kigamine showed up at 3:15. I was tempted to ask if she mistook this for one of her classes.

’’..... would you mind, before we get to the point?’’

’’..... what is it?’’

Perhaps because she was displeased by being sidestepped, Assistant Professor Kigamine scrunched her brows just a bit. She seems to be just as obsessive-compulsive and difficult as she looks.

’’Where did you find out my cell phone number? I am an extremely closed-off person, so I hardly ever tell anyone my phone number.’’

’’-- I had already predicted you would find that suspicious. However, that,’’ she shrugged. ’’Can be done in a great many ways. There are very few things in this world that cannot be found if you wish to search. Or perhaps I should say there cannot be.’’

’’I want to know how, specifically.’’

This was something I wanted clarified. As for why, that was one of the reasons -- or rather, the only reason that I agreed to meet her. A phone call to a phone number that should not be known. I do not live a peaceful-enough life to leave that mystery be.

’’There is nothing to be gained by knowing. Nothing,’’ Assistant Professor Kigamine continued to parry my question. ’’There are many ways. You too could immediately think of at least three ways of doing that, can't you? So, there is nothing to be gained. Nothing important or meaningful..... this, might be something important or meaningful to you, but the important thing, is that I, myself, am the type of human being that does not pick and choose my methodology in order to achieve my goal. I wanted to know your phone number, so I learned it. Is that not enough?’’

’’..........’’

Enough.

In a way, she had told me enough.

More than enough.

’’It is well to be wary of me, in fact it is a reaction I would recommend myself. The people that say simply that you should trust other people have it easy. However, when it comes to making a decision about me, when it comes to evaluating me, I think it would not be too late to decide after hearing me out. After all, you came here to do that, did you not?’’

’’..... indeed.’’

I decided to take a step back. I thought this was the type of person that is annoying if you dig too deep. Annoying, I say, but I felt like I had already stepped into her realm of annoyance, but still. Well, that is true, that when it comes to the overall decision, and a means of responding, indeed, it would not be too late to do after hearing her story.

’’It appears you come equipped with calm, rational judgment. I had already predicted that you are that type of understanding person.’’

’’So, your point..... what is it you want?’’

’’Direct to the point,’’ Assistant Professor Kigamine said. ’’You were a match for my glasses.’’

’’..... huh?’’

It was far too direct.

I braced myself.

Whether she recognized my mental reaction or not, Assistant Professor Kigamine smiled a mischievous, knowing smile.

’’Do you believe in what is called destiny?’’

’’..........’’

There it was.

There it was there it was there it was. Ever since I recalled my conversation with Mikoko-chan, the misgivings I felt! The malaise! The wariness! The primal instincts of avoiding this situation! I thought, in the back of my mind, that she might bring up this sort of topic, but!

Destiny, ahh, destiny!

What a grandiose theme.....

Second only to love.

’’D, destiny..... you say.’’

’’Hmm? Ahh, I'm not meaning to say we were lovers in a past life or anything of that sort, so rest assured. I simply want to ask if you believe in the sort of thing that can be called destiny.’’

’’Uh huh..... well, let me see, umm..... I thought otherwise when you mentioned such an exaggerated word as destiny, but if you were to rephrase that as inevitability or karma, I would have to say such rule-like things exist? Reaping what you sow, poetic justice. In other words..... the apple will fall, rain will fall, the sun will be bright, the night will be dark, something funny will make you laugh, something sad will make you cry--’’

’’The living will die,’’ Assistant Professor Kigamine smirked. ’’I had already predicted you would have that sort of opinion.’’

’’..... if you say so.’’

Karma.....

Come to think of it, I do not remember the context, but I remember saying something like mistaken karma. Now, what ever did I say that for.....

’’Is something on your mind?’’

’’Oh, I am sorry, I was just reminiscing about something. So, what was it? Something about karma?’’

’’Fufufu. Yes, cause and effect -- in other words what is obvious. What is natural, what is natural, naaaaatuuuuuuraaaaaal. This is a case where I would not mind if you were to pull out the quote God does not play with dice. While we are capable of affecting the minute details of the future, we cannot change **things like** the greater current. Nobody can change the flow of while being alive to incapable of dying.’’

’’..........’’

’’Nobody.’’

The way she spoke sounded like she was persuading herself more than she was speaking to me. It seems this person, in a characteristic not uncommon among the obsessive-compulsive, did not take any heed to the existence of others. While it would be hypocritical of me to say anything about that trait, I still found it difficult to accept, having been called out here by the person in question.

’’I understand it was rude, but I investigated your background.’’

Suddenly, Assistant Professor Kigamine seemed to make a declaration.

And then she curled her lips, seemingly pleased.

’’Interesting. Your background is truly interesting.’’

’’..........’’

Background...... that word alone indicated nothing about how much she had dug up. That, or at least going that far, was certainly on a different level than looking up my cell phone number. Kunagisa would have **favorably** manipulated the critical points even without my asking. Half-assed information-gathering abilities would simply lead to a pile of faux knowledge. However, how about this person.....? I may be speaking subjectively, but from my experience thus far, **this sort** of person is extremely skillful at **these things**. I would not go so far as to say the snake knows the snake's path best, but.....

’’It is already impressive for you to have been affiliated with the ER3 System, but what was truly astonishing was the records you left behind. To be honest, it is impossible for me to comprehend why you would drop out of the ER Program and leave yourself in the care of such an outward, northern island, and in a common university at that.’’

’’You know about the ER Program.’’

Well, not that it is particularly hard to find that out, given that I had been making no effort to hide that fact. There is nothing you can really do to hide that you had studied abroad. That was why, although my problems **preceded** that, the ER3 brand name stood out to professors with all its shining glory.

’’However, I would imagine the records I left behind are untrue. When I was over there, I was buddies with one Omokage Magokoro.[3] I simply could not keep up in their system and turned tail and came home. I am a drop-out. A drop-out. Part of it may have been homesickness. But anyways, the person I was buddies with was incredible, and I think our doings may have been.....’’

’’And then -- even after you returned to Japan, you had a hand in a lot of things. A lot, a lot. Aaaaaa loooooooot.’’

Assistant Professor Kigamine continued, completely ignoring me. I would prefer if she listened to people even just a tiny bit.

’’For example, this May. Several students at the Rokumeikan Private University, which you attend, passed away. And not because of an accident or something, but as victims of murder.’’

’’..........’’

’’Murder. Murder. Murrrrdurrr. Along with what can only be described as a terrifying mass-murder case that occurred at the same time..... it is said that with regards to both cases, like an esteemed detective that shows up in a traditional, stereotypical murder mystery novel, solving them swiftly and skillfully, was none other than, you.’’

’’Hmm-..... that is a wonderfully comfortable misunderstanding. In fact it is so wrong I cannot even begin to imagine how such a misunderstanding could have come forth.’’

But the Assistant Professor did not stop at my denial, as expected.

’’Other rumors involving you do not stop at a mere few. And not just limited to those within the school, as you seem to be making quite the rounds. Well, of course, most of them, as you say yourself, are likely misunderstandings or exaggerations -- but it is enough for me that you are a person that causes such numerous rumors, such misunderstandings, such exaggerations.’’

’’..........’’

’’You are, interesting.’’

Assistant Professor Kigamine shut her eyes.

’’You are... truly, interesting.’’

’’Uh huh.....’’

She even said it twice.

’’You are, truly interesting.’’

’’You do not need to say it three times.....’’

’’..... you know. I cannot forgive this.’’

’’Huh?’’

Cannot forgive?

’’What can you not forgive?’’

’’**That a human as interesting as you has no relation whatsoever to my life** -- it is utterly unforgivable. I want you to have some sort of relevancy in my life.’’

’’Uh, uh huh.....’’

Wow.

I have been given many evaluations by many different sorts of people, but this was the first time someone had ever been so blunt with me. Ahh..... no, to be precise just once before, six years ago, by Kunagisa's big brother, by Kunagisa Nao-san, albeit nuanced in a completely opposite way, I was told something similar. However, even so, I must admit it feels different to be told this by a lady rather than a man.

’’And yet, when I took a look, you were not registered for my class. And based on the classes you are taking, it did not feel as though you would register even after this year. At this rate, despite being on the same campus at the same time as this Kigamine Yaku, you would, without coming even close to brushing paths, leave this campus. No, in your case, you live a lifestyle that would not make it surprising if you were to drop out at the start of next year. After all, you do not seem particularly passionate about classes, anyways. I couldn't stand for this. I will not acknowledge such destiny.’’

’’Will not acknowledge.....’’

’’*Destiny exists**. However, **that destiny is one that you create for yourself**. That is why I called out to meet you today.’’

’’I see.....’’

I understand what she is trying to say, but how should I put it, she expresses it with such extravagance. If she were to say it normally instead of in such a bizarre way, it would sound a bit more bizarre, I think.

’’Well, I agree that I skip out on classes a bit, but I do not know how to reply to this so suddenly..... to be honest, I can only answer that you are overestimating me. There is nothing to be had by hanging around me. Although I admit I get dragged into problems quite often.’’

’’It is my decision as to whether I am overestimating you or not.’’

’’..... is that so.’’

This person really does not listen to others.

Feels pointless to say anything.

’’You are interesting, but I myself am quite interesting, if I may say so myself. From that perspective, I do not think it a bad deal for you to become acquainted with me, either. How does that sound?’’

’’How does that sound.....’’

’’And in that vein, with regards to a certain allotted period of time, I would like for you to assist me in my research. I would be thrilled if you could consider it a part-time job over the summer.’’

’’..... a part-time job.’’

’’Yes, a part-time job. A part-time job. A paaaaaart, tiiiiiime, job. What a convenient phrase. Like..... well, that aside, I will pay you a worthy sum, of course. How about, 200 dollars a day?’’

’’..... how many days?’’

’’A week, continuously.’’

One week..... in other words, an influx of 1,400 dollars.

Hmm, suddenly this conversation had taken a pragmatic, realistic twist. 1,400, for one week, is not too bad. I had at some point become in charge of quite a sum of money, but I had also used a significant amount of it on Hime-chan's academic fees, and had arrived at a standard of living much like that of your average, poor student, and as a result I could only look upon the offered sum with a grateful eye.

But, however.

’’..... assisting your research..... while I cannot say that I had never partaken in such activities abroad..... experiments and such are not my area of expertise. If anything, I am more the brainstorming type.’’

’’I had already predicted that you would gently turn down my offer in such a way,’’ nodded Assistant Professor Kigamine. ’’However, as I have come this far, I will not simply nod and stand down. It would not be too late to respond after hearing a bit more, would it?’’

’’Or rather, Assistant Professor Kigamine. That sort of specialized research already has its own allocated staff, does it not? I cannot imagine you would be allowed to hire an outsider like myself **merely because you want to become acquainted**.’’

’’Merely because I want to become acquainted..... merely. Merely merely merely. Meeeeeere, lyyyy. Fufu, you make it sound so pleasant.’’

’’Is it pleasant?’’

’’In any case, my research has no staff. I request assistance every now and then, but in general I alone..... well, no. To be precise, there is always one more helper at all times, but their circumstance cannot be described as being staff.’’

’’One.....?’’

It was said with a meaningful emphasis.

It bothered me.

’’That aside, I understand fully your concerns, but in this case, more than experimentation or field work, I mean for an even higher level, **confirmation of results** sort of help. If anything, I prefer for an outsider, a non-specialist in this field to be giving me a hand. In other words, what I want is not staff but a monitor.’’

’’Monitor..... ah, I see.’’

Confirmation of results. Then I can nod my head in understanding of the relatively high pay. She is no longer in the position of caring about the remaining budget. Although relevant to just a sliver of university research, there exist many important projects that would impact human society greatly. I had seen plenty examples during my stay at the ER3.

’’It will be from Sunday, August 21st to Sunday the 28th. By that time, the cast on your left arm should be off, and you should be fully healed, correct? I do not intend for you to be performing menial labor, but you will be coming inside Takatsu University..... is what I would like to say, but pardon me, you will be coming to my somewhat difficult-to-reach private laboratory. Upstream Kamogawa, climb over one or two mountains, and then at the foothills..... or just about. It should be from nine in the morning to about six in the evening, but I would like for you to understand that the ending time may very well be extended. There are no buses nor trains from town, so if you could drive a car. Do you have a car? OK. Then of course, I shall pay for fuel. A little over twenty for each day, round-trip. And then, you may be asked to stay the night some days. In that case, I shall pay you extra for each night.’’

’’Ah, w- wait.’’

All of a sudden, she began speaking under the premise that I had accepted. It was not like I was being sucked into her pace during the conversation, but rather that she was the ’’my pace’’ type that completely ignored other people. There is nothing more difficult than keeping up with a self-centered intellectual.

’’To date, I have generally gone with the direction of turning down such offers. I must apologize.’’

’’..... such offers?’’

’’Yes. Picking up from our earlier conversation, the May incident. I refer to that when I say I have gone through some rough times tagging along with people.’’

I was not being completely truthful, but I also did not feel obligated to explain in detail.

’’So you are being wary..... if I understand?’’

’’Frankly.’’

’’Does the title, Assistant Professor, Takatsu University Human Biological Studies not provide any insurance?’’

’’I am not very comfortable with..... titles.’’

Especially because a lot happened last month.

’’Hmm,’’ Assistant Professor nodded, pausing for a bit. ’’Stubborn. Assertive, for a youngster these days. Even though you look timid.’’

’’Well, thank you.....’’

Hey, wait.

She just casually insulted me.

’’I understand.’’

’’I am sorry.’’

’’So you are asking for higher pay.’’

’’..........’’

I am not.

I am not, at all.

’’How about 300 a day?’’

’’Woah.’’

The total went over 2000.

Way too tempting.

At the moment, my sources of income were being a part-time tutor to the three middle/high-school students, including Hime-chan, and helping Aikawa-san with her job every so often. The tutoring made for a decent income, but if I were to really break even, I would have to tutor way more people. Helping Aikawa-san made for good money, but it was always with my life on the line.

Hmm.

This was worth pondering.

’’300 a day is still low, you say.’’

’’Ah, um, that was not what I meant.’’

’’I do not mind. I do not dislike youngsters who do not undersell themselves,’’ Assistant Professor Kigamine chuckled like a villain. ’’Then, allow me to unveil my limit. 500 a day. That is my limit after taking your cost performance into account.’’

’’500.....’’

Would mean, a total payment of 3,500.....

How many hundreds is 3,500?

At that point, wariness takes over. I do not wish to believe happenings like the Shadou Kyouichirou Research Facility last month roll around everywhere, but I wonder about illegal experiments.....

However.

Despite that, this was sufficient to make me understand just how much Assistant Professor Kigamine required me. I do not understand why, but this Assistant Professor Kigamine was quite infatuated with me. Hmmmm..... that said, I feel like my tendency to attract weirdos was growing stronger by the day. Although if someone were to call that karmic retribution, I would have to agree.

’’It is still difficult for me to give an immediate answer,’’ I said after contemplating. ’’However, I have begun to think it would be alright to respond after learning more details.’’

’’Is that so. Then.’’

Assistant Professor Kigamine took an A4 envelope from the bag that she had placed on the seat next to her, and handed it to me. It was sealed tightly, and it seemed it would be difficult to open it on the spot.

’’Please take a look over these papers. It is a rough outline, but it explains what my research entails, and what I would like for you to help me with. And..... if you would be willing.’’

’’What is it?’’

’’If you could gather a few more people who would be willing monitors. I would prefer for monitors for this cycle to be completely unrelated to myself, so I cannot go out and gather people. Surely you have a few friends who you can trust?’’

’’..... guah.’’

I winced.

H..... how could she say that? This person. T..... that. That was the one thing that could not be used with regards to a person like myself. In other words, it was taboo. Friends who I can trust..... that...... that.....

’’I will pay them individually as well, but of course I cannot afford to value them the same as you. The fee I pay for you includes the physical directive to warp destiny, so in this case, yes, accounting for what I am offering you, I would be able to pay 120 per day for each. That is still fairly high is it not? Of course, I am receptive to bargaining, but I am also not demanding heavy labor, so it would be problematic if they were to ask for more.’’

’’A few..... how many are you wanting?’’

’’Two, or three at most. My laboratory itself is not very spacious, so it would be problematic if many were to come. And I do have a budgetary limit. My patron is not that wealthy. So.....’’ and then Assistant Professor Kigamine looked at the Omega watch on her right arm, which I presumed was intended for men. ’’This puts us at a good spot to end. If you are willing to give me a good answer, I can wait a week, so please e-mail me at any time. My address is on the business card I handed you at the start.’’

’’Ah, I cannot send e-mails.’’

’’..........’’

She looked at me as if she were looking at a barbarian.

Shit, don't think everyone has a computer. Is a cell phone that can't send e-mails that rare? These have their pros, you know.

’’Does that mean that you are not well-versed in things like..... computers? I thought you were specializing in Information Technology at Rokumeikan University.’’

’’Ah..... do you require such skills for your work?’’

’’Well, to the extent that it is not bothersome.’’

’’I can fulfill classwork fairly easily. I cannot send e-mail because of, shall we say, household reasons, or shall I say personal reasons. I did learn such things at the ER3, though.’’

’’Is that so. Then, I am relieved,’’ Assistant Professor Kigamine said. ’’Then, I do not mind giving me a call. The time does not matter, be it morning or noon or late night. However, I am busy myself, and so you would be leaving a message in most cases. If you could give me a ring, I will call you back. How does that sound?’’

’’Understood.’’

’’Well then, until next time..... if fate decrees it.’’

With that farewell phrase, the Assistant Professor elegantly stood from her seat. Her slender stylishness was magnified when she stood. Indeed, as Mikoko-chan said, the way she acted, the sort of aura around her, had that feminine coolness to her.

However -- even so, even after acknowledging all that, if I may say one word -- her coolness was far from being describable as seductive or alluring.

Yes, that was just the first impression.

At some definitive point, Assistant Professor Kigamine was completely **lacking in humanity**. Even after conversing with her in person as I had just been doing, I was truly given the impression that I was speaking to a computer. I would even suppose it to talking to a cyborg. Such a supposition was of course extremely rude;however, yes, the more I think about it, she seemed off as a human.

I took the business card she had given me in the beginning from my pocket, and looked at it again. Assistant Professor, Takatsu University Human Biological Studies. Professor, Anthropology. Professor, Biology. Dr. KIGAMINE YAKU. And then her laboratory phone number, her personal website, and her e-mail address (using the domain ac.jp). Yes, it was definitely a business card for work.

Hmm.

Biology professor.....

I called out to Assistant Professor Kigamine as she left.

’’Um..... if I may ask a question?’’

’’Go right ahead,’’ Assistant Professor Kigamine turned. ’’I had already predicted you would ask me a question at the very, very end like that.’’

’’..... specifically, what are you researching, Assistant Professor Kigamine?’’

’’You would understand the general gist by looking at the contents of that envelope..... but yes. My research, could be called a rebellion against karma. A revolution against the existent destiny, a declaration of independence that sets up camp against the oncoming absolute. But without ornamentation, you would call it.’’

Assistant Professor Kigamine answered simply.

Without any emphasis, without any hidden meaning.

Without any particular emotion, without any rousing feeling.

She answered, simply.

’’-- researching not dying.’’

  1. Jump up↑ shopping district in Kyoto
  2. Jump up↑ 飢餓 starving 峰 apex
  3. Jump up↑ 想影(omokage) would literally be read as something like a ’’shadow of idea,’’ but it's also a pun on the word 面影(omokage), which is like a vestige. 真心(Magokoro) means sincerity.

2

It may seem difficult to imagine for those who have never done it themselves, and perhaps this is something tough to explain, but the walk from Kyouto's Shijoukawara to Senbon Nakadachiuri does not require that much stamina. If anything, you could call it the perfect scenario for taking an absent-minded walk. It is, after all, the perfect distance for taking a stroll deep in thought. Well, granted most of the reason that I walked was because taking public transport, like rail or bus was difficult with my arm in a cast, but that is that.

Yet still, for the duration of the roughly one-hour walk, I struggled to come to an answer with regards to Assistant Professor Kigamine's invitation. It did not seem too great a scale a conversation, and it did not seem like an event that would go awry, but if I were to reflect on how often I have casually said sure and tagged along and found myself mired in tragedy, I felt that the decision to tread lightly around the sleeping boar seemed the best choice.

However.....

Personally, I could not deny my curiosity.

Researching not dying.

Not dying.

Even if living, not dying.

’’...............’’

That is, an amazing thing.

Romance.

SF.

Mystery.

Fantasy.

It's, entertainment.

In total, absurd.

It was the same as if one were to say one were researching alchemy. Does academia these days accept such research? At the very least, it would be impossible in public..... and even if it were done behind closed doors, public universities would not be able to boldly proclaim their opposition to realism.

Mm.

No, that is why. Maybe that is why she is not researching within campus grounds? At the very least it is not a public, or publicly acceptable endeavor..... I do not know.

’’Well, I guess I cannot know without reading this thing.....’’ I am not one to walk around with a bag, so I carried the envelope in m y right hand. I glanced at it, but I do not have any clairvoyance skills, so all i could see was the mere envelope, and not its contents. ’’However, this is getting boring.’’

Having returned near the antique apartment I had inhabited since February, my eyes wandered to the garage that housed the Vespa (a white vintage model) I was gifted from Mikoko-chan. There were two faces I recognized.

One was Hime-chan.

The other was Miiko-san.

I stopped my legs and looked at them. I wondered what they were doing under this blazing sun, and found that they were fixated on a game of Japanese bilboquet. The red ball affixed with string sliced through the air. Come to think of it, having been hounded by Hime-chan, I bought one at Osaka's Tokyu Hands.....

’’Miiko-saaan.’’

I raised my voice as I invaded the fenced garage. Miiko-san and Hime-chan noticed me and turned to me.

’’Yo, Inoji.’’ ’’Ah, Master-’’

Miiko-san was yet again in her common mens'summer wear. However, it was after all August in Kyoto, in the dead of summer, in the heat of the most powerful of summers, so she had taken off her jacket, and tied it around her waist. Her healthy shoulders were emphasized by the black tank-top, and it was a bit blinding. The steel fan I had gifted her some days earlier was sheathed away by her hip. Her samurai-like ponytail, and that cool expressionless-ness that remained unchanged by the heat.

As for Hime-chan, she seemed to have just returned from school as she wore a sailor uniform (although it was summer vacation, she was such a studious student that she was forced to go in for supplementary classes every day). And a giant yellow ribbon. She was looking at me, yet the bilboquet ball landed at the end of the sword like it were drawn by gravity. Hmm, as you might expect of the apprentice of the former Zig Zan Shisei Yuma, she seemed quite skilled when it came to play that involved needle and string.

’’Master-. Where were you today?’’ Hime-chan trotted over by my side. It was like watching a puppy. ’’Ooh, that envelope looks pretty suspicious!’’

’’Nothing much. Please refrain from flaunting your strangely precise instincts. It is nothing that Hime-chan need worry about,’’ I lightly warded Hime-chan off, and turned to Miiko-san. ’’Good day, Miiko-san.’’

’’Yup.’’

Miiko-san nodded, lightly.

She just nodded, and returned her attention to the bilboquet.

Pfoosh................................................................................................... clank, thud, phwip.

’’...............’’

’’...............’’

’’Inoji, can you do it?’’

’’Uhh, well, I did play it a bit as a kid.’’

Miiko-san handed me her bilboquet. I looked at the red ball, and noticed that even though I had only bought it for her a few days ago, it was scratched all over. I stole a glance at the bilboquet held by Hime-chan. Her ball was hardly even touched, as pretty as new.

’’Alright.’’

First, I need to put the ball back on the dish.

I bent my knees to act as a cushion, and succeeded.

So, next.....

’’Woah!?’’

Miiko-san made a sound.

I was so shocked that I let the ball fall back out.

’’..... what is it..... you surprised me.’’

’’Fantastic..... you succeeded on your first try.’’

’’No, um, that was just setting up.....’’

It is harder to not be able to do this.

The hard about bilboquets is placing the sword through the ball, right?

’’Hmm..... if Inoji can do it, then wouldn't it mean there is an underhanded contraption in the bilboquet itself?’’

’’It says Japanese Bilboquet Association here.’’

’’..... mmm.’’

Miiko-san furrowed her brows.

’’Humiliating..... there should be nothing in the world with a sword that I cannot handle.....’’

’’..... that sounds pretty ridiculous.’’

’’Big sis Mii is surprisingly clumsy-’’

Hime-chan cackled. And as she cackled, she made the bilboquet ball go CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK! around the world, and then with a fwip extended the bilboquet itself with centrifugal force, sliding the sword into the hole.

’’Yay!’’

’’..... хорошо.’’

Yes.

Contrary to her dull-looking appearance, this girl was extremely deft with her fingertips. She could play eight bilboquets at once. She was small, but as if she were made inversely proportionally, her fingers were extremely long.

’’Is there like a trick to it?’’ Miiko-san asked me. ’’Hime has been teaching me a lot, but I have not improved one bit.’’

’’Yes. No matter what Hime-chan says, big sis Mii just becomes lewd.’’

’’..........’’

While I would very much welcome Miiko-san becoming lewd, I must point out for her sake that Hime-chan meant that she was just being confused.

’’A trick..... but this is just placing it on the dish. Even when it comes to sliding it on the sword, you just have to, twist the ball like this, and it is simple.’’

’’Ahh, that's cheating,’’ Hime-chan heckled. ’’You can't teach her the easy way out like that. Once people learn the easy way out, it becomes habit. And then you can't expect them to improve anymore. People are Asimovs of growth!’’

’’Those are wonderful words.’’

I grabbed Hime-chan by her shoulders.

’’Then, let us put those words into practice.’’

’’Nyagi?’’

’’Instead of playing around like this, go study.’’

’’Nyagiiiii.’’

And with that primal voice, Hime-chan slumped over.

’’Come, come. Hurry up and go put the Three Laws of Robotics into practice.’’ It was not as though Asimov was himself a robot, but I felt like jumping board her mistake. ’’First, you must always follow your Master's orders.’’

’’Studying is boringggg. Boring boring boring.’’

’’No matter how many times you repeat boring, nothing will ever change.’’

’’How would you know that? Something might happen and make things happen. Why do you always reject people outright like that? Jeez, this Master always makes me lose the will to go on.’’

’’Oh stop with the sophism..... gosh, I do not know why, but you have suddenly only improved at talking rubbish.’’

’’Definitely your fault.’’

Miiko-san said, spinning her bilboquet sword.

Hmm, that may be so.

’’Master-. Hime-chan, just now, and I mean so just now that it wouldn't be a lie to say just one second ago, Hime-chan just came back from school. Like a brave hero that just returned alive from the hellish supplementary classes. Why can't I play around a bit? It's like a warrior's break time.’’

’’Warriors have no time for rest! Once people learn the easy way out, it becomes habit. And then you can't expect them to improve anymore. Now, go ahead!’’

’’Umiii... Master is always obfuscated!’’

’’While I accept your opinion with some validity, Hime-chan, you should stop forcing yourself to use difficult words.’’

Obfuscated →×Obnoxious →○

They are not even close.

’’If you say so,’’ Hime-chan nodded, bored. ’’Well then, big sis Mii, thanks for playing with me.’’

’’Mm? Hmm? Uhh, sure.’’

Miiko-san unnaturally nodded. To her, she probably had not played with her so much as they were playing together, or perhaps she might even taken it as Hime-chan playing along with her. She was a bit childish in that sense.

’’And Master.’’

’’What is it.’’

’’Pbbbbbbbbbbbbt.’’

Hime-chan stuck out her tongue, and with bilboquet in hand ran from the parking lot. Filled with energy, she disappeared from our sight quickly.

Seventeen.

But, when I was seventeen, I was not that lively..... I feel like I was a different sort of sunk, non-alive sort of person.

Not that I want to remember.

’’You're pretty mean.’’

Miiko-san said from behind.

’’There is no need to force her to study like that. When I was her age I was a twisted fool, a small brat. Compared to that, Hime's a straightforward, good girl.’’

’’But the livelihood of a student is studying.’’

’’You hardly go to classes yourself.’’

’’You are free once you get to university.’’

That said, let it remain secret that I had simply warded Hime-chan off so I could be together with Miiko-san.

’’Ahhh. I wanted to play with her a bit more, though.’’

’’..........’’

Oh, she that was what she meant by mean.

What a child.

’’Hmm? Come to think of it, Miiko-san, do you not usually have a part-time job at this time?’’

Asano Miiko, twenty-two years old, part-time worker.

She made a living by bouncing around various part-time jobs and teaching neighborhood kids swordsmanship. While one would think she does not have that many expenses as someone living alone, she was passionate about collecting antiques, and it had become less a hobby and more a pastime, so I had the impression of her as someone that fretted mightily over income.

’’Ahh, part-time?’’

’’Yes.’’

’’I was fired yesterday.’’

’’..........’’

And as care freely as she would as passing greeting, she continued.

’’I clashed with a customer.’’

’’Uh huh.....’’

She must have been working at a bar this time. Perhaps there was a rowdy customer..... Miiko-san may look like an aloof, quiet, wise person, but she was actually a quick-tempered type.

’’I need to get a grip.....’’

’’You are apologetic, after all.....’’

This was the third time she was fired for the same reason. It is true that people cannot so easily change even if they understand their wrongs.

’’I need to find my next job.’’

’’I see.’’

I glanced at my envelope.

Part-time. Work. Source of income.

Though they all mean the same.

However, even in such a circumstance, I cannot drag Miiko-san into this suspicious job.....

’’There's living expenses of course, but there's also the matter of the hanging scroll I found last month..... I need to pay for it by the end of this month, so I'm in a bit of a mess.’’

’’It is reserved, for now?’’

’’More-or-less.’’

’’And how much is it?’’

’’14,000.’’

’’.......... wow.’’

Even among the antiques that Miiko-san cycled through as she bought, then sold, then bought with the money she received, then sold again, that number stood out. Simple antiques cycling would not catching up to that amount so easily.

’’How far off are you?’’

’’About 2,000. I was hoping to make up that money this month, but I was just fired from the job I was depending on.’’

’’Is that so.’’

Kyoto is a tough city to find part-time work in, too.

’’..... do you really want it?’’

’’Mm. It's an authentic from an artist I like.’’

An authentic.

How luxurious.

’’Is that seller trustworthy?’’

’’I saw the expert's proof.’’

’’Is that so.’’

2,000..... even if I were to accept Assistant Professor Kigamine's offer, she would still not reach that sum. I would receive a total of 3,500, but everyone else would receive a total of 840. Well, the deadline is the end of August, so she could fill the gap with other part-time work, or perhaps.....

But, you know.

Even so.

I did not want to drag Miiko-san into unnecessary things. Although if this were Nanananami, I would not hesitate.

’’Hmph.’’

Miiko-san's interest returned to the bilboquet. As I had suggested earlier, she spun the ball hanging from from the string and tried to land it on the dish. While it landed on the dish for a moment, the momentum and spin made it fall back off. ..... I wondered why she wanted to spin it onto the dish.

’’Mmm. Even though it's a sword..... even though it's a sword.’’

’’Not that that has anything to do with it.’’

’’Am I clumsy?’’

’’Maybe it is more to do with personality. Miiko-san does not seem the suited to playing with compact trinkets.’’

’’Compact. But I think it's fun.’’

’’..........’’

Miiko-san was able to state that something she was poor at was fun.

Frankly, I thought that admirable.

If I were a person with any bit of composure, I may have thought I would like to pick up that trait from her. At the very least, even the way I am now, I felt like I wanted to follow her example.

’’Ah. It's on.’’

’’Congratulations.’’

’’That's a first.’’

’’..........’’

The first time she was able to land the ball on the dish.....

Perhaps she truly is clumsy, after all.

Or perhaps a natural-born hard-worker.

Then, I hope she treasures her trait well.

’’Well, I will return to my room as well. Are you free tonight? If you are, would you like to have dinner together? I can treat you to meat, to help you forget about your job loss.’’

’’Unfortunately, I have plans tonight.’’

’’Is that so.’’

How terribly unfortunate.

’’By the way, Inoji,’’ Miiko-san snapped bilboquet ball from the air. At the very worst, she did not look like she lacked reflexes or hand-eye coordination. ’’Apologies if I'm being noisy about this. But about that thing in your room, Inoji, how long are you going to leave that thing in your room?’’

’’Ahh.....’’

’’I don't want to poke my nose into personal affairs, but this room has three underage kids in Hime and Moe and Hou. I think that thing causes a bit of a developmental problem.’’

’’I am technically still underage too,’’ I jokingly shrugged. ’’Well, you are right. Yes, eventually, I will do something.’’

’’Eventually.’’

’’When it comes to that thing at least, it is partly my responsibility that things turned out this way, so it is a bit difficult to handle. That said, for now, there is no likelihood of problems that would bother Miiko-san, so please rest easy on that end.’’

’’Ok. I'll trust you.’’

’’Well then.’’

I flippantly raised my hand, and when I had turned my back to her, I heard the sounds of the bilboquet resume. It seemed Miiko-san was quite enamored by such play. That said, bilboquets are normally an indoors play, so I wondered why she had bothered to walk all the way out to the parking lot..... well, I suppose that four-tatami apartment lacks the space for even beanbags, much less bilboquets.

Four-tatami space, tatami-matted, with bare light bulbs.

No bath, a shared bathroom.

Nowadays you would not normally imagine such a horrible living conditions existing, but the people living in this apartment are truly unique, and so being here is amusing, and very pleasant, I think. Along with the swordsman Asano Miiko-san, that old man I finally found out the real name of, Hayabusa Koutoumaru, the ran-from-home siblings Ishinagi Moeta and Yamiguchi Houko-chan, the worst witch, Nanananami Nanami, and the Zig Zag apprentice, Yukariki Ichihime. When placed alongside such characters, this ordinary and nondescript user of nonsense simply fades into the background.

Really.

Without a doubt.

Exceedingly and interminably.

Essentially and unmistakably.

In one word.

’’But it is nonsense.....’’

I arrived at the apartment.

Wooden and three-storied.

I climbed the stairs to the second floor, and passed by my neighbor Miiko-san's room, and opened the door to my room.

’’Welcome home, Master.’’

I opened the door and was immediately greeted.

’’I longed greatly for your return. I recognize and understand the fatigue felt by the Master of the House and so I shall do my utmost best to relieve your burden. Will you have dinner or will you have a bath? Or perhaps will you have me?’’

’’....................’’

Among the lines in this world that number as many as the stars, I was given the one that would cause the most mental damage. I could not even fathom a response.

’’..........’’

’’Why do you look so stunned, Master?’’

Wearing an apron and displaying obedient behavior, yet undone by that cool, intellectual expression and the shoulder-length hair. She smiled faintly, but it looked nothing short of fake. When it comes to difficult of measuring temperature, I thought back to Assistant Professor Kigamine, but if Assistant Professor Kigamine were like a robotic, cold iron, this one was like pleasant, cold water.

Her name is Kasugai Kasuga.

Kasugai Kasuga.

A animal scientist that specialized in animal physiology and animal psychology, a biologist -- in other words, she did not only share temperature vector with Assistant Professor Kigamine -- that until last month worked at the Shadou Kyoichirou Research Facility deep in the mountains of the Aichi Prefecture.

I say that in past tense because, obviously, it no longer held true.

Last month, Professor Shadou Kyouichirou, he who held the alias Mad Demon, and his research facility essentially collapsed. At the same time, th at meant she lost her job, and because she lived at the job, her home.

’’I jest. A playful big sister's jest. Don't look so seriously scared. How cute.’’

’’..... yes.’’

And.

As for why that Kasugai-san is here. If I am to explain why she traded her lab coat for an apron.

-- here is the flashback.

’’Yahoo.’’

’’..... how did you find where I live.’’

’’I looked it up.’’

’’..... how did you get from Aichi to Kyoto.’’

’’I walked.’’

’’.....’’

’’Let me in.’’

’’Why?’’

’’Beginning today, this is where I live.’’

’’Why!?’’

’’I was fired and have become freely unemployed because of you.’’

’’Guh.....’’

’’I was fired and have become freely unemployed because of you.’’

’’..... well, that might, be true.’’

’’At this rate my life as a lady is at risk of ending. I would be happy if you could display some manly chivalry spirit.’’

’’.....’’

’’No?’’

’’..... no.’’

’’I see. A shame.’’

’’You are quite quick to give up.’’

’’Ahh ahh. I even prepared a maid uniform and everything but it has all gone to waste. A shame a shame.’’

’’Huh?’’

’’Well then bye bye. Until we meet again.’’

’’Wait.’’

’’What?’’

’’What did you just say?’’

’’I didn't say anything.’’

’’But you did. Say it again.’’

’’I even prepared a maid uniform and everything.’’

’’..... please, make yourself at home.’’

’’..........’’

’’Neither seek nor shun the fight, oppress the strong and assist the weak, you would not think that I would not lend a hand to a person in need.’’

’’..... thank you.’’

’’Not at all, not at all.’’

-- end flashback.

Well, all of that might be a joke or a lie so it would be bothersome if you believed all of it, but the truth might not be much different, or perhaps not.

This marked the end of week one of living with Kasugai Kasuga-san.

’’Don't just stand there come it. It's your home.’’

Kasugai-san waved me forward in invitation.

The end of week one of living together.

She was gaining composure.

Or rather, screw composure, this was the sort of person she always was. Although I dare not borrow Assistant Professor Kigamine's words, while my first impression of her was among the worst possible because of the circumstance of our meeting, having allowed her uniqueness shine through experiencing a slice of life together, I could say that it is very rare to run across someone as interesting as this Kasugai Kasuga. She was so interesting that I felt like I had lost my chance to kick her out.

’’Yes yes..... will you cut it out with those jokes. After all, there is no bath or food. This room does not even have a refridgerator.’’

’’Yet surprisingly we do have food. I ordered delivery. And sushi, at that. Because I received some casual income.’’

’’Hmm?’’

’’So this is to thank you for housing me.’’

’’Uh huh.....’’

That is quite an unexpected and kind act of her.

Casual income, did that mean she had found a place to work?

’’Now come in, come in.’’

’’Yes, alright.....’’

Next to the bucket of sushi lay a girl wearing a manteau.

’’...............’’

’’Does it not look delicious? I asked Koutoumaru-san for recommendations for stores around here. Actually I took a bite earlier myself and found it to be quite delicious. You cannot drink so we cannot have a toast but I did prepare some Oolong tea. This is called Red Oolong--’’

’’Kasugai-san.’’

My voice jerked around with anxiety.

Jerked!

Jerked jerked!

’’What is it all of a sudden?’’

’’Girl, who is?’’

I felt like I was talking like a space alien.

’’Hmm? Well I'll explain that in a bit so let's leave it aside for now. It is better to focus on grabbing some sushi first.’’

’’It is not better.’’

Not better at all.

I could stake my whole existence on that.

The girl covered in a black manteau was small, and seemed to be asleep. If I focused my ears I could even hear her cute sleeping breath. Even standing this far away I could tell her black hair was grown extremely long. I would say something about her sleeping with her glasses still on, but she slept peacefully nonetheless.

A cute face.

Probably around seventeen, just like Hime-chan.

’’..........’’

In other words, underaged.

Underaged, in other words.

Underaged kidnapping!

Kidnapping, and imprisoning!

And it being a girl made it fatal!

’’Dark clouds..... great, dark clouds hanging over my life.....’’

Ahh..... I can even see the Shichousei.

No, actually I cannot see anything.

’’Please do not say such accusatory things. You make me pout,’’ Kasugai-san foldered her arms and sounded genuinely insulted. ’’I helped a person out. When I was taking a walk I found that girl collapsed by the side of the road, so I picked her up.’’

’’Collapsed..... picked her up.....?’’

’’Yup.’’

Kasugai-san answered, matter-of-factly.

And then she went ahead and sat down on the tatami, crossed her legs, and reached over to grab sushi. She popped one into her mouth, exhaled, and briefly had a blushed expression. She is strange, but her appetite, at least, was first-class.

Just her appetite, anyways.

However, what of her common sense?

’’What- what are you thinking!?’’

’’What are you mad about? I mean you're the one that's making no sense and being unreasonable. What was wrong with what I did? Or are you saying that you could ignore someone collapsed on the ground and go on your merry way? That you can walk along without helping a poor little girl? That'd be quite the human failure.’’

’’.......... guh.’’

I never imagined being told something correct by someone wrong could be so irritating.

’’Now let's hurry up and eat sushi. All the egg ones are mine. Hmm? What's that envelope? It smells quite interesting.....’’

’’Please stop trying to progress the story while ignoring such an important event! Like world domination, only if the world were a village of a hundred!’’

I was so flustered I had a Mikoko-chan moment.

’’The police! The police the police, with prompt decision and prompt execution and prompt immediacy, please call the police! We currently have vehement need of the police!’’

’’Oh please. Don't make it sound like I'm a person with no common sense.’’

Tsk tsk tsk, went Kasugai-san as she waved a finger. Perhaps someone might seriously call me short-tempered, but right now, each and every motion by this person seems to irritate me further. Ahh -- I knew it, I knew this person would one day screw something up..... I knew it, so why did I let her talk me into this? Was living together with a beautiful lady that tempting to be willing to risk the rest of my life? There has been almost nothing good to come of this past week. All that happened was that my already-small room had become divided in half!

’’Well life is full of surprises. And it doesn't always go the way you'd like.’’

The exact person not letting things go my way decided to placate me.

’’Hmm alright. Then big sis will offer a bit of advice to the young worried boy. What do you get when you combine stress and insulting to become unstressed?’’

’’What do you get?’’

’’Distress!’’

’’Shut up!’’

’’Some distress in your eyes ☆’’

’’Stop with the ☆!’’

’’This was that girl's one belonging,’’ said Kasugai-san as she deftly stood up, changed the subjects. and pulled out a wallet. It was clearly one meant for a child, given the fancy animal character (perhaps an anime character) inked onto the vinyl surface. Kasugai-san unzipped it and pulled out a piece of paper. It was a business card.

’’Here look at this.’’

The business card read:

Great Detective

N R
E H
O Y
N T
O H
M M
I
Y
A

And then an address and phone number (land/FAX/mobile).

’’....................’’

Like, baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang.

’’Now now is there anything you can say as to why it was wrong for me to not carry this girl off to the police or perhaps you can't.’’

’’Written vertically.....’’

No, it being written vertically is totally irrelevant.

The problem is the profession written on that business card with a round hamster illustration and purikura stickers plastered all over the back of it, like it had been created at an arcade.

Great Detective.

’’Wow.....’’

Who cares about some biology professor.

This is even rarer than Nessie.

More unidentified than an UFO.

More Hyakki Yagyo than the identify of a ghost!

’’It had been completed.....’’

’’And a bishoujo great detective,’’ Kasugai-san continued. ’’Bishoujo great detective. Bishoujo great detective. Right? How could you possibly sell off a girl so amusing to police influence?’’

’’So that is your reason.’’

But, that said, leaving her reason aside, it was indeed difficult to call her decision wrong.

A (self-described) great detective wearing a manteau.

Completely and utterly a suspicious character, undeniably unidentified, and certainly public enemy number one.

’’You are right..... a great detective surely must have a black manteau.....’’ I was so flustered I began babbling without purpose. ’’However, why does that mean you needed to bring her into my room, Kasugai-san?’’

’’Because. I came all the way to Kyoto because I thought being with you would be amusing but all you're doing is living a daily life. It's so boring watching you work as a tutor and fall in love with Asano-san and have little spats with Ichihime-chan. So I decided to bring in some trouble.’’

’’I see, now that I know what you are to, please shut that mouth and be quiet.’’

And then choke to death.

Murderous will.

This emotion bubbling up in me must certainly be murderous will.

’’I hope she is not sick.....’’

I kneeled down by the girl and placed a hand on her forehead. It was a bit hot, but all girls this age are like that, so this was probably normal. I thought about taking her pulse, but her arms were both inside her manteau. It cannot be helped then, I cannot just take off he clothes. I touched the vessels in her neck. Thump thump thump thump. Looks perfectly healthy.

’’I already performed those ordinary checks. That girl is really..... Rhythm-chan is really just sleeping. I am a biology professor after all.’’

’’Shut up, Miss Unemployed.’’

I tried telling off an older woman.

Rhythm-chan, eh.....

A strange name.

’’Is her surname that..... Neonomiya?’’

’’Probably romanized off the kanji, the same way as 理澄 (Risumu).’’

’’Hmm, Neonomiya.....’’ I withdrew my hand from Rhythm-chan. ’’I feel like I have heard the name before..... but where.....’’

’’Tut tut you're a university student but you really know nothing. Neonomiya comes up in the Tale of Genji. Even I know that despite being a science professor. One of the largest stories spanning 54 chapters. And of those the first arc began withKiritsubo (桐壺) and ended with Kumogakure (雲隠). Although of course because Kumogakure did not actually exist the arc actually ended at Maboroshi (幻) with Kumogakure being a notifier to the reader about the protagonist's death. And then the second arc sandwiching Kumogakure. From Hashihime (橋姫) to the final chapter Yume no Ukihashi (夢浮橋) is called the Ujijuuchou (宇治十帖, the Ten Uji Chapters) and includes the volumes Niomiya (匂宮) Koubai (紅梅) Takegawa (竹河). Niomiyais the name of the protagonist's nephew.’’

’’Ahh, I see.’’

I knew I had heard the name somewhere. This answers that question without any doubt whatsoever. How nostalgic, when was the last time I read the Tale of Genji? That is right, back in the ER3 days. I read the English version for a class. This makes me run against the grain, but personally I preferred the after stories over the first arc. It felt more like an aftermath, like they were cleaning up afterwards.

’’Hey Ikki.’’

’’..... I can only give you one point for that nickname.’’

’’Ikki,’’ I was ignored. ’’Are you not going to look under her manteau?’’

’’Not going to look..... please do not treat me like some pervert. And you know, I am not particularly interested in little girls. In fact I think it is something else to be drawn to younger girls once you become 19 years of--’’

’’I think your odds with Asano-san are slim though.’’

She said it so clearly.

A bit shocked.

’’But you should check out what's under Rhythm-chan's manteau because it's amusing.’’

’’Amusing?’’

’’Very very amusing. The biggest reason why I picked up that girl is actually under her manteau.’’

’’....................’’

I felt like I was being tricked, but I fearfully lifted the innocent-looking girl's black manteau and peeked under. If someone were to take a photo of this scene, my life would be over.

She was wearing a straitjacket.

You know the one that people recognize as the one Hannibal Lector wore, the one for extremely dangerous criminals on death row, the one with no sense of se*uality. Her sleeves were crossed in front of her chest as part of the clothing, and even then they were tied by two leather belts, and probably because the size did not fit her, the sleeves were too long, and she wore the rest of the straitjacket like a one-piece dress. Just a bit, just a bit if you really tried hard it could look like an oversized hoodie -- no, you cannot. You absolutely cannot.

I put the manteau back.

’’....................’’

I am so done.

This is too much.

Just way, way too much.

I have lived nineteen-and-a-half years to date, and have experienced all sorts of trials and tribulations, but I have never experienced being in such a pinch as this. This is without a doubt the first time in my life I have been cornered on the edge of a cliff like this. I could feel the urge rising to accept the next time the Wet Crow's Feather Island gave me one of their at-least-twice-a-month calls inviting me back.

’’Leaving the manteau aside, how can you even take her pulse like this.....’’

’’I wonder if this sort of fashion is trending with young girls these days. My my I am getting old. Does this fall under goth-loli? Death metal? Punk?’’

’’Can you really call something fashion if you cannot wear it without help.....’’ and I do not think this falls under goth-loli nor death metal nor punk. It was obviously a real straitjacket. ’’I guess great detectives always are someone with a loose screw, after all.....’’

I somberly thought.

I guess I have yet to go in sharpening my senses.....

’’That said perhaps Rhythm-chan isn't wearing that clothing of her own will,’’ Kasugai-san suddenly began speaking in a stern, professor-like voice. ’’It may be child abuse.’’

’’..... abuse.’’

Child abuse.

Abuse.

Those words felt like cold steel.

To the point where I did not want to imagine anything related.

’’..... by who?’’

’’By Ikki.’’

’’Why!?’’

’’Anyone looking at this scene would think the same.’’

’’Guh..........’’

Shit.

This person is too funny.

A live-in biology scientist and a straitjacket girl.

I could no longer decide what to be more confused about..... perhaps I should call Hime-chan for help..... wait, what point is there in adding more fools to the scene?

Help, Mikoko-chan! Help, Shito-kun!

’’Ikki is such a boring man,’’ Kasugai-san sighed as she looked down on me. ’’I wanted you to play the straightman part out beatiful there.’’

’’Shut up idiot.’’

’’Ikki is a boring man so you aren't allowed to say anything other than a straightman's line from now on.’’

’’Why!?’’

’’....................’’

’’....................’’

’’....................’’

’’Alright, then I shall focus on being the straightman..... wait, why!?’’ I played the straightman once, and then. ’’..... wait, why, why!?’’

’’You pass.’’

Kasugai-san gave me a thumbs up.

’’Keep at it and you'll be on Oogaki-kun's level in no time.’’

’’So you turned him into that.....’’

Kasugai Kasuga's animal training lesson.

As if.

And then.

That was when.

’’Mm..... mmmm.’’

While we were fooling around, the girl, Rhythm-chan, turned over in her sleep. It looked like she might be awakening.

’’Fufufu. This is your time to shine. What sort of excuse will Ikki come up with?’’

’’..........’’

I will have to think about how to kick this person out later.

I thought maybe I should not be too close by when she awakened, so I slid away from Rhythm-chan. I saw that Kasugai-san was not moving from her current position, so I hid behind her. Kasugai-san was a bit taller than me.

’’You coward.’’

’’Call me what you want.’’

’’You child-abusing pervert.’’

’’Am not.’’

Neonomiya Rhythm opened her eyes.

’’..... mm. Nya.’’

She raised her small body. She did it easily despite being unable to use her arms. And then Rhythm-chan looked in Kasugai-san (and my) direction.

And then she tilted her head to the side.

Her large, black and white eyes.

Just stared.

Purely inquisitive.

Strange.

Weird.

Surprise.

Suspicion.

Caution.

And then, fear.

’’Uuuuuu---’’

She began winding up.

’’U, ukyaaaaaaaaaaaaa!’’

A glass-shattering shriek.

With tears, produced by scream!

Shit! It's all over!

This is where the User of Nonsense ends!

Thank you for reading!

’’It's, it's, it's sushi!’’

’’..... huh?’’

’’Thank you for the meal!’’

With the force of a starved beast, Rhythm-chan began gorging on the platter of sushi. Without the use of her arms, she looked like a dog, but she ate with such ferocity that I could not even comment on how it was rude of her.

’’Ahh! The egg are mine!’’

Kasugai-san hurriedly shouted, after skipping a beat.

Now that I think about it, this is the first time I have ever heard this person raise her voice..... and that was when I finally thought to straightman using her savings on this.

How wasteful.....

’’....................’’

I had nothing to do and nothing to say, and so I simply stood quietly and watched this manteau-wearing great detective and apron-wearing biology scientist fight over sushi.

Fade to black.



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