Part 45: Freesia InvestigationsPart 45 - Freesia Investigations
"Who~ is it?"
S, su, surely this wasn't
To think that a day would come when I'd experience it for real.
Right now, as of this second, I'd become one of life's winners....!
SFX: Squeak, squeak
I knew the answer right away, of course.
I'd spent day after day training myself to recognize who a voice actor was simply by hearing one of their anime characters talk.
But it'd be embarrassing to say, "Rimi, right?" Now, how should I go about replying--
SFX: Squeak, squeak
"So? D'you know the answer?"
....Someone was here.
I sensed someone other than Rimi.
I was especially sensitive to it because my vision had been cut off.
One more person besides Rimi and I was here.
And that sound, a metallic creaking--
You don't mean--
"Whose eyes are those eyes?"
I tried to shake off Rimi's hands.
However, she resisted me.
"Hey, now. Say the answer properly."
"Cause you're not allowed to cheat."
Too weird. Too strange.
How could she act so innocent? Hadn't she noticed?
Or was she pretending not to notice--?
I couldn't tolerate the horror of not knowing what was going on around me.
Rimi's lithe hands, covering my eyes. I grabbed them with my own hands and peeled them away.
Rimi fought back harder.
As a result, we ended up grappling, and Rimi's body collided with my back.
The soft sensation of her chest.
But right now I couldn't afford to savor it.
"Le, let me go...."
"Wh, where is he....?"
Before me stood Rimi, a perplexed expression on her face.
I looked around. I tried to catch sight of his wheelchair.
Not there-- He wasn't there--
"He's not there.... it can't be...."
"Sorry, Taku. Did I startle you....?"
Rimi seemed apologetic.
It didn't look like she was putting on an act.
"J, just now.... was it there?"
"....Was what there?"
"A, an old guy in a wh, wheelchair...."
Rimi tilted her head.
"I didn't see one."
"Were you with him?"
"No, that's not it...."
"That's not.... it...."
I was steadily losing my confidence. Even though I'd been positive I had heard it.
The creaking of a wheelchair. "Shogun" laughing suggestively, as though to taunt me.
And, "Whose eyes are those eyes?"
That must be the case. It was that and nothing more.
"It's all right."
Rimi gave me a forced-looking smile.
"I'll go home with you, so don't be scared."
Her words reassured me.
Except, even though it was in Shibuya, and even in the middle of the day, not many people walked around here. So something about the area also felt a little lonely.
"You're an unexpectedly hot item."
"!? Geh, geh, geh."
She made me do a spit-take. What the heck was she saying....
"Huh, you don't know it?"
Rimi chuckled and poked the tip of my nose with her pointer finger.
Y, you're not supposed to point at people....
"C'mon, before this, you were with a pretty senior, one in glasses."
"Sh, she was...."
"Mm, you told me yesterday. She was mean to you."
If you know, then why....
"And today you were talking to FES."
"And there's Orihara-san. The morning she transferred in, you were the very first one she talked to."
"And then, and then, you're going home with me right now."
It had certainly occurred to me as of late.
--Have I begun truly living IRL?
--Had my popular phase arrived?
A situation I couldn't have imagined a month earlier.
Back then, I hadn't even had the opportunity to talk to 3-D girls (Nanami aside).
And I'd stubbornly, exaggeratedly insisted that I didn't have any interest in 3-D girls.
Why, over this past month, had I crossed paths with girls so much more frequently....
Everything had begun from my chat with "Shogun."
Which was why, once in a while, I thought
Maybe I'd been seeing a long, long dream the whole time.
I had the feeling that it wouldn't be odd if my current situation vanished like mist tomorrow.
Or else, maybe the person behind me had changed.
The former person behind me had liked playing mutely on his own, but the new one preferred to cooperate with other players.... or something.
In any case, I didn't have any true sense of whether this past month had been real or imaginary. Too many things had kept happening.
"Rather, I found out for the first time today, but FES is in the same school as us!"
"Plus, she's in our grade, in the class next door!"
Rimi's tone of voice grew feverish.
Rimi might be something of a crowd follower....
"I'd just borrowed her CD from you yesterday, so I was really surprised!"
"And she's super cute!"
"What.... did you talk about?"
"This morning. With FES.... with Kishimoto-san."
"I'd like to know."
"Maybe I don't have the right to hear, but...."
"When you were talking to Kishimoto-san, you looked so.... trapped in thought. It made me kind of worried."
She'd seen even that....
It might be okay to tell Rimi every single little thing.
I had no one else to talk to about it, and it was exhausting to agonize over it on my own.
Not someone who spoke purely in abstractions like Ayase and Sena; someone who would give me a clear answer, as in, "It's like this."
But then again, she hadn't believed a thing I told her yesterday....
"We talked about...."
"Th, the sword."
"Sword.... you mean what you mentioned yesterday?"
I answered with a nod.
"Ayase has it...."
"....A real one."
I thought.... I heard Rimi suck in a breath.
She sounded even more dubious.
"Because it is a toy, right?"
"Th, that's why I'm telling you, mine is a toy, but.... she has a, a real one...."
"If you watch her p, perform, you can see--"
I had second thoughts as soon as I started to say it.
Would she be able to see it....?
Ayase had said only people with the power could see Di-Swords.
"I can see a 'real version' of that sword if I go to one of her concerts?"
"Then maybe I'll go next time. I'd like to see Phantasm live, to begin with."
"Ah, Taku, wanna go together?"
"You might not see it.... Only ce, certain people can see it....."
"Eh, is that so."
"Like the emperor with no clothes?"
"Then I might not be bright enough to see it. Or something, ahaha."
For starters, I didn't have any conception of how a "real Di-Sword" worked as a device. I was simply taking everything Ayase said at face value.
"Does a sword like that really exist? I guess I just can't believe it."
"Couldn't Kishimoto-san's sword have been 'a toy that looked real,' too?"
"Bu, but, it sh, shone....!"
"There are lots of toys that give off light."
G, good point....
If you wanted to stick some decorations on it, that could be accomplished easily enough.
They possessed an aura that a knock-off simply couldn't duplicate.
And more than anything--
I didn't have a scrap of proof for it myself, but I tried mentioning one of my ideas.
"Th, that's why.... 'Shogun' is out to get me.... I think...."
Because there was no other reason for him to target me.
Not many people out there were as harmless to others as me. Otaku are fundamentally harmless. Since they shut themselves up in their own world.
If they've got the free time to cause trouble for 3-D people, they'd rather play around with cute, moe 2-D characters in their heads.
"You mean the patent you looked up yesterday?"
"Do you have the kind of equipment it talked about?"
I shook my head.
"That's, that's not it...."
"I, I might be able to.... use the power.... even without equipment."
"Ahaha. Taku, you're teasing me, aren't you?"
"Ah, I get it. Is this from some manga or anime?"
But I remembered doing it myself. The accident when I was in elementary school....
I desperately explained it to Rimi.
That I might be a murderer.
I knew she might abandon me once I confessed, but I couldn't stop myself from saying it. I wanted to clear away the fog of doubts in me by talking to someone.
Rimi silently listened to my stuttering explanation, a complex look on her face. When she had heard me out to the end--
She laughed it away as if nothing had happened.
"It's delusional of you to think like that, you know? Do you get it?"
Was I thinking too much.... maybe. It'd be nice if that were the case, but....
The second floor of an aging multi-tenant building.
The wall on the far side of the floor was one large window; the light shining through made the dancing dust resemble powdery snow.
The words pasted on the glass, "Freesia Investigations," cast shadows on the desk closest to the window.
About twenty desks were lined up with nary a gap between them. All of them were piled with precarious mountains of documents and files, forming a tableau that brought to mind a publishing company.
Most of the desks' owners were absent, leaving at most five to six people in the office.
But the reason behind it was most certainly not because today was a Saturday.
In proof of that, the to-go list on the whiteboard hung up beside the entrance was covered with written-in appointments.
Yasuji Ban opened the door of this private investigation company a little after lunchtime.
Ban, for his part, greeted them with "Hiya" and went straight for the stout woman glaring at her laptop at the furthest desk--the one right by the window.
"Yo, Momo-chan. Doing well?"
"So you've come again, Ban-chan...."
"So I have. Found out anything new about New-Gen?"
"Lordy. I'm busy, you know. I've got heaps of issues to take care of."
"When you're at a small business like ours, you've got to surrender your weekends to work. You understand?"
Only then did Momose finally raise her head.
Seeing Ban smirk, she put a hand to her forehead and shook her head a bit.
"I've said so many times that this isn't a secret police organization, or one of the police's subdivisions, either."
"And pay my commission. You can get the booking schedule from Miho-chan."
"Oy vey, you're as cold as ever, President."
Though she'd spoken without pausing for breath, Ban seemed unfazed. He fanned himself aloofly.
"Oh my, how patronizing of you, Ban-chan. How many years will you have to keep reminding me of that before you're satisfied?"
"Hahaha. You got me."
"So, how's this for your fee?"
What Ban ostentatiously held out to her was a plastic bag with the name of a neighborhood Japanese-style sweets shop printed on it.
"Miho-cha~n, bring us two cups of tea~"
After requesting this of her subordinate, Momose, whose attitude had undergone an instant 180-degree shift, took the bag from Ban and began scrutinizing its contents.
"Oh my, chestnut jellies! This is the season for them~ You certainly know what I like."
"Ban-chan, don't just stand over there. Come take a seat."
One of the female office workers brought them hot tea in paper cups.
"So, any new leads?"
"Hold your horses for a second."
Momose neatly unwrapped the chestnut jellies, flattened the wrapping paper and laid it re-folded next to her PC.
And she quickly popped the first chestnut jelly in her mouth.
She had a huge weakness for Japanese sweets. When Ban came here to get information, bringing some snacks with him was an absolute necessity.
"Mmm! This ish sho delishoush!"
"I don't have any right to talk, but how about going on a little bit of a diet?"
"Otherwise, you'll never be able to get married, you know?"
"Hmph. You really don't have any right to talk."
"I lost my chance to marry ages ago."
Shrugging, Momose took a sip of tea and turned to face Ban.
"Everyone else is working hard on their side of the investigation."
"I'm gonna approach the truth of the matter from another angle."
"Don't try to act so cool. It doesn't suit you."
Ban was sensitive to hot foods, so he hadn't taken his tea in hand yet.
The weather should've been cool enough already, but he went on flapping his fan at his face. It seemed to be more a habit of his than anything else.
OST: Distorted Theory
"Right, right, the GE rate. It's pretty amazing stuff, just like you said."
"I don't give out false information. Because this way, I can eat as I please."
"Well, I'm looking into it on my own."
"On your own...."
Momose's voice carried well.
She had an assertive personality to begin with, and she spoke loudly.
As the Freesia employees were used to her, they didn't raise an eyebrow even when her angry shouting reverberated through the entire office. Their president's yelling was an everyday occurrence.
Ban, too, had known Momose for ages, and with her having gone off at him dozens of times, his only reaction was to sardonically pick at his ear.
Momose herself didn't particularly want anyone to listen in on this topic, so she soon lowered her voice.
"Didn't I tell you it'd be dangerous to pursue it by yourself....!"
"Government, religion, business.... How deeply do you think they're involved with this?"
"You know very well what happened to Professor Outa, who gave a lecture about GE rates on TV just a little while ago, don't you!?"
"And I'll keep telling you. Oh yes, I'll tell you!"
"You never listen to my warnings, that's why!"
"And I'm always the one who has to wipe your ass after the fact, over and over!"
"Now, now, don't shout like that. Drink some tea and relax, will ya?"
Instead of taking her tea, Momose flung a second chestnut jelly into her mouth, breathing hard through her nose.
"I'm telling you, it's okay. For whatever it's worth, I'm working with Suwa."
"At the moment, the GE rate stuff is too far off the beaten path. We don't have enough to persuade the powers that be."
"Suwa-chan is certainly capable and steady, but I won't have anything to do with it if you push him too hard."
"When did you become Suwa's guardian, Momo-chan?"
"I feel sorry for a young man with a future ahead of him, when he's getting dragged down by your defenseless conduct."
"Ah, is that so?"
Ban shrugged and took an experimental sip of his tea, but it was still hot, making him scrunch up his face.
"But is it really possible for biorhythms to lead to murderous insanity?"
"I explained it to you before."
"To tell you the truth, I don't quite grasp all of it, haha."
"Does it have to do with your specialty, 'electromagnetic waves'?"
Momose sighed and, in opposition to Ban, went on sipping her tea without any issues.
"You're well aware of the records of incidents that take place on nights with full moons, aren't you?"
"Mm, more or less."
"What do you think happens if people's biorhythms are made to rise by a force even stronger than that of a full moon?"
"They.... get agitated, right?"
"Is that all?"
"Shibuya is a unique city. Didn't I tell you?"
"The higher the GE rate, the more biorhythms ascend."
"That's a pretty unimaginable number."
"Think of it as being so incredible that nothing else can hold a candle to it."
"But why now?"
"The late Professor Outa said it was because the GE rate began abruptly increasing about half a year ago."
"As long as there aren't any changes in the composition of the area's geological strata, that sort of thing shouldn't be possible."
"A volcano!? That much power!?"
"That's just how improbable the current GE rate is."
"The professor who tried to impress this upon the world was killed by New-Gen...."
"Did you know that the day before his murder, a TV program he was supposed to appear on suddenly stopped broadcasting without any warning?"
"An acquaintance of mine works at MHK, and I heard it from him."
"There aren't many people in a position to put pressure on the state-managed channel, are there....?"
"I don't know the details, either. I'd have charged them about it long ago if I did."
Intrigued, Ban leaned forward.
"Do you truly want to know?"
"You'll be stepping into the darker half of society. Are you fine with that?"
"Ban-chan, you might get fired."
"I'm okay with anything, as long as I can arrest the New-Gen criminal."
"Well, decide what you're going to do after you hear my answer."
As she sipped her tea, Momose used her left hand to type at her notebook PC.
A document opened on the LCD monitor. There she had enumerated the results of her personal investigation.
"....Gimme a break, Momo-chan. I was convinced you'd name the opposition party, but of all things...."
Ban groaned as though it had grown tedious.
But his eyes weren't smiling. Far from it; they held a detective's sharpness.
Rimi had bought me fresh supplies of food in advance on Friday, so I'd stayed shut up in my base without taking a single step outside, but even then there were countless times when my anxiety almost drove me to email Rimi, saying "Please come over."
In the end, I never pressed Send, but....
I was only freed from my nervousness during the thirty minutes when I was watching Burachu's latest episode.
Even under these circumstances, I made sure to keep up with Burachu.
Or, rather, Seira-tan.
When I browsed the Phantasm comm at Furepara, it was remarkably full of flaming, and I quickly followed a link to @channel. There was an epic thread in progress.
From what the site showed of the hospital's appearance, all the windows had bars in them, making it look almost like an aging prison.
I didn't know if it were still in existence.
In any case, the home page hadn't been updated whatsoever for the past four years.
Except, just as the people from @chan had said, this site included a picture of the young Kishimoto Ayase and a poem she had written.
It wasn't that it particularly shocked me.
When I was in elementary school, I myself had regularly gone to a hospital's psychiatric ward. That was why, on the contrary, I sympathized with her.
She was the same as me, even with her incredible aura and her charismatic way of drawing Shibuya's youth to her.
This common point between the two of us lent a certain veracity to the hypothesis that she and I might possess the same power--the ability to project delusions into reality.
It would be safe to say that this lent me courage and hope.
There was just one problem.
Up until now, I'd taken everything Ayase told me at face value, but that might have been a mistake on my part.
How to obtain a Di-Sword.
That I would be saved if I obtained one.
Should I believe her? Or--
SFX: Takumi's Ringtone
This was what I hated about them.
Clicking my tongue, I picked up the phone as it went on ringing even more annoyingly.
The caller had to be Nanami.
She was definitely gonna shower me with her useless and belated complaints again. Ahh, what a pain....
Why hadn't I--
Why, just this one time, hadn't I checked the caller's number--
The incredibly loud melody I heard coming through the phone....
I hastily confirmed the number displayed on the LCD screen.
Wasn't it supposed to be out of use!?
When I had Nanami call it to make sure, hadn't that announcement played at us!?
Or else, had the prankster brought the number back?
Panicking, I turned back toward the center of the room.
Surely Rimi would be there, and she'd give me some kind of advice--
Because I'd told her ahead of time that I wouldn't be going to school today, she hadn't come to pick me up in the morning.
As I stood there, shaken up, "Let Me Pass" continued playing through the cell phone. A full minute had already gone by.
I'd only caught a little bit of it before, but I'd heard some noise aside from "Let Me Pass."
Who the hell was the person calling me?
I could only think of one who might set up this kind of hoax--
Troubled, I looked at the Seira-tan standing next to my PC.
Seira-tan faced me with the exact same smile as always--
"Cut the line. Ignore him, ignore him!"
"I, I see.... you're right.... I could do that...."
Of course, I should've done so from the start.
I laid my thumb against the phone's End Call button.
But, for some reason.
It felt strange even to me.
It creeped me out, so I should have wanted to end it as soon as
Tooryanse plays again, but without interruptions this time. For the remainder of this scene, the BRRRRRRRRR is constant.
The violence of a noise like ultrasonic waves.
That sound infected my body.
An impact like lightning struck my head.
My whole body went petrified.
I screamed my lungs out, but I couldn't hear my own voice.
They boiled, they bubbled, they melted in glops--
Pain chewed through my body from the inside, crawling around me--
My consciousness went liquid and coursed through me until, in the end, it arrived at my heart and exploded and scattered into mist--
SFX: A crowded classroom. Numerous students are making a commotion over the events transpiring. Someone's phone is vibrating in the background.
Countless students had collapsed. Their eyes rolled back, and they foamed at the mouth, and their bodies twitched all over.
A number of others had curled into balls, pressing down on their heads as if they were suffering.
The remaining students had stood up, though they were supposed to be in the middle of classes, and were filing out into the hallway. The teacher took no notice of them as he frantically attempted to help the fallen students.
Everyone who had come out into the hallway was raising surprised voices, but none of their words entered Yua's head.
The cell phone in her skirt pocket had been vibrating for some time now. Upon noticing it at last, she dragged her hand toward her pocket.
Crouching, she leaned back against the wall.
After correcting the position of her slipping glasses, she pressed a button to take the call and put her phone to her ear.
"Ah, er, I'm okay.... tentatively speaking."
Yua made a grimace and pressed at her forehead as she answered.
Both the commotion of her classmates in the hallway, and her teacher's voice as he called "Hey, hold on!" to his prostrate students, sounded to her like something taking place very far away.
"Y.... yes? Ye, yeah...."
"Um.... You are....?"
"Yes.... yes.... I see.... and so...."
Blanching, Yua gulped.
Having said that much, Yua fumbled with her words and hung her head.
The racket from the corridor grew louder still.
Everyone was looking in the same direction and pointing and wearing anxious expressions.
The hallway windows rattled as if a strong wind were blowing against them.
"Yeah, yes.... [sob]"
"Yes.... I understand."
Feebly bowing her head at the end, as though the person she was speaking to were right in front of her, Yua cut the connection.
OST: White out
And she raised her head, casting a glance at the windows beyond which everyone was pointing.
That white spread at considerable speed. Blurring, it invaded its way through the sky.