Soji unlocked the door and stepped into the designated apartment.

It was a one-room apartment with wooden flooring.
As there was barely any furniture, it looked more spacious than the floor area seemed to suggest.
Going by the thin layer of dust that covered every surface, he surmised that no one had stepped foot in it for quite some time.

Soji took a quick look around and confirmed that nothing was out of the ordinary.
Just as he was about to open the windows to let air circulate around, he caught himself. With how things are, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

He pulled the curtains close and switched on the lights.

“Excuse me,” he muttered an apology, lifting up Sakimi’s bloodstained clothes in order to examine the wound.
Viewed under a stable light source, a crimson bloodstain visibly covered her flank.


Underneath, he could not find a single wound.
He gently wiped the blood with a towel, revealing her pale skin.

It ought to have been around her flank—or, more accurately, the lower part of the abdominal external oblique muscle, at the area from the side of the navel to the groin.
From the way the blotch grew, he had anticipated a few-centimeter-wide laceration around there.
However, there was nothing like that.
At most, the slight purplish coloration indicated some internal bleeding.

He gently prodded the skin with his fingers.

What is it? he wondered.
Something felt different about it. It feels somewhat… stiff.

He slid his finger to her abdomen and touched it. It’s soft here.
He touched her flank again. Yep, this part’s stiff. This sensation is different from muscle tightness or inflammation, he thought.

“Ngh…” Sakimi groaned faintly, like she was suffering.
He hurriedly removed his finger. 

He was slightly bewildered, but there could be no better news than if she wasn’t injured.

Perhaps the injured one was her father instead. She had gotten the blood on herself when she hugged onto his body, and Soji mistook it for her own during all that mayhem.
It was a rather wishful train of thought, he reflected, but since he hadn’t found any wound, there was no point in worrying over it.

He placed a hand on her forehead, and felt that it was hot. She must be both physically and mentally drained. Setting the question of her injury aside, he wanted to let her rest as soon as possible.

Apologizing to her inwardly, Soji started to clean the young woman’s body.
He grabbed a bunch of towels and wiped her down in her unconscious state.
After that, he took off her soiled clothes and dressed her in a clean tracksuit he found in the closet.

He lay her down on the bed in the bedroom.
He then fished through the kitchen shelves and found a box of medicine.
There, he took a tablet of fever medicine and a cup of water before heading back.

“…-ter…” a voice called out.

Sakimi was holding out her hand, as if trying to reach for something.

She regained consciousness, he thought, inwardly relieved.

“…Mis-…ter… Ema…”


She seemed to be gasping in pain as she called his name.

“I’m right here.
So don’t worry,” he answered softly, grasping her hand.




“Yeah, you bet I will,” he nodded reassuringly, promising her.
He never even hesitated, because that was what he’d intended from the start.
“Don’t worry, I’ll definitely help you.”

Her lips parted slightly like she wanted to continue speaking—

And then she closed her eyes, and fell back into slumber.


She didn’t respond even when called.
Her breathing was shallow, but stable.
He left the fever medicine and water on the nightstand. It’s probably best to let her mind and body rest for now.


He left the room.

The large needle on the analog clock by the wall pointed toward 9.

An annoying buzz came from the intercom.

Soji looked at the monitor to see who the visitor was.
They had silver-dyed hair, slightly tanned skin, and were dressed in a garish shirt paired with dark sunglasses.
Several chain accessories hung from his body, clinking with his every move.
The wide grin on his face revealed a row of pearly teeth.

‘Wassup, it’s me.
I’ve brought gifts so please let me in.’

It was a face and voice Soji recognized, so he opened the door.

“Woah, awesome! As expected of you, Mr.
Ema, insane!”

The man, Shinogi Kotaro, kept exclaiming “Awesome!” or “Insane!” as if he had lost his vocabulary.
That flippant way of speaking was that of the “Chatterbox” Soji had heard over the phone earlier.

He talked to various people, listened to their various troubles, and occasionally introduced somebody to someone else.
That was the way he made his living and why he called himself the Chatterbox.
Though his personality wasn’t particularly attractive, he had a way with words that made few people seriously hate his guts.
As such, he had a network of contacts that was shallow and thin, but incredibly wide.

“Nowadays, you don’t see guys legit picking up highschool girls off the streets anymore, do you? I mean, it’s risky business AND a crime! Aren’t you afraid of Section 224 of the Penal Code? I wouldn’t dare play with fire like that!”

“You seem to be misunderstanding several things.” Soji pondered for a moment over where he ought to begin.
“First off, she’s not a high school student.
Apparently, she’s already in university.”

Well, that was a completely irrelevant point to start with.

“I see.
Yep, even if she looks petite, age does make all the difference in the world.
In a grown man’s eyes, the chasm between a university student and a highschool student is impossibly wide, no? I mean, the spirit of youth just gets swept away once they take their entrance exams, amirite? I totally get you.
In order for old men like us to get back that youthful feel, a uni chick’s not enough to cut it, yeah?”

“I’ve got no clue what you’re talking about.”

“The fact that it’s illegal in real life is what makes it so exciting, isn’t it? After all, there’s nothing quite as spicy as the condiment of immorality.
No matter how far you guys go, you’re both accomplices in the act.
That’s big, you know.
After all, if it’s between adults, you’d just call that cohabitation.
This way’s much more vivid and unforgettable.”

“I’d appreciate it if we could get to the main topic already.”

“Shall I recommend you a few manuals?”

“No thanks,” Soji lightly waved his hand, and continued: “Let’s get back on track.
How are Goto and friends doing?””

“Well, I mean, it’s such a large-scale operation.
They’re pretty much still focused on there.”

Of course they are, he thought.

Torching the place in such a flashy and haphazard manner could only be possible if they had strong backing from their employer to cover up the incident.
Afterward, a detailed investigation by the police was bound to reveal the unnatural outbreak and spread of the fire, and the firefighting systems’ unusual failure. 

They would surely try to obstruct the investigation by giving the reason that the place was conducting proprietary cutting-edge research.
Still, Goto and his group needed to erase as much of the more obvious evidence as possible before retreating.

And, in that case, it was unlikely that he had sufficient manpower to chase after a suspicious character.

“I didn’t sense any shady individuals around here either, so I think you can relax for now.
But I’m sure a search will go down before long.
For a mysterious spy at the accident’s scene, that is.”

“Yeah, no doubt about that.”

Of course they would, he thought.

The research institute was razed to the ground.
The research they were conducting there had gone up with the flames.
That was the end of Goto’s job—except not.

There existed someone who had purposely rushed into the burning building.
And coincidentally, this person was armed with the technique and know-how to anonymously infiltrate a place.
There was only one conclusion Goto could reach, which was that they had retrieved the research data.
That couldn’t be good news in the eyes of their employer, who’d wanted to stop the research so badly they ordered the demolition of the entire facility.
Goto could never afford to let the thief escape.

And I did indeed abscond with the data.

A thumb drive was tucked into Soji’s pocket.
It had dropped from Sakimi’s pocket when he carried her out.

“So, let me just mention this.
You’d best cut that girl off if you know what’s good for you.”

Yeah, thought Soji. That’s probably the right call.

“It’d be one thing if this was just a small skirmish.
But we’re looking at someone who’s willing to burn down a whole building just to stop the research, you know? The risk’s too big and not worth the return.
You have that policy, don’t you? ‘Help only those who seek aid of their own initiative, and only if they pay the appropriate fee.’ I really don’t think that girl is capable of paying you the corresponding remuneration.”

“You have a point, but…” He shook his head.
“…No, you’re absolutely right.
What am I doing, seriously? But still…”

“I know, I know.
You can’t bear to forsake her, right? Well, that’s just fine, isn’t it? A policy’s healthier if you allow for the rules to bend a little from time to time.” Kotaro shrugged, having said something which hadn’t quite made sense to Soji.
“Just thought I should mention it.
Not that I have any right to criticize you for not abandoning her.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, it is.
Jeez.” Kotaro gave a look around the apartment.
“You should assume he has already identified you.
For now, the two of you should just sit tight and stay low here.”

“Well, yeah.
I’m not so optimistic about going back to my place—Wait, the two of us?”

“The two of you.”

That made sense.
Both Sakimi and himself had reason to be chased by Goto.
They both needed to hide.

“…I see, both of us, huh.”

“Hmm? What, you mind? I mean, sure.
You’re a healthy young man, Mr.
Could it be that you can’t trust yourself to hold back when living under one roof with a cute girl like that?”

“That’s not the problem.” He’s saying that on purpose, isn’t he? Soji glared at him.

“Chill out, I know what you mean.” The frivolous smile disappeared from Kotaro’s face, and he looked somewhat abashed.
“You know I can’t put you up in another place.
No matter how much you say you want to be alone, you should know this is not the situation for that.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Soji heaved a deep sigh.

He sincerely wished to be left alone.
Still, he knew what the immediate priority was.

“There should be the minimum here you guys need to hole yourselves up for the time being, but with a roommate, you’re gonna start running out of things, especially if you’re in it for the long haul.
If there’s anything you need, just give me a ring.
I’ll send someone trustworthy over with the goods.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it.
How much is this going to cost?”

“Nah, thank you for the patronage.
I’ll send the invoice over to you later.” 

Hehe, Kotaro chuckled, his accessories jingling. 

“You know, I really respect you, Mr.
Both now and in the past.
Especially that policy of yours.
Nothing can be more obvious than that, eh? If someone asks you for help, of course you’d help them to the extent they can pay for.
And besides…” After a short pause, he continued: “Out of everyone, you came specifically to me for help.
You, a solo player who’s always tried to do everything by yourself.
You bet I’d be feeling extra motivated.”

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