Chapter 16: Lost One

After being given a full check-up, Gus Fox was admitted to Tokyo General Hospital. Nearly 70 percent of the cases of patients related to “The World” in the metropolitan area were first admitted to this hospital which was one of the hospitals privately funded by CC Corp. You could say it was used to this. Although not officially, the hospital would have already been fully systematized.

The first day had gone by without incident. Gus had been distinctly aware. He had complained about the bland food he had been given. He had been no different from any healthy person.

The “seizure” occurred on the second day. He pushed away the nurse during an exam, then tried to open the tempered glass window while muttering things as though he were delirious. The ward was on the fifth floor.

Then he lifted a cabinet and began to hit the window with it. The nurse tried to stop Gus, but was easily sent flying―not surprising, given the size difference―and the nurse call alarm was sounded. However, before help came, Gus dropped the cabinet to the floor. When the nurse grabbed hold of him, he was already unconscious.

Ryuuji and David received this explanation from elderly hospital director in the reception area. David had already revealed that he and Gus were investigators for NAB. The doctor was unusually cooperative.

“Mr. Fox’s symptoms and prognosis are very similar to each of the “Lost One” cases that occurred in 2009 and 2016. A distinct difference is that there is an incubation period of a few days before becoming unconscious from contact with the ‘thing’ that appears and causes the condition in the game. Also, just before going unconscious, he―,” The doctor stammered a little.

“As though driven by ‘impulse,’ he tried to throw himself from a height. That’s the second point,” added the doctor.

“What’s the problem? Pathologically, I mean to say,” said Ryuuji.

“That’s unknown. It’s the same as past cases. Mr. Fox had his brain examined but no abnormalities were found,” said the Doctor, shaking his head.

“However, before he became comatose, his symptoms included spouting disjointed words. In other words, because of his ‘word salad’, we believe his brain’s cognitive functions were the first things to go. Somewhere in the language area of the brain, there were some perplexing changes on the surface exam. If you could focus your attention there–” explained the doctor.

“Is it about time for him to wake up?” asked David who had been silent up to this point.

The doctor stopped speaking. He attempted to say something, hesitated a little, then spoke.

“I don’t know. He could wake up tomorrow, or it could be a year from now. I could even be three years from now. Studies on the pathology of the Lost Ones themselves show that little progress has been made since 2009.”

“Are his chances for waking up good?” asked David.

“There is a possibility,” said the doctor.

Outside the hospital the early afternoon sunlight shone in Ryuuji’s eyes. It was blinding. The sun of springtime, before the rainy season.

“I’d like to speak with you alone, Mr. Sogabe,” said David upon reaching the parking lot.

“Why were you able to react immediately at that moment?” he asked.

Ryuuji stopped and turned around. David looked at Ryuuji through his sunglasses.

“That moment?” said Ryuuji.

“When the rat exploded and gave off that light. Of the three of us, only you, Mr. Sogabe, were able to react to the movements of the rat. You got to warn us with a ‘Don’t look!’” said David in a matter-of-fact tone.

On his lips was the usual smile. However, his eyes, which could be faintly seen behind his sunglasses, cleverly sparkled while looking at Ryuuji.

“Mr. Sogabe, did you perhaps know of Seto’s ability from the very beginning? If not, did you just take a wild guess? Gus and I did not know. Am I wrong?”

Yes, you are mistaken,” said Ryuuji.

“Then, why were you able to react?” asked David.

“I cannot say.”

“Why not?”

“I should have refused in the first place. I cooperated with you on behalf of a client. To explain will be to the detriment of the client.”

“My colleague has fallen ill. I don’t even know if he can come back…” muttered David in English.

Naturally he was not talking to himself. He directed his speech to Ryuuji.

“However, it may have actually been prevented. I want to make that clear,” David continued.

“I was not able to prevent it,” Ryuuji replied in English.

“All I can say is this. At that moment, Fox was closest to the rat. He was unlucky. If I had been there instead of him, I doubt I would have been able to avoid the light. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said David.

David stared at Ryuuji’s face without moving. His eyes were sharp like knives. Almost too sharp. Ryuuji perceived before him a gaze that hardly seemed to be that of the NAB investigator. It only lasted about ten seconds.

“Did you know anything about the rat’s abilities?” David asked in a low voice.

“No, I didn’t,” Ryuuji said clearly.

“I feel bad about the situation. Truly, I do. That’s not to say it was simply a case of bad luck,” Ryuuji added.

They walked towards the other side of the street as Ryuuji sounded the horn, unlocking the door to the parked car that was still a little ways away. David stopped and Ryuuji stood next to him.

The glint in David’s eyes suddenly grew dim. He removed a nasal spray from his pocket and pointed it in his nose, then took two deep breaths. Then he bowed his head.

“Excuse me. That was rude,” said David in a nasally voice.

Well, because we both kept secrets, we’re both equals in that regard, thought Ryuuji who refrained from saying it. Ryuuji also had a sense of decency.

He decided to say something else instead.

“Do you have any plans to officially publish a NAB review of Yuri Seto and the rat after this?”

David grimaced at Ryuuji’s words for only a moment. You could see a look of agonizing doubt. However, the next moment he became as expressionless as a mask.

“I don’t. It’s no good. I can’t,” David said in a dry tone.

The two of them continued to walk in silence.

Soon they came up to David’s car. It was a black mini-car.

David got in the driver’s seat, closed the door, lowered the window, and looked at Ryuuji.

“After this I’ll report Gus’ condition to headquarters. Let’s discuss future policies tomorrow,” said David.

Ryuuji nodded.

“I’ll contact you at ten o’clock in the morning. By twelve at the latest,” said David, gently raising his hand in farewell and slowly moving the car ahead.

Ryuuji watched as the mini-car drove away. As the car disappeared from the parking lot, he removed a candy from his pocket, peeled off the wrapper, and put the candy in his mouth. It was mint-flavored.

There must be something he could do while he waited for a call from David, he thought. He didn’t think of anything in particular.

Even so, he should be able to find something to pass the time away, he thought. There was.

Ryuuji turned on his mobile terminal, launched the Mailer program, addressed a message to the information-dealer of Net Slum, and sent an e-mail to the effect that he wanted to meet at the Cafe Terrace of Mac Anu.

He then got into his car. He stepped on the accelerator. He returned to his apartment, took out the bagel sandwiches, got a drink, and decided to go to the office. He would arrive just after three o’clock.

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