Morality and ethics aside, what’s the surest way to neutralize a competitor? If you were to ask that, most people would probably answer with the following:
All you need to do is wipe them out.
This time round, Goto and his team’s job went roughly as follows:
First, they took over the control room without raising a commotion.
Typically, research facilities had numerous systems in place to prevent accidents—hence their first move was to shut those systems down.
Things like indoor air composition readings and the various lifesign gauges of lab animals could all be accessed from there.
Even externally-managed systems like the fire alarm and sprinklers had vulnerabilities which were well-known, and a simple dummy program could put them to sleep.
The most effective way to spread fire had also been completely simulated from the floor plan of the building. Where to start the fire? Which direction should the air-conditioning blow? How to best propagate the flames so that they swallow everything? All these were known beforehand.
The extra fuel needed to accomplish that had been brought in from outside in a discreet manner and placed at their respective locations.
When all the preparations were complete, it was then time to execute the plan.
The initial blast was made to look like a gas explosion.
Flames quickly spread, but the alarm didn’t ring.
To make matters worse, the sprinklers malfunctioned due to an unfortunate fault and were unable to put out the fires.
The staff members panicked and made a mad rush for the exit.
An explosion occurred then, this time injuring multiple people.
Chaos ruled the scene as the fire enveloped the building.
Precious data and samples were engulfed by the merciless blaze and reduced to ashes.
“Mmm… Good, good.”
In the control room, a middle-aged man stroked his stubble as he viewed the pandemonium through the surveillance cameras.
“There’s nothing quite like this.
You know, I came into this line because I can’t help but admire James Bond.
Nothing says ‘Spy’ quite like treading through a sea of fire and explosions, eh?”
“I’m sure the fans would be fuming if they knew this was your way of paying tribute,” the small-statured henchman commented, tapping away at a keyboard through gloved hands.
A fan’s free to choose the way he enjoys something, isn’t he?”
“And I’m also sure that principle’s based on the unspoken assumption that you don’t go beyond the bounds of law and common sense, though.”
Even as they exchanged light banter, the situation continued to evolve.
A calculated explosion, an inferno, swallowed up all in its way.
Soji knew of Goto’s method.
He would demolish an entire building and make it look like an accident.
He was never particular about how many victims there would be. If you wanna live, you had better struggle with all your might.
If not, just die quietly.
That was his stance.
Of course, that didn’t mean that he’d leave things up to chance.
He’d make sure to silence those who were not meant to live.
Specifically, that would be the original target, and anyone foolish enough to remove something they were not supposed to from the scene of the “accident”.
Once spotted, Goto would never let them escape.
Soji was right in the middle of the commotion outside the front entrance, among fleeing staff and curious onlookers.
From the look of things, firefighters had yet to arrive.
He grabbed a nearby man wearing a white coat.
“Did you see a young woman going in?”
“Y-Yeah, chief Sanakura’s daughter just ran inside…”
He reflexively clicked his tongue; he had been right on the money.
“Which way did she go?!”
“Probably Lab C, where the chief’s at…”
Without even listening to the end, he sucked in a deep breath and dashed.
A voice from behind called at him to stop, but he ignored it.
A quick glance around the entrance told him that the fire alarm and sprinklers were not on, yet the surveillance cameras were live. As expected, Goto has most likely seized the control room.
He’s probably controlling this disaster from there. He briefly considered hacking the building from the outside, but immediately abandoned that thought. It’s unlikely to go well, and more importantly, it takes too much time.
Making sure not to be caught on camera or by Goto’s henchmen (who may or may not be patrolling), he entered the research institute.
…Shit! It was dangerous to breathe in smoke at the scene of a fire, so he kept his breathing to a minimum.
The only silver lining was that he was completely drenched from the rain, providing him a bit of protection against the fire, and allowing him to filter the air by breathing through his sleeve.
Even then, the longest he could stay in this inferno was five minutes.
He had to wrap everything up by then.
It’s burning up.
The scene reflected in his eyes, no—everything he felt with his five senses stirred unpleasant memories within him.
He had jumped, of his own will, into this hell which he wished to never experience again.
Part of Soji’s mind berated himself: Why do something so foolish? It doubled down: Hurry up and get out of here! He clamped down on those voices and headed further in.
Keeping his posture low and taking care not to trip over any debris, he pressed on, half running and half gliding forward, all the while maintaining his cover in the shadows.
His aim: Lab C.
Again?” The short man sitting in front of the monitors paused.
“What is it?”
“Another one just jumped in.
This time, it’s a guy.
A local hero-wannabe or something?”
“Jeez.” Goto lifted his head.
“I wish they’d stop.
Can’t they take a hint? Guys like this are gonna die for sure.
And then it’ll look as if I was the one who killed them.
Did they not learn that playing with fire is dangerous in all their years of compulsory education?”
“I agree with that part about them rushing towards their deaths.
Still, I don’t think it changes the fact that we’ll be the ones who killed them.
I’m sure that’s what the authorities would think too.”
“Nah, who cares about the facts, or whatever the authorities think? The problem here’s how I feel, you see.
They’re the ones in the wrong, so it’s not my fault.
In fact, I’m perfectly justified.
And that emphasis is what keeps me happy.”
“I’ve heard that argument a lot growing up.
But to assert it at this level really makes you a helluva scumbag.”
Soji found Lab C located at the furthest end of the second floor.
Thanks to all of the fire doors along the way being open, he didn’t have much trouble getting there.
He checked the situation in the lab from behind the door.
“What the…?” He couldn’t help but utter, even though he understood how precious the air in his lungs was.
To describe it in one word, it would be “webs”; spider webs.
It covered the floor, walls, ceiling—and everything in between.
Lit by the flames, that pinkish thing, whatever it was, continued to spread across the lab.
At first sight, it appeared to stretch out in thin, string-like fibers, but a closer look at the floor and the walls revealed something spread out like a sheet of fabric.
In addition, there were several mysterious lumps on the floor.
He couldn’t tell what it was, but guessed that that was its original form and the thin threads were what it had transformed into.
Some kind of slime mold? Or, if not, a similar organism.
And most likely the object of groundbreaking research that was being conducted here.
It seemed to be trying to escape the fire, stretching out its tendrils as if saying it wanted to live.
However, their edges were scorched by the flames, and it slowly turned to ash.
“…Kh!” This wasn’t the time to be absorbed in the strange sight.
Recalling his objective, he stepped inside the lab.
Immediately, he spotted her.
Behind a desk, a man in a white coat was pinned under a collapsed shelf.
Sanakura Sakimi was clinging onto his chest, unmoving.
He rushed up to her.
When he called out, she stirred slightly.
He then pressed a finger on the man’s carotid, and checked his pupil.
The man was dead.
He turned over the man’s nametag, which read: Sanakura Kengo.
This was a face he saw all the time six years ago, when he was still tutoring Sakimi.
A kind father who loved his family.
Soji often witnessed him getting scolded by his wife and daughter for munching on his favorite donuts when he had a chronic heart disease. Did he not make it in time when the accident occurred? Soji closed his eyes and mourned for a moment.
“Sakimi!” He called out once again to the young woman who had just lost her father, but there was no response.
Her side was stained red. She’s injured!
I’ve got to take a closer look and check how bad it is, but there’s no time for that! He lifted up the motionless Sakimi.
It hurts to breathe.
The conflagration had grown in intensity.
There was no time to head back the route he’d taken.
They were on the second floor, but most of the windows were shut and could not be opened.
He had to find a way out somehow.
…Tch. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a moving red dot belonging to a surveillance camera in motion.
“That’s weird…” the short man grunted in doubt.
“What is it this time?”
“I can’t seem to find the man who barged in just now anywhere.
He’s not showing up on the cameras.” He pointed at the monitors sequentially.
“Well, my guess is he probably ran out of juice somewhere and collapsed.
Even then, I should’ve at least seen him running around in circles somewhere.
And yet, the only time he showed up was back at the entrance, he just went poof after that.”
“Huuuh?” Goto stroked his stubble.
“Don’t tell me it’s that.
He’s moving about while hiding in the blind spots of the cameras?”
“That might be thinking too far.
It’s entirely possible that he just buckled right near the entrance.”
“Is it? Hmm, maybe you’re right.” Goto went silent for a few seconds.
“Why don’t you rewind the footage a little? Back to when that guy showed up.”
“Yeah, I am.
The thing about a job is, you gotta be bold yet delicate when it comes to the details.”
“Nice line, but I’m 100% sure it’s bullshit you just made up.” The short man froze the display on one of the monitors, and wound back the footage until it showed the scene of interest.
“That’s our guy?”
The playback quality was atrocious.
They could tell that someone just dived into the building, but his outline was blurry.
“I can’t tell from the still.
Play it for a bit.”
Without blinking, Goto followed the man in the video closely with his eyes.
As he instructed, a brief clip of the man running was played over and over on the monitor.
“Did you figure something out?”
“Nope… but something about him…” Goto scratched the side of his head.
“Reminds me of someone I’ve seen before, but I can’t find a name.”
“You mean it’s someone in the trade too?”
Argh, where have I seen this guy…”
Just then, on another monitor, the silhouette of a person could be seen cutting across the screen.
They wound back and replayed the footage.
It showed the same man from earlier, only this time with a much better clarity than before.
A man in his twenties, carrying a young woman in his arms and walking with a steady gait.
His face could not be seen.
It should have been visible from their perspective, but somehow it was completely hidden.
“He’s totally aware of the camera.”
“What’s more, he’s moving like he knows that we’re watching here,” Goto muttered, seemingly impressed.
His lips curved into a fiendish smile.
“What it means is this—I don’t know who or where this guy came from, but he’s no doubt an enemy who’s come to get in the way of our job.”
With the heavy rain beating down on his body, Soji took a deep lungful of the outside air.
The sudden influx of oxygen to his brain caused him to be struck by a bout of severe dizziness for a second.
He staggered a step, but somehow found it in himself to stand straight.
The escape was a success.
And in a stroke of luck, he was at the opposite side from the entrance and there were no prying eyes around. It should be possible for me to leave this area without anyone knowing.
His upper body was in direct contact with Sakimi. Something feels a little out of place. Although the bleeding looked severe, the wound on her flank was apparently rather small.
Nonetheless, it was still an injury he couldn’t leave as is.
It irritated him to no end that the situation did not allow for him to stop to apply first aid even now.
There’s no need to even think about it.
He hadn’t been able to take a path that was completely in the blind spot of all the cameras.
In order to make their exit from there through a window on the unshuttered recess floor, he had no choice but to reveal himself to one of the cameras.
The only consolation was that he’d managed to hide his face, but that only attested to the fact that he, the intruder, wasn’t just a random passerby.
I’ve got to leave the area ASAP.
The rain was a great ally at this time.
It hid his figure and masked any sound he made as he ran.
Taking care to avoid being seen, he created some distance from the research institute with Sakimi in his arms.
Concealing himself in the shadows, he took out his handphone.
Even though it was waterproof, a layer of water had made the screen difficult to navigate.
With some struggle, he managed to phone the Chatterbox.
‘What were you thinking, Mr.
Ema?! Are you mad?!’
From the words of rebuke that immediately greeted him, it seemed that the Chatterbox already had an idea of where and what Soji was doing.
“Yeah… I guess that’s it.
I’ve gone mad.”
‘I can’t believe it, jeez! You alright?! Are you still alive?!’
“For the moment, yeah.
Can’t speak for an hour from now, though.
Goto seems to have sniffed out my presence.”
He could almost hear the speechless incredulity on the other side of the line.
“That’s why I’d like to ask a favor of you—”
‘Oh my god! You’re suuuch a hopeless idiot!’ A loud voice roared from the phone as if—no, precisely—to vent its owner’s frustrations.
‘If you’re around that area then, uh, head towards Fukamichi 3rd Street.
As it happens, I have an unused safehouse over there.
Hide there and lie low for the time being, you hear me!?’
Almost at the same time, his phone received a deluge of messages.
They contained information such as the apartment’s address and appearance, and the depository where its key was being kept.
“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver.
By the way, since you’re already in for a penny, there’s something else I want to ask of you.”
“Is it okay if I bring a girl over there too?”
There was a long silence.
‘Huh? No, seriously, what?’ The other voice asked back in a low tone.
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