The walls and ceilings were an immaculate white.

The floor was a brilliant wine-red.

The smell of antiseptic and air freshener hung in the air, slightly pricking at the back of the nose.

I really don’t want to hang around here for long… Such were Ema Soji’s honest thoughts in regard to the Yazuno Central Environmental Research Institute.

He understood that sterility was of the utmost concern for a research facility dedicated to the biological sciences.
Yet the bleached and pristine walls, which no doubt was the work of someone scrubbing every nook and cranny with a bunch of solvents, appeared to be more for appearances’ sake than any practical purpose. Was that really the case? Some self-absorbed big shot holding the key to the institute’s funds came down one day and decreed it to be so? He knew he was being biased, but it did sound rather likely.

While such thoughts were swirling around in his mind, he made sure it didn’t show on his face.
He wasn’t that expressive to begin with—so, as usual, he kept those idle thoughts behind a stolid mask.

“The request I want to make of you is simple.”

When it came to concealing their emotions, the client he faced was not too shabby himself.
That affable smile plastered on his face hid his true thoughts splendidly. Not that it means anything.

“Our lab is currently conducting groundbreaking research that will surely revolutionize the market.
Once we translate it to practical use, it has the potential to become the sole driving force of our company’s growth.
Unfortunately, a faction within our ranks would not think well of us being in such a position of power should we succeed—”

Soji paid scant attention to the man; he had already grasped the overall picture.

In short, opposing forces within the company were trying to interfere with them, so they wanted him to beef up this research institute’s security.
For that purpose, they had invited him, an ostensible expert in the field (as recommended by someone else).

The specifics of the request likely involved an audit of their current security protocols, detection of any vulnerabilities, and a proposal of countermeasures as well as the projected timeframe and costs for implementation.  In that case, I should be able to provide some assistance even with my meager knowledge. That was his natural conclusion, but…

“—Thus, I would like to request that you obstruct the partnership between the executive director​’s faction and Epizon Universal Inc.”

“Hmm?” It appeared that the man had just said something completely unexpected.
“Let me go over that again.”

“Go ahead.”

“You do know that I specialize in security, correct?”

“Yes, of course.”

“So, the reason I was called here was to discuss the strengthening of this building’s security.”

“Well, yes.
That is correct.”

“Then why did you bring up the word ‘obstruct’?”

“Well, you see, if the partnership goes through without a hitch, the power and influence executive director Soneda would gain will enable him to outright hinder our efforts.
I won’t ask you to dissolve the partnership, but if you could just delay it for around two more months, we would have much more room to breathe.”

“What part of that has to do with security?”

“Don’t you know? Offense is the best defense.
That is an adage that has been passed down since time immemorial and universally applied.” The man’s amiable smile never left his face as he gave an absurd reply.

In any case, it wasn’t as if Soji could not understand the man’s logic. Rather than shoring up your defenses, it’s far better to weaken your enemy.
A sound argument indeed.
He’s like one of those famed generals of yore, who keep spouting jargon like “starvation tactics” or “alienation strategies” and what not.

Still, Ema Soji was a normal citizen of modern Japan, and most importantly, one with common sense.
He had no intention of living in the world of military history.

Lowering his head, he spoke bluntly: “I respectfully decline.”

“Huh?!” The man was still smiling, but his eyes went wide in surprise. He’s good at controlling his emotions, thought Soji.
“May I know why?”

“I do not know what you were expecting when you heard the name ‘Ema Soji’, but sabotage is not within my job scope.
I came here expecting to work on your security infrastructure, but you’re telling me to play at being a ninja.
That, I am unable to comply with.”


“If you are in need of such services, there are others more qualified for the job.
If you like, I’ll speak to a middleman who will arrange to have a more suitable professional for your consideration.” As he spoke, Soji stood up from the awfully soft sofa he was sitting on.


“I’m willing to play along with a hypothetical enemy, but count me out if you’re planning on fighting an actual war.
You can rest easy, everything I’ve heard today is for my ears only.”

He left the reception room without waiting for a reply.

Industrial spy.

It isn’t a profession, but rather a group of people who engage in certain activities.
Basically, they undertake clandestine actions that aim to either damage an opposing organization or reap benefits for the one they are working for.

Their methods are diverse and varied.
One could slip into a competing company and leak their proprietary or operational information, as well as sow discord among their employees.
Others may infiltrate a location physically to steal intellectual property and sabotage their operations.
The prevalence of the Internet also makes theft and vandalism possible through hacking and other such means.
Just as companies and enterprises have various ways of vying for business legitimately, those who work in the underworld have ways to ply their trade.

For a country like Japan with a long history of internal strife, one might even consider this rat race to be ingrained into their culture.
In this long economic downturn, where all corporate entities are taking a hit, the need for industrial spies is only all the more greater.

There’s nothing these people won’t do for their livelihoods.

At any rate—

After excusing himself from the reception room, he took a sweeping look around on his way to the entrance.

The security of this building is sorely lacking… Yeah, there’s no doubt about it.
He had already caught sight of numerous flaws from a brief glance at the positions of surveillance cameras and movement of staff members.

The shutters above the main entrance would be secure in case of an emergency, but it was all for naught given the breakable glass window a few meters to the side.
One of the cameras was presumably pointed there for that reason, but it was obvious even to the untrained eye that it was merely a dummy.
Furthermore, the only form of identification a staff member needed was an ID card.
There were no fingerprint scans, voice recognition or iris scans in place.
In other words, all you needed to pose as a staff member was to swipe their card and overlay your own face on it.

Japan was a country of law and order, which meant the chances of a frontal heist occurring were close to none. They probably aren’t wrong to rule out the possibility of a gunfight here. However, everything else was fair game.
Be it in Japan or anywhere else, as long as there was something to steal, burglary and theft would still be on the cards—especially for places that handled secrets.

Moreover, there was another issue which had caught his attention.

Whatever happens here has nothing to do with me, thought Soji as he continued walking.

“Is that you, Mr.

Out of nowhere, an unfamiliar voice called out to him, and he stopped.

“Huh?” He turned around.

A few steps away, a young woman was looking at him.
He appraised her with a single glance.

She looked to be in her early twenties, possibly even 18 or 19.
There wasn’t a lanyard with an ID card around her neck.

His first impression was that she wasn’t particularly eye-catching.

However, that plainness was manufactured.
Her makeup, outfit, and glasses all served to downplay her outer appearance.
That fact alone was highly reminiscent of an industrial spy. Though that probably isn’t the case here.

Her posture’s good, but the instability of her torso and the curvature of her median line​ suggests a lack of exercise.
He guessed that her lifestyle consisted of sitting for long periods of time on an unergonomic office chair.

Now, since I’m done analyzing her, time to move on.


The fact that she had called him by name meant that she knew him.
However, her face did not presently ring a bell in Ema Soji’s mind.
Upon a closer look, she did have beautiful features beneath her faux simplicity. Even so, it doesn’t call back a name.

“It’s you, Mr.
You look exactly the same, I could tell it was you right away.”

That too.
Ema.’ What’s with that?

The young woman seemed happy and smiled demurely.
“Long time no see.
Do you remember me?” She straight up asked him mischievously.


“Could it be that you don’t?” The corners of her lips curved up in an impish smile.

Seeing that expression brought to mind an old memory.
It was a long time ago, far before the person known as Ema Soji had come to lead the lifestyle he presently did.

He was only twenty at the time, a typical university student, and an average person with no links to the underworld.
He had taken up multiple part-time jobs and led a busy life, always scurrying to and fro.
Among the students he had taught as a private tutor, the one who was most brilliant and easy to teach had a particular grin whenever she teased someone older than her.

That fragment of memory was like a faint echo of the life Soji had led in the past.

“…Are you Sakimi?”

“Yes!” She nodded joyfully.

“I didn’t notice at all.
I mean, how could I? How many years has it been?”

“It’s been six years.
I immediately realized, you know.
Like, ah, that’s Mr.

“Well… I mean, I was already a grown man at that time.” He choked up for an instant.
Did she really see him and think he looked the same? Now, six years since then? “You were only in middle school back then.”

“And now I’m a second-year at university.
…Do I really look that different?”

Of course, how could you possibly look the same, he wanted to retort.
In his memories, she was just a sassy little child.
Now, six years later, she had grown taller and her arms and legs were longer too, not to mention the change in her figure.

“Sure, you’re all big now.
You’ve gotten prettier too.”

“That sounds like what an uncle would say to a niece he hasn’t met in a long time.”

“Well, I feel pretty much like an uncle who hasn’t seen his niece in a long time, after all.” They exchanged lighthearted chit-chat naturally.

“But that’s so boring.
Oh oh, but I felt kind of happy when you said I became pretty.
Can you repeat that, this time looking a bit more bashful when you say it? Pretty please?”

“I’m not doing it.”


Soji thought back to the way they interacted six years ago and mimicked that—

‘You murderer!’

“!?” For a second, a voice from the past admonishing him rang out at the back of his mind, and he grimaced reflexively..

“…What’s wrong, Mr.

“Oh, it’s nothing.” He shook his head.
“You… don’t know about me?”

“Huh?” She looked puzzled.
“Of course I know you.
That’s why I called out to you, didn’t I? Mr.
Ema, right? Don’t go telling me that you’re just a doppelganger or something now.”

“I don’t mean that.” He took a deep breath and waited for his rough breathing to get under control.
“Sorry for asking something strange.
Forget I asked that.”

“Right… If you say so.” Her face told him that she wasn’t convinced. There’s no blaming her.

Ahem, came the sound of an exaggerated cough from nearby.
When they turned to look, they saw a middle-aged security guard staring at them with eyes that yelled ‘Stop flirting with each other in the middle of the road!’

A group of onlookers seemed to have formed while they were chatting at the area in front of the entrance.

“Looks like we’re being a bother standing here and talking like this.
Shall we head out?” He urged her somewhat stiffly.

“Y-Yeah, sounds good.” Sakimi looked a bit embarrassed as she started to walk.
“Oh, right.
Could it be that you’re working here, Mr.

He was lost for a second, then suddenly realized she was talking about the Yazuno Central Environmental Research Institute.

“Nope, I’m not from here.
I was just meeting someone to discuss some security matters.
What about you?”

“My father works here.
I came to deliver something he left at home today.
Some thumb drive containing important data, he said.”

“O-Oh really?” Are you kidding me? At a time like this?

Was it really okay for him to bring something like that out of the building?

He was reminded once more of the security challenges the institute faced. If they’re in the middle of an internal conflict, shouldn’t they at least take some basic precautionary measures against being targeted by the enemy?

Perhaps his concern was written all over his face, as she followed up.

“I suppose it’s really risky of him, wouldn’t you say?” She looked at him somewhat awkwardly.

“Yeah, you could say so.
At any rate, you need to be careful about things like that, especially since we live in such a dangerous era.
The shareholders would surely raise a fuss if they found out about this.
Not to mention, they’re conducting top-of-the-line research over here, aren’t they?”

Scanning their surroundings, he added: “That makes it even more likely that there are people setting their sights on this place.”

“I guess you’re right.”

Soji turned back for a final look as he exited the automatic door.

Three surveillance cameras covered the entrance.

But two of them were dummies, with plenty of blind spots abound.
Hence, there were roughly seven routes one could take to head inside without being reflected in the recording.

And that was just what he could tell with a cursory glance. Someone who gathers even a bit of information beforehand would surely be more knowledgeable.

They’re here already…

He spotted them on the way out—men who made their way in using the routes he had just traced with his own eyes.

And from the look in their eyes, to the way they maintained their center of gravity as they stood and how they shifted their body weight around, he could tell that they were professionals.

That’d probably describe them.
Furthermore, unlike a handyman like himself, those guys were the real deal.
They made their living off that sort of work.

…Makes sense.
Considering how slipshod the defenses here are, it’s no surprise to see ruffians like them waltzing in like they own the place.

Offense is the best defense.
Those were the words of the man from earlier, but it appeared he had been forestalled.

Anyway, it’s not something I should poke my nose into, I suppose…

This research institute would soon pay the price for their erstwhile negligence.
But that was something for the company to settle internally, and an outsider like himself had no business commenting.

Ema Soji lived by a rule: I will only help those who seek aid of their own initiative, and only if they pay the appropriate fee. This was his most important directive.
It was what he had set for  himself to preserve his life as he lived on the edge.
It wasn’t something he would violate on the basis of a momentary outburst of emotion.

Thus, I ought to distance myself from here, Soji told himself.

 * * * 

The sun had long since set, and it had started raining heavily.

Drops of rain pelted his umbrella like bullets as they made their way through the nighttime streets.
Due to the downpour, the street lamps were barely lighting the path.

Owing to the incessant noise from the rain, they had to speak rather loudly to hear each other.
As they were in the business district, they were hesitant to raise their voices too much even though the place was quite empty at the hour.
Thus, they weren’t talking much.

Even then, the young woman walking next to him, Sanakura Sakimi, seemed to be in good spirits.

“Didn’t you once mention that you wanted to go to law school? Something about getting an attorney’s license and becoming an independent woman.
How’s that going?”

“That? Ahaha, let’s just say the dreams you had when you were young are as ephemeral as smoke.
But don’t worry, I’ve moved on, and now I’m right on track to my next dream.”

“I see.
Good for you.”

There was a gap of six years between them.
Although they had been acquaintances in the past, they were not so close that they kept in contact during that period.
Nevertheless, Sakimi chatted with him comfortably as though they were friends.
He hadn’t remembered her to be so outgoing before.

Soji wasn’t so naïve, so conceited, that he’d imagine that she liked him, or that she was surely overjoyed at reuniting with her beloved tutor after all these years.

“I still remember all the stuff you taught me.
Like about the iguanas, for example.”

“Huh, what’s that about? Did I ever talk about such things?”

“You did! You said they were delicious preserved in soy sauce.”

“You’re definitely getting things mixed up.”

“Oh right, how’s that cute girlfriend of yours doing?”

“Ah… I don’t think I’ve ever brought that up, have I?”

As they walked and conversed about mundane things like they had in the past, Sakimi’s expression occasionally clouded over, as if she were comparing that period of time in the past to something else.

Is she unhappy about something in her current life? Soji wondered.

It’s like how people reminisce about the past more frequently as they grow older. The more unsatisfied they are with the present, the more attractive the past appears.
And if they had a chance to relive the old days—by meeting someone from back then and catching up with them, for example—they couldn’t be happier.

That must be why she’s in a better mood than usual. Despite it being rude, he couldn’t help but think so.

The street came to a split.
The right led to the shopping district, and further down, Fukamichi Station.
The business district continued down the left, leading to a residential area.

“Um, mind if we exchange numbers?”

Soji froze for a second.
This was something he should’ve seen coming, but didn’t. I ought to reject her, he told himself.
He was aware that nothing good would come of this girl, who knew nothing, getting close with his current self.

Yet he still nodded in the end.

“Of course not.”

“Is it alright if I come to you for personal advice next time?”

“Well…” He hesitated briefly.
Though I must first warn you, I can’t guarantee it’s going to help.”

“No need for guarantees.
After all, I’m just raising my own expectations.”

“You’re a master at being spoiled, aren’t you?”

As a man, he should have rejoiced at getting close to a younger girl.
He should have gotten his hopes up and plotted ways to grow even more intimate with her. But I clearly don’t feel that way.

From another perspective, if he was truly concerned about her, he should have cut all ties with her. It’s different now, compared to six years ago.
Perhaps he should have warned her not to get close to the present Soji. But I  don’t feel like doing that either.

In the end, he couldn’t choose either of the “should haves”. I truly am spineless.

“I’ll call you soon!” With that, Sakimi headed in the direction of the station.

Alone, the pitter-patter of the rain sounded even more deafening.
His gray-tinted world seemed to turn a whole shade darker.

“…How half-assed could I get?” He spoke out aloud, sneering at himself.

Unfulfilled with the present, and constantly replaying the past.
Yep, that’s me. It had felt great to be chatting merrily with the girl he’d been on good terms with six years ago, as if all that time had never passed.

He took shelter under the eaves of a nearby building and took out his phone.
He opened the contacts list—confirming once more that Sakimi’s name was newly added at the top—and dialed the number for the “Chatterbox”.

After a few seconds of dial tone, the call went through.

‘Heya, Mr.
Ema! My man! Where’re ya at this time?’ For some reason, the frivolous voice on the other end of the line spoke rapidly.

“I’m just a few streets down from that research institute.
I’m sorry, but I turned them down since the terms were different from what I had expected.”

‘Oh, I’ve already heard about that.
Nah, it’s my bad for not getting the facts straight.
I’ll make it up to you next time, ‘kay?’

“Sure thing.” I won’t wait up, he was about to say.

But the voice from the phone was a step quicker than him: ‘More importantly—’

‘—Get away from there right now.
That research institute is about to witness sabotage.’

“Oh.” Probably those guys I saw, huh. “It’s okay, I’m nowhere near the building.
Since I saw those folks and all.”

‘I don’t mean that.
Hurry up and hide yourself.
Goto and his boys are on the move.’

In that split second, the sound of the rain seemed to fade out into nothing.
A chill ran down his spine, as though it had been doused with a bucket of icy water. 

He’s coming?

That guy?

Right now?

To that place?

“…Now that’s a familiar name.”

Holding his breath to prevent the onset of hyperventilation,  he squeezed out a mangled groan after a while.

In general, industrial spies behave inconspicuously.
Things like stealing a password or sneaking out a file of secret documents don’t require loud fanfare like shootouts or sword fights.
Flamboyant actions attracted unnecessary attention that could potentially ruin the efforts of a job well done.
Thus, they behave modestly by default.

Yet there are always exceptions to everything.
Goto was one of those, a contractor of notoriety in the trade.

At the same time, his was an unforgettable name for the person known as Ema Soji.

“Is he going to destroy that place?”

‘More likely than not.
You don’t want to get inside his crosshairs too, do you?’

I’d hate that, he thought.
And with Goto’s name coming up, it was no exaggeration or joke to say that his life might be forfeit were he to stick his nose into this case.

“Well, of course—”

Just as he answered, he looked up.

And doubted his eyes.

Far away, beyond the veil of rain—he saw a human silhouette run past the street junction he’d just been at.
They weren’t carrying an umbrella, and their hair trailed behind them as they dashed through the rain without care.

He couldn’t see their outline clearly.
In the first place, it had all happened in the blink of an eye. It doesn’t matter.
I can already guess who that is.

Sanakura Sakimi.

The girl he’d just parted with moments ago.

Why had she turned back on the road, and in such a hurry?

There could only be one reason: She had noticed the irregularity at her father’s workplace.
That was why she had ran back, in hopes of being able to help somehow… All without a clue of what awaits her there.

A place conducting top-of-the-line research is bound to be targeted by other organizations.
The one who’d warned her was none other than Soji himself.

‘Hello? Mr.
Ema? You there?’


“Huh? What’s the matter, something up?’

“I’ll call you back.”

‘Hey, wait up.

He cut the call and stuffed the phone into his back pocket.

“It’s not like I have a death wish!” Tossing away the umbrella, he threw himself into the torrential downpour.

点击屏幕以使用高级工具 提示:您可以使用左右键盘键在章节之间浏览。

You'll Also Like