Saturday, June 24, 2017

Checkboxes Chapter Seven

Last night, I learned that a student at my school is an identity thief.

Momoko Watanabe, as I met her online, informed me that the student of the same name at Korekara Academy is in fact, Izuna Nanako, her past best friend who stole her scholarship after she’d been kidnapped.  I don’t have any idea what do with this information, though.  At the time, I just thanked her for telling me what the truth was and went to sleep, but now that I’m awake again it seems that I need to confront it.

You can’t talk to Izuna about this yet.  Even if she is a criminal, the point here is to save everybody.  If you confront her with this information, there is no way that she’d possibly survive.

I’ll keep that in mind.  So in that case, what should I do today?

I’d say that you should talk to one of the people Ayano pointed you to.  Touko or Kurumi… Seeing as you’ve already spoken with Sayaka before.  Both of them, if you can make the time.  After school, however.  Not at lunchtime.  You can keep up with your schoolwork or talk to one of the friends you’ve already made, it doesn’t really matter.

Well, that’s reassuring.  In any case, I get ready for school, then figure out what to do when lunchtime rolls around.  I’ve actually finished getting caught up on my classwork, for the most part, so I decide to go find somebody to eat lunch with.  I wonder if anyone’s up on the roof, besides Hiromi and Yamiko.  Those two… It kind of feels like I’ve lost a friend.  I’m happy for Hiromi, of course, but it’s like the both of them can’t see anything out in the world besides each other.  I guess that makes sense, though.  Hiromi is dead… I’m just glad that she’s not completely gone from this world.

Eating on the roof, too, is Sayaka.  She’s actually managed, somehow, to sit up on top of the tall, thin chain-link fence which goes around the edge.  That doesn’t shock me, since she does seem pretty dextrous, especially with what I know about her past, and her present for that matter.  I approach where she’s sitting, but don’t speak up because I’m afraid of startling her.  Turns out I don’t need to, as she notices my presence in moments and turns around, facing me as she stays up on the fence, swinging her feet with her lunch in her lap, “Hey, what’s up, senpai?”

“Hi, Sayaka-chan!” I wave to her, “Not a lot!  I’ve got my make-up schoolwork almost all sorted out, so I don’t have to coop myself up in the classroom at lunchtime anymore.  How about you?”

“Hmm, I’m just eating,” She shrugs, then picks up her lunch and hops down from the fence, landing next to me gracefully.  She then holds the box out toward me, “Want to try the red bean mochi?  I made it last night, after work.  I learned the technique at the bakery, so I tried it out on my own, and I think it came out okay…”

“I’d love to!” I grin at her, then take one out of the box and bite into it, “Oh, wow!  Don’t tell Amai-chan I said this, but I think these are better than hers!” I chuckle as I swallow, then take another bite, “It must be because you’re focusing on desserts, while she’s more into cooking than baking!”

“I-I wouldn’t say that!” Sayaka shakes her head, pigtails moving with the suddenness of it, “There’s no way that I’m better than Amai-nee.  I’m just trying my best, to have something I can make a cover career out of,” She smirks, tilting her head to the side, “After all, I have to have some occupation to put down for the census.  Besides, my own bakery?  That would be a great front for money laundering, wouldn’t you agree?”

“If I agree will I be implicated as an accomplice?” I question, then look over towards Hiromi and Yamiko, “And should you be saying things like that around other people…?”

“Look, if I can talk about it, I will,” She crosses her arms with a pout, “Besides, Tori-senpai won’t care if she overhears.”

So Sayaka can’t see Hiromi, either…  I guess that makes sense, with her background as an axe for hire, but I still can’t help feeling bad about it.  Hiromi was the type of person to have been able to see herself, but that also meant she was always ready to befriend the type of people who can’t see her now.  Bad people, on some arbitrary ghost system.  I guess that I can’t make assumptions, though.  It is strange to think, how a shinigami can be considered pure when I’m sure a God of Death has done bad things, but a human who was raised in an environment fueled by crime, for whom ‘bad things’ are the everyday, is left in the dark.

“I guess you’re right,” I shrug, dismissing the topic, “You’re pretty proud of all that stuff, aren’t you?”

“Proud?  Yeah, you could say that,” She shrugs, putting a hand on her hip, “I’m not ashamed of where I come from, I consider it an honor, but I’m supposed to keep it hidden so I can get a good education without worrying about people giving me funny looks or being scared of me,” She closes her eyes and sighs, tilting her head, “It’s hard to be around normal people, though, like you and Amai-nee.  That was why I was so upset that day.  It isn’t that I think the way I was raised is bad.  It is objectively evil, though.  How could I just claim to be a good friend for somebody who’s never broken the law, when I’m like this?  That’s why I came to you for judgment.”

“Never broken the law… Ah,” I shake my head, smiling, “Who could do that?  Just think about it.  Why is there crime in a lawless society?  It’s human nature.  Laws and society keep us in check, but everyone’s broken a law at some point, I’m sure of it.  I mean, I’ve trespassed!”

“You have?” Sayaka questioned, opening her eyes again to give me a scrutinous look, “You really don’t strike me as the type to ever break a rule…”

“I go to Korekara Academy!  Of course I’m the type to break a rule!” I protest, then sigh, “It was the end of June, I think, I forgot something at school, so I came back after five when the gates were already closed…”

“Oh, well that’s about what I’d expect from you,” Sayaka relaxes, “There’s no way you’d do something actually wrong.  All you did was come back for a forgotten item?  Did you get caught?  Did anyone even care?”

“I don’t remember,” I freeze, then look down at my feet and blink, “I think… That was the last thing that happened before my absence.”

“Wait, really!?” Sayaka freezes in place now, her earlier relaxation inverted, then takes a step closer to me, narrowing her eyes as she peers at my face, “Box-chan, they said that you fell ill while at home!  Does that mean the rumors that it wasn’t really a sickness are true?”

“Of course they’re true,” Kaoru appears out of… somewhere?  Stepping forward as if she’d just been hiding on the roof, waiting for something relevant to cause her approach, “Yamaguchi-san, every rumor has some form of truth behind it.  This is new information, however… It happened while you were on campus, Hako-senpai?”

“Uh… Yes?” I take a step backwards, furrowing my brow, “I shouldn’t have said that…”

“No, you most certainly should have.  Everyone wants to find the culprit, except, I guess, the culprit.  Or culprits.  We can’t rule out accomplices,” Kaoru explains, holding a hand to her chin, “This is valuable information.  It’s somebody who would have been lurking around after the school was closed for the evening… A student, probably.  One with a reason to have a key from the faculty, to get on the grounds that late…”

“Well, that’s not necessarily true.  I don’t have a reason to have my keys, I just do,” I reach into my pocket and pull out the school keys.  A teacher, I guess, who I’ve never seen since then gave them to me on my first day, saying that they’d be useful if I ever upgraded Artemis. Fucko is probably what she meant by that.

“Are those…?” Sayaka mumbles, crossing her arms over her chest as she eyes the keys in my hand.

“That’s not just grounds keys,” Kaoru confirms, “This is a whole keyring, Hako-senpai… You could open any door in the school with this.  How did you get it?  How has it not been confiscated by now?”

“I don’t know,” I shrug, looking up at the sky, “I got these on my first day here.  A girl with pink hair gave them to me, though I haven’t seen her since… I just assumed she was a teacher, but she looked more like a third year to me,” I pause, furrowing my brow, “Ah, if I ask one of the current third years, maybe they’d remember her?”

“Could this be?  An… Eigth mystery of Korekara Academy?” Kaoru questions, then raises an arm to point at me, “Hako-senpai! How many of the original seven have you solved now?”

“I figured out the rose dumpster!” I answer, holding my hands in close to myself, “It’s because Sakazaki Yuu lives there!  I don’t know any of the others, though.  I mean, I’ve never even heard about the Calligraphic Confession…”

“Fine then, how about this? We drop that mystery, and replace it with this one.  Who is the mysterious pink-haired girl who gave Box Hako a full set of keys to the school?” Kaoru decides, and even gives me a smile, “Though, you still need to figure out the disappearance of the Kaguya sisters before we can work together to solve anything.”

“Well… If we find a current third year to ask, they might know what happened to the Kaguyas and who the girl who gave me the keys was,” I offer, looking around the roof, “I mean, none of the third years that I personally know would… Yuu-senpai is a disaster, Kato-senpai focuses on her student council duties more than any gossip, and I don’t think most people know Oujouno-senpai exists…”

“I…” Sayaka starts, groaning, “Don’t know anybody.  There aren’t even any third years in the cooking club.  But, uh, what about Taino-senpai?  We met her last week, remember, Box-san?”

“But what if we upset her?” I question, holding a hand to my cheek, “The school trip starts tomorrow, right?  If we were going to hang out with the delinquents, I don’t want to press her for information right now… She might rescind her offer!”

“Taino-senpai doesn’t know about the Kaguyas anyway.  If any member of No Boys knew what happened to those girls, it never would have happened,” Kaoru mumbles, and I have to worry.  What could have happened?  I kind of just want her to tell me, even though there’s probably nothing I could do about it at this point.  Even though the goal of ‘saving everyone’ started out belonging to Fucko, I’m finding myself invested in it too.  How could I not?  Everyone at this school is so talented and great, and more than that, they’re good people.  I don’t want to see any of them come to harm if I can help it.

“I don’t want to bother the Student Council President,” I mumble, trying to think who else is a third year.  Victoria and Kyoko are transfers, so there’s no way they’d know.  With everyone else that I’ve already eliminated, that leaves Yumiko or the president of the science club, who I can’t recall ever meeting before.  I decide to defer to Fucko.

This is all new.  This situation has never happened before.  I can’t guide you on it, but I do think that you’re better off meeting with Yumiko, since Natsuki Nagata is a bit of a strange one.  Yumiko probably will know about the Kaguya sisters.  As long as this doesn’t interfere with the afternoon, you should go ahead and seize upon this event.  It must be a random one.

I don’t know what that means, but I’ll take it at face value, “Tachibana-senpai is using Assis-co tech to collect achievements in real life.  I bet she knows a lot of weird stuff thanks to that!”

“Oh, that makes sense,” Sayaka nods with a blank look.

“Collect achievements…?” Kaoru questions, furrowing her brow, “Oh, I see.  Satonaka-san talks about those occasionally.  It’s a video game thing, right?”

“Yes,” Sayaka nods, then closes her eyes, “Though, is it really Assis-co?  An Augmented Reality item like that seems more like what Feru has been doing,” She lifts a hand to her chin, “I did some research on the company after I got invited to test that game, see.”

“No, it’s definitely Assis-co.  I think they made it in competition with Feru?” I wonder aloud, then look around, “After all, they’re both producing cutting edge technology, I bet Assis-co wanted to prove it could be used recreationally in addition to life assistance… Probably.  All my business sense, I learned from Amai-chan, so blame her if I’m wrong!”

“I wonder what Feru is even supposed to mean?” Kaoru ponders as she starts leading the way to the video game club room, where Yumiko is most likely to be found at any given time, “I mean, Assis-co has such an obvious name.  It’s English for Assistance Company, shortened.”

“That’s not something I would know,” Sayaka shakes her head.

“I would!” Somebody else butts in now that we’re inside, and I look to see Sasane, my homeroom teacher, “Sorry girls, I couldn’t help but overhear, and I’m always glad to satiate the curious mind.  Especially since language is my specialty!  Feru is latin for Uncivilized.  So, if I had to guess why a futuristic tech company would be using it, I’d say it’s a marketing statement.  Without their products, you’re not up to date on modern civilization!  Though, I don’t own anything from them.  I have brand loyalty for Assis-co, since they sponsor our school.”

“Oh, what sort of Assis-co products do you have, sensei?” I ask, looking up at her but continuing to walk.  She falls into step with us, hugging a binder to her chest as she does.

“All sorts!  My coffee machine, for example!  The doors in my house, my security system, my shower… Just some perks of the job!” She chuckles, “Not that being a teacher pays that well, even in gifts.  It helps that I live with an Assis-co employee, and another member of the faculty here, too,” She pauses, then lifts the binder to cover her face, blushing, “Oh my!  I really shouldn’t be discussing my personal life with students!”

“You’re blushing, sensei!” I chuckle, leaning towards her, “I bet that you’re dating, huh?  No wonder you keep breaking Hana-chan’s heart!”

Miki Hanamura
“Oh, Hanamura-san…” Sasane sighs, shaking her head, “That girl just never learns.  I turn her down all the time, but she still insists on trying!  Last year, she gave me chocolates for Valentine’s Day.  Homemade ones, and I just felt awful!  She seems to have this idea in her head that it’s acceptable to behave in such a way towards one’s teachers.  I’m not supposed to disclose such things to my students, but I am in a committed relationship, and I wouldn’t date a student even if I were single and desperate!”

“That’s kind of disparaging towards Hanamura-senpai,” Sayaka notes, but then smirks, “Why don’t you just say that to her?  If she likes you for your kindness, that’ll shut her right up.”

“It seems any kind of rejection I give her is in one ear and out the other,” Sasane groans, “One time, I told her that I couldn’t go out with her because all of my free time must be spent eating truckloads of raw plantains, peel and all.  She didn’t even notice how strange the excuse was.  My, I pity anyone who does try to get involved with somebody so willfully oblivious to anything she doesn’t want to hear.”

Do not ask your teacher about the girl who gave you the keys.  She will confiscate them if she learns that you own such a thing.

“Well, I’m sure that Hana-chan will learn eventually.  Until then, I hope she doesn’t get into too much trouble,” I pause, standing in place as I realize something, “Wait, Ikimura-sensei, if you said faculty rather than teacher… I’m going to say it can’t be the Headmaster, since nobody knows who that is, but…” I tilt my head, “It’s the Doctor, right?  You’re living with her?”

“Oh no!” Sasane shakes her head, “Mon dieu!  Ay Caramba!  You’ve found me out!” She says the last bit in English, and the other variations on ‘oh no’ in languages I don’t know.  One of them is French, probably, as I learned from talking to Sakazaki.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Sayaka questions, stepping in front of Sasane to face her and stare her down, “Letting Hanamura-senpai continue to chase after you, with that sort of connection to somebody like Same-Hakase?”

“Why would it be dangerous?” Sasane asks, blinking innocently, “Well, Iwa-chin wouldn’t hurt a fly!  I’d be more worried about our boyfriend, after all, he owns guns!  That’s quite the feat in Japan, he isn’t even on the Self-Defense Force!  But, don’t go telling anybody I said that…”

“You know what I’m talking about, sensei,” Sayaka presses the matter, frowning, “Just look at my eyes, and you’ll know that I’m not just going on rumors.  Now, I don’t know if the Doctor’s a yandere or anything like that, but anyone can get jealous given enough time, and I have to say that you can’t count on a red woman coming to a mature solution in that situation.”

“Silly child,” Sasane shakes her head, then breezes past Sayaka, “You really think that at our age, Iwa-chin can’t control herself?  I have no worries.  But, if you think something like that would get Hanamura-san to leave me alone, go ahead and warn her?”  With that, Sasane is gone, and I have to be a bit surprised.  I’ve just seen a completely different side of my compassionate homeroom teacher… Well, anyway, we finish our walk to the video game clubroom.  Yumiko is sitting there, eating a bento which seems to consist only of tomatoes and octopus-dogs while messing around with her AR screen, which is reversed from our perspective.

“Tachibana-senpai,” Sayaka steps forward, narrowing her eyes as she takes up an intimidating posture, “We want to talk to you about some things.  See, the three of us are investigating… A murder.”

“A murder?” Yumiko questions, blinking with her cheek stuffed full of a whole tomato, stem and all.  She chews it up, then crosses her legs and dismisses the AR screen, “Oh, are you talking about Nami and Tomoe?  Or Yui?”

Nami Kaguya
“Um…” I mumble, “All of the above?”

“I can tell you about that!” Yumiko nods, hopping down from the table she’d been sitting on, “After all, Hako-chan, I was trying for the same achievement you were, until it got too depressing.  I knew everyone who came through Korekara when I was a first year.”

“Spectacular,” Kaoru nods, stepping forward, “I know about the first two, but who’s this Yui person?  And I’m sure the others will want to know everything.”

“Ah, Nami and Tomoe Kaguya were in my class… In our first year, the pair were attacked on the outskirts of town while walking back to the apartment they were renting the next town over.  I heard about it right away, before the coverup effort started.  In the age of technology, it’s hard not to.  Gin Sakuya discovered them, and immediately alerted the faculty, which I guess was a mistake because they just got rid of the bodies and started acting like those students never existed… I dunno why.  There’s usually a memorial service, when people die, even if that’s just a hazard of attendance.”

Tomoe Kaguya
“Still, the solution of the mystery is that they didn’t disappear at all.  They were killed, and the administration covered it up,” Kaoru explained, “It’s still a mystery why it was covered up, but that’s related to the other mystery.  The one regarding why this school is seen as so dangerous-”

“I know why it was covered up,” Sayaka speaks up, glaring at the far wall, “Korekara Academy may be considered a difficult place to reach graduation alive, but that’s a matter of the school, not its surroundings.  And especially not a matter of being assaulted like that.  Even a school with a reputation for dead students wouldn’t want to drag down the town it’s in, or admit that it can’t protect the students.  Suicides and accidents can be seen as a side effect of inviting troubled kids all to one school.”

“Yeah, that’s the reason,” Yumiko nods, then closes her eyes, “There were a lot of those, my first year.  The second year class at the time were dropping like flies… For all sorts of different reasons.  When the dust cleared, there was only one student of that year left standing.  Yui Asahi.  She was subject to a murder investigation, naturally, which dragged on for more than a year.  She attended the new student orientation, but then died a few days before she graduated,” Yumiko’s frown is deep-set into her face, “The police were pretty tired at that point, and brushed it off as a suicide out of guilt from killing the others, but… Yui-san definitely wouldn’t have done that.  She said it was important that she graduated, to honor those who couldn’t.  Even if she was the killer, she wouldn’t have just fucked off like that!”

“Yui Asahi?” Sayaka asks, stepping forward and curling her lip, “Well, then I know why someone might’ve wanted to frame her, or to kill her.  Of course, the heir to such a corporate giant would be a target.  It could have even been someone working for the company… I wouldn’t presume them to have done it, but there are some sketchy employees.  Someone could have taken PR to the next level, by finding a way to get rid of the more troublesome sister by ruining her reputation before arranging for her to be killed.”

“That’s terrible!” Yumiko exclaims.

“That’s just business,” Sayaka gives an exaggerated shrug, “The corporate world’s got a lot of dirt behind the scenes, everyone knows that.”

“Just because it’s the truth, doesn’t make it less awful,” Yumiko sighs, holding her arms in close to herself, “Why would anyone still want to get the achievement for making friends, after seeing so many of those people they were trying to befriend… die?”

“I’m going to save them,” I take a step forward, hands clenched into fists, “I’m going to save every one of my friends.  I can’t do anything for the people we’ve already lost… But I won’t continue letting bad things happen!  I’ll protect everyone that I can!”

“...I’ll help,” Sayaka decides, stepping to my side, “Well, I’m not so good at making friends, but I want to stand with you, Box-san.  I like what you stand for… You’re kind, you have a good head on your shoulders, and you’re not afraid to do what needs to be done to achieve your goals.  Besides, you need some muscle anyway,” She shrugs, tossing her hair over her shoulder.

“It’s not like I’m running a robbery crew,” I chuckle when she says I’ll need muscle, but turn to her and press my hands together, “But you know, I’d love your help anyway, Sayaka-chan.”


When school is finished, I wander out of the classroom.  I need to investigate The Order today, and I have a few options.

Kurumi Hoshikawa hangs out near the track on days when there isn’t practice.  Touko Nozomi usually goes to a part time job as soon as school lets out, but she’s got the day off today and is spending it in the library.  Kurumi could give you more information, but Nozomi is hard to build a rapport with and this could help.

Akane Fujishiro
I’ll wait to talk to Kurumi another time, then.  Assuming that I’m not able to find time for both of them today; I want to try, since I probably won’t be able to get any more info until after the school trip.  In any case, I make my way to the library.

“Oh, Hako-senpai,” Akane greets me with a wave, “Back again?”

“Yeah,” I nod, then give her a nervous laugh, “Not to read any books, though… Is Touko Nozomi here?”

“Oh, mhm,” She looks around, then leans over the counter, “Nozomi-san!  Hako-chan is looking for you!” She shouts, then laughs as she brings a finger to her lips and shushes herself, “No yelling in the library.”

Touko looks up and notices me, then waves for me to go over there, so I approach her.  I offer a smile as I sit down across from her at the study table she’s picked out.  She has a whole pile of materials in front of her, “Nozomi-san, you’re working hard even on your day off?”

“Yes, absolutely,” Touko nods, pushing her glasses up her nose, “I have to work hard, to get into a good college and get a good job… I’m already working with a staffing agency, to do a lot off odd jobs, but that isn’t something which I can do my whole life, so I have to make sure I’m prepared.”

Touko Nozomi
“Wow, that’s impressive,” I lean forward, “But you know, Korekara is considered a shortcut… People always say that if you go to a high school like Korekara, you don’t even need to go to any college, let alone a good one!”

“Yes, but I’m sure any potential employer would admire my work ethic in deciding to do so anyway.  I may also choose to go to college for a specific discipline, which Korekara cannot provide a true specialty degree in,” Touko explains, leaning forward, “I was picked for this school, like everyone here, for two reasons.  In my case, those are my work ethic and the widely-publicized search for my kidnapped twin brother ten years ago.”

“You’re very open about your troubles!” I note.

“People are going to find out anyway, I may as well just be upfront about it,” She shrugs, closing some of the books she had open in front of her, “In fact, I’m guessing you already knew when you came to talk to me.  And I’ll even hazard another guess that you want to talk to me about it…”

“If that’s not too much trouble… Ueda-san’s enlisted me to help investigate The Order of The Felinus, and she said that you might know something about it,” I mumble, glancing around.  I’m not sure why Fucko is having me seize upon the request Ayano gave me, since it seems like a distraction from the real issue, but I’m sure there’s a reason for everything.

“I see… Well, you’re not religious, right?” She questions, looking me in the eyes.  I shake my head, and she continues, “Then I can talk to you about it.  I’d talk to Ueda-san, but she’s more concerned with how they’re using religion as a scapegoat to do bad things, and less concerned with what those things are… People say talking makes you feel better, but I’ve yet to find the right person that will do that for me.”

“You can try it on me,” I tilt my head and offer her a smile.

“Thank you…” She sighs, then adjusts her glasses agian before speaking, “Actually, I work so hard for two different reasons.  One is that my parents need to be able to be proud of me.  They can’t have lost one child, for the other not to do something great,” She explains, then leans back, “And I don’t know what I want to do.  All I know for sure is that I want to get a good enough job, be an important enough person that I can travel the world and find my brother.”

“I know he’s alive,” She continues, “I just know it.  It’s just a feeling I have, but I trust that it’s accurate.  I have to trust that it’s accurate, because if he is dead, then I’d be lost.  Still, I think it makes sense… That he was taken by a member of The Order.  When we were little, we met a lot of politicians and salarymen, since both our parents held seats on the National Diet at the time.  When I found out there was a fringe group which compelled important people to kidnap and groom children, I knew that had to be it.  Shinji and I, any one of those people could have seen us and decided to target one of us when prompted to do such a thing.”

“So it must really hurt… When people say that stuff isn’t real, right?  How can they say everything is hearsay and fake when you’ve actually experienced what that group can do?” I’m learning many troubling things today, but that’s just what happens, I guess, when befriending troubled youth.  I won’t let it get me down; all this information will do is give me a stronger resolve to help.

“...Yeah, it does,” Touko nods with a bitter smile, “People saying that even though you can see the recruitment tactics right there on the internet, that nobody’s actually acting on those religious practices they list.  Somebody must be.  This group, even if they’re technically harmless, they’ve definitely enabled kidnappers… They tore my family apart, but they’re a hoax?” She sighs, “I just can’t believe that.  Even if I’m wrong, I need something to hold onto.  Somebody to blame for losing him.”

“I understand,” I nod, folding my hands on the table between us, “And I believe in you, Nozomi-san.  Someday, you’ll find him… I know you will.  There’s no way that he’s dead, and even if it takes you another ten years, I am certain you’ll be reunited!

Next Chapter ->

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