Hariyama-san, Center of the World 2
Interlude 2: Invincible Loser
'Looks like it'll be a quiet day.'
It was a warm day, in the early afternoon with the sun slightly past its zenith.
#37564 thought such things vacantly as he bared his face to the sunlight.
The remnants of Clock had left their giant underground hideout beneath Tama Lake and had moved into an extremely average apartment building. #37564 had been assigned a room on the first floor. He'd gone into the garden that the first floor had instead of a veranda and was gazing out at the outside world over the low fence.
"But this building… is it really safe from criminals?"
The "evil organization's combatman" rested his hand on the edge of the fence, which was so low even an elementary-schooler could climb over it if they tried, and gave voice to his unnecessary concerns.
Though there wasn't much left of them, the people who lived here had been members of Clock. They could easily rebuff any robbers who tried to force their way in, and if they were to fight their enemies, so-called "heroes of justice," normal security systems wouldn't do them any good at all.
He knew that logically, but #37564 let those ordinary thoughts float through his mind, as if he missed the time when he had been just another human.
'It's 'cause there's been a lot going on here lately, what with the serial murders and house blowing up,' #37564 muttered inwardly to himself. He brought to mind the newspaper he had read this morning.
"Serial Taxi Driver Disappearances/Murders, Resolved?"
"Culprit Still At Large"
"Culprit Behind the Explosion at the Marubatsu-gumi Building Still Not Apprehended"
The incidents they had caused as an evil organization, as well as the commotion around Tama Lake a few days ago, had all been erased out of existence by the grand master's ability. In other words, these incidents were completely unrelated to them.
'What a dangerous world.' As he thought, #37564 quietly turned his gaze towards the town--
And met the eyes of a man through his sunglasses.
It was obvious at a single glance that the man was not Japanese. Without thinking, #37564 narrowed his eyes and gazed back at the white man with beautiful blond hair.
But the other man did not look away and began to approach him from the other side of the fence.
It had been a long time since he'd spent so many days with his face exposed. Was there something weird about him?
With that in mind, #37564 looked himself over again, but he found nothing in particular that really stood out.
While question marks floated through his head, the white man stopped a short distance away with the fence between them and spoke out in fluent Japanese.
"...You, who are you?"
What was this white guy saying all of a sudden?
Could this man possibly know about him and the inhabitants of this apartment building… in the worst case, was he an ally of that mysterious group of self-proclaimed heroes of justice?
Alarm bells immediately went off in his head, and #37564 calmly readied himself.
"...What are you talking about?"
Even if he was attacked suddenly, he was confident that he would be able to rebuff it. But if Silk and his comrades in other rooms were attacked--
He readied himself with that in mind, but he couldn't feel a shred of enmity from the man before him.
Rather, the man's eyes widened behind the sunglasses with faint excitement, as if he had just found a rare new insect.
"I don't know if you've noticed, but your 'aspect' is exceedingly unique."
"...Some kind of religion? Sorry, I'm not really…"
"How rude! While it's true that I acknowledge everything from the one God to the myriad gods, I have never held faith in any creed! ...Though I don't know about the other phases of me…"
#37564 didn't understand what the man was talking about, and his confusion deepened.
'Oh right, one of the organizations that had me possessed by something said something like that too.'
#37564 had judged him not an honest man, so he gave a noncommittal sound and tried to end the conversation -- but the white man grew even more excited and leaned in closer.
"I don't know why, why someone like you exists in this apartment, in this country, on this planet in this universe in this dimension…. Or perhaps you've been drawn by the 'aspects' of the various incidents, something like dimensional rifts, that have been occurring in this town for a long time…? But even so… no… but perhaps that line of reasoning is most convincing… But why do you appear human? When you were a baby… was your 'aspect' possessed from time to time? I knew strange incidents and people gather around him, but to think he would call forth such an outrageous aspect… is that even possible?"
'What's with this guy answering his own questions?'
As he continued questioning the man's behavior, #37564 attempted to end the conversation.
"Oh, well, I'm not really interested. Excuse me."
"Do you think I'm mad!? ...Well, that's fine too. Sanity and insanity are both inconsequential right now. Particularly from the viewpoint of one such as yourself. But I will say this much, only this much, to you! I-I-I, I'm different from eccentrics like Strega and Kodama who see what mustn't be seen, you know. B-But, I can really really really read lots of things about you from seeing you with my own eyes like this. I can read the 'aspects' of people like you, just like how I can see over 100,000 different mes outside of me. If this is what you call madness, then I will step up and accept it manfully, no, pridefully!"
"No, uh… what are you reading from me?"
"Oh, that's simple. That's very very simple, you know!"
The excited white man's gaze seemed to be afraid of something as he looked at #37564 and put such a simple answer into words.
"You probably… no, definitely… no matter what happens, you won't be destroyed. That's all, really."
If those words had been spoken to someone other than #37564, they probably would have thought, "So this really is a religious solicitation," or "What kind of shady sales trap is this?"
But -- for him, that hit too close to home.
#37564 fell silent, and the white man began to talk vigorously. He spoke as if introducing some sort of legend to a child.
"Most likely you're, well, you know.. For instance… if you previously encountered a situation where it seemed like you would die… no, a situation where a normal person would have died, fate worked a miracle and you coincidentally lived on… has that not happened to you?"
He could have shrugged it off as the ramblings of a fortune-teller, ignoring it and going back inside -- but #37564's feet were nailed to the spot and he couldn't move.
It really did hit close to home. It was because he felt that way. His body really was like that now--
"To put it in story terms, it was due to a coincidence closer to expediency than to a miracle. Your life was extended, or perhaps that was when you obtained an incredibly strong power?"
When he survived at the yakuza's office, it was because he was unexpectedly taken away by a laughably unrealistic evil organization. He was modified into a combatman and was able to survive. It was a long life granted to him by a miracle of the sort not found in fairy tales.
And then -- he didn't even have to think about what happened after that.
Those thoughts ran through #37564's head, though he couldn't put his feelings into words. The boy fell silent as a result, and the white man hurled more words at him with increasing vigor.
"To put it simply. You know. You're invincible. Stabbing? Sickness? Accidents? If my eyes don't deceive me… your 'aspect' is no longer at that level. In the extreme case, even if you were thrown into a black hole, you may not be unharmed, but at least you would not die. Defying the laws of physics? You've already surpassed them, haven't you? And if we were to go even more, more extreme! Even if something like a god were to remake this world, this dimension, so that you didn't exist, that which controls the principles of causality throughout the whole universe, the whole dimension, would through some mechanism allow your existence. That is your aspect."
His words, chanted without pause like a sutra, mysteriously lodged in #37564's brain.
The white man in front of him was certainly telling the truth about him.
Neither the words "god" nor "black hole" quite hit the mark, but somehow he could understand that he would never lose to anyone, and he also felt that way on a physical level.
This time #37564 was convinced and kept his silence. The white man continued to say still more, speaking in a majestic way totally unsuited for a street in the early afternoon.
"The world… in this case, if we consider the world to be the collection of all possibilities that control the multiple dimensions, the parallel universes… if there is an end to everything in the world, your existence is a recoil against that. Just like a single wandering negatron around a huge positron, a mishmash of recoil against other 'deaths,' or perhaps also 'destruction,' 'defeat,' 'annihilation,' 'nothingness…' that is what you are. Naturally, for normal humans, birth and death come in a pair. But death and nothingness… in the end, I use words that your human senses as a human can comprehend… but there are a great many of those things. That is, you are the one who has collected the leftover pocket change of all that exists. Maybe that is the simplest way to say it. No, it's more complicated than that, but that is treading into territory I cannot understand as a human and I am afraid of going insane, so in the end let's not go there…"
"Uhh… oh, I'm sorry. You lost me right at the beginning. It feels like I'm the one about to go insane."
#37564 protested, but the white man continued to mutter. He showed no sign of stopping. He'd stopped being able to understand partway through -- but even so, #37564 felt extremely uneasy every time he heard the white man speak.
"If an enemy appeared who couldn't be defeated by your fists, given time, you would evolve. It might take several seconds or several millennia or several millions of years, or maybe you're already evolving without even noticing. When you've accomplished that evolution, your fists will even be able to break through the walls between dimensions and run through each series like a poison that destroys everything of your opponent. As long as you wish to destroy your opponent -- you will always be the last one standing. Even if you're erased, you will not disappear. Because your erasure itself cannot exist. Ha! Your existence is completely delusional, like something out of a middle-schooler's notebook! If it were me, I would be too ashamed to live, but even that is impossible! Most likely you can't even commit suicide! You could pierce your own heart, but even then you would live on somehow!"
"Do you want me to hit you?"
That was what he said, but #37564 was only bluffing.
He could feel sweat slowly trickling down his back.
His uneasiness quickly disturbed his heart. The words he least wanted to hear would soon emerge. He would be told that which worried him the most.
The moment that thought crossed #37564's mind -- as if reading his mind, the white man spat out the words that would deal the finishing blow.
"But, well, you know. You mustn't misunderstand. You're only invincible. That doesn't mean you're strong."
"You would be the only one to be saved if you were thrown into a black hole, the only one who could miraculously avert fate if a huge existence outside of the universe decided to crush this universe. You wouldn't be able to protect anything. All your enemies would be gone, but in exchange, the moment you comprehend your invincibility you won't have protected anyone. You might think of yourself as strong when you shield your precious lover from encroaching fire, and that's fine. But, well, you know. When there's no more oxygen on Earth, or when the planet itself explodes, or when an absurdly strong curse eats away at your lover, instead of being unharmed, you'll realize something. That is, your own limits."
"Stop… Why! Why are you--"
#37564 was about to impulsively destroy the fence and grab him, but--
But that impulse was shut down by a carefree voice from the side.
"Oh, there he is. Geez. Claritaaaas, we were wondering where you'd gone!"
It was a clear voice.
It was a mysterious voice, like forest springwater filling one's body.
The words were those of any normal youth. Only the vocal quality was otherworldly, calming the hearts of those who heard it. That was the kind of voice it was.
The next thing he heard was a strong, throaty laugh, completely different from the previous speaker.
#37564 turned, and on the sidewalk right next to them stood an Asian girl and a large black man. The two seemed to be acquaintances of the white man in front of him. The girl wore a friendly smile as she protested.
All traces of excitement vanished from the white man's expression as if the time before had been nothing but a dream. He wore a face like a Noh mask as he headed toward the two.
"I see… then shall we leave, or rather, there exists no choice but to leave, for us as we are now?"
"Ah, geez. We could've just left it to the company, but Claritas, you're the one who wanted to have the meeting with Hariyama-san ourselves. You can't just run out like that!"
"No, wait, Kodama. I was not running out..."
Ignoring the white man as he continued to mutter, the girl called Kodama smiled reluctantly and treated #37564 to her beautiful voice.
"I'm sorry. This man's not right in the head!"
"He might've said something weird to you, but don't mind him!"
#37564 nodded without thinking and quietly slowed his breathing.
What had the white man been talking about earlier?
He'd been so shaken up while he listened, but now he felt as if he'd only been dreaming. Maybe he'd just think of it as a prank played on him by someone who wasn't quite sane. Rather, he prayed desperately that that was the case.
But -- those thoughts were erased by the white man's parting words.
"If you are worried, I'll give you a word of advice."
"If you would like to experience defeat, do so at rock-paper-scissors. Though naturally, if you stake your life on it, it is not possible that you should lose."
#37564 stood there for a while even after the three of them were out of sight.
He wasn't thinking of anything in particular. The combatman just spaced out, looking up at the sky, until a familiar voice called out from behind him.
"What's wrong? You're staring up at nothing."
His neighbor in the next room had come out into the garden. In response to her words, #37564 still stared up at the sky blankly as he said--
"Hey… do you think I would win if I fought against God or a black hole?"
#37564 regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth, realizing he'd said something stupid. Now he was the one who wasn't right in the head.
But the woman who lived in the room next to his listened -- and Silk smiled tenderly and answered without hesitation. "You'd win, definitely."
The man nodded quietly. "Then that's fine," he mumbled to himself.
"? Did you say something?"
"No, it's nothing."
The man turned away, embarrassed.
A voice on the news came from a TV left on inside the apartment. That voice told of a new incident that had occurred.
As he listened to the news, #37564 couldn't help but feel that they really did live in a dangerous world. He quietly vowed to protect those important to him.
No matter what kind of being he was, he would definitely protect Silk and the grand master and his comrades.
To him, continuing to protect them would be its own kind of victory.
The news announcer's words continued to drone on like background music as he made his decision.
Indifferently, so indifferently--
"This is a follow-up on late last month's report on corpses disappearing from the morgues of several Saitama hospitals. Police are treating the series of incidents as a single robbery case--"
Continue to "The Scarlet Death of Cross Kashiwagi"