Dirty Hands



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The Novel- Chapter One

chapters cast of characters author bios

Shounen Ou ("The Boy King") by Enokido Youji, Hasegawa Shin-ya
Chapter 1 (Newtype, October 1999)
translated by Mark Neidengard
version 0.1

commercial use of these translations is prohibited


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A young man is sent to school to kill somebody...
An abrupt encounter with a corpse.
What is the game called "becoming a stranger"?

This is the beginning of a sensual-visual story by the team that brought you "Shoujo Kakumei Utena", where one mystery merely calls forth another!

Chapter One: Mikoto's Bird

Summer twilight. At the riverbank, the voices of the evening cicada could be heard. The sun, finally beginning to set, cast the boy's shadow down onto the concrete levy.

The boy's name was Mikoto.

He sat alone on the levy, gazing at the glittering surface of the water. The transparent sky was dyed a vivid traffic-light red, and the wind that blew across the vast expanse of water from the opposite bank was cool as it ruffled his hair. Looking upstream, he could see a cluster of brick school buildings interrupting the gentle rise of the hillside.

Mikoto was scheduled to become a first-year high school student at that school starting tomorrow. This was a necessary step for his current job. He would not become a student, only appear to. He would deceive all those around him, and become an appliance whose purpose was the completion of his mission.

That was how Mikoto currently lived his life.

I'm no innocent school kid. My hands are already dirty...

But Mikoto felt no resistance to assuming such a fake identity. On the contrary, falsifying his appearance lent some sort of reason to the malaise he felt towards his surroundings, reassuring him. For Mikoto, this functioned as a convenient form of catabolism.

A black speck cut across Mikoto's field of vision. It was a fly. It came to rest atop a corpse stretched out near Mikoto.

It was the corpse of a boy, roughly Mikoto's age. Lying prone as it was, its face could not be seen. But its body was clothed in the uniform of the school. That first fly, drawn in by the smell of death, wandered unrestrained around the boy's back.

At that moment, an electronic beeping came from Mikoto's chest area, from a necklace-shaped device known as a "ring".

"I've made contact," a voice from the ring said. The voice was masculine, but mechanical.

"It looks like those student council guys are coming. Seems like they even know the place."

Mikoto stood. "Then there's no reason for me to hang around here I guess."

"They say they want the person who discovered the body to remain on the scene."

"I want to avoid any unnecessary trouble."

"Then quit finding corpses, or at least quit reporting them."

"You have a point, but..."

Mikoto looked at the boy laid out near him. He had a point, but abandoning this poor boy was something Mikoto simply couldn't do. The setting sun had already sunken halfway behind the horizon. Had he not reported in, the corpse would have spent the night here.

It was a boy he neither knew nor recognized, but the fact that he neither knew or recognized him might have been why Mikoto couldn't abandon him. If it had been someone he knew, somebody he hated, he would have left them lie.

He might even have been the one who had done the killing.

Presently, and sooner than expected, a group of boys appeared on the scene. All the members of the student council appeared slightly older than Mikoto, and each had what appeared to be a nametag attached to his breast.

Mikoto was outwardly calm, but internally he tensed for action.

Three of them had sabers nonchalantly girt at their sides. One of them hesitantly examined the boy's corpse. He found a nameplate like that of the others nearby, and moved to show it to the boy who seemed in charge.

"...K-suke, it was a 'stranger' after all."

The nameplate was scuffed and covered in mud, as though it had been trampled underfoot.

The boy called K-suke nodded briefly and walked over to Mikoto. "Are you the one who found him? What were you doing here?"

"I was taking a walk and enjoying the cool of the evening. See, I'm starting at the school tomorrow."

"Transfer student, huh? Well, in any case you're coming with us tonight. We've got plenty of questions for you."

"I'm just a passer-by who found the body. I've got nothing to tell you." But before he knew it he was surrounded by the other boys. It didn't seem like they planned on just letting him leave.

"That looks kind of dangerous. Isn't the student council supposed to protect us students?"

"But you see, you're not one of our students. At least, not until tomorrow morning."

K-suke put his arm around Mikoto's waist in an excessively familiar fashion. There was a certain joy in his cold eyes, as though he was studying some captured beast. "Don't be so uptight. We're not going to hurt you, there's nothing to be afraid of."

The armed boys already had their hands on their swordhilts, though they had yet to draw.

K-suke said to the boys, "Don't worry. He's not the type who would disobey."

At that moment, something in the grass made a noise.

Mikoto whispered so that only his ring could hear him.

Stop it, Fluttery.

But he was too late.

K-suke gave a small cry of pain and moved away from Mikoto. The school uniform covering the part of his arm that had been around Mikoto's waist was torn away, revealing a newly-made gash in the skin. K-suke, pain showing on his face, covered the wound with his other hand.

His attacker was a bird, which had shot out of the grass like a bullet. It was a size larger than a crow, a strange two-tone bird which was jet black all over except for its pure white breast. It had attacked the leader of the boys with unbelievable speed. It possessed the swiftness and ferocity of a bird of prey, and it flew into the sky above the scene faster than the boy's eyes could follow.

It was a "paragrine". Mikoto's secret weapon. The "ring" was actually a tool used to control it. But it was not something that just anybody could use.

In scant seconds, K-suke took another blow to the thigh. Whether it was by the beak or the talons was unclear, but the lightning-fast attacks were quickly turning this into a one-sided fight.

That's enough, Fluttery.

"This is too easy." Mikoto's paragrine, Fluttery, made the small cry of derision via the ring, and continued upward into the sky, disappearing from view.

The boys were in an uproar. The couldn't believe they had just been attacked by a bird. Not that that was any surprise.

A boy near K-suke moved to assist him.

One of the boys armed with sabers drew it from its scabbard and leveled it at Mikoto. "What the hell did you do?"

Great, now you've done it... I should have been stricter when I told him not to move, he thought. Mikoto racked his brains for a way to get out of the situation. Special weapons like that could only be used by qualified people. The general public didn't know about them, but he had to make sure anyway that there was no chance at all of anyone blowing his cover.

It was at that point that a speedboat drew near.

"It's His Majesty's boat," one of the boys muttered by way of affirmation. Perhaps unconsciously, the boys seemed to calm down at the sight of the boat. Whoever was approaching in the boat was evidently very important to them. The boat quickly and skillfully pulled close up onto the levy. At its controls was a boy.

He had dark skin and long, black hair. Instead of a uniform he wore a casual navy-blue shirt, making it impossible to determine which school he was from. He looked about Mikoto's age, or perhaps slightly older. His bearing was regal and upright.

Someone else was in the boat too. A girl, seated at the copilot's station. Her uniform indicated that she was in the same grade as Mikoto, and her eyes were large and striking, but after one casual glance at Mikoto she turned her gaze away in apparent disinterest.

Leaving the girl behind, the boy made an elegant hop out of the boat onto the levy. He was quite tall.

The boy with the drawn saber hastily slipped it back into its sheath. The student council members were clearly intimidated by the boy. Certainly, the boy was endowed with some sort of unconcealable air of style.

"Good work, gentlemen," the boy proclaimed calmly, and walking over to the corpse began the semblance of an autopsy. He seemed to have no hesitation in touching the body. "How awful. He really is dead," he murmured with a trace of drama. He sounded surprised and grieved, but also as though he were somehow enjoying the situation.

"He's the one who found him." K-suke pointed at Mikoto.

"We'll check him out tonight."

"What are you planning on checking? The culprit wouldn't report the crime himself. Just what do you expect to accomplish by detaining this darling boy all night?"

K-suke became indignant in spite of himself. "But we can't just let him go. He just attacked us!"

"Attacked? You all? How could he, unarmed, attack you who are carrying sabers?"

"He made a bird attack us."

"And this bird is...?"

"It's gone now. It flew off."

"Are you seriously saying such a thing is even possible?" the tall boy asked with interest. "How would he control it?"

"Well..."

The tall boy turned away from K-suke and smiled lightly at Mikoto. "Transfer student, are you? Nice to meet you. My name's Ryuugen." The boy who called himself Ryuugen offered his hand in a natural-seeming gesture.

Mikoto had known the boy's name before it had been spoken. Ah, this is him, he thought.

This is the guy I came to this school to kill.

Mikoto couldn't remember precisely how long he had been in the training institute. At the very least, since he was very, very young.

"We can't let anybody else raise you, and besides you can't live anywhere but here - this is God's own truth, believe me." That lying instructor always said that.

The many boys and girls gathered together at that institute were forced to abide by the rules. Every day, meals and sleep were regulated according to an incredibly strict schedule, and training and loyalty to one's country were drilled into their heads day in and day out. Mikoto didn't hate that institute. Ever since he could understand his situation, he consciously chose to be there. Not for the sake of his parents, who had as much sold him off as left him in the institute's care. He figured that if the institute needed him, that was good enough.

Mikoto's marks in combat training were good. And as it happened, he was the only one who could control the "paragrine" military bird of prey the way its creators hoped.

"How could one become the king of this country?" One day, he posed that question to one of his instructors. The instructor scolded him, telling him not to say such frightening things. But one of the "higher-ups" he had occasionally heard of came to recommend training to control the paragrine.

Mikoto was writing in his practice journal at a large table in a nook of the so-called "self-study hall" when a man came. His face was hidden behind a white mask. "You might just be able to do it", the masked man laughed.

And in fact, he was.

The paragrine, the latest biomorphic weapon developed at the institute, was a cybernetic bird. Operated by remote control, it easily allowed humans to infiltrate places impossible to sneak into, and carry out "missions" using its sharp beak which could pierce tens of millimeters of steel plate. Controlling a paragrine meant being able to destroy any target in more than a ten kilometer radius at will. A truly terrible weapon of war. However, until Mikoto participated in the controller training, there had supposedly never been a single success story.

The paragrines were controlled by a device called a "ring". The number of people who could don the ring and make sympathetic contact with the paragrine's AI was limited. And even those who were able to make contact couldn't manage to continuously "control" it. Most of those selected for controller training suffered sympathetic damage and developed nervous anomalies. Many of them required long-term hospitalization.

There was one subject who was able to control it correctly the first time, but he later began to complain of headaches and sensory damage. He tried to endure it and continue training, but finally went insane. Continually receiving signals from the paragrine's digital senses without translation was offered as the explanation. Also, the paragrines would occasionally go berserk; dangerous experimental weapons caused many sad "accidents" within the institute.

Mikoto was the only one who displayed the adaptability necessary to become a "falconer". It took almost two years to master the process of being a controller. However, once he got it down, Mikoto's control abilities stabilized, and along with his body, senses, and nervous system displayed no abnormalities whatsoever. He was fine wearing the ring twenty-four hours a day, even while asleep.

The ring, a sympathetic brain-wave detector, was supposed to be worn on the head, but even when using a modified necklace version Mikoto's control abilities were perfectly stable. He didn't even have to touch the ring, merely be near it, for the control to work. Mikoto controlled the paragrine for his own profit. Naturally, the inventors of the paragrine tried to uncover the secret of why only Mikoto was able to control them so well. But alas, they were never able to quantify it with data.

But Mikoto knew the reason why the others failed.

All of them, consumed with national pride, cherished the paragrine as an important piece of equipment. In other words, they tried to be friends with it. But Mikoto never thought of doing anything other than dominating it. Never thought of anything other than using it for his own ends. He thought that that was the only difference between him and the others.

Not, of course, that he had any plans to tell the inventors that.

"I have no idea either. Maybe I just have a special knack for it."

The institute was directly controlled by the kingdom. The country was, in other words, the world, and he was playing a game with that world. He had cards in his hand to oppose the world, and during a game one must always treat one's cards with care.

Supposedly, Mikoto was currently the only paragrine controller around. He was the one and only user of the kingdom's greatest secret weapon. He had already experienced "actual" combat several times before. Just like this time.

*

The speedboat, buffeted by a strong twilight wind, floated atop the waters upstream. Mikoto sat aft. Ryuugen had asked where Mikoto's lodgings were, and upon hearing they were close by insisted on dropping him off.

K-suke and the others' faces were unpleasant after having their prey stolen from under their noses, but they were all left behind as Ryuugen half- forced Mikoto into the boat.

Mikoto was suspicious. I never thought I'd make contact with the target this soon. Why is Ryuugen interested in me?

Mikoto considered the possibility that his secret identity had been discovered. Although unlikely, could it be the case that the other side had a good enough information network to uncover him, his country's top agent? The situation wasn't clear. He couldn't let down his guard.

Finally, the boat came ashore on a levy close to the highway. He was staying very near there.

"Thanks for your help. I thought I would spend the night being brutalized by those guys."

"True, although that might have been rather fun." "What kind of person are you?"

"What kind?"

"All the student council members deferred to you right away, and you're not wearing a school uniform..." Mikoto wanted to know the boy's true identity.

His current mission was to wait at the school where the target was, nothing more. It was Mikoto's first mission where he was supposed to wait until ordered to "act". In any case, it seemed this target was no mere "traitor". In other words, the kingdom had not yet been unable to judge whether or not this Ryuugen was to be terminated. And it appeared that if the decision was made, he had to be killed without a moment's delay. Mikoto was grateful for that governmental background.

"They called you 'His Majesty', you know."

"That's my nickname. This girl and I are students from overseas."

The girl glanced again at Mikoto from the corner of her eye.

Mikoto bowed lightly by way of greeting, but the girl's expression remained distasteful. Her profile was beautiful.

"It appears she doesn't like me."

"Actually, we were supposed to be headed to a play," Ryuugen said, his arm around her shoulders. I forced her to come along and see the uproar over that corpse instead, so she's sulking."

"..."

"At the moment, you're thinking, that beautiful girl and he must be a couple, aren't you?"

"Aren't you?"

Ryuugen laughed. His smile was a charming one. "Do you have a lover? As cute as you are, I'm sure there's no way the girls would leave you alone. But now that you've come to our school, you're about to discover an even more stimulating game than romance."

"And what would that be?"

"That's right, dangerous games are more fun the younger you play them. She isn't fond of it, but it's quite popular at this school. The game's called 'becoming a stranger'."

Mikoto remembered the words of the student council member. "Come to think of it, they called that dead boy a 'stranger' or something, if I remember right. Any connection?"

"What we have now is a game whereby you become a complete 'stranger'. Nowhere else has it, but here. I can't explain simply what it is, but it's not a lie. You really can become a complete stranger yourself."

"I don't understand very well. What's so interesting about that?"

"The world is full of cruelty and hardship. But the scenery is different depending on what window you look out of. If you change viewpoints, you may be able to run from the pain...is the idea."

"Then it's not really a game, but something else, isn't it?"

"It makes you forget about reality, so that makes it a game, right?"

"I would have thought a 'game' is a way to enjoy reality."

"Did you hear that," Ryuugen said happily to the girl next to him. "Then I guess our relationship is a sort of game."

He snuggled close to the girl's shoulders, and pressed his lips to them. In response, the girl langorously closed her eyes, giving in to him.

Seizing his chance, Mikoto hopped out of the boat and onto the levy.

"Even you..." Ryuugen said, without moving his lips the slightest bit away. "I bet you're tired of the cruelty of the world. I'm sure it caused you pain...becoming able to use that thing..."

"What are you referring to?"

"I wonder if the sympathetic brain-wave detector that controls that boisterous bird is in that necklace," Ryuugen said, with his back turned to Mikoto to face the girl.

Mikoto, unable to respond, felt a sense of menace from Ryuugen's back. So, he knew after all... On top of that, he had come all this way to greet him himself. A very strong target, this one.

"Well, since you've come to our school and all, you really should try it. No, you _will_ try it."

"Try what?"

"Like I was saying, the 'becoming a stranger' game."

The girl looked at Mikoto over Ryuugen's shoulder, and smiled for the first time. Defiantly.

"I'll pass," Mikoto answered, feigning calm. "I don't need that sort of thing."

"Oh really?"

"That's right."

"Why not?"

"Because the world doesn't exist solely for the purpose of causing me pain."

Ryuugen turned around and studied Mikoto's face in surprise. He stared intently, as though examining some rare animal. At the very least, his eyes were no longer smiling. Their irises seemed somehow bottomless.

The girl returned once more to her disgusted look. As though urging him to get going already, she reached out to the pilot's seat and started the boat's engine.

"Wait a moment Karin... What was your name again?"

Come to think of it, he hadn't given his name yet. "It's Mikoto."

"Mikoto-kun, is it?" Ryuugen waved. "Well then, I'll see you at school tomorrow." The boat began to move.

Mikoto stared after the two disappearing in the distance for a long while. And while watching them go, he finally made a defiant smile of his own.

"Pretty girl, isn't she?" The voice came from the ring at his breast. "Karin, was it? I've seen that face somewhere before."

"Where are you watching from?"

"Above."

He looked up, and shining in the last rays of the setting sun, against the backdrop of the first stars, Fluttery the paragrine sailed gently through the sky.

to be continued next issue

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